Friday 11:50 a.m.
The winds are howling. It’s clawing at the door. The scent of peppery cedar and broken vines follows at its heel as it rolls down the mountainside. Come home, it pleads. There’s a glint of sunlight through an evergreen canopy, a long forgotten memory I left somewhere at the top of a mountain.
The crows outside the cafe caw and balk. They’re a choir of croaky voices in protest.
She is ours. Always ours.
Despite the weather report, despite the spring sun burning bright, rain begins to pelt the brick courtyard. It carries with it ocean salt and fresh flowers, the lingering traces of cherry blossoms from last week. Then, just as quickly as it arrived, the rain vanished. Only the dark stains of concrete hint at its passing.
The wind turns playfully in submission. Leaves and flower petals swirl across the cafe’s window like a school of fish, twisting and turning with the changing tides. The wolfish howl in the wind quiets down like a beast returning to slumber.
Behind the counter, I ease down into my well-worn stool.
Something has arrived in our town trapped between the mountains and the sea. Something dark.
I can not think about it for long. The door to the cafe opens.
She smiles as our eyes meet, different eyes and yet we share the same face. She’s summer drenched, skin like gold and hair falling in curls around her face like dancing flames. She has always been the summer to my winter, the sun to my moon. We’re two halves of the same soul and sometimes we encompass the same edges, like dawn and dusk, a joining of night and day.
But either way, Oriana is the only one who can hear my inner voice. She is the only one who will ever see the true depths of my ocean. For some it might be comforting to have at least one person so their soul. But oftentimes, it pains me that more people can not see me so clearly.
She leaps into the stool in front of the bar and grins. “Something spicy. And a little sweet.” She winks at the suggestiveness in it, a hint about her latest conquest whatever it is.
“Oriana,” I chide, tilting my chin as I eye her smugness.
I prepared her drink, a cocktail of peppers and bitter tea, a smidge of cinnamon and honey.
“It was thrilling,” she blurts, unable to contain the excitement inside of her, like flames bursting from the surface of the sun. It is their nature. “I just can’t help myself, you know.” She chuckles. Her latest conquest is either living or thing, romance or adventure. With her I never know.
I hand her the spiced tea. “You’re terrible,” I say but I’m smiling. “So, what was it this time?”
The edge of her lips curl. She always looks that way when she shares a good story or juicy gossip. “You could join us next time.”
I huffed. “Join what exactly?”
Oriana took a tender sip then winced as the spice hit her nose. “Diving.”
She nodded and took another sip. “I went diving with sharks. Helped some scientists record data for their research.”
Diving, I consider. So that’s where she’s been all month. And with sharks, I muse. Others might have flinched but it seemed like her. And it was right up my alley as well. It’s been ages since I last joined the ocean, lived in its embrace as freely and wildly as the beasts that call it home. I would let the water take me where I needed to be, where I was needed the most.
It was how I first arrived in town in the first place.
“Cassandra,” she teased. “This place is nice but…”
“Ah.” I raise my hand and shush her just as I had done with the wind. “You have your adventures. I have mine.”
She sighs in the sulky way she does when someone disagrees with her. “And how’s that going exactly? Is your venture working out?”
“Not quite…” I wince and she notices easily. That’s the problem with water. It shapes too easily to its emotions to be concealed. “It’s going. I’m just being patient.”
“You’re being a coward,” she corrected. “Years of searching and now a year of waiting.”
I know what she’s alluding to but I shake my head and turn towards the espresso machine. I just cleaned it an hour ago but I needed something to keep my mind busy. I didn’t need her to listen in on my heart. She likely already knew what was there but I didn’t need to confirm it for her.
“At least tell me about it.” She takes a bigger sip. She grimaces at the pain then nods her head in approval.
She’s always liked spicy drinks and spicy food. Cliche, I thought, for a summer child.
“Not cliche,” she shot back and raised her head. “Now talk. What’s this fear you have?”
