The night had a crisp chill that froze you down to the bone. It was inevitable and inescapable. The road was slick and gleamed a deceptive white light off the rich and smoothly paved asphalt from the bright street lights. The city was slowly replacing the yellowish bulbs to a hyper white. It provided more light to the dark harbor and made it much more ominous at the same time. The contrast of the white light, the black asphalt, the lapping of the pacific against the pier with the clanging of sails in the distant marina gave the run-down area a perfect setting for a horror movie.
Only tonight, it was eerily quiet.
The night was clear except the veil of vapor that threatened to roll in from off the coast. The brooding fog bank crept in from the horizon as the warm Pacific water warred with the Canadian Arctic breeze. A faint breeze that pushed nothing but the scent of steel, iron, and smoke.
Not the iron that can be forged.
Not the steel in your kitchen sink.
The smoke was the most rancid and spine-chilling. It burnt your nose and clung to the back of your throat as desperately as the chill in the air. It invaded your senses with each inhale. The faintest idea you have of what it could be claws and gnaws at the base of your skull. If you have witnessed the aftermath of war, you are quite familiar with such smells.
At 3 a.m., it was quite a change up from the smell of damp, fresh asphalt and a mildly salty breeze that gently masked the putrid smell of canning and packaging factories and the rotting smell of the old fishing ports. Everyone, too far gone into slumber or preoccupied with bliss and ignorance continued without questioning the sudden scent that assaulted their senses. It rolled in and only took some bystanders moments to adjust before resuming merrily in their oblivion. It was probably welcomed over the smell of rotting fish.
"You're out awfully early, Astrid." Lux was struggling with his shoppe door early this morning trying to get past the monthly bills and inventory.
It was a diamond in the rough. He made hundreds of thousands being in the central area of blue collar. Any Joe needing a coffee, food, smokes, or just to harass and shoot shit with Lux made it a focal point for all the locals and workers.
Renovations with that money surely must nag him daily. That's where the "in the rough" part comes in. It was a shack among towering historical marine buildings erected sometime in the early 1800's. Ramshackle establishments drew in tourism from near and far to admire the small-town historical charm. Those areas were at least half heartedly maintained; this was the part of the city that everyone particularly preferred to turn a blind eye to.
Most of the buildings were very beautifully fashioned. Lux's old shack shoppe was an eyesore. Faded and chipped paint made it impossible to read the name anymore. The once pristine white had seen better days. The lackluster eggshell color that now clung to the building's face gave it a more unpleasant look than the chipping red letters. The roof seemed weighed down in the left corner. It slightly slumped down as if it were wearing a ball cap. Lux mentioned a few times there was a leak that caused the rotting wood to sag, but at that moment it wasn't leaking inside of the building and he wasn't worried about it.
Astrid's mouth curled in the left corner with a sinister grin. "I'd say late. I haven't slept, yet."
Lux made a tired grunt. "Well, get home safe," he said fumbling with the shoppe's stubborn lock and then checking his watch, "Watch out for black cats and ladders. It's witching hour."
Astrid turned on a heel to face him in the middle of her brisk walk. She continued to walk backwards with the same mischievous grin. "Demons can't possess me. I am the devil." She flashed a mouth full of glinting and dangerous looking teeth before turning forward and continuing her path. Her midnight black hair fanned out as elegantly as a ball gown as she did. She had to be the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen, but she was much too quirky and strange to approach. Especially, after some of the weird things Lux has seen.
Lux's head jerked back and his spine stiffened. He thought it ridiculous for a moment, but always got an assailing feeling there was some truth in her warnings about being the epitome of evil. It was as intoxicating and alluring to him as it was horrifying. She had ensnared him in her jaws no matter how dangerous the lurking shadow was that towered over her. Her golden skin, dark hair, long legs, and athletic frame would seem heavenly to any other.
To Lux, she radiated something lethal and primal beyond anything he has ever encountered.
