The closer we get to the cafeteria, the further behind Heath seems to lag. Nik leads the way to the largest table in the room, and Andrei heads to the kitchen. I’d planned to go and help him, but I hesitate to follow.
As Heath passes me, reluctantly following Nik to the table, I catch his arm. “Hey, don’t worry. It’ll be fun. Who knows, you might even like the others,” I smirk.
He looks down at me, unconvinced. “Sure, easy for you to say. You have a lot of friends.”
“I’ve only known them for a few months,” I roll my eyes. “I really don’t know how I went from no friends to this, but, if I can, you can at least try.” He shrugs, moving ahead to take a seat. I heave a sigh and follow Andrei into the kitchen.
He’s digging through the fridge when I walk in, so I sneak over to the sink and turn on the water. I pump soap into my hands and the water turns red as I scrub away the blood. “I was thinking,” I speak up, over the sound of the water, “what if we made a few different things, so, that way, maybe there will be something everyone will like?”
“Hmm? Like what?” he hums from inside the fridge. “Doesn’t everyone like burritos?”
I turn off the tap, grabbing the towel that hangs on the stove. “I don’t know. We have people from all over the world now. Do they have burritos all over the world?” I ask honestly.
“I mean, it’s 2018, isn’t it? It’s a possibility,” he snickers.
I lean back against the counter, still trying to get my hands dry. “I dunno. It was just a thought,” I mumble, staring at the towel. “Besides, that way I could keep you to myself a little longer.”
“Ohhh, so that’s what you were planning. I was thinking, breakfast burritos can have like, egg and sausage or ham or even steak, and then we could have hash browns and bagels. But … If that’s not enough alone time… we’ll have a hungry herd of friends out there,” he snickers.
I try to keep pouting, but I can’t resist smiling too. “Maybe they’ll eat each other.”
“That would be horrendous. I wouldn’t want that,” he frowns as he dumps an armful of ingredients onto the counter beside me.
I tilt my head, resting my elbow on the marble counter as I lean over the ingredients. “Well, maybe, but it’d give us more time.”
He looks at me sideways. “More time for what?”
I grin. “I don’t know. I like watching you cook. It’s really cute, and it’s fun to help.”
“Oh, that. Sure, we can cook slowly if you want. Maybe we should make them appetizers though since they haven’t had anything yet. Like coffee or tea or something,” he suggests, arranging the ingredients on the counter.
“Yes sir,” I lick my lips playfully. “I can do that.” I push away from the counter and cross the kitchen to the coffee pot and the kettle. As I wait for the coffee to brew and water to boil, I look at the selection of teas in the cupboard. It’s full of absolutely every tea I can think of. I think green tea is pretty universal, isn’t it? I stand on my toes, leaning on the counter to reach up to the second shelf, where there are a dozen different green boxes.
I find a nice tea set with a bunch of porcelain cups in the next cupboard and I carefully lift it out, placing it down on the counter. I fill up the pot with hot water and a couple of bags of tea. A pair of arms slide around my waist and I feel his body press against my back, pushing me lightly into the counter. He gently lays out six cups on the fancy tray, each with their own saucer. He takes the kettle and slowly pours just a little hot water into each cup.
“Tea tastes better when it’s drunk from a warm cup,” he whispers in my ear. “Or so the Japanese believe.” I gasp as he nibbles on my earlobe, sending a shiver down my spine.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” I chew my lip and he snickers as he goes back to the cutting board. I take a deep breath to calm my heart as I add the cup of black coffee to the tray.
I walk extra slowly into the cafeteria, keeping my eyes on the tray in my hands. With my peripheral vision, I avoid people and chairs as I make my way to the table. Someone passes behind me, bumping into me and the cups rattle. I panic, trying to keep them balanced when the weight of the tray seems to lessen.
Following the arm of the hand that steadies the tray, I find a pair of pale grey eyes. “You didn’t think I’d miss out on your little pow wow, did you?” Selene smirks, a twinkle in her eyes.
“I d-didn’t think…”
“I know,” she snickers. “Let me take this before you make a mess.”
I blush, letting her lift the tray out of my hands. She holds it up with one hand spread out on the bottom and turns to lead the way. I follow the last few feet to the table, curious. It seems that Caroline, Hitomi, and Kaede have joined the table, and Kaede is loudly telling a story.
Selene places the tray down with ease, filling and passing out the tea. As she picks up the coffee, I open my mouth to tell her where to place it, but before I can, she sets it down in front of Heath. She leans on the table and he looks up with a frown.
“Relax. I could care less what’s in your head. Believe me, I’d rather not hear,” she whispers. His face drains of colour. She moves around to the empty seat next to Nik, crossing her legs like a proper lady as she takes a sip of the piping hot tea.
I shake my head and try to smile. “Did you all meet Heath?” I ask, stepping up to the pair of empty seats.
