Tidbits from Gary

Hello and welcome to Stories by Baker!

This just in: you can now find me on facebook under an official fanpage name!! YAY!

Anyways, and as always, enjoy if you will or don't if you won't!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Vasher, Savior of Children

“Vasher, Savior of Children”
a short story 
Gary Baker, April 2012
[final revision: December, 2012]

The glass was empty. It was fucking empty and there was nothing anyone could do about it. Not even a single drop of anything could have deemed this container "x-percent" full. No, every last person who viewed it had to look at it as being one-hundred percent empty, and no one would be able to disagree.

Why the hell was this piece of glass shaped into a skinny skyward-arcing dome, and not then filled with something? It wasn't so much the need of a substance within the confines of this object but, rather, the prospect that no matter how he were to describe this scene he would be forced to look at it negatively. But why the hell must he, anyways? Could he not claim that it was more than one-hundred percent full of nothing? or maybe that it was full of air?

Sighing, Vasher set down the multi-dimensional mug with a loud clunk as the thick base contacted the brass countertop.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Ploy

"The Ploy"
a short story
Gary Baker, October 2012

Jeffy looked up, staring cross-eyed at his companion, Kher, on the other side of the stone table. The sun was bright, lending a warm glow to most of the urban park around them as the morning dew evaporated into nine-a.m. fog. Kher just watched the table, longingly, as if in deep thought.

"You want some Skittles?" Jeffy shook a king-size red bag in his hands loudly. The small flattened spheres of fluorescent sugar inside tacked around and against one another, echoing across the desolate morning scene.

Kher finally reached his annoyed glare up to Jeffy. "No, I don't want some Skittles." The young Turkish man tightened his black P-coat around his chest and dipped his scruffy chin back into the high collar.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Great Return

"The Great Return"
an epilogue
Gary Baker, November 2012
(part of a much larger project, book 1 of Blood to Dust)

Elias stepped out of the waygate and into his living room as if leaving the archway from the kitchen. He then paused just inches from the portal and scowled at his surroundings.

Nanna wasn’t home, much like he had expected, and the garbage had been taken out to avoid becoming a breeding ground for pests, but what was off was the lack of any other changes. On the wall to his right stood his miniature library, where books both crazy rare and brand new were organized by size, then genre, and then author with an LED ceiling light mounted in the corner above it all. Further along that same wall was the entertainment system with basic speakers and a small series of games and other gadgetry that he only used on the rare occasions when he had nothing better to do than to watch movies streamed from his primary gaming console.

Across from that, along the opposite wall, was the plush thrift-store sofa and the crocheted blanket laid over it by Nanna not long after he had bought it. On a side table nearest Elias, sat a small vase with small clear marbles in the bottom. Somehow the water was still clear of algae growth and the flowers were still

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Seer

"The Seer"
character working
Gary Baker, October 2010

A strong, burly arm thrust into the air to hoist a rather large sword, point-first, high above all the mans companions. “War is beautiful, young lass!” Boomed the warrior, decked in velvet red and black armor with silver engravings of a lion and a broad cape that reached his knees. He looked to the frail girl beside him to emphasize his point to her soft, loving face with a smile while nudging her nose with his own. “But you are fairer than any war to exist a’tall!” Slowly, and almost romantically, his left arm wrapped around her waist just above her buttocks to pull her so close that her breasts pushed around his chest plate easily.

She blushed. As usual.

Viggo Herena wasn’t a virgin priestess for nothing, and every time Farrow touched her sexually she showed just what she was. Out of the many priestesses Farrow had met, Viggo had yet to learn restraint over herself and that gave him hope for converting her. When he was done, at least. For now, she would service him with mystic healing prowess beyond anything he had ever seen.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Just Beyond

"Just Beyond"
character working
Gary Baker, March 2012

Drel watched the tall rectangular box strapped to the altar across from his dark form with thick coils of rope and metal. In the dim candlelight almost no one could tell just what, exactly, the box was, much less what it might contain.

All they see, he thought grimly, is white marble and planks. It took serious concentration to not react to what he saw, however, with the obvious reverberations of panic exuding from within the planks like oozing sewage. Adding in the incessant smells of horror of the same origin, Drel came closer and closer to insanity by the minute.

Tall candles stood like stalagmites in the cavernous nightfall cathedral built deep into the mountains of Morrah, with flickering shadows of loyal cult members awaiting their prize that Nahuum would soon reveal. The man of the hour stepped up from the eclipse of shadow beyond the altar revealing an abnormally tall man with gruff biceps and ripped jeans from ages passed as a lowly farmer. His unblemished sand-toned skin seemed to reflect just enough light to make the appearance all the more startling, and he traced a finger along the outer edge of the planks while he walked around.

