The following were what Jerome had observed: Rina was mildly allergic to crucifixes, she did not like to eat things that had garlic, and she was, to say the least, old. If he had learned anything from classical literature it would have been that those were signs that she was a vampire. Although, he felt as if his conclusion might have been wrong, seeing her admire his pen collection and not burn at the touch of silver. She picked them up and held them up to her eyes. Some were silver, others gold, and the one she had been looking at in particular and discerning every aspect of was made of wood. It was a family heirloom-- a dip pen with a glass nib, and a fine brown body where the letter R was engraved in copperplate.
"Rosemary?" She asked without looking away from the pen, touching the sharp nib and wincing ever so slightly.
"Yep," he said, looking up at her. He was kneeling on the floor studying his books. He wasn't entirely sure if that was her calling him or asking if the pen was Rosemary's-- that too, he observed that for no particular reason she called him Rosemary. Well, not that the name was so out of the blue, his great great great grand aunt was Rosemary. That sort of led him to believe she was ancient-- aside from the overall Victorian get up-- she had to know Rosemary for her to call him that. But that speculation was rather embarrassing, so he just left it to his imagination.
She just looked on, picking up pens and placing them back into the silk cushions. She must have been thinking about the engraved letter.
And he went back to his books, looking through the masterpieces and not entirely giving up on the idea that maybe she was a vampire. He was supposed to be reviewing for his art studies test next Monday, but his mind wandered to the jars she had brought one night.
She brought seven two-inch glass jars, all labeled with strings wrapped around the short necks and aged paper that read “souls” in a small curly script. Despite the corks, he could smell a mild rosehip from them. Now, he knew barely anything about the magical world-- well, he didn’t even acknowledge the possibility of its existence until this shady lady came around looking for a Rosemary-- but he knew one thing: there was only one way to get souls. He shuddered.
But what she would do with them was another thing altogether. Souls, of course, had barely any use in this dimension or planet or country or city or at least for the average human, which Rina was not if human at all. It was rather human, though, that she'd want a philosopher's stone out of the souls. It was in the sense that the stone turns worthless metals into gold, and may allow the bearer immortality. Greed was human.
He closed the book on his lap, looked at the girl hovering over his study table, and asked “What do you need with the souls?”
She looked up from the pens, blinked twice, and answered, “I need a philosopher’s stone to make a gold locket. Have you forgotten?”
“What’s so special about the gold locket anyway?” He knit his eyebrows.
“As I said, I lost my old one,” she gestured, her hand rolling with every fact, “I need a new one, and I need one that is specifically enchanted. That’s why I’m asking you, Rosemary.” She leaned on the table, placing both her hands on its edge.
“I can’t make it enchanted,” he said almost too fast. “I can’t even make one.”
He could see that she didn’t know and/or understand why and why not. Her shoulders slumped and her eyebrows knit. “Yes you can. That’s why you’re Rosemary.”
“Don’t call me that,” he crossed his arms and looked sternly. “My name is Jerome, and Rosemary couldn’t have made it either.”
That was also one thing he knew-- well, in a way, he did-- Rosemary couldn’t. She may have been a sage of time, whatever that meant, but that was not in any way an alchemist (unless she did alchemy on the side; that they will never know). So even she couldn’t make a philosopher’s stone.
“Well, you can try, right?” she asked, and he rolled his eyes.
The truth was that Rizal atbp. (which was read as “at iba pa”) was quite the hipster hotspot. Which couldn’t be avoided. Its aesthetic, as matched the audience, revolved around white wood and mix-and-match chairs. And its location at the corner of the art street was a prime spot for art shows and poetry readings.
Crwys hated how the café almost always had customers. She did not hate the fact that more customers meant that her friends would be able to rake in more cash to keep the establishment living whilst keeping themselves alive. She had nothing against the way the economy worked, rather that she had no place to go to aside from the couch under the stairs and its respective coffee table. And having the place full of people all the time meant that she couldn’t get to the couch because Mac thought it wasn’t good for business to have someone hogging the best place in the café the entire day. (which Crwys would mentally retaliate and say that that’s why it was hers after all, which was their fault anyway.