Kaede stops his story, looking up at me. “Where have you been hiding him? He says he’s been here for a few days!”
I smirk. “Across the hall from you,” Kaede gawks, eyes narrowed. Hitomi, sitting between Kaede and Heath, looks over at Heath curiously.
Heath sits up straighter, jaw clenched as he keeps his gaze on the table. “Yeah, they seem nice… I like Hitomi, she’s quiet…” he mumbles. She blushes.
I smile at them. “Good. I thought you might. Anyway, I’d better get back and help with food then,” I wave, retreating from the table.
Andrei is working in a whirlwind when I return, jumping from toaster to stove, eggs to stir-frying veggies. I hover in the doorway, a little mesmerized. I’m torn between wanting to help, and afraid to interrupt. As he leans down to peer in the oven, the toaster pops.
His gaze lifts and he notices me. “Hey, mind buttering them?” he nods toward the steaming bagels.
“Sure,” I chirp. I carefully move around the half-open oven, slipping past him. I pull out the bagels with my bare hands, dropping them on a plate. I’m glad the heat doesn’t hurt as I hold them still to spread the butter. Afterward, he instructs me to mash the potatoes, already peeled and sitting in a bowl. I bite my tongue as I follow his directions. It’s strangely attractive when he gets bossy.
It doesn’t take long to finish the rest of the food, laying it out on several plates. There are ingredients to make burritos as well as bagels, hash browns, and a few other things.
Andrei wipes his brow and heaves a sigh as he looks over the food. “Glad that’s over. Shall we eat this masterpiece?”
“I thought you enjoyed cooking for people,” I raise a brow.
“I do, it’s just… That was a lot of food,” he runs a hand through his hair. “Honestly, I was worried about them eating each other before I finished.”
I laugh, sliding my arm around his waist, pressing myself against his side. “It’s tempting.”
“Them eating each other is tempting?” he asks with concern.
I look up through my lashes. “Mmm… No, just eating you.”
He winks. “Yeah, now that I smell like burritos, I bet your mouth is watering.”
“Absolutely,” I lean forward, gently pressing my teeth on the base of his neck, pretending to bite him.
“Oi, stop that, Hannibal! The food is going to get cold!” he snickers, pushing me away gently.
I step back, biting my lips together and staring at the floor. “Sorry…” I mumble. My chest aches. What’s gotten into me? “Let’s bring this out then,” I pick up a couple plates, keeping my face turned away.
“Hold up, I was just kidding, Kat. That was a joke. What’s wrong?” he asks.
I hesitate, lowering the plates back to the counter. “Oh… I thought…” I let my voice trail off. It’s hard to tell when he’s really joking, or jokingly serious…
He cups my cheek in his hand, turning my face toward him and presses his lips gently on mine. “You can eat me any time after brunch,” he whispers.
I blush, words slipping past my lips nearly silently. “Yes, sir.”
Andrei growls behind gritted teeth, reluctantly leaning away. “Come on. The others are waiting for us.”
He takes a couple of the plates and heads out. I follow close behind with the other two large platters and we set them on the large table. The two remaining empty seats happen to be between Nik and Heath. I hesitate, looking to Andrei. He sits next to Nik, leaving the seat next to Heath for me. I find it a little ironic, where his suspicions lie. As I glance around the table, I feel eyes. I find them, cold as a winter storm, watching me with the teacup pressed to her pale pink lips. No doubt she’s in my head now, too.
Kaede stares at the food, wide-eyed. Caroline smiles. Hitomi seems unsure.
Heath’s jaw drops. “You made all this? In just that amount of time?”
Andrei nods, winking at me.”Well, with Kaitlyn’s help, beautiful things happen.”
Hitomi gasps, making me jump. “Oishii sou! ”
Caroline smirks. “So which of these did you actually make, ‘cause it all looks like Kaitlyn’s handy work.”
Andrei gapes, offended. “Last time I cook you a meal.”
“No, really, I don’t get near the oven. I just help with little things,” I insist, waving my hands.
“What nonsense. You help a lot,” Andrei insists. “She saved the bagels. I nearly lost them.”
“Saved them from what?” I pout. “An unbuttered existence? I don’t understand why you guys seem convinced that I can cook as if I’d be able to make toast unsupervised.”
“Well, you’re always helping me, so I think it’s rubbing off,” Andrei whispers to me.
“Car can’t cook, so you’re lucky you got such a good coach,” Kade jokes. Caroline swats him, looking embarrassed.
Hitomi reaches for one of the plates, picking up a bagel and taking a small bite. She nods, smiling as she finishes chewing. “I like the bagel,” she says quietly, her accent making the words sound a little weird. It’s kind of adorable.
I blush and smile at her. “Thanks.”
