Ryan soon arrived. The girl nearly sighed aloud in relief, but kept herself in check. Her eyes shifted to the Barista, who was minding his own business, contently holding a cup of his own concoction.
“Sue,” said Kyung Tak airily, “The rain should stop soon. Would you like to stay longer?”
She jumped a little – the girl ghost had poked her cheek again. “Uh,” she said, shifting uncomfortably, “I-I don’t know… I should get back home at some point…I’ve got, like...homework...”
His eyes sparkled. “If you stay until the rain ends, I’ll give you another free cup!”
“Why are you giving me free coffee?” She asked. The crowd of dead were establishing rules for how far away everyone had to stand for the dash to the mug to be fair.
“Because we’re friends!” Kyung Tak exclaimed cheerfully.
Ryan eyed the man suspiciously, a furrow between his transparent brows, and then sat next to Sue.
“Hey!” cried the middle-aged ghost, “That’s cheating! You have to stand in a circle like the rest of us if you want that coffee!”
“I’m not here for your stupid competition,” Ryan said. He glanced at Sue. His attention shifted to the untouched cup.
Kyung Tak stood and dusted off his bright clothing. “I’ll go get something for us to eat, so long as you’ll stay,” he offered. “Nothing fancy – just some rearranged leftovers.”
She was close to actually begging him to stay in the room with her. “I’m not hungry,” she said. The ghosts relaxed.
The Barista smiled. “I insist.”
“W-what about the mug for your offering?” she asked a little too frantically.
He smiled at her. “Oh, it’s not mine anymore. It belongs to the spirits that claim it.”
As if reading her mind, all the phantoms tensed, an equal distance from the table.
Right before her eyes, the cup of coffee slowly turned from opaque to translucent.
Ryan tapped her shoulder. “Sue,” he said under his breath, “You should look out – this is going to get violent.”
“Be back in a minute with some dinner,” Kyung Tak said, and vanished into the kitchen.
The moment Kyung Tak stepped into the back, the middle-aged ghost let out a wild battle cry, and everyone lunged at once. Some of the dead – she soon realized – were level two ghosts; the table was knocked completely away by the charge, and the full cup in her hands went flying.
In the end, the young ghost took advantage of the confusion to worm her way between the crowd and drink the coffee before they knew what had happened. Ryan sat completely still, having not joined the fight. The table had flipped over, and Sue was frozen in shock. The middle-aged ghost shouted profane words in frustration at the girl, who laughed maniacally and waved the empty cup in his face.
“Sue? I heard you scream, is everything – what happened?” asked Kyung Tak. He’d come back into the main room to see the carnage of liquid spilled all over the floor, the table and chairs at her spot completely flipped out of place, and Sue, standing in all the chaos.
The blood drained from her face. How was she going to explain this? “Kyung Tak, I, I,” she stuttered. She looked at the chaos. “This is, um, this isn’t… I didn’t…flip over the table; it was, uh, oh, God…”
There was a sparkle in his eyes she didn’t understand.
“Why are you smiling?” she asked loudly as the ghosts melted away through the walls, disappointed and dead stomachs empty. Ryan took one look at the owner’s expression and sighed. “I really didn’t flip over – I swear! I, I can’t-”
“Sue,” said Ryan, “Give it a rest. He knows.”
“Huh? Knows, what does he-” She gasped, hands flying up to cover her mouth. She spoke to someone that didn’t exist. “I swear I’m not crazy,” she explained, “I-”
He cut her off with a large, loud, happy peal of laughter. She stared. The Barista’s grin now made sense to her, and he spoke just as realization was beginning to dawn on her: “You can see them too, can’t you?”
The mystery surrounding the owner of the House grew just a little larger. Memories of Sam Dong, as a child, floated into her head, and she had to actively push them back. “You,” she whispered, “You can…see ghosts?”
The man tilted his head a little. “I’m more surprised that you can see them,” he confessed.
Her head spun.
It had stopped raining. The order of the House had been restored to normal. Ryan and the old ghost were still there, and the younger apparition patted the older on the back as he brooded over missing out on the offering.
Kyung Tak had taken the time to close the shop for the day, and it was when he took off the Gat that she knew they were having a long conversation. The black hat rested on the newly flipped table, and Sue noted in shocked attention that his hair was not, as she had thought it would be, in a topknot. In fact, it was rather short.
“Who are your friends?” he asked, nodding at the old man and Ryan. The latter looked up and glared.
“They…uh,” she mumbled, “The younger one is Ryan…I don’t know who the old ghost is…”
Kyung Tak smiled at them both. “Nice to meet you.”
The old man smiled. “You remind me of my granddaughter,” he said fondly.
Ryan abandoned his dead companion and sat so close to Sue that she shivered. “Nice to meet you,” he repeated flatly.
“Oh, my God,” Sue exclaimed loudly, “You can see ghosts!”
“We are few, are we not?” he sighed.
“Why?” she demanded. “How? Hardly anyone…No, besides me and my brother, not a single person I’ve met can…How can you-? What-?”
“Well, what about you?” he retorted. “Why can you see them?”
“I’ve always been able to see them!” she argued.
“Perhaps it’s the same for me?” he suggested.
She considered the possibility in disbelief. This was mad. “I’m so surprised,” she said.
“Well, are you looking for a job?” he asked. “I could use some help. I run a small business, you see, but employees that meet the criteria are quite difficult to come by...”
“What’s the ‘criteria’?” asked Ryan bluntly.
“Well, an employee would need to have to ability to work directly with the deceased,” the Barista explained. “You already know that ghosts can touch you, correct?”
She grit her teeth. “Unfortunately.”
“And that’s an ability, a gift, that people without our sight cannot posses. A very high level ghost could affect a regular person, but only barely. We, however, can shake hands with, pass things to, and even push or shove the dead.” Kyung Tak chuckled. “Of course, only if at least one party is willing. You couldn’t physically bump into a ghost by accident-”
“She knows how it works,” Ryan said.
Kyung Tak ignored him. “So, what do you say? Are you looking for a part-time job?”
“I want nothing to do with it,” she said immediately. “It’s bad enough that I’m not normal, and now you want me to work around dead people?”
“If you change your mind,” he said, smiling, “Come tell me.”
Before she could respond, the old ghost shuffled forward and grabbed Kyung Tak’s hands in his own. “Are you the one?” he asked.
“Are you the one the others talk about?” he implored. “Can you help me?”
The Barista smiled warmly. “Of course. What do you need?”
“My granddaughter,” he said softly, “My granddaughter thinks that I left her…I didn’t! She must hate me… Please, help me!”
He nodded. “That’s my job. I’ll lay your regrets to rest, and then you can move on.”
Ryan frowned. Sue stared.
What exactly was this place?
She had a feeling he did much more than sell coffee.
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