It was all a show, Drel knew, and soon Nahuum would have his cronies -- initiates the cultists would call them -- upend the box and remove the lid. But the proprietor would give the moment time to climax, allowing the crowd to frenzy and the contents to give in on one easy act of stalling.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Reaping

“The Reaping”
a short story
Gary Baker, October 2012

Nym shuddered. The well-dressed woman passed by without regard, phasing through him like a gust of wind. He rest his eyes on Lindsay with sudden fear mirrored over her features. "El," Nym began, reaching his hand out to her.

"No!" She swatted his hand away with physical ease and turned her back to him before realizing what had just happened. Her eyes then welled up with tears as she looked back over to him.

No one else seemed to even deign to notice as they passed with their daily haste and need to be on time or something similar. When at last the current of bodies lulled again, Lindsay spoke again in a mere whisper of horror. "Why me?" She trembled on the ledge overlooking a small copse of trees beside a duck pond just meters off, appearing cold despite the warming weather.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Valiant Pink Knight

"The Valiant Pink Knight"
a short story
Gary Baker, November 2012

[*This story is not following my normal posting routine, 
I know, but this is my Thanksgiving gift to all of you!*]

Murky brown water splashed outward in arcing waves onto the asphalt road as a pair of pink boots thrust through.

Knight-Princess Miera smiled, proudly standing in her hot pink windbreaker, and yellow rain pants, with fists on her hips. It was a perfect day, the sun nowhere to be seen, instead replaced by dark gray clouds and the occasional flash of blinding light.

A deep roar rumbled across her kingdom as Mr Thunder said hello, followed quickly by his assistant, Mrs Lightning. Miera nodded, and waved her arms frantically at the clouds where her two subjects awaited her approval, knowing that they would grow impatient and annoyed if she let them wait too long. Afterall, that was what Daddy had told her back when she had yet to assume her royal position, back when she feared the rain and it's friends, and thus had also been yet to admit to them their benevolently needed wave.

The skies wavered slightly and she knew her two subjects were happy. Though who wouldn't be in a storm like this?

"Miera!" Her mother called from the front porch, "time to come inside!"

"But mom," Miera responded, "I still need to save my subjects from the evil puddle monsters!"

Her mother shook her head and played obeisance. "Then I guess I'll just have to eat these cookies all by myself, now won't I?"

A smile lit itself upon Miera's cheeks. Cookies! A rightful princess' favorite treasure! "Wait!" She screamed, suddenly sprinting to the door, "mommy, I'm coming!"

Along the way she found herself blocked by a wide pool of muddy water held behind her Daddy's white slug bug. Grinning, Miera ran faster, charging the unsuspecting leader of the mighty puddle fiends with her magical pink boots tight and ready.

Princess Miera! The leader called with it's grindingly bitter voice, we meet again!

Princess Miera grit her teeth and readied her leap, her legs pounded the road as she galloped like a horse leading the assault. But she dared not respond to him, this was her nemesis, his evil always made it hard for Daddy to get to work on time during the rain and now he was bound for defeat. And now there were cookies awaiting her arrival, and there was no way that she would let this beast keep her from such beauties.

Miera! The fiend called again, gaining a sense of worry and fear in his voice, What are you doing? You cannot expect to beat me this time!

Mr Thunder called out to aid Miera, and it was seconds before Mrs Lightning agreed to help as well, but this was it, this was the battle that Miera had been born for. She would save the streets from one more devilish puddle beast, by taking out the faction's leader with her allies at her back.

"Yaaaaaaaaahhhh!" She let her voice reach a crescendo as she lifted high into the sky, her arms reaching up like Superman's to carry her higher, and moved her feet to face the leader's head. She plummeted like a meteor, her mighty magical pink boots set and ready to hit the puddle leader where it mattered most.

And then she hit him, causing a great splash. And oh, how it was such a wonderful splash.

Nooooo! The fiend screamed as his body was sent out in waves as high as Miera was tall. Miera! How could you! My one weakness--MAGICAL PINK BOOTS!!

The princess hit the road at the bottom of the puddle beast's body, and the water reached back for her, rushing back to grab at her knees.

"No!" Miera screamed with fear. The boots should have worked, he had even shouted in his dying last words that her boots had killed it!


"But how?!"

She darted for the safety of the sidewalk, struggling to reach it before the mystic maple leaves in the water could leech her power away. Her boots filled with the leader's liquid organs and he still came at her. The waves hit her then, reaching where her jacket armor wasn't able to protect from and soaked her shirt underneath. How had the puddle monster leader done this? How had her magical pink boots not worked?

Then it came to her as she reached the curb and jumped onto the part of the puddle that had overtaken the sidewalk: the fiend was even more powerful than she had thought. By the time she had reached the edges of the fiend's body as he recovered by mere magical wonder, the princess turned to face her foe. "No fair!" She screamed at him. "You can't use magic! It isn't fair!"