The girl turns bright red as she looks back at me. “Yabai!”
I glance at the others, who mostly look just as lost. Andrei, on the other hand, has a knowing grin on his face. I frown, turning back to Hitomi. “I’m sorry?”
“A- anooo…” she stutters. “You are… beautiful,” she squeaks.
My breath catches in my throat and my mouth hangs open a little. I’m sure there’s probably steam rising off my face. Surely, there was something lost in translation. She’s such an adorable, sweet little thing and she thinks I’m… I glance at Selene, hoping to clear up this misunderstanding.
Selene smirks, shaking her head slowly. “No, that’s really what she meant.”
I blink and work my jaw, trying to form words. “Oh.. wow… Thank you,” I scratch my cheek as if I can scratch the colour off. “You’re really beautiful too.”
Hitomi turns a new shade of red. “No no no…. ma ma.” Andrei chuckles softly to himself.
Nik leans over, grabbing an extra plate and a tortilla shell. “Now, now. Let’s all agree, you’re both beautiful. Caroline, Gwen, and even Selene too. Us men are blessed to be around you lovely ladies.”
“Aw, thank you Nik,” Caroline grins.
Selene glares at him. “Even me, huh?” Nik flashes her a cheeky smile, and she narrows her eyes. I find the exchange a little suspicious and as I watch them, Selene’s gaze shifts and she very quickly winks at me. I cover my mouth. Oh… wow…
“Of course, no one is prettier than Andrei,” Kaede interrupts with his mouth full. “That’s just a fact.”
“You know true beauty,” Andrei flips his hair back dramatically. The others laugh, and I find it infectious.
I decide to try and talk more with Hitomi. I don’t know if we’ve ever actually talked directly before. “How do you like it here?” I ask, nibbling on a piece of bacon.
Hitomi looks like she sort of understands, glancing at Selene nervously. “I like it. It is…. big… a big space… no place. A big place.”
“Yea, it is,” I nod, hoping to encourage her. “Your English seems to be getting better.”
“No no no. Not good,” she pauses. “Demo, thank you.”
I giggle. “It’ll get easier. Keep working on it. I’ll practice with you sometime if you want.”
She squeals. “Eee, really?” I nod. I thought the others were already practicing with her, so why is she so excited? I just smile and try to eat some more before I get yelled at.
“So,” Kaede interjects. “Have you heard of Hitomi’s incident in the Danger Room yet?” Hitomi looks up, horrified.
I raise my eyebrows. “No… What happened?”
“I found her in there, about to be eaten by this massive dragon! She was on Guardian mode for almost eight hours! She forgot to set a time limit and her magic was almost totally depleted!” Kaede gushes. “It’s a miracle I found her in time!”
I listen with wide eyes. “Eight hours…” I hum. That’s about my average when I’m feeling lazy. Though, there’s no need to brag. Selene snorts across the table and I shoot her a look. “I’m impressed you survived that long. I’d like to see you fight again, with a reasonable time limit,” I smile at Hitomi, ignoring the snickering blonde.
“Gomen nasai,” she whispers, hunching in on herself, looking down at the table.
Oh no, I think I upset her. “No, no,” I panic. “That’s impressive. I’m glad you survived. You must be quite strong.”
“Yes,” She replies in an even smaller voice.
“Not to mention, Andrei had to help us this morning too. She kind of went into a coma from using so much power and Andrei went into the Veil to find her, ” Caroline explains dramatically.
“The Veil…” I repeat, looking up at Andrei from the side. My heart sinks just thinking about that place.
“It was nothing really. I just thought coma might be like being in between this reality and time so… I brought Gwen’s tea with me and helped her back,” he passes it off as if he was taking a stroll through the Guild.
“There’s nothing simple about that place,” I narrow my eyes. “You shouldn’t take it so lightly.”
“I know that. But there was a chance she was there and I thought it’d be best if I went and checked. I can go in and out at will. I was only there a few moments,” he assures me, waving his hand.
I sigh. Typical Andrei. I don’t want to start an argument here in front of everyone. “Okay, fine,” I push my chair back. “I forgot to make myself a coffee. I’ll be right back.”
Heath stands up too. “I need more coffee too. I’ll… go with you,” he mumbles, picking up his mug.
“Sure,” I shrug, turning away from the table. I reach the kitchen first, and I start setting up the coffee machine. I’ll make his first since it’s already set up for drip-style.
Heath leans against the doorway. “You alright?”
I glance up and walk over, reaching for the mug in his hands. “Why wouldn’t I be? Here, I’ll take that.”
“Well, unlike some people, I can’t read minds,” he muses, handing me his mug.
I can’t help but laugh as I take it to the sink to rinse. “Yeah, I guess that would come in handy sometimes.”
“Sometimes, I guess, but then, there would be no need to ask questions. We’d be like… a hive mind, all connected by thought, wouldn’t we?” he surprises me with the suggestion.
