The silver bell above the quaint little coffee shop let out a merry ding as he stepped inside, brushing the snow off his coat and glancing around at the room full of people. It would have taken a very observant person to realize that he was looking for a particular person; he was known as an incredibly stoic young man, for good reason. His face remained impassive, but there was the slightest flicker of emotion- though it was difficult to pinpoint what kind, exactly- in his cobalt blue eyes as he stepped into line.
As he waited, he casually scanned the crowded café again, and then- lo and behold- there she was. She would have been lost in the sea of faces, were it not for the long auburn braid he could always identify her by, or the vibrant purple and orange shoulder bag she always seemed to carry. She was standing before the automatic Mocha Creator, humming a bit as she formed her concoction.
He made quick work of ordering a simple green tea and stepping over to the Mocha Creator, in time to get a glimpse of the excessive amount of hot fudge she was dousing her drink in. He calmly stepped up to her, keeping his gaze forward, and murmured so that only she could hear, “Got enough sugar in that thing?”
A sharp elbow in his side was the only response he got, but it was good enough for him; a satisfied smirk crept onto his face. She kept her eyes locked on her drink as she leaned up and hissed in his ear, “Corner booth. Hurry, before it’s taken.”
He replied with a barely perceptible nod, keeping his gaze fixed on the flashing buttons before him. She grabbed her mug and slipped into the crowd, and he waited for exactly seven seconds before turning and heading in the direction of the secluded corner.
He slipped into the plush seat across from her, and she watched him with bright eyes over the rim of her mug. After a full minute of this, he quirked an eyebrow and asked, “Well?”
She grinned, set the mocha-filled mug down, and rummaged through her bag, producing a thin indigo book. “I went to the library,” she spoke in a confidential whisper. They both knew to keep their conversation private.
He couldn’t stop the chuckle that rose up from within. “You, frequenting a library? I never thought I’d live to see the day.”
She threw him a withering look and thrust the book at him. “Stranger things have happened.”
He allowed himself a small smile as he pocketed the book without even glancing at the cover. They couldn’t afford to have such things out in the open for longer than necessary, after all. He leaned back and took a long sip of his tea while she regarded him curiously. Feeling her gaze on him, he glanced up with a little frown. “What?”
She squirmed in her seat, never one to keep still for long. “Aren’t you gonna ask me what it’s about?”
“Can you tell me what it’s about?”
She paused, chewing her lip. “Um… more or less, yes.”
“Then by all means, proceed.”
“Okay, well…” For once in her life, she put a lot of thought into her next words before saying them. “It’s about the history of the French revolution.” She gave a very subtle nod after the last word, and he got the hint.
“Sounds intriguing.” He leaned back in his seat, feigning polite disinterest when in reality his fingers were itching to open the tome and begin to read. “Thank you for procuring it for me.”
“You’re welcome, Rudy.” Her amber eyes danced mischievously.
He gritted his teeth, mentally cursing the day she had found out his given name and came up with a nickname for it. Yes, it was best that they used code names when above ground, but did she have to go with that nickname? “Is there anything else you wanted to discuss… Marie?” Two could play at this game.
She glowered; it was to his advantage that she absolutely despised her middle name. Then, before his eyes, her face fell and she slumped back against the seat. “I like this coffee shop better than the one at home… I feel like it’s easier to breathe up here.”
He sat up, and his brow furrowed at her words. “Why is that?”
She let out a sigh. “Things haven’t been the same.” A humorless laugh escaped her. “Of course it’s not the same; how could it be? I may be forgiven but I’m sure not trusted by anyone anymore. That’s what betrayal does for ya.”
Something in his blue eyes grew soft, and that startled her more than any of the flashing anger she’d seen in them countless times ever could. “I trust you, Autumn,” he said quietly.
“You’d be the first, so thanks.” She stared down at her lap. She could take any amount of sarcasm, but compliments never failed to unnerve her.
“Hey.” She glanced up, and he continued. “You’ve always got a friend in me, no matter what. You know better than anyone that I can relate to what you’re going through.”
She gave him a wide-eyed look of surprise. “Thanks. That means a lot, especially from you.” A small smirk played on her face. “It’s funny, once upon a time you were the last person I’d expect to befriend.”