"Her lipstick stains like acid rain
Dissolving away my sense of restraint
The streetlamps burned through the cloak of the fog
Concealing the violence, I've been stung by the wasp"
- Motionless In White, Wasp
Her daily visits to the shoppe brought a wake of precarious aura. A titan of primordial darkness larger than any mountain loomed in the doorway where she stood. Overpowering; snuffing out any chance of harnessing any lingering feeling of hope or self-control. She commanded the air around her and it cracked and hissed in defiance of her authority. She spoke with a growl deep in her chest. Lux imagined if she were ever angered to the point of yelling, it would be devastating. A deafening roar capable of leveling cities.
Only, she spoke softly. Enticing you to lean closer to hear the the faint purring accent that rolled off the back of her throat. A serenading voice that would put sirens to shame. It was an immobilizing, captivating sound that would let Lux blissfully fall into his doom.
She moved fluidly. As roguish and smooth as her voice. It was prestigious, calculated, and methodical as if every movement were premeditated. Ancient and regal as if she were balancing on pins and needles her whole life. It was utterly graceful and would be beautiful if not for the wall of imminent calamity that slammed into you like a steel vault door.
Respectively, her name was Katastrofeas Drakonfidi.
The first time she showed her ID to Lux to buy vape juice, he nearly had an aneurysm trying to read the name.
She politely smiled and pronounced it slowly, "Kat-as-troh-fay-ahs."
Lux scrunched his nose on one side. "Can I just call you Kat?"
Her smile faded and her eyes hooded with a distant hate. A strong one that he knew wasn't directed at him, but it was bold and apparent in the dark clouds resembling a thunderstorm in her liquid, prismatic eyes.
Lux's body hardened and he stepped back in a knee-jerk defensive response before he could process what he'd seen. A rumbling quaked his bones and thunder filled his ears, drowning out the sound of his rapid heartbeat.
She shook her head to dispel the momentary trance she was in. Acutely aware of the other customers in the store, she made a firm point to reply, "You may call me Astrid. You and no other."
Lux's lips curled into a nervous grin. "Do others call you different names?"
"I do go by many names. None of which strangers are worthy of pronouncing." She clarified. The first time he heard the growl deep in her chest roll off her tongue.
One of the other men in the stores scoffed at her seemingly arrogant remark. Only she meant it and it came with a dark promise if the warning was not heeded. No matter how they mocked her, those men never even whispered her name in the store after she left.
"You've only met me once." Lux's voice cracked and shook with uncertainty.
Astrid could read his hesitance all over his face. "I'm your new regular." A wicked smile stretched across her face. A beautiful smile with more malice behind it than friendliness.
He knew somewhere she didn't mean to make him feel so uncomfortable as hard as she tried to be playful with him. It didn't matter in the least how cheery she forced her voice to be. Everyone feared the beast they could sense inside of her.
Lux was lost to his own devices and emotions. No one would utter her name or speak about her in the most vague way possible. Not even of her whereabouts. He felt like he had a secret high school crush that he was dying to tell someone about that no one liked. She struck something within him, and he was to deal with it alone.
After all, how do you express your interest to someone who seems like they would be quicker to assassinate you than shake your hand?
He had the most trouble with his first memory of her because of what happened as she turned on her heel to walk out the door. A thick, white smoke clouded the doorway as she walked out. He never saw or heard her take a drag from her vape as she fluidly moved to the exit. The smoke was thick enough to choke the oxygen out of your lungs. It smelt of molten steel and a hint of dragonfruit. It was dense and descended to the floor and rolled down the front isle before fading.
Lux had the occasional hipster that came in bragging about competing in the vape competitions. Smoke poured like a freight train as he spout large plumes into the shoppe. None like this. It would put any smoke machine to shame with the volume and resilience it had.
He watched after her walking down the middle of the dark harbor road with haste. She drew her hand up, the cloud of smoke completely engulfing her every few seconds before she would disappear into the shadow between the street lights.
