Saturday 10:00 a.m.
The chocolate comes from a supplier in India. The spices were already mixed in as per my request. I met the shop’s owner long ago when she was young and first starting out. It was she who first introduced me to chai. She taught me how to cook the spices, to coax out their rich flavors with heat and love.
When Hikari steps into the cafe, the spring wind chases behind him, flower petals tumbling at his feet. His warm eyes meet mine, warm as the spices in the chai, sweet as the honey that still lingers from my morning tea.
“I heard this place invented a chai hot chocolate.”
“That’s right.” I grin haughtily. “The one and only.”
His laughter is music, playful and lively.
“You’re just in time,” I gladly add. “Sit down and I’ll make a cup. Would you like your usual morning set?”
“Just hot chocolate this time.”
“Oh?” I try to hide the disappointment in my voice.
I spoon out the chocolate mixture into a mug. I take down a deep breath, unable to resist the blend of anise, cardamom, and cinnamon.
He sits down at the counter, far different than his typical seat at the table in the corner. “I’m meeting my coworkers soon.”
“What are your plans this morning?”
He groans a little and tugs at the collar of his polo. “Golfing.”
I set down his cup then make my own.
“My boss invited us.” He leans towards the drink and takes down a breath. His eyes jolt wide for a moment and the toothy grin I adore spreads wide. “Amazing.”
I sit down across the counter from him with my own mug but the humor in his face drains away. I fear that perhaps I became too casual with him, that my sitting across from him was too personal.
“By the way,” he states grimly, “I heard the flower shop owner went missing. Her store isn’t too far from here.”
Saya, I recall the upsetting memory and try to push it out of my mind.
I run my thumb along the top of my mug and take a cautious sip. The richness of milk, the slight bitterness of chocolate, it all pairs wonderfully with the spices. I savor it before thinking about my reply. I’m not ready to talk about it yet.
“What I meant to say was,” he corrects, shifting nervously in his seat, “that I’m a little worried it isn’t safe in this area.”
“Thank you.” I nurse the warm mug and meet his eyes. I smirk teasingly and nudge my chin to his untouched drink. “Go on, take a sip. I promise, it isn’t poisoned.”
There’s no spell, I want to admit. I never use magic with him.
He smiles tenderly and takes a drink of the chocolate. He can’t take another because his joyful laughter starts bubbling out. He nods his head approvingly and wipes chocolate from the corner of his plump lips. “Everything you make tastes delicious. How is your cafe always so quiet?”
“Not always,” I chide.
He takes a larger mouthful and swishes it around his teeth.
I try not to laugh and end up biting my lips together.
He eases back in his chair and I see his body sighing. The tension in his shoulders vanishes. His eyes slip shut and for a moment everything stills. The cafe is quiet. Even my own tension melts away, basking in his peaceful presence. I find myself craving the peace he brings like someone might crave comfort food or a childhood favorite.
“I enjoyed hanging out last night,” he says, shattering the quiet that fell over us. “I had fun. Your friends are amusing.”
I smirk at his choice of words. “I’m glad you think so.”
“We should do it again. I moved here a year ago and don’t know many people outside of work.”
I set down my mug and lean closer and the question I’ve been waiting to ask grows fat inside of my throat. It’s perched there, behind my tongue, wavering if this is the moment to change things. He’s mortal, my thoughts retort. He will grow old unless...
Hikari leans closer too, perhaps noticing my hesitation. “Do you want to get a coffee sometime?”
My laugh jumps out and I almost spit everywhere at its abruptness.
“I mean, a different coffee in a different cafe. Unless that’s like betrayal?” He jolts then blurts, “Unless you’re tired of coffee. We can go to a restaurant instead.”
I’m laughing too hard to speak. I shake my head.
His face reddens with a blush.
“It’s not betrayal. I like supporting other cafes.”
He takes another sip from his mug, eyes averted in his nervousness.
“I can send you some of my favorites,” I suggest. “Pick the one you want to try first.”
“First?” His lips curl into a grin. “Deal.”
I think about kissing him, about how soft his lips look, how delicious it would taste after drinking the hot chocolate. But I duck my gaze down to my drink and swallow the last of it. “Give me your phone.” I grab mine from the pocket of my apron and set it onto the counter.
Without a moment’s hesitation, he gives me his with the application already open. It takes a matter of seconds to add each other but I feel the giddy anxiety fluttering in my heart. I feel like a child, a teenager again, wide-eyed and open-hearted, the stains of every bad relationship being cleansed from my soul.