This was how the story went: It was menu-revision night, and they had made a cake that could crumble cities, dry oceans, and bring gods to their knees.
It was Mac, Kyle, and Thea who were behind such a mistake. Their biggest mistake was asking someone else to help them out. Of course it was only a completely scientific, and therefore logical, trait to be open-minded and hear from other people, but it was probably not the best thing for them to do considering the fact that the only person available at the time was Jerome. And that was another mistake-- Jerome.
Jerome was not a bad cook, he was just a cheapskate. Well, after being a college student dependent on his parents for six years now, it just made sense. But that was another mistake right there.
During brainstorming, someone—it was not important who this someone was-- decided that carrot cake sounded like a good idea. Carrot cake and royal frosting went well with a macchiato. And so it happened, they entrusted Jerome with the batter mixing: flour, eggs, raisins, carrots, baking soda, milk, cinnamon. And then he buttered the tin. While he buttered the tin, Mac peered over his shoulder and at the batter and decided that it didn't have enough cinnamon, and so added some. And-- did Jerome put cinnamon? The tin was buttered, but he wasn't sure if he added any cinnamon, so he put some in, thinking more was better than none.
And when the cake came out of the oven, Jerome couldn't have been any more wrong. The entire world smelled of a very cinnamon-y carrot cake. It's taste, as well, was a very cinnamon-y carrot cake which was, by all means, a nuclear explosion of cinnamon in the mouth. It was safe to assume that if this were a film this was where one would edit in a clip of a mushroom cloud.
The cake was inedible. It was so bad they couldn't give it to the poor, or the strays. The only option was to throw it away, but Jerome couldn't have himself throw it into the trash-- food was food no matter how bad, and the food they had wasted to make this atrocity was something he could have used elsewhere to make something for lunch. The thought was impossible to shake off.
Then, the heavens sent down a miracle via elevator. Crwys stepped into the kitchen from the complex's elevator and smelled the cinnamon. And some way, somehow, she had managed to convince them into a bet that if she finished the cake, she'd take the café couch. Jerome, who wanted her out of squatting in his apartment three days a week, said yes immediately thinking she wasn't serious. But she was, and so was everyone else, doubting that she'd be able to finish it.
And it was a miracle that she did. And she survived to tell the tale of an Altoid hell. Not without pain, of course, after passing out for three hours only to look for a place to puke once conscious.)
The most she could do when the cafe was full and her seat was taken was hang around the kitchen while Mac and Thea are making extra batches of cookies and cakes. She sat on a counter, rosehip tea in hand. “I hate this tea.”
Thea looked up from the cookies she was decorating with a slight crease between her eyebrows, “So why did you ask for it?”
Crwys shrugged, “I felt like it; slightly masochistic and— I don’t know.” She chuckled softly. She looked at the cookies, and took one that had already been spread with a matcha coat. Thea sighed slightly and finished the last of the batch.
Mac shoved a tray of cookies into the oven, “Rosehip is nice.” She joined the two, at the countertops. She raised an eyebrow, and cocked her head slightly at the tea. Crwys handed her the cup. “So where’ve you been, anyway? It's been, maybe, three months.” She sipped.
“Places,” she said, kicking her shoes off and pulling her feet up onto the counter, and crossing them into an Indian sit. Thea put the cookies aside and took a place next to her, dangling her legs over the edge.
“Don’t you ever have an actual answer?” Mac put the cup down next to Thea and leaned against the countertop. “All the times we ask you where you go, you never really give an actual answer.” The last time she said that she didn't know where she'd actually gone, and the time before that she said that she had gone back in time to fetch them a new recipe which turned out to be their best selling pound cake.
“Skeletons in the closet, Immaculate.” She smirked, “Might I remind you of yours.” She took a second bite of her cookie and then balanced it on her knee. She slouched and rested her elbow on the other knee and rested her chin on the palm of that hand. "We barely know anything about you."