The fog rolled in with as much fervor of a monsoon, obscuring Lux's view of Astrid before she could reemerge out of the darkness and into another veil of light cast by the street lamp. He willed himself to turn back to the door and continue trying to force the stubborn mechanism to pop open. He jiggled the bolt and turned back towards where Astrid vanished and squinted as if it were any help.
Luckily, he had been searching in that direction. A powerful light broke through the fog. It looked like it shot from the earth to the sky. Like a shooting star, it beamed only momentarily. He turned back to the shoppe door, checked his watch again, and jarred it upon with urgency. The bolt slid back with a slam and he nearly kicked the door open trying to get inside.
Lux ran to his office and found the door still ajar from balancing his accounts and inventory the night before.
"Damn." He cursed. The acoustics in the narrow hallway bounced the harsh word around like a ping pong ball for a moment. He felt like a zombie with all the sleepless nights piling on him. It could be overlooked today as it allowed him instant access to his desk.
Day or night, these sparks of light shot like a blazing arrow into the sea. It plagued his mind during the day and haunted his dreams at night. So far, there was no rhyme or reason. No pattern. Not even a newspaper clipping to confirm that what he was even seeing on a daily basis was even real. It's existence was only present in a journal he kept locked in his desk drawer.
Each entry was carefully written and described the time, date, and what he was doing. Occasionally, he would mark what it looked like if it happened to change shape, color, or direction.
Lux nearly skid off his chair and into the wall as he cursed again and jammed the key into his drawer lock. The drawer popped open with a click and he opened it, frantically clawing through paperwork and cluttered junk that accumulated over the years. Slamming his journal open to the next blank page, he began to jot the details down:
Monday, March 13
Star like light shot from north to the west out to sea.
Unlocking shoppe door at the time of occurrence.
Only visible for fraction of a second.
Weather was foggy at the time of sighting.
Determined location is approximately just over Harbor Industries Inc. and inclined in altitude as it soared west.
Lux dropped the pen on the open page and leaned back in his chair. He sighed heavily and ran his hand through his thick, short sun-kissed honey colored hair. He rubbed and scratched at the scruff growing on his jaw and chin before sitting up and resting his head on his knuckles.
"I will find out what you are, little shooting star." He growled.
Frustrated and discontent at the enigma that deprived him of any solace, he slammed the journal shut and went to stock up for the morning rush.
The morning was crisp and clear just as it was often. It looked as if the fog never came. The ocean was a deep blue and glinted the morning rays of light. Lux was replenishing the rest of the creamer when the first customer came in.
James was a rugged and seasoned fisherman. His boots dragged the ground as they did every morning. His cheery disposition in the mornings frustrated even the most patient morning people. Lux was anything but a morning person.
"Mornin' James." Lux grunted.
"Mornin' Lux. Have trouble sleeping again?" James' gray beard fluffed up in response to his wide smile. His wise, clouded blue eyes locked on Lux's behind his thin wire framed glasses.
"Nah, I had to finish up my reports and get them sent out. Was here late and came in long before dawn." Lux responded.
"Oh," James chuckled with surprise. "Seen anything odd this morning?"
"Same old star, James. Same old star and fog thicker than smoke. Couldn't see shit past the road." Lux huffed in disapproval.
"Still chasing that star, huh?"
"I'm damned determined to find a pattern and prove to someone it's real." Lux snarled.
James' face fell grim. "Well, uh," He shuffled nervously for a moment, "you wouldn't have happened to see anything else strange around here, have you?"
"It's a small town. Everyone here is strange." Lux snorted.
"You still carry your piece on you?" James asked. His look showed a pleading hope.
"I run a convenience store, James. I'm always armed. What's got you spooked?"
"There was some commotion down at the far end of the harbor where those abandoned warehouses are. The place had apparently burned down without a trace sometime in the night. There were five bodies inside." James hung his head. "They-they don't know who it is. They're trying everything from missing persons to dental records."
