6. Plan ‘A’

Bracken returned to his room and sat on the bed. For a long time he stared ahead at a rack of old clothes against the wall, occasionally sipping his tea. The room wavered in and out of focus, as thoughts raced through his mind. In his search for his missing aunt, an inter-dimensional coffee shop was certainly not what he’d expected to find. His emotions raced with his thoughts; fear and anger at the idea of being trapped here, when he could be in Homburg tracking down his lost relative; wonder and incredulity that he had been transported along with the shop to another world, if Jaz were to be believed.

Every so often his thoughts and emotions took a break from racing, allowing the room to come back into focus. Bracken found he was staring at the clothing rack, and at one blue jacket in particular. It had a wide collar and a patch of a brown bird sewn on the sleeve.

With a sudden realization, he stood and crossed to the rack, still holding the teacup in one hand. With the other hand he lifted the coat from the rack and held it up. A numb, breathless sensation came over him. The mingled scent of maple and coffee coalesced with the texture of the jacket between his fingers. A memory surged forward: sitting on Sadie’s lap, his cheek pressed against the wide lapel of her jacket, listening to her tell a story.

Bracken backed up until his calves bumped the edge of the bed, and sat down heavily, clenching the jacket in a tightening fist. The dust everywhere, and the stale air of the room told him Sadie hadn’t been here for a long time, but that wasn’t important right now. She had been here. How fortunate that Kajaani had showed up and caused him to seek refuge in the basement. Bracken felt a surge of affection and gratitude toward his older sibling. And Jaz! He’d never suspected that the barista who bought photos from him had also known his aunt.

He fell asleep wrapped in the jacket, compiling a list of questions to confront Jaz with in the morning.

***

Jaz woke grudgingly at 4 am, wincing at the desk lamp she’d left on. She scowled at it, blinking, then at the weekday calendar tacked at eye level on the side of the desk. Beneath Tuesday was written ‘Pucheon,’ in permanent marker. Below that in erasable marker was scribbled ‘Aton, bank. Jolie, trowtov.’ She relaxed the scowl and rolled out of bed. She retrieved a black vest from the floor and put it on over the mauve shirt she was already wearing. Black lace-up boots and blue jeans were also already on her, the same clothes she had been wearing since the beginning.

She went to the door, then had a thought and picked up the thin, white, hardback book that she’d brought downstairs the night before and left on top of the pile on her desk. She stared at it musingly for a moment, then tucked it under her mattress. Then she went out, locking the door behind her.

Glancing to her right, she saw no light coming from under Bracken’s door. She stood for a moment, debating whether she ought to wake him and explain as much as possible before the day began, or just lock him in his room until next Monday. She wasn’t good at explanations, and anyway, there wasn’t time. Hopefully, the shock of finding himself in another world would keep him quiet and out of her hair.

Turning left, she climbed the stairs and stepped into the darkened, sleeping shop.

Orange night lights mellowed here and there, splashing the counter and espresso machine with subdued color. Jaz turned up some white lights above the bar and the workspace brightened around her. It was a six-sided corral of counters and shelves, each counter being its own prep station. The longest counter facing the front of the shop had the espresso machine, grinders, register and a pastry case. To the left of the espresso counter was the drip coffee counter with pourovers, presses and siphons. To the left of that was the tea counter with its own kettles and clear glass teapots on the shelves underneath. Two counters to the far right were empty, and customers usually occupied the stools along both, though the other counters were lined with stools as well except in front of the register. One more counter along the back wall had extra condiments and brown bags of coffee beans. In the middle of the corral was a rectangular island with a small but mighty dishwasher beneath a ceramic sink.

In a routine that was part personal and part opening for business, Jaz left the mug beside the sink, nudged the trash bin into its crevice between two cabinets, turned on the faucet and shoved a kettle under the cold stream with one hand. When the kettle was full she set it on a heating element at the pourover station.

Five minutes later, with a cracked coffee mug filled with The Defiant’s signature Breakfast Blend roast beside her and a box of peach cobbler on her lap, Jaz sat on the condiment counter with her back against the wall, heels up on the adjoining counter.

Dawn’s purplish light grew steadily brighter, lightening the brick plaza outside. The plaza was situated in the business district of Pucheon. Five buildings surrounded it, facing each other: The Defiant, the city bank which was currently closed due to an unfortunate smelly slug infestation, a tall office building housing the law firm of Tingle, Shicktin and Vool, a train station, and a small second-hand shop that limped along, refusing to be converted into something more suited to a growing, self-conscious city. At this hour, no one stirred in the other buildings, and the brickwork plaza was empty of pedestrians.

Jaz forked pensive mouthfuls of cobbler, watching the bank across the plaza.

At three minutes to six, she leaned over to a small radio and clicked it on. Peaceful flute and xylophone flowed from speakers affixed to the walls.

At two minutes past six, the bank rumbled, shuddered and crumbled inward like a deflating souffle. Gray waves of dust rolled across the bricks. Bits of shrapnel plinked against The Defiant’s window panes, none large enough to cause any damage.

Sirens added whining, discordant notes to the flute and xylophone music as emergency vehicles sped toward the spreading dust cloud that choked the plaza.

Jaz refilled her coffee.

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