Silver Linings Cafe

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Sunday 11:00 a.m.

Esme steps into the cafe with a basket full of dark rubies. “Fresh picked,” she declares and sets them down onto the counter with a cheeky grin. “And all of them just for you.”

“They’re beautiful.” I lean into the basket and pick up a few. I can smell the sugary juices inside. “I can use these in a pie. I’ll make you one free of charge if you like.”

She tosses me a wink. “I’ve another basket full outside.” Esme heads out the door to fetch the second crate.

I haul the first one into the kitchen, my thoughts already whirling with ideas; juicy pies with buttery crusts, tart and sweet cheesecakes, danishes topped with almonds. I eagerly meet Esme at the counter for the second crate.

She rubs her palms across the wood, not quite so eager as me. “Have you heard any news about Saya?”

I take down a deep breath and sigh. “Not yet. Oriana said she might head over there and take a look around.”

Emse purses her lips, a little unsatisfied. “Well.” She smacks a hand onto the crate. “Let me know once you learn something.”

“I will,” I promise.

She leaves just as abruptly as she came. I’m left feeling a little hollow. The joy of fresh fruit and new ideas begins to fade away and all that is left is the strange fear that everyone I love will disappear. If someone can take Saya then what is stopping them from taking Oriana? Worst of all, Hikari can’t even fathom the true dangers of what’s around him.

The cafe’s door opens and the bell chimes as a Mortal steps in. He’s like a lost lamb wandering into a wolf’s den.

“Have a seat,” I greet cheerfully. I push my fears aside to focus on my new customer.

I carry the crate of dark cherries into the kitchen then stride over towards the table by the window where he sits with sunken eyes and bowed head.

I keep my voice soft so as not to startle him, “Are you ready to order?”

He jolts a little as if he didn’t realize he stepped into a cafe in the first place.

As expected, I think playfully.

“Coffee,” I suggest. “Mocha?”

He nods but doesn’t make eye contact. His mind is foggy with grief. The type of drink doesn’t concern him. At least not yet.

I move to the counter and begin preparing a hot mocha. I use a bolder coffee blend and high grade bitter chocolate. The scent of earth fills the air and I can taste the cocoa bean on the back of my tongue. But it’s the refreshing spark of peppermint that really makes the drink special for his soul.

I try to bite my smile as I set the drink onto the tray. What memories will be conjured into existence, what feelings will burst back into existence?

As I set the drink down in front of him, I have to hide my giddiness. “Peppermint mocha.”

He huffs, the shadow of a smirk slightly visible.

“It’s a little bitter. I hope you don’t mind.”

The smirk becomes taut and thin and he grabs the mug’s handle. “This is my wife’s favorite drink. Or at least it was, anyway.” He takes a sip and he looks ready to push it away but stills. His gaze is frozen, memories long forgotten of a trip north to a cabin, peppermint hot chocolate by the fireplace, her smile in the amber glow as they sit curled up on the sofa.

I inquire gently, “How is it?”

“I love her,” he mutters under his breath. “I still love her.” His eyes flutter as he becomes acutely aware of the cafe and the words he spoke out loud. “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I’m telling you this.”

“That’s alright.” I hug the tray to my chest. “Sometimes strangers are the easiest to talk to.”

He takes another sip of the mocha and sets it down. “It’s my wife. We had a fight.” He chuckles but it’s hollow and breathy. “Sounds stupid, I know. Like I’m some newly wed idiot.”

“Nonsense. It happens to everyone.”

He claws fingers into his graying hair. “I don’t know. I don’t think it’s one of those small fights. I think this is the big fight that ends things. Ends us.”

“What did you fight about?”

“I can’t really remember what was said. It’s like it happened so suddenly my brain stopped working.” He shakes his head and he’s quiet for a while as he mulls it over. “She’s changing. She’s becoming someone else.”

“People change. Everyone changes.”

“Yeah, but I miss the old her.” His brows pinch and his lips tremble. “She’s not the person I fell in love with and I barely recognize her anymore.”

“Change is part of life, don’t you think? Even hard earth can be weathered by wind and rain. Even gray slate can shatter and become a gemstone.”