Lux sat back on his heels. He remembered Astrid coming from that direction and walking like she had a purpose, but Lux could neither betray her or start rumors about something he didn't know anything about.
"You sure that's all you saw? You're kinda pale." James pried.
"Yeah, I'm fine. I just can't believe something happened in such a peaceful area like this." Lux swallowed hard. He briskly tried to check James out before he raised anymore questions.
James had a disconcerting look on his face as he tilted his head from side to side.
He looked as if he were about to speak when Lux cut him off, "$3.53."
"Oh, well I do have to pay you." James dug four crinkled bills out of his pants pockets. "Thank you, and stay safe, Lux."
"Thank you, James." Lux nodded.
A few more customers made their way in and greeted Lux. Like clockwork, he knew which ones were coming in at which times. Accustomed to which was which, he called them by name without looking up. Worn out from the lack of sleep, he leaned on the counter and overlooked the store. He knew none of them were indecent enough to steal, but it was always muscle memory for him. Lux always knew it was better to be aware than be complacent. Who knew when a random high school kid might sneak past.
He glanced at the clock and sucked his breath in sharply. It was about time for Astrid to make her daily appearance. He held his breath in at the anticipation it would all soon be knocked from his lungs.
He hurried to check out Brandon, a well known welder in the town. He trembled and knocked over his Pepsi as a result.
"Nervous?" Brandon chuckled.
"She's coming." With Lux's airways constricted it made the tiniest squeak in his quick attempt to reply.
Brandon's face oscillated from horror to hate and quickly grabbed his bag and fled out the door.
Lux leaned back on the counter trying to focus his breathing before he passed out. He wanted to see her and dreaded it at the same time. She was so intimidating, it was infuriating to most. Large, strong men like James and Brandon did not like feeling tiny and inferior to such a dainty woman. Her over-powering prowess was enough to put any one of them on their knees at just the sight of her.
The door chimed.
A rolling boom that you could only hear when she was near, reverberated through the shoppe. Lux turned slowly to face her.
The corner of Astrid's mouth was curved upward in her usual sinister grin. A thin, wavering curl of smoke feathered the bridge of her nose on one side. She wore her hair high in a messy bun, fly away tendrils brushed her soft golden neck. Her long legs barely covered with an asymmetrical, slim black skirt. Her toned calves tensed in response to her shift in weight on her glossy stilettos. She wore a loose neck shirt that revealed a little more as her body moved like an underwater current. The hem teased at her hips with promise of revealing a very small but satisfying piece of flesh.
Lux groaned as he willed himself to pry his eyes off of her. He kicked his foot at the back of the counter. The raw power of her ominous presence still asphyxiated his lungs no matter how hard he tried to resist her allure. He whimpered at the pinching sensation down in his lungs.
"Behind on accounting again, Lux?" Her melodic voice broke his concentration.
"Yeah, same as always." He struggled to get the words out.
"You should really get some sleep. There's no sense in you killing yourself like this everyday." Her concern wrenched his heart.
How the hell did she do that to me? He thought.
"Yeah, I know. I wasn't prepared for the volume this shoppe would get." He peeked to watch her walk towards the back to browse the pastries. "Did, uh, you hear anything about the fire down the harbor?"
"Fire?" Lux swore her eyes flashed a deep crimson, pushing the amber, green, violet, and blue aside to tease his already tired mind.
"Apparently, one of the warehouses down at the end of the harbor went up in flames and trapped five people inside. No one even saw smoke last night." Lux forced a frown of concern.
Please let her have nothing to do with it.
"No," She said in the most mischievous way, peering up at Lux with an arched brow. "But I did see your star."
Lux's eyes widened. "You're pulling my leg!" He insisted.
"Absolutely not. It shot off behind me as I was walking home last night." She smiled genuinely.
"Astrid, please don't be playing with me. Everyone already thinks I'm hallucinating due to lack of sleep as it is." Lux pleaded.