I frown, placing the mug under the coffee machine nozzle. “I thought you didn’t like people asking questions.”
“I don’t,” he grunts, “but I don’t like people in my head more.”
“It’s not her fault,” I turn to see him picking at something on his shirt. “She can’t control her powers any more than you can.”
“After a hundred years? I doubt that very much so,” he scoffs.
“I don’t really know how it works,” I admit, “but she’s only been here for maybe a couple months. She didn’t know what her powers were before, and she never had anyone to help her learn. I didn’t think you’d be so quick to judge…” I muse, watching the dark liquid drip into the mug.
I see his eyes grow wide in my peripheral. “I don’t, it’s just, it’s unlikely that she doesn’t understand her powers after all that time,” he says rather defensively. I can tell he’s quite uncomfortable with her power. “What goes on in someone’s head is their own private business. I just feel nervous around her… That’s all.”
“Maybe you should ask her about it,” I suggest. “I don’t know what her life was like before we met but it couldn’t have been easy. I can’t imagine what it’d be like to die, over and over…” I hum, more talking to myself. “Anyway, here,” I pull the mug out from under the machine and place it on the counter. I start to reconfigure the machine, changing the settings to brew a different style of coffee.
“I think I’ll wait, thanks. You gonna tell me what’s on your mind?” he asks, moving into the kitchen, picking up the mug and sipping the coffee black.
I glance up at him from the side. “I guess I can’t distract you so easily, huh?” I scoff. “It’s not a big deal, really. I’m just… annoyed. Andrei acts like going into the Veil is no big deal when it nearly killed him the first time. I mean, sure, he’s gotten better at it, but it’s not safe there either.”
“Oh? This Veil, why’s it so dangerous?” Heath asks curiously.
I set the coffee to brew, placing a clean mug underneath. “It’s like… It’s sort of a dream world. Most of us, if we end up there, we’re cut off from our magic. There are very few people who can get there on purpose. Andrei is one… and so is the Master.”
“Right, the arch nemesis. So you’re worried that Andrei will get caught there?” he deduces.
“Wouldn’t be the first time,” I shrug. “He can go there and bring us back, but if he gets stuck… There’s nothing we can do.”
He raises an eyebrow. “So he’s been caught there before?”
“I don’t think so,” I shift awkwardly, tapping my fingers on the counter.
“Then why’d you say it wasn’t the first time?” he sips his coffee slowly.
I bite my lip. “Because it wasn’t.”
“Well, now I’m confused. You’re going to have to elaborate,” his lip twitches in a slight smile.
I roll my eyes. “It wasn’t him that was stuck, okay?”
“Oh, I see. It was you,” he looks down at me over the rim of his mug.
I take a deep breath, running my fingers through my hair. “Yea. According to Nik, I was there for a couple of days.”
“What happens then? You know, if you get stuck there.”
I groan. “Nothing good. At least, in my case. Maybe it’d be different for other people.”
“Perhaps. It sounds like to me, it’s a place for certain mages, like Andrei. So is it right to deny him that?” he muses.
“Yes,” I growl. “It takes too much energy. He knows he’s not supposed to do that. His mentor even said so.”
“Ahh, I see, but, he did save that girl, Hitomi? Was that so bad?” he challenges.
I pout. “No…”
He chuckles with his mouth closed. “I think your coffee’s ready.”
I blink, looking at the flashing red light. “Oh. Right.” I pick up the mug and place it on the counter. I have to lean closer to Heath to get sugar out of the cupboard, but I try not to think about it too much. After, I slip past him to the fridge to get the cream. I feel his eyes follow me as I move around the kitchen.
I cough, feeling awkward as I finish stirring my coffee. It’s a little unnerving having someone watching me like that. “S-should we head back?”
“If you want to,” he says as he sips the coffee again.
“Not particularly,” I mutter, peering out the door. The others seem to be engrossed in their conversations, laughing and whatnot.
“Then let’s not,” he lowers the mug, holding the bottom in his other hand.
I gaze back at him, eyes wide. “But… They’ll wonder. I don’t want them to get the wrong idea.”
“Wrong idea? If we aren’t doing anything but talking, why would they get the wrong idea? They’re having their own conversation. We can have our own too,” he reasons.
I backpedal, leaning on the counter across from him. “I wouldn’t want them to think we’re avoiding them.”
“Are you avoiding them? I kinda am… there’s so many of them,” he admits.
“I…” I chew my cheek. “Yea, I guess. It can be a little overwhelming.”
“Bit of an understatement,” he sips. “So, what should we talk about?” I hum, lifting my mug to my lips. I don’t really care what we talk about, or even if we just stand in silence. It’s peaceful here, away from the chaos of the lunchroom.
By Krystyna Yates