Bracken sat at the empty counter, turned toward the windows to watch the sun rise over Homburg.
Jaz stood behind the espresso machine, fiddling with switches along its front. The refrigerators beneath the counters hummed, the espresso machine gurgled and swished as the boilers filled and heated.
“I told your sister to check back here in the morning if she didn’t find you. She should show up sometime soon,” Jaz said. “Want some cobbler, for the road?”
“No thanks. I’m going to get some real food later.” Bracken yawned and folded his arms across his backpack, which lay on the counter in front of him.
He and Jaz had stayed awake most of the night, looking at photos, talking, looking at more photos, eating pastries, and finally just sitting in the cafe in silence together. It felt like the hours before a long trip, a long separation.
“And there she is…” Jaz nodded toward the windows as Kajaani passed in front of them, heading toward the doors. “Not wasting any time, that one.”
Bracken sighed and slid off his stool. “Well…”
They looked at each other across the counter.
“See you later.”
“See you.” Bracken gathered his backpack and went to meet his sister at the doors.
“Turn the sign around on your way out,” Jaz called after him.
Bracken did so, while Kajaani scowled at him through the window, rubbing her black-and-red striped arms against a mild chill. Her unbrushed black hair flowed loosely to her shoulders, bristling in response to her mood.
Stepping outside felt strange. Cool air, heavy and green-smelling, brushed softly against his skin. Sunlight glowed along Main street, illuminating the brick buildings on either side of the road, all the way to the fields at the edge of town where Bracken had encountered the flash flood.
Yesterday, and a week ago.
Kajaani latched onto his arm with a vengeance. “Surprised to see me?”
Bracken shook his head. “Jaz told me you were in town.”
She glared, digging her fingers in. “Yeah, to find you! Where’s my camera?”
“Here.” Bracken unzipped his backpack and produced the camera. “It needs more film. I, uh, used it all.”
She took it, still glaring. “Why did you steal it, anyway? I would have lent it to you. And what were you even thinking, running off like that? Mom and dad are having fits—”
She broke off as Bracken suddenly hugged her.
“I’m sorry. I just…needed to know.”
“Know what?” Kajaani pulled back and looked into his face, her anger giving way to concern.
“What happened to Sadie.” He twisted to point behind him with his free arm. “She worked at The Defiant. The…ah, manager, Jaz. She told me all kinds of crazy stories about her.”
“She didn’t say anything about that to me.” Kajaani turned to the windows thoughtfully. “Where is Sadie now, then?”
Bracken swallowed. “She died. Right before my birthday. Jaz didn’t have any way to contact us. And when you came last…yesterday…she was so surprised that she didn’t say anything. Jaz isn’t very good at handling emotions.”
Kajaani lay a hand on his arm, this time gently. “What happened?”
“She…got sick. It was pretty sudden.”
Kajaani nodded. She looked slightly relieved, as he knew she would. He pretended not to notice. She may never learn the truth, but he knew it. That was what mattered.
“She left something for us, though.” He reached into his backpack for the picture book.
Kajaani put an arm around his shoulders, guiding him down the sidewalk. “You can show me on the train home.”
“Yeah, about that…”
Morphas masked in myriad shades of yellow filled The Defiant, circling tables and leaning against the counters. The sun cast down its own yellow hues, shifting from a bright neon morning to a smoldering golden evening. The shop grew quieter as customers went home for their evening meals.
Windows along the street shone with orange-yellow electric lights as Jaz cleared the final dishes from tables and loaded them in the dishwasher. She crossed the empty cafe to lock the doors, which had been propped open to let in the fresh air.
Bracken stood just outside them.
Jaz stopped at the threshold facing him and stared for a moment. She folded her arms. “No, Bracken. We’ve been through this. Go home, be good, don’t cause trouble. Come visit me occasionally.”
Bracken raised a hand. “Hear me out. I’ll only travel with you one day a week. That’s one day in seven by your time. The other days, I’ll work at the cafe and leave when you close. I’ll get a place to stay in Homburg the other days of the week.”
Jaz considered this, chewing the inside of her cheek. “You’ll still age too quickly—”
“It’s my life, Jaz. I’d rather spend it here than anywhere else.”
Jaz sighed and stepped aside. “Behave, or I’ll ban you for life.”
He walked into the cafe, grinning as he passed her.
Jaz pushed the doors closed and locked them. She stood a moment, her eyes distant, staring at his retreating reflection in the glass. A slow, happy smile crept over her lips. She reached up and turned the sign to ‘closed.’
And we’ve reached the end of Traveler! Thanks for reading!
Traveler is the first book in a planned series of three. I’ll be writing book 2 over the next few months and plan to post it serially like this one. In the meantime, Traveler will be released in print and ebook formats sometime in February/March 2018. Those versions will include the character illustrations and some extra artwork as well. 😀 I’ll post an update here when it’s going live.
What did you think of Traveler? Let me know in the comments! I’m always happy to talk stories and writing. ^_^
Once again, thanks for reading! If you know someone who would enjoy a quirky read like this, feel free to share it with them.