"Lux, I know what it means to you. I would never con you in such a way." Her brows pulled together as deep ridges formed in between her brows and on the bridge of her nose.
If she snarls, I'm going to piss myself. And that is not to be taken lightly! He thought.
"I didn't mean to insult you, I'm sorry. I've just spent a long time trying to find a pattern or something so I could," He rolled his head a moment, "I don't know, predict it. Find it and find out what it is exactly. If I can. Journaled and tallied everything since I first started seeing it."
"Journaled it?" Her brows raised in amusement.
"Yeah, wanna see it?"
"Won't your customers need tending?" Astrid gave off little concern in her words as she'd figured out none of Lux's customers bothered to come in when they saw her Porsche out front.
"The next one doesn't come in for a little while. I think they'll be fine. I'll hear the bell if nothing else." Lux forced a smile.
She nodded and he walked to lead her in the back office where his door was slightly ajar.
"Damn door." He muttered.
He motioned for her to sit in his chair, the journal still wide open on his desk.
"Oh wow! You have been busy. You've recorded most every instance." She marveled at the details on each page.
"Yeah, I'm hoping someone catches a picture or it comes out in the news or something. So when the public acknowledges it, I can throw this in their faces. Show them I wasn't hallucinating at all."
"Hmm," Astrid pondered for a moment. "You've left out a critical detail."
"What? I couldn't have! I've been very diligent." Lux exasperated.
"Just a minor oversight." Astrid slammed the book shut and looked up at Lux. She could see the gears working in overdrive behind his eyes. A ghost of a smile played at the corners of her mouth. "You'll figure it out. I have faith in you."
"No, Astrid, if you know, you have to tell me. It will drive me crazy." Lux pleaded.
Astrid looked up at Lux. She took a step near him and the air snapped and fizzed in response.
Lux hung his head and stepped back unwillingly. The charge in the air and the potent aura pushed back like a barrier. Heat brushed his face and arms like an oven opening.
Astrid frowned at his response. "I've given you all the clues I can. Go home and get some sleep. You'll figure it out." She captured Lux's eyes with hers. "I promise."
Dancing with the Devil
Lux obeyed against his will to take Astrid's advice and catch a good night's' sleep. He tossed for a bit worrying about the last bit of inventory to take care of. A last shift as he worried about missing the star again before he slipped into unconsciousness.
He felt a deep rumble. Smoke clouded his vision. He could smell a putrid burning of hair and flesh. The dark abyss opened up to reveal a dim orange glow.
Lux felt himself trying to run to it, but was moving annoyingly slow toward the flickering light. Screams of terror began to emerge from the silence. Lux played tug o' war with his subconscious to allow him to run faster than it currently was.
He grabbed the corner of something rough. Brick and splintered wood beneath his hands. Lux tightened his lips and looked around to try and figure out where he was. He looked behind the mass to find a building ablaze.
It was the old lumber mill at the end of the harbor.
Bone-chilling screams erupted once more from the raging fire. The wood splintered as it began to disintegrate.
"Help me! Please! Have mercy! Someone help me!" The voices blended together as one blood curdling scream.
There was a certain unmistakable rumble in the air. Lux ignored it and began to advance towards the burning mill.
He was thrown backwards by a large scaly tail that slammed down in his path. A mixture of fur and feathers sprouted from the end of the dark, massive serpent tail.
Lux frantically looked for the other end which, with no doubt in his mind, held a mouth full of teeth.
As if it could hear him demanding it to show itself, the beast reared its head above the flames and looked right at Lux.
Fumbling and tripping backwards, Lux tried everything he could to gain control of his mind to flee from the beast.
Pitch black with eyes burning with as much rage as the fire, the beast had a canine-like face. A small horn on the tip of its nose and two jagged stag-like horns on its head sat between two wolffish ears. Two long whisker-like appendages whipped around. The beast inhaled the smoke from the fire with one throaty inhale.
Lux expected the smoke to come right at him in a giant plume and braced himself. Instead, the beast exhaled heat that scalded his face from its mouth that spout small flames and sparks.
