The coffee shop two blocks from Kenny’s house was a relatively popular place at nine in the morning. College students and late riser business men sipped cups of coffee while reading the newspaper or debating to each other over their cell phones or articles in the Economist. Occasional the owners daughter, a pretty, curvy thing in her mid-twenties, came through to deliver bagels or other specialty items. It was no secret that Kenny took advantage of the coffee shop for their meeting place not just because it was close to his house, but because he loved to watch her behind the screen of his laptop.
Today, however, his mind was far from the pretty waitress.
“Why do things keep happening right after I leave? Why did I let you guys talk me into that? This is so unfair!”
“You think that’s unfair?” said Hilary with a grimace as she poured extra cream into her coffee, which had already come out a light caramel color and was growing paler. “I finally wheedled Tyson into taking me to the movies and he goes into a coma. How’s that for fair?”
“Woah, hang on,” Ray dropped his Chai tea with a smile. “Did you just say you two were going on a date?”
She flushed, but made her usual show of hiding it by pushing on a cool, disinterested smile. “Hardly. But I guess to you lot that would be. Are you sure you’re not gay? Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
Kai and Ray gave her mirroring glares of annoyance, while Kenny urged her to lower her voice. He wasn’t completely oblivious to the presence of his crush, after all. He didn’t need homosexuality on top of his already long resume of updateable qualities to deter any chance with her.
She rolled her eyes. “Don’t give me that. You guys have fangirls rolling out of your ears but in all the time I’ve known you only Max and Tyson have ever bothered to have a girlfriend, if you could call them that. Tyson’s was more of a fan club and Max’s was…” she sighed. “Let’s not talk about that.”
“You’re the one who brought it up,” said Kenny.
“Besides, shouldn’t we be talking about something else? This isn’t exactly the time to talk about our love lives,” said Ray, leaning over his Chai rather broodingly.
Hillary eyed his change of position and took a sip of her coffee-flavored-cream. “There’s a whole story right there, but I won’t push it. You’re right. We should be figuring out how to get out of this mess. Well, what do we have? I got the whole vibrations spiel from Kenny, but how do you plan on getting around that?”
“They’re going to attack her!” said Kenny, hands tight about his hot cocoa. “They were practicing on this drawing of a person all last night and everything, you have to stop them!”
Hillary dropped her coffee with a loud clack of cardboard. “Excuse me?”
Kai sighed and pushed away his empty cup. He didn’t have the energy to deal with their stupidity today. If they wanted to live in their PG rated world, fine. He wasn’t even entirely sure why he had agreed to meet up with Kenny and Hilary here in the first place. Probably because Ray had been going. But when had he become such a lemming? Ray could take care of himself on his own, right?
Hillary stood with him. “Don’t you dare walk away from me, Kai, explain yourself!”
“I don’t have to.” Kai dropped some change on the table for a tip. “There’s two guys in the hospital that are all but dead to do that for me.”
But even with that said, when he stepped out of the shop and into the sunlight he didn’t head off in some random direction. Rather, he looped back and around the store, scaled a fence, caught onto a terrace, and shimmied his way up to the roof. There, he found himself a shady spot behind a transformer unit and kept his ears peeled for the sound of the others leaving the shop below. Like he would be stupid enough to leave behind his last teammate in times like this.
Besides, what other plan could there be? They had no choice but to wait for their enemy to find them once more, and then take it from there.
For the uptenth time that day, he cursed himself for not stopping the girl from leaving last night.
A clap of shoes landing on the roof broke him from his reverie not too long later. He instinctually tensed. Without looking, he knew who it was.
Aiming to keep up the impression of control, he didn’t bother getting up and only glanced at her before closing his eyes once more. It was all part of the mind games you played with your opponent first. If you succeeded in unnerving them, you already won half the battle.
“If you’re here to whimper apologies again,” he said. “You can leave.”
But she didn’t say a word. Nor did she stay put. She walked towards him, her steps light and quiet as she rolled from heel to toe. Just as he thought to move for his blade, she darted forward, dropped to her haunches, and stopped his mouth with her fingers. They were soft and narrow, but her daring shocked him more than the actual contact. Her head momentarily blocked out the sun, giving him the full, up close view of the ethereal quality of her pale skin and thick silver lashes framing her eyes. He could make out the color of her hair now too. White. White as freshly driven snow.
The face drew closer. Too close.
Swearing, he shoved her back, pushing his back up against the transformer in the process. She landed with an ‘oompf!’ His heart raced in an abrupt panic. What could she have been trying to do?
“Get lost!” he snarled.
She shook her head furiously, putting a finger to her lips before mouthing, ‘quiet.’
In any other circumstance, with any other person, he would have simply gotten up and left. It was more Tyson’s style to just get louder after someone asked him to be quiet. It was more Kai’s to not even give the offender the benefit of his attention.
But as his eyebrows had drawn together in a scowl, the gashes on his forehead reminded him of their presence. He realized she hadn’t been drawing close as though for a kiss, but had been aiming her mouth upwards, towards his eyes.
