Before we begin, I would like to apologize for the 3+ month long wait for this chapter. It was a mix of life, work, moving back in with my parents, depression, writer's block, and then some. I'm a bit of a hot mess right now. Getting better though. Bit by bit, I'm getting better.
Here's Chapter 8. Hope you enjoy!
The first thing I notice about the cafe is the smell. A wafting aroma of coffee beans and tea leaves permeating the air the second Miia and I walk through the front doors. While overbearing to some, being used to working in a cafe myself has practically desensitized me to its overpowering nature. Instead I am able to inhale deeply and actually enjoy the wonderful smell of freshly brewed coffee.
The tea smells alright too, I guess.
Walking in, I can't help but be impressed. This place is easily twice the size of the cafe I work at, if not larger. More like a restaurant than an actual cafe. A massive open space full of wooden tables and chairs, all evenly spaced out in an efficient manner with plenty of space for someone like Miia to pass through without problem. Green and white walls lined with various awards and photos, as well as a few pieces of modern art. A large front counter, the baristas diligently working behind it. Taking orders, working their magic creating their respective drinks and foods. The front wall replaced by full sized windows, allowing for a great view of the city outside and plenty of natural lighting to enter in. Even a small stage in front of the dining area, currently empty, for possible live entertainment.
What I admire even more is the number of liminals here, both as customers and employees. A brown-furred werecat works in front of one of the registers, concentrating hard on pressing its buttons with her large paws. A pair of male centaurs sit at one of the central tables, speaking with a young man in a black suit, probably a C.E.P. coordinator. As well as a small handful of others alongside their human counterparts. All just living their lives, enjoying the air conditioned building alongside their drinks and meals. There are some stares from both sides. But all in all, everything looks fairly peaceful. Natural. Like it's been this way far longer than just three years.
"Darling, do you see Miss Smith anywhere?" Miia asks from beside me. Her gaze travels all across the dining area, as well as my own. No signs of our coordinator.
"I don't think she's-"
"Ah, perfect timing!"
Interrupting my reply, I sharply turn around to find Smith standing before us, just having entered the cafe as well. Wearing the same black suit she was in the first time we met, a carefree smile on her face. Appearing completely relaxed, like she's not working or anything. Which, considering how quick she was to suggest breakfast when I told her about mine and Miia's plans to hit the town, she probably isn't. But that's her own problem, not mine.
And I see she is still wearing those cheap sunglasses of hers. Does she ever take them off?
"Agent Smith," I greet her with my professional voice, holding out my hand for her to shake. "Good to see you again."
"You as well, Sergeant," Smith replies back almost teasingly, shaking my outstretched hand firmly. There's a fair amount of strength in her grip. Something I can respect. Even if this woman is annoying as all hell. And don't call me Sergeant. Letting go of my hand, she faces my companion and says, "Hello, Miia. How have you been?"
"Very well, Miss Smith. Thank you," Miia answers with a small bow.
"Good." Clapping her hands together Smith exclaims, "Well I don't know about you two, but I am in desperate need of some coffee right now. Order anything you'd like for breakfast. Courtesy of the Exchange program." And with that, she makes her way to the counter to order her food, Miia and I in tow behind her.
Now, when it comes to food, three people have been most influential in my life. The first one is my Mama, who always said, "Women love a man who can cook." Which was definitely true in the two relationships I had in my life. Granted, those cooking skills weren't enough to save said relationships, but that's neither here nor there. Women love men who can cook. Plus it's just a useful skill to have, especially when living alone. Or with a liminal roommate who eats just as much, if not more, than myself. And I already eat a lot.
The second person would be my senior Drill Sergeant in Basic Training. Drill Sergeant K always said, "You will eat whatever the fuck is in front of you, Private! You get no fucking choice! Eat it and fucking love it!" Now I'm fairly certain Drill Sergeant K just didn't want us wasting time in the DFAC which is one of many reasons why he yelled about it, but I still took it to heart nonetheless. Someone took the time and effort to make that meal. So eat it and don't complain.
And the third person is my old buddy Rogers, who always said, "When given the opportunity for free food, abuse the living fuck out of it!" Now, I'm pretty good about not doing that, rather just going for as much as is socially acceptable at the time. But right about now, I think Miia may have met Rogers at some point before he died.