"Miera!" Her mother called again. "Are you still out there?"

Grumpily, Miera spun on her heels and darted across the flower garden, tracking muddy streaks onto the red brick walkway and toward the porch. "Mommy!" She cried, "Mommy the puddle monsters used magic!"

Her mother kneeled to catch her with a great royal hug on the wooden porch where an overhang of shingles and morning glories kept the rain at bay. Suddenly her mother pulled away and scowled. "Honey, you're soaked to the bone!"

Miera smiled, knowing that every drop was proof that she had valiantly fought off the beasts from taking over her kingdom--all except for their cheating leader. "But mommy it wasn't my fault!"

Her mother smirked with a curious glare, letting her sapphire eyes glint in the orange Porchlight glow. "Oh? And how," she tapped Miera's nose, sending the princess into fits of giggles, "might that be, little missy?"

Miera pulled away and pushed her lower lip out with a pouty face. "Well I was saving the kingdom from being flooded when I saw the leader trying to drown Daddy's slug bug! So I ran to attack it on the way back here and it didn't die by my boots!"

Her mother gasped, "no! It didn't die by your boots? But I thought they were magical!"

A great smile came upon Miera's face. "Mommy, they are! But the puddle monster used magic to fix it's boo-boo's!" Suddenly Miera's eyes went wide, "do you think that maybe my boots are out of magic?" She shook her head from side to side and found herself wanting to deny the possibility. "Maybe I defeated too many of the monsters and made my boots weaker against their leader!"

Her mother's arms wrapped themselves around Miera once more, and Miera was picked up into the sky as her mother stood up. "Well, then!" Her mother declared as she tossed her ponytail over her opposite shoulder, "I guess we're just going to need to have extra cookies to replenish your boot's magical power!"

Miera gaped. "Really?!" The valiant princess shook with giggles and cheerful excitement, kicking her dangling feet as she was carried into the kitchen. Her mother set her down at the table and reached to grab a steaming plate piled with nothing less than what must have been thousands of cookies! As she grabbed the largest of the pile, Miera began to rock back and forth in her seat, unable to hold in her glee.

"Cookies?!" Came a deep voice from behind Miera, "Now why didn't I hear about these?!"

Miera turned to see her daddy sitting on the sink counter with a white apron on over his business suit. "But Daddy, you silly," Miera laughed, "you made them!"

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Calypso; part 1

a short story
Gary baker, June 2012
(part 1 of around 12 total)

“And a five-three-four, she was walking out the door!” With a quick strum of the banjo, the lead singer slapped his band into a riotous upheaval of parade day new-age bluegrass. “She said: ‘Don’t let me go’, she jus’ wanna let you know!”

Watching from off stage, Elliot Nab smiled as the band kicked it up a notch and began rapidly fingering the banjo cords into a near-hillbilly version of improvisational street music with a gypsy vagabond twist. The man with the mic looked across the bobbing audience thoroughfare and waved at Elliot with a hat that reminded him of either the Of Mice and Men movie, or Oh, Brother Where Art Thou, and even a combination of both. The man singing, Elliot knew, was known around the area as Buzz “Barley” Benjamin, a fellow resident of Pelatama and a street music extraordinaire. He wore tight brown suspenders over a sweat-soaked white V-neck tee, and belted blue jeans with the rear right pocket worn enough to reveal where he always kept his wallet. Barley’s feet were bare, revealing black hair across his muddied feet, and the banjo in his hands looked just as dirty from the curbside view where Elliot was standing.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Train

"The Train"
a short story
Gary Baker, October 2012

Rae inhaled deeply, taking in the musky scent of coal smoke and steam, of weary metal and warm rails. His heart raced with the pace of the surrounding crowd's murmuring. Each time the train left the screams got louder, he could hear them echoing in from outside the sky-lit hall of departures. Each time, the train entered the dark tunnel ahead of it and the impending deaths of the many on board began, never leaving, never ceasing.

He stepped forward as more mindless bodies stepped on to the next opened platform, orphaned of any previous passengers, then stopped when a silver bar fell in front of him, greased with the hesitancy of the masses before him that had reached into such looming deaths of the man-made death trap, of the human slaughter machine. But the machine cleaned up good--almost no one noticed the darkness on the seats where surely someone must have sat less than mere moments ago, most assuredly having died in that exact spot with machinations to clean up the blood and lessen the panic for the next to die.

And he was next. Sure, there was a current train being loaded, but as soon as this one left the next, which was surely being cleaned as he stood there, would glide up with heavy screeches of metal on metal, with a clenching smell of brake fluid, and would beckon him on just as this one had the current dead-ees.

