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as bittersweet as...

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It takes five years, give or take, a whole lot of doubt and countless cups of coffee.

Adjusting to living a “clean” life doesn’t exactly come easy. There are reminders everywhere, intrusive little thoughts that sneak into his head and try to convince him that he really is more suited to a life of being a less-than-honest individual. He sees an asshole in a restaurant and thinks about how easy it would be to alter his receipt, adding a few zeros to the tip line to make sure the waitress is well-paid for the harassment she’s very professionally tolerating. Every cell phone in a back pocket practically waves at him. Everyone who ticks him off in a supermarket is an impulse away from having a product with a security tag slipped into their jacket. Erasing those itching urges from his mind takes time, too.

Sometimes, Makoto gets overwhelmed by self-disgust, guilt eating away at him when he remembers where the money filling his bank account comes from. He’s donated a large chunk of it, to organizations helping victims of human trafficking and charities that help fund legal defenses for those who can’t afford good lawyers. He’s still left with more than he’ll ever need, but, hey, he doesn’t want to give himself any excuse to return to a life of petty crime and cons just so he can afford a good cup of dark roast on a lazy morning.

He gives himself a goal and a dream and works his way toward it. When he’d been younger, there had been a café not far from his local station that his mother really liked. His memory of it is blurry, but he remembers wood-cabin walls and soft lighting and the type of warmth that is welcome even on the hottest summer day. He wants something like that, wants to fill it with the strong fragrance of roasted coffee and sweet bread, and have shelves made of Burmese rosewood that he’s lined with cat-motif embellished mugs.

He starts by traveling, first around Japan, trying coffees from local roasteries and tucked-away shops. He keeps a notebook that fills up way too quickly, until he finally gives in to the convenience of the digital era, making himself folders on his phone filled with photos and tasting notes, laughing when shop owners teasingly refer to him as a sommelier. Once he finishes touring the five main islands of Japan, there comes the question of where to head to next.

France is tempting, even though he’s still very uneasy with his French. Maybe he can enlist Cynthia’s help while he floats around Paris and from there, the rest of the continent is within easy reach. There’s also the U.S., wide and open, and there he can rely on himself. If he hits the West Coast, he might be able to tempt Abbie into a lunch date or two. That is, if her cell reception stays out of the no-service zone for long enough to make the arrangements.

The problem with going stateside is that, last he’s heard, Laurent’s working in Washington, D.C. He’s weaseled himself into a job as a diplomat or an interpreter or whatever the hell it is he does now. Makoto doesn’t bother remembering the details. Politics seems like a good fit for him: honest work on the surface, manipulation and mind games underneath. Makoto tries not to keep in touch. It’s a one-way effort.

Someone’s snitched to him on Makoto’s activities—Kudo, the fucking traitor—and so Laurent sends him recommendations. Makoto knows the blond bastard is probably smug as all hell thinking that his suggestion of a coffee shop is something Makoto actually took to heart, despite the fact that Laurent’s comments have nothing to do with it.

Laurent sends him articles, news clips, social media posts, all about little out-of-the-way coffee shops, about fairs and festivals, about popular new products that have been gaining attention here and there. Makoto knows he can just block his number and put an end to it, but… he doesn’t.

As much as he hates to admit it, the things Laurent sends him always manage to pique his interest, and he can’t stop himself from reading and watching and listening and driving himself crazy knowing that if he’s stupid enough to give in, he’ll end up suckered into another elaborate game that Laurent’s set up. So while he would love to check out the little roastery in the forested foothills of Yosemite or the historic Caffè Gambrinus in Naples, he stays far, far away.

If recommendations were all that Laurent sent, then maybe Makoto wouldn’t have such a problem in pushing him out of his thoughts. Except, every now and then, little packages find their way to the places where Makoto is staying. Makoto doesn’t know how he does it—how he knows—but he hopes that whoever gave Laurent a government job lives to regret it.

The first time he receives one, it’s handed to him by the receptionist of the hotel he’s spending a week at. He takes a single look at Laurent’s name above the return address and turns to drop the whole box into the trash can beside the counter. The receptionist casts him a curious look, her face soured, so he throws her a pleasant smile and moves on.

He does the same thing with the next few that find their way to him, because he knows better. He’s not falling for it again—for the tricks, the charms, the lines, the looks, the lies. He will not let curiosity get the better of him. He’s not risking it. So straight into the trash each one goes.

