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Bewildering Stories

Rachel V. Olivier, The Holly and the Ivan


The Holly and the Ivan
Author: Rachel V. Olivier
Publisher: Drollerie Press, 2009
E-novella: =<$1.95 us
Size: 456 kb
The holly and the ivy
when they both are fully grown
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
the holly bears the crown.
Oh, the rising of the sun
and the running of the deer
The playing of the merrier gods,
sweet singing in the choir.

“Decaf non-fat vanilla latte for George. Small hot cocoa and children’s cider for Alice,” Holly bellowed over the din of coffee grinders, hiss of the espresso machine, and the chatter of holiday crowds as she set the drinks down on the bar.

“Repeat last drink order, please?” she called over to April, the brown-haired young woman at the register. Listening to the call back she grabbed a portafilter, measuring and tamping coffee grounds into it. Screw portafilter in, push button, steam milk, pour milk, dump used grinds, rinse portafilter and milk pitcher, clean steam nozzle. Shot after shot. Wiping her hands on the towel at her waist, Holly took a moment to breathe before shouting the next drink.

“Large mocha for Mike!”

“Such a big voice for such a little girl!” The blond guy at the bar with sparkling blue eyes reached for the drink. “Nice ’do, too.” He nodded at Holly’s red hair, spiked with bright pink tips.

“Thanks,” Holly grinned, “Did it for the holidays. Thought it would be a festive touch.” She felt heat crawl up her cheeks. “If–uh–you’re not doing anything tonight, come by Civic Center in the U-district.” Grabbing a marker she, she scribbled “Friend of Holly” and her cell number on the cup before handing it to Mike. Sparks shot up her arm as their fingertips brushed.

“Great! See ya then.”

Holly watched as he walked out the door before going back to bringing Southport’s populace their favorite addiction, a sappy smile plastered on her face like a long lost friend. It had been a while since she’d had this floaty feeling in her stomach. It would be nice if, just this once, he didn’t turn out to be, well, like her past boyfriends. Sighing, Holly asked April to repeat the next drink order and went back to work. Click-click. Tamp. Turn. Push. Pour. Steam. Pour. Rinse. Repeat.

* * *

“What can I get ya?” The girl at the register, her nametag said April, repeated a drink order to the barista behind the bar before turning back to Ivan. Ivan barely noticed the question, distracted by the bodies bumping, smells mixing, and one particularly nasty odor fading as a blond man left the store. There was something familiar about him, about the scent, but demons adapted their appearance to their surroundings. Ivan inhaled again, sensitive nose assaulted by the tang of human sweat, body odor, coffee, sour milk and spices, but the demon scent was gone.

“Hello? Do you need more time?” April’s bored brown eyes passed over Ivan to the growing line behind him, nails tapping on the counter. Ivan gave her a quick once over, feeling her growing impatience and the restlessness behind him. He sensed something in April, but she wasn’t the woman taking a break in the alley earlier; she smelled wrong.

“Double espresso.”

“Pick-it-up-at-the-bar. Next?” April took an order from the person behind him and Ivan felt an almost imperceptible mental push for him to move on. One more human unaware of the power she had. April didn’t deserve it, but Ivan dropped change from his cargo coat pocket into the tip jar anyway. The Lady Queen wouldn’t have provided it unless She wanted him to use it.

Moving over to the bar, Ivan watched a petite redhead barista craft drinks –Holly according to her nametag–yelling out beverages and names in a voice belying her size. The smile she gave her customers reached all the way to her lively green eyes. He sniffed the air again. It was elusive, but there. Behind the smell of coffee, sweat, and other humans, the honey cinnamon from the girl was overlaid by a hint of demonic sulfur and ash, a tracer. But why was the demon tracking her? Looking around, Ivan briefly wondered if the demon were still there, or if he, it he reminded himself, had been the man he’d seen leaving only moments ago.

A crowd gathered at the pick-up counter. On a hunch, something the Blessed Lady encouraged, Ivan stuck his hands in the pocket of his cargo coat and pulled out the earbuds to an mp3 player. By ways only She knew, the Blessed Lady made sure he had whatever he needed in his pockets when he needed it, though sometimes it wasn’t always what he expected. Ivan positioned himself in the back of the crowd, sticking the earbuds in his ears and keeping the other end in his pocket. He didn’t pick up his drink when it was called out, remaining in back as if he hadn’t heard, bobbing his head in time to imagined music — the chamber orchestra at the last ball of the Lady’s Court before he’d been sent out into the cold human world to seek the demon.

After most of the afternoon crowd had dispersed he walked up, a sheepish look on his face. “Is this a double espresso? I was distracted and didn’t hear you call it out.” Ivan reached for the cup, his fingers brushing the barista’s, leaving his own tracking mark. He felt a shock shoot up his fingers into his arm. She looked up at him startled, feeling it, too.

“Those shot’s have stood too long now. Let me pour you a couple of fresh ones.” Whisking the cup out of his hands, she dumped the drink.

“I didn’t know there was a difference, actually.” Ivan watched Holly pulling the fresh shots with fluid, efficient moves, a dance to the music behind the hissing, spitting percussion instrument that was the espresso machine. She was mesmerizing.

“Espresso is best when the shot’s fresh.” Her smile dazzled Ivan. He shook himself out of his trance. No wonder the demon was after her. Ivan decided to try a diffident persona on her. He could have chosen a more forceful personality, like the brusqueness of his Russian forebears or the courtliness of his mother’s people, but he hoped this would work better. He needed to connect with her. Connect with her to get the demon.

“What are you listening to?” She pulled out two more portafilters for drinks being called to her while she kept up her patter.

“Chamber.” The reply automatic, but was it right? Was it something she would like? “Classical, rock, jazz, folk, opera, a mix really.” He fumbled about tossing out music genres, trying to name as many types as he could to keep her interested.

“Diverse tastes! A man after my own heart.” She stopped long enough in her coffee ballet to scribble something on his cup before handing it to him. “If you’re that eclectic, you might like the band I’m in, Canto Sibylla. We’re performing tonight at a holiday fair, Home for Christmas. Show them this cup and they’ll let you in for free, though if you can they’d really appreciate a donation. You know, canned food, package of socks. Oh, and my phone number is there, too, in case you don’t know how to get there or something.” Pink bloomed up the girl’s face as she completed the other drinks called to her. Ivan looked down at the drink in his hand. On it was scribbled “Holly’s Friend,” with a star instead of an “o,” beneath it a ten-digit number. Ivan looked into his cup before taking a first sip.

“Thank you, er, Holly, but this looks like more than two shots.”

“Tossed in a couple extra. You looked like you needed it; specially if you’re planning on coming to hear us tonight.” Holly winked at him.

Ivan saluted Holly with his cup as he turned to leave. She smiled back, returning to the drink orders at the bar.

Had that been flirting? Ivan took a moment to savor the coffee crema. It had been a long time since he’d had such a good shot of espresso. Ivan could feel the beginning of a grin cross his lips. He hadn’t grinned in a while. It felt good.

Copyright © 2009 by Rachel V. Olivier

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