The morning rolled around, and I rolled out of bed. I’d been sleeping pretty well ever since I got here, but the first night hadn’t been so good – as I was used to the sounds of the woods, the constant sounds of San Myshuno had been a bit of a shock. I’d slept through most of it, and then woke up at 5am as the delivery trucks arrived, beeping loudly enough to wake the dead.
This morning, I slept through them, and staggered into the kitchen to make some breakfast.
To my surprise, the eggs and bacon actually turned out alright.
I ate breakfast in the dining room, rather than the living room, because the Royal Bachelorette is still going, and I didn’t want to turn on the TV and see it, not without my friend there. My loss, I could take, but his loss was harder to deal with, because I had firmly thought of him as somebody who could win. He’d ended up in the Redemption Room alongside me, but had taken it well, and tried to teach me to play chess. None of the others had engaged with me like that, after the first couple of conversations, and although it would have been nice to see how Fate was getting along, I couldn’t bring myself to watch it. Or any TV, to be frank.
When breakfast was finished, I went to get dressed, so as not to spend a day in my dressing gown, and found myself staring at a pink shirt that I’d bought on a whim. Perhaps I could dress a little differently today.
I buttoned it up, and picked up my phone, taking a quick, and probably bad picture of myself, sending it to Miss Arnett before I could hesitate.
What do you think?
Ten minutes later, she replied.
When’s prom? (And where are your glasses?)
Ah. Looking in the mirror, I could see that she might have a point. It did make me look like I was about to shave and ask permission to take somebody’s daughter to prom.
Well, I think I’ll be voted King, but in all honesty, you’re right. (My glasses are in the bathroom.)
I swiftly changed out of the offending shirt, and breathed a sigh of relief as I pulled the waistcoat on. Yep, nothing made you feel more confident than a beautiful waistcoat.
My phone buzzed again as I came out of the bathroom, glasses finally on my face.
So, Prom King, have you got time for a coffee with me?
Okay, Isabelle Arnett was extremely confusing.
She was very direct, but that made it hard to tell whether or not she was flirting with me, and as I got to the café she’d told me she was at, I tried not to assume that she was flirting.
She was waiting outside, in a summery cream dress, and waved me over when she spotted me.
“Champ! Come on, come on! I’m dying for my caffeine this morning.” Her friendly smile threw me off guard, and I hurried over.
“Do you come here every morning?” I asked her, and she laughed.
“Pretty much! I do a lot of late night work, at the moment, to pay for my rent. It’s in the Spice District, and the flat’s pretty tiny, but it still needs paying for.”
We went in and I followed her as she made a beeline for the register.
“Isabelle!” the barista said, somewhat warmly. “How’ve you been?”
“Not too bad, not too bad! Yourself?” She seemed a little more relaxed, speaking with him.
“Oh, you know, the usual. Serving coffee to bartenders.” He winked, and they both laughed, before he turned to me and asked for my order.
“Could I have a pastry and a mocha, please?”
He whistled, gave Isabelle a look, and turned away to make my drink and another. Isabelle leaned close.
“Me and George over there go way back, ever since we were teenagers working horrible part time jobs. We serve each other drinks all the time, ’cause he serves coffee and I serve alcohol.”
“Oh.” The penny dropped. “You’re a bartender!”
“Mm-hm!” She grinned. “It’s pretty fun, because I’m part of this agency that hires out different bartenders to different places. Wednesdays are pretty fun, because I’m at the karaoke bar, but Friday daytime is stuffy because I go to the gallery. The art’s beautiful, but the snobs all order like they’re emulating rich teenage girls.” She laughed, and stuck her nose in the air.
“Excuse me, miss? I ordered my Princess Cordelia with extra grenadine three minutes ago, and you’re still making it!” She rolled her eyes. “Great Sloths, you can’t get the staff any more. You know, there are plenty of young people who would leap at a chance to do what you’re doing.”
My jaw dropped. Not just because of how the person had apparently treated her, but because her mannerisms – the way she looked down her nose and puffed out her chest, and pursed her lips – perfectly captured one person.
The famous art critic, Diego Lobo.
It was scarily accurate. It was like the man himself stood in front of me, before she relaxed and began laughing.
“Man, but I hate Fridays. It should be nice because of how cool the gallery is, but it’s not.”
“One mocha, one pastry, and one cappuccino?” George appeared, and we took our orders from him, going to sit at the little bar next to the counter.
“So, Leon, what do you do?” Isabelle asked me. I looked down at the counter.
“I, um, I paint.” And enter reality television contests.
“Oh, nice!” She smiled, and I smiled back.
“So, what do you like?” I asked. She grinned.
“Hm, swimming, comics, animation…” Pausing, she winked at me. “Anything in common?”
“Actually, yes. Comics.” I felt a sheepish grin cross my face. “I really like this one series, Jenny and the Human Race. It’s about this alien girl who gets sent to Earth, but ends up realising her people are taking advantage of humans and –” I stopped. “Sorry, I’m babbling.”
“Aw, come on, Champ! Tell me more about it! I can’t believe I’ve never heard of it.”
It looked like the nickname was staying, but I didn’t mind, and ended up going through most of the plot of the first series, finding myself promising to lend her the collected edition.
After our coffee, she had to run (‘yoga class!’) and I ended up heading back to my apartment, smiling as though I’d never stop. I was even in a good enough mood to buy a cupcake, something I usually never do even if I want to.
It was just that she was so nice. She was a pleasure to talk to, and I couldn’t wait to meet up with her again.
Sorry for a short chapter!