A man, a plan, a canal, Panama! (vafer) wrote in inveniant,
A man, a plan, a canal, Panama!
vafer
inveniant

Time ticked very slowly that day. Trigonometry class dragged even longer, the second-hand of the clock turning endlessly like a cruel sine wave. On this day, everything felt like a personal insult. Even when the last bell rang at three-twenty, her heart only thumped glumly.

Marin’s locker swung open and her things were quickly gathered. Chemistry books to be put away and math assignments to take home. Her locker was, unlike those of several of her associates, manageably tidy. It seemed to scream at her.

She slammed it shut and walked outside. Springtime just around the corner. March 20th was next week. The weather was still mildly chilly. Marin tugged on her salmon coat and navigated towards her car in the school parking lot . Inside, her blue ‘94 Toyota smelled of her new car freshener. Marin rolled down the windows. The scent was awful. Her brother’s gifts were occasionally misplaced.

The car clock flashed 4:37 in pale green. It was an hour fast, roughly. As Marin pulled out onto the street and headed toward the highway, she didn’t deliberate long as to where her destination was to be. Ali, short for Aloysius, whatever that meant, Marin knew, had told her once the place of his brother’s coffeehouse. 46th Street North, he had said.

Worriedly she mentally rehashed her obligations while stopping at a red light. Her mother, a high school teacher, would still be at school for a few more hours. Not long enough to miss her daughter, in any case, tracking down two classmates.

“It’s more than curiosity, damn it,” Marin sighed to herself. “It’s also the project.”

In the back of her mind, the large possibility of Luke and Ali bailing to let her take all the work pervaded, driving her towards some sort of answer for this mysterious disappearance.

She parked in the street, tossing a couple quarters in the meter. The coffee shop was difficult to find. Nestled in-between rows of condos and the odd business, the actual place was in an alleyway. Two floors up there was an entrance on one of the side buildings, a steel staircase leading up to a platform deck on this peculiar business. The building was painted in chipped white and a small sign hanging from the bottom railing of the deck signified its status.

“Coffees and Teas, owned by Fitzpatric.”

“Fitzpatric,” she repeated. That must be Ali’s brother.

“They have such odd names in their family,” Marin exclaimed as she ascended the metal staircase.

At the top, there were two windows with the curtains partially drawn and an open sign hanging on the right one. The door, made of the same white-chipped paint as the rest of the building, looked harmless enough.

Stepping inside, Marin saw several scattered tables and chairs, soft rugs, a sign asking customers to remove their shoes, and an indoor bonsai tree was towards her right. Straight ahead there were more windows, half drawn, and a boy drinking from a mug and looking stoic while reading a book.

To her left there was a wall with a large archway in the center, where a small counter was also stationed. There, a college-aged-woman was sitting, reading a book herself. Marin wasn’t entirely sure of how to proceed. She nervously took off her pumas and stepped onto the carpet.

It was very soft and squishy.

“I hope they vacuum,” her mind was reiterating as she approached the counter girl.

The girl looked up at her and smiled.

“Oh, hello,” she said. “The day’s sort of wet, isn’t it? Did you want anything?”

Marin was tempted to say “double short skinny hazelnut latte” and leave and be done with it, but instead she said, “Do you know where Ali is?”

The girl sat up a little sharper. Her eyes grew more concerned.

“Are you a friend?”

Marin searched for the appropriate words. “I’m... Marin.”

The reaction was immediate. “Fitz is sleeping in his room right now. But I’ll go get him. Do you mind keeping an eye out for customers?”

Marin nodded.

“Don’t worry about it. Oliver’s sitting right over there, he’ll know what to do. He just doesn’t always notice people come in.”

She wasn’t gone long. Fitzpatric and the unknown girl emerged from the archway, the former looking very sleepy.

“Um, Karen, could you make me something to drink?” Fitz asked.

“Tea?”

“Yes please, white.”

He turned to face Marin. He looked different than Ali. For one, much older. Also, very handsome, in a way which thin, waifish Ali hadn’t grown into.

“Tea?” he asked gently.

“Yes, thanks,” Marin answered nervously.

Fitz yawned and then tried to smile a little. “Get her the same as me.”

The girl, apparently named Karen, scurried away behind the arches.

Fitz then directed his concerned, doubly tired gaze at Marin. “You’re Marin. You were with Fitz and... Luke last night?”

Marin nodded. “We were working on a project for English and–”

He shook his head. “Would you mind stepping behind the counter to talk about it?”

Marin started chewing on her lip from habit and worry. It was never intelligent procedure to go into a secluded room with a strange man. But he was Ali’s brother, whom she had no fear of, and Karen was somewhere behind there, so she decided to consent.

Fitz led her down metal stairs and into a white room. Although it appeared to be some sort of office, it was obviously used for a more familiar capacity.

“Do you sometimes sleep here?” she asked, gesturing to a couch adorned with pillows and a robot blanket.

He regarded her curiously. “Of course. Who else feeds the fish?”

“You, in the afternoon.”

“Well, sometimes they like a midnight snack.”

Marin found herself laughing. Her apprehensive mood felt a little lifted.

“Do you know where Ali is, anyway?” she enquired.

Fitz sat down in his seat behind a desk and put his hands to his eyes.

“I haven’t slept all night, looking for him. I don’t know what to tell Dad. Our dad’s in England, doing some sort of research, and I was supposed to look after this kid. But Ali’s a bit unpredictable at times. What’s strange is that Lucius is gone too.”

He yawned, and Marin yawned with him, much against her will.

“Lucius? Don’t you mean Luke? Who’s Lucius?”

“Oh, right. Luke.”

Fitz really did seem tired, Marin surmised. His behavior appeared odd to her.

“How do you know about Luke anyway?”

“Hmm? Oh, a, er, he’s a close friend of mine’s relative. Nephew, actually.”

This was certainly news to Marin.

“I didn’t know he had relatives.”

“What? He’s got plenty, let me tell you. Not that I’ve met them myself.”

Fitz was yawning again. Marin found the situation to be somewhat comical. He was acting a little bit like his younger brother. The other girl, Karen, brought in the tea, smiling very pointedly at Fitz. He did not seem to notice much, only nodding and mumbling thanks. Marin filed this information away for a later date.

“I forgot to ask, do you take sugar?”

“No, no thanks.”

“Good. I can’t stand really sugary drinks.”

There was a silence. Both drank their tea quietly. It was excellent tasting, so Marin thought, and had some sort of restorative effect on Fitzpatric as well. He closed his eyes and then looked at Marin thoughtfully, much as he did in during their previous introduction.

“I’ve got quite a few questions to ask you, but Tiberius is coming too, and you won’t want to repeat yourself all over again. Tiberius is Luke’s uncle.”

“I can’t wait long. I’ve got to get home soon.”

“Don’t worry, Marin. Marin, correct?"
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