Reed didn’t sleep a wink on that night. On the next morning he was far from being friendly, but when Tomas asked for a reason at breakfast, he refused to talk to him and blamed the weird weather instead. He couldn’t wait the meal to be over fast enough and was already rising while chewing the last bite. The bread was so dry, he used half of the left over coffee to wash it down.
“You’ll be sick if you drink so much in one go.”
Tomas attempts on humor wasn’t worth the Pulitzer prize. He laughed over his own joke though. He was right, and he knew he was only worried, but right now anything the man said only pressed on his one button and it read “bolt”. Like cat caught in a tiny box. What was that scientist’s name? He pondered over it, watching how his brother’s knees were gently waving from left to right and back under the table. The table wasn’t big enough, so his knees were reaching out about half way, but that seemed to be the ultimate size this small place would allow to have. He felt sorry for the guy- for the rest of his life he would be living in this tiny place, tiny house, like a grownup playing in a dollhouse. As he imagined him standing on the front door, another person invaded his head and for a sickening thump, he saw Valerie follow his brother’s suit, her long fingers coming around his middle and them hugging each other, smiling.
He pressed his eyes shut, willing the picture to fade and hoped to god he didn’t carry all of his emotions on his sleeve. He set his cup down.
“Ok, I’m gonna start taking shingles up.”
“I haven’t finished yet. Read stock news! Relax! It’s your vacation!”
The newspaper in Tomas’ lap had been folded so many times it had holes in the creases. How could he still read that thing? It was almost a week old and relaxing at this point was like asking tornado sit on a naughty chair.
“Maybe we should take a day off – you look kinda pale.” Tomas decided, putting it aside and getting up.
“We rested yesterday. You should use me as much as you can while I’m here.” Reed wasn’t going to spend this day running around beach line where his mind had too much unoccupied space to roam around. He wanted to keep himself busy, concentrate on not falling off the roof. This, and to keep Tomas busy too. If the man was working, there were less chances he went walking, and less chances she’d end up crossing his path. Tomas might have preferred answers instead of a barking brother, but he kept his mouth shut, no point of poking the hedgehog. Reed used it to get his way and they spent rest of the morning on the roof.
They finished little before lunch and cleaned up the debris. By two Reed was ready to admit he was getting hungry and the water from the well wasn’t sustaining enough. Tomas proposed they’d make acquaintance with the local culture instead settling with his meager cooking skills, although both of them knew he’d pass any taste test, and despite Reed’s protest that he was too dirty to appear in public, Tomas dragged him in the house, gave him half an hour to clean himself up and was ready to go by the time he had come out of the bathroom.
This was not how Reed imagined it to go. They were supposed to stay home, but he knew he couldn’t stop him without having to explain it, so he followed him on the track to the center.
The Santana’s Cafe was one of the cultural pearls of the island. By Reed’s taste that meant it being the queen of tackiness, but the astonishing part was, it fit in. It looked like one of the old villas on the island, with another, smaller version attached to it as a veranda. It had everything one would describe romantic – white laces on the edges of the roof, pink exterior and white furniture seated around a small clearing with huge bushes of Hydrangeas and Feather grasses that wouldn’t stand still even for a second around them. Reed found it overwhelming. He understood the need to make a show, but this was straight out of elegant magazine. Just as painful to the eye in all its glory in the bright sun. Maybe the food was pink too?
There were four other guests sitting around tiny tables, who gave them polite greeting. He recognized one of them, an older woman with her daughter, who’d come on Drasan on board of the same ferry they had. The woman left him impeccable impression, making her the ideal customer of this establishment and making him feel out of place. He hesitated, when Tomas got them a table for two only few steps away from the window through which the food was served. It had a collection of cakes, all cut in slices and mounted on cake trays on shelves next to the window so every passerby could get their mouths watering. He wasn’t fond of sweets and would have liked it to be pizza place.
The other couple was about their age. They hadn’t meet them before, but their matching outfits betrayed their newlywed status.
Valerie hopped out of the door next to the window and straight to their table, wearing a tiny see-through apron. Reed wanted to scream. He couldn’t decide, for what exactly – the fact that she was here and serving them, or the fact that she looked so peachy it made his senses run a marathon. She was carrying two small yellow extravaganzas with big blue fondant blooms on top.
“Hi! What would you like?”
She headed straight to the newlyweds and set the plates in front of them.
“Hi, you’re working here?” Tomas remembered to ask, hiding the sun from his eyes with his hand.
“No, but she’s busy, so…” She left the question linger in the air. They exchanged glances, not sure what to order. “Oh yes, you haven’t been here before. Most people here choose by the color.” She waved behind her on the tiers of cake, then she leaned closer and whispered. “They pretty much taste the same.” She waited a bit more, swinging back and forth on her heels, but they had no idea what to order. “I’ll give you a random then, my treat. For taking us on the boat yesterday.” She gave them a curt smile and whirled around. “Pink should be just your color.”
“No, don’t! I’m allergic to -!” Reed gasped and stood up abruptly. There was a familiar crack as the wood gave in and the small table top yanked up from the seams. Reed landed back on his chair, beet red.
“Hmm,” Valerie observed them seated behind the cafe table, still holding on to her tray. “Chelsea! We need a new table!”
“Oh?” The older woman came on the window and looked around, searching for the reason. Then her eyes stopped on them and their pointy knees that carried the table as if it was a large tray and she gasped. “Oh my!”
