He walks so arrogantly. I guess that’s his father’s influence, though. Growing up the son of a Gatekeeper must have its privileges, and I bet this Demon’s never known a day of hard work. I’ve studied humans long enough to know that the suit he’s wearing doesn’t come cheap. The car he stepped out of costs more than average human home, and the driver who opens his door doesn’t have the backbone to look him in the eye. You’d think he’d be low-key considering he’s a creature from the Underworld, the capital of the Under Realm, the firstborn heir of the Red Gate, but I don’t think Sebastian Mordeur knows the meaning of low-key.
He enters the mirrored building he owns and disappears. I don’t know what his human job is exactly, but a lot of people work for him.
Why was I chosen? Why not Helena? She’s older than me, definitely more powerful than me, but I get stuck with the task of working with a beast. Probably because I’m the useless daughter. Our mother can’t watch over Terebeth forever and our people would be more open to Helena as Queen. I wouldn’t want to be Queen anyway. Too much sitting around and doing nothing involved.
I stand up and grab my backpack, the few items inside banging together as I throw it over my shoulder. I kick the rock from the doorway and head downstairs. As much as I hate following this elitist termite, I do enjoy sitting on rooftops. If there’s any upside to this stalking adventure, it’s hanging out on top of buildings. Everyone looks so tiny down there on the street, and no one knows I’m watching them live their ordinary lives. Humans are obliviously comforting in that way.
The busy street welcomes me as the stairway door slams shut. Cars inch forward, a horn blares angrily at the car ahead. People race up and down the sidewalks like little ants trying to find their way back to their mound of dirt. I look at my watch and my peaceful state of mind evaporates when I realize I’ve got to be at work in five minutes. Luckily, the café is only a few blocks from here. I can make it on time if I run.
“Thirty-two seconds to spare! Did you get up early today, Selene?”
“Get up from what?” I laugh, trying to catch my breath. “You know I don’t sleep, Imani.”
“Well, you’re just in time for your favorite customer,” she whispers as I tie my apron behind my back. I sigh and prepare a smile before turning around to take the order.
“Welcome to Lucille’s, what can I get started for you Mr. Reid?”
“Selene you look as radiant as ever! I could swear you were the daughter of the sun itself!”
“You’re too kind,” I say, forcing a warm smile. “What are you in the mood for?”
“Why don’t you surprise me? Anything made by you is sure to be the best I’ll have all day.”
“Sure.” I take my time pouring a cup of regular coffee and ring the order up. “One Selene special. That’ll be a dollar-fifty.”
“No price too steep for the world’s best coffee,” he winks before taking money out of his back pocket. “You’re one of the best parts of my day, Selene. There’s a bright light around you and it fills me with such warmth.”
“That’s really sweet of you to say, Mr. Reid. You’re a very kind man.” Mr. Reid takes his coffee and smiles before meekly shuffling out the café.
“Why do you humor him? He’s kind of creepy, don’t ya think?”
“He’s harmless, Imani,” I reply. “Besides, he’s like eighty years old. Even if he was a threat, his knees only let him go so fast.”
The day continues, one cup of coffee after another. It’s not the most ideal human job, but it’s monotonous and easy. Plus, the café is only open until five in the evening, so it gives me free time. I spend most of my time stalking the Demon, but some evenings I do normal, human things. Just the other day Imani took me to a skating rink. I wasn’t very good at first, but when I switched from roller skates to roller blades I got better. Doing things like this helps me to blend in better. No one questions your normalcy when you do normal things. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about humans, it’s that most will go out of their way to fit into the norm.
“I’m going back to start the dishes. Can you manage the floor by yourself?”
“Sure thing,” I say, watching a few customers stand to leave, not bothering to pick up their trash from the table.
Thirty minutes until the café closes. I grab a clean rag and the disinfectant from under the counter and begin wiping down surfaces. I clear the tables and sweep the floor, empty the trash and push in the chairs. I clean and serve for ten hours a day in order to live in this Realm honestly. I don’t have any power anyway, so it’s not like I have much of a choice. The money I earn at Lucille’s helps me live in this world comfortably enough. I never needed much.
I wonder what his house looks like. It’s probably a stone mansion with maids and butlers. There are probably a slew of beautiful women sitting around his pool, waiting for him to come home and give them attention. I’ve tried to follow him home a few times, but I always end up losing him.
My thoughts keeps going back to Sebastian. I’ve obsessed over him for a year and now all I do is think about his existence. It’s annoying. He’s annoying. One of these days I’m going to have to just go for it. I’ve been stalling all this time. I don’t want to do what I’ve been asked to do. I’ve contemplated all the ways to avoid this task — to alter it or ignore it outright. But no matter what dark roads my mind travels, all roads lead back to him.
The door to the café opens and the bell chimes. I finish wiping down a table and call out a greeting before turning around, but whoever came in remains silent. I finally turn to see a middle-aged man. His silver hair contrasts his sharp, black suit. His face is expressionless and he doesn’t bother looking up from his phone.
