Sunday, April 14, 2019
As I crossed the threshold of Coffee at the Green, the sharp, acrid aroma of coffee grinds struck me, overtaking the sweetness of rain and spring flora outside. I blinked twice before shaking my hair free of my coat's hood and ruffling it with one hand, muttering a quick charm to conceal the flushed, pointed tips of my ears. Inhaling deeply to acclimate my senses, I approached the service line, wringing my hands free of as much cold and rainwater as I could.
The little cafe was, for the most part, quiet. The pouring rain and occasional thunder drowning most of the muddled conversations of other patrons and promised that few more would make the journey here. Above even the heavy splattering of water against wood, glass, and the canvas draped over the outdoor seating, a steady flow of noise from the kitchen was the loudest of the cafe's activity. Only a handful of customers filled the quaint bistro, scattered around the indoor tables or in line at the counter. Four people stood waiting in front of me; one of which was a lone male, and the remaining three small pack of females. The male was closest to me, reeking of human musk and cologne even over the smell of coffee. The females were chattering quietly while waiting for service, and I picked up words like school, boyfriend, Susan, and rain from their conversation between the sporadic convulsions of blenders and other machines. I didn't care about the material, but I found myself listening anyway out of boredom; it was calming to focus on a single sound.
There were three baristas behind the counter, all female. One in particular was clearly newer than her peers; her apron had not yet grown to stink so ingrainedly of coffee grinds, and she appeared uncomfortable with her movements. The other two moved with ease and far more practiced hands.
One of the more senior girls waved over the male in line before me, passing a tray of drinks to the small huddle of women; they took it, barely pausing to thank the barista, and made their way to a vacant table.
As the male ordered, I took to watching the trio of baristas. From them radiated a thick blanket of monotony, save for a piercing haste emanating from the new worker; her aura warbled and flickered with flashes of confusion, worry, and a sense of miniscuality. She was herself a tiny thing with olivine skin and messy hair the color of dark chocolate tamed into a bun that appeared barely able to contain itself. Her eyes flickered up to survey the state of the line, once passing across my stare, but she quickly retracted her gaze and locked eyes with me. I cocked my head slightly to soften the impact of my focus; she seemed to relax in the slightest. Her eyes were a shade of chestnut far warmer than her hair. Her wide doe eyes and full parted lips —as if she were in the middle of a word she couldn't quite remember how to say— made her constitution appear even more childlike.
"Hi," She uttered quietly, with her voice quivering slightly. I only heard her over the ambiance because I was paying attention to the movement of her lips.
I didn't try speaking to her because she would not have been able to hear, but I allowed a lopsided smile to pull my lips. She appeared to blush, and her heart stuttered as she looked back down. Her aura hummed excitedly but I couldn't distinguish if it was from mere nervousness or attraction. Either way, I was unsurprised by the reaction, and she looked far too childlike for me to consider her of personal interest.
"Miss?" Another barista droned flatly, catching my attention. She didn't look up from her register once I'd stepped forward to order. "Welcome to Coffee on the Green, what can I get for you today?" When she did look up, she stumbled a little over her tongue. Humans were never quite used to my height up close. For a pure Elf, however, I was somewhat short, though it was likely an effect of my lingering youth.
"Eat in. Large London fog and a white chocolate cranberry scone, please." I answered curtly, tousling my hair again to make sure my pointed ears were well hidden. Once humans were keen on one abnormality, they searched with a vigor for more. (It was a force of habit more than anything, as I knew I the glamour I had put in place was nearly impossible to see past.)
"And your name?" The woman was hardly trying to be discreet in her bewilderment. She was chiefly surprised, lacking the incessant buzzing of any anxiousness.
"Lydia,” came my reply in a tone of dueling boredom and amusement. The barista rambled off the price and I handed her a card for payment.
"Alright, Lydia, your order will be ready shortly." The barista smiled forcedly at me, holding out a buzzer and receipt. I took both and nodded a simple thanks to the woman behind the counter. "Laurel, London Fog and cranberry scone!" The woman added behind her shoulder, and I felt the aura of the newest barista shift with renewed haste.
"On it!" She squealed and began rummaging around behind the counter.
"Thank you." I nodded to the barista behind the register. Surveying the current layout of patrons, I found a small, vacant booth tucked into a corner beside a window. It was darker than the other booths, likely why it was unclaimed, because it was lit primarily by the murky sunlight that made it past the fog and rain. That was no concern for me, so I slipped into the booth and dropped the backpack from my shoulders; I withdrew my laptop, notebook, and mouse from it as I settled, and set my phone down amidst the other devices. Under my breath, I also cast a quick glamour on the materials to deter human suspicion as I opened the field journal to copy over my most recent notes on Angels (which was my personal preference of the species' many pseudonyms). My notes were extensive, complete with detailed sketches, and written in my native Elvõr'ävõrvän, so I was glad for having learned a particularly suited hiding charm from a more ancient Elf in a similar field.