“She has a morgue in hers,” Thea smirked at Mac too.
“Hey, I don’t have any skeletons in mine,” she said as she faked offense, a little louder than should have been. "I clean it out monthly."
Kyle burst through the door coming from the cafe. “Nothing like a busy Wednesday night to retreat into the kitchen and have a little chit chat.” He went up to the three of them and leaned against the granite countertop next to Crwys. “Med students everywhere for some reason. Table turn over is gonna be slow tonight.”
Crwys let out a laugh, “Ah, the med students in the middle of Ex, trying to review. I will never get why they do that.”
“Just be happy we get some cash from their tiny wallets,” Thea said casually. She looked up at the ceiling, “We used to do that, too.”
“Barely,” Mac reminded, and pulled over a chair, “We’d just sit in the cushioned seats, use the wifi, and Thea would get hit on by the barista when she’d get our drinks. We didn't even review, I mean we were in high school then."
Kyle smirked, “The guy’d even carry the drinks over to the table when it’s her picking it up. And hey," he pointed a finger at Mac, "I reviewed." She rolled his eyes at him,
Thea smiled as she recalled, “But it was the girl barista who was cute.” She laughed.
Kyle continued, scrunching his nose to push his glasses up, “That one tried talking to Jerome. He was his charming self until she asked for his number." He sighed, "Those were the days. Now we get pissed when kids do that kind of thing in here.”
Mac rolled her eyes, “If you're trying to say that we get pissed when they're hogging seats, you're not really talking about those kids. You’re talking about Crwys.” Crwys shot her a glance.
Kyle looked from the top of his glasses, “I meant more like buy one drink and hog the place for five hours. People should at least have the decency to buy more cookies every three hours." He leaned down by Thea and grabbed one for himself.
"Doesn't that make you feel weird?" Thea noted, cocking her head to the side, "We're old!"
"We're like 24, Thea. Not that old," Mac said as she picked up the tea cup, "Well, Jerome is 23, and he's still in school."
"No need to jest at the fact that he's still studying." Kyle was uncharacteristically not joking, "We just got lucky to strike big after college.” He took a bite from the cookie. He brushed off the crumbs that fell on his black apron.
Crwys took the final bite from her cookie. She spread her legs and let them dangle from the counter, her puppy socks comically made her look a little younger, "I don't think you guys ever told me that story." They looked at her in a mix of disbelief and confusion.
“You don’t remember?” Kyle said, almost shouting.
She looked back at him with innocent eyes. Her puppy socks added to her innocence. “I don’t think I was here then.”
“That’s exactly what I was saying,” Mac pointed out half-accusingly, half-jokingly, “We don’t know where you go.”
“Skeletons, Mac.” She coughed, “Anyway. The story?”
Thea looked up and began the story, “Well, my uncle who used to own this building was moving away to Switzerland. So he left this place for us. My mom didn’t know what to do with it, so she told me that if I wanted it, I’d have to do something about it within the year otherwise we’d sell it.”
Kyle continued, “Mac and I were finishing our undergrads and we had the final project, which was to start our own business. So we started this…” he rolled his head looking for the appropriate word.
“Baby?” Crwys suggested.
“No!” Mac interjected.
Kyle looked up at Crwys and nodded, “Good word, but I was thinking more like venture. But that’s pretty much the story.” He summarized, watching Mac to see if she approved of the story but she didn't take her glare off Crwys. “Thea got this building, Mac and I needed a space, and boom goes the dynamite. We have a hipster hotspot ideally for the artists of Ex, but here we are stuck with med students trying to review for their midterms. What gives people the idea that this is a conducive environment for studying?!”
“It’s the couch,” Crwys slid herself off the counter. She said while putting her shoes on, “Also, the coffee. Kids like coffee and free internet. Is Jerome in? I just remembered I have yet to talk to him.”
“He’s probably also studying for his midterms,” Thea said.
“I’ll pass him in them,” she said heading for the elevator. As the doors opened she bid her farewells and took the lift to the third floor.
Thea looked at the two in confusion, “How did she even become a professor?"