There was a secret in the Spring Beans cafe that only Andy and a select few customers knew. It was there waiting, it’s black spine distinct enough for the curious, to be plucked from the coffee stained hand-me down books that lined the corner of the café. A confessional for the coffee addict and day dreamer who found themselves alone in the reading corner; With the bookshelf and cosy armchair and table facing toward the window it gave the customer a privacy the rest of the café lacked. Every evening, after locking up and saying goodbye to Michelle and Lucas, he would go and read the confessional. It was a ritual he delighted in. Taking the black leather book from the shelf, he would rub his fingers on the cover like a priest patting their bible.
Andy did not expect to see someone sat quietly in the closed café. Due to the restrictive angle of the chair facing the window, Andy hadn’t noticed at first until he saw the grey chequered trousers and tanned brogue boots. The man was sat with his legs crossed deep in thought. He was an older man, well-groomed but with flecks of grey tinting the curled ends of his brown hair. Dark rings were gathered under his eyes, stretching out his somewhat long face to that of a character Andy would see on the front of a Grimm fairy tale book. They were always the devilish duke or cunning baron.
‘Excuse me? I’m sorry but we have now closed. Could you make your way to the exit?’
‘Do you own this cafe?’
‘I run it for the owner on the weekends. Would you like me to put the rest of your coffee in a to go cup?’
‘This belongs to you though correct?’ He uncrossed his legs and placed the little black book onto the table.
‘I’m sorry?’ Andy found himself saying to give himself enough time to find the right words that word could prevent any trouble. He had known since the first day he had decided to place the book amongst the others on the weekends he worked. He could still remember the first time he found it tucked between the leather seating of the armchair. There were only two secrets listed on it at the time, possibly from the creator themselves, and a scribbled blurb to leave a secret at the front. Since then Andy had found himself becoming the keeper of the coffee confessional. The unnamed man had found the second version after the first had become bloated with ink-blotched ramblings.
‘I’m sorry if anything in there offended you. It’s really just a bit of fun that’s all.’
‘Do you think this would cause problems if it got out? Do you think that’s why I want to know if you own it?’ The man asked and Andy could only nod. ‘Coffee confessional…and you would be the sin eater.’ The man leant down to his jacket, which was strewn across the arm of the chair, and rummaged through an inside pocket. Pulling out a wallet, he flicked through the folds, pinching together some fifty-pound notes. Finally settling for a second, he placed a neat amount on the table by the book.
‘What’s that for? You want to buy it from me?’ Andy felt such a pressure emanating from the man once those crisp notes were placed on the table, he couldn’t dare look him in the eyes.
‘I want to eat a sin myself. What I’m placing on the table is just a deposit so you can understand how serious I am.’
‘A sin. You want to buy the book? I’m sorry I just never saw this happening.’
‘Twenty thousand pounds for the sin I want to eat.’
‘Now you have to be joking with me. I’m really sorry if this book has caused offense. You know what, I’ll get rid of it.’ Andy reached down to grab the book. He could feel his scalp prickle and sting as he began to sweat heavily. The man reached out and pushed the money towards Andy’s hovering fingertips.
‘What are you afraid of?’ The man pressed the money harder until it began to curl up from the book and splay across the table.
‘That amount for the book. It’s too high.’ Andy couldn’t say it was the implication and unknown fear that he had now found himself in. This man, if not crazy, knew something far more disturbing about the book than him. At this angle Andy could do nothing but gaze back at the man and see those murky green eyes hiding his intent.
‘You’re wrong. It’s just right and I don’t want to buy the book. I just want to buy one page. One secret.’
‘You see why I’m worried now? Twenty thousand for just one secret.’
‘Never think lowly of a secret. Although you think what you are holding is a small book of jokes there could be some information in there which could ruin a life. It’s more a series of small grenades ready to pop and blow up a relationship, a career, a family.’
