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Love Beyond Words

By:Emma Scott

“Yes. I mean, no. No one bothers me,” Natalie replied. “And no, it’s not quite busy enough that I need help.” She smiled briefly at Sylvie and Margo. More than once, they’d asked her to join them for a movie or drinks, but Natalie had always declined. In another lifetime, they might’ve been friends—good friends even—but Natalie kept her distance. She worried that Niko would catch wind of any friendliness and conspire to pair her up with another barista on her shifts, and that was too horrible to contemplate.

Natalie smiled wider. “I don’t need any help. It’s definitely quieter than mornings, but business is steady.”

“I can see that.” Niko beamed. “Your registers are perfect, as always! Speaking of such numerical things, how are your classes? Studying hard? Of course you are, my good girl.” He patted her cheek. “Next week is month’s end. You help me with the books again, yes?”

Natalie glanced with longing at the schedule still clutched in Petra’s hand. “Yes. Of course.”

“Brilliant! Now, you eat. Come.”

“Oh stop, Niko, look at the girl. She’s itching to go.” Petra handed over the schedule. “Study time?”

“Yes, I’m off to school. Last day of summer courses.” Natalie skimmed the schedule, satisfied. It was the same as it ever. Five 4pm-to-closing shifts, Wednesdays and Sundays off. She tucked the paper into her bag. “Great, thanks. Um…Bye.”

She slipped out of the café, thankfully spared another of Niko’s fatherly embraces. But she could feel their affection—his and Petra’s—on her back as she left, like a warm wind. She hurried out into the unusual summer heat that was infinitely more bearable.

#

Natalie spent a few hours in the San Francisco State University library, working on tax preparations for imaginary clients. The library was quiet during the summer months; she saw no one from her classes, and no one spoke to her. She worked steadily, satisfied when her numbers added up in orderly rows. On her old laptop, she “filed” the tax documents with the school’s simulation program, and rested her chin in her palm, grinning as they were “accepted” with no errors.

Another A grade, another step closer to graduation. Natalie thought her mom and dad would be proud.

#

Club Kyrie was a tiny space under a sprawling bar called De Luxe. It had once been a prohibition-era speakeasy, a reputation its owners took great pride and care to sustain. Natalie, armed with a password from Liberty, approached a sly-looking bouncer in the alley beside De Luxe.

She showed her I.D. and murmured, “Velvetine.”

“Much obliged, baby cakes.”

He held the door for her that opened on a staircase leading down. Natalie descended carefully in her modest heels into a small, single room painted a conch shell pink and lit by fanciful sconces on the walls. Twenty small tables draped in lacy cloths, each with a little candle cup burning in the center, faced a minuscule stage while two waitresses circulated offering drinks. The atmosphere was secretive and knowing, each patron exuding a sense of privilege for being aware of Kyrie’s existence, or for participating in something illicit. As far as Natalie could see, there was nothing illicit about Kyrie except that it allowed smoking long after the state had banned it in public places. She found Marshall Grant front and center—broad-shouldered, ginger-haired, elegantly handsome in his expensive suit—and hurried to join him.

“She lives!” Marshall exclaimed. “And here I thought you’d stand me up.”

“Never.” Natalie kissed his cheek and eyed her friend up and down. “What’s with the suit? Did you just come from work?”

“Oh, honey, did I.” Marshall waved his hand. “The bastards have no sense of decency. They kept us late sorting out some tragedy in the Castleman accounts. A kerfuffle that could have been averted had they done like I said and audited the shit out of Lord and Lady Castleman two years ago. You would have loved it. But Liberty would have my balls if I were late, so here I am in, in this frog suit.” He sipped his drink, his usual a gin and tonic, and gave her the once over. “But look at you, Ms. the Riveter! Are we in a time warp, or what? You’re 1945 all over! I feel like I’m in danger of being drafted. But seriously, love the hair.”

Natalie beamed. She had dug her dress out of a crowded rack at a vintage shop just last week, and it was a trifecta of a great find: it fit her petite size, cost twenty dollars, and no one else had found it first. It was classic 1940’s style, pale yellow with a purple flower pattern overlay, flowing skirt, buttons from hem to collar. She’d rolled her hair back from her face and pinned it, letting it fall in rich brown coils around her shoulders. Some black liner and red lipstick, and the reflection in her bathroom mirror had smiled at what it saw. Gone was the simple, unadorned accounting student, and in her place was someone from another time. A time where men were gentlemen, and where a woman’s silence meant mystery or allure. Natalie looked glamorous and so she let herself feel glamorous. When the waitress breezed past, she ordered a Harvey Wallbanger with a twist.

Marshall cooed. “You’re positively radiant, tonight! What gives?”

“Oh, nothing.” Natalie’s thoughts went to Julian Kovač. “Nothing,” she said again, her smile slipping, for nothing did happen with Julian the day before, and since she’d let him walk out the door with her customary reticence, nothing ever would.

“Well, if you’re this happy now, you’re going to burst when I give you your early birthday present.” Marshall patted a nondescript bag at his feet.

“What is it?”

“Tut tut, the show is starting.” The lights dimmed and the muted conversations around them quieted. “Suffice to say, if I were straight, I’d be getting lucky tonight.”

Natalie smirked. “You wish.”

Marshall had been two years ahead of her in the accounting department when they’d met. Their paths crossed regularly and they’d shared a class or two

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