Pa always told me that it’s not the plot or the characters themselves that matter in a story. It’s the presentation. You could have the most tragic elaborate plot with the most intriguing and fascinating characters, and it wouldn’t matter if you weren’t able to present it properly.
I think that’s wrong. I mean, I’m not a published author like he is, so I’m probably wrong, but I don’t think presentation is the key. I think if the plot or the characters are good enough, that alone will get people intrigued enough to stay and read.
Actually you just need to have people that seem like they’re hiding something, a past maybe, to get others interested. It’s one of humanity’s great traits – curiosity. Everybody wants to know the secret.
I took my client’s order, keeping one of my ears locked onto the table nearest the door. Maxwell was here. With Emily.
Normally I’d look the other way – because Maxwell obviously never has anything interesting going on – but today there seemed to be a lot of tension at that table.
“Emily, Alistair’s gone to rehab. He’s not coming to join us, it’s just you and I.” I heard Maxwell say.
Well he’s not gone yet, but my fathers really had their fill with my uncle Al, especially with the whole wedding alcoholic breakdown he had. They’re finally planning on sending him off to rehab.
“You don’t know that.” She snapped. “I told him we were here.”
“He’s not going to come either way, he never does.”
“Maybe it’s because you’re here.” She snarled.
“Emily…” He said, his voice barely reaching my ear.
“No! I just want it to be like before again, why did you have to chase him away?” She nearly shouted, jumping from her seat.
She scoffed as Max stayed silent, and without another word she headed out the door.
Jeez, why did Max ever hang out with her and my uncle Al?
Maxwell slowly slumped over the table, heaving a big sigh. He looked in my direction then, seemingly having remembered I worked here. It didn’t take two seconds for him to grab his stuff and leave.
I looked around the now even emptier café. The place was usually busier when the week was drawing to a close, but the café was starting to have difficulty getting a good clientele. Several stores had slowly taken to refusing service to supernaturals, or at least giving them really sucky services. My boss however, is a (sort of) vampire. Whatever passes for a vampire these days. You got fangs? There you go, vampire.
Anyway, because of that the café is still really open to naturals and supernaturals alike. But a lot of our clientele are naturals working in the big businesses in downtown Ridgevalley, and they’ve been boycotting the café since my boss made it clear she was allowing supernaturals.
It’s not that people hate supernaturals, it’s more that they’re afraid that the people who do are going to attack their business. Which is once again ridiculous. Why would they attack something like a video game store?
The door opened with a ding and I waved as Sal came in.
I hadn’t seen much of her since the wedding last weekend. At school she’d been kind of silent and…restless?
Anyway, I was happy she’d decided to come see me at work after I’d dropped comments of it being way too empty. I’ll get a chance to talk to her alone, and maybe see what seems to be bothering her.
I don’t think it’s my fault this time. I hope not.
“Hi Niko. You really weren’t joking, the place is empty.” Sal said, taking one of the stools.
I wiped the counter for the hundredth time. “The boss still pays me so…”
She glanced around the café again, silent, her eyes clearly elsewhere.
“That’s what we get for letting supernaturals come here. You know, apparently the government has this machine that can detect supernatural magic in your blood now?” I asked, knowing politics usually got Salandra talking.
“Yes I’ve heard of that!” She said, her eyes instantly sparking. “They’ve got them set up in important facilities. Everyone’s got a little bit of supernatural magic, so as long as you don’t exceed a certain percentage you’re fine.”
“How long is it going to take before they sell this at the local store? I can get by fine so far, since I’m barely a witch anyhow, so the ‘picky’ stores don’t even know I’m a supernatural. There are some advantages to being a larut.” I rolled my eyes.
Sal’s expression darkened. “She had no right to call you that.”
“Not unless she’s a supernatural herself.” I crossed my arms.
“Isn’t she one? With her tattoo?” Salandra asked. She’d told me about that, how she’d found out Tatiana also had a magical tattoo. Another thing that made that irritating girl interesting.
I shook my head. “That doesn’t make her a supernatural. It’s artificial.”
“But it’s still magic. In her blood. It would probably pick up on the government’s machines.” Salandra said.
“Hey,” I said, changing the subject with a grin. “Remember the fiasco Luke pulled today at lunch?”
Sal laughed. “It was adorable!”
“It was ridiculous!” I grinned.
“I’m sure Vero loved it.” She said.
“She was too busy dying of laughter on the ground.” I chuckled, putting away some plates.
