I pushed through the back door of the Light Mist café and sloshed over the threshold. “Was I late?” I called.
“No, you’re actually early,” said Natalie Carlisle, rushing by with a shallow basin of dishcloths before she stopped, staring at me. “Ellis, you’re soaked! You got caught in the rain?”
I’m pretty lucky, really, because I actually don’t live that far from the school. In fact, I live just behind the bus stop that Oliver Day and Vest Watson were probably heading to: in an apartment over a café, ten minutes from the school. If they offered to walk with me to the bus stop, by the time I got to that bus stop, I would be home.
“Well, it was raining,” I said. “I’m going upstairs to change. Is there a rush hour outside?”
“Sort of, because of the rain,” said Natalie, chewing her lip as she turned to a cooking station with two pans sizzling together. “The rush hour is picking up that Basil can’t catch up. Hurry up and get changed, we’ll need your help here!”
“Be back in a few,” I said, and jogged up a flight of stairs onto the second floor. I passed three apartment doors before entering the one at the end, which was my apartment, to be greeted by a large red fox hopping up at me excitedly.
“Sif, get down! I need to change!” I said, pushing down the fox. “Look, I’m soaked!”
Seeing water, Sifrid sprang away. Of course, he hates water. He won’t even take a bath only until I force him into the bathroom and push him into the bathtub.
I grabbed my working clothes and a towel and went into the bathroom. When I was finally dry and had changed clothes, I mopped up the water from the floor all the way into the kitchen, Sif tagging along after me and clawing at the mop.
Natalie was in the middle of chiding the boss when I came back into the kitchen. When the boss saw me, he sprang towards me, water dripping from his clothes onto the floor. “Ellis, why did you go running in the rain? You’ll catch a cold!”
“Hold it, sir; you’re going to change first before you lecture anyone!” Natalie snapped. “Hurry up, we’ve got work!”
“This is what happens when you pick up a job as a temporary teacher, Allen,” I grumbled, setting aside the mop. “And I thought you took a car to work. You didn’t run in the rain all the way home, did you?”
Allen Hilbert paused. “Ah, I left my car at school. It’s already past the final bell, though.”
“You useless manager!” Natalie swatted him with a newspaper.
Sif clawed at me excitedly.
I bent down and scratched under his neck. “Sorry, Sif, I can’t play right now. There’s work to do, so I better go. Wait till shift hours are over.” I patted him and sprang up to make a dash to the front counter beyond the door at the end of the room.
“I’ll be out in a second!” Allen called.
“Mop the floor up, too, Allen! You always do things halfway!” I fired at him and pushed through the door into the space behind the café counter where Basil was, already in the middle of clogging the coffee maker. The café was really crowded, with people talking loudly. One of the customers seemed to have gotten irritated and suddenly yelled, “Hey, where the hell’s my latte?”
I ignored him, smacked Basil’s hands off the coffee maker, turned the machine off, pulled out the filter and shook all the coffee grounds out. “Basil, change your apron and start over again. Get the orders from table No. 1 here, then go back to the next table.”
“Yeah, good thinking, ‘cause I mixed up the orders again,” Basil laughed.
“Basil, my station’s a mess! And the floor! Why in the world is there coffee on the floor?”
“I’m sorry!” Basil tossed aside his dirty and stained apron with a look of shame, but at the same time trying to stifle a laugh of relief, then grabbed a new apron hanging off a towel hook by the door, which carried backup aprons and towels for the café’s crew, when needed. While he was gone, I gathered all the dirty dishes and took them back into the kitchen, where Natalie was already concentrating on cooking up the dishes and making sandwiches, then returned to the counter with clean tools, before grabbing the mop again and cleaning the floor behind the counter. By the time Basil returned, a bit ruffled from the customers sitting at table No. 1, I was already getting the coffee maker to work.
It took almost an hour to settle all the orders, and Allen returning to the counter was a great help – though he was thirty minutes late from taking a bath and mopping up the floor of the kitchen.
When we were finally finished, and no orders were coming to us anymore, Basil, Natalie, Allen, and I took a break behind the counter, me making another pot of coffee, though this time, it’s for the other three, while a cup of tea with jam was suited for me, because I’m no fan of coffee.
“I’m really sorry about that earlier,” said Basil apologetically. “I thought the coffee maker was clogged, and I couldn’t figure out what was wrong.”
“If you couldn’t figure out the problem, filter the coffee by hand,” I sighed. “There are plenty of filters nearby the coffee maker. How did the spill come about?”
“Because I spilled a whole jug of it,” said Basil.
“That’s called wasting,” laughed Allen.