Heart still puttering, holding his muscles taunt for a run in case she proved otherwise, he held still as she cautiously shuffle towards him. Eyes pleading, she once more put her finger to her mouth to urge him to be quiet. When he didn’t push her away again, she knelt down next to his side and reached for his face.
He blocked her hands.
“I know what you want,” he whispered. “Can you do it without…without touching me?”
She puffed a relieved sigh and nodded. He lowered his hand and allowed her to lean in. Only when a strand of her curling hair brushed against his brow did he catch her smell: a tang of something like cinnamon rolls and roses.
She gave a soft, low hum. Once more, the hair on his arms and neck prickled. A hot, tickling sensation flooded across his face to his brow.
Then he blinked and she was gone. He could hear the faint tapping of her feet before even those vanished as well. He touched where the gashes had been and felt nothing but smooth, heated skin.
“Ray Koh. Care to come outside for a bit?”
With a thrill of alarm, Kai jumped up to the edge of the roof.
Standing in the middle of the coffee houses outdoor tables and looking ever more a shark was the cause of their problems. After being exposed to the full view of her accomplices face, the tank beyblader looked even less feminine than the last time they had seen her.
Ray, Hillary, and Kenny piled out of the coffee house, drawing stares from the on looking customers at the tables.
“What will it be this time,” said Ray. “I push your blade into the trash and you’ll give me back what you’ve stolen?”
“Not as far as that,” she said, tugging the collar of her business like, button up blouse as though preparing for an interview rather than a battle. “I was just thinking to the edge of the sidewalk? That’s even a shorter distance than your friend.”
“Why are you doing this?” cried Hillary, making Kai groan. It wasn’t any of her business. It never was.
“Because I’ve been practicing my evil laugh and want to take over the world,” said the woman sarcastically. “Come on, boy. Let’s get this started. I’ll leave the countdown to you.”
As he kept an ear to the proceedings, he ran to the roof’s edge, eyes open for signs of the singer. It was either get down there with Ray or stay up here to catch the girl the moment she opened her mouth. She couldn’t be far. He’d have to go with that.
The onlookers started to murmur as Ray’s voice pitched up. Kai couldn’t see anything of her in the back of the building and started running towards the far side. The coffee building pressed up against another restaurant, the roof of which he leapt onto.
“Let it rip!”
No sooner had his feet hit the roof than the woman shrieked. “Where are you going?”
Ray let out a bark of laughter. “I haven’t gone anywhere. I’m sorry, is Drigger too fast for you?”
Kai peered into the shadows of the back alley again. Nothing. Unless she was hiding beneath trash bags. He squinted down the length to see where the store complex ended and cursed. She couldn’t have gone that far. She’d have to be close to hear. She’d have to. But, then, he knew nothing of how her ears worked, but she had always been close before.
A collective gasp sent him running to the front of the building again. Where the woman had been standing erect before was empty, as she had stepped back with a hand to her shoulder, skin folded about the sharp bones of her face in a snarl. A piece of white cloth lay on the pavement where she had been before.
“You—you can’t—how did you just—”
“New rules,” said Ray. “You hand over what you’ve stolen or I sheer the clothes off your body till I find them.”
“This is a new low for the world champion. And with all these witnesses—what will they say when they hear you used your beyblade to coerce someone?”
Ray said nothing. Kai mentally berated his teammate for acting so impulsively. Once more she had caught them in a crowd, he should have at least had the brains to draw her to somewhere private before taking her challenge—or anything, really. Kai hadn’t thought to bother telling him that as it had seemed well duh, and Ray out of all of them had a good head on his shoulder.
Kai set his foot on the edge of the roof. No. He wasn’t about to let this happen. He wasn’t about to let his teammate take this fall for his lack of forethought.
Already his launcher was out, Dranzer set for flight.
Hillary and Kenny had started up pleading Ray’s name, as though they thought he would still go through with it. Kai knew he would. A place on the BBA roster wasn’t worth anyone’s soul.
But Ray still cared about that sort of crap.
The old training came back to him like riding a bike. He lined up the corner of his launcher, felt the habitual hitch in his breathing to still his arm, and let it rip.
Dranzer shot through the air like a bullet. People shrieked as all three of the large umbrellas on the tables suddenly tipped inward, their supports sliced clean through. Before they had even hit the ground, Dranzer was on her, whipping here and there, white blouse and the baggy pockets of the woman’s shorts gone flying.
And although thin lines of red appeared on her thighs, no orbs fell out. The holster for her launcher and blades fell empty and exposed to the street.
She screamed profanities and threw down her launcher so she could slap her hands over the remains of her split blouse.
A familiar ear-splitting shriek rent the air. Kai barely had the mind to lean back as his knees crumpled, throwing him back onto the roof.
But just as it fell away, a new sound replaced it. Thrumming, earthy, like a lion with a cello for a throat, purring.
Hillary’s scream above it all made his blood go cold.