I reach the cafe just in time to see Starlight leave, hurrying off away from the cafe. What? I maneuver my car into a parking space, sticking out my tongue in concentration as I try to align my vehicle with a curb. Why would Starlight be leaving? I glance towards the cafe. Through the wide windows I can make out Lannis combing off a stepladder and another employee watching her.
I give up on trying to get my car any straighter, put it in park, and reach for the handle. As I do, my cell phone whistles, alerting me to a new text message. I sigh and smile at the same time as I dig my phone out of my purse. I have a feeling of what the message will be- and sure enough, it’s Dad, asking “R u at the cafe now?”
I sigh again and tap out a reply: “Im here. My shift went fine. C U in an hourish.” Honestly, I’ve gotten more texts and calls from Dad and Mom this week checking up on me than I usually do in a year. Not that I can blame them. I mean, I was kidnapped. I’m slightly amazed they even let me come back here, but I guess they realize trouble like that can’t happen every week.
Well . . . I hope it can’t. Just in case, though, I’ve been researching online to find out what I should’ve done to get away when I was grabbed. Dad’s talked about signing me up for a women’s self-defense course at the shooting range too, but they don’t have any open slots for a few weeks.
Tucking my phone away, I climb out of my car and lock it. I head inside the cafe, calling out “Hello!”
Lannis turns and waves to me. “Hello, Rebecca. How’re you?”
“I’m great.” I glance back out the door. “Why was Starlight rushing off like that?”
“There was a . . . misunderstanding.” Lannis’s gaze falls to an envelope on the cafe counter. Even I can recognize the meaning of her tone: “Don’t ask more.” She picks up the step stool. “I’ll be right back.”
“Ah.” I notice Saxon at a table, reading Treasure Island. I’m slightly surprised- usually she reads historical fiction- but then again, Treasure Island does fit that category. Kind of. “Hi, Saxon!”
Saxon sets the book down. “Hey.” She glances at my wrists. “Been working the demo table at the craft store?”
I grin and hold up my hands so she can see them clearly. A brightly-colored friendship bracelet decorates each wrist: purple, yellow, and pink on the left and yellow, blue, and white on the right. “Yep. Two hours of showing kids how to make friendship bracelets. It was pretty fun.” Things like that are why I love my job. “What’ve you been up to?”
“Not much. Just the usual.” The way she says the words makes it impossible to tell if there’s really nothing much going on or if there is but she doesn’t feel like talking about it.
While I wait for Lannis to come back from putting the stepstool away, I order a mint mocha, as usual, along with a blueberry scone. The demo table, after all, is hungry business- and I’ll take any excuse for a sweet treat. Lannis returns, sans apron and hair net, and I ask,”So where’s Audrey?”
“She’s coming.” Lannis sits down at Saxon’s table, and I join her. “She should’ve been here by now, actually.” Her face creases in a worried frown.
“Well . . . she’s probably just running late.” I sip my coffee, fairly confident I’m right. Audrey should be ok; after all, she can throw fire at people. Then again, not every situation can be solved by a fireball . . .
As if on cue, Audrey pushes the door open. Starlight walks in after her, looking mildly annoyed behind her mask. Lannis breathes a sigh of relief and jumps up. “Hi, Audrey. I’m glad you could make it. Starlight, hello again.”
Audrey drops into a chair, giving Lannis a “Hello” and Saxon and I nods of greeting. Starlight does not sit, but instead remains standing, arms crossed. “Audrey said it was important I come this evening.”
“Ah.” Lannis looks to Audrey. “Where were you? I was starting to worry.”
Audrey scowls. “Georgio. That’s all. It’s taken care of.” She makes a circular gesture with one hand, indicating all of us at the table. “We need to talk.”
“We do?” Lannis looks surprised- and something else. Worried, maybe? “About what?”
Audrey huffs. “You know.”
“No, I don’t.” Lannis looks at Starlight. “It’s not why Audrey asked you to come, but I was wondering: would you be willing to give me a few lessons in defense? After last week . . . well, I’d like to know how to defend myself if something like that happens again.”
I make an “Oh!” sound through a mouthful of scone. I swallow hastily and then exclaim, “Could I join in on that? If you’re willing to do it? Like Lannis said, I don’t want to just freeze up again.”
Starlight considers a moment, eyes narrowed, then nods. “Knowing how to defend yourself is always a good skill to have. If you want, I’ll teach you. Though . . .” She glances at Lannis. “All things considered, you might need to be careful.”
“I will.” Lannis looks a bit troubled, and I wonder why. Did I miss something?
Starlight looks at Saxon and Audrey. “What about you ladies? Going to join in as well?”
Saxon shrugs and nods. “I’ve been told I defend myself pretty well already, but sure. If nothing else, I can help show the rest of you what to do.”
“If the rest of you are doing it, I might as well.” Audrey gives Lannis a look. “Any chance we could get back to what we should be talking about?”
“And what’s that?” Lannis asks, without looking at Audrey. To Starlight she adds, “Thanks. Where could we practice, and when should we be there?”
“Evening is probably the best time, before it gets too dark. As for where, the park will do to start.” Starlight glances from Lannis to Audrey, a bit impatiently. “Now, could I find out why Audrey dragged me here?”
Audrey glares at Lannis. “You know perfectly well why that is.”
Lannis shakes her head. “No, I don’t.”
Audrey huffs. “Fine. Be that way. But we’ll have to talk about it eventually- you can’t pretend you don’t know that.”