The beast appeared to grin at him before closing the distance between them.
A large feathered and furred bird-like foot with talons that shined like steel slammed down and rumbled the ground just beside him.
The beast held itself over the engulfed building before steadying itself with the other front quarter.
It's nose was not very canine-like from the new perspective as it brought its massive head closer for Lux to observe. Two narrow slits on either side of the horn at the tip of its nose, steep angled to form disconnected V.
Frozen. Paralyzed by what he was seeing. It exhaled again, the slits opening wide to compensate for the deliberate thrust of air from its lungs.
Dragon Fruit and molten steel.
Lux's eyes narrowed.
The beast rushed him, butted its horned nose into him, and sent him flying backwards into the vast nothingness.
It's a bitch waking up from a nightmare. Especially one where you're falling. Your heart is in your throat, your stomach is in a knot, you're sweaty, and your heart is hammering in your head.
Lux gasped for air and grabbed at his chest and his face, still feeling the heat of the beast's scorching hot breath. Dragon Fruit and molten steel still lingered and stung his nose.
A loud thud and crumbling stone shook his walls before a bright light pierced through his blinds as if they hadn't been there.
An eerie white light he would know anywhere.
Lux jumped up and pulled the blinds and saw it heading west towards the sea.
He stared in awe.
He couldn't make out anything but the blinding light as it tore a rift in the clear blanket of night. Burning out as it accelerated into the sky.
Cursing, Lux turned to look at the time.
Lux thought of Astrid.
He thought for a moment that she might be messing with him and banished the thought quickly. There was no way she could have control over this. And one thing he was more sure of…
There is no such thing as dragons.
But what did he hear? What was the loud booming on the rooftop? Surely, something that large wouldn't go unnoticed for such a long time. It's exceptional speed may have caused it to get away quickly, but someone would have noticed.
Perhaps someone will mention it tomorrow and it will finally be on the news.
Lux paced his room for a while and let the blinds down. He settled back into bed where he succumbed back into a deep slumber and undisturbed for the remainder of the night.
"How'd you sleep?" Astrid stood in the doorway at her normal time.
The dark, rich emerald green dominated her eyes today. Her iridescent green stare complemented her golden skin. She appeared a darker tone. Even her hair shimmered a lustful blue-black setting her eyes ablaze.
Today, she dressed down. A pair of vulgar fitted jeans, chucks, and a red and blue flannel shirt. She actually looked very comfortable.
Her wavy hair fanned out over her shoulder and flyaway tendrils wrapped around her neck. She held her iPod with her headphones wrapped around her slender tapered fingers.
"Not bad. Except for thunder or something and then my star appeared." Lux stretched, still shaking the sleep off.
Astrid looked down at her feet as a smile pulled the corners of her lips. Her nose appeared to have turned a peach color.
Was she... Blushing?
"How long have you been here, again?" Lux cleared his throat trying to stretch his windpipe to breathe properly so his words wouldn't come out in a squeak.
Her eyes seemed to look right into Lux. "I don't know. Maybe three weeks or so?"
"Would you- I mean, do you have anyone to uh, um," Lux couldn't even believe he was asking such a question. He stammered through the words. "I wondered if anyone, here, interested you?"
"Well, I suppose I fancy you." Her lulling laugh echoed in Lux's head. "I passed through the first time just to grab some juice and well," she looked up and around the shoppe for a moment while a serene smile danced on her luscious lips, "I haven't stopped coming back."
Lux couldn't suppress the cheesy grin he felt pulling on his face from the back of his head. He rubbed his freshly shaven jaw and pushed the trimmed beard and mustache so they seemed to puff out. "That's a relief. I always thought you would kill me for having the audacity to ask such a thing."
Astrid laughed again. "Why?"
