What has gone before: Andrew Weazle, the owner of a failing coffee shop on the University of Alberta campus trades what he believes to be the final Friday night deposit in return for 'magic coffee beans' from a homeless man. After dumping the coffee made by the magic beans into a potted bonsai tree, a massive ash tree mysteriously grows overnight inside the shop. Following a miraculous weekend which saves the coffee shop, Andrew suddenly and inexplicably leaves work in the company of a mysterious and fatally attractive woman. After he does not return to work for several days, Lara, the shop's only employee, enlists the help of Blackout, one of the shop's regular customers, to find out what has happened to Andrew...
"So what did you think?" Blackout asked, unlocking his car, a navy blue Jetta.
"Of what?" Lara asked. "The comic shop, your friends...playing Dungeons and Dragons?"
"It's not Dungeons and Dragons," Blackout protested. "It's a different system. More complex. Better. It replicates reality in a more detailed fashion."
"You're pretending to be elves and dwarves and wizards, and you're splitting hairs over replicating reality?" Lara joked, getting in the passenger side.
"This coming from a girl who listens to 'fantasy metal'."
"That's different!" Lara said. "It's just a musical preference."
"Yeah, for bands who LARP while they play live concerts."
"I thought they were all really nice," Lara replied to Blackout's earlier question. "Except for the metal head--he's way too into himself."
Thank you God, Blackout thought. He pulled out onto the road and began driving toward the downtown area, toward Andrew's apartment. The sudden elation of knowing Lara wasn't interested in Ripper was suffocated by the awareness that they were going to check on a friend who at this very moment might be having sex with a girl who looked far too much like a porn star. This was immediately softened by the realization that he was going along to Andrew's as a favor to Lara, which would put him in her good books on some level. All the help I can get...
It occurred to him that they were currently in the middle of an uncomfortable silence.
Need to say something, Blackout told himself. Something that won't upset her...
"That tree...that must have been a lot of work," he said.
"What?" Lara said, her voice sounding a little panicked. "Uh...yeah. It was a lot of work. But I think it turned out really good."
"Good?" Blackout said. "It looks real. I mean, I've seen silk plants that looked good, but to do an entire tree..."
"It's all in the greenery," Lara replied, sounding a little calmer. "Once you get that all hung, it covers up all the spots where the pieces of the original tree are bolted together."
"Still quite an accomplishment. How the hell did Andrew pay for that thing?"
"Uhhh...he still owes me for it."
"But you're working for him as a barrista?"
"Not a big demand for my tree art." She was starting to sound a little nervous again.
Time to change the subject.
"You watch much TV?"
"Don't own one."
Shit. Lead balloon there. And it wasn't like they could talk about music. The only thing Blackout knew about the music Lara was into was the fake lyrics to a Nightwish song posted on YouTube.
Uncomfortable silence it is then...
Which lasted for the drive down into the river valley, over the North Saskatchewan River, and then up into the downtown.
Andrew's apartment was on 106th street, fairly close to the Starlite Lounge, which Blackout knew often had metal bands come through. He told Lara this.
"Maybe we could go see a show sometime," he said.
"Maybe," Lara replied.
They entered the foyer of Andrew's apartment and Blackout scanned the list of names beside a keypad. He found 'Weazle' and punched in the four digit code. The little speaker above the keypad emitted a tinny ringing sound.
Lara tried the door, which was locked, which left nothing for them to do but wait until someone walked in or out of the building.
Another uncomfortable silence, Blackout thought.
"Look, I'm sorry for being a little standoffish," Lara said after a few moments.
Blackout made a surprised face. "Standoffish? I didn't notice."
"I just got out of a relationship recently," she said. "To say it ended poorly would be the understatement of the year."
"No problems," Blackout said.
"So I'm not used to just being friends with a guy," Lara said. "Everything sounds like a pickup line to me. I'm a bit defensive I guess."
"No worries," Blackout said.
There was another silence. This one was far less uncomfortable than the others had been.
"Thanks for understanding," Lara said. "I just could really use a friend right now. Things have been crazy. It's nice to be around someone who's living a normal life."
"Yours is abnormal?"
"I'm checking on my boss at nearly midnight to see if the porn star he left work with the other day has slit his throat and taken all his money, what do you call normal?"
Blackout smiled wanly and nodded.
"This is ridiculous," Lara said. "Too bad we weren't in Harry Potter, I could just say, alohomora and---"
The lock to the door clicked.
Which resulted in yet another uncomfortable silence, lasting until Blackout put a hand out and swung the door open. He looked at Lara questioningly.
Lara shrugged. "I told you my life hasn't exactly been normal," she replied and stepped into the building.