warning: this chapter includes coarse language, mild sexual references and themes of violence and death. please do not continue reading if this may trigger or offend you. it is recommended you read this chapter in my blog, not reader.
“Affogato and short black?” The waitress is balancing ceramic cups on one arm and empty plates on the other. “Thanks.” Luc taps his fingers on the table, and the waitress nods before moving away, leaving the aroma of freshly brewed coffee in her wake. “I cannot believe you can drink that without sugar.” I lick the half-melted ice cream off my spoon, tilting my head at my boyfriend. He smiles, sets down the cup and crosses his arms. “Yeah, it comes with being hardcore.” “Says the guy who watches rom-coms,” I laugh quietly. “Hey.” Luc narrows his eyes. “A guy can be badass and like romantic movies at the time.” “Sure.” I take a sip of my sweet coffee, and although he sighs in exasperation, Luc reaches across the table and folds his hand around mine.
The rainy afternoon lead us to this coffee shop, in the grey depths of the city. It’s comfortable, to sit with Luc and breathe in the heady scent of coffee and greenery, warm and safe from the fall rain turning gold against the windows. The shop is fairly busy, crowded with people wearing dripping raincoats and café au lait smiles. I listen to the hiss of the coffee press and hum of conversation, and I smile as well. A nice place to be for, what I think, is my first proper date with Luc. It has been about a week since we officially began dating, and a happy week at that, despite being a startlingly new experience. I admit that I was on edge the first few days, watching him anxiously for signs of boredom, or impatience. For once, however, it seems my fears are just fears.
I focus on Luc as his thumb traces the veins on my hand. It’s hard to say whether I can really trust him yet, after all that happened, but I think he is trying. To be gentle, for my sake; trying to soften his hard edges a little, touching me with all the carefulness of handling a porcelain vase. And while the wariness is disconcerting, he’s trying, and that is worth something. I let my gaze flit along his jaw and across his lips, and my own lips tingle with fresh memories. And the kissing, of course, is nice. More than nice, if I must be honest. As if catching my thoughts, the corner of Luc’s mouth twitches. “Are you just going to stare at me for the rest of our date?” He lightly kisses my knuckles and I shake my head, blushing. “I’m tempted to,” I admit shyly. “But no.”
Luc laughs and drinks his coffee, his eyes drifting to the rainy world outside. I do the same, content with the warmth of his hand enveloping mine. As talkative as he can be sometimes, I think that small talk isn’t his forte. After all, we don’t have particularly much in common. But just being with him is enough for me. And while Luc probably doesn’t think the same, he doesn’t seem unhappy, either. “Can I ask you something?” I say quietly. “Hmm?” “Is this awkward to you?” At my blunt question, he raises his eyebrows. “You mean this date? Not really. But it’s new to me.”
I tip my head, confused. “I thought you’ve gone out on lots of dates before.” “Yeah, to bars and clubs. Not on coffee dates.” Luc hesitates for a second before continuing. “Nothing as innocent as this.” His green eyes seem to dull for a moment, but then he smiles and I wonder if I had imagined it. “We can go clubbing if you really want,” I suggest hesitantly, ignoring the flood of memories from the last time I went out. Luc squeezes my hand. “Cherry, that’s the last thing you want to do. Besides, I like this better. Sitting here, drinking beautiful coffee with a beautiful girl.” He arches an eyebrow, and I blush again, ducking my head in both embarrassment and happiness. Small talk may not be Luc’s thing, but flirting and flattering is, and it is nice to be on the receiving end when I think he means well.
For a peaceful while, we share a delicious mille-feuille and talk a little more. I exclaim happily over the bites of feather-light pastry and vanilla custard, while Luc just listens to me, his fingers pressing into my palm. People come and go in a blur, the tinkle of the doorbell as constant as the coffee press. The whirl of movement and sounds and smells would have usually sent my senses into overdrive, but with my boyfriend like an anchor, I can shut it out. So I’m not sure what it is that makes me look up to see two people enter; one I recognise to be Lilith, wrapped in a black turtleneck and maroon coat. She sees me at about the same time, and waves, her other hand linked with a tall, well dressed man. “Hola, cariños!” My best friend says cheerfully once she reaches our table, the man just behind. “This is James,” Lilith adds, and I take a good look at him. He has a rather elegant aura, with a handsome, freckled face, and regal posture.