"You're incredibly intimidating. Not because you're beautiful, and don't take that as I'm saying you're not beautiful, but there's something..." Lux's mind trailed off as he searched the cigarette rack above him for the right words, "something incredibly mesmerizing and alluring and-"
"Well those all sound like reasons you should have asked me." Astrid moved closer to the counter and propped her elbows on the cheap, scuffed laminated wood.
"If I say this, promise you won't take it offensively?" Lux pleaded with his eyes but spoke firmly.
Astrid could see the sincere worry in his face. "Lux, I've said some ridiculous stuff since I've known you. I think the barriers between offensive and romantic have been all but bulldozed down."
"I'm not sure that makes me feel any better." Lux smiled.
Astrid laughed in response to his hesitancy.
"You have this pernicious, dangerous, impending doom that lurks over you. It's frightening, sometimes." Lux explained with caution. He looked into her eyes, watching them shift and war.
The green faded into a liquid amber. A cobalt blue settled on the rim while the green was sandwiched in between, fighting for its previous place.
Astrid tilted her head. "Do you think-" she flinched and banished whatever thought had started to come through and sighed.
"Do I think what?" Lux gently pried.
"Maybe this was all a mistake." It was no longer a question and Astrid turned to leave.
"Please," Lux reached across the counter and hooked the inside of her elbow with his long masculine fingers, "don't go. I'd offer a reason, but I'm afraid I don't have much to offer. But I've wanted an opportunity like this for so long. To just casually talk to you without all the awkward introductions. The building walls and bridges. It's been long enough, can we be past this?"
Astrid stared at where Lux held her. Her breath caught in her throat for a moment and she was as still as ice. Smoke tickled the bridge of her nose. She held her breath in hopes he wouldn't see the slip of her reality.
Lux slowly moved his hand away. He got the feeling he just broke a sacred law. One more primordial than life, itself. His heart stopped at the very moment he made contact with her skin. He could feel hers had, too. The look on her face was enough to send an avenging God after him for touching what was most forbidden.
Astrid broke her stillness and dug in her pockets frantically. She was looking for her vape. "I'm sorry, I need a drag." She said it with a plugged nose.
She pressed the button and took a deep drag as if pulling from an inhaler.
Lux arched a brow. The smoke seemed different. It didn't smell of dragon fruit, it smelt of cherries. The smell of molten steel was suppressed by the overpowering, sweet flavor.
Lux got the feeling she was masking something. "Did you change flavors?"
Astrid's face paled briefly. "What?"
"You usually get a bold flavor but your smoke smells like a metallic fruit most times. Did you switch favors?" Lux's eyes narrowed suspiciously.
"Yeah, I guess I did." Her voice sounded hoarse as if she'd used the thing for the first time. "I should go. It's probably about time for your next customer, isn't it?"
"I wish you would stay, but I understand why you won't. Lucas is only my brother." Lux reasoned.
"But he won't come in with me here, either. Will he?" Astrid's eyes dilated.
Lux hated that no one would give her a chance. New faces were always harder to welcome. Harder if everything about them screamed "trouble". "No, he won't. I'm sorry."
Astrid nodded her head.
She appeared so much more vulnerable now than she had in the beginning. Lux didn't know if it was because she felt more comfortable with him or if it was just that she wanted to try just as much as he did.
She looked down at the shelf beneath the counter and appeared to hesitate leaving.
"Will you have dinner with me?" Lux couldn't stop the words from flying out. He meant them only to break the silence but hadn't really expected a hopeful outcome.
Astrid's eyes beamed. Her face bloomed into a captivating and deadly smile. "You know I don't do so well in public around here."
"Then we will go somewhere else. Or I can make you dinner. Just avoid the wait time and the crowds all together." Lux offered.
Astrid nodded. Her eyes still smiling as she held his. "Yeah, I think I'd like that. The second one, anyway."
"My part-time starts this weekend. Say, Saturday at five o' clock?" Lux was amazed that had gone smoother than he thought.
"Perfect." Her pearl white teeth glinted in the fluorescence one last time before she headed out the door.