“Stranger things have happened,” he quipped. “On another note, how is your research going?”
She arched a dark eyebrow as she lifted her mug to her lips. “Pretty well, I think. I’ve found some kinda surprising things. Well, you wouldn’t be surprised at all, but they’re much different than I thought they’d be, anyway.”
“So are you any closer to joining us for real?” He knew he shouldn’t push her- Autumn Blythe was a rebel at heart, every bit as much as he was- but his curiosity made the question slip out.
She shrugged. “It’s hard to say at this point, but I’m definitely more open to it. It seems historically sound so far.”
“That’s because it is.”
“Stop.” She held up a hand. “I’m deciding all of this for myself, remember? That was the deal.”
He sat back. “You’re right. My apologies, mademoiselle.”
She nearly choked on her mocha. “What are you, French?”
He briefly considered telling her that he enjoyed getting a rise out of her, but decided that part of the fun was in the mystery. Besides, if she could dish it out, she had better be able to take it. “You don’t like being called a lady?”
She wrinkled her nose. “Um, no. I’m not a fancy person.”
He had to laugh. “Really? I hadn’t noticed.”
“Hey, I’m supposed to be the sarcastic one in this relationship.” She threw him a look over her mug.
His eyebrows rose to the ceiling. “We have a relationship?”
He was completely satisfied when her cheeks turned a brilliant shade of red. “A platonic one!” she spouted.
Making the girl of fire- the Walking Entity of Sass, as her twin brother called her- uncomfortable was just too much fun. He sent her a mocking look of despair. “Only platonic? Ah, mademoiselle, you wound me!”
The mug in her hands slammed onto the table as she leaned forward, dark eyes narrowing. “Rudy Grant, I swear…” she hissed.
He innocently sipped his tea. “Have you ever tried tea? This café makes it wonderfully.”
“Don’t change the subject! What do you mean, I wound you?” Her eyes widened to the size of dinner plates and her tan face actually grew rather pale. “Don’t tell me you actually…”
He began to laugh and shook his head, blonde curls flying everywhere. “Autumn, relax. I’m messing with you.”
She recovered quickly; a sly smirk was on her face in an instant. “You mean the great and mighty Adonis can actually make a joke?”
The tables were turned, and now it was his turn to be uncomfortable… how was it that she always managed to do that to him? How did she constantly break through his once-impenetrable wall of armor? Maybe it was a little less firm these days, but still… she was the only one who could crack it so effectively. “I’m not an Adonis.”
She snorted with a toss of her ruddy locks. “Tell that to your little fangirls.” She gestured behind him, and he turned to see a group of buxom young women sitting on barstools, staring at him and giggling obnoxiously. He groaned in exasperation and turned back to the only female he could tolerate at present. “And this would be why I prefer to stay home.”
“Oh yes.” Her amber eyes mocked him. “Heaven forbid Adonis actually caring about something other than his cause and his books!”
He stiffened. “I do care about things. Besides, you’re not exactly one to talk.”
Her face was mirthful. “Believe me, I know. Aunt Ellie has been trying to find me a guy for years, but she doesn’t get that I’d rather be an awesome old maid than have to get married.”
He had to smirk at the mental vision of Autumn’s eccentric great-aunt matchmaking. It wasn’t hard to believe. “Finally, someone understands my sentiments!”
She quirked an eyebrow. “You mean you want to be an old maid?”
He deadpanned. “Yes. Exactly that.”
Her laughter was golden. “I’m just saying, it’s kind of weird that a guy as good-looking as you is completely uninterested in a relationship.”
He froze. “Did you just call me good-looking?”
Her face was cherry-red again. “No! Well, yes. I mean… argh. C’mon, who could even make the argument that you’re not good-looking?”
“Evidently not you.”
She refused to meet his gaze. “I’m done lying, so no, I can’t.”
He sighed, glancing out the window. “Well, thanks, but I don’t like my appearance. It’s more of a curse rather than a blessing.” Female attention was an annoyance to him; it made him uncomfortable and distracted him from his work. Plus, it irritated him to no end that they swooned over something as shallow as physical appearances. It’s not surprising though, he mused. We’re above ground right now; the girls up here don’t really know any better.