“A pleasure to meet you,” James says in a crisp British accent, and shakes our hands briefly. I glimpse the gleam of a Rolex beneath his cuff, and I can sense Luc weighing him up with hard eyes. Lilith has had her fair share of boyfriends, but certainly none from the wealthy circle, considering her past of, you know, stealing from them. But James has a friendly smile, and Lilith looks happy, so he must be nice. We exchange a couple more formalities before the two go sit down nearby. “Should we go?” Luc gestures to our empty coffee cups, and we get up to pay. I glance at Lilith as we wait for a couple macarons, since Michel loves them, to be wrapped up for us; she is laughing, bright and beautiful, and James is looking at her the way good men tend to look at Lilith — in quiet awe and reverence.
As the door tinkles shut behind us, I breathe in the earthy scent of dying leaves, looking around the narrow street. The sun has come out, sparkling on the light rainfall. This part of Bridgeport is all tucked away lanes and brick townhouses and wrought iron. The street looks like it is burning, the trees flickering in a candlelight yellow. Luc tucks the macarons in his pocket, and walks beside me as I jump lightly over puddles. “What are you, five?” He teases, and I poke my tongue out, but slow down to match his steps anyway.
Walking along the street, my eyes catch on the fat pumpkins standing guard outside the townhouses. The sight is nostalgic — Halloween is more than a month away, but the people of Bridgeport love to celebrate. And while it is largely ignored in our house, the pumpkins remind me of my childhood: carving jack-o-lanterns with my sisters, the stickiness of Grandma Fern’s caramel apples, being scared silly by Mom’s tales of vampires and witches. Luc must notice my thoughtful silence, for he looks over at me. “What are you thinking of?” “Just how my family and I used to have fun at Halloween,” I say, fiddling with a thread on my sweater. Luc nods, his gaze wandering around the gold-dappled avenue. “I’m guessing you went trick-or-treating.” “Yes, my mother dressed up and went with my sisters and I. She thought the whole idea of Halloween was hilarious and ridiculous, but let us go anyway.”
A grin flits across my boyfriend’s face. “She sounds like a fun mom.” “Oh, she was,” I sigh, and sadness washes over me for a moment. “But Mom believed in supernaturals. She just thought that making fun of real monsters was incredibly stupid, so she only let us dress up as animals, except for black cats. Cinna got so mad at Mom because of that.” The memory makes me smile. “Cinna?” Luc asks, confused. “My sister, Cinnamon. She’s a weird goth who loves black cats.” He laughs at this, and I blink inquisitively. “How about you? Did you do things like that?”
Luc is quiet for a moment, and I can hear the leaves gently rustling above us. “No.” He doesn’t elaborate, and slips his hand around my waist, drawing me against him. Although I am still curious, I don’t ask him any more questions. The warmth of his arm around me is comforting, and I lean into my boyfriend, a smile softening my lips. What a strange feeling, to be this relaxed. It’s almost like I’m happy. And perhaps I am.
The penthouse is silent when we arrive home; I assume the others are either working or hanging out with their partners. Fall turns the city into a mystery of cold days and sweet smoke, which entices my friends out of the apartment. The kitchen is cool and quiet when we enter. I hop up on the counter as he puts away the macarons, swinging my legs amiably. “Thank you for the date, it was nice,” I say shyly when he turns back to me. Luc smiles, stepping close. “Yeah. We should definitely go out for more.”
Then his lips are on mine, the kiss confident and sure. I sigh as he tips my head up. Now this is Luc’s forte; knowing exactly how to send a delicious shiver down my spine, how to send fire racing through my veins. Because he’s had lots of practice, I suddenly think, and then: who says you aren’t practice too? I try shake my head of this unwelcoming thought, annoyed at my persisting distrust. Luc must feel it, because he draws away. “You alright?” His breath, subtly chocolate and coffee, tickles my nose. “I’m okay,” I say quietly. My paranoid mind insists on ruining perfectly good moments, but other than that, I’m okay.
Luc nods and he grips my knees to pull me closer. I instinctively tense at the contact, but I force myself to relax when I see the question in his eyes. I am not scared of a little leg touching. I am not scared of some PG-13 intimacy. I am nineteen, for god’s sake. And yet, when Luc’s hand slides under my skirt, my breath catches against his lips and my stomach swoops in a nauseating sort of way. The firm pressure of his palm against my leg should feel nice, but oddly, I just feel an overwhelming struggle between my fight-or-flight instincts. Why am I like this? Why am I so sensitive? What is wrong with me?
