Letting In and Cafe Holden Stories
Leah’s POV :
When I skipped into Cafe Holden this fine Saturday morning, I was ready for the burst of energy that always surrounds Emilia but was greeted with an eerie silence. Not even Axel was around front.
I went back outside to check if the cafe was closed and the door had been left open just like on New Year’s Eve but it had the open side facing outside, indicating my guess was wrong. Frowning, I leaned over the counter and shout, “Emmy!” As loudly as I could.
After several minutes of silence, I hear noise coming from the kitchen and seconds later, a disheveled Axel appears with his hair all over the place and a tired look in his eyes. Seeing it’s me, he gives me a smile that looked more like a grimace. “Hey, it’s you.”
I shrug. “Who else? I’m possibly your only customer.” He chuckles and nods and then leans his head on the cold marble counter, closing his eyes. “What’s wrong? You look as if you’ve been through a blizzard and back.”
He looks up at me and smirks, closing his eyes again. “You have weird examples to relate situations too.”
I rolls my eyes. “So?” I ask, tapping my foot impatiently.
He sighs and stands straight, leaning on the counter and securing his head on his palm. “Emilia’s grandma had a heart attack. Julie and Emmy had to leave early in the morning to visit her. I’ve not been able to sleep since they left.”
I nod. “And you didn’t go?” I ask.
He sighs. “Did you forget -”
I cut him off. “Yeah yeah, she’s Emmy’s paternal grandma and you’re not good with strangers. But why did you open the cafe? You’re clearly tired and I’m sure Julie wouldn’t have minded if you closed for a day.”
Axel shrugs. “Who cares? There’s no customer coming in here so it’s the same.”
I quirk a brow. “Exactly. There’s no one coming in here. Why open?”
He straightens up and looks me directly in the eye. After a small moment of silence, he says softly, “I was hoping you’d come.” My heart skips a beat when he says that my mouth opens ever so slightly in surprise. Realizing what he said, he clears his throat. “After all, you’ve already reduced your daily doze of my delicious coffee to twice a week only. I didn’t want you to keep away from that too.”
I bite my lips to hide a smile and look down at my shoes, my hair covering my face that had slightly tinged my cheeks pink. When I look up, I raise an arrogant brow, still hiding my smile. “So? Where’s my coffee?”
He rolls his eyes. “Take a seat, mi’lady. I’ll bring it to you.”
I nod and turn back around, letting out the smile that has been threatening to burst and slowly, it turns into a grin. I don’t even know why I’m so happy by what Axel said. I hop and skip up to my usual table and scrunch my nose up when I realize that I don’t have my usual stuff with me today. In all honesty, I hadn’t planned on coming here. I was going to Tracy’s, as per Kevin’s request but I found out that she had gone to visit her Dad in the next town and was returning home when I changed my route and walked here.
“Here.” Axel’s voice breaks me off from my thoughts and I look up to see him putting two cups of coffees on the table.
“Are both for me?” I ask, smiling, hoping he won’t see the slight blush highlighting my cheeks.
He chuckles. “No.” He answers simply and brushes his fingers against my cheeks lightly before walking towards the main doors. My eyes widen. He noticed!
I see him flipping over the open sign to closed and locking the door before returning back to the table and taking a seat across from me. I narrow my eyes at him.
“What?” He says innocently, sipping on his coffee. “I don’t want anyone to come in when we’re closed like the last time and leave without paying.” He says indicating to when Dave had barged in, despite the cafe being closed.
I chuckle. “And since when do you drink coffee?” I ask.
“I’m tired.” He shrugs.
I purse my lips, keeping my smile from widening and pull the other cup towards me. I look down to see the solar system crafted on the coffee. My grin breaks. “The solar system, really?”
He gives me an amused smile. “Well, seeing that you’ve got yourself a collection of Stephen Hawking and other Universe’s theory related books, I thought it’s something of your interest.”
“It is!” My grin widens. “I just love learning about strange and new facts about our Universe and I would love to find out the hidden mysteries and truth about everything one day.”
“Like the Bermuda Triangle?” He asks.
I nod, widening my eyes in excitement. “And the Black Hole.”
He chuckles. “So do we have an upcoming scientist over here?”
I frown thinking about what he said and then shake my head. “No. As much as the secrets of the Universe interest me, I have always wanted to be a medical scientist.”
He nods in acknowledgment, sipping his coffee. “So a medical discoveries then, instead of universe’s discoveries.”
“Yep.” I finish my coffee and push the cup away. “I like learning about what’s already been found about the universe. The facts and truths that exist and I like to wonder about the unproven suspicions like any other science curious person. But I’ve always wanted to research and experiment and find cures for diseases that are still untreatable. Give the world back something before I die.”