I spent only a minute or so settling myself and organizing my space before the new barista made her way to the table, eyes darting between me and the drink on her tray that she was desperately trying to make sure did not spill.
"Hi! I'm Laurel; I have an order for Lydia?" She smiled, and I could feel the nervous energy rolling off her so strongly I was almost convinced it had become tactile. She made a little show of presenting the items on her tray, and with amusement, I nodded.
"That is me." I moved aside my journal and took the large, steaming mug from the girl's tray, and fighting a smile at the relief that radiated from her when the nearly overflowing mug was set on the table without any spillage.
"Thank you." She squeaked, and embarrassment tinted her prior relief when I caught her stare. She stood still for a moment, a bubbling curiosity building, before she finally blurted, "I'd never even heard of a London fog before today," she paused again for a moment, once again moving her mouth around a few words she apparently decided not to speak.
"I went to visit a colleague in England, and she insisted I try it. Personally, I think it pairs well with rain." When I smiled at her, Laurel bristled and hastily placed my scone down, muttering an apology —for having briefly forgotten it— under her breath. "Don't worry about it. I have time." At that, the girl visibly relaxed, and I wouldn't have had to feel it to know she was comforted by the reassurance.
"You've been to Europe?" She asked me with widened eyes and a swirling aura of intermingled curiosity and excitement. "I mean, obviously you've been to Europe, you just told me you've been to Europe, but what's it like?" I allowed an amused smile onto my face, and I was a breath from answering when, on an inhale timed perfectly with a breeze carried in by the cafe's opened door, an overpowering scent of ozone and magic struck me silent. There was a certain sort of electricity that filled the air as well, unmistakably the effect of an Alpha Fae.
The woman that had entered was just a little short in stature but carried herself with an effortless confidence that more than made up for her height as she approached my table with a knowing quirk to the corner of her lips, and her eyes, a bright and mischievous foliate green, settled briefly on me.
"LJ, leave the woman alone." The newcomer spoke with a lax drawl towards Laurel, and the latter's swell of indignation was nothing short of familial in character.
Despite the vast disparity in their image, the characteristic similarities between the two were uncanny. It was their scents that were the most telling; under the barista's odor of coffee rinds and perspiration, and the newcomer's freshly applied fruity perfume, the women shared a homely musk that was ingrained far too deeply in their bodies to be from brief visitation alone. Undoubtedly, they shared a dwelling. Their shared mannerisms and a slight inclination of posture toward each other led me to conclude they had also shared much of their upbringing. Yet, despite all their likenesses, it was made blatantly clear by their scents and auras that the two were not the same breed.
"I wasn't," Laurel quickly defended, eyes changing rapidly between myself and the woman. "I was asking about her drink!" The newcomer smiled teasingly, tousling her wild orange hair, saturating the air with the smell of rain and damp perfume. I almost had faith enough to say she was purposefully hiding her ears as well. She grinned lazily, returning her hands to the front pockets of her distressed blue jeans with languid ease as she set her sight on me. Her mild expression gained a glimmer of interest as she looked me over. It was common, in young Alpha Fae especially, to leak magic when they excited; and while her expression remained somewhat controlled, light tendrils of energy perforated the mundane softness of comfort around her, and it became electrified too with her growing intrigue. Something unfamiliar also bubbled just far enough below the surface of her emotions that I couldn't quite grasp it; something that felt dangerously similar to recognition. (Recognition, especially when accented with surprise, was almost never good, in my experience.)
"LJ, shouldn't you be back at the counter?" The redhead turned back to her companion with the teasing, seemingly permanent, lilt to her tone.
Laurel looked about to retort before a small clatter came from the kitchen, and she immediately grabbed the buzzer from my table and ran to assess the clamor with a tiny squeak. The stranger chuckled, flushing quickly with a loving affection that dissipated when her gaze returned to mine. She slid casually into my booth, sitting directly across from me with a bright smile.
"What brings you here, stranger?" The Fae girl's grin remained intact as she tucked her hair behind the ear that faced the wall; unsurprisingly, the gesture revealed that the tips of her ears were pointed too. The gesture was small and allowed to pass without spectacle, though I knew it well enough; to bare your differences so casually to a stranger was to offer a very specific and acute show of trust. Generally, Faerfolk were, more often than not, far more hospitable when conversing with other Fae, regardless of species.