Chapter 16:

(Tristan) Bomeo and Buliet

Cafe Eris

“Alright! Everybody gather round and listen up!” said the bald eagle to the empty café kitchen. I leaned on my broom, exhausted from end of day cleanup duty. My other coworkers were M.I.A. again so of course I had to shoulder the extra shiftsBookmark here

“WHO are you talking to?”Bookmark here

“Why, you of course, Tristan. Does it look like anyone else is here?” he laughed, shaking his head. “Alrighty, I’m announcing the Café Eris Employee Superlatives for this month. We couldn’t do this last month or the month before that since certain people-” he meant Wabong and Ben, “-didn’t show up enough times.”Bookmark here

It’s true. We were severely understaffed.Bookmark here

I knew what happened to Ben, but “Where’s Wabong?” I said, mildly irritated. Bookmark here

“Ah, who knows,” the eagle chuckled, “Don't worry, he always shows up when we need him the most.”Bookmark here

As if. I needed sleep this week and all I got was extra night shifts. The only other reliable worker in this place was Kai. He was older than the rest of us- in his mid 20’s I think, but still pretty young - and he usually covered the night shifts. Today he had some other occupation so I was the only one who could step in.Bookmark here

I hadn’t seen Wabong since my close brush with death the day Rika and her son showed up asking for tea. Since then, we've restocked extra. I checked. At least 4 times. Bookmark here

I’d also checked the USB I picked up from the basement, but it was all encrypted in a language I couldn't read. The only word I recognized was Anastasia, but no context or clues as to why or what it meant. Maybe the old timey detective lady knew something, but it’s a common name… and honestly, she kinda scares me so I’d rather not ask.Bookmark here

“Hey Scanta, why don’t you hire older people who are, you know, reliable and experienced?”Bookmark here

“Thank you for the suggestion,” he said half sincerely, “but you people suit this café much more. You know the vibe is just so.. hip and young, you get what I mean?”Bookmark here

I cringed. “No. It’s crazy and unpredictable.”Bookmark here

He snapped his fingers and pointed at me smiling, “Exactly.”Bookmark here

He cleared his throat and put on an announcer voice. It seems he was determined to announce those superlatives even though I was the only one here to hear them.Bookmark here

“Most Appearances goes to….. Kai!” He shuffled his cue cards. “Best… uh, hair…. goes to Ben Jamin,” he said flatly. “Shows up when we need him award goes to…..”Bookmark here

“Wabong” I interrupted.Bookmark here

Scanta paused. He looked slightly offended, but continued anyway.Bookmark here

“And Most Average Employee award goes to... drumroll please!” He looked at me expectantly.Bookmark here

I sighed and lightly tapped the counter beside me.Bookmark here

“Tristaaaaan Smiiiith!” He applauded, “Take a bow!”Bookmark here

I didn’t know whether or not to be offended, but I took a shallow bow anyway just so he would leave me alone. Bookmark here

He handed me a muffin as a … consolation prize I suppose, and gestured for me to smile. I did, only so that he would stop applauding. Satisfied, he turned to leave, but just as he was leaving he froze in his steps and spun on his heel towards me again. “Oh! I almost forgot!”Bookmark here

God, please. Why do you keep testing me?Bookmark here

“The café’s having a talent event next week. You’re a design student, right? Spruce up the place a little bit.” I was about to object but then he said, “You have free creative reign, just keep within the budget,” he showed me the café’s finance papers.Bookmark here

“Ok deal.” I said, “I’ll start tomorrow.”Bookmark here

This is exactly what I needed. Walking past those plaid curtains everyday was taking a toll on my mental well-being. It was an insultingly small budget for my expertise but maybe I’d get promoted from being “an average employee.”Bookmark here

The café as of right now, was exuding bad cottagecore. That’s the best way I could sum it up in one phrase. Downtown spots should be, you know, minimalist. Simple. Chic. Basically the opposite of whatever the hell Café Eris had going on. Bookmark here

But I had a feeling that when Scanta said “Free creative reign,” he meant, “You can change anything except what you can’t change.'' This place was weird. It welcomed the madness of the city, and a simple makeover wouldn't change that. Before he left yesterday, he pulled me aside, put both hands on my shoulders, leaned down to my eye level, and said, “Don’t disrespect the integrity of this café.”Bookmark here

It gave me chills. The way he said it was very… pointed. Very… eagle like. I’ve never seen him that serious.Bookmark here

The first thing I did when I walked into work today was snatch the curtain from the front and put it away in the “To be burned later” box. It was a safe and necessary move. That curtain had no integrity. Scanta saw the label on the box and frowned sadly. All he said was “You’ll be missed,” putting his hand on his heart before walking away.Bookmark here

