XLV.

Athlem won. She always wins, Horatio muttered in mild annoyance: it was just…the logical part of him is ripped off from its roots whenever his beloved is concerned, especially when she is humiliated by his own kin.

He turned a corner, traced with dismay the distant figures congregating by the illumination of torches and a clear moon upon the west side balcony: the King, his queen, General Astaroth and his sister, Rosamund. Horatio reminded himself to not snap; Please, the voice of his peony gently requested. I don’t want you to spite your family on my accord.

He sighed, begrudgingly he made his way to unpleasant company.

The Queen greeted him in her usual composure, “Glad for you to join us, Horatio. I am sure you are familiar with Rosamund,” Unfortunately yes, the fact that his betrothed is Rosamund this time only complicate the affair.

From the way Rosamund blushed at this introduction, he judged that his words from the dinner did not fall upon her ears.

After some pointless chatter Astaroth offered an opportunity, “Perhaps we should leave the two of you. It has been years since you’ve returned.”

Horatio was adamantly against it, but found himself alone with the woman by the King’s acquiescence regardless. Suddenly, the balcony felt too small as he paced to the other side, a hand gripped the marble rail.

“You never struck me as one for arranged marriages, Rosa,” The critters of the dark continued their haphazard harmony.

“Perhaps I’ve changed,” The clacks of her heels signaled her approach, and he tensed at the vinegar of her voice. “Perhaps…having my only friend abandon me changed me.”

“I merely chose to aid a sister who would be alone in an alien land,” It was still difficult to bring himself to be too harsh with Rosamund, whose eyes brightened with tears; his tone softened. “You will never find happiness with me, Rosa. I am sure you are aware — ”

“ — Of Athlem?” The disgust that overcame her tear-stained face surprised Horatio. “Is he the only obstacle? I am sure we can rid –”

“ — No,” Horatio surprised himself with the volume of his voice, and only then did he realize that he was utterly alone with this parody of his childhood friend as he scanned the environment for potential snitches at his less-than-proper behavior: where are the servants? He found this an opportunity for hearsay and subtly made for the doors. “No Rosa, you don’t understand. I simply cannot bring myself to love anyone else.” There is no Horatio without Athlem, and he knew the reverse is as sure as each sunrise.

The woman’s eyes widened at the rejection: she bowed her head as though the shame was too heavy before she looked up with renewed rage. The turn of her expressions could only be described as the tumultuous churn of the clouds when the sun sets, a violent violet and ringlets of scarlet and a gloomy bloom of orange, “You deemed me a creature beyond understanding,” She spat. “Do you still think I am still the little girl following you everywhere like a lost puppy?”

“ — Rosa, I never said –”

“ — I’ve waited, years after years, and not even a letter came,” She seized his tunic, wrenched him down to her height with the strength of wrath. “Then you came back with this ‘doctor’ of yours, and you didn’t even spare a glance for me!”

“Rosamund…but I never saw you in that light…”

“Do you know what I had to do for them to let me be your bride-to-be? I went against my family, my values, my everything,” Her hiss of a voice died to a begging gasp. “I love you, Horatio. I always did and always will. So don’t, don’t tell me that I don’t understand…”

It was difficult to pry her fingers from him with a single hand, and when he finally struggled free he fought the urge to walk away and turn his back to this mess forever, “I am sorry, but I simply cannot see you as anything but a sister.”

She was incredulous: should a man be able to refuse her anything when she so passionately begged? The light of her disposition drew closer beneath the horizon and the dark shadow casted by the taller trees of the palace gardens clouded her, “Do you despise me so much?”

Hearing no reply, she raised her chin, “Very well,” she turned and mounted the railing of the balcony.

“Rosa, stop!” He cursed his instincts as he grabbed her by her arm and dragged her off the ledge.

She knew he would save her, and the accuracy of her predication fed her twisted sense of importance and love; she knew, as the brief moment of intimacy allowed her to grab him by his hair and smash her lips to his.

The forceful contact shocked him, and he gagged, didn’t know that he struck her until he felt the sting in his hand, which then flew for his lips, “You,” He breathed, the woman sprawled on the floor gasped at her bleeding lip before looking up at Horatio. “How dare you,” defile a kiss so solely reserved for his beloved.

She spat, returning Horatio’s deathly glare, “You just don’t see it, the peasant doesn’t deserve you.”