While Smith and I just keep it simple, both ordering a breakfast sandwich and some coffee, Miia sounds like she's ordering everything off the menu. Good Lord, how many fucking egg sandwiches did she just order?! I open my mouth to tell her to ease up a bit, since Smith here is paying. But said agent puts her hand on my shoulder, grabbing my attention. Looking at her, she looks a little pale – probably after hearing what the bill's going to be – but shakes her head and mouths "It's fine" to me. It takes a minute for the werecat, aptly named Were according to her name tag, to punch in our orders into the register. Her large paws not very efficient at pressing the machine's tiny buttons. However, once she finally finishes, she tells us in an almost deadpan voice our food will be out in just a few minutes. And with that, the three of us move towards a large booth to sit down.
The booth is on the far end of the dining area. Up against the wall, some modern art piece hanging above it. A good view of the entire cafe, showing off everything and everyone. My preferred area to sit. At least until Smith takes the further seat, the one facing the cafe's entrance, and Miia takes the opposite. I end up standing in front of them both, hesitating to sit down. I can't sit next to Smith. But sitting next to Miia means I lose my line of sight to everything. My internal dilemma takes long enough for Miia to notice my lack of movement.
"Aren't you going to sit down?" Miia asks me, confused as to why I'm still standing. Smith watches me as well, her sunglasses lowered just enough to where I can see her brown eyes from my angle.
"Yeah, I am," I answer her, flustered and embarrassed at what I'm about to ask. I turn to Smith. "It's just, uhh, can I please take that seat instead?"
"Why's that?" She asks curiously. I resist the urge to fidget on the spot. Fuck, I hate asking for shit like this. Makes me feel weak. I know there's no danger here. But I need to be sure. I need to have eyes on, just in case.
"I just... I'd prefer to have a clear view of the entrance is all."
Miia lets out a "Hmm?," clearly confused by my request. Fortunately, Smith's eyes light up in realization. She understands what I'm asking.
"Of course," she answers politely, none of her typical sass thrown in, thank God. "Miia, switch with me real quick."
The two get up and switch spots. I quietly sigh in relief as I mutter a "thank you" to Smith before sitting down next to Miia. Taking my hat off and setting it in my lap, I run my hand through my buzzed hair as I subtly observe the cafe once more. Still full of people, except that the pair of centaurs and their C.E.P. agent are now getting up to leave. A group of young girls sit towards the front, either staring at their cellphones or giggling about something the other said. Adjacent to us, a square-jawed police officer holds a conversation with a boy with what looks like bunny ears and a horn protruding from his forehead. Meanwhile, a young man with no real discernible features walks into the cafe. Generic hair, unassuming clothes, I can barely even see what color are his eyes. And yet, despite his unassuming appearing, there's something about him that feels vaguely familiar.
Have I seen him before?
"Alright then," Smith states after getting comfortable in her new spot, drawing my attention away from the random face in the crowd. Her gaze switches back and forth from Miia and I, both curious and scrutinizing at once. My lamia partner fidgets slightly, looking ratheruncomfortable. I just quietly take a deep breath and stand firm. She's just checking in on us, making sure everything's good and we're not breaking any rules in the Exchange program. Simple stuff. I've handled worse. And we've done nothing wrong, so everything should be just fi-...
"Are you two screwing each other?"
Fuck me. Fuck Karma. Fuck whatever evil power or celestial author that is controlling my life, and fuck it hard. And punched repeatedly in the throat, just for good measure and for my own sadistic amusement.
Completely blindsided by Smith's question, all I can do is just gawk at her, speechless. Miia fares no better. Her face is as red as her scales from blushing so much, golden eyes wide with shock and mouth agape. Seriously? That's how she wants to start this shit? Not a "How are you doing? Is everything going well?" Just straight up, are we screwing?
"Pardon my language, but what the fuck, Smith?!" I exclaim after trying – and failing – to recompose myself, careful not to be too loud. I'd rather not cause a scene. Or at least even more of a scene than what's already happening. "What the hell kinda question is that?"
"A perfectly reasonable question I'd say, Sergeant," Smith replies, completely unfazed and uncaring to my returning irritation. There is no smirk on her face, no smile. She is actually being dead serious right now. "The Interspecies Exchange Act clearly states that a human and a liminal, unless given certain permissions, are forbidden from having intercourse. Doing so will cause said liminal in question to be deported back to their own home country and the human involved to be tried to the fullest extent of the law, as I've stated before when we first met."