He sits back and throws up his hands in resignation. “So, what you’re saying is I’ll always fall out of love.”

“Yes. And no. You can choose to get to know this new person she’s becoming, to meet this new stranger and learn new things together. Or you can choose to walk away without even trying.”

His lips part. He wants to object. He wants to argue that I’m wrong, that he fell in love with the person his wife used to be, and that his heart can’t change its nature.

“Do you really think you’re the same person from when you first met?”

He eyes the mug resting in his grasp. His thumb swipes across the chocolate on the rim. He shakes his head a little. “I must be losing it. I’m making confessions to baristas.”

I smirk a little. “It’ll be our secret.”

He eyes me then bows his head. “Thanks.”

I head for the counter and let him mull over his thoughts in peace.

It is then that Oriana and Sajja step inside, the spring wind sweeping in behind them. I catch a whiff of hydrangeas just before the cafe door closes.

“Cassie,” Sajja greets and leans his elbows into the counter. “We’re about to head over to the flower shop and take a look.”

My attention jolts to the Mortal customer but his thoughts drown out our conversation.

Oriana chuckles and leans closer as well. “You should come with us. You’re much better at sensing disturbances than me. We can wait for that guy to leave.”

My smile is weak. I shake my head a little. “I can’t. I have plans to meet with someone. They could be here any minute now.”

Her brows jolt and a cheeky grin curls across her lips. “Oh? Is it with Hikari?”

“No,” I huff and sashay towards the kitchen. “Mayu from the daycare is stopping by to meet with a customer from yesterday.”

I can hear Oriana’s heel clacking into the floor as she follows me. “Why do you insist on getting involved with M--” She swallows the rest of her words. She joins me in the kitchen as I begin to weigh the dark cherries for individual containers. “Why do you keep wanting to help Mortals with their petty little problems?”

“They’re not petty. Not for them.” I hold a cherry out between my fingers. “Try one.”

Oriana takes it into her mouth but rolls it into her cheek. “You could be going on dates with Hikari right now and instead you’re what? Finding people a daycare for their kids?”

“It’s more complicated than that.” I pour the cherries into separate containers with thoughts of fresh baked pie hot from the oven with a gooey jam center.

“Why do you do it?”

“Mortal lives are short. Every moment is precious for them.” I hear the words I say out loud and the weight of Hikari’s mortality begins to darken my thoughts. Every moment with him is precious and here I am thinking about pies and helping people with their own lives.

Oriana groans and she eyes me with narrowed eyes.

“Maybe you’re right,” I mutter. “We exchanged phone numbers yesterday. And I sent him a list of places we could go. On a date.”

She gives out a shriek of delight. “Finally.” Her smile is too wide and cocky. “You’re welcome, by the way. If it weren’t for me you’d still be pinning for him behind that counter.”

I try to smile but it’s weak. “It doesn’t change the fact that he’s mortal.” For a moment my heart wonders if I could become mortal, if I could grow old with him and look back on fond memories together.

Oriana snatches my arm and squeezes. “Don’t even think about it.”

I laugh and it’s too loud in my ears. “I won’t. I won’t.” I quickly focus my thoughts back on pie and cherry filled danishes, sugar icing drizzled across the top. “I’ll meet you at Saya’s as soon as my job here is done.”

She hesitates. I can hear her heart, the loud thundering drum of thoughts, ’Don’t die.’ But she huffs and swaggers out into the cafe all the same. “You better!” I can hear the door open as they head back out into the market square.

I lied to her. I know I did. She knows I did. The nagging dream of growing old with Hikari haunts me. Perhaps it’s been haunting me for years, the desire to have a family and live a simple life among an array of memories. Not only do I desire happy memories but sad ones, as well. How lucky would I be to have someone to squabble with about dishes? To have someone to hold during moments of intense grief? How lucky would I be to worry about bills and loans with someone by my side?

I lean into the kitchen counter to catch my breath. My chest tightens as the air thins, my lungs weakening with a painful gasp.

The cafe door opens.

I hurry out to greet whoever has arrived.

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