His blood boiled, his hand itched to repeat its deed but his mind pulled at him to leave this psychotic thing, “No, the only one undeserving here is you.” He snapped around for his own chambers, for he had no intention of meeting Athlem in such a foul mood.

But, he only made a few steps before a loud hiss and a sudden grip seized him by the neck, and a pang erupted there.

Then it was a numbness, a faint tingling of agony that felled him to his knees, “You…what did you…” His body refused to move, he couldn’t even feel it.

“You left me with no options, Horatio.”

The sun was gone and all was in darkness.

XLIII.

Had they been at home, Athlem would be more worried about Lyra’s infatuation. But life was different: the Emperor is gone, Horatio’s crippled, they are wanted criminals…having something as innocent as “first love” around was a luxury she would not deny.

Oh and also, they have arrived at Etzion, and that itself is worrisome enough.

She hated Etzion as much as she loved Horatio for four reasons. Firstly, Horatio was the second prince following the current king and a line of seven sisters: in short, Athlem understood why Horatio would not think twice before escaping Etzion with his only tolerable sister years ago. Secondly, Horatio’s apparent bachelorhood led to every visit becoming an interrogation, surprise arranged marriages or an abominable combination of both. Thirdly, while the sisters were by no means pleasant, they were not blind: they realized that their little brother was attached to this doctor. Of course they were scandalized, but not because that an Etzion prince shouldn’t have a male lover — for that was tolerable — but the fact that it was with a peasant that rose through the ranks by “merit.”

“God forbid, brother,” Athlem recalled an eavesdropped conversation. “Who knows how many men this so-called doctor had seduced for his position. At least prostitutes have the decency of not pretending to be blameless.”

Of course, she was enraged, though Horatio’s reply was enough retribution for her, “It sickens me that you should assume others deploy your own methods, almost as sickening as the sight of that face of yours.” He always knew what one valued the most and would hurt most; the gasp from the sister was more than enough proof. “I believe I have a meeting with your husband with regards to some trade, perhaps I should mention yours.”

Still, despite Horatio’s defense, there won’t be a day when she could walk down the Etzion palace without the company of whispers. She thought of solutions, but none of them were feasible: revealing her disguise would do very little to recommend her beside adding an accusation of witchcraft.

She sighed, perhaps too loudly, for the arm about her shifted and the breath tingling her ear whispered, “What’s wrong, my peony?”

She scoffed at the unfitting nickname and Horatio’s stubbornness for keeping it, for regardless of how much she loved the flower she thought she was nothing nearly as beautiful, “Nothing…” She shifted in his arm to meet his sleepy eyes.

“They are not worthy of your worries,” He muttered.

“I know…there are also other things…”

“You still think that I would fall for some vixen they throw in my way?” Horatio brushed her doubt along with a wayward strand of hair from her eyes.
Athlem scoffed, unwilling to admit her doubts, “You’ve been unaffected for so long, so why would you change now?” She leaned into his gentle hand against her cheek, sighed.

Fourth and lastly, there was so little time like this when they are in Etzion. She was bound to the lesser wings for servants despite Horatio’s protest, and at some point she was so tired of the troublesome confrontations she just begged Horatio to go with whatever the king said. Horatio relented.

Tracing the faint creases of time upon his visage, she was distracted by the sharp lines of his jaw, the chin, then pressed herself closer, outlined the collarbone, the hard chest. His hand retreated to lazily untangle her sleep-knotted hair.

“What if we have to live there forever.”

“Hmm…” His touch traveled down her slender neck, the nape, traced the spine and drew distorted circles. “We won’t.”

“Where else would we go then?” She looked up at him, and he planted his lips firmly upon her forehead; she thought her giggles stupid. “Answer my question!”

“We can go to Amzra,” He mumbled against her cheek, “Thenaz,” His kisses traced her jaw, “or…Elsinore.” He savored the tender curve of her neck; she squirmed, sighed. “It doesn’t matter…” For she was his world, his lips and touch travelers fervent to seek, to please.

“As long as I’m with you.”

She pretended to hate his bluntness, seized a handful of his hair, stole his lips for hers before resigning to oblivion.

*******

When they arrived at the King of Etzion’s court weeks later, Lyra observed that the man was Horatio’s image in a distorted mirror. There was a semblance of the two being related, but the King’s loudness and poor taste distinguished the two. When he first saw them he raised a yelp of pleasant surprise, raised hell over Horatio’s missing arm, raised hell over Lyra being so much like her father, ignored the doctor, and was thoroughly confused by the Nokshan and opted to stay away when Jiube let out an angry squawk.

