The warm summer breeze carried smells of baked bread, and cinnamon, and... and her own nervous sweat. She sipped her coffee with a shaky hand, trying to remember what a normal customer would look like.
Her therapist had said to focus on mundane things to calm down, to notice objects in her enviroment. But her head jerked to look at every passing face, imagining worst-case scenarios where a coworker made a spontaneous trip to this part of town and recognized her, saw the suspicious manila envelope on her table, her hand protectively on top of it, and deduced her intentions. No, wait, worst-case would be if Mattias got here before that, and they recognized him as a Times reporter.
Shit shit shit. This was a bad idea. She should’ve never come. No matter what her lawyer assured her, there was no way she’d be safe if her name got out as being part of this. Why did they choose to meet in public? People might see them.
She froze when she saw a familiar face, but when he smiled politely she realized it was just Mattias. He looked at her face, then the envelope, before he took a seat.
“Is this everything?” He said. Sensing her unease, he didn’t waste time. More time to think meant more time second guessing her decision. He was smart.
“If I do this, you’re not using my name,” she said, verifying for probably the tenth time.
“It’ll be completely anonymous,” he said, reassuring her. “Still, I usually recommend taking a long vacation. Don’t tell people where you’re going, especially not your boss or coworkers. If you quit before they’re in trial, it’ll look suspicious.”
Her eyes widened, realizing how much she hadn’t considered, how reckless this all seemed now.
When the police identified the body of Steve Gomez, the last person who tried to expose GlobeTech, the rumors inside the company never once entertained the possibility of coincidence. Meaning one wrong move was the difference between sparking an investigation as the lead witness or the victim. And even if she lived long enough to testify, her career was as good as over.
“I can’t do it,” she said, pulling the envelope against her chest as her eyes teared up. “They'll know it was me, they'll find out.”
He sighed. “I know it’s scary. And I know it's a lot to ask. But you’ve come this far, and if you let them intimidate you now, they’ll just keep on getting away with this. And then who knows how many more kids will die?”
The chatter and clatter of the bustling cafe faded as her pounding heart drowned out all sound, and her vision closing in at the edges. He was right. No matter what terrible fate she might have before her, it could never compare to the fate of all these kids, if GlobeTech wasn’t stopped. Biting her lip, her cheeks wet, she lowered the envelope back to the table and pushed it across to him. He slipped it into his messenger bag and looked at her a second longer.
“You’re doing the right thing,” he said.
She looked past him, looked at the clouds, the birds swooping around the patio in search of food. The child at the corner table, both hands on the chair's arm, staring in awe at a pigeon eating crumbs. Knowing this might be the last time she could pause and appreciate such things, it all seemed so much more precious.
She nodded to Mattias. “I hope so.”