All it takes is one mistake, after all, one tug on the line that Laurent’s fishing with.

He’s in Toronto when he slips, having spent a good portion of his day at a coffee shop that has open black umbrellas hanging from its ceiling and its own roastery in the next town over. After the months he’s spent in Japan, using English all day is exhausting. Even the few cups of coffee he’d had in the afternoon aren’t enough to keep his mind from going fuzzy as he drags himself back to his hotel.

There’s mail for him, he’s informed when he walks past the front desk, and Makoto groans. It’s late and he’s tired and he doesn’t see a place to dump it anywhere in the lobby of the little boutique hotel. Begrudgingly, he takes the package up to his room, throwing it on the desk and making a promise to himself to chuck it first thing in the morning, before passing out on top of the bed.

Except morning comes with a dry mouth and the itch of grease in his hair. Makoto fills and turns on the electric kettle in the room, leaving it to boil while he goes off to shower. And then, as he sits with a towel wrapped around his waist and drinks objectively bad hotel-room coffee, he stares at the box on the table that mocks him with Laurent’s name.

What could the bastard possibly be sending him? Despite the messages he sends every week, he’s never once asked Makoto if he’s gotten his little boxes. He’s never even mentioned them. What the hell is it? What’s inside? What is so damn important that he keeps—

With a growl of frustration, he rips Laurent’s name off the package and the tape off the folds, and as soon as the damn box is open, it hits him. The fragrance is exuberant, flooding the room with notes of apricots and peaches and orange blossoms.

Makoto stares at the embedded gold-foil label and the matte-black box that contains Ospina Dynasty whole roasted beans, of the Grand Cru Classé variety. He knows he should just dump it, throw it in the trash and never look back. It’s a pretentious gift, a try-hard gift, a gift that screams of Laurent’s ego and effort. It’s not like Makoto can’t afford to buy himself coffee that costs eight hundred fucking dollars, so what the hell is Laurent playing at?

Makoto stares and he fumes and he considers sending Laurent a fuck-you message in the form of a video of the beans getting flushed down the hotel toilet, and yet…

He has a small, hand-crank grinder in his backpack and shitty coffee that he really doesn’t want to take another sip of in his paper cup.

And, well, it’d be a shame to waste good beans… Right?

Drinking the Ospina coffee is like drinking fine wine. The complex flavors swirl on his tongue, dancing with hints of chocolate and macadamia that meld with the fruity fragrance in a way that would have been impossible to comprehend after only one sip. The roast on the beans is French classic, leaving the body of the coffee lush and velvet-like. When his insult of a coffee cup is drained, a slow half-hour later, the aftertaste that sits perched on his tongue is crisp, clean, and refreshing. It’s left him buzzing—not from a caffeine-high, but from the thrill of something unfamiliar and beautiful, as if he’s just taken in a new lover.

He makes himself a second cup as he gets dressed, savouring it even more slowly and sighing over the warm, sweet wisps that come rising from the fresh brew. Now this is coffee…

He knows why Laurent’s sent it. Because no matter how generous Makoto’s bank balance is now, he’ll go an eternity before buying something so needlessly lavish for himself. It’s a bribe. It’s a bribe, trying to get him to reopen communication and Makoto is not falling for it. He’ll drink the coffee, happily at that, but he will not permit himself to feel as if he owes Laurent for it. It’s coffee, not a long overdue and groveling apology.

Later, while Makoto carefully reseals the coffee bag, there’s a moment of horror as he realizes exactly how many of Laurent’s gifts he’s thrown away. They couldn’t possibly all have been the same?! Not even Laurent would be so ostentatious, unless he somehow knew that Makoto hadn’t accepted any of the packages.

No, he is not going to think about it. He will not let his thoughts dwell on Laurent anymore than they already do. He will not permit that man to pull him back. The next time he receives a package it’s going straight into the trash again, he decides, where Laurent and his gifts belong.

Makoto holds onto the Ospina coffee and the week that follows, each day started with a fresh cup of the bold and aromatic brew, is the best that he’s had in a while.

From Toronto, he moves on to Montreal, dipping his toes into another test of his French skills. Conversations are broken and he needs to rely on the translation app on his phone an embarrassing amount of the time, until some frustrated worker snaps at him to just speak English. He’s tempted to snap back in Japanese, but resigns himself and carries on. Arguing isn’t worth the effort.

