Ever Rain: Nine Kings Episode I

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Chapter 3

Kell strolled through the Art District of downtown Fredrick. After a long shower and a nap, the hunter felt a thousand times better. She slipped into a café tucked in between an arts center and a holistic shop. The Café Moderne might never live up to the Café Bueno or the Dublin Grinders, but its retro French motif suited her. A blond college boy behind the counter perked up as she made her way through the front door.

“Well, well.” He cleared the counter and slung the dirty towel over a shoulder. “Haven’t seen you in a while.”

“Hey, Evan.” She couldn’t hold back the grin.

Evan leaned into the sales counter as Kell approached. “Been busy then?”

She bobbed her head and gave her hair a playful flip. “Sorry. Yeah, a little.”

His big blue eyes peered into hers. “What’ll ya have?”

Kellerika eyed the board over his head.

“Lemmie guess.” Evan’s pecs flexed under his tee as he shifted his stance. “Café au lait. Easy on the lait. Two shots of vanilla. French, of course.”

Stop grinning like a buffoon. “You guessed it.” Kell fished out her card and waited for the kiosk to prompt for payment.

Evan tapped a few button on his screen and set to work on her order. She held her card over the kiosk until it flashed: Payment accepted!

He poured some milk into a carafe and placed it under the machine. “Work around here? I don’t see you in town very much.”

She spoke up over the coffee machine. “No. I’m a paralegal down in Gaithersburg.” What works on Deke should work on sexy barista boy.

Evan turned a smile toward her. “Ah. That explains it.” He poured the frothy milk into the coffee. “You like doin’ all that legal stuff?”

Oh, god. Don’t ask me too many questions. “It pays the bills,” she pointed to his handiwork, “right?”

Evan pumped some vanilla into her drink. “Exactly.” He set her drink in front of her. “Say, maybe if you’re free sometime…”

Kellerika took a nip from her steaming cup. Rejuvenation.

He gulped and continued. “Would you maybe like to uh,” he gave the back of his head a nervous scratch, “go out with me?”

Kell buried her ear-to-ear grin behind her paper cup. She took another drink, regaining some composure. “That would be nice.”

Evan’s face perked up. “It would?”

She chuckled. “Yeah. I could use a break.” She leaned against the display case of pastries and muffins. “What did you have in mind? Dinner? A movie?”

“Pssh.” He tossed his rag on the rear counter. “Hell, no.” He rested a muscular arm on the display case. “There’s this murder-mystery dinner thing that they put on Thursdays through Saturdays.”

Kell raised a brow.

“Interested?”

She took a pen from the cup on the counter. Kell jotted her number on the back of a napkin and slid it across the countertop. “Today’s going to be kinda bad, but call me closer to the weekend, and we’ll work something out, okay?”

Evan snatched it up and stuffed it into a pocket of his jeans. “It’s a deal.” He waved as she strode back toward the door. “Have a nice day,” he pulled the napkin back out, “Kellerika.”

“You, too Evan.” She raised her cup as she propped the door open on a hip.

Once outside, she found a table an made camp long enough to savor her coffee. She sipped her concoction and unlocked her phone. Guess I should give Deke a call and let him know I’m not dead. Kell flipped through some pics in her gallery while his end rang. She landed on one of her huddled close to her ex-fiancé, Dylan. She wore her gray Georgetown sweatshirt. Her hair was back in a pony that day. The Shenandoah River gurgled behind them. The whitewater trip. Her disdain for the boy softened. Such a beautiful day. Kell flipped past it as the line picked up.

“Deke here. What up?”

“It’s Kell.”

A laugh from his end of the line. “Saw that already. So, what’s goin’ on?”

She took another sip. “Hangin’ out. Drinking some coffee.”

“You sound dejected.”

She scoffed. “No, I don’t.”

“Too.”

Kell went back to some pictures of her mom, Camilla and dad, Alvar back in Tampere. Holiday pics around the tree in their best ugly sweaters. “Am not.”

