I stand at the steps of Joe’s Café, taking in the Saturday morning strollers wandering around me. My eyes drift up to the sign hanging above the door then down to the bell that chimes when a happy diner exits the restaurant. She and her grinning beau hook their elbows around one another and pass me as if I weren’t there, completely engulfed in their quiet conversation.
Climbing the steps, I pull on the handle and open the door to a world I never thought I’d get to visit. A spark of excitement ignites in my belly. I can’t help but grin. Chatter fills the air, mingling with the sugary odor of ice cream and fruit. I stop at a bar, clutching my fingers around the polished edge while my gaze drifts over the busy workers.
“You must be Haven,” a gruff voice says behind me. Jerking my head back toward the sound, I find a handsome man, only a few years younger than me, approaching. He wipes his hands on a towel, stuffs it into his back pocket, and holds his palm out for me to shake.
I nod, clasping my fingers around his hand. “Uh, yes. I’m here to see Nevaeh.”
A fond smirk tugs at his lips from the mention of her name. “I’m Gavyn. She told me you were coming in. We’re happy to have you at Joe’s. Is there anything I can get you before you head up? It’s on the house,” he says, wrapping his fingers around my shoulder in a welcoming manner.
“No, I’m good, thanks. If you’d just let her know I’m here, I’ll get out of your hair. I see you’re pretty busy this morning.” I scan over the full dining room, smiling.
Gavyn chuckles, patting me on the back. “It’s always busy, but it keeps us sane, if you know what I mean.” He urges me forward. “C’mon, she’s this way. You’re lucky. She’s had a slow morning so far.”
He ushers me down a long, dim hallway leading toward the back of the building. Sounds of a raucous kitchen and loud patrons echo into the narrow corridor. I could see why Nevaeh fell in love with the charming atmosphere of this place. It’s warm and inviting.
“Head on up. She’s waiting,” he nudges his chin at a dark blue door cracked open at the end. “See ya later. Let me know if you change your mind about wanting something to eat. You could stay for lunch if ya want.”
“Thanks. I may take you up on that,” I say appreciatively.
With Gavyn heading back to the kitchen, I inch the door open and start up the stairs.
The scream of a tea kettle blares to life above.
“Hello?” I call, entering the spacious apartment. ZZ Ward croons from a small stereo system housed on a shelf next to the bay window.
“Come in, come in,” Nevaeh welcomes, fumbling with opening a box of tea bags. “Have a seat. I’ll be with you as soon as I get this damn box open.” Her lips twist into a frustrated frown, her fingers picking at the sealing tape. “I never used to drink this stuff, but Gav’s gotten me kind of addicted. You want a cup? It’s Blackberry Sage, my favorite.”
I settle into a spot on the futon in the living room. “Sure, I’ll have a cup.” My fingers brush the tufted cushion under me, feeling the bitter-sweetness George left behind there. I can almost feel him there with us now, his warmth surrounding us in a constant hug.
“Honey?” Nevaeh asked, arranging two mugs on a tray.
“Absolutely!” I answered.
She smiles, picking up the tray and carrying it to the table in the center of the sitting area.
I take the stirring spoon she offers, ladling two spoonfuls of honey into my cup.
Nevaeh readies her own tea then leans back in a leather captain’s chair and sips thoughtfully. “Where do you wanna begin?”
“I thought we’d start with what you’ve been up to lately. How are things here?” I ask. I scan over the apartment, noticing signs of those living here, other than Gavyn: a pair of high-tops thrown against the wall next to the door as an afterthought, a video console under a small t.v. in the corner, the small woman’s leather jacket draped on a barstool at the counter, a blue ribbon and hair-tie laying on the end table. I can see Dominic and Nevaeh have made themselves at home.
She follows my wandering attention and sighs, propping her feet up on the coffee table. “Things are…good. About as normal as they can be when you spend your days chasing demons and collecting souls of the dead, I guess. We’ve gotten into a routine, but, as you could imagine, don’t always get to stick to our usual schedule.”
Bringing her cup to her lips, she sips, and a twinkle lights in her violet eyes. “Dominic is doing well in school. He’s made a few friends and even took up playing the violin.” She grimaces playfully. “He’s still learning. So, it’s not always a pleasant experience listening to him.”
“My son plays the trombone, so I understand the learning phase well. Gavyn seems to be back in the swing of things.”
Nevaeh lays her head back against the chair and glances out the large window across from her. “Yeah. Most days, the café keeps his mind off what happened. He started having breakfasts here again a few weeks ago. Before that, he was having nightmares and losing a lot of sleep. But, the dreams have calmed, so he’s forced himself back into his old life like a pro. I try to convince him he’s the same Gavyn, but we both know the demons that lurk in the shadows to well. Figuratively and literally. We’ll never be the same, but that’s okay, I think.” She tucks a piece of long, dark hair behind her ear, and a glimmer on her left ring finger catches my eye.