“And I thought you were dead!” He laughed as though the idea was comedic. “Of course our clever Horatio figured out a way.”

“You certain had a lot of faith in me, brother.”

The King excused the comment with a wave, shifted his attention to his niece, “Dear girl, the last time I saw you, you were but a tiny babe. Who knew you would turn out like this?”

I do not look like my father.

Alde assured her, You don’t.

The queen with her motherly facade saved them, “My Lord, I am sure His Highness is exhausted from travel.”

The King took the hint, bid them goodnight. Servants directed them to their respective rooms, Lyra’s being a good enough shadow of her home in the palace. She threw herself upon the soft mattress without even undressing, sighed.

“Your Highness, a bath has been drawn for you.”

“Ah, thank you,” She quickly undressed, sank into the warm water dotted by peony petals and sighed as it lapped away the tensions of her locked tendons, succumbing to the flowers’ coaxing her senses to relax.

Her mind wanted to wander, but she shut it down, and just for a moment she was as mindless as the water vapors around her.

XXXIX.

The roots were an angry congregation, zealous in their task of tripping whoever dared to cross their brotherhood. Lyra was the heathen, excommunicated from the church of nature by the sheltered life she led. Now that she walked amongst the aisles between each ancient trunk, she was amazed. The sheer number of life she trod under her feet, the harmonious pulses and impulses were different in that they were indifferent to the temporary being that was mankind.

Still, she was a tumbling fool: her attempt at poise only seemed to distance her from her winged companion more. She recalled why she subjected herself to such a pilgrimage.

Earlier that morning, she was prepared to leave with Horatio and Athlem, meeting Aldebaran at the edge of town. They left the widowed and her two daughters with gratitude in enough gold to straighten the three’s rundown place.

“I wonder,” Horatio mused as they took to the covered, forested paths. “Could they be free now?”

“Free?” Athlem thought the concept oddly idealistic and uncharacteristic of her beloved’s usual utterance, but thought it cruel to stub what must be his attempt at optimism. “Why, one day, perhaps.”

But Lyra wasn’t so susceptible to character change, and was more concerned with expressing the contents of a moving script that she vaguely remembered from a night of wandering, “It’s much easier to dispatch of a man than his shadow.”

Horatio resorted to silence after that.

They were greeted by Aldebaran — technically first ambushed by Jiube the furball that threw itself at Lyra in chirping joy since it was unconvinced that the Princess was coming back — and was going to continue for Etzion when Aldebaran suddenly snapped.

“How did the three of you combined not notice that you were being followed?”

From their connected mind Lyra realized a weight that sank her heart into blank terror. How could she not feel such an aura before? She looked up at Alde, his face frozen in an unblinking intensity glaring into the path from where she just came.

The intruder seemed to have heard her discovery and made a move, ruffling the dense bushes before revealing herself in harmlessness.

It was just a little girl, Lyra found herself stupid for being so frightened as she release the elbow of Alde’s sleeve that she did not remember grasping. It was the girl they ran into yesterday, the younger daughter of the dead man.

“Sorry to have startle you,” She bowed, the hood of her cloak nearly swallowed her head. “Good day to you.” And as random as she came, she left, the roughly-bounded book still clutched to her chest.

As soon as she left Aldebaran stated blankly, “We have to take the notebook from her.”

“‘We’?” Horatio was unamused. “I understand that knowledge is powerful, so how is it our business to rob a girl of that?”

“Please, it’s not that, the pages…” It was not the barrier of foreign language that made Aldebaran pause, for reality and typical understanding of normality has a gap words find it difficult to bridge.

Still, Lyra interpreted the feeling — the sinking, utter doom elicited by that simple girl, or rather, the book. So she was ready to rush to action, to which Horatio acquiescence with a sigh. That is how she faced the predicament described towards the earlier part of this chapter: trekking on, the fading aura of menace and Alde’s steps her only sense of direction. Then all the sudden the sensation doubled, screeching rage swallowed despair whole.

What on earth happened?

The trees thinned subtly at her inquiry, giving away to a clearing that answered. There was the girl, standing before a general splatter of pages in an almost ritualistic light that seeped past the overarching branches. To the four’s amazement, there was also the darkness, the beast, directly above the pages like an apparition. Lyra squinted and saw a man, taunted herself into thinking otherwise.