“Uh, what can I get started for you this evening?” I make my way behind the counter slightly annoyed. Ten minutes until the café closes and I’ve got to start a new pot of coffee.
“Sir?” His fingers continue tapping away at his phone as he ignores me.
He holds one finger up to me, instructing me to wait. Although I’m annoyed, I swallow a sigh and dig deep for whatever patience I have left.
“Would you say that you’re a fairly popular café?” He finally asks. He looks up from his phone, a cheerful grin on his face, and his sharp blue eyes zero in on my face.
“We’ve got regulars. We get new customers. We do pretty well.”
“And the coffee itself, is it any good?”
“Hasn’t killed anybody yet.”
He tucks his phone inside his jacket and takes a step toward the counter. “Do you know what they say about sarcasm, Miss?”
“That it’s the lowest form of wit, but the highest form of intelligence.”
“Whoever said that was a fool.”
“Yeah, Oscar Wilde was a real dumbass,” I answer dryly.
“No,” he rejects, his cheerful grin still plastered on his face. “They say that sarcasm is hostility disguised as humor, and it remains the chosen defense mechanism of those with weak minds and weaker arguments.”
“Do you know what they say about people who ignore their environment in favor of their screens?”
“What do they say?”
“That they’re assholes.”
His posture remains stiff but he doesn’t seem offended. For a moment, I think I see his blue eyes flash grey, but it must be the lighting. “I see I am evenly matched, Miss,” he concedes.
“You’ll be disappointed to find that I make a mean cup of coffee, so I actually think I’ve got you beat.”
“One cup of coffee it is, then. Medium.”
“A dollar, fifty.”
“Keep the change,” he says, handing me a fifty dollar bill.
“Uh, thanks.” I place the change in the tip jar for me and Imani to split later.
“What is your name? You’re not wearing a name tag.”
“Selene,” I answer.
“And how long have you worked here Selene?”
“And do you like working here?”
“You’re not one for conversation, are you?”
“No, you wouldn’t be,” he says. “You seem more the observant type.”
I beat back a small flinch and continue fixing the coffee, suddenly aware of how steadily I’m moving. He doesn’t know that I watch Sebastian almost everyday. How could he? He’s just trying to make conversation while he waits for his drink, like every chatty customer that comes in here. He’s no different. There’s no reason to think otherwise.
“Here you are. Medium coffee. Be sure to come again.” I hand him the hot cup and end the possibility of further conversation.
“Thank you. I’ll see you around, Miss.” The man bows his head and leaves the café.
The door closes behind him and silence takes over the café once again. I don’t know why, but I’m a little on edge. He was curious but it seemed as though he already knew the answers to the questions he was asking.
Imani soon comes barreling out of the kitchen, sweat beading at her brow. She looks a little worn down, but I guess she had a lot of coffee pots to wash. “Finally done!” She wipes her forehead and rubs her eyes.
“Everything out here is finished, too.”
“Perfect timing,” she points to the clock, seconds away from quitting time. Imani heads to the tip jar and starts separating the money into two piles. “Whoa, who gave us these twenties?!”
“Some weirdo that came in when you were washing the pots.”
“D’ya give him your number? A tip like this deserves a hand job — at the very least.”
“Anyway, what are you up to tonight, Selene?”
“Probably gonna go home.”
“So you don’t want to come to a party with me?”
“What’s this about a party?” I laugh. “We’ve been here all day and you’re asking me now?”
“I know it’s short notice, but I was only invited yesterday. I wasn’t going to ask you unless we had a good day at work and it’s been a pretty easy shift. Please don’t make me go alone, Selene!” Imani pleads. “I know you hate crowds and chaos, but this isn’t like one of those parties. This one is sophisticated. I think.”
“It’s at that fancy hotel downtown.”
“The one that’s having a grand opening tonight? That one? Imani, I’m not exactly grand opening material. I’d stand out in a place like that and not in a good way. Besides, I don’t have anything to wear to an event like that.”
“You have that little grey dress.”
“That has a huge hole in the neck and you can see the pit stains from a mile away. And what about shoes? Think they’d like these boots with holes?” I point to my feet. “They don’t exactly scream sophistication. Imani, we make ten dollars an hour and those people wear earrings and watches that cost more than my rent. Count me out.”
“Selene, you’re literally talking to a beauty queen. I have everything you need. Please come with me, please!” Imani jumps up and down, her hands held against her chest in her desperate plea.
“Dammit, I forgot you were rich and pretty,” I mumble, slightly bitter. Imani, like usual, counters every one of my excuses with her logical and easy solutions.
“I’ll do your hair and makeup, too!”
“No makeup. I hate makeup.”
“So you’ll come?!” Imani’s dark brown eyes search mine. I give her the only answer there is to give at this point because she is not someone who concedes easily.
“I’ll go with you,” I give in.
Imani and I collect our tips, lock up the café, and head to her house. I don’t know what I’m getting myself into, or what to expect, but an hour there should be more than enough time for Imani to have fun. I’ll have a drink, smile a lot, and leave. Then I’ll take the rest of the night to do what I need to do — observe the termite.