“Who exactly are you?” Sue asked once she was inside and sitting down at the long bar that overlooked the kitchen.
The man smiled a little and set a steaming red mug down before her. “The owner,” he said, and took the seat next to her. “Go ahead – drink it.”
Sue eyed the cup with distrust, but picked it up and brought it to her lips anyways. She sipped. “Wow,” she murmured. “That’s pretty good. And I love Irish Cream…”
He grinned brightly and held out his palm. “Four twenty-three,” he demanded cheerfully.
“Do you get all your customers by conning them?”
“Only the ones who look like they’re unimpressed,” confessed the owner. Now that Sue had paid and surveyed him closely, she noticed how young he was. He smiled again as their eyes met. “But,” he said, “Why are you here?”
The simple question seemed to hold a great deal of untold weight to it. It confused her; why was she here? Was it because she left school to ignore Clare? Or was it because, for the first time in her life, she’d been interested in a ghost?
As if she could tell him the truth. She’d looked around the coffee shop a few times, but she hadn’t seen the ghostly woman she’d followed. Considering how things had turned out, Ryan couldn’t blame her. She’d tried.
“Just because,” she said, and took another sip of the steaming coffee.
There was something strange about the owner.
He excused himself as a small group of customers rang the bell, leaving her to her coffee. She moved to the corner of the room to allow the patrons to take up the space at the front counter as the owner took their orders.
His face was cheery out in the serving area and a perfect mask of concentration the moment he stepped into the kitchen. Sue observed him through the large, glass-less window, and decided she’d never seen a man make anything with such a serious expression. Even then, she slightly attributed that to the fact that he wore traditional Korean clothing, complete with the black hat her grandfather taught her was called a Gat. She honestly thought it looked ridiculous, but for some reason, it made him seem trustworthy.
And, she noticed, right before he served the coffee, when no one but she watched, he chanted a prayer.
What surprised her most was when the owner invited the three middle-aged patrons to sit for a while and enjoy their drinks, and they complied. When they entered, all three had looked in a rush – probably running late because of the unexpected rain. Now they looked relaxed.
Moreover, now they were talking loudly and happily, swapping stories, complaining, laughing, and ignoring the time. She was sure their lunch breaks would end soon, but on they talked, about nothing in particular.
The owner listened to it all.
Once the tardy business men’s cups were empty and their bodies out the door, Sue pounced. “What was that?” she asked. “Earlier?”
The owner blinked. “Hm?”
“That chant,” she insisted. “It was Korean.”
He looked confused. “What chant?”
“Whatever…” she muttered. “How old are you?”
“Me?” he asked. “Why?”
“You look pretty young to own your own business in San Francisco,” she explained, and finished off her now lukewarm drink. “I’m curious.”
“Curiosity killed the cat, you know,” he said, taking a seat across from her.
“Good thing I’m not a cat,” she countered.
He smiled, grabbed the mug from her fingers, and refilled her cup. “I guess not. Now that I think about it, I don’t know your name.”
She watched as fresh steam spiraled into the air. “It’s Sue.”
“Sue what Baek?”
“…Baek Sam Soon.”
There was a pause. Then, the owner snorted.
She glared at him.
“Who named you?” he gasped between laughs. “Your Great-Grandfather? Or a classic drama fan?”
“I go by Sue,” she snapped, now angry. “And my great- grandfather did name me, in fact. I don’t really – stop laughing!”
The walls shook with the force of his laughs.
When he finally calmed down, he was smiling from ear to ear. “Sorry,” he apologized, not looking the least bit apologetic. The grin gave him away. “I like the name Sam Soon. Were you born in Seoul?”
She shook her head. “I was born and raised here,” she said. “It was my grandpa who moved to the US. And call me Sue.” She paused to sip her newly filled coffee, and the owner’s eyes sparkled. “And what about you?” she asked. “What’s your name?”
He smiled. “Me?”
Outside, the last raindrop finally hit the earth.
“My name is Kyung Tak.”
Kyung Tak, the owner of the Kyung Tak Coffee House, held out an empty palm.
“That’s a dollar-fifty for the refill.”