88

A disheveled driver walked into a bar and took a seat by her favorite bartender. There were a couple occupied booths in the room, but otherwise it was an empty morning. The music was a cheerful rolling ballad at odds with her bereaved look.

“Hot Silver, please.”

“You got it. Been a long few weeks, has it? You were here just before Pyrean Midsummer, wasn’t it.” A smile played across his face as he began to heat and mix.

“Yeah. Actually I can’t think back that far right now. I just watched hundreds of uniforms ordered to fight something that would kill them. Using means completely unequal to the danger. I had the luxury of my own prerogative, so here I sit.” She looked out the window into a ray of sun for a breath while her drink began to steam behind the counter. She looked over doleful, yet matter of fact. “There are dragons at war.”

“You don’t say.” His tone remained light through a furrowed brow. He sprinkled spice over the top and delivered the cup to her hands.

“I wouldn’t if I didn’t have to.” Her head drooped over the cup as she inhaled the steam. Just as she began to close her eyes, someone yelled out from the kitchen.

“Hey Joe! Epic stack, look at this epic stack!”

Joe looked over at his loyal customer. “That’s our new dishwasher. He’s done it a few times, hasn’t broken one yet.” He patted the bar as he turned to go to the kitchen.

Looking sideways over her cup, Wendel murmured, “There’s a voice…”

Re-emerging, the bartender gestured to her. “You should come see this.” Collecting herself, Wendel took a breath and a sip and followed him in.

For a stack, it could be said to be epic. Largest pans and sheets on the bottom, going to smaller pans, to platters and appropriately-sized dishes with the occasional balancing item, to a rotating tower of mugs and cups that ended in a pyramid. Other words that came to mind were magnificent; unprecarious; commendable.

88

She looked over to appraise the stacker and was greeted with a smiling face. “It’s you,” said the boy, grinning with his mouth open.

She blinked at Toller, suddenly breathless. “Hey, it’s… it’s you too.” She gravitated toward him to hold him in her arms for a moment. “You got a job, I see?”

The boy poked Joe in the side. “I left the capital after the Aquari concert. That really capped off the whole experience for me. At the docks, I found a ship with room headed for Dalmeera, so.” He pointed to the stack of dishes.

Wendel turned to the bartender. “Joe I hate to tell you this, but your dishwasher is overqualified.”

He laughed. “Yeah, I know. I just figured I could get away with it for a little while.”

“Well, you’re good at doing it.” She smiled at the both of them and looked at the cup in her hand, still steaming. She looked back up at the boy. “Hey have you tried this stuff?”

Toller looked at Joe. “Well I’m not really old enough, no.”

Wendel tilted her head at the bartender. “Is he old enough?”

Joe eyed the stack of dishes, all clean. “He’s older than I was. He can have his own cup. Stay back here. And would you take that apart and put it away?” The last he said to Toller, who saluted.

Toller set a chair on the countertop beside it, showing how unprecarious the stack really was. He climbed on top and began filling his arms with the assorted dishware. “You didn’t take long to come back, either.”

She made a long sniff. “It all really depends.” She just watched him do his job. “So you remembered the place?”

“Actually I met Joe at the seadocks where they were bringing up shellfish. He seemed like someone I could hustle for work, and I was right. Man was carrying too much.” He laughed and laughed with the dishes. “He brought me back here and I knew where I was.”

Halfway down the stack, the bartender returned with one for the boy and one for him. They clinked mugs and held them together for a moment, looking at the pictures in steam and spice and silver.

Upon his first sip, Toller made a face like he just saw a beast. Then he looked into the cup. “Are you kidding me what is this?”

Joe savored his sip and lifted his head. “Just something good we make here.”

Wendel smacked her lips in agreement and ran her tongue over her teeth. “Well young one, I want to tell you. You’ve got options.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yeah, really. With me, for one.”

“I could be mad at you.” Joe wiggled his mug in the air.

Wendel took a long, appreciative sip. “And lose your favorite customer?”

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