A Perfect Morning
The problem with working at a coffee house was that work started entirely too early in the morning. Stephanie trudged up the empty streets, watching the first rays of the sun creeping over the rooftops and trying to shake off the last vestiges of sleep. The whole point of coffee, most people would have agreed, was to help them wake up in the morning. That meant that the first thing they were going to want when they got up was their coffee, which meant in turn that Stephanie was expected to get up even earlier than they did so she could have it ready and waiting for them. Sometimes it wasn't so bad, strolling through the silent street and enjoying the sight of the sun rising over the ocean, but lately it had been less than fulfilling.
She knew why, of course. Things just hadn't been the same since Jack had left. He had been the biggest motivating factor that got her out of bed every morning, and without him to look forward to, her job had lost most of its excitement. She watched him on television every chance she got, but it just wasn't the same as having him there within arm's reach, looking so serene, so far above the daily grind. If he had stayed just a few more months, she might have even found the courage to introduce herself properly.
As she neared the café, a shaft of sunlight slanted down into her eyes, and she raised a hand to shield them, squinting into the light. It didn't help her much, and it took her a few more paces to realize that even though the café wasn't even open yet, someone was already sitting at one of the tables. She scowled a little. When the coffee shop had first opened, some of the locals had taken to hanging around the place when no one else was around. It had taken some time to persuade the drifters that they couldn't be there unless they were willing to pay money for something. Stephanie had thought they had finally gotten the idea, but apparently she had been wrong. She quickened her pace.
"Hey, you!" she said. "You can't sit there. We're not open yet."
"Then hurry up and open!" the man snapped.
Is that... ?
"Well?" he said. "I'm waiting."
"Jack?" she exclaimed.
Jack turned towards her, raising an eyebrow. "Could you mistake me for anyone else?"
"But... I thought you left!" she stammered.
"I'm here for a tournament," he said. "I wasn't planning on it. I had almost no time to pack. My flight left at four o'clock this morning. I have had at most three hours of sleep. I. Want. Coffee. Now."
"Okay!" she squeaked, and darted into the cafe.
After a few minutes of frantic activity, she reappeared bearing a tray with a coffee pot and a cup and saucer. Given the way he'd spoken, she was guessing that a single cup wasn't going to be nearly enough. Jack nodded his approval, eyes never straying from the coffee.
"And... how will you be paying today?" she asked hesitantly.
He gave her a look. "I haven't even started yet."
She shrugged apologetically. "Boss's orders. You, um, kind of have a history."
Jack rolled his eyes. "I have a job now, you know."
"It wasn't my idea!"
"Whatever," Jack muttered. He dug in his pockets and produced a debit card. "Just take it and charge whatever I get."
She nodded and hurried off to deal with the payment. A few moments later, she came back.
"It's declined," she said.
"It's what?" Jack exclaimed, with enough force to make her jump. "I'll see about that."
He got out a cell phone and punched in a number, had an angry conversation in English with whoever was on the other end, and then snapped it shut again.
"The bank has put a block on my card," he said. "It will be unlocked later today. I can't do anything but wait until then."
"So what do you want to do?" Stephanie asked.
Jack thought a moment. "Does Carly still have a tab here?"
"I think so "
"Then just bill everything to her and I'll sort it all out with her when I see her."
"All right," said Stephanie cheerfully. It wasn't every day she got a chance to give her rival in love a hard time. "Is there anything else I can get you?"
He considered. "Some orange rolls. I haven't had breakfast yet."
"Coming right up!" she agreed cheerfully, and hurried off to place the order.
The alarm clock would not turn off.
Carly rolled over and swatted the snooze button several times before finally realizing that what she was hearing was actually the telephone. She squinted at the clock and realized it was only a little after six in the morning... entirely too early for her to get up, much less be getting phone calls. She hauled herself out of bed and retrieved her cell phone from her dresser.