I sat down in a chair, slightly annoyed by their sense of humor. “Since you insisted being a teacher, how is it now, at school?” I frowned at Allen. “You just went and applied to be a teacher without a word after convincing Mrs. Clarkson to take a break, didn’t you? And we’ve still got this café to run.”
“It’s nothing! And I’ve got plenty of things to tell you, too!” Allen grinned. “I wished that I had taken up the offer of Mr. Higgins, your science-period teacher. He was going to give me a ride home, but then you dashed out into the rain without warning and I told them to leave without me and went after you. Mr. Higgins would have been able to taste the best coffee in the city if he had come with me.”
“Why didn’t you tell him that you’ve got a car?” asked Basil. “In the first place, the way you said it – you meant to leave your car behind, didn’t you? Poor Carrie was left behind at the school by her owner because he was a douche bag.”
“I’ll go get her as soon as the rain stops!” Allen grumbled.
“I hope you do, because Carrie is an old Beetle, and you really should take better care of it,” snorted Natalie.
“What would your grandfather say,” said Basil. "Your grandfather loves cars, doesn't he?"
Basil and Natalie are both twins, and they’re really alike – in looks, that is: wavy brown hair and storm-gray eyes. But by attitude and habit . . . well, while Natalie is neat and able to work under pressure – you know what happened to Basil when he took over the drinks counter instead of do his job as the waiter.
At least they made Allen cringe about leaving his car behind. Twins look so alike and when they gang up together, they’re scary, like gender-bent reflections.
“And about school?” I asked. “The real reason you went into the school was to help me gather information about the Rachel curse. That’s what we’re here for, after all. Don’t change the subject before we got started.”
“Right, right,” laughed Allen. “About the case, you got the gist of the story. There are many versions of that story apparently.”
“Figures,” I said. “I only listened to one version, but after that, I couldn’t approach anyone because they kept running from me.”
“There’s another thing to know, that I was surprised by,” said Allen with a dark smile now. “None of the teachers there have ever met the living Rachel McCarthy, Ellis. I’m saying that none of the teachers currently working there have ever known Rachel when she was alive, not even the current principal. Have you heard that?”
I blinked. “Wait, none?”
“Apparently, those teachers who had known her back three years ago all changed schools. The current teachers were just listening to the rumors from the students at that time, and they believed those rumors, because of the incidents that were happening. And trust me, because I even went through the trouble of looking for the dates that those teachers transferred work there. All of them entered the school less than three years ago.”
“None of the dates seemed to have been meddled?” asked Natalie. “There should be a few you missed. That school’s pretty big, too, so there should be a few teachers that you didn’t see.”
“I thought so, too, and I checked four or five times, just in case, even wrote down all of them,” said Allen. “I’m not done meeting all the teachers one by one yet, but I’m still quite sure that none of them have entered the school long before Rachel was there.”
“Well, what do you think, Ellis?” asked Allen. “I’ve still got to confirm with thirty more teachers, though.”
“You’re our leader, so only you know how well you did on your job,” I sighed.
“And as your temporary teacher, by the way, I gotta say, the whole time in class, you weren’t paying attention to me in class while I was giving lectures, were you? I mean, you were hunched over your notebook writing about characters and sneaking glances at the other kids around you!”
“Because I already learned all the school subjects long before those school kids did,” I huffed. “If I actually paid attention, I’d be bored, you know.”
“Ugh, being a teacher was just to help you, you know. You don’t look too grateful.”
“You should have stayed here instead and continued working at the counter. I’m already infiltrating, you know, and there’s no need for you to sneak around. Yeah, you’re good with women, I’ll bet most of the teachers you got to talk to today were all women, but I’m doing fine – and I don’t care if my white hair makes it hard to go through school.”
“Oh, come on! Cafes don’t have that many customers right after breakfast. And we open as soon as breakfast is over, ready for lunch break.”
“Yeah, lunch break is right when chaos starts, and when Basil crashes the drinks station,” I snorted. “You're saying you're bored? You should hire more people to help the twins out.”
Allen wasn’t listening; he’d already gone off wondering aloud, “Maybe I should open up branch for the café! We’re getting really popular, don’t you think?”
Listen to people once in a while, why don’t you? I thought in irritation, but sighed and glanced up to look through the glass walls of the café. The rain had become a light drizzle sometime ago, and was probably going to clear up in a few more minutes.
A man’s voice screaming in agony came from outside, and then I saw a huge ball of fire running past the café window, while at the same time picked up the aura of a demon. I sprang to my feet as the customers here whirled to the front of the café and yelled in fear, as the ball of fire collapsed in front of the doors.