Then the whistle blew.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Song of the Julara

“Song of the Julara”
by Gary Baker, March 2012
(continual pieces to a larger project)

PART1: the surface
Hugh Donegan lifted his left hand, scrubbed it through his long, silky, blonde hair and pulled a few strands out from the tail hanging low on his neck. A warm breeze picked up, bringing the scents of mulch, rot, and the thick musty stagnancy of floor-level decay. Shaking his head lightly he pulled a small once-white cloth, soaked with sweat and dirt, and wiped it across the deep woody-bronze of his face mask and goggles.

He hated having to wear these contraptions, hated having to tromp through sticky mud and debris to get to the surface laboratory every day, and hated the fact that after seven long years they still had no clue as to how the humans might ever move back and repopulate the surface world.

It had been centuries upon centuries since the last human had ever stepped foot on these grounds, back then calling the terrain tropical--but the idea that humans had ever lived down here, Hugh assumed was no less than a fairy tale propagated by the various religions across the cloud cities. According to their myths: a great Cataclysm, aptly named just that by religious leaders, struck the planet like a vicious blow in the boxing ring, and sent humans high into the sky when a deadly toxin began to blanket the world. This toxin dramatically changed things in various ways, never quite killing right off the bat but

Sunday, October 28, 2012


Gary Baker, August 2011
(prologue for a yet-to-be-named longer project)

Thick wafts of brimstone choked out most life within the soupy expanse of fog and steam. Mirror-like silver plate armor cinched tightly around the legs of the light-footed Kaelar champion sliced through the thick steam clustering about tall mounds of sulfuric clay and soil, leaving tiny rivulets of clear air to quickly fuse back into the bleak grayness once more.

The champion paused, his dark gloved shield-hand resting lightly on the hilt of the sheathed weapon hanging upon his left hip. Without the steam his trek would have ended ages ago, but here he was sweating inside his portable steel oven lined with layers of tanned Farsmar hides with the long gray fur facing inward as padding, climbing ever higher in the rocky crags of Mount He’ulis. The dark leather glove of his dripping wet right hand came into view just beyond the edges of his helmets nose guard, holding a damp cerulean gemstone engraved with lightly etched runes. “Brot’an deev a Te desa minae,” came the rough grating of the champions voice, any echo that should have come was lost within the surrounding haze. In response, the crystal flashed white once then pulsed with a darker hue of near-pink.

At first all was silent, aside from the faded sounds of the champions heavy breathing but, as if waiting for such a cue, at his third exhale the fog drew back away from the crystal and then the man holding the stone, until it visibly withdrew in a bubble around him to give a wider range of visibility for his human eyes. “Finally,” he breathed silently.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Gary Baker, March 2012
(character working for a larger project)

Libra danced to the side, avoiding the rushing torrent of arrows in their hailstorm drop that decimated his unsuspecting squad. A large up-held mass of moss-choked branches and mulch crested from low-hanging branches just above his scaled snout, with the musty smell of decay making him want to cringe. The continued chicks, clicks, and clacks tattered the makeshift roof as the stone-nosed arrows hit home in the surrounding forest floor, seeming to go on longer than should have been right.

Libra stepped forward in the dark, moist grotto, with as little noise as he could manage in the mud and moss, slowly creeping toward an opening over-looking the battle ahead. He reached a silhouetted arm forward to draw back the thick-foliage of a hanging fern, letting the filtered white light reveal to him the deep navy scales of his thin-yet-muscular clawed right hand. Beyond the shadows, the battle came to an end amidst the towering jungle landscape with tribal beasts, their scales of pasty yellows and faint moss-greens, hefting spears and bows like torches to usher on their comrades.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Trifecta: The Rave Suit Rebellion

“Trifecta: The Rave Suit Rebellion”
Gary Baker, April 2012
(prologue to a longer project)

Rodney watched the sea of human bodies as they chanted and screamed the bands nickname: "Rave Suit." The knot in his stomach grew with a jolt of electricity.

Beautiful dark-haired, fair-skinned Rose calmly stepped up to the mic, waving her arms to heighten the madness. Standing before the mic, clad in tight black-nylon leggings, black stiletto heel boots, and a pitch-black sports bra that barely hid her chest, she smirked at the many hover-cams floating over the audience like bubbles.

Suddenly her legs slammed her dangerous leather boots to the stage with a loud crack, silencing the ungodly-loud, shadowed crowd. Arms outstretched dramatically, she eyed the cameras seductively. "My people!" She shouted in her girlishly deep voice, answered by more audience madness. "We all flock here tonight for something." A pause for effect.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Gibbons Angel

Just a quick note:
Before giving you guys my second short story for this blog, I must hereby declare my intentions for posting. This week I will have two stories posted, including Bagels with Arabica, as well as this piece, yet starting next week I will post one per week on Sundays. I haven't really gathered these in any particular order, so some may be posted later when they were actually written much, much earlier.

