She knew all eyes were upon her. They always were.
But she smiled quietly to herself, lifted her book and continued to read.
The aroma of her own cappuccino before her struggled to lift itself above the scent of the ground coffee and freshly made tray bakes that filled the little cafe.
She tossed her long sun-kissed blonde hair back as her eyes fell to the page.
“Believe in yourself and nothing else,” the words ran.
Comfort nestled inside her chest, like a cat pacing about itself before laying down to sleep.
She had believed in nothing but herself, it’s what had brought her to where she was.
The cappuccino awoke her senses to new life as the cup touched her lips. The foam departed and found a new home upon her top lip. She licked it clear as she set the cup back upon the table.
Sinéad glanced down at her gold watch and a flash of annoyance ran through her as she realised Jenny was late.
She was always late.
She’s so selfish and inconsiderate, raged Sinéad internally and her mind wandered to all the more important things she could have been doing, rather than this coffee meet up.
It had been Jenny’s idea anyways.
She composed herself so as not to let her annoyance show and sipped again at her cappuccino.
Her eyes fell to her new white trainers and she failed to hide a scowl of disgust and annoyance at the black mark that marred her right foot. Grabbing the nearest napkin she scrubbed at it, clearing the most of it away.
She leaned back in the seat with a sigh.
“Sure they’re as good as new,” came a rough voice from beside her.
She turned her head to see a middle aged man sat there smiling at her.
A shudder of repulsion surged through her. The man was unkempt; a tangled beard hid most of his face, a heavy green coat lay upon him, vastly tattered. Even the way he sits, she thought. His two elbows upon the table, his back arched as though under a heavy strain, his two calloused hands joined.
She forced an ugly smile back at him and turned her shoulder, clearly indicating the conversation closed.
Foam briefly rested upon her lip again before being licked clear and once more tried to return her attention to her book. But the buzz of her phone distracted her before a word was read.
It was Brian.
It was always Brian.
Looking another hook up tonight.
“If only we were all as clean as those shoes,” the man interjected smilingly, resurrecting the dead one-sided conversation.
She rolled her eyes and moved her finger to close the message when she caught the time in the top corner: eleven minutes past eleven.
“If only we were,” the haunch seemed to mutter to himself, rubbing his thumb across his weathered palm.
She pursed her lips. A voice deep within her cried for her to close the message, to ignore him, to block and delete him. The reasons to say no boiled to the surface of her mind; he’s a scumbag, he shows her no respect, he’s demanding and controlling, he’s married!
But Eleven wanted something different. And Eleven knew best.
She sighed as she typed the two lettered reply. “Ok”.
The mans chair groan underneath him as he slid it back beneath him.
“Take care,” he said to her, his words colliding with ignorance, “God bless.”
He rose and greeted the advancing waitress, place money in her hand, turned and ascended the few stairs that lay before the door.
Though Sinéad never raised her stare, she thought she could feel his eyes upon her as he passed through the doorway.
And then he was gone.
She shuddered as the door closed. What a disgusting man.
The screen went black as she locked it once again.
“Sinéad!” came a friendly cry from atop the steps.
There stood Jenny, her red hair rustling in the open door, her face beaming.
Sinéad’s stomach lurched upon seeing her but she rose to her feet with a warm, put-on smile and hugged her as she approached.
“Look at you missus! You’re just gorgeous!” she complimented Jenny.
Blushing a little Jenny batted the compliment aside.
“Come on now, look at you!” she retorted, her eyes surveying the whole of Sinéad, “you look incredible!”
Jenny emphasised the final word, her hands gesturing you the air.
A smug warmth filled Sinéad with these words.
She knew she looked good. She had been hitting the gym five days a week for the past nine months. The tight fitted gear she had on showed it.
Sinéad tossed her long blonde hair back and laughed a little as though embarrassed and held a smile long enough for Jenny to see the glistening white pearls for teeth, all the more dazzling when set again her latest tan.
Her face was a portrait of beauty. She had always been an attractive girl, but she emphasised every aspect perfectly, never overdoing it.
Jenny was hooked and Sinéad knew it.
“Sit down, sit down,” Sinéad said motioning her towards the chair. A quick glance round confirmed that every man in the place had had a look. The warmth spread a little more.
“Can we get a tea here?” she asked to a passing waitress, “Tea still, yeah?”
Jenny nodded and the waitress smiled, nodded and left the ladies.
“So, tell me the craic! How’s you?” Jenny enquired as she chair squeaked closer to the table.
Sinéad adjusted her position, her shoulders set back, her chest out, her chin dropped.
