A funny thing happened while killing time in Broad Ripple…
Those that don’t live in Indy won’t care about the details, but suffice it to say, several of my long-time friends live north and east of Indianapolis. I am the only one of that clan to live south and west of downtown. One of my friends still lives in Broad Ripple, a place I used to visit frequently in my teens and twenties and now visit only a couple times a year.
Yes, that Broad Ripple. Fiona “Blue” Shaefer’s hangout prior to moving to the scary small town of Perionne, as referenced in Haunting Blue. Though an older, well-established suburb with many historical buildings, the presence of Butler University injects the area constantly with liberal youth often at odds with its long-term residents.
I took a trip north to meet up with my friends, and in a rare instance, we decided to group up in Broad Ripple. In a not-so-rare instance, being self-employed, I arrived in town a couple hours prior to my friends who all have to punch a clock. I thought I’d take advantage of the atmosphere to bring along the laptop (I really needed to replace that thing with some sort of pad–someday soon, I hope), find a coffee shop or restaurant, take in the local atmosphere, and see how it affects my muse.
Not many people know that the coffee shop Café Expresso as mentioned in Haunting Blue and Haunting Obsession really existed–past tense. It was a favorite hangout during my college years, a place for the more artistic type to meet during the day and, looking back, feel a bit insufferable about ourselves. Unfortunately, the little shop closed down around 1990 and so its legacy continued only in the pages of my stories, my little homage to a very cool place.
Or so I thought.
I barely had the presence of mind not to drive up onto the sidewalk when I saw the awning over a historical building in downtown Broad Ripple that declared itself to be the Café Expresso. I managed to pull over before embarrassing myself, and sat there for many seconds staring at the little shop and its ironic name. Dare I say…I felt like I’d seen a ghost.
Sometimes all you have is the cliché.
But that was nothing compared to how stunned I felt when I stumbled through the door to stare at the coffee bar….literally, a bar made up of several varieties of coffee beans behind see-through glass display containers, like a candy shop. The one element I recalled from the original place, and had put into my story. The booths and tables that gave my version a pub-like atmosphere… not so much….except….this new place had my revised layout.
Something really weird was going on, and I wondered if this was some sort of elaborate joke.
I heard a husky woman’s voice from across the room and froze. “Getting the usual tonight, Rebecca?” Literally, in mid-step, I simply stopped moving.
My brain wouldn’t accept what I was seeing. A woman in a black leather jacket proceeded to pull a fedora from her head and shake out waves of long, striking red hair. “Yes, please,” she answered, her eyes still hidden behind a pair of reflective sunglasses.
This has to be some sort of trick. Someone must have known I would be driving through and set this up. The only other explanation was that I had walked into a coffee shop of my imagination and now looked upon one of the major characters in my book series. And I knew Rebecca Burton didn’t exist. I’d made her up, along with everything else I was now looking at.
As cosplayers went, she was terrific. Mid 30s, stoic demeanor, and the perfect blend of Nell William’s and Bonnie Wasson’s interpretatoins.
As if on cue (and maybe it was) she looked up, did a double-take, and slowly removed her glasses. Her green eyes squinted at me, and her jaw slowly dropped. “What…are you…” Then words seemed to fail her.
I shook my head and approached. “Very good, Rebecca, or whatever your name really is. You must have practiced this moment for hours.
As I approached, she seemed to have regained her composure and motioned to the seat across from her. “Join me, R.J. Sullivan. I assure you I’m every bit as surprised as you are.”
Wow, she is good. “Okay, seriously, the act’s over. Who put you up to this? Stephen? John? Eric? Maybe Selah. This strikes me as the sort of thing she would concoct.”
“I assure you, this is no act, Mr. Sullivan.”
I looked around, half expecting to see the crew of What Would You Do step out any moment. “Come on, seriously. I hope I can use you for a book signing for cosplay.”
Rebecca’s eyes rolled. “I don’t cosplay, Mr. Sullivan. You, if anyone, should know that.”
“Okay, okay,” I laughed, then grew uneasy. “Still, the coffee shop, the awning, this is awfully elaborate for a practical joke.”
“I suggest you follow that train of thought, Mr. Sullivan. It’s amazing a person so dense is responsible for my existence.”
Okay, that comment stung a bit. “Hey, that’s not very friendly.”
“Sorry, it’s not very often one sees one’s creator walk through the front door. I’m not sure how I’m supposed to act.”
I considered, and then figured it would be better to go along and let them tell me in their own time. Clearly, whoever was responsible went through a lot of effort. “So you know who I am?”
“Of course, though I doubt the waitress does, or anyone else in this coffee shop. You gave me extraordinary perception, and I’ve been quite aware that I exist in two realities. There’s the one where I live and exist, where my actions impact the world I live in and those that reside in it.” She tapped her own chest, then motioned to me. “And then there’s your reality. The one where my reality is part of your imagination and put down in a series of paranormal thriller books.”
I laughed. “That’s terrific. Quite melodramatic. I could have written it myself.”
She released a sigh, the weariness in her demeanor showing through. “We can’t continue this way, Mr. Sullivan.” She extended her hand, palm up. “Take it.”
“Sorry, I’m a married…” Then her meaning became clear. “Wait…you mean, really… take your hand? Like…”
“Can you think of any other way to convince you?”
I felt the smirk come to my face. I couldn’t help it. This was too good. “Trying to hold my hand, Rebecca. You sly dog.”