Axel looks at me for a while, making me shift under his gaze then sighs and leans back in his seat, pushing his cup away too. “Leah Carmen. You’re something else.”
“Is it a good thing?” I ask with a small smile playing on my lips.
“Definitely.” He answers without missing a beat.
I bite my lip and lean forward, resting my folded arms on the table. “What about you? What do you want to be, to do in life?”
He sighs and looks away for a while, a thoughtful look passing over his face before he turns to look at me. He then gives me a soft, almost sad smile, his eyes longing for something. “I don’t have as big and selfless ambitions as you, Leah. All I want is to be someone’s first choice, someone’s priority. I want to mean the world to somebody and I want that somebody to be my world. All I want is to be wanted. That’s it.”
His answers shocks me and my mouth opens and closes like a fish. “Wow.” I breath. “That was not what I expected. But Axel, everyone wants to be somebody to someone. It’s a natural human tendency to want to be wanted.”
He smiles softly, looking away. “I know.” He meets my eyes and I’m kind of taken aback by the intensity swirling in them. “But there’s a difference in this case, Leah. That is all I ever want.”
The next few moments are filled with a comfortable kind of silence where we both let our thoughts to the talking. Then, he swiftly changes the subject. “So Leah, what’s your story?”
I look away from the glass window that was providing me with the view of the street outside to look at him and frown. “What do you mean?”
He gives me a knowing look. “Come on, don’t tell me that a girl who’d rather spend her Christmas holidays and every other holiday in a quiet cafe almost at the outskirts of the city with family and friends looking at her as if she’s a porcelain doll doesn’t have an interesting backstory. What are you running away from?”
My jaw drops on his observation but I compose myself. Ignoring the last part of his sentence, I jut my chin out. “What is your story?”
“I asked first.”
“I asked second.”
He sighs. “So if I tell you my story, you promise to tell me yours?”
I nod tentatively. “Maybe.”
Axel purses his lips, looking at me curiously and then nods. “Okay. I’ll start.” I nod, indicating him to continue as I shift closer and give him all my attention.
“I also used to have a happy family as a kid, you know? Mom, dad and me, we were happy and everything was just perfect for me. I couldn’t have asked for more. Then one day, Dad just packed up his stuff and left. I was only eight back then. Apparently, Dad had cheated on Mom. They had been fighting for long and were finally going through divorce. But the eight year old me didn’t know all that. All I knew was that Dad had left us and was about to start a new family with someone else.”
He meets my eyes for a brief moment before looking away, a distant look on his face. “After he left, Mom became miserable. She constantly blamed herself for him leaving and thought that she didn’t deserve to be love by anyone, that she deserved to go through the pain of abandonment. But she was wrong, so wrong. I would have loved her for my whole life but she didn’t know that. Or she didn’t need me. She grew distant, leaving me fend for myself.”
He pauses again, taking a deep breath as if the memory still hurt him. I keep quite, not wanting to interrupt the mood we have settle into.
“Things got better when my soon to be stepdad entered our lives and Mom became the strong, confident woman I always knew her to be. They got married when I was ten. Life was better. My stepdad actually loved me unlike the stories I had read about as a kid. A year later, I was blessed with a little sister and I swear I felt like I had everything I could ever want. Things changed when my two year old sister was diagnosed with cancer. Our financial condition tumbled because of the medical bills and despite everything, our little bundle of joy passed away two years later.”
He looks back at me, his eyes glistening with unshed tears. “She loved me too much, you know. She was a younger version of Emilia, always high on sugar, always happy and smiling, even when she was in pain. After she left us, everything fell out of place. It was like she was the glue joining our broken family together. Dad started drinking and abusing Mom and me. Mom, who had already seen a man leave her once, didn’t want a repeat of that. So she blamed me for everything that ever went wrong.”
Axel blinks looks down at the table, subtly wiping away the tears that fell. “I didn’t have anyone else other than them and I didn’t have anywhere to go. Sometimes, Grams would take me with her but Mom would come finding me and every time that happened, I would think that maybe this time, things would be better except they never were. And then one day, my drunk stepdad got himself and Mom in a car accident and they died on impact.”
He meets my eyes again, eyes telling a story of misery and pain, eyes holding vulnerability. “I lost everyone and everything I loved in an instant. I was send to a foster home where I lived for a year. Julie took me in when I was seventeen, probably because she sympathized with me and that she was my mom’s sister. Emilia’s Dad didn’t like that I was living with them. I was obviously unwanted, it was as clear as day. When he passed away, I, kind of, became the man of the house. Julie trusted me with the cafe and told me to use the money that we made from here as my college tuition. And that’s how here I am.”