So without further ado, I give you a free-write I had done early this year. 

"The Gibbons Angel"
a short story
Gary Baker, February 2012

Angel inhaled deep gulps of air tasting just slightly like dust and mildew. In through the nose and out through the mouth. In, out. In, out. Angel continued this at beats of three in one direction, three in the other, all eventually circulating to the first set again until the stress began to subside.

Long, curled swaths of black strand-like fake eyelashes tipped against Angel's eyebrows, slapping the golden glitter with all the grace of wings on a butterfly. Crystalline flakes of yellow and white seemed to appear like magic before the silvery mirror strewn with tape and photos from past shows, and he found himself entranced in the shimmering light. Following the drifting glitter, Angel found his gaze resting upon the kaleidoscopic colors of dried paint, nail-polish, and make-up that lay scattered over the entire once-white counter.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Bagels with Arabica

“Bagels with Arabica”
a short story
Gary Baker, April 2012

A sudden wave of warmth came over Leaf as he stepped into the threshold of Cafe Gruyer -- pronounced ‘grue - yay’ as the french owner would always claim -- and he smiled. The alkali-earth taste of fresh brewed espresso and Arabica filled his mouth as though he’d just taken a gulp of pure Costa Rican air. It was a portal to the tropical cafetería of his homeland, despite being smack dab in the middle of San Francisco, California.

Leaf stepped up to the counter of the small cafe, noting with glee just how the various polished brown marble tables with their dark lacquered oak chairs along his path made the inner-city palace of a shop feel more homely. The walls of tarnished bone-yellow suited the deep maroons of the espresso machines perfectly, and the occasional palm saplings added just enough greenery to give the place an even more authentic home-style cafe vibe.

The order counter was a great slab of gray marble, purposely placed to draw the customer in and make a purchase before being lulled into the live jazz music that musicians played on a small one-step stage in the back left corner. Stacks of white porcelain mugs leaned against the back wall of the work space, right beside more of a dark slate-gray tone. It reminded him of the pillars of smoke that would rise up from the pits of methane and sulfur on Volcan Poas and Volcan Arenal after week-long storm surges. Usually, he visualized, the methane would be ignited by such magnificent travesties as bolt-lightning along the mountains backside. Both the storm and its effects, he remembered, were worth greater viewing than even the latest Michael Bay film; though they were often just as explosive.

“Can I get you anything?” 

Leaf startled, having lost himself in memories long gone enough that he hadn't seen the barista come up. “Oh, um,” he muttered, stalling for time while he quickly scanned the menu of the wall above the mugs, “yeah, I’ll just have a cup of the house blend -- black, and twelve ounce, please.”

She smiled and let the soft ringlet curls of her golden blonde hair sway as she typed his order into the register. “That’ll be two seventy-five.” She chimed. He handed her three dollars in cash, and mumbled to keep the change. Then a sudden rhythmic hum, and she handed over his receipt. “Sit anywhere you like, sir, I’ll bring it out to you.”

He turned away from the counter to face the double-glass doors where, just outside, he could see a city bus stop with three people in their thick jackets and slacks stood cowering from the heavy misting rain. Beside them, almost in the curb, lay a homeless man with a thick white beard in a blue raincoat and a soaked pair of light tan khaki jeans. “Actually,” Leaf paused, smiling, then dug out a ten dollar bill from his back pants pocket and turned to place it on the counter, “how much food will this buy for the man out front?”

One makeup drawn eyebrow rose higher than the other, as she failed to hide a beaming grin. “Well you've got a choice: either three bagels with cream cheese, or three slices of coffee cake, or one bagel with cream cheese and a cake with a small coffee.” She paused. “Then again, I guess you could really just mix and match from all of the above.” She leaned on the counter, craning her neck to look at the sleeping man out front as he slept the day away despite how bad the rain was getting. “But for him? I’d suggest the bagels -- he’s always looking for our extras in the garbage bins after closing.” Taking the money, she scribbled a quick note on a pad to the left side of the register and winked at Leaf. “I’ll toss in a fresh cup of joe for him as well -- on the house.”

Leaf nodded. “One last thing: do you know when the Pagan gathering is being held? I heard somewhere that it was here, and wanted to check it out.”

As she began preparing the two drip coffees, she shot a quick motion of her head towards the wall on his far right. “The flyer’s over there, but they won’t be on time -- they never are.” With a glance from behind the main espresso machine, her blue eyes twinkled as she added. “Maybe you’ll even see me go on break before they get here.”

“I’d like that.” Leaf turned away, blushing, and made his way to a wall seat where he could watch her give the man outside his meal all while still being able to enjoy the music.