"Good morning," said an automated voice. "This is a courtesy call from Neo Domino Bank and Trust to inform you that your account is overdrawn "
Whatever else the robot said was drowned out by Carly's squawk of dismay. She hung up the phone and shuffled back to her bed to fall into a despairing heap. What a thing to happen! The day hadn't even started yet, and already it was going wrong.
It took her sleepy mind several minutes to sift through the facts. Her account was overdrawn. She hadn't spent any money yet today. There had been money in her account yesterday. Someone had spent the money. It hadn't been her.
Carly bounded out of bed and ran for the phone again.
"Somebody's using my bank card!" she wailed.
The bank was very understanding, and agreed to report the card as stolen and put a halt on all further charges.
"What about what's already been spent?" Carly asked.
"We can probably cancel all the charges made this morning and refund you the money," said the helpful woman. "Did you buy anything from Café la Geen today?"
Carly said that she certainly had not. The woman assured her that everything would be taken care of, and Carly hung up and returned to her bed feeling somewhat relieved and more than a little disgruntled. What a pain! Why did this kind of thing always happen to her?
She went on like this for quite some time, and in fact had almost lulled herself to sleep with the familiar litany, when a stray thought struck her. The woman had said that the charges had been made at Café la Geen. Carly only knew of one person who could run through that much money in one morning at that particular cafe.
Carly came awake in a flash. She bounded out of bed, threw on a set of clothes, raked a comb through her hair, and started for the door. Then she stopped, doubled back, and retrieved her glasses and keys.
I hope I'm not too late! she thought. Wait for me, Jack!
Mikage arrived early for work. She always did, but today she arrived earlier than usual. Her usual shift was at night, but she had volunteered to take a shift for a sick co-worker on her day off, so there she was. Anyone looking at her would never have guessed that she would normally have been just getting off work and heading for some well-deserved sleep at this hour; she looked as awake and well-groomed at six in the morning as she usually did in the middle of the day. She breezed into the office and called out a good morning to everyone there.
"Any excitement last night?" she asked.
"Nothing much," one of her assistants answered. "A couple of drunk drivers, some teenagers throwing loud parties. A car got stolen but we tracked it down pretty fast. Oh, and we just got in a report of a card being swiped."
"A Duel Monsters card? Was it valuable?" asked Mikage.
The assistant laughed. "Not that kind of card, a bank card. Someone turned up at a coffee shop with someone else's card and wiped out their bank account - on coffee! How do you even do that?"
"Where was this?" Mikage asked.
"That little place on the island. What's it called? Café la Geen."
Mikage felt a sting of annoyance. That café was Jack's special place. He loved it there. The idea that someone should be threatening that café's welfare was enough to galvanize her into action.
"I'll take care of it," she said.
Her assistant looked surprised. "You really don't need to do that, Miss Sagiri. It's not that big of a deal..."
"Then it won't take me long to deal with," she said. She was already starting for the door. "I'll be back soon, don't worry."
She headed out feeling like a knight preparing to slay a dragon. Jack might be proud of her, she thought, if he knew how resolutely she was defending his territory in his absence. The thought made her smile a little. She hoped she would get a chance to tell him about this soon.
By the time Carly arrived, the sun was shining brightly, the city was starting to stir, and Jack was working on his second pot of coffee. He'd finished off the orange rolls and started in on a plate of strawberries-and-cream scones, when his breakfast was suddenly interrupted by an unexpected arrival. Carly came pelting up the street and flung herself at him, wrapping her arms around him with a little sigh of contentment. Jack gave her a good long moment to enjoy herself before gently prying her away.
"I should have known you'd turn up," he said.
"I got here as soon as I could," she said. "The bank, um, kind of tipped me off that you were here." She hesitated for a moment before asking, "Why is my bank account overdrawn?"
Jack looked up sharply at Stephanie. "What is my bill up to now?"
"Well, you've done two pots of coffee at three thousand yen per cup, and there are six cups to a pot, plus you ordered the orange rolls and the scones, so... a lot."
"Ah," said Carly. "I thought it must be something like that."
Jack waved a negligent hand. "Don't worry. I'm good for it."