I give his phone back. “Let me know the next time you’re free.”
“I’ll message you tonight,” he promises and finishes up his hot chocolate.
“Good luck with golfing.” I hold up crossed fingers in plain sight. “Let’s hope it doesn’t rain today.”
Hikari snorts and heads for the door. “Have a good day, Cassie.”
“You too, Hikari.”
He waves goodbye before heading out into the warm spring wind. The flower petals trail at his feet like puppies pleading for their mother’s attention.
“Opportunity missed,” Fire cooes.
I throw my gaze to her, finding her perched on end of the counter. “We’re going on a date. What more do you want?”
She licks her lips then chuckles.
“I don’t need advice from a cat,” I tell her and scoop her up into my arms.
“I am not a cat.” She squirms a little as I carry her to the cafe’s door. “I am a great and powerful spirit.”
I set her down and roll my palm across the fur of her cheek. “Does this mean you don’t want tuna anymore?”
She scoffs and tilts her head away. “You can leave it at my shrine, loyal patron.”
“Very well, oh mighty one.” I stand up and open the door for her.
She bounds out into the warm spring weather, disappearing around the corner to find whatever trouble she usually finds. And make trouble, of course.
Outside the wind picks up, clouds being pulled across the sky. The birds are fighting to change course and land among the sidewalk trees. I think for a moment that the day might be peaceful after all. But then I see him, the familiar features, the pristine attire that only the rich and wealthy wear. Our eyes meet and his expression remains unmoving.
In the strongest winds, even the swiftest birds can not determine their direction.
Dark Fire was right. Someone from court was in town.
I step into the cafe and let the door close behind me. I grab mine and Hikari’s mug and carry into the back kitchen just as the cafe’s door opens. I set them into the sink and focus on the scent of chocolate and spices. I focus on Hikari’s smile and the gentle brown in his eyes.
I make my way to the counter where the older man sits. Spring and summer are reflected in his attire and despite his immense age he still looks young. His eyes remind me of Oriana’s, their summer glow, their fire.
I force myself to speak. “Something to drink?”
“Coffee,” he somewhat asks as if he’s uncertain as to what a cafe serves. “Join me for a cup?”
My mouth feels tight, lips too taut and teeth clenched. I start preparing a simple coffee because I know he won’t drink it. He’ll nurse it in his grasp but he has no interest in mortal things. His very presence is surreal, like a white tiger sitting in a shopping mall.
I set the coffee in front of him.
He eyes me for a moment then nods his head.
“Why are you here?”
“Can’t fathers visit their daughters?”
I turn with a laugh and start polishing the espresso machine. “Sure, other fathers can do that just fine. You, on the other hand, I have a hard time believing.”
“Moonflower,” he pleads.
I turn my head away and hold up a hand. “I wonder. Have you talked to your other daughter lately?” When he doesn’t reply I shoot him a glare. “No, of course not. How easy it is for you to disown a child then come here and pretend to be fatherly.”
“I didn’t disown him.”
His jaw flexes. He sucks down a breath but, to my surprise, calmly sighs. “What does she call herself now?”
“Oriana.” I watch his expression, the wince in the corner of his eye. “She’s in town so unless you’re here to beg for her forgiveness, it’s best for you to leave.”
He’s quiet again. For a fae of spring and summer, he acts nothing of the like. Finally he speaks, pressing the tips of his fingers into the ceramic mug. “I wish to meet with you both. Together.”
“The next time I see her, I’ll ask her if she wants to.”
“It’s important,” he states and settles his gaze with mine. “There’s much to discuss. There’s much you have missed since leaving court.”
“Leaving?” My brow peaks and I bite back my pained grin. He acts as if they gave us much choice in the matter. He acts as if he didn’t toss aside Oriana and condemned me for protecting her.
I retort, “Like I said, it’s up to her if she wants to meet with you.”
The word is unpracticed, strange to hear with his voice, “Please.” He lifts the coffee to his lips and takes a drink. It’s a small taste but out of character for him. He sets the mug down then rises to his feet. “I will stop by this evening. I beg that you are both here. They news I have affects you both.”
I watch him leave. I’m tempted to ask him for the news now so that I can relay it to Oriana myself. But I know it would be a wasted effort. Whatever news there is from court, it can not be good.
Thoughts of my mother roll around my mind, the winter court lady in her black ball gowns and opalesque jewels. He did not mention her and I have to wonder if they had a falling out of some sort.