What has gone before: Andrew Weazle, the owner of a coffee shop trades the Friday night deposit in return for 'magic coffee beans', which cause a massive ash tree to grow overnight inside the shop. Following this miraculous weekend, Andrew leaves work in the company of a fatally attractive woman who turns out to be a succubus, a demon which steals human life force through sexual contact. Andrew is rescued by Lara and Blackout, while the demon is nowhere to be found.
"He's got the stink of her all over him," Ima said to Lara. "There are still got the residual traces of dark magic clinging to him. I don't know how long it will take to dissipate, but he won't be wholly healthy until it does."
Lara looked over her shoulder at Andrew, who was standing behind the counter, giving a customer their change. His eyes were still sunken, but after a week of rest, he was back on his feet. The presence of the Tree seemed to invigorate him. He gained strength by proximity; sometimes he would just lean against the massive trunk and close his eyes, a satisfied smile passing over his lips, as though the Tree were passing it's life-giving force over to him.
Ima took a drink of her coffee. The Fates had still not made themselves known to Andrew, but had been observing him by posing as customers. Lara still had no idea how they got from the basement to the shop without moving through the staff room, but she was glad for their vigilant watch.
"He's still not really himself," Lara replied, nodding.
"What did he say to your suggestion to hire someone new?" Ima asked.
"He thought it was great," Lara said. "I already took in some resumes, and he said he saw a promising candidate. Apparently he's coming in for an interview this afternoon." She massaged her temples. "It'll be nice to have someone to take the pressure off me being here all the time."
Lara had closed the shop for the first two days of Andrew's convalescence. Blackout had remained with her; his flexible schedule was what finally allowed her to return to work, opening the store for grueling sixteen hour shifts. She had reasoned it was either that or lose the shop, and with it, the Tree. When the Fates had healed her, she experienced a vision of some sort; as though the magic that flowed into her ruined leg had been from the tree, an orange, viscous fluid. Not orange, she thought...gold. It had been like golden sap running from the Tree into her wound.
The result had been that the sixteen hour shifts weren't exhausting; it were as though the Tree gave her the vitality to work without rest. She hadn't needed nearly as many smoke breaks. She was pretty sure, in fact, that if she wanted to, she could quit cold turkey and suffer no ill effects. Providing she could live close to the Tree. The first nights back at work, she'd gone home to sleep. The weariness that came over her once she left the store was excruciating. And so she'd set up a camp bed in the staff room, and virtually moved into the coffee shop. She'd brought enough of her clothes to last her a week, and went over to the Van Vliet center for a shower every morning.
On the night before Andrew returned, Lara took a risk and brought the ladder out into the main shop. Dressed in her Emily Strange pyjamas, she'd climbed up into the leafy canopy of the Tree to where she'd found Andrew that first day.
"I'm gonna break my neck," she said, and put a tentative hand onto the branch. "Don't let me fall," she whispered to the Tree.
As if in reply, the bough bent itself downward, and the surrounding branches moved to create a nest. Lara knew she should be surprised, but somehow, she wasn't. She just giggled, and climbed into the leafy bed.
It was the best sleep she'd had in memory. And when she woke, she had no craving for her morning smoke.
Two days later, however, she was feeling like hell. She figured the hectic pace had finally taken it's toll. Even when Andrew had returned, it was clear that he was in no shape to manage the shop alone. So Lara continued to stay at the shop. She'd taken the camp bed home before Andrew had returned. While he might applaud her devotion, it was illegal to effectively be living in the shop--it wasn't zoned as a residence, she knew that much. But she hadn't needed the bed anymore; she'd be climbing up into the Tree to sleep.
The past few nights, worried Andrew might come in early and discover the ladder and Lara sleeping in the Tree, she'd simply climbed up through the branches. The Tree moved aside the thick foliage to allow her passage to her place of rest.
Rock-a-bye-baby, she thought to herself. The way she felt right now, she couldn't wait for the end of the day. She took a drink of the blueberry rooibos in front of her and winced. Maybe she needed a cigarette after all. She looked over her shoulder again.
The lineup of customers had died down and Andrew was leaning against the Tree again, that smile on his face. That beatific smile, as the Tree restored him back to health.
* * * * * *
Lara crawled along the thick branch towards her leafy bed, yawning as she went. Andrew had left two hours earlier, following the interview with the prospective hire. The girl who'd come in for the interview had seemed nice enough; pretty mousy by appearance, but she didn't lack confidence because of it. Lara had been impressed, and let Andrew know. Andrew agreed, and after making a phone call to ask the girl, whose name was Julie, to come in for a second interview. He'd asked her if she was okay to close up, and she'd said yes, despite the way her head felt like someone was using it for kettle drum.
She'd made herself more rooibos, and that seemed to help. Now, as she climbed in the dim light, her headache seemed to be receding. To any passerby, the store would look closed; only a few lights on near the coffee bar. Enough to see by into the Tree's branches...or perhaps the Tree had moved branches to allow more light in, she wasn't sure.
Lara laid down on the leafy bed the Tree had constructed for her, wrapping herself in the blanket she'd left up there the first night. "Good night," she whispered to the Tree.
Someone's coming, she heard in reply.