“Why did you do that?” The girl scold her monster. “You didn’t have to kill him.”

The beast cowered at the girl’s reproach, lowered its massive head.

What is that? Lyra thought better than to mumble and thought to Aldebaran instead.

I am…not sure…but clearly the girl — at that the beast turned about, its fiery eyes flared at them. There was a blood-curling roar as it charged at the latest offender of this sacred space. “Did it somehow hear me?” was a query Lyra postponed, quickly dodging out of the way as the immeasurable darkness crashed into where they stood. A scar into dense greenery, a collateral hiss of the millions of life Lyra was just marveling over a few heartbeats ago. After the ring of her deafened ears subsided she made out the girl’s screeched remonstrance.

“What are you doing? Leave them alone!” The fiery eyes and their formless darkness of a frame could not be persuaded.

It was so much more than words, so little to do with its original scripts at this point of the narrative the beast broke the chains of its creator’s self restraint: all fury, setting aflame all that could be blamed.

Horatio drew forth an utterance powerful enough to trap the beast, a shell of energy that it was readily snapping against in increasing fervor, “Destroy the pages!” Athlem observed.

The girl beat them to it and took up the first leaf and ripped. As the page screeched and bled, the ink was freed and tainted the earth. As she and the others grasped at the pages a roar from the beast signaled its newfound freedom, a gust of wind swept them out of reach, drew them into the void that is the creature. Lyra would’ve been concerned with her uncle’s increasing pallor had the darkness not shift as she blinked, took form, stood.

She drew a broken breath, he of all people waved at her. The man, curt smile and an outstretched hand.

“Lyra,” The beast’s voice was a quiet command. “Come here, my child”

XXXVI.

She wasted no breath to explain, rounding the shack and cut to the backyard without much difficulty, for the fence was just as hollow as the man claiming responsibility of mending them. Anyhow, she went to the center of the yard and looked up to the crooked windows, three squares of light succumbed to darkness.So, which of the three?

She debated between each one, then thought it only wise to confer with her little friend.

“Jiube,” She whispered, and the little owl needed no further prompting.

A hop, a scuttle, a subdued flurry of movement: the little fluff easily mounted the cracked sills and shuffled from one opening to another, poking its head in, its eyes wide and amber enough to be mistaken for a materialization of dreams or a messenger from the Creator. At its first target it hooted adamantly, hopped and made a trusting descent into the outstretched hands of Lyra.

Aldebaran might have grumbled something about his familiar’s utter domestication, but it didn’t matter. The disturbed room’s inhabitants lighted the recently killed candles and looked after the critter’s strange visitation.

In the sheer veil of moonlight and the pathetic attempt by candlelight Lyra made out the head looking out from the neglected windows, the muttered annoyance, then in a glint of bright reflections from the dancing flame from her light, the differing depth in thoughtful search. In that same spark she saw her, nearly dropped the torch before her senses stopped her from simply screaming her name.

Lyra’s senses stopped her not, “Athlem!”

Of course she was shushed, gestured to wait at the front of the shack. She obliged, Alde followed and they retraced their short journey back to the dim street, waited noiselessly.

The loneliness of the form that emerged from the creaking door only disappointed Lyra by a small degree. As she approached in measured steps, she could not measure her joy and cut her short of her passage to strangle her in an embrace that thankfully only killed etiquette.

“Oh my, Lyra –”

“Is Horatio with you? Is he alright?”

“Of course, he’s merely fatigued. All thanks to you and your” — at this a word-search for a title for the Nokshan, who was clueless of the attention spared for him as his familiar found a hole in a dying tree to lose both itself and its master’s patience in, commenced and ended — “Anyhow, the heart was the Creator’s saving grace, and I am forever indebted and grateful.”

Lyra elbowed her companion to elicit a stumbled acknowledgement before the latter resumed the difficult task of negotiating enough beetles for snacks to tempt the little owl off its new favorite branch.

“What are the odds, how are you here of all places…how have you been? You seem…weathered.”

“Ah, and to think I miss even your brutal honesty: that is no way to speak with your elder,” She scoffed, and Athlem continued. “Please, I was only stabbed, convicted of treason, may or may not have doomed the woman who raised me. Life is wonderful,” The physician brushed the sarcasm-coated bitterness aside. “Enough of me, what of you? How negligent was the Creator to you?”