He finishes and leans back in his seat, arms folded on his chest and eyes holding my gaze, refusing to look away and seem vulnerable. As soon as he finishes telling his story, his mask of impassiveness is back. “So that’s the fucked up story of my fucked up life. Your turn.”
I sigh and shake my head. “You’re allowed to show emotions, Axel. I won’t judge you. You’re allowed to feel the pain if something is hurting you and you’re allowed to cry if you can’t hold back.”
He visibly swallows and nods at me. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
One thing makes me frown as I recall his story, taking everything in. “Wait a minute, how old are you?”
He chuckles at my totally of the topic question. “I’m twenty one. I go to the community college and I’ll graduate next year - anything else?”
I nod, another question burning in my mind. “Yes. If your sister dies when she was four, who is Adira? I always thought she was your sister.” I ask, referring to the little bundle of energy I met on Christmas at the hospital.
Axel chuckles, his face showing genuine happiness at the mention of the little sunshine. “Adira, that girl.” He meets my eyes, his own showing mirth. “After my sister passed away, I’d save my yearly pocket money and buy a gift for at least one child suffering from cancer and visit the hospital with Grams on Christmas. It’s my sister’s birthday. Grams would buy sweets for other children as it would be rude to give gifts to only one of them and it became my own little tradition. When I moved in with Julie, she joined me too.”
“Four years ago, we were at the hospital when a car crash victims were brought in. The parents were already dead, leaving behind a sixteen month old survivor. It was Christmas that day too. A week later, Julie told me that sixteen month old was diagnosed with the same cancer my sister died of. Apparently, she was born with the tumor in her stomach. I decided to visit her and overheard the nurses talking that the hospital staff didn’t have any information on the dead family. Probably, they were tourists. The little girl didn’t have a name either. So I suggested on giving her the name that belonged to my little sister - Adira.”
Axel was happy and excited when talking about Adira and that made me smile. “She is so much like my sister. Always smiling, always high on energy. I can do anything for her.”
I snickered at that. “Yeah, I got that when I was labeled your girlfriend that night.”
“I just don’t want to hurt her. I fear that her sad face will be the last one I ever see if I make her sad so I practically do anything she asks of me.” He sighs.
My hand involuntarily move to engulf his and give them a squeeze. “She has grown on me too.” My words cause him to chuckle and he flips over our hands, now holding mine as if it’s the most normal thing in the world.
“Okay, now if you don’t have anymore question, it’s your turn.” He reminds.
I sigh and play with his fingers before looking up and meeting his eyes. “You’re not going to let this go, are you?”
He narrows his eyes at me. “Come on, I told you something I never want to talk about. I rarely ever discuss my parents with Julie. You can’t back out.”
I chuckle sardonically. “My story isn’t as interesting as yours. It’s quite pathetic, really.”
“Try me and see if I care that it’s pathetic. Whatever your story is, it’s special because it’s yours and it shouldn’t be compared to anyone else’s. Just like you can’t one’s measure pain or happiness and compare them with another.”
His words hit home and I found a little spark of courage telling to open up. Just like that first moment after a really good pep talk has you all confident. But before I could open my mouth, my phone rang.
I gave Axel a guilty look and untangled our hands as I took my phone out. “Hey Trace.”
“I need you, Leah.” My friend sobbed from the other side of the phone. I could hear her sobbing and immediately, I was on my feet.
“Trace, are you okay? Where are you?” I asked, frantic as I paced towards the door.
“At your place.” She sniffed. “Grant told me you were at the cafe, probably with Axel. I didn’t want to disturb you but I -” She couldn’t complete her sentence as she broken down.
My mind was everywhere at once. I tried pulling the door open but it wouldn’t budge. “Shh, Trace. Calm down, I’ll be there as soon as I can, okay?”
“Ugh.” I groaned when the door still didn’t open. A hand came from behind me, unlocking the handle reminding me of when Axel had locked it. I turn around slightly to face him. “Thanks.”
“Is everything okay?” He asks with a worried look on his face.
I nodded. “Yeah, just my friend need me at the moment. I’m sorry, but I have to go.”
“I understand. Just give me a minute, I’ll grab my keys and drive you back.” He says. Before I could protest, he is already running off back inside. Five minutes later, he is backing out his truck. I climb in and we drive off towards my home in silence.
When we are parked outside my gates, we both climb out. “Will I see you tomorrow?” He asks.
I tuck my hair behind my ear and nod. “Probably. I don’t have any other plans unless I’m needed by my friend again.”
Axel smiles a small smile and for the first time, I notice his dimples. “I’ll be waiting for your side of the story.”
I don’t answer but nod. He drives off and I get inside my home to figure out what has my friend troubled.