Luke had come to us, saying he’d called Elvis the other day and ended up being paranoid about his relationship to Vero again. And Elvis had gotten so fed up of having to listen to him whine that he’d given him a dare and hung up.
The dare had been for Luke to get up on the tables during lunch and serenade Veronica. And he did! With his tone deaf nervous voice! Vero pulled him away after that and we haven’t really seen them since.
Salandra rested her chin in her hand with her smile already fading, as her eyes drifted off again.
“What are you thinking about?”
“Hmm?” Her eyes drifted up to mine.
“You’ve been down all week.”
“I’m just anxious…or restless.”
“Is something going to happen? Seems like something big for you to be this distracted.”
“What is this?” Salandra asked with a sly smile. “It’s not like I’ve never seemed down before. But now the great Niko is… concerned?”
“What does that mean?” I scoffed.
She scratched at an old scar the counter has. “Nothing.” She eventually said.
I leaned on the counter. “Old Niko might’ve been a bit of a jerk, but new Niko has the right to be worried for his friends right?” I asked.
Sal smiled. “Of course he does.”
“Oh this is bullshit.”
Sal and I turned towards the new clients.
“Ana don’t be like that.” Kaan said, after noticing us.
“We’re not going here. Somewhere else.” Tatiana insisted, already heading for the door, but Kaan stopped her.
“There’s literally no other place that wouldn’t give us nasty looks because of my wings.” Kaan said.
“Come in! Take whatever seat you want.” I called out, as politely as I could.
“I need to go to the bathroom, try to be nice.” Kaan said, and Tatiana huffed at him.
For some reason, she decided to sit right with us. She took in a breath and then looked at me with a composed expression.
“Some apologies are in order.” She said with some difficulty.
I scoffed. “Sorry isn’t going to cut it.”
“No matter what state you’re in you don’t go throwing that word around.” Salandra practically hissed, and Tatiana crossed her arms.
“I shouldn’t have crossed that line, I’m sorry.” She said through gritted teeth.
“Oh you’re going to need to do better than that.” I laughed dryly.
“I shouldn’t need to waste my time on this crap.”
“Look, we get you’re stressed, we all have finals coming up, but you need to tone it down.” I snapped.
“Finals?! This is so much more than school! This is way bigger than that! It’s not some stupid exams. My stress stems from real problems.”
“Oh? Maybe we should compare notes.” Salandra cut into Tatiana’s whiny speech with a cold stare.
“You want proof? I’m adopted-”
“Jeesus Christ, my dad was adopted too you know.”
“Shut UP, let me get to it.” She snapped. “I don’t know about your dad, but I wanted to know about my parents, so I went looking for them. And I found one. Fucking worst mistake I could’ve made. All this conflict between supernaturals and naturals? I’m in the middle of it! I work for an organization who’s trying to make sense of all this crap. Of why my school got bombed. And now there’s this bitch, who’s apparently the best-”
“I thought you said your parents were dead.” I harshly cut in. Her high and mighty voice was grinding on my nerves.
She temporarily seemed to choke on her words. “Yeah, I lied.” She said with a shrug and a frown like it was just some stupid forgotten thing.
“So you work with that biker lady. Is she part of this fancy organization of yours?”
“Biker….lady? Oh Assaria.” I opened my mouth to ask more questions, since she seemed so willing to answer, but she held up her finger. “Uhuh, I see what you’re doing here. Stop.”
“My bad, I thought you’d come here to apologize, not tell us all about how horrible it is to be you.”
Tatiana held her temples, staring straight ahead as she tried to calm herself down.
“I’m just asking for a little bit of info in compensation.” I added, with the same cold tone.
She suddenly snapped to her feet. “Screw this.” She muttered, heading straight for the door as Kaan came out of the bathroom.
“Really?” His shoulders slumped before he followed her.
No one’s POV
Lila gave Salandra a warm smile as they waited for Nikolas. His shift was over and Lila was replacing him.
“You dye hair don’t you?” Sal hesitantly asked after a few moments. She wasn’t sure if that was a touchy subject for her or not.
Lila nodded. “Yes. Only my ends though.” She said, fingering them.
“I hope you don’t mind me asking, but…why?” Dyeing your hair…it was like asking for people to judge you.
“Because I want to obviously.” She said with a small chuckle, before deciding to take Salandra’s question more seriously.
“Oh, I find my hair…dull. When I’m beside people like you, with your bright colorful hair, I feel like I’m part of the background. I don’t think that reflects who I am.” Lila confessed.
“I think you’re very pretty, either way.” Sal said, and Lila chuckled. “What school do you go to? I’ve never seen you at ours.” She asked. There were only two well-known schools…and one of them had gotten destroyed recently.