She leans in, staring hard at me behind her cheap sunglasses. "Now think about this. I've left you two unsupervised for a week now. An attractive lamia, alone in the house of a good looking foreign man. A lamia who, as they were walking into this cafe, was attached to said man's arm, looking like a lovestruck girlfriend, and who is still practically attached to his hip even now. You can do the math here and understand why I'd be a little concerned about this."
I say nothing at first, surprised at how Smith responded. I honestly thought she was just going to make some kind of a joke out of all this, considering how much she seems to enjoy messing with me. Hell, I thought her wanting to come to this cafe was just so she could slack off on her work and just get a meal. Hearing her give a legitimate reason for asking her rather blunt question, threw that notion right out the window. Smith cares about her work. She cares about Miia, and I would assume the other Exchange students she's coordinating. And I respect that.
I open my mouth, getting ready to alleviate her concerns, let her know nothing like that is happening. But Miia beats me to it.
"Darling and I aren't having sex," Miia says firmly, her gaze set on Smith, whose own shifts from me to her. Much to my relief.
"Is that so?" she asks. Miia withers ever so slightly under her stern gaze, but stands fast. I figure she has a hold on the situation. Until she keeps talking.
"We're not. Sure, I may have snuck into his bed once or twice." I facepalm at that. Did she really have to admit to that? "Without his knowledge... or permission. And I may have been a bit... excessive in being affectionate towards him lately. And I'd totally be okay if he did want to have sex." Please shut up now, Miia. Or just shoot me. Either works right now. At this point, I'm pretty sure my face is red as a tomato. If the burning sensation in my ears is anything to go by. This may not be the most embarrassed I've ever been, my first night out drinking still taking the lead on that. But it's getting pretty damn high up there.
And it only gets worse when Miia looks at me fondly, a smile on her lips, as she continues once more. "But he's done nothing like that the entire time I've been with him. Darling's been a perfect gentleman. He's done everything he could to make sure I've been comfortable and taken care of, makes sure to follow all the rules you told us about, he's been such a sweetheart to me, and he actually treats me like a normal girl instead of just as a liminal. He's even taking me out on a date to see the city today. Darling's been just perfect!"
"Not a date, Miia," I mumble as my head drops into both my hands in sheer embarrassment. It's not the fact that Miia is practically showering me with praise right now, of which I don't believe I deserve – at least to that extent. I think I've been doing a pretty decent job being a host family so far. No, it's the fact that she just admitted to Smith that she pretty much wants to fuck me. And that she snuck into bed with me. And even worse, she called me Darling in front of Smith.
I'd say a solid third to most embarrassed I've ever felt at this point. Declaring my love for Stacy Prackett on stage in my freshman year of high school by singing a song I wrote her is still second place. First night drunk is still the worst by far. But still, definitely a solid third place. Someone kill me now.
A moment of silence passes before I lift my head back up. Miia is still smiling, looking proud of what she said. I think she even inched a bit closer to me while I wasn't looking, if that's even at all possible at this point. Smith was right, she really is all but attached to my hip right now.
Speaking of who, when I look over to the silent coordinator, all I can do is let out a sigh. A hand covers her mouth, body shaking with silent laughter, as she tries her hardest not to burst out laughing and cause a scene. "Yeah, yeah, laugh it up," I groan, to which Smith happily obliges, laughter practically exploding out of her. A few customers begin to stare as she continues, arms clutching at her shaking sides.
Miia's smile drops from her face, realizing just what she said a moment ago. Turning to me, she whispers, "I said too much, didn't I?"
"Just a little," I reply, resisting the urge to be too snarky. "Probably could've left out the first half of all that. Which you and I will need to talk about later, by the way." Definitely not a conversation I'm looking forward to.
Before either of us can say more, a bell rings out. Looking over to the front counter, I see the barista, Were setting down two trays of food at pick-up. She calls out in a slightly louder deadpan voice, "Order for Smith." I rise from my seat, setting my hat down and letting Miia and the still-laughing Smith know I'm grabbing our food. I need to escape that torture for a moment.
I make my way to the counter, Were still standing before our food. A calm, almost stoic, look on her face. Green eyes watching my every movement. Like a predator watching its prey. I give her a polite smile and look down at the two trays of food. On one, two breakfast sandwiches and two cups of black coffee rest. The other holds an assortment of food, mostly egg-based. Bloody hell, that girl loves her eggs. I wonder if that's a lamia thing? "Order for Smith," I say professionally. "All this mine?"