Jiube finally left the tree, pecking contently at its master’s head to drill in the promise of food. Alde swatted.

“Well, me? It’s…” A hand shot to her gut and vaguely traced a scarring wound, a flood of woe dotted by sparks of hope from the blush of sun setting upon her brief captivity, the young boy in her nightmarish vision, the bright blue of the water nymph, her declaration in her father’s visage. “I…” She drew a shuddered breath, her aunt drew her into her arms.

“You’ve came so far.”

Lyra did not understand, for how had she grown if she still bawled like a child? The pretense was too much, the mask of indifference too heavy with the infinite injuries by sword or words or isolation or negligence; then there are the moments of false belief, false hope for power only to give her the false impression of freedom, only then realized that all was accomplished under her connections to her loathsome father: a predicament as cyclical and redundant as the words of this sentence.

Athlem understood, knew the inevitable failure of words and only gave silent companionship.

Amongst the subsiding sobs she choked out, “Thank you.”

“Huh?” Athlem sniffled.

“For…gah…” loving me, she meant. For being here.

Aldebaran attempted not to remember what he missed, a blue jay too far, their mother further, their father…the bright moon compared not to the snowy egret wings beyond the clouds now.

He turned away.

It was a moment to be treasured, silent and hushed as the night breeze, immeasurable except by the finest poets or bards. The moment too perfect to be, so was soon intruded by a loud bang from the shack.

Athlem sprang to attention, again clouded by fear as she imagined baseless scenarios of tragedy. Lyra followed her sprint though Alde beat them to it, his inhuman instincts and flight carried him to the porch first, pushed the door free from its pathetic hinge. A tangle of movement stirred within.

Lyra called a light, and behind the kitchen table a form of infinite darkness continued to maul its victim. Athlem saw the familiar cloak of dark blue beneath the form, was seized by anguish and Lyra as the latter wrestled her from losing her rationality and disguised voice, “Horatio!” At that call, the face of the beast turned to them, a face of menace. Athlem whimpered, Lyra flinched, and Alde rested a hand upon the hilt of his sword, uttering a simple command, “Zhow.”

Seized by the light of such a word it screeched, rushed at the three in a storm of ill intentions as Lyra enacted a shield just in time, the face collided with her sheer energy and dispersed into the night. And Athlem shrugged herself free and ran to the body.

XXXI.

The town stuck like a stark contrast to Athlem at first: hearty red bricks, bustling vendors, lanterns leftover from a festival too fond in memory to be taken down…yet as Lyra joined the ebb and flow of visitors she saw its resounding resemblance to the physician: a mix of genuity with civility, and a quaint touch of character.

“Who?” Jiube reminded her of his existence: Alde found him cowering in a hole in a tree after the incident with the water nymph, and since Alde is too attention-catching, Jiube is accompanying her instead into town.

“Shh…” She ruffled soft feathers to coax the thing back into hiding under her hood.

She went past the boulevard of drooping branches and their whiskers, the spring of her steps cushioned by crushed banyan seeds and the shade casted by the giant green parasols. Alde told her earlier that a few imperial guards stalked about. Could it be that they, too, were searching for Horatio and Athlem? Perhaps they already got them? She felt for the hilt of her sword and her pounding heart, though she hardly knew how to wield a blade or yield her heart.

As they exited the shelter of shade, a grey house and its roof slanting into the security behind brick walls just tall enough for privacy and short enough for the tops of the citrus trees to reach over, greeted them. Right above the wooden gates hung a sign with a simple indicator, “Doctor Denthea.” It baffled her that the sign persisted even after such a long time after Athlem’s absence, though it then occurred to her that her relatives must’ve continued the business.

Oh, her relatives.

Lyra congratulated herself for her ignorance. She could blame Athlem for her silence on the subject: the number of times she’s ever remotely hinted at her family fit in one hand. As she scraped her brain for a flake of memory she vaguely found a scene of her inquiring after Horatio and Athlem’s absences one time…when she was five? Younger, perhaps…to which her mother said, “They went to visit Athlem’s, but will be back in a matter of a few weeks.”

So here she was, a hand apprehensively wounding itself about the door handle. Jiube had long made its escape and she thought it was chirping in belated triumph until she realized it was a warning.

“Do you need help with anything?”

Despite the gentle timber of the inquiry she was startled, snapped around to find a woman carrying her age with her straight back, sharp eyes and infinite grace. Lyra knew she must have appeared quite suspicious, lingering by a door with her hood and a bird on her shoulder.