Andy had never grasped that aspect of the book. Settling into the sofa at closing he would skim through the pages and laugh at the silly secrets people had placed anonymously. Could a person really saying that they fancied their co-worker until they saw his belly button tattoo really be that devastating if it came out? The stranger sat across from him never wavered in his speech or decisions and it made his offer even more dangerous and enticing. Twenty thousand might not be anything to this man but it was almost life changing to Andy. It would allow him to finally rest and invest in a career he was interested in rather than the lifelong game of catchup he was playing to pay the rent.
‘How will you give me the money?’ Andy finally asked.
‘In a bag. It’s not that large if you have it in fifties. My driver will bring it up.’
‘You’ve got a deal.’ Andy said. He pulled up the sleeves of his jumper over his fingers like he used to at school before an exam. ‘Would you like a coffee while you choose the page? Don’t worry it’s on the house.’
‘I just need the other book first. The first version. The one you keep in your locker.’
‘Wait…’ Before Andy could finish his words, the man smiled and the lines around his eyes sharpened. He pointed out to the window as if waving to another. Andy followed the direction across the small road to the office complex opposite. The windows had almost turned black as they reflected the nights sky and dotted streetlights under them, but Andy could make out a shape on the other side. A small silhouette amongst the chairs and tables. Finally in reaction to the strangers pointing a lamp flicked on and a man was illuminated.
‘That’s my driver.’ The man explained but Andy knew from the build that driver was just a title that encompassed other jobs. ‘He had been watching this place a few months ago when he saw someone write in the book. He didn’t think much of it at first but seeing someone write in it really piqued his interest. Then he told me because I paid him to let me know what the person he was following did. Now you see I’m more interested in just one person’s secret. Does that change anything for you? I would pique my curiosity if anything.’
‘And what will you do to this person?’
‘Does it matter. I could lie to you and you would never know. You know you are pinching your hand, right?’
Andy gazed down and released his grip on the back of his hand. Only as the seconds passed did the pinched skin fade back to pink and his indecisiveness bubble to the surface.
‘Let me make you that coffee. What did you say you wanted again?’
‘I never did.’
‘You never asked what I wanted. I want a triple espresso please but place it in a large cup.’
‘S-sure thing.’ Andy felt every step as he walked back. He could feel the mans gaze scratch the back of his neck until he finally made his way around the counter and felt some small reassurance having a boundary between them. He poured the coffee grounds into the holder and tampered the grounds flat. His vision darted to the offices opposite but saw no one in sight. Twisting the shot in he turned on the espresso machine and watched as the inky black espresso dripped and pooled in the large mug. It was enough time for him to be left with thoughts. Enough time to push through his worries and shuffle into the staff room to grab the book.
Andy placed the mug of coffee down to the side and the first edition of the coffee confessional in centre place like he was offering a meal. The man nodded and took hold of the book. Those sharp eyes flickered as he skimmed through his selection of secrets. As the man skipped through the pages Andy tried to guess his choice. Could his wife be the one who stole the little sugar packets from cafes to eat in the middle of night? Was it his child who crashed the family car and blamed it on their brother who everyone hated? Was it a lover who confessed to only want to go on dates when they were hungry? Or was there something truly awful hidden away like he had said? Finally the mans finger settled on a page towards the end. He tapped the page several times never giving the slightest glimpse to an emotion on his face. Placing the book aside he unlocked his phone and sent a message. Almost instantly Andy heard a knock at the door as the man returned to the book and tore the paper from its binding. The driver was outside the café’s door holding a rucksack. Before Andy could move to let the driver in, he caught the man in the chair lean forward and dunk the paper into his coffee. Smothering the paper in the cooling espresso he stirred it with his fingers making sure to coat the paper fully. Stirring and dunking until the paper loosened and stained. Then, satisfied, the man scooped the secret out and placed it in his mouth. His lips smacked and neck twitched at the inedible object being forcibly swallowed down his gullet. The sin was eaten.