tilly with the others: part 36

The Four Corners GO bus depot always bewildered Tilly. Somehow they had carved it out of a back street in the heart of the old farm town that had been Brampton before the suburbs came and paved the fields over. Just when a bus rider thought that there was nowhere for the bus to stop, it turned some impossibly tight corners and pulled into a dedicated berth just a few steps away from the intersection that was officially Four Corners.

The man who had tried to talk to her about her book had disembarked at the more popular Bramalea stop in the east end, to Tilly's relief. She left the bus and walked to the nearest corner. The intersection it led to was not Four Corners, although there were banners hanging from streetlights proclaiming the area was the Four Corners neighbourhood.

"Are you lost?" Tilly started and noticed the woman who had spoken to her at the Toronto bus station was standing beside her.

"Er, I was just looking for the Tim Hortons," said Tilly.

"That way," the woman pointed.

"Thank you," said Tilly. She pretended to hesitate. "I'm sorry, but have we met before today? You look awfully familiar. Did you used to work out this way?"

The woman smiled. "We've never met, but you've met some of my... colleagues."

"Ah," said Tilly. "Spadina subway station, am I right?"

The woman's smile broadened. "No, I'm pleased to say. But we've been watching you since you were six years old. I'm sure you remember how that started."

"You blend in a lot better than your colleagues."

The woman shrugged. "I don't usually go out in the field, so I haven't had to choose a form until recently." She looked as if she was going to say more, but then glanced apprehensively at the GO bus. "I have to return to your domestic area," she said.

"I understand," said Tilly, although she wasn't sure she did. The woman smiled once more and turned back towards the bus depot.

"Take care, and thank you for the directions," Tilly called out, but the woman didn't acknowledge that she had heard.

The Tim Horton's was exactly where the Other woman had said it would be. It was full of people that Beth would definitely not approve of — most of them were in torn jeans, dirty lumberjack shirts, and faded t-shirts bearing the logos of various 1970s prog and heavy metal bands. Tilly noticed one preppy-looking couple huddled in a corner, as if they were afraid they were going to be attacked at any moment by the other customers.

The male half of the couple noticed Tilly as she approached the order counter and gave her a nervous smile. Tilly smiled back and then turned to face the back of the customer ahead of her. She wondered what the preppy couple would have been so friendly if she had time-warped in from 1968 wearing the kind of clothes she had back then. She rather suspected not.

Tilly ordered her standard coffee and doughnut, then found an empty table in the dining area. She noted that this particular shop had not just the usual one, but several signs saying there was a twenty minute maximum for sitting at the tables. It made sense — there were a lot of people living in the area for whom hanging out at a doughnut shop was a major event on their social calendar. She hoped Owen wouldn't be too late, and for the first time in her life wished she had a cell phone. It wouldn't make him hurry up, but it would help her either convince any by-the-rules manager she wasn't loitering if she stayed longer than twenty minutes, or else convince Owen to show up on time in the future.

She ate her doughnut first while letting her coffee cool down a bit. Then she took a sip of her coffee and pulled out We Came from Outer Space: A Study of the Human Extraterrestrial. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the preppy husband blanch as he noticed the name of her book. She suppressed a smile.

Twenty-five minutes later, Tilly had finished her book, her coffee was cold, the preppy couple had left, and the shop staff hadn't said anything to her about loitering. A glance at the clock above the doughnut racks told her that Owen was fifteen minutes late. She sipped her coffee and grimaced.

She had picked up her purse from the floor, wondering if she should get a second coffee, when Owen came in, hair windblown and face red. He glanced around the shop with such alarm that Tilly was worried the staff would say something.

"Owen, I'm here," she said, standing up.

"Sorry I'm late, I had to pick something up from the supermarket, I should have done it after...."

"Good to see you," she said, patting him on the sleeve. "Let's go."