The line inside this Starbucks is not moving as quickly as I would like it to, and it’s not even rush hour. Maybe it is because we are not so far away from one university campus and college students are always desperately in need of caffeine – this, I remember. I did not recall the pungent smell of DC, or the way people so casually strut around the streets with their noses on their screens, however. My hands go fidget where my knives are usually hidden beneath my sleeves, but I am in DC and left all my weapons back at Jake and Noah’s apartment. I never have any use for my throwing knives when we are visiting, but I miss them all the same – they make me feel safe.
But there are no assassination attempts waiting for us here, away from Emberfall, and I am only in need to acclimate to walk on my side of the veil once more. Grey has one arm around my shoulders and is looking at everyone that surrounds us with a side glance, like he’s evaluating which one of these people would pose trouble for the royal couple of Emberfall. I yank the collar of his t-shirt and make his eyes meet mine.
“Relax, Commander,” I say, smiling easily. We take another step towards the cashier. “We are here to have fun.”
He huffs and presses me closer to his chest, kissing my hair.
“One can never be too careful, Majesty.”
I roll my eyes at him and fight the urge to elbow him. This hug is far too comfortable.
“Have you figured out your order yet, Rhen?” I call out from our place on the line. Rhen is facing the menu behind the counter rather intently, and I can almost see the small gears rotating in his brain while he weighs his option, as if we were approaching enemy territory. “We’re almost up.”
He grabs one of the paper menus and walks towards us, flipping through the pages manically.
“Harp,” he breathes, almost exasperated but in what I recognize is disguised wonder, “there are so many possibilities.”
“It’s just coffee, love,” I reply noncommittally, watching his face rather than the menu. His brown eyes are sparkling and he’s grinning like a child on Christmas morning. “I always get the same thing, anyway.”
“The same thing?” He looks shocked, staring at me as if I just accused him of robbing the Royal Coffers. “How is that even…?”
“The strawberry Frappuccino,” I answer easily, shrugging. “Have you decided, Grey?”
“A large black coffee,” the Commander states clearly, his arm never leaving my shoulders but his free hand finding Rhen’s. It always makes my heart sing to see them being so openly affectionate towards one another on this side of the veil.
“That was easy,” I tease, taking Rhen’s menu from him and going quickly through the pages. “You prefer tea, so maybe the chai latte? It’s black tea, milk and spices.”
He wiggles his eyebrows in interest and grabs the menu again, looking for a photo of the drink. I roll my eyes at him but cannot hide the smile that follows. If he gets this excited at a coffee shop, God have mercy on our souls when we reach the Barnes & Nobles I am planning on taking them later today – Rhen loves his books about military strategy more dearly than life.
“Final decision?,” I ask as we reach the rainbow-haired cashier. I order the venti strawberry Frappuccino and Grey’s boring drink, looking expectantly at Rhen. He nods and puts the menu on the designated pile on top of the counter. “And a grande chai latte, please, extra strong – no water.” The cashier ring us up, asking for our names and writing them on their respective cups.
We pay and find a comfy-looking sofa by one of the windows. I sit between Grey and Rhen, putting my feet up to one of the cushioned puffs once I check it if that’s okay – it is, other patrons are doing the same on the back of the shop. My bad leg is already sore, and I let my bag fall beside me, working circles up and down my calf. The wind is blowing outside, taking with it some yellowed leaves, making two girls that are walking arm in arm speed up, laughing as they try to share a single jacket. I smile and startle when Rhen’s arm hugs me by the waist, his chin resting on the top of my head.
Our names get called up, and before either of us can do anything about it, Grey is up in one fluid motion, walking with purpose towards the barista. Rhen huffs in irritation but I press a conciliatory kiss to his jaw – he doesn’t know the surprise Grey and I have prepared and is just irked at the thought that Grey is acting like a servant.
When Grey shows up without our drinks but carrying three muffins with lighted candles in each of them, I hear an indistinguishable sound escaping Rhen’s throat. Grey’s cheeks are pink, and I start chanting “happy birthday” as soon as I see the candles spark. The rainbow-haired cashier joins me in our clumsy singing, with our drinks in her hands, and some of the other patrons clap as I do.
Rhen grins and ends up clapping with us. He picks up the rhythm of the music easily enough, and when I tell him to blow on the candles and make a wish he does so smoothly – nobody can tell that he has no idea about how birthday celebrations on this side of the veil work.
“Happy birthday, you dork,” I say, kissing his cheek. “No more curses,” I whisper, eliciting a laugh from him. The cashier wishes Rhen a happy birthday and leaves our drinks at the coffee tables in front of us. Grey’s blush only deepened as we sang, and now he sits on the other side of Rhen, offering us the muffins.
I grab the blueberry one and take a noisy sip of my Frappuccino.
“Happy birthday, Rhen,” Grey echoes. “May many more follow it.”
“It is the happiest I’ve had in a little while,” Rhen muses, kissing my temple and then Grey’s. “Thank you, darlings. Truly.”