"Then why did you have to use my card?"
"Details," said Jack.
"I'd like a little more explanation than that, please," said Carly.
Jack looked at her a moment before sighing resignedly. "All right. Did you hear about that snowstorm in Germany?"
"Of course," she said. "The biggest one in years. I hear the roads are covered four or five feet deep in some places."
"Right," said Jack. "And there was supposed to be a tournament there this week."
"So what does that have to do with my bank account?"
"Don't you get it?" said Jack. "I told my bank I was going to be in Germany. Then it snowed, so I thought I wasn't going to go anywhere. Then my manager called me up at midnight and told me he'd booked me a slot in a tournament here, and my plane out would be leaving at four in the morning..."
"And you forgot to tell the bank," Carly finished. "Got it."
"Right," he said. "So now my account has a lock on it because I tried to use my card in Japan when they think I'm supposed to be in Germany, and they won't sort it out for a few hours. So I told them to charge you instead."
"Ah," she said. "Makes sense."
"Look, I'll pay you back," he said. "I'll take you to dinner tonight to make up for it. Does that sound fair?"
"Yes!" she said delightedly.
He nodded. "It wouldn't do for a king to be in anyone's debt."
"You're absolutely right," she agreed.
Jack almost smiled. It was nice to be properly appreciated. Feeling generous, he pushed the coffee pot towards her and gestured that she should take a seat.
"Bring out another cup," he said to Stephanie.
Just then, a Security vehicle skidded to a halt and Mikage sprang out, looking around with a steely glint in her eye. As soon as she caught sight of him, though, her expression brightened.
"Atlas-sama!" she exclaimed.
Jack sighed and turned back to Stephanie.
"On second thought," he said, "better make it two cups. And some more scones. I think we're in for a party."
Mikage hurried up to the table. "Atlas-sama, I had no idea you were in town. If I'd known, I would have come out to meet you."
Jack started to point out that his plane had gotten in before dawn, and then changed his mind. He knew good and well that even if it meant getting up in the middle of the night to meet him, she would have done it without a second thought or even a complaint.
"It was a last minute change of plans," said Jack. "If you didn't know I was here, then why are you here?"
"I heard someone was using a stolen bank card, so I came to investigate," Mikage explained.
"Don't worry," said Jack. "It was me."
Mikage's expression went blank. Jack could almost hear the gears grinding in her head as she tried to figure out how to react.
"It was my card," Carly supplied. "He borrowed it without telling me."
"Oh," said Mikage. "Don't worry about a thing, then. I'll take care of everything. Just wait right here."
She walked inside the cafe. Jack listened a moment to the sound of her voice drifting back outside. Judging by what he was hearing, she appeared to be having a strenuous discussion with the proprietor of the café and having a telephone conversation with someone from the bank at the same time. Deep down, he rather admired her efficiency. A few minutes later, she returned, looking slightly ruffled but triumphant.
"They're going to take care of it," she said. "You'll probably have to come back to city hall to sign a statement..."
Jack couldn't help but notice that she said nothing about signing a statement to Carly, but he decided not to mention it.
"If I have to," he said.
Mikage looked immensely pleased.
The owner of the café looked out the front door at the four of them.
"This is going to take a while to sort out," he said. "Stephanie, you can take a break as long as no other customers show up."
"Thanks!" she called.
She looked expectantly at Jack. He weighed his options a moment, then shrugged and pointed to the last empty chair. Stephanie gave a little squeak and hurried to sit down next to him. He ignored her and reached out to refill his cup.
"So, as long as you're all here," he said, "you might as well fill me in on what's been going on lately."
As he suspected, they were only too eager to do so. He sipped his coffee and let the twittering of their voices wash over him. Why not? He'd been up most of the night, he'd gotten in trouble with the police and his bank before the sun was even properly up, but those were minor details, and beneath his royal dignity. The important thing was that he was well-supplied with caffeine and his admirers were with him. They weren't even fighting over him yet. And he was home.
It was a perfect morning.