She’s summer sun this girl. She’s fire. I tried to be like her once. I tried to burn brilliantly like a wildfire, journeying the world and sleeping with whoever my heart fancied. I lived lavishly and expensively. Our gifts are many and we can obtain much with them but there’s always a balance to life. Too much greed, too much lust, too much desire and the balance must always be returned.
Oriana flicks her finger into my cheek to draw my attention. “Don’t do that to yourself. Don’t look back on the past as punishment. We’re all haunted by our pasts.”
“What past are you haunted by?”
Her expression hardens at the question. Not doing more, her heart whispers.
The cafe door opens and at the sight of him I know exactly what time it is. Noon, always on the dot, he steps through the door and brings with him the gentleness of a spring wind. He goes to his usual place and gives a light bow of his head in greeting.
Oriana is grinning, a wide, toothy grin that is far too big for her face. “Speaking of ventures…”
“Don’t you have better things to do?” I round the counter and give her a quick glare.
She shoots back, “Better than this?”
He’s smiling and when our eyes meet he waves slightly, awkwardly, even after a year of coming to the cafe. “Good morning.”
“Good morning, Hikari.”
It’s his eyes, you see. He has those soft puppy eyes, the kind of eyes someone can fall into and forget their troubles. He makes my heart race but it’s out of excitement. I’m calm in his presence. There is only new life blooming between us.
Cliche, Oriana chides.
“Your usual?” I try to ask gently but I can feel Oriana burning a hole in my back.
“Yes. Thank you.” He shifts in his seat and blurts as if he suddenly remembers, “How’s your day?”
I perk up at the question. “Not so busy. How about you?”
“Oh yeah, real busy. You wouldn’t even believe some of the things we have to do.”
I nod my head and raise a shoulder. “Right, of course. What is it this week? Alien invasion?”
“Godzilla,” he retorts flatly. “Lots of them. They’re mini. Mini-Godzillas just trampling through the warehouse.”
My lips pull wide into an uncontainable smile. “Wow. I hear that’s a serious problem here in Japan.”
“It is,” he lies, expression unmoving. “It’s an infestation, really.”
I can hear Oriana’s giggle. Ungodly sweet, her thoughts shout.
“My sister returned from one of her trips.” I toss my head towards her. “You should ask her about it.” I regret turning his attention away. I want to be selfish and keep it for myself but I know that if I am too greedy, there will be consequences.
Oriana slowly turns all the way in her chair with her cup of tea. “Oh yes. But it was boring, really. Nothing special. Business trip.”
My brow tilts curiously at her but I use the opportunity to head into the back of the cafe. I prepare his usual lunch, basil pesto on a bed of pasta, a salad tossed in sesame seed dressing with oolong tea. I grate cheese over the top of the steaming plate and the pungent scent fills the air. It reminds me of the deep forest, the earthiness of moss and the pungent aroma of mushrooms.
By the time I return to the front room, Oriana is already gone.
I set the wooden tray onto the table and our eyes meet briefly. I dart my attention away before I can get lost in them again. “I finished another recipe,” I say, moving back to the counter where Oriana’s cup is still sitting.
“What is it this time?” He picks up his fork and spreads the sauce and cheese together. His voice takes on a delighted tone, a child in a candy store, “New cinnamon rolls? I can’t stop thinking about the last ones you made.”
I can’t help but chuckle. I remember how much he liked them and my heart clenches at the memory. My smile spreads wide, unable to hold back my delight. I’ll do anything if it means I can hear the joy in his voice.
“No, not food this time. I think I perfected a chai hot chocolate. Your two favorite drinks.”
“Oh.” His brows jump and he points a confirming finger. “That’s genius!”
“Tomorrow’s Saturday,” I realize. “If you stop by tomorrow morning, I’ll have one prepared for you.”
He smiles and in that smile there’s the comfort of warm tea and a cozy fireplace. How easy it is to get lost in the familiarity that lies in his expression.
He promises eagerly, “Deal.”
Never make a deal with a fae, I want to warn but I only nod. “A deal it is.”