Andrea has an ageless sort of beauty. She’s not young anymore by current mortal standards, but the flow of years seems to have worn her smooth. Every morning before dawn, she stops on the way to the patisserie where she works and orders her usual – cafe au lait, two sugars – on the house. Her brown hair is straight and glossy, not its natural state. By the time she drops off treats for Rigel on her way home in the afternoon, her Creole is on full display, hair that would make a Gorgon weep for its beauty.
Louis has a sense of agelessness about him, too. He hasn’t changed since his heart gave out in a brothel a hundred or so years ago. His dark hair and fair face would cause whiplash all up and down Royal Street, if anyone could see him. Then again, so would his typical coat, tails, and top hat — out of place both in time and in this miserable heat. Every morning before dawn, he strolls in like he’s just left the opera, lays his gloves on the bar, and orders a coffee he can only taste in memory.
I remember the first morning they met.
Louis had just learned that Darkstar operates outside the normal metaphysical bounds of this world. He had been watching from the street corner for a week. Other spirits came in and drank their fill of things dead tongues can’t taste, content with the mummery of living, happy to be seen. He waited until Darkstar was nearly empty, near to the Dead Hours, before walking up to the bar and asking Rigel for black coffee. He was three sips into the first cup he’d had in a century when Andrea swept in and hopped onto the bar stool next to him.
She smiled at him and said she wasn’t aware that street performers stayed out this late.
He smiled at her and said nothing. The curve of her lips had tied up his tongue.
That’s how it’s been for weeks. Every morning, Louis is sitting at the bar when she comes in. She never questions why he wears the same thing day in and day out. Even though New Orleans is eccentric, believing he’s a character actor on Bourbon Street is going to be easier for her to handle than the truth.
Their morning meetings begin to stretch longer and longer. Andrea pushes the clock for a few extra minutes at the bar with the quiet and perpetually overdressed Louis. Louis forces himself to let her go without asking for more. What began as an August happenstance is now an October love affair. The star-crossed kind.
She loves him. He loves her. In any other story, this would be enough.
But outside the bounds of Darkstar Coffee Bar, their love can’t draw breath.
Because Louis is dead, and Andrea is not. Ain’t Fate a corpse-cold bitch?
* * * * * * * * *
I’m behind the bar with Rigel, counting back the till for the morning deposit. That’s my excuse, anyway. Andrea and Louis have moved their mornings from the bar to a table in the corner, and I’m really back here to watch the lovebirds skewer themselves on the things they aren’t saying to each other.
Louis has the harder part. Imagine telling a woman you love her before you tell her you’re dead. But I get it. Sitting here, drinking his coffee, he’s as real as he’s ever going to be again. And when a woman like Andrea looks at you with eyes the color of Spanish moss in the moonlight, he probably doesn’t feel dead. I’m sure it slipped his mind.
If Louis is silenced by death, Andrea is silenced by life. Every time I think mankind has evolved, all I have to do is watch the way women act with men they find attractive. She’s sweet and coy, and indirect as all fuck. She doesn’t try to nail him down for dinner or ask him about the ring on his finger, lest he tell her that he’s married. Ignorance is bliss for as long as it lasts.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s lasted long enough.
The only other patron in the bar throws a ten spot on the bar top and leaves. Now’s a good a time as any. I walk over to their table with a plate of scones and jam. Andrea looks up as I approach and smiles. Louis has no eyes for me, a goddess — only Andrea. That’s one seriously lovestruck spirit.
I reach across their clasped hands and set the plate between them on the table. “On the house.”
“Thank you, Asteria,” Andrea says. She notices there’s no flatware on the table. “Do you have a knife?”
“Yes, of course.”
I reach over and take a butter knife from a place setting on a nearby table, grab it by the weighted hilt, and plunge the blunt blade right down through the back of Louis’ wrist.
“Christ!” Andrea screams, jumping back from the table.
Then, she notices that Louis jumps back from the table, too. With his hand. There’s no blood in sight. No wound in his flesh.
The vertical knife wobbles back and forth with a metallic hum. It falls with a clatter onto the plate, splattering raspberry preserves where blood should be.
I give Louis an apologetic look. He’s too shocked to be mad. Andrea’s too shocked to be anything but shocked.
“Tell her, Louis.”
And he does.
* * * * * * * * *
RE: I think this needs your special touch
It’s been a long time, dear friend, and I’m sure you are busy with your appointed tasks, especially this time of year.
I have a rather strange situation here in New Orleans and wondered if you would have time to stop by tomorrow in the wee hours of morning, maybe around 3 a.m. I can explain more then, but for now, let’s say that someone needs killing.
Temporarily, of course.
Love like stars,
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