“Sorry…” Reed muttered, suddenly aware of eyes around them. “I moved too suddenly.” He gently broke the last of what was holding the wood in place and moved it out of their way while Tomas expertly collected the legs and lay them down in front of it.
“Sorry.” Tomas joined his brother.
And they were sorry. They didn’t visit many cafes in the city together. That was, why. They usually were on top of their size, but there were still times they forgot and they often ended up paying for the new piece of furniture. In the end, their youngest brother ended up opening a special place for them. He’d set a the largest pair of custom made sofas in the far end of it, so they could have normal cafe experience. Most of the furniture they had was now custom made for the obvious reasons.
“I’ll pay for it.” Reed tried to make amends, when the owner came out and joined them at the table.
“Bar corner would be nice?” she said, with the same assessing look as they’d seen on Valerie earlier.
Reed was confused, and by the looks of it, so was Tomas. They knew by now that they couldn’t be related, yet the way they talked was as if they were joined by the hip.
“Pardon, boys, this must be weird. Don’t worry about the table – it was on its last stretch anyway.” There was a pregnant pause and she burst laughing. “Never did I think it would get such an ending though. Never mind, you pay for it with your tea.”
“Tea?” Reed could almost feel the bitterness of the coffee waving good bye as it seemed to became an unreachable dream.
Valerie turned and followed her to the shop window. “One is black and the other with one sugar.” She said absentmindedly and took the tray inside. Moment later they could hear the water running.
The woman chuckled softly. “One coffee coming up!”
He had no need for caffeine now. His senses were perked up in override as he could suddenly smell all the sweet scents of the scones and small cakes on the tables, the teas and flowers under the windows. How would she know how he drank his poison? They’d had tea at her place and there he hadn’t touched the sugar at all.
“Wish me luck!” Tomas winked at him.
He was up and gone before he could protest. His heart sped up like a bullet train. He bit his lips. He couldn’t do this again. This feeling was pointless, had no reason to exist, he repeated the mantra his therapist had taught him. Then why did he feel like crying all of a sudden? Why did his chest ache so bad the heart wanted to follow his brother inside? He dig his fingers into his palms, praying like hell others wouldn’t notice his squirming on his place. Thank god he’d put on his shoes. At least they wouldn’t see his toes curling, digging through the sole.
He wanted to hear what he said to her, hear her reaction. His mind reasoned that he would do nothing to hurt her. He would treat it as innocent fun and that would be it. No harm to either of them. Damn, his eyes searched around, calculating how it would be seen if he followed his brother’s suit. Would it be odd if they both followed her? He couldn’t do it with witnesses like the lady with her daughter. She had given him hives already on the ferry, and he was sure she’d love a good gossip. So he waited, tapping his big toe in his shoe, forcefully slowing his breathing down to avoid the embarrassing tears he was sprouting.
Then the owner came back with their lunch. He busied himself helping her move a table closer to his seat, quickly checking his watch. They were there awfully long. Still, he forced himself to set his ass down, drink his much needed coffee and take at least two bites out of the brownies that had appeared instead of the fondant cakes. The woman did have fondness for sugar, but were his mind on the subject, he would have liked it. It had the same effect as sugar water and by the time the couple from the corner table left 10 minutes later, he didn’t feel like beating him up again for his betrayal. Chelsea offered him another cup before asking if it was alright if she used the time to bring in her laundry while there was a quiet moment. Reed didn’t mind at all. He was dying to know what the two were talking about and this gave him a good opportunity to find out.
He quickly gulped down the last of his coffee and took it with him as he snugged quietly next to the open door and listened. If anyone asked, he was simply returning the cup to the kitchen. Seemed reasonable, given that Valerie was still inside.
“I’m waiting for someone.” she said on an even tone, catching Reed’s attention. There wasn’t even a hint of joke to that statement and Tomas let out a jolt of laughter. Reed imagined him toss his hands around, push his back straight, search the humor in it.
“You’re serious?” he asked, incredulously. “You’re joking, right? You can’t be that foolish to think he’d come back, right?”
“See? So, why would I want to start anything with you then, hm? You’d make me do just that. I’d be like a summer prostitute, who is swept away by city boy glamour and I wouldn’t even know if you already have a wife or not! Look, you seem like a nice guy, so I’ll be honest with you, ok? I was fifteen, when my parents died in… in a, uh, bad situation.” She cleared her throat. “I thought we were pretty well off, turned out they had a borrowed a lot of money instead to keep up that appearance. After everything got sold and dust settled, this summerhouse is all I have left. These people helped me get on my feet again, made sure I didn’t want to join my parents.” She paused. “To you this might seem like a mighty fine place for summer fun, but I’m not a tourists, Tomas, I live here now.”
Tomas couldn’t keep the hurt out of his voice, when he stretched his back and leaned back against the kitchen counter. “So you refuse all the fun out there, because you’re afraid the oldies might take offense?”
“You’re not the entire world, Tomas.” She reminded him. “And yes, we do take offense if one of us is treated as disposable rag.”
Reed heard the floor creek as she came back out and he braced himself for it. As much as he tried to be out of the doorway, she still bumped into him, apologized and after wishing them good day, left, giving him a nice few on her swaying back. Although he could read the situation and felt the eeriness in the air, he couldn’t help but to feel proud for her. In fact, he hadn’t felt so light since last night. It was oddly satisfying and he smiled, feeling the warmth spread through his cold body.
By the time Tomas emerged from the kitchen, she had already vanished, and so had his good mood. He couldn’t even blame anyone for it, for she was right. He too fell under same category as the tourists.