The seat itself was a comfy caramel orange with a pattern of white apple blossoms made to look like they were blowing in the wind, and the window behind it was double-paned with signs of precipitation condensing on the innermost plane. The table was just like the rest but shaped instead into a large rectangle to better fit the wall seating. All the others like it were set with the day’s newspaper, a small vase with a solitary rose, and a copy of the latest New Yorker.

Leaf pulled his arms free of his coat, with water resistant black fabric on the outside and speckled white faux pas wolf fur on the inside, to set it on the oak chair across from where he planned to sit. The New Yorker on the table showed its usual cover of the man in a top hat holding some object before himself, and a wall of red brick behind him including green bushes on either side, so he pushed it aside to make room for the coffee on its way.

The sudden drop of a beat in the music followed quickly by the bassist bringing up a thrum-bum-bum that led into a deep cello solo, gave an odd overtone to his wait. Then, just as suddenly, came the tone of an older man to Leaf's left, “so I overheard that you’re looking to find out more about the Pagan gathering?” Leaf turned to him and dipped his brow in acknowledgement to the man in a brown petticoat over a pale blue dress-shirt. “The way that I see it?" The man said, "don’t bother. Nothing but a bunch of phonies looking for hard-earned cash from out of your pocket.”

Leaf paused in thought. How could he handle this without looking like the sort of ‘phony’ that the man inadvertently claimed all pagans were? So he smiled with a slight breathy laugh. “How so?”

The man smirked, making his wrinkled forehead shift under his balding scalp. “Call it ‘religious intuition’, dear boy.” Suddenly the man’s hand shot toward Leaf from the man’s table, insisting that the younger shake it. “The name’s Jeff. I’m an evangelist pastor for the northern Californian area.”

“Um,” Leaf paused, trying not to sound dumb or pugnacious by telling his pagan nickname, Leaf, though it was much better than his real name, Sagittarius, based on the stars during his birth. To hell with it, he thought as he grabbed the man’s hand and shook it. “Leaf.”

Jeff stared, though whether astonished or annoyed Leaf couldn't tell. “A nickname, I presume?”

Properly Sagittarius, but yeah its a nickname. If you ask me, ‘Leaf’ is a much better nickname than ‘Sag’ or ‘Ter’, though.”

“Indeed.” Suddenly the man was silent, as if rethinking his yet unvoiced religious compounding of monotheism being better than the rest. It was only then that the man visibly noticed the thumbnail-sized Wiccan star pendant at Leaf’s collar. “Right,” he began, “well it’s been fun, but it seems that I have to get back to the church.” The pastor stood and grabbed his newspaper before quickly pacing to the door where he shifted his way out and used the periodical to keep himself dry.

The last few sips of the man’s drink sat abandoned on his table.

The girl from behind the counter appeared at his side with two coffees in white mugs, one more in a to-go cup, and a clear plastic bag of bagels in her hands. “Wow,” she exclaimed as she set the two in-house mugs onto the table, “I've never seen him leave so fast, before.” She smiled at him blissfully, and strode through the glass doors with the bagels and coffee to go, pausing under the slight overhang of Cafe Gruyer. Leaf leaned back to watch through the window as the woman tried to keep from getting soaked in what had become a serious downpour, in just her basic faded black sneakers, black slacks and a white button-up beneath her mocha-brown apron.

She leapfrogged her way from cafe door to the umbrella of a pedestrian to the bus stop overhang, then stepped close to the sleeping man before kneeling at his side. Her small hand reached for his side, holding both the cup and bag in the other, and nudged his shoulder gingerly until his eyes fluttered open. Her lips moved hastily as she talked to him, before she handed over the steaming mug of house blend with the bagels. Suddenly, he smiled and tried to tilt his beanie to her like an old-fashioned cowboy would to a lady of wealthy birth, then rolled to his side and shimmied his way under the overhang where he began nibbling on one of several asiago cheese bagels. When he saw that they were fresh, and even warm, he beamed with delight, and began shivering with what had to be tears of joy.

Finally, the barista returned and made her way inside where customers struck her with a loud wave of applause, blessing her with tidings of good cheer and gracious thanks. Leaf almost felt sorry for her as she removed her apron and tilted her head so that her hair could hide just how flushed her cheeks had become.

“Thank you.” He mouthed as she pulled an empty seat out and sat down next to him.

“So,” changing the subject, she grinned through still-blushing cheeks, “Sagittarius, huh?”

“Most people just call me Leaf.”

She tossed her hair to one side and leaned on her upturned left palm, watching him with slightly accentuated eyes from faint violet mascara. “Well either way, that was the nicest thing I have ever seen anyone do.”

As if she had set him up in benevolent revenge, it was then his turn to blush; he hid himself with a sip from the white mug. Her soft tone seemed to sing--seemed to perfect the world--and it seemed to emanate the essence of the generosity that Leaf had just shown. “Hey,” he argued pointedly, “you’re the one who changed that order into a bag of bagels and a coffee -- so the way that I see it, we can call it a dual effort.”