Gasping, I lean forward and take her hand in mine. The modest, but lovely, antique cushion cut diamond catches every bit of morning light filtering into the apartment. It sparkles like fire surrounded in its white gold filigree setting. “Looks like you’ll have each other to lean on and fend off those demons for quite a while.” I tilted my head, waiting for an explanation.
She moves her right hand to adjust the slightly off-center diamond on her finger. The gold band on her thumb contrasts with her engagement ring, but my heart warms seeing the two symbols of love decorating her hands.
“He’s with me for the long haul. Gavyn and Dominic had everything set up for me when I got home one night. They cooked an outrageous meal, lit candles, music in the background…the whole thing was so sweet. We sat down for a family meal, and I could tell by the anxious side-glances between the two guys, and Dominic’s fidgeting, that something was going on. At the end of dinner, Gavyn got down on one knee and gave a long speech about how special Dominic and I were to him, how much he loved me, and how no one would get him like I did. It was so simple, but so…us. Dominic cried. I cried. It was really quite perfect.”
“Sounds like it. Congratulations. And how are you handling things, aside from your new engagement?”
“I’m not gonna lie, it’s been a crazy ride. I’m still learning how to use the powers I have. Just the other day, I shot a lightning bolt at an Animus demon trying to steal a soul out from under me, and I missed.” She smirks and sucks air through her teeth. “I gave the copse’s cat one hell of a shock.” She makes a fist and swipes it through the air. “I got the bastard in the end, though.”
“How are you doing with carrying the souls?”
“It’s getting easier. If I wasn’t such an emotional person, I think it would be a piece of cake by now. But, I get too attached to them, ya know? It’s surprising, really. I learn their secrets in a matter of seconds. I only know them for minutes, or hours in some cases, yet, the nature of what I do makes it feel like I’ve known them for forever. It’s hard to let the good ones go sometimes, even knowing they’ll be somewhere better. And, dammit, I miss Archard. I wouldn’t take back what I have with Gavyn now, but he was a piece of me too. Seeing him every time I take a spirit to Heaven definitely messes with me at times.” She stares off into the distance as if pondering her losses.
I can see it’s a heavy burden to bear. I wouldn’t want to be the one to do it. “I can’t imagine. It must be very difficult.” I set my empty cup on the end table next to me. Clearing my throat, I change the subject. “On a lighter note…can I ask you some random fun questions?”
Nevaeh’s attention snaps back to our discussion, and her face lights up. “Of course! I’m game for some fun.”
“Cool. Let’s run through some simple things. Favorite color?”
“Black.” She laughs at my raised eyebrows. “I know, I know. Whose favorite color is black, right? It goes with everything, though.” She winks at me.
“Moving on,” I hold in a chuckle behind my tight smile, “favorite band?”
“Oh, no. That’s a terrible question.” She looks up to the ceiling, pondering her answer. “Halestorm is a must…wait, I love Prince too…no, the Eurythmics…um, Panic! At The Disco? I give up. There’s way too many great bands for me to make a decision. Music speaks to my soul.”
“Favorite alcoholic drink?
She bursts out laughing. “Anything that will give me a buzz.” After a moment, her laugh quiets. “Nah, I’m a Vodka girl, Lemon-drop shots are my go-to.”
“I’m a Vodka kind of girl too. What’s your favorite food?”
“Cheesecake. And not that boxed shit. I like a rich, creamy baked cheesecake, preferably with cherries on top. Or caramel…I’m not picky about the toppings.”
“If you could own any car in the world, what would it be?”
“Oh, good question. I’d like it to be fast, but something old. How about a 1969 Chevelle SS?”
“Nice choice. I dream of having a Mustang Fastback from the 1960s, myself. Any special hidden talents?”
“Gavyn says my ability to take my bra off without taking my shirt off is amazing, but I’m pretty sure most women are born with the genetic coding to do it. Aside from that, I can beatbox.” She licks her lips then begins an impressive mix of clicks, deep hums, and mouth vibrations.
I clap when she finishes. “Wow. Wish I could do that.”
“The trick is getting your mouth loose enough, I suppose,” she says, shrugging.
“Well, Nevaeh, it’s been great hanging out with you. Would you like to get lunch with me downstairs before I head out?”
She gathers up our empty mugs, placing them back on the tray, then totes them back to the kitchen. “Sure. We can see what Gav has up for the special today.”
I follow her down the steps and into Joe’s Café, grateful for this experience. ***