Jessie realized she wasn’t going to sneak off unnoticed, “Sure, you’ve talked me into it, but it better be as good as you say!”
There really was a coffee place, it wasn’t just an excuse to keep track of her. Jessie and the Children of Atlantis walked a few blocks and managed to get to a major street that wasn’t quite as run down as the surrounding neighborhood. The buildings were mostly four story affairs and “The Hallowed Bean” was on the top of one. The whole crew took a rickety old elevator up to it and bought beverages which were, as Jen had described, sold in terms of bean, roast, and brew methodology rather than which artificial flavors had been added to them. Jessie still wasn’t that fond of coffee, but based on her limited experience it was a good cup: strong without any sort of sour flavor. The place also smelled great. Though Jessie’s enjoyment of the beverage was somewhat tempered when the barista working the counter gave her a dirty look as she added her usual wholly excessive amounts of cream and sugar.
The Children took a table near the elevators and set about making awkward small talk while they slowly sipped their drinks. For a while Jessie paid close attention feeling certain the conversation would tell her something she needed to know about the group. However, that wasn’t true unless she needed to know they were still watching what they said around her. She felt herself getting more and more agitated as they waited, and it wasn’t the caffeine. The children were snowing her.
That much was obvious, what wasn’t obvious was what to do about it. She couldn’t leave without them seeing. The elevator they’d come up in was the only way into the coffee shop. The building had probably once been something else, and the retrofit architecture was a little awkward. There were fire doors, but they had big obvious alarms on them. The Children were watching the elevator, so she couldn’t leave without being obvious.
Jessie really wanted to leave. Her spell was stirring and twitching below her flesh. It said she should move, hide, maybe pounce on someone. It was that more than any logical impulse that made her interrupt an otherwise unrelated conversation and ask, “So, uh, what’s the plan?”
Lynn answered, “Alison and Fern normally hang around the shelter after the main food service is done. We come down here, drink some joe and then just chill until they get finished. It’s, like, a little tradition.” He leaned back and took a deep drink of his coffee as though he intended to demonstrate how it went.
“Um, cool. How long do you suppose it’ll be until they get done?”
“Probably about 45 minutes,” Jen answered.
“Well that coffee was kind of strong. I hope you guys won’t be offended if I check out the other shops.”
A slightly obvious ‘look’ went around the table. If Jessie was reading it correctly, and she was pretty sure she was, they were asking themselves if there was any risk in her going off on her own. For a moment, she was worried someone would decide there was and then come up with a reason she shouldn’t go or decide to accompany her. There was really no reason they shouldn’t do that, it might even seem polite
Oddly enough, it worked out to her advantage that they’d managed to trap her pretty completely. Apparently, no one could think of any way out of the building. At length Murrow responded. “No worries, they’ve got some great little shops here; really unconventional, and nothing corporate. If you want to check them out we’ll hold the table and let you know when everyone else gets back.”
Jessie thought there was a small smirk behind his words and his eyes flicked over to the elevator still clearly visible from the door. He was definitely thinking she couldn’t get out. Well, maybe she could prove him wrong. Or maybe she could find a nice hat in one of the stores. Even if she was just prowling her cage she’d feel better up and moving, so she nodded and rose from the table after texting Jen her phone number so they could call.
The stores were kind of interesting. Jessie wasn’t certain what the building had once been, perhaps it had always been dedicated to stores, but along the top floor there were three stores to a side. The side she’d been on held the coffee shop, a sort of junk shop with a significant selection of hand worked jewelry, a used book store.
The book store came as a bit of a surprise to Jessie. She would have thought that the last of the old used book stores had died a decade before killed by ubiquitous digital publishing. Surely such a shop now would have a hard time gaining new inventory. Then again, maybe the small store acted as a sort of for-pay lending library presiding over a dwindling supply of physical books, purchased and then sold back by a dwindling supply of physical book readers.
As Jessie turned toward the store the smell of all the old books brought back a sudden and unexpected memory of her mother. Before the cancer, her mother had been a voracious reader of romance novels and it had been cheaper to buy used physical books, so Jessie had spent a lot of time in book stores going up. She shook her head and turned away. Maybe she’d look in there later; right now she couldn’t afford to get distracted, and she wasn’t actually shopping.
Jessie glanced back at where the Children were sitting in Hallowed Bean and caught Alexander watching her back, though he looked away just as she turned toward him.