I scowled. No it won’t.Bookmark here

Next was the wooden sign at the front. That had to go. I stayed up late last night researching and compiling different fabrics, materials, and drawing up moodboards. Keeping Scanta’s words (more like threat) in mind, I went with a bright and colourful theme. Cool tones mostly, with some orange accents. Scanta barely skimmed through the portfolio before giving me a thumbs up to start prepping. I had a week to get it all together before the talent event. Bookmark here

The shipments for new furniture came in a few days later. I did my shifts and stayed after work to replace the ugly worn out counters and tables with nice glass ones. I swapped the brown reading nook sofa with cozy bean bags, a nice orange sofa, along with a new table. Bookmark here

The plastic light fixtures in this place were also super ugly so those were put in the burn box right next to the plaid curtains. The new hanging ones were much more modern. It was finally starting to look like a place I’d like to work at. Bookmark here

And then I turned around.Bookmark here

I stared at the corner with the ceramic frogs…. This was a problem. I could feel the protractor in my pocket. I knew it’d be an issue if I got rid of them. Apparently the café kids actually liked that corner. But more than that, Scanta liked that corner. And more than that, RIKA liked that corner.Bookmark here

Ugh. This pains my artistic soul, but I guess we’ll have to keep it. Bookmark here

I turned my head away in disgust and focused on the empty left wall from the entrance. The off white paint was clearly peeling. It was the perfect opportunity to cover it in art. I put my superior aesthetic senses to work and picked out a range of modern pieces. Bookmark here

Scanta came over to check in on my progress and stopped to stare at the painting of an orange dot I’d just put up. He said nothing for a while. I wasn’t expecting him to be so impacted by a piece that I picked out. It almost made me want to tear up a little bit.Bookmark here

I broke the eerie silence, “It’s my favourite one.”Bookmark here

He slowly turned to look at me, “Oh, I can tell. It’s the most boring painting I’ve seen in a while. Maruto could probably paint that.” He laughed and walked away before I could retaliate.Bookmark here

Excuse me? This piece was incredible. It represented the complexity of the concept of parallel universes. The never ending cycle of sorrow and happiness in past, present, and future lives. The multilayered dimensions of the human experience that transcends time and space! It was created by THE Bablo Batisse! It was an absolute masterpiece.Bookmark here

I buried my face in my hands and took a deep breath. I couldn’t expect a frivolous bald man to possibly understand the impact of such a painting. Hopefully someone in the café would appreciate it a little more. Bookmark here

“It’s a pretty painting,” a sweet voice from behind me piped up.Bookmark here

I turned around to see a girl with her head tilted gazing at the painting with interest.Bookmark here

It was her.Bookmark here

Her long, silky dark hair draped across her shoulders intertwined with the lace on her dress. I’ve never wanted to run my hands through my own hair, let alone anyone else, but at this very moment? I had to hold myself back. Bookmark here

Oh my gosh. Bookmark here

“H-hey! I know you! You were in the front w-”Bookmark here

“The front window, right,” she smiled. She had a nice smile. It felt like it was blinding me. Is this what they call love at first sight?Bookmark here

“Right next to that disgusting plaid curtain.” Her beaming smile grew when she spoke. I think I’m gonna have a heart attack. Is this my main character moment? This feels like a dream.Bookmark here

“Oh my gosh… yeah.” I faltered, but I couldn’t stop staring at her. That day, I’d only caught a brief glimpse through the glass, but she was stunning up close. Her eyes sparkled in the new-and-improved lighting of the café. Also, my heart fluttered at the fact that she hated that plaid curtain just as much as I did. We were meant to be. Wait, I was getting a little too ahead of myself.Bookmark here

“Do you need any help?”Bookmark here

“Uh... um, yeah, uh sure?” I tripped over my words. Tristan, pull yourself together. “Wait, how did you get in here?” I was sweating profusely at this point. The café closed some hours ago, the only ones left should be me and Scanta.Bookmark here

She giggled, “Oh, don’t worry about it. I... kinda wanted to see you. Tristan, right?” She eyed me up and down, and I felt my face heat up from her gaze. She had both hands cutely tucked behind her back. Bookmark here

“Y-yeah, and your name?”Bookmark here

“Lolita.”Bookmark here

I looked at her pink and white frilly dress, “Like… the aesthetic?”Bookmark here

She smiled wider, “Yes! Exactly.”Bookmark here

Okay, I can definitely respect her commitment to the look. “So cool.” I cringed at my flat tone of voice. “Wait! ThatcameoutwrongI’msorryIswearIactuallythinkit’scool,I-” Bookmark here

Her silvery laugh made me feel better about the mess of words that came out of my mouth. I took a deep breath to calm myself down.Bookmark here

“What kind?”Bookmark here

She beamed “Everything! Classic of course, sweet, sometimes gothic too depending on my mood.”Bookmark here