“Oh you know, the same old, nothing wild or exciting...” she trailed off as she sipped the cappuccino again, her eyes fixed on Jenny over the rim of the mug.
“I’m just exhausted,” she continued when Jenny neglected to press more, “I mean I’m just back from Sri Lanka, and that was just after my month travelling The Far East. And the business is going so well, but I’m working every hour of the day. Honestly. Every hour! Plus finding time to make the gym. And this diet is a KILLER Jenny, honestly, a killer! But besides that, all quiet!”
Jenny’s mouth sat slack in awe. Sinéad smiled internally.
“That’s... wow... that’s amazing!” Jenny smiled in a daze, “you’ve done so much! And travelled the globe!”
A curt smile spread across Sinéad’s lips.
“Yeah,” she said, “yeah I have.”
“How do you find the time? Or the energy?”, Jenny asked, her arms gesticulating.
“Well, I do whatever Eleven tells me to do. Oh come on, surely you’ve heard about Eleven!”
Sinéad rolled her eyes in response to Jenny’s blank stare.
“Ugh,” she said as though she couldn’t be bothered explaining whilst secretly the earth purred about within. “The number eleven is very powerful, you see. It’s all about numerology. Eleven is a spiritual messenger. So stuff will happen at eleven minutes past eleven, or eleven will turn up and let me know that I should do something. Basically it guides me. If Eleven wants it, Eleven gets it!”
There was a silence between the two girls.
“Oh”, said Jenny quietly, “Like a lucky number?”
Sinéad laughed loudly, turning heads to see her pearled teeth glimmer in the fluorescent lights overhead.
“No! It’s MUCH more than a lucky number! Ah, I’m usually much better at explaining it! Basically if I’m meant to do something, start something or go somewhere, Eleven will be involved. Trust me. It works. But anyways, how’s you?”
“I... I... eh...” Jenny stammered out, blinking out the stargaze from her eyes, “I’m just kept busy with the baby I guess!”
She laughed sheepishly whilst a forced smile tainted with derision etched itself upon Sinéad’s face.
“That’s nice,” Sinéad replied in a sickly sweet tone, the revulsion boiling at the back of her throat.
But maybe she had been too sweet, maybe she hadn’t disguised her true thoughts, for Jenny stared back uneasily, her own smile faltering in the honey-soaked face that looked on her.
“Yeah,” Jenny started, shifting herself closer to the table and then running a hand over her own arm. Her gaze fell to the table.
“Yeah,” Jenny repeated with more assuredness, “it is.”
Her tone had blunted and her eyes found Sinéad’s once more. There was a resoluteness there, a stubbornness.
Sinéad erupted internally with rage but her face carried that same smile.
“I’m just not cut out for all that,” Sinead said quietly as if unveiling a scandal, “but you are so brave, I envy you!”
Emphasis was laid on envy. It struck Jenny harshly and her mind whirred.
“Well, you can get one of your own someday!” Jenny half-laughed unsurely.
Sinéad’s eyes held contact as she sipped again at her cup.
“Hmm,” she hummed, “No, no it’s not for me, I could never be just a mummy.”
Blood coursed through Jenny’s cheeks and her mouth dried in instant bitter anger.
“Just a mummy?” Jenny echoed flatly.
“No, no!” laughed Sinéad sweetly, “you know what I mean! Don’t be like that!”
And she lightly patted Jenny’s arm.
Jenny’s cheeks still ran red but she put on a smile regardless. She wondered why she had even bothered to come today. This wasn’t the Sinéad she knew.
“You know,” continued Sinéad changing the subject, “you should really come on my retreat, I think you’d get a lot out of it! You used to love retreats! What was the name of that summer one you used to go to again?”
“St Augustine’s,” she replied.
“Yes!” squealed Sinéad, “ugh, I had almost forgot all about that! Do you remember the time I hid in the confession box and near give that old priest a heart attack!”
Sinéad giggled with delight and Jenny broke into a natural smile as the memory surfaced.
That was the Sinéad she knew; funny and cheeky, not that obnoxious husk that had greeted her.
“Yeah, those were good times, pity we had to grow up I guess!” Jenny said as the waitress laid a small dimmed silver teapot, cup and milk jug before them.
“Well, I think you’d love my retreat,” picked up Sinéad, “it’s to focus you on you. And you’ve been slaving over that baby, I’d say you’re in need of that! I’ve seen your insta-posts!”
She said as she threw up a hand to silence Jenny’s protest and continued her pitch.
“It’s built on three simple pillars of self care;
Number One - you can do whatever you want to do;
Number Two - you answer to no-one but yourself; and lastly
Number Three; you are your own goddess.