The coffee at the shop he visits that day is rather lackluster, a bit too bitter and a bit too burnt. He could have gone to a chain shop if he wanted that kind of disappointment. His thoughts keep drifting to the last twenty-five grams of the Ospina beans in his bag and from there to the one responsible for them being in Makoto’s possession.

He knows it’s a coincidence but he still glares at the screen when it lights up with a new text from the 金髪クソ野郎 himself. It’s not about the coffee, but it is—as it always is with him now—about coffee. The message comes with an online article attached, detailing a small event in Quebec City, a few days from now. It’s a workshop of sorts, showcasing how green coffee is processed and roasted. Under that is a short list of recommended cafés within the capital city, a couple of which strike Makoto’s interest.

Except how can he trust Laurent’s recommendations for a coffee shop and be sure it isn’t some ploy to pull him into another con? He’s asked Laurent for space and time before and gotten it—that is, until it was no longer convenient. Makoto has tried the whole going clean thing more than once already and it’s never stuck, but that was because there was a certain French bastard prying his way in. So this time, he’s not giving him the chance.

He keeps traveling, keeps moving, and purposefully avoids any place that Laurent’s mentioned because he knows the spiral too well now. A cup of coffee will turn into a conversation with a seemingly sweet barista and that’ll turn into a deal with raw sugar importers who are also smugglers and then he’s tied up in some walk-in freezer, his balls and his butt turning to icicles while Laurent’s off counting his future cash.

No, he’s had enough, Makoto tells himself as the stockbroker sitting at the café table next to his whispers angrily into a Bluetooth earpiece about transactions that sound an awful lot like insider trading. No, he’s not getting involved. The clean life. The honest life. The simple, boring life. That’s what he’s after. He’s not following in his father’s footsteps—he shoves away the prickling inklings of a scheme that would involve high-rise buildings, tailored suits, and a supposedly advanced AI program that could beat the markets…

Makoto leaves his coffee cup half-full and flees.

The packages from Laurent continue to follow him. The next one he gets, he doesn’t throw away. He means to, makes to, but then curiosity strikes like the devil. Inside is another brand, though not one that Makoto’s heard of. A quick Google search tells him it’s from the same roastery that had held the workshop in Quebec City, the one he’d skipped.

He doesn’t wait till morning this time, opening up the bag and filling his lungs with the rich velvet of the fragrance. The scent of it remains strong as he pours hot water over freshly ground coffee, his notes already open on his phone as he logs his observations. The coffee is sourced from Costa Rica and spreads the taste of figs, sweet cherries and a spicy snap reminiscent of gingerbread across his palate. It’s intense and it’s fantastic.

Makoto marks the Alejo Castro with a star and locks his phone, returning his full attention to the beverage. The Ospina brand is not one Makoto would care to keep in his coffee shop—it’s too over-the-top and would attract the wrong crowd—but this… Well, he can never tell Laurent about this.

Late summer turns to fall and then, as the air cools into winter, Makoto sneaks his way across the United States. He decides to avoid the East Coast after all, not wanting to “chance” an encounter, and has a grand time in the southern states. The people are friendly, the food is rich, and while staying at a share house, Makoto gets to experience the grand tradition of Thanksgiving. He’s bewildered by the practice of putting cranberry jam on roast turkey, but hey, Japan has its own assortment of foods that others would consider unusual. The sea urchin gonads and cod milt tend to turn tourists off, which is a shame, in his opinion.

Laurent’s coffees show up every three to four weeks, sometimes earlier, sometimes a little later. It’s not clockwork and Makoto finds himself wondering if he’s ever missed one. Not that he intends to ask. He doesn’t want to send Laurent any encouragement.

He does, however, realize the theme behind Laurent’s selections. Most of them are from the shops, fairs and events that Laurent includes in his weekly texts, sent to him after Makoto fails to heed his suggestions. The few odd ones out must be from places Laurent’s gone himself, the packages bearing custom stamps from Germany, Brazil, and Taiwan.

Makoto doesn’t know if Laurent is lucky or if he’s just a fool, but he likes everything that Laurent sends him, enough that he almost regrets skipping on the recommendations before. A few more of the selections end up starred in his notes, though he’s asterisked them for his own sanity. If he ends up with wall racks filled more with Laurent’s choices than his own, he’ll never live it down.