She returned a humorless stare. She didn’t get it. Well, of course she wouldn’t.
“Okay, fine, here. I’ll take your—” As I placed my hand in hers, she gripped my fingers tightly, and the room suddenly spun out of focus.
“Listen to me, Mr. Sullivan. I’m really Rebecca Burton, I really have the power to influence your emotions. Since I know you’ve always wondered what this might feel like, I hope you enjoy the moment. But know that I’m not influencing you except to get you to accept this truth. I am Rebecca Burton.”
And, indeed, the room gently slipped out of focus and returned. My head swum, like fighting a bad cold, and a moment later, it cleared, and the reality of the situation sunk in. Of course she’s Rebecca. How could I have thought otherwise?
Then a second, competing thought. I’ve been manipulated by my own fictional character.
I released a sound, some sort of giggle. Or maybe a guffaw. Yes, let’s go with guffaw, because guys don’t giggle.
She released my hand, and the room returned to normal. “Wow…so….wow.” I released a breath, and tension left my body with it. “So…you’re really you. But…how?”
“An excellent question, Mr. Sullivan.” Her brows furrowed.
I waited. Come on, Rebecca, you’re the expert. You must have the answer.
And she did. “I suppose one could postulate a dynamic between the dimensions of our realities. Perhaps the point where your imaginative constructs would exist in your real world may sometimes create doorways that would allow you to travel to it.”
I considered. “Broad Ripple is a real place, but the café is not. But since I came here, and this is where the Café would exist, if it did, a doorway opened up, allowing me to enter.”
“Or maybe it’s just a contrivance for a publicity blog,” I offered.
Rebecca ignored me. “In any case, I doubt you can remain here for long, and I have many questions.” She hesitated. “It’s not often one gets to ask questions of their creator.”
Her tone sobered me up. “I suppose that’s true.” I nodded. “Ask away.”
“Have you made up your mind about my story?”
The question caught me off guard. “The fact that you know I’ve been pondering several options means you have access into my insight already.”
“True.” She sipped her coffee and met my eyes. “Does that surprise you?”
I laughed. “Of course not. You’re good. I made sure of that.”
“And yet,” Rebecca said, “I’m much more than I need to be. For instance, all Rebecca Burton had to be in Haunting Obsession was a paranormal investigator, but you’ve given me many extraordinary powers. Quite useful, but hardly necessary.”
“Those powers came in handy during Virtual Blue.”
She nodded. “True. But you have a good imagination. You could have written in a workaround.”
“I could have, but I have big plans for you.”
“I know.” Then, after a short pause, “And that terrifies me.”
“You should like the next story. You and Blue have quite the fun adventure.” I was referring to Blue Shaefer, the protagonist of Haunting Blue and Virtual Blue. In Virtual Blue, my two main characters meet and interact for the first time.
Rebeccan pressed. “I know, you’re going to tell the story about last Christmas. But you have planned several stories and then canceled many of them. I’m not sure if I should be concerned.”
It was true. “I thought I’d write a few smaller books along the line of Haunting Obsession. I’m working up to a more epic story I thought of a few years ago. Back then, I didn’t think my skill level matched the challenge of the tale.”
Rebecca gulped, even though the coffee still set on the table at her side. “And now?”
“Now, I’m going to go for it. I think I’m ready now. And I think you are, too.” I reached out and patted her hand. “It’s going to be a grand adventure.”
Words erupted from her. “Not all the possibilities you’ve pondered go well for me.”
I’d never imagined Rebecca Burton with fear in her eyes, and the look unnerved me. “Yours is the most important story in what my readers jokingly call the ‘RJ-Verse.’ I don’t know how it ends, but it needs to be told.”
“Sometimes…I get very angry about that.”
I gripped her hands tighter, trying with all my might to imbue comfort, courage, contentment, into her the way she does with so many others. “It’s going to be okay, Rebecca. I write most of my tales in deep third person. I won’t put you through anything we both can’t handle.”
“Can you…tell me anything more than that?”
“Spoilers? Of course not. Who knows who’s listening in right now?” I patted her hand one last time before withdrawing mine. “I’m very proud of how you’ve turned out. You were sort of a seat-of-the-pants creation I added to over a long time, and because of you, a lot of people want to know your story and read my books. They want to know your tale almost as much as I do.”
“I’d like to know it even more.”
“Well,” I reached down and grabbed my laptop. “I suppose I should get on my way and start to write it, then.”
I stood and extended my hand. “Tell Blue hello for me.”
Rebecca took it. No tingles, no attempt to manipulate. “You probably shouldn’t try to find this place again.”
“I figured as much, but I’m glad I found it today. I guess there’s no way to get you to one of my book signings, is there?”
“I suspect these portals are exceedingly rare.”
I shook my head and headed toward the door. “Too bad. You’d look terrific handing out bookmarks.”
“Thank you, but I think you have bigger plans for me than that, Mr. Sullivan. Goodbye.”
I offered one last wave. “Goodbye, Rebecca Burton. I’ll see you again soon.” I exited.
I drove a few blocks down the road. I didn’t even bother to look in my rearview mirror as I drove away to see the building was no longer there, because that would be cliché. I pulled into a McDs, entered, ordered a giant Styrofoam Cup O Diet Coke, opened a new file on my laptop, and started typing.
A Blue Shaefer and Rebecca Burton Holiday Tale
By RJ Sullivan