The werecat nods her head. "Your girlfriend there got lucky. We had a couple other lamias in here before you. Nearly cleared us out of all our eggs."
"She's my homestay, not my girlfriend," I retort. Were's face finally breaks its stoic look, a small smirk appearing on her lips.
"If you say so."
"I do say so. Thank you for the food." Grabbing the two trays, I make my way back to the table, trying my hardest to keep them both balanced and not spill tons of food and two mugs of scalding hot coffee all over myself.
Walking back, I can't help but think about what Miia, Smith, and now even Were said. Now I'm not exactly the smartest person out there, if my barely passing high school grades are anything to go by. But I'm not stupid, and I'm certainly not dense. I can tell when a girl is attracted to me, and Miia has certainly not been keeping her crush on me subtle. Miia has been extremely affectionate as of late. And people like Smith and Were are noticing. And they're noticing me pretty much just going along with it.
I never really bothered questioning it when it first started. A lingering touch here, a kind word there, just being closer to me in general, that weird pet name she calls me. And it just escalated from there. All of it I just kind of accepted and went along with. Saying it's just part of who Miia is. And maybe to a certain extent I might be right about it. Lamias are known for being incredibly passionate creatures – forced orgies with human men they coerce and or kidnap notwithstanding. But still, me saying nothing about it and just letting it happen, not talking to her about all of this. The more I think about it, the more I realize I'm just allowing this to grow into a potential problem down the line.
Miia is my homestay and I'm her host for the foreseeable future. And she has grown rather quickly into my friend. But that's it. At least for now. Maybe later down the line, after we've gotten to know each other better, maybe a relationship will form. But not right now. Not while I'm still dealing with my own problems.
These thoughts I set aside as I reach our table. Miia looks up at me and gives me her megawatt smile. That smile becoming slightly predatory in nature as she eyes the food I'm carrying. That look of hers is both a little unsettling... and kind of sexy, now that I think about it.
Bad thoughts, Kessler. Focus.
Smith looks as if she's finally calmed down from all her laughter. Although she still has that damned smirk on her face. I place both trays onto the table, the with all of Miia's food over to her and mine and Smith's food across from our own seats.
"Thank you, Darling," Miia says gratefully.
"Yes, thank you, Darling," Agent Smith mocks. I just glare at her.
"Don't even think about it, Smith," I warn her, moving my hat from my spot and sitting back down next to Miia. Once more, the lamia shifts herself over to where we're attached to the hip, her arm brushing up against mine.
Smith just waves her hand in dismissal. "Shall we eat then, Sergeant?" And with that, the three of us dig in.
About thirty or so minutes pass before the three of us finish eating. The food isn't that bad here. Not the best breakfast sandwich I've had before, the cook at my job having the honor of making the best one I've had, but it's still pretty damn good. I may have to come back here sometime. Maybe bring Grandma with me, whenever I get to see her next.
Looking over, Miia looks as if she's about to pass out from a food coma. Multiple plates sit stacked up before her, bits and pieces of food on each one. She leans back, her eyes barely open, a contented smile on her face as she stifles a small burp coming out of her mouth. I chuckle as she mumbles a quiet "excuse me," a small blush on her face. Across from me, Smith leans back into her seat as well, a smile on her own face. She looks out the window on the other side of the cafe, looking over a busy city street flowing with cars and pedestrians walking alongside it. A sigh leaves her lips and her shoulders relax, as if a weight was just removed from her. And while I'm certainly not full from just one sandwich and some good coffee, I'm at the very least content for the time being. Although I'll probably ask Miia if we can stop for a quick snack or something once we continue on our da-... I mean outing.
We all sit in a relaxed silence, digesting our food and relaxing after the interrogation Smith put us through. While not asking more questions about if Miia and I were screwing, she did grill us both about nearly every facet of our lives since Miia moved in with me.
"Do you cook for her?" Smith asked, glaring at me in that moment.
"Mostly," I replied. "I cook breakfast every day guaranteed. Dinners have mostly been home cooked so far, although we did order a couple times. Lunches are on her if she wants them."
"What about chores? Do you make her do any of them?"
"I do some," Miia answered this time. "Since Darling cooks, I typically clean the dishes at the least. We switch out on some stuff when we have to. But he kinda banned me from doing laundry."
