The Spring Symposium of Ontological Overseers began conveniently on the same day as the University's spring sessions, allowing Andrew to blend in with the handful of students trundling across the otherwise empty campus. There was a smell of moisture in the air from the previous night's rainfall, lifted into the air by the warmth of a sun in a cloudless sky. Setting out for class from Magik Beans, Andrew felt a sense of freedom.
Lara had been more than happy to assume extra duties to allow Andrew the necessary flexibility to attend the symposium. "This will finally give me a reason to hire some help that you can't argue with."
Andrew had opened his mouth to protest, but he knew Lara was right. In the past year they'd handled the work between the two of them with casual shifts from Sunny and Mikey, but Sunny had finished up her year and had signed on for a stint with Doctors Without Borders, mostly, Andrew surmised, to get away from being in the same social space as Ripper. The two of them had gotten into a heated argument when Ripper had suggested they try advancing their relationship into a more committed sort of space. Less friends with benefits and more a couple. She'd refused, and things had grown uncomfortable between them, and as a consequence, everyone around them. Mikey couldn't take on more shifts, being in his last year of high school, and so Andrew had relented. It was time to hire someone.
"How are you going to explain all this?" he asked, waving his hand at the Tree.
"I might not have to," Lara replied. "People walk in here every day and we don't bother to explain it to them."
"Working here is different. You know that."
"Besides," Lara went on, ignoring him, "who says I plan on limiting possible candidates to humans?"
"Don't tell me you're planning on advertising across the Tree!" Andrew hissed.
"I have every intention of it. Just imagine what having the brewing skills of a dwarf in here would do for business." They'd gotten a license for liquor earlier in the year and while it had all been bottled, Andrew had to concede that the beer of the dwarves from most worlds served on tap would do wonders for business.
"We're a coffee shop," Andrew replied.
"We're a cafe," Lara said. "I think it's about time we expanded our mission statement to include food. Especially since the copy shop is empty...and we have money to lease."
"I don't want to renovate," Andrew said.
"Dwarves do more than just brew beer," Lara said.
"You don't even know if you'll hire a dwarf!"
"I'm just keeping my options open."
"And we don't even have a mission statement!"
"Well maybe we should."
In the end, as he had in so many things, Andrew had relented. He needed to be hands free of Magik Beans if he was going to attend to whatever homework and studying this symposium required of him.
"Don't be nervous," his binder said to him as Andrew walked briskly across the campus.
"How do you know I'm nervous?" Andrew asked.
"Your palms are sweating all over me for one thing," the binder said. "And besides, I've done this long enough to know how first timers react to their first day at the symposium."
"How long have you been doing this?" Andrew asked.
"Long enough to have had Plato's sweaty palms on me," the binder said.
"I'm guessing you weren't a binder at the time," Andrew said.
"No, I was a scroll then."
A Philipino girl with a backpack nearly as large as her entire upper body gave Andrew an odd look. Andrew paused, took out his cell phone, flipped it open, placed it to his ear and continued walking.
"Do you have a name?" Andrew asked. "I feel kind of weird talking to a binder."
"I do," the binder replied. "Saphyr."
"You're not really a binder though, if you've been a scroll before. What exactly are you?"
"I'm here to help you," Saphyr replied. "That's all you need to know for the time being. The rest you'll learn in class."
"Why can't you just teach it all to me?"
"I couldn't do that," Saphyr said. "We just met."