Makoto arrives in Arizona a few days before the new year and meets Abbie at a coffeehouse on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. He’s not sure why he’s agreed to hike several miles along the canyon in order to get to the plateau point from where Abbie wants to watch the first sunrise of the year, but it’s too late to back down now. There are a few more cafés around the canyon, so he splits his time between bone-breakingly long treks around the national park with Abbie—including an ill-advised hike down to the Colorado River—and far more comfortable sessions lounging in armchairs and humming over steaming mugs of coffee.

He stays in a restored wooden cabin and while he’s offered Abbie the bed or the sofa, she tells him to fuck off and camps out in a tent further down the way. She does barge in to use the shower and, although he’s absolutely fine with that, her last visit coincides with one of the lounge staff coming by his door to make a delivery. It’s not the fact that she answers the door in nothing but a towel and a glare in order to snatch the package from the unsuspecting worker that bothers Makoto; it’s the fact that she immediately sees exactly who it’s from.

“You told him you were coming here?” she asks, clicking her tongue as she closes the cabin door in the face of the stunned lodge staffer.

“No,” Makoto mutters, making a lame attempt to take it from her and finding no success. “He just always knows…”

“Change phones,” Abbie advises, turning the box over and giving it a shake. “He’s probably got a tracker on you.”

Yeah, he’s already considered that. He doesn’t want to think too deeply about it, and if gifts of coffee are all that Laurent’s suspicious knowledge of Makoto’s whereabouts yields, then maybe he’s fine with it.

“So, what is it?”

“Coffee…”

The look she gives him is incredulous, her expression alone driving an ice pick deep into the pit of his stomach. Yeah, yeah, he knows. He gets it. Letting Laurent in with anything is a dumb decision and her judgment is more than an effective reminder.

“Want me to bin it?”

Makoto dashes forward and grabs the box from her hands before she gets the chance to dropkick it to the bottom of the canyon, because he is not making that trek again.

“Wow,” she exhales, scoffing at his reaction. “That desperate, huh.”

He’s not desperate. His logic is that the coffee shops around the canyon have all sold the same supermarket-quality Italian roast that screams to be drowned in sugar and cream and a good cup of coffee would go a long way before a three-hour hike in the dark. “It’s just coffee.”

Abbie’s laugh is a bark and she shrugs her shoulders as she stalks off to get dressed. Her mutter of “You’re both so stupid it hurts” does not go unnoticed.

Makoto fumes and considers going to throw the package off a cliff himself, but at the same time, he wants to present his case for the defense. He sets water to boil and opens the box. The bag inside is a pastel green and bears the name of a grower from Honduras below the brand’s monogrammed M.

He measures and grinds the coffee beans, tipping them into a filter while he waits for the water to reach the ideal temperature. When Abbie comes back, she sniffs the air and lets out a huff. Makoto flips her the bird before she can say anything.

The coffee brews slowly. The fine-grind setting Makoto used keeps the hot water trapped longer and makes the coffee stronger, forming a dark pool into the bottom of the pot. Steam clouds the glass as they wait, listening to the steady drip, drip, drip that is akin to the first few drops of rain before an impending squall.

The aroma is smoky and warm, but the taste is bright with lime and white grapes, dancing a sweet acidity down Makoto’s throat. Abbie sits with her feet up on a chair, her knees tucked to her chest as she cradles her coffee mug between her hands and takes her first sip.

Makoto watches her reaction, smiling as she takes another small sip, blows across the surface to cool it, then gulps down a mouthful. “Huh…” she says after draining half the cup, her dark eyes staring down at the coffee Makoto’s made. “That’s good.”

He should feel victorious and yet all that comes is crushing defeat. Because Abbie’s confirmation means he can’t blame it all on delusions. “Yeah. Yeah, they always are. And that’s the problem.”

“How many has he sent you?”

“I’ve lost count.”

She rolls her eyes and takes another drink, sucking the coffee in through her teeth. “Have you told him?”

“No.”

“Have you talked to him at all?”

“Not a word.”

Abbie stares at him, her features twisted into a combination of scepticism and admiration. Then she laughs, tipping back her head as her shoulders shake. “Yeah, then good. Fuck him, let him suffer.” She grins and finishes off the coffee, before handing the mug back to Makoto in a wordless request for a refill.

Makoto tops off her mug, vindicated.