"Oh? And why's that?"
Miia grabbed her arm, uncomfortable with the question. "I kinda... broke his washing machine."
"Don't even know how it happened," I chimed in, remembering that fiasco. "I swear I saw smoke coming out of the thing too."Smith chuckled at that.
"And when Miia's not sneaking into bed with you, how's her sleeping arrangements?" Smith asked innocently, a menacing aura permeating around her.
Smith grilled us both hard while we all ate. I swear, that woman must have talked to my Dad or Freya this morning and heard about their interrogations or something and just wanted to make my life more painful. I get that she's just doing her job, but holy shit. My head hurts from all that.
"Well, I think I've gotten everything I need from you two," Smith says, wiping her hands off with a napkin. "Sounds to me like everything is going quite well. I'm actually a little surprised to be honest."
"Why's that?" Miia asks, slowly recovering from her near-comatose state to a heightened state of alertness.
"Normally the first week an Exchange student moves in with a host family, it tends to be a lot messier. Cultural differences, problems with language barriers, or just plain racism from one or both parties, intentional or otherwise. And it's even more of an issue when the host, like the good Sergeant here, is a foreigner in the country as well.
"But you two." She waves her hand towards Miia and I. "It seems like you two got off without a hitch. I'm rather impressed."
"Well, I mean cultural differences really haven't come up too much," I point out, looking over at Miia. "And there have been a few issues like we told you." Nearly blowing up my washing machine, sneaking into bed with me, the freak out over my lack of a leg. "But I guess we just got lucky is all."
"No. That's not it at all, Sergeant," Smith argues softly. She leans in just a bit. A hand reaches up to her face. And for the first time since I've met her, she takes off her sunglasses, showing off her chocolate brown eyes. Sharp, piercing. Full of intelligence. A potential for both mischief and rage hidden away. And focus.
"This wasn't just you getting lucky that you two just hit it off. From the moment you were 'volunteered' for this program," Thank God she acknowledges that I was forced into this by my Grandma. "You've taken everything in stride. Having your home completely redone without complaint, showing Miia respect, making sure she felt welcome and comfortable from the get go, but not necessarily spoiling her if you making her pull her own weight is anything to go by. And just treating her like a person first and a liminal second. It speaks volumes of your character. So no, you didn't just get lucky. Hell, if anything, the Cultural Exchange Program was lucky you 'signed up' for it."
She leans back into her seat, a smile on her face. I opt to say nothing, pondering over her words. It feels a bit strange hearing all this come from Smith. Sure, Miia has basically told me the same thing at one point or another. But to hear it from my coordinator as well, I'll admit it feels kind of nice to be appreciated like this. Other than with family, it doesn't happen very often for me. Especially as of late.
"Thank you, Smith," I say, a small grin beginning to form on my own face. "It means a lot to me that you thi-..."
"Which is why I'd like to ask if you would be willing to host additional exchange students in your home."
Fuck my life.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I don't think it's my best work ever. But I can always re-edit if needed.
So a lot going on, and also not much of anything going on. Smith, August and Miia met up for their check-in. Goofiness happened, deep thoughts were thought, a couple issues were brought up for later, and the bombshell that is August getting more homestays was dropped.
First, about the next homestays. There will be at least one more chapter before anymore of the girls are introduced. I need to cover a few things first before we bring in more characters. Right now, it's a tie-up between either Papi or Centorea coming in next. And I'm going to leave that decision up to you guys. Who do you want to see next? Papi, our lovable birdbrain? Or Centorea, the self-proclaimed knight? Let me know. We'll see what happens.
Next chapter will be dealing with more of August and Miia's "not-date." It'll most likely be a pretty long chapter. Very dialogue heavy, and dealing with some things brought up in this and previous chapters. As well as a lot of character building for August and Miia. And maybe one more thing that I'm considering trying out. This story could use an external antagonist, don't you think?
Thank you guys for being patient with me. And thank you all from the bottom of my heart for motivating me, whether intentional or otherwise, to keep going. Thank you all for following and favoriting. 147 Favorites, 217 Followers, 61 Reviews, OVER 16,000 VIEWS! Seriously blows my mind thinking about. So thank you all again. Means the world to me.
Hope you enjoyed Chapter 8. Leave a review for this review whore, and let me know what you think. See you all in the next chapter.