See! It’s about empowering women, God knows we’ve been slaves long enough! All the girls can’t get enough! We get such good feedback, we actually change people’s lives!”
Jenny sat back in an uneasy silence. The air seemed chilled around her, pushing in at her from all sides. Sinéad’s eyes gleamed.
“It... I think... I’m not sure,” Jenny stammered out.
Sinéad threw herself back in shock.
“Not sure about what?!” she pressed grabbing the table edge as she hauled herself forward again.
There was a jarring pause.
“I don’t know, it just feels... wrong,” the reply came.
“Wrong?!” Sinéad struggled not to explode, “wrong how?!”
“I don’t know... selfish maybe or self centred even.” Jenny shrugged out the answer.
Sinéad boiled out. Her face itched with desire to contort and scowl but she held composure, injecting venom into her words.
“What would you know?! What have you seen of the world?? I’ve been out there, I know what women need. And they need this!”
Jenny put her hands before her, stemming the tide against her.
“Ok, if you say so, but it’s not for me.”
“Yeah,” Sinéad muttered, rolling her eyes, “that much is obvious.”
Jenny let out a long sigh, watching the friend she knew disappear before her eyes. Sinéad returned the gaze cold and empty.
“Well, maybe I should go then,” Jenny said to which she got a blunt “yeah” as a reply.
“It was... nice to see you Sinéad, I really hope things go well for you,” she said rising to her feet and leaving money beneath her untouched teacup.
“Yeah, see you later,” Sinéad said as she picked up her phone and flicked the screen to life.
Jenny took her cue to leave and bid a retreat up the stairs and through the door, her green coat blustering around her in the wind.
Her apartment door snapped shut with a jolt as Brian made his escape. He had got what he came for.
And once more Sinéad was alone.
The rain that had threatened all day finally made its assault on the window panes and its light out-of-step rhythm kept time to her thoughts.
She didn’t just feel alone, she was alone; cold inside, used, devalued, empty.
She loathed Brian.
But Eleven had wanted it. Eleven had his reasons.
She pulled the blankets around her, desperate to warm the emptiness that hollowed her inside.
Her eyes fell heavy and she drifted between this life and her dreams, unable to settle, always battling a storm of ash and smoke that suffocated and choked at her. She flayed the bed in unrest whilst the torment continued.
Until the night was broken.
She opened her eyes to the darkness, unsure what has caused the change to the room.
Her eyes scanned the shadows that watched her.
“Hello Sinéad,” spoke the shadows.
Fear gripped her entire body and held tight. Only her heart was free and it leapt wildly in its liberty.
“I’ve been wanting to speak with you for a long, long time,” the voice soothed.
It’s tones fell familiar yet she couldn’t place them. Her mind ran over with fear, it’s viscous perfume seeping into every pore.
“Wh-who’s there?” she breathed out, her lungs still captive.
“Don’t you know?” soothed the voice as beyond her window a bell chimed three, “it’s me.”
Her throat tightened all the more as her eyes scanned every shadow. The voice echoed around her and within her.
“Who?!” She demanded to the air, “WHO?! Show yourself!”
Silence fell about her, gently like leaves shaken in late Autumn.
From the shadows before her the darkness solidified, the silhouette of a man with unseeable features appeared.
“Please allow me to introduce myself,” he said curtly, “I’m Eleven”.
Fear now gripped her heart. It beat constrainedly within her.
“Wha- How? What?” she stammered out.
Eleven did not reply.
“But you’re not real,” she said to the shadow.
“How so?” he retorted was peppered with a hint of jeer. “You believe in me, you listen to me, to take my advice.” He paused. “You trust me. You allow me in.”
The last line ran cold with Sinéad.
“You know deep down that I’m real. I always have been. I’ve been around for a long, long year. It was I who spoke to the Oracle of Delphi. I who guided the seers for Sulla when they told him to sack Rome. It was I who warned the Druids of the man coming across the sea. I who instructed Merlin in his visions. I. I. I! I have always been here, and always will be. Today, I am Eleven, tomorrow... who knows.”
The chill within Sinéad spread outward and filled the room. Shadows darkened and drown any hope of light.
“And you Sinéad,” Eleven said quietly, “you are my beloved.”
The cold intensified, beating around her and scalding her skin.
“Let me in Sinéad,” Eleven commanded, “Let me in completely. Allow me to take you. You can be so much more! We can be so much more!”
Frozen in his grip Sinéad whispered out fearful consent.
Though unseen, Eleven smiled and stepped forward and the darkness engulfed her.