She gleamed affectionately, and her lotus-pink nails suddenly appeared in the air in front of him as she held her hand out for his own. He grasped her soft hand in his own, amazed at how tender her fingers were despite working around hot metals and rough chemical cleaners all the time. She flushed, and found herself tripping over her own words. “I’m Aria--but my friends call me ‘Arabica’ because, well, I’m always making coffee and that kind just so happens to be my favorite, but I really don’t mind it unless they use that whole ‘abc's of Aria’ thing agai--” With a start, Aria realized that she had almost turned to rambling, and trailed off with Leaf chuckling behind another sip.

The girl sighed, and lifted her own mug to drink. “Sorry,” she winced, “I guess I almost lost myself there, didn't I?”

Leaf grinned, “it was... engaging, to say the least.”

“You are too kind, dear sir.” She mocked playfully.

He smirked, and shook his head softly. “Yes, well ‘everyone is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody’.”

Aria gaped, then recovered herself by quickly responding, “Yet after what you just did for that man out there -- or how you just referenced Mark Twain -- I highly doubt that your ‘dark side’ is anything less than an even greater kindness.”

It was fate, Leaf just knew it. The mere fact that she had picked up on such a small notion within his own modesty meant that she must hold such as well. Perhaps, he mused, being obsessed with literature might finally be paying off. “Alright,” he laughed, quickly glancing to the rose in its crystal vase and back to her, “then how about this one? ‘What's in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other word would smell just as sweet.’”

She paused, thinking as she took another sip of coffee. “I want to say that’s from Ibsen,” seeing his face as his lips perked into a devious grin, she retorted “but that would be way off.” Finally, Aria set the mug down and scowled into the darkly reflecting pool, “I know I’ve heard that one before, I just know it!” Suddenly, her blue eyes lit up with excitement and met his own with startling clarity while her smile deepened into a broad grin that pressed slight dimples into her cheeks. “That’s a line from Romeo and Juliet, spoken by...” Again, she paused and sighed, as if thinking deeply about how to beat the predicament he’d given. “Well I’m just going out a limb here, but was that Romeo referencing Juliet?”

“Other way around, actually.” Leaf said, and placed his half-full coffee down. “And since you brought it up, how about this one? ‘A thousand words will not leave so deep an impression as one deed.’”

“Indeed,” Aria exclaimed. She had grasped it instantly, as if she herself had been thinking about it earlier. “Obviously that’s Ibsen, most likely from a letter for someone, right?” It was then that her excitement seemed to fall, shifting back within herself. Her voice was tight, almost a whisper, “is that why you did what you did for the man out front?”

All he could do in that sudden moment of changed resonance was shrug, “Yes and no.”

Her eyes searched for a reason, for answers, for anything that might give a better answer than that which he had just given. He could only watch as she scanned his face, those sharp blue eyes with hints of green darting to and fro across his every feature. He became suddenly aware of the near skin-tight grey t-shirt he wore which contrasted uniquely with his dark navy jeans, and the resplendent silver pentacle at his neck. 

Continuing his response, merely to stay sane beneath such a beatific gaze, he leaned back with his head almost touching the glass of the window. Outside, he could see the man scowling as if still pondering his new-found fortune, while finishing the second half of a bagel. But he was out of the rain, and that was the point. “I guess I just felt sorry for him, really, and when I find myself feeling glad for not being in another person’s shoes the only logical option seems to be to help them somehow.”

“I’ll bet that makes life even more depressing, having a moral obligation to help out nearly everyone you see.”

Leaf laughed, a light, breathy retort of amusement, “I’m not that well off.” He lifted his head back to face her, sitting in her white dress shirt with her hands clasped under her chin with her elbows propped up on the brown marble table. Her latte-blonde ringlet curls hung around her slender freckled face highlighted by her bright cyan mascara, and the faint tint of pink on her lips. “No, actually it keeps me openly excited about life. The more I look around, the more I feel connected, and the greater connection almost opens a window into the greatest high a person can get.” She raised a single painted eyebrow again, probably in disbelief, making him come close to bursting with insane giggling. “When you can get high by making someone’s life better by any degree, you begin to wonder just how the world ever came to prosthetic drugs in the first place.”

Her smile returned, that cosmic sign that everything would be okay, and she dropped her arms to the table to lean toward him. He found himself staring eye to eye with her, with only a white mug of still-steaming coffee between her elbows to scapegoat for him were he to make a quick glance down her shirt. Yet by the way things had been going, he was not about to ruin everything by trying to see if he could do as much without being caught. She shifted a little bit, from one elbow to the other and back, and he watched from the corners of his eyes as she drew closer to him. 