They finish the coffee and set out on their hike a while later, after Makoto makes them one more cup each. By the end of it, Makoto is pushing himself to keep up with Abbie’s pace, but they make the plateau minutes before the very first rays of sun creep over the horizon and cut the darkness with color. As he stands precariously on the edge with the world open and wide at his feet, Makoto claps his hands together as if he were at a shrine and prays for a good year.

A month later, he’s in Seattle because where else should a coffee lover end their journey when it comes to America? He skips the original Starbucks location and its hundreds of clones, making his way around the independent cafés that litter the city.

Two days in, Makoto sits inside an oakwood chair and stares at the mural of mountains and rice paddies on the walls of a modern café. He taps his foot against the sleek floor, bouncing his leg in irritation as he tries to figure out where and when he’s tasted the coffee that’s in front of him now.

He knows this flavor profile. He’s had it before, but it’s supposed to be a signature roast, a custom variety sourced by the shop, meaning he couldn’t have drunk it before unless—

All of his notes are organized, meticulous with details, and the slight madness he feels some days when making them finally earns its first payout. He searches by variety, by country of origin, then by roast, narrowing down the options until he hits it. An Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. The fragrance of the coffee is earthy, bringing forth the vision of a rained-on apple orchard through the combination of fruity and wooden notes. The tip of his tongue buzzes with the sweetness of honeydew melon, and the subtly bitter bite of green tea lingers on the aftertaste.

The description in his head matches his notes, word for word. There’s already a star by the name of the coffee, as well as an asterisk… It was one of Laurent’s gifts.

Makoto scrolls through his messages, going back weeks upon weeks, past all the lists and the video links and the photos until he sees it, the name of the very same café he’s sitting in. Laurent had recommended it to him months ago, while he was still making his way through Canada.

There’s a spark of anger in Makoto’s chest, though he isn’t sure if it’s justified.

How?

How is he doing this?

How is that blond fucking bastard planting all these seeds in his head and getting away with it, again?!

Makoto should have never opened that first stupid package. He should have chucked it, chucked them all, ditched his phone, and then blocked Laurent’s number on the new one for good measure.

Why does he keep doing this to himself? Why does he continue to allow Laurent to steal his way into his mind and his space and his plans and his life?

And why can’t he bring himself to march the cup of coffee back up to the shop counter and pour the whole damn thing down the drain? He’s paid for it already, so it’s his right to do whatever the hell he wants with it now.

Makoto buckles into himself, planting his elbows on his thighs and his face in his hands.

His anger at Laurent doesn’t change the fact that it is a frustratingly good brew and that he desperately wants another taste.

There’s a woman at the table across from him and she shoots him concerned glances, but he doesn’t give a single damn right about now. He types several rounds of messages to Laurent, varying from Fuck you, you fucking prick, fuck off and leave me alone to おい、金髪バカ野郎!俺はさ、あの時の刀を見つけたら、またお前を斬りつけてやるぞ to a plea to just stop sending him shit to a jumble of broken French and an ill-advised thank you. He sends none of them, tossing his phone into the chair next to him and muffling frustration into his sleeves.

Finally, after several long minutes of self-loathing and Laurent-loathing, he picks himself back up and straightens his posture. No. No, he’s not breaking down now. He’s not letting Laurent get to him. Laurent made his recommendation for this café months ago and Makoto hadn’t even planned on coming here, merely stumbling across it on his way to a different location. Laurent’s got absolutely nothing to do with this and Makoto will not delude himself into thinking he does. Even that blond bastard isn’t this much of a genius at manipulation.

He huffs out a deep breath, calms himself, and continues drinking the coffee. He might be on edge, jumping like a spooked cat with its tail puffed when a chair scrapes behind him, but he finishes his cup. His heart patters in his chest and he forces himself to stay until it quiets, ordering another serving of a different blend to tide him over.

Despite his nerves, the atmosphere of the café is laid-back and pleasant. Smooth jazz plays on the overhead speakers and natural light floods in through the expansive windows. It’s nice and it’s normal. His heart rate settles and nothing crazy happens, nothing goes seriously wrong. There are no explosions, no stunt planes, no elaborate lies to remember. No one approaches him to make idle conversation. There are no suspiciously suggestive posters on the walls or abandoned newspapers with intriguing articles spread out on the table beside him.

