Disclaimer: I don't own Daughters Of The Moon.
Notes: The story occurs after Moon Demon and before Possession.
My fingers tremble while I swirl sugar into my steaming cup of coffee. Across from me, Zahi stifles laughter, and my stomach suddenly feels light.
"I'm sorry," I say, ignoring the heat painting my cheeks a vivid pink, "this is just awkward."
He nods once, his lips curling into a crooked smile. His eyes, a soft shade of brown, are gentle – gentler than I would expect. "I know what you mean. I just wanted to meet up."
My heartbeat is in my throat. "How long are you here for?"
"Two weeks. I travel often."
I sip my coffee – and ignore the strong, bitter taste – before asking, "How do you get the money?"
"I don't. Not really. I have no passport, no identity, no background." He rolls his shoulders into a shrug, dismissing the incredulous expression on my face. "I was born centuries ago, Serena." He speaks my name crisply, and warm vibrations spiral through my veins. "Freedom isn't free."
My ears are hot, and I attempt to quench the sickness twisting in my stomach. "Freedom isn't free?" I parrot, and then whisper, "I'm sorry."
Zahi laughs loudly before leaning closer, shrinking the space between us; I am glowing. "I may be in poverty, but my soul is not. I am forever indebted to you for that."
My face flushes. I feel his words echoing around me, caressing me. "Is that why you came back?"
"To thank you once more, yes," he responds, planting his hand on the table, palm facing upward and fingers uncurled. Instinctively I rest my hand atop his, although neither of us intertwine our fingers. "And to see you," he adds, although in a small voice.
I swallow hard before saying, "I'm glad you're here – I'm glad you're here and alright."
"I'm more than alright." I note his complexion – a soft, but rich dark brown – and the casualness of his posture, the way his shoulders hang down and his hair is a disheveled mop of black tresses. Stubble decorates his jawline and above his thick upper lip. He cocks his head, the corner of his lip twitching, and I realize I have been gazing at him while remaining silent.
I retract my hand from the table, shakily bringing the cup of coffee up to my lips. Temptation seeps into my skin while I ponder what his thoughts are.
"You're free to read my mind," he offers suddenly, his voice low, pleasant.
My eyes widen. "How did you – ?"
"I was a telepath for a long time, Serena," he chuckles. "I know you're curious but trying to be respectful. Although you can ask, too."
Ask? I want to melt, to disappear, and yet I resting my elbows on the table, my hands flat against the surface. "What are you thinking, Zahi?" His name is lovely, too lovely.
"You're beautiful," he answer, his smile wide and open, and I want to curl into myself, "and kind, and I'm happy to be here talking to you." He claps my right hand, and squeezes gently. My blood is afire, flames swallowing me whole. "Do you like your coffee?"
My eyebrows pucker. "I – What?"
"It's a random question, I know," he replies, his gaze unyielding, "but you make a funny face when you take a drink of your coffee." I blush, to which he adds, "It's cute."
Cute? Ugh. I don't want to be cute. "I, ah – I don't really like Starbucks."
"You should've said something." He frowns, although his tone is kind. "I figured most Americans enjoyed their coffee."
"Attempt at coffee," I correct, surprising myself with my humor, for I am dying on the inside. Don't be dramatic. "It's burnt."
Zahi laughs heartily. "It's their trademark, yes, but I suspect it was an accident they decided to keep rather than fix."
"There's a Cuban coffee house nearby," I remark, suddenly energized, "if you want to go sometime."
"Are you asking me on a coffee date?"
I open my mouth, yet am unable to form coherent words. He doesn't speak, or laugh, his hand unmoving and his nimble fingers tangled with mine. I am anchored here, phantom arms snaked around my body, rooting me to the spot and weighing down upon the earth. Everything inside of me is alight.
After several prolonged moments of silence, Zahi says, "I don't want to frighten you."
"You're not frightening me," I sigh, shaking my head; feeling exposed to his knowing look. I'm embarrassed, and stupid, and embarrassed. "This is all weird."
"You're right." He withdraws his hand. Disappointment floods me. "I'm sorry.
"No, it's alright," I intervene, albeit too insistently, "I'm just – I don't know. I'm not used to this." I almost curse aloud the moment those words slip through my lips. "This" implies heavy undertones. "This" is honest, sincere, expressive.
He tilts his head, a peculiar expression gracing his handsome face. "Did you recently end a relationship?"
Although the question wraps around me tightly, suffocating me, I compose myself and manage a small nod. "That doesn't matter. I'm just..." Awkward and ridiculous.
"Was it with him?"
"Mhmm." Of course he knows. "It doesn't matter," I repeat, a bit too coldly.
Zahi's brow furrows. "I'm surprised it ended."
"You are?" I don't want to speak about him, but curiosity binds me. "Why?"
He shrugs, and twiddles his fingers awkwardly. "He liked you – truly liked you." He slouches in his chair. "Anyway. We shouldn't talk about this." He gestures to me, and it's then I realize how red my face is. His lips curve into an apologetic smile, although it doesn't reach his eyes.
Awkward and ridiculous. Yup. "No, it's alright." Are we just going to keep apologizing and reassuring each other? "So where are you staying?"
"With friends. They're easy to make in Los Angeles."
"Are you comfortable?"
He skims the back of his neck with his left hand while staring intensely at me. "You're too nice. You're sad, but you want me to be happy."
Sad? I grimace. Is it obvious? I don't want to be sad – I want to be a person again, not a ghost performing my mortal duties in hopes of rediscovering life. Cello practice bores me, school is somber, and everybody is "concerned" for me.
The days have been still – too still. Vanessa is sympathetic, and Jimena misses me. I'm tired, so tired, and it has little to do with a lack of sleep. This, however, is right. I feel as if I've come home. The conversation is simple. His friendly affection is simple.
I am a melodramatic teenager, but right now – right now, in this moment – it feels as though I can reclaim myself amongst the ashes of my heartache.
Stay, let it stay. I need simplicity. It's the only virtue that can bring me back – bring me home.
"Do you want to watch a movie?" I abruptly ask, my mouth shaping into a wide grin. "I have a lot of DVDs at my house. And we have a huge TV."
Zahi bows his head, and says, "I would love to."
I want him to stay.