The way she talked was super endearing. It was expressive, but not the way that Scanta was. Eww, I can’t believe that bald eagle invaded my thoughts at a moment like this. I focused back on Lolita.Bookmark here

She scanned the paintings on the ground and picked one up, pointing to where it should be on the wall. She had excellent taste in art. I went to hang it when Scanta suddenly burst into the main room.Bookmark here

“Tristan. Stop talking to yourself. It’s distracting me from my daily breathing exercises.” He ran his fingers through his nonexistent hair. Bookmark here

“What?” I turned around and Lolita was nowhere to be seen.Bookmark here

“What do you mean, what? Every single time I inhale, I hear you speaking. Please work quietly. Or see a therapist.” Bookmark here

He breathed in, breathed out, gathered his bags and dramatically exited the café, “Goodbye Tristan.” He disappeared into the night. What a drama queen. Bookmark here

“Ugh… I hate that bald bastard.” Lolita huffed, “That was close, almost got caught! I hope you know your boss is an idiot.”Bookmark here

“Oh, I fully agree,” I looked around, “Where did you go to hide?”Bookmark here

She tucked her hair behind her ear and winked, “Don’t worry about it. Let's get these paintings up.”Bookmark here

We arranged the pieces one by one until the whole wall was covered. We both sat on the ground in silence admiring our work. It was pitch black outside and probably close to 1 AM, but I didn’t feel tired. I felt jittery. The rumoured spirit of this café must have possessed me at that moment, because for some reason I was feeling gutsy enough to say “I like your hair. And your outfit. It’s super cool, I appreciate the aesthetic. And your eyes, they’re uh, they're pretty.”Bookmark here

She laughed, “Thank you! I like your face.”Bookmark here

Shoot. My face right now was probably a tomato red. I let out a small squeaky “Thanks” and got up to check the pastry display case that was kind of empty since it was after hours. “Do you want something to eat? My treat. As thanks for helping me with the wall.”Bookmark here

She sat up and daintily shook the dust from her dress. “No thank you. Let’s do the rest of the café renovation. How long will you be here?”Bookmark here

“Oh, uh, I have the whole night, Scanta left me the key.”Bookmark here

She gave me an impish grin, “Ok then, what’s next on your list?”Bookmark here

“Uhhh,” I fumbled to take out my phone, “rearranging the bookshelf.”Bookmark here

“Okay great!” She pranced over to the reading nook and started sorting it. “I’ve read every book here. The romance ones are by far the best. Especially this one” she said, flipping through a copy of Bomeo and Buliet.Bookmark here

I actually hated that story, but I wasn’t about to tell her that. “Yeah, same. Romeo is such a relatable character.”Bookmark here

Romeo was an absolute idiot.Bookmark here

“The whole star crossed lovers thing totally broke my heart.”Bookmark here

I couldn’t care the slightest bit about either of them.Bookmark here

“Fate was definitely one of the best themes.”Bookmark here

I don’t even believe in fate.Bookmark here

She sighed longingly. “They were just so unbelievably tragic. No matter how much they wanted to be with one another, fate just got in the way,” she glanced my way with tears in her eyes.Bookmark here

Oh nonono, did I say something stupid? She pulled out a matching pink frilly handkerchief and delicately dabbed at her tears. It was like watching an angel cry. I reached out for her hand but she pulled it away. Yikes. Maybe reaching for her hand wasn’t the right move? I thought it was clear she liked me judging by all the very … forward comments. I think she’s just shy. Yeah, that must be it. Bookmark here

“Is there anything else on your list?” she asked, leaning closer.Bookmark here

Woah woah woah. I’m getting mixed signals here. Is this really happening? What should I do? Is this what I think it is? But, she pulled away her hand. What’s going on?Bookmark here

She glanced at the phone with the list in my lap, “It looks like all that’s left is the actual stage for the event.”Bookmark here

Oh. Bookmark here

I didn’t know whether to be disappointed or relieved. It’s okay I guess, I was getting a little too ahead of myself there anyways. I dropped the dopey look on my face and nodded. “The stage is literally just a platform that goes in front of the art wall.”Bookmark here

“Oh you mean that thing,” she said pointing to the wooden slab covered with a cloth in the corner of the room. Bookmark here

“Yeah,” I cracked my knuckles nervously, still not over my misunderstanding a minute ago. Bookmark here

Lolita frowned, “That guy used it before, DJ McPizzle or whatever.” Hehehe… McPizzle.Bookmark here

She put back her gentle smile and offered to help me carry it.Bookmark here

“No, no, I uh, I can manage.” I insisted, looking warily at the giant platform. I didn’t have much to flex, okay? I’m a tall lanky dude, but asking Lolita for help was just too embarrassing.Bookmark here

I eventually managed to drag the thing to its place while Lolita stood there, pretty as usual, and watched. Bookmark here

I was out of breath, not gonna lie. Bookmark here

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