It’s a simple coffee shop and a simple cup of coffee, and even after Makoto leaves, that does not change. Not hours later, not days later, not at all.

He’s let his paranoia about Laurent get to him and perhaps it’s time to let it go.

The next time Laurent sends him a recommendation, it’s for a single shop that’s newly opening all the way down in San Francisco. It’s in an old factory building that’s been refurbished, with exposed copper-colored piping along the ceiling and red brick walls that remind Makoto of the Yokohama warehouses. From the promotional photos that Makoto sees online, it looks thrilling. There’s an opening day event planned, with guided introductions to their in-house roastery for the public, and Makoto is tempted.

He debates for days, talking himself in to and out of it on repeat. It’s stupid to go and it’s stupid not to go. He doesn’t want to be roped into another plot, but it’s not like he can live his entire life worried about Laurent’s influence. If Laurent keeps up his weekly texts, sooner or later, Makoto’s going to run out of “safe” coffee shops to visit.

He takes the Amtrak from Seattle down to Emeryville, using the long train ride to mull over the decision, before making his way across the bay into San Francisco. The coffee shop’s opening is the day he arrives, but he doesn’t go. Instead he treks into the heart of the city, to the few blocks cut out for the Japanese neighborhood where he drinks barley tea at a sushi bar owned by a Korean couple. It’s laughable, really.

At night, he burns a hole into the heel of his left sock from how much he paces across his hotel room floor, talking himself in circles. Go, don’t go—what does it matter? He’s already here, when he’d meant to be on a flight down to Mexico. He doesn’t need to stop himself from doing the things he wants to do because of Laurent. In fact, he shouldn’t. He’ll go. He’ll straighten out his spine and march in there like he’s got nothing to fear, because he really doesn’t. Everything’s all in his head, all of it, and he needs to push past it. He’ll go.

Except he doesn’t.

He walks himself up and down the street, one block over, hands shoved into his pockets and chin tucked into his scarf. Apparently, his inner turmoil makes enough of a scene that a cop car pulls over, flashes its lights and speakers him over. Makoto makes the excuse that he’s waiting on a girlfriend who hasn’t shown up and the cop buys it, giving him a sympathetic glance and a warning before driving off.

In his head, he can hear Abbie’s voice calling him pathetic and, frankly, he agrees. After another hour of beating himself up, he texts her, gives her a CliffsNotes version, and asks her what he should do.

Her reply is simple: You’re a moron.

Again, he agrees.

Rather than going up to the coffee shop, he stomps his way down to the piers, eats crab and clam chowder, and sulks as he flicks through the shop’s Instagram account. There’s a custom hashtag and he browses that, too, seeing photos from people smarter than him, who went to the opening yesterday. It looks brilliant and, again, he’s missed it.

The following day, Makoto ducks into the red brick building without missing a step and confidently strides up to the counter to order himself a drink. Not the one that Laurent mentioned in his text—how would he even know what was good here—but something else altogether. He’s decided to try a new approach today, putting attitude and mind over matter. His hair is slicked back and he’s put on pressed trousers and a designer jacket, whims he’d purchased yesterday in a flailing attempt to do anything to keep himself from spiraling.

He’s not sure if he likes the look but, hey, anything that’ll get him over his conviction that he’s somehow being set up. It’s like playing a character, and he’s managed it before. Not well, perhaps, although he does think his skills improved after a few go-rounds.

When his order is called, Makoto picks up the ceramic cup from the serving area and gives his thanks to the barista, finding a seat on the long black cherry counter spanning the far wall. He pulls up a stool and warms his hands on the sides of his cup, taking in the caramel-like smell of the smooth medium-bodied roast. The first sip is… fine. Nothing special. Flat, one-tone, and a bit disappointing, really, compared to the coffees he’s become accustomed to. He takes another taste, letting the coffee mull on his tongue for a fraction longer. Hmmm…

Setting the coffee cup down on the counter, Makoto leans back and glances around the coffee shop. He does like the industrial-chic feel of the place, and the roastery in the back keeps the bricks warm while the streets outside nip with the chill of winter. It would have been perfect for the moment, if the coffee were better.

His gaze wanders, then halts, caught on an unbelievable line.

Makoto closes his eyes and sighs with deep resignation, because who, who else would be seated on the other end of the counter, all blond hair and blue eyes and pastel pink suit—who else but Laurent?