Jillian turned the object in her hands over and over, emotions numb but mind flooded with thoughts spinning too quickly for them to be coherent or useful.
Somewhere in the chaos was one thread she’d seized like a lifeline, and she hoped fervently that it didn’t snap.
The faint breeze wasn’t the reason she was shivering. Outdoors at night, in a relatively deserted park, one that had irregular lighting that allowed for patches where the moonlight wasn’t entirely washed out… this wasn’t the most rational thing she’d ever done, and certainly not the safest, although it wasn’t yet warm enough for it to be a high-traffic area after dark.
Over and over in her hands, conscious of the texture and the weight, wondering vaguely how it would feel. A waste of money? Or a pledge that would get her the favour she needed?
She looked up quickly, hearing Min’s voice, though the wheelchair had made no sound on the asphalt path.
Currently in dark pants and a pale long-sleeved t-shirt and a shimmery brocade vest, all close-fitting, Min halted next to the bench. Her expression in the moonlight was grave.
“What happened?” she asked gently.
Jillian pushed open the door of the coffee-shop with her shoulder, still trying to put her phone away in her purse without dropping that or the shopping bag in her other hand. A quick scan of the interior located her friend instantly, and she hastened across the tiled floor to her, gratefully depositing the bag on the chair and her purse on the table and peeling off her jacket to hang on the chair. That late spring wind was cold, and the weather forecast threatened a further snowfall even.
“I’m sorry I’m late, Min…”
The woman across the table laid an embroidered ribbon bookmark in the trade paperback she’d been reading, without lowering her gaze from Jillian’s. “Bad day?” she asked sympathetically, moving the book to the edge of the table—and managing it without spilling her tea, her hands apparently acting alone.
Jillian sighed. “Give me a sec to grab a coffee. I desperately need one.” She fumbled in her purse for her wallet.
Min held out a ten-dollar bill, although Jillian hadn’t seen her reach for her own wallet, tucked on the inside of one arm of her wheelchair. “Here. Go.”
“I owe you.” Jillian accepted it and headed for the counter, returning a moment later with a large sweet mocha coffee and a handful of change. Moving the bag off the chair, she sat down, feeling her stress levels starting to drop.
Min often had that effect on her. She’d seen Min on her feet, and was certain she must be six feet tall—though a congenital weakness meant she spent most of her time in her wheelchair. Though she could probably afford a powered one, she’d told Jillian she preferred her simpler one that kept her more active, which must account for Min looking surprisingly fit despite her limitations. Her flawless skin was a warm cream, with minimal signs of aging, only fine lines at the corners of her eyes. Her long hair, typically drawn back into a very long smooth braid of one sort or another, was a rich gold threaded with thin streaks of silver. Jillian had no idea how old she was—she could have been close to Jillian’s late thirties, or twenty years older.