Coffee and Roses
They ended up at the Ebony Rose, their favourite haunt for those days when the clouds took menacing shapes and the Living End’s Black Cat drifted through car windows to cross their path. A bus ride from the city centre – which they could just afford, given some inevitable trickery with the tickets – up a couple of steps into a quiet alcove off the street, and they were elbowing open a door inset with a black rose in a red stained glass circle. It was like stepping into an old friend’s apartment where the door was always unlocked and there was excellent coffee.
Everything was familiar. The long bare brick end wall, papered in author launch promotional slips and comic book posters; aisles of second hand books in second hand bookcases, all crammed together in a paper maze you had to navigate by sense of smell to find the café half of the ‘bookshop-café’ advertised on the sign outside; the scatter of tables and patchwork upholstered chairs once you got there, all under a small chandelier that looked like a protruding edge of black iron beam that had sprouted leaves and glowing red glass flowers in the ceiling overhead.
The air smelled of coffee and fruit toast, paper, and dust.
The girls were flat broke. They grabbed their favourite spot anyway, the one right under the chandelier that was always empty. The guy at the counter looked right through them. He was new. But Lily, who’d been working at the Rose since it opened five years ago and knew her regulars like she knew her bookshelves, grinned and held up a finger. Minutes later she came over with their usuals – sweet espresso and a latte with a cream dragon floating in the froth. There were even blueberry friands, all on the house.
“Ooh,” said Vixen, pulling one apart with her sharp nails. “Sapphire cakes.”
“Sweet,” said Mew. She smiled at Lily. “What are you going to tell him?”
Lily glanced over at the guy behind the counter. He was looking at their table with a puzzled frown, like his eyes and his brain were having an argument about what he was really seeing. Shaking his head, he turned away, busying himself with the coffee machine.
“I love that look,” Vixen sighed. “So cute.”
“I think I’ll let him work it out,” Lily said. “I had to.”
She collected the dirty cups off a nearby table and pushed through the doors behind the counter into the kitchen. Mew added more sugar to her espresso and leaned her chair onto its back legs to get a look at what the pretty girl in the blue scarf was typing at the next table. This wasn’t Paris and you weren’t going to see the new Hemingway with his white wine and oysters, but there were often one or two local authors, scribbling distractedly in a notepad or banging away at a laptop in between shots of caffeine. Artists, too. The Rose was the kind of place where you could order a coffee and sit for hours at a time undisturbed. The kind of place where the book people came.
Special people. Like Vixen. Like Mew.
A couple of times someone with the Sight had dropped in and seen the girls at their table, sprinkling each other with the complimentary sugar and sniggering at pilfered romance paperbacks. The girls fit in here, though, with their ragbag chic and plenty of hair to cover the giveaway ears, so more often than not the Seer would just frown a little and go back to whatever they were doing without another thought.
And yes, the whole midnight cleaner routine was getting a bit old. So were Lily’s jokes about brownies and shoes. Still, on the whole, free coffee and the occasional new manga was pretty good payment for a few fortune charms and an enchanted mop.
It sure as hell beat playing Tinkerbell in amateur theatre. Again.
© Faith Mudge, 2012