“I…was wondering if Doctor Denthea is here,” She managed.

“You are looking for me?” The woman mused. “Very well. Come in, then.” As Lyra trailed behind the doctor she darted discreet glances for any hint of familiarity past the gate, seeking any clues of a recent visitor amongst the pebbles and doors.

Her attempt was fruitless, just as the citrus trees lining the walls, so she allowed her eyes to drift back to the paved path before her. They entered the front porch, seated.

“What’s your name?” Now that Lyra could faced her she could read the couplets of time across the physician’s face.

“Lillith from Dolores.”

“Hrm…what took you here?” The woman summoned pen and paper, scribbled.

“My..aunt –” Lyra began a story until she looked up, met the piercing gaze and lips pursed in consternation too familiar to her.

The gaze spoke a question, the slight smile the hint of familiarity wiped clean from the gardens, “She even predicted what colors you would be wearing today correctly.” Lyra looked down at her maroon travel cloak and blamed her narrow range of wardrobe colors. “Want to tell me where you are from again, Lyra?”

The princess was mortified, “Are they still here?”

Doctor Denthea smiled, “No, you missed them by a week. But, don’t worry.”

“Ah…” She thought, stupid and worried.

“I have a note for you,” The doctor got up, went to a shelf to withdraw a book and from it, a letter. It read in a rather foreign hand as follows:

Dearest Niece,

And you thought I was faint? My penmanship fare better with my left hand than Athlem’s best works — and with this comment I’ve earned a hard jab from the more-than-decent doctor). Still I stand by my statements in recognizing that poor penmanship is a common ailment of physicians.

Anyway, I hope this finds you in as good a health as your strange antidote placed me, and as lively the spirits your note gave us. The villain — I suspect Claud — is quite relentless, and one rumor coincided with truth to lead his men here. Very well! Let them chase, for they shall find themselves reluctant to bang at the doors of Etzion, which would not yield except for you and your raven. Hopefully soon.

Love,

Your Dearest Uncle

She fought the urge to bawl and won, “You ought to go soon,” Seeing her reading done, the physician started. “The soldiers would come here again.”

Lyra blinked a few times, “Yes…should you not…would you be fine?”

The doctor seemed surprised, going back to the shelf to restore the book and extract a ray of sunshine where the innocent laughter of a young girl with odd-eyes was forever stored: her brother’s copy, “I cannot abandon my patients. Tell Athlem to write.”

It was painful to leave anyone in their feigned strength: as Lyra exchanged one last nod with her and crossed the paved path armed with Horatio’s note her thought raced.

An idea, wild, sprung up among the cracks of the brick walls, just close enough to smell the flowers upon the orange trees, pungent. She bit her lips, stuffed the letter and Jiube into the sanctuary of her pockets as she paused.

Then she threw herself into action.

*******

*Disclaimer*: Obviously, the picture is just what the town was based on.

Simple Kaffa: a Tiramisu Forumla

One of the things that I missed the most on my six-weeks visit in Taiwan was good coffee. Yes, I did mention that there are a plethora of cafes in basically every single block of any Taipei streets. However, there are very few that I saw that could provide a quaint environment in the same way that Kean Coffee does for me in Tustin, CA.

My opinions changed when I went to Simple Kaffa, a quaint cafe hidden in a small, open air yet somewhat underground courtyard that offers wonderful coffee and desserts.

It is a popular place: so popular that they named their tiramisu “sometimes available” since it often runs out (my first visit being one of those times).

It is also so popular that no one noticed when my mother, sister and I accidentally walked out of the place without paying, since somehow, we were all too tired from house chores and too accustomed to the waitress/waiter bringing the bill instead of having to go to the counter before we leave.

We did not notice our mistake until that night, when my mom immediately called and apologized for our forgetfulness. Surprisingly, the clerk also apologized profusely, thanking us for our honesty. Though we made sure for the next day’s schedule to include our second visit at the cafe to pay our forgotten bill.

This was when we tried their “beer coffee,” a cold, non-alcoholic drink that was basically a bubbling cold brew.

This was also when we finally got the tiramisu that ran out the day before.

It was a great reminder to my usually pessimistic mind that both honesty and understanding are just like tiramisu at Simple Kaffa, a heavenly combination of great ingredients that are “sometimes available.”