She wasn't testing his resolve, he realized, she was trying to get him to look.

No, he thought, adamantly sure that no girl in their right mind would try to sabotage things like that, I won’t do it! I will show her the honesty that she deserves. I’m here to see the pagan group, not act like a creep. But it burned, not allowing himself to peek. He could feel his sanity wane while she watched his eyes as one would a king cobra when trying to catch it with their bare hands. The unnerving draw that all men feel faced with this situation tugged at his very existence, yet he dared not listen.

One false step and things would turn far worse than they could by not seeing a hint of cleavage while in a cafe. Yet, he admitted, if I fight too hard it might look like something else entirely.

Finally the insanity won out and his eyes glanced at her lower neck--no lower, he told himself--revealing slight details to his mind that registered only when his eyes had locked on hers again less than a fragmented second later, like the solitary burgundy freckle just below her left clavicle.

As quickly as it had begun, Aria leaned back in her chair while she inspected him like a painting up for sale. He knew that he had failed the test she had set up for him, that flirting from here on was as pointless as talking to a child about quantum physics--some might get through, yes, but only a miracle would let them absorb any decent amount. Well at least she knows I’m straight, he mused.

Smiling, Aria stood from her seat and quickly scribbled something on the napkin under her mug before looking to the clock and back to him. She winced, “break time’s over, it seems.” She started walking back toward the counter while tying her apron back on, when she suddenly turned his way again, beaming. “Thanks for the coffee.”

With that she returned back behind the counter and jumped in to help her short, Hispanic coworker take care of a growing line of customers. 

Sure that he had just offended her, Leaf leaned forward to check the scribbles to see what she felt he’d needed to know before leaving him alone. He expected to find something along the lines of ‘real smooth’ or ‘guess what you’ll never see again’ written, but what he found instead almost stopped his heart. Written clearly in elaborate flowing cursive, three numbers held in parenthesis followed by seven others which all led to a glyph-like letter ‘A’ with the words ‘call me’ squished on the side.

He had done it. Somewhere between wanting coffee and being adventurous enough to try a new cafe, he had gained himself the greatest high a man could get. Love -- well, Leaf thought, a date, at least.

Then something tugged at Leaf, something deep within the confines of his recently-blown mind, and he turned to look toward the stage that he’d felt a compelling need to see. It was then that he saw just how busy Cafe Gruyer had gotten, with a growing line behind the order counter and even more simply waiting around in cliques. A woman with blonde dreadlocks stood near the door in a gray business suit and tie, a younger man in a wet baggy blue t-shirt sat by the musicians drawing on a pad, two middle-aged women in fluorescent raincoats flirted by the far window over a plate of steaming scones, and an older man with tribal beads around his neck and in his silvery hair talked with three young adults like old friends. Finally, a man with multiple brow piercings over his left eye and a white collared shirt under a purple sweater vest and a red workout jacket turned to the crowd behind him and began motioning for two others to begin combining tables near the man in blue.

The man turned to pay the tab when a quick head motion from Aria made him turn to Leaf and smile. He shoved a five into the urn-like tip jar, while the woman from the door ordered her own drink, and made his way through the crowd to Leaf’s table. His mocha brown ‘Leonardo DiCaprio’ style bangs and half-trimmed sideburns almost hid the bar-studs through his upper ear cartilage on both sides, revealed only when he quickly tucked the longer strands behind his ears. “So you’re Mr. Sagittarius?”

Leaf smiled and leaned forward to fold the note from Aria and tuck it away into his wallet, “I see you've been talking to Aria.” The man nodded. Going with the theme of the day, Leaf stuck out his hand for the man. “Call me ‘Leaf’.”

He grabbed Leaf’s hand firmly. “Daniel.” His eyes suddenly dropped to the pendant on Leaf’s neck and smirked. “I’m guessing you don’t work with the local evangelists in trying to ban us from meeting in public dining establishments.”

Thinking back to Jeff, Leaf realized that the man had certainly seemed to be trying to plant anti-polytheism seeds which, politically, made sense when looking into banning a group from their locally known events. The basic idea would be to get the public to despise a certain group and call it unwanted, and the law would be forced to abide if enough supported it. “No, actually I work with the National Park Service over at Muir Woods and Agate Beach.” He stood and hung his jacket over his elbow while they walked toward the combined tables where many from the crowd had begun seating themselves. “You?”

“Full-time bartender at Cuckoo’s down the street.”

Leaf laughed, throwing out a “wouldn't that be a nice job to have” and sat back down on another bench arrangement that, coincidentally, gave him cause to glance back over to Aria with whom he shared a long stare ending in a fit of uncontrollable glee. He turned back to listen in on conversations within the group about life, love, and everyday moments of hilarity, and let himself be drawn into yet another reason to call the night well-spent.