Autumn smiled- a real, genuine smile that softened her features and made her look almost pretty. “You’re really something else, Rudy Grant.”
“I take that as a compliment.”
“Good, because it was one.”
They shared a quick smile in a moment of comradeship before turning their attention to the nightlife of the city outside. Snow swirled around, illuminated by the glow from the streetlights. The skyscrapers were all lit up and the streets brimmed with life, with flying cars and cheerful faces. Autumn’s eyes shone as she took it all in. “What I wouldn’t give for my camera right now. Why didn’t I bring it?”
It still baffled him that she had a secret love for photography- she didn’t seem the artsy type- but he didn’t comment.
She tore her gaze from the scenery to give him a little smirk. “It was only a few months ago that I wanted nothing more than to be a part of this world. Seems like a lifetime since then.”
“And now?” He looked back at her.
She shrugged, eyes distant as she stared outside. “I’m starting to see that not everything is what it seems.”
He nodded in agreement. Truer words had never been spoken. “That’s good, though, isn’t it? That everything is multifaceted.”
She let out a huff of disapproval. “Depends on what it is. When someone tells you they want to help you find your freedom, taking their words at face value could get you shot.” Instinctively her hand went to her side, where beneath her coat there was a scar that would always bear the memory of what she’d done.
He winced, his own memories of that time rather painful. “Did I ever tell you how sorry I was for that?”
She grinned. “Multiple times. But I keep telling you, silly, it’s not your fault!”
He leaned forward with a frown and whispered, “But it was my dad-”
She moved closer as well, expression perfectly serious and voice just as soft as his. “You’re not your dad, Grant. Just because he’s an idiot and decided it would be a good idea to try and kill my dad…” He winced again and she grimaced. “Sorry. Went a bit too far there. But it’s true- you’re not him. The second you stopped associating yourself with him, you became your own person. You and your dad are two completely different people. Thank goodness for that,” she added lightly. “I sort of like you, and I’d rather not have to fear for my life around you.”
He laughed, to hide his immense relief at her words. “You won’t have to. I promise. I find you somewhat tolerable as well, and I’d be loathe to lose your companionship.” There was a lull in the conversation, in which he glanced at the digital clock on the wall and started. “It’s getting late. We ought to head back home.”
She sighed and reluctantly slipped out of the booth. “Alright.”
He stood and got out his wallet, and she opened her mouth to protest, but he held up a hand to silence her. “Yes, I’m paying, and no, there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Her eyes shot daggers into him, but she obediently remained silent as he paid for their drinks. They left the cozy, noisy store together and stepped out into the harsh cold. Autumn shivered and quickly buttoned up her black trench coat. Grant glanced at her. “Going straight home?”
She nodded and looked up at him, brushing her bangs out of her face. “You?”
“Yes, the back way.”
She nodded again. “Okay, I’ll go the other way then. Wait, I actually remembered to charge and bring my teleporter this time; I’ll just use that.”
“Good.” There was a pause; his face grew thoughtful. “Y’know, we really ought to make more of an effort to see each other. It’s pretty sad that we live in the same vicinity, yet our busy schedules keep us from much communication.”
A grin played on her face. “Actually, I’ve been intentionally avoiding people lately. Ironic, isn’t it: an extrovert wanting to be alone! But you seem to genuinely not mind my presence, so I think I’ll make an exception.” She winked.
They exchanged a few friendly parting words before going their separate ways into the snowy night. Grant turned and watched as the auburn-haired girl melted into the crowded streets, and he couldn’t do a thing to conceal the smile on his face, even if he’d wanted to. During the course of the past hour or so, he’d not only gained a book that would be helpful in planning the revolution, but also a- dare he admit it? Yes- a friend in Autumn Blythe.
They drove each other insane, but they also understood each other in ways that nobody else did. In hindsight, it was inevitable that eventually they’d have to admit to being friends.
As Grant made his way towards the park, towards the giant weeping cherry tree that would take him back to his underground home, he silently thanked his Father for all that had transpired during the little café rendezvous.
Hello, everyone! It’s been a rather eventful but lovely week so far, and I wanted to post something so here you go. 🙂 Have a wonderful day, my dears!