“I’m homeschooled actually. My parents both work at a car shop and they thought it’d be more fun if they taught me at home. Or well, at the car shop heh.” Lila replied.
She’d tried switching the conversation, but Salandra couldn’t stop herself from looking at the girl’s locks.
“How did you get your ends to be so bright?”
“Certainly not by buying my dye.” Lila snorted. “It’s one of my personal concoctions. With your hair though, you’d be fine just dyeing with any product. Mine’s too dark, it needs special treatment. Oh there he is!” She exclaimed as Nikolas came out. “Bandana and all!”
“Obviously, I wouldn’t go anywhere without it.”
“I swear this guy. I don’t know why the boss lets him talk with the customers. Just need one angry customer and this guy is ready to fly off the handle.” Lila scoffed.
“That was one time okay. And the guy was complaining about some fly in his coffee like I put it there! Geez…”
“Really?” Sal asked. I nodded enthusiastically.
“I’ve accumulated more than enough money for it!” I said. “And dad put his stamp of approval on the place I wanna go to take my self-defense classes. It’s finally going to happen! After months!”
“That’s fantastic Niko!”
“Yeah I know! I’m really excited.” I grinned. “Who knows, I might be able to start as soon as this weekend.”
At that, Salandra slowly sobered up, getting lost in whatever it is that’s making her anxious or restless or whatever.
“So… what?” I asked. “It’s happening this weekend?”
“Whatever,” I gestured aimlessly. “The problem is.”
“Oh um, yes…it’s supposed to. I guess.” She replied.
“Sal, what’s going on?”
“You know already.” She answered in a small voice. I had an inkling now, of what it could be, but I didn’t want to say it out loud, in case I was wrong.
“It’s my mom. At the hospital. With cancer.” She replied, keeping her gaze fixed away.
“Oh.” Well I did ask for it.
“My uncle – But after this weekend, it should be better. It’ll be fine.” She told herself, taking in a deep breath.
My mind fumbled with what to say. I’d nearly lost Sal as a friend when I’d found out accidently the first time, but now she was telling me of her own accord. And her mom’s situation must’ve worsened if she’s so distracted. I have to be careful of what I reply. I bit the inside of my cheek, as the words escaped me.
Have I learned nothing from the situation with Elvis?
“If there’s ever anything I can do, ever, tell me okay?” I ended up saying. If she needs anything she can just tell me. Whatever somebody in her situation needs.
She held my gaze for several moments before she nodded and smiled. “Ok.”
“Niko! Perfect timing!” Dad exclaimed, once I got back home. I repressed a shiver. I was just waiting for it. Dad hadn’t grounded me or anything for breaking my bow at the wedding. Or when they were treating my hand, making sure it hadn’t gotten infected. Turns out it was mostly superficial.
Guess I hadn’t been that bad at the wedding.
Nato glanced up at me and wagged his tongue. “I’ll take you out in a second bud.”
“I need to talk to you.” Dad said. “About the posters your school’s been having some trouble with.”
“You mean the ones that have been up since January? At least?” I asked.
“Yes those.” Dad clasped his hands together. “I heard it was something about trying out some game?”
“Yeah. It’s big and flashy with a 1000$ reward.” I shrugged.
“I wasn’t worried before, but…you aren’t going to try and participate right?”
“Obviously, why would I?” I scoffed. “It’s not like I need money anymore, and I’m not going to fall for what’s probably a scam anyway.”
“I’m just making sure.” Dad said.
“Why now dad? That poster’s been up for months.”
“I’ve been having a bad feeling…”
“Your sixth sense?” I asked, curious.
“Yes. A very bad feeling about this poster. Something that’s going to happen very soon and it won’t be good. Niko promise me you won’t get into this.” He insisted.
“Yeah, yeah, like I said it’s not interesting.” I shrugged.
“I’m serious Niko. It doesn’t matter the reason, you cannot participate in this. If for some reason something comes up, you will come see me or Edmund and we can take care of it. But there should be absolutely no reason for you to take a part in this project.” Dad insisted. “Do you hear me Nikolas? I need you to swear that you aren’t going to do it.”
“Jesus dad. Do you have so little trust in me – no do you think I’m really that reckless? I got it the first time you told me not to get into that poster.” I replied, trying my best not to sound rude.
“Niko…” Dad said in his warning tone.
“Yes ok! I swear it. There are you happy?”
“No matter what happens.”
“Yeah, yeah, no matter what.”