“I’ve known you for how long---since junior year of high school?” A scoff. “Girl don’t think I know when she’s upset. Man.”

“Fine.” She ran the pad of a thumb over the picture. “Say you’re right. So what?”

“Ah.” A hearty chuckle. “Ole Deke got one right, huh? So, what’s gotcha down?”

She mustered a, “Meh.”

“Him again?”

A pair of birds sailed to a soft landing a few feet away.

“Thought as much. You gotta let him go, Kell. Old news, an ’at.”

She spun her cup in slow circles. “Yeah, but we were planning our lives together. Our entire lives, Deke.”

“Yeah, and home boy waltzed out with his roomie’s younger sister, if memory serves.”

Kellerika groaned. “He’s a dick. I get it.” She downed another gulp.

“Forget him.”

“Maybe it was a one-time mistake.” She tapped the cup’s lid with a nervous nail.

Deke guffawed. “Right. So, what’s on your mind, Kell?”

“If I’m keeping you, I can---”

“Not that. Sorry.” He fidgeted with something on his end. “I’m just gettin’ everything ready for the big drop tonight. TO-NOIIGHT!”

Kell giggled. “You’re a dork. What’s dropping?”

“New MMO VR game, baby.”

She leaned back in her chair. “You lost me at M.”

“Never mind. What did you wanna talk about?”

Kell raised her cup. “Got an offer for a promotion.”

“Whaaaat?”

She grinned through a drink.

“You’re gonna take it, right?”

She swallowed and wiped her lips. “Dunno.”

“That legal firm would be straight up dumb not to keep you around.”

She had kept up the masquerade for two years thus far. “It’s more money.”

“’Zactly! That’s why you’re gonna take it.” Deke sounded like the big brother she’d never had.

“I’m thinking about it.”

“Kellerika.” He’d gone into full-blown parental mode. “If you don’t take this promotion---”

“You’ll what? Ground me?”

Deke cleared his throat. “Didn’t know you were goin’ there. We might have to redefine the nature of our association.”

Kellerika dropped her head into an open palm. “You’re impossible. The money would be great, but there’s a lot more responsibility with it, too.”

“It can’t be that bad.”

Her hazel eyes spun in big orbits.

“Guess it is. You should take it anyway, Kell. It’ll be good for you.”

She gripped her cup in a chokehold. “God. You sound like my dad.”

Deke laughed. “How is Alvar these days?”

“Don’t know.” Kell took another hit from her cup. “Haven’t talked to them in a while.”

“Did they have another kid somewhere along the line that we don’t know about?”

This got a genuine chuckle from her. “No! They’re---It’s just… complicated.”

“Well,” Deke said, “in their stead, I have to reiterate: you’re takin’ the promotion, right?”

“What if I don’t like the new job?”

“Ride it out for a while, then find something better.” Fingers snapped on his end. “Simple as that.”

“It’s not that easy.”

“Sure, it is.”

Kell downed the last dregs of her brew. “Coming from a computer genius that has companies banging down his door with amazing offers.” She got up and tossed her cup in the trash. “It’s not the same for a college dropout.”

Deke groaned. “Maybe go back and finish that degree.”

“Eh.” Kell fluttered her fingers in reply to Evan’s final wave.

“You’ve gotta summon that Viking spirit and power through this.”

“What are you into later this evening?”

“Lots of gaming,” Deke said. “Wanna swing by and join me?”

“I’m not that coordinated, Deke.”

“It’s gonna be a full-on virtual fest all night long. Don’t need to mash any buttons.”

“I dunno.”

“Come on!”

She laughed. “Fine. Let me handle this work thing---”

“Take. The. Job.”

“And then maybe I’ll swing by for a while.”

A whoop from Deke. “You won’t regret this, Kell. I promise.”

She winced and started down the sidewalk toward her Highlander. “I always do.”

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