“Have you two ever heard of get a damn room?” Raphael’s exasperated voice breaks my thoughts apart, and I blush with embarrassment and secret relief, tugging down the hem of my skirt. The house wasn’t empty, after all. Luc is unruffled and leans on the counter, arms crossed, mouth slanting in his trademark arrogant smile. “I was unaware that a kitchen wasn’t a room.” “Being literal doesn’t make you smart, shithead,” Raphael says dryly. I hop off the counter as he drops the subject and pokes around in the fridge, emerging with the paper bag of macarons. “So, what cafe did you sickening lovebirds go to today?” He asks, popping one in his mouth. “The new one on Chicago Street.” Luc frowns at the jab. “We saw la prima there, actually. With some rich guy called James.” “Yeah, Lilith told me about him. James Whitecliffe,” Raphael says thoughtfully. There is wary curiosity on the sharp planes of his face.
The girl in question comes home maybe twenty minutes later, her cheeks rosy from the cold. “Raphie! Cherry!” Her smile is radiant as she kicks off her boots, sitting next to me on the sofa. Opposite, Raphael is stretched out along the window seat. “How was the date?” He says lazily, one eye open. Lilith beams. “Oh, James is encantador, that man. He was ever so polite.” Lilith clasps her hands, and to me, she looks the happiest she’s been in a while. Raphael lifts his head and gives her a scrutinising kind of look. “Not a pervert like the last guy?” “Don’t be a worry wart, Raphie. Of course not.” “I’m not worrying,” He replies grumpily. “I just don’t want another man-hospitalised-because-he-was-kneed-in-the-groin case on your hands.”
Lilith laughs, her pale eyes shimmering. “I have no regrets. Rest assured, James is a gentleman.” “Alright. Whatever. I’m happy for you.” “Gracias.” She then points at both of us. “Now, tell me how your dates went.” I look at Raphael curiously, and he rolls his amber eyes. “Mine went as expected,” He yawns, and I remember that he had gone out the night before. “I take you offended them with sarcastic remarks,” Lilith says curtly. Raphael smirks. “Now why would I do that?” He turns his cat-like gaze towards me. “But Cherry seemed to have enjoyed her date.” At his pointed tone, my cheeks burn. “Shut up. We were just-” “Yeah, yeah, I would really love to hear the details,” Raphael says, dripping sarcasm everywhere. “Just take it somewhere more private. I’m getting fucking tired of walking in on people all the time.”
The day fades away peacefully, with me working on some new music, while Luc spends the afternoon at work. Things are pretty quiet, with the exception of Lilith and Raphael’s constant chattering and later, arguing over what to make for dinner. Everyone but Gabriel and Michel are present for the Spanish bean soup, and it’s only when I am sitting at the freshly-cleaned dining table that they show up. “Hey Cherry,” Michel says, and Gabriel nods at me. Immediately, I notice that both of them are tense. “What’s wrong?” I twist in my seat, and I hear Lilith and Raphael come into the room. Gabriel hesitates, leaning against the wall. “There was another murder two hours ago.”
“Another as in…?” Raphael prompts. “As in similar to last week.” Michel clasps his hands, concern furrowing his brows. “A woman with her torso cut open.” I am the only one who winces at this morbid piece of information — not even sweet Michel at his own words. I sense Luc behind me, and his hand lightly rests against my back, reassuring. “Where?” My boyfriend asks, and the worry in his voice surprises me. As bad as it sounds, the Torres have grown up in Bridgeport — specifically in the poor districts, I think — and I would not expect Luc to be this fazed by one killing in years of many. But then I realise that he must know a lot of people in this part of the city. “A few blocks from work,” Gabriel says, which confirms my thought.
Lilith speaks up, her voice razor sharp. “And how did you learn of this?” “It’s on the news.” Gabriel points at our silent television. I look between my five friends, growing increasingly anxious at the expressions on their faces. “There were more details,” Gabriel continues grimly. “Both of them had dark hair. And both had their hearts torn out.” “What the fuck,” Raphael mutters, perfectly summing up my reaction to what apparently everyone else had been waiting for. I glance at Lilith, whose silver eyes are narrowed, thoughts racing behind them. “This sounds like the work of a serial killer.” She finally voices what all of us had been thinking. Luc increases the pressure of his hand against my back. I note that he’s looking towards Lilith, and so are the others. Waiting for her to tell us what to do, I realise. “Just be careful, mi familia,” Lilith says slowly, her arms crossed. “Stay close.”
Another chapter in just one week?! Let me tell you, this chapter was good fun to write and take pictures for, much more so than the last chapter! The first half especially was happy vibes only, which was super refreshing, considering the depressing and angsty mess that is this story. Apologies for my bad romance writing though, you will have to suffer through it for a long time coming…
I hope you liked this chapter, and I wish everyone a great day ❤