Farewell to the Coffee Lands
When I saw that sign, hidden behind the bushes and trees looming overhead, I knew I had reached it – the middle of nowhere. "Welcome to Oak Harbor." I had never felt more unwelcome in my life.
Greta had been devastated when she realized she had nowhere to go. Her parents were in Europe for two years. What was she supposed to do? She was only nineteen! Most kids still lived with their parents at nineteen, right? Or did they leave home and make it on their own? Greta didn't know. She'd lived such a sheltered life. Sheltered enough to have thought she had another four years with her parents until she graduated from college and was able to support herself with a full-time job.
"You'll have Grandma, in Oak Harbor," her mom had said, as though it was supposed to comfort her. "She says she knows of an apartment for sale and it's a great deal! And we'll send you some money until you're ready to support yourself. You remember Oak Harbor, right? It's such a cute town. And you'll be by the ocean! That'll be nice! I almost envy you!"
Yeah right, Greta thought with a silent laugh. You're going off to Italy, Greece, England, France, and you envy me? I doubt it. She gazed out the car window, wishing Grandma would speed up a little. Grandma Flo lived in the retirement homes for rich people in Oak Harbor but she had come to pick Greta up at the airport and drop her off at her new apartment. Greta hadn't seen it yet but Grandma Flo had insisted it was "to die for" and Greta hardly had a choice.
"It's so nice to have you here all to myself!" Grandma Flo squealed excitedly. "I have a ton of friends you just have to meet!" I'm sure you do, Grandma. After all, you must be so popular with all the people at the old folks' home. "When I told Gabriel, oh you'd like Gabriel, he's quite good at the piano, when I told Gabriel that you were coming he offered to let you stay with him but I says to him, I says, 'Gabriel! The day I let my dear granddaughter stay with a man like you is the day I die!' Of course," Grandma Flo chuckled, "he laughed and said, 'I'll take that as a no, then!'" Grandma Flo almost died laughing right there at the wheel.
"So, Grandma, what did you do to your hair?" Greta asked hesitantly, eyeing Grandma Flo's cotton-candy pink and blue hair. Her grandma had had the typical old lady hair. Light and fluffy, white as snow, and worn short around her earlobes. Now the right side of her hair was light pink and the left half baby blue, so she literally looked like she was wearing cotton candy on her hair.
"Oh, this!" Grandma Flo laughed, patting her hair. "Darius and Mo insisted that if I were to hang out with people as cool them I needed a cool nickname and a cool hairdo. So they had Tempest do my hair and they dubbed me Cotton Candy! Ho ho! You can imagine how thrilled I was at that! I tell you, young people these days…" Oh yeah, I'm sure all those sixty-year olds are just full of energy…
For the next ten minutes the two rode in silence. Greta wasn't interested in keeping up conversation and Grandma Flo, it seemed, had finally run out of things to talk about. Finally they pulled into a parking lot, just a few feet away from the glittering ocean. Greta's jaw dropped and she stared at the apartments in awe. There were only two floors and hers was on the bottom floor with a porch and a little gate that led directly to the path out to the sidewalk. Just across the only slightly busy street was the beach.
"Oh my God, Grandma," Greta said in a hushed voice. "It's amazing."
"Wait till you see the inside," Grandma Flo said with a wink.
Greta followed Grandma Flo inside in a half-daze. The lobby was clean and had a loveseat in between two bookcases full of tattered harlequin romances that Grandma Flo said were donated and borrowed constantly. "They're a favorite of Mo's," she said with a chuckle, elbowing Greta just a little too hard. How Mo could get his hands on the books when he lived with Grandma Flo in the retirement apartments was beyond her but Greta decided not to put too much thought into it.
Her room was at the end of the hallway, right next to the staircase, but Grandma Flo assured her the noise level was at a minimum because most people used the elevator. The suite was small, with only one room, a kitchen, a dining room/living room, and a bathroom, but Greta didn't care. She didn't need a lot of space just for herself. "It's amazing, Grandma," Greta exclaimed, happy for the first time since her parents had announced their surprise trip to Europe.
"I'm glad you like it," Grandma Flo said, obviously pleased with herself. "I've got to get going because it's poker night at Ed's room but I'll get Mo and Darius to help you get everything to your room." Greta frowned, wondering if Grandma Flo was going senile, but Grandma Flo knocked on the door across from Greta's and shouted loudly, "Boys, get up! My granddaughter's here and in need of assistance!" There was a small crash and a loud curse and then a muffled thud, and finally the door was whipped open to reveal two blond young men, probably the same age as Greta, if not older.
Greta's eyes widened. She hadn't imagined Grandma Flo's friends would be under sixty years old, and she had never even thought that there was a chance of them being so hot.
"Cotton Candy!" the shorter man yelled, his light blue eyes wide and sparkling. "I love you!" He pulled Grandma Flo into an enthusiastic hug while the taller blond man looked Greta up and down, smiling at her. For whatever reason, Greta didn't feel uncomfortable under the man's gaze. He wasn't checking her out, or at least Greta didn't feel like he was, he was just meeting his new neighbor.
"Nice to meet you, Greta," the tall man said, extending his large hand toward her. "I'm Darius."
"Hi," Greta said nervously, slipping her small hand into his and feeling his firm shake. He squeezed her hand slightly before he let go and she felt herself blush like the typical red-head she was. A moment later it occurred to her she hadn't introduced herself. "Hey – how'd you know my name?"
"Oh, please, darling," Grandma Flo said with a snorting laugh, still in the arms of the short man who was moaning something about missing her into her collarbone. "I talk about you all the time! How could he not know you?"
Greta raised her eyebrow at the short man uncertainly. As though feeling her gaze on him, he released Grandma Flo and pushed his shoulder-length, white blond hair out of his eyes again. "Hi!" he said with a friendly grin. "I'm Mo, nice to meet ya, Greta!"
"You too," Greta said uncertainly. Mo's handshake was gentler than Darius's, his hand warmer, but he let go of her hand more quickly than Darius had, and rather than squeezing her hand he, instead, trailed his index finger along her palm as his hand slid away from hers, causing a tingle to run up her arm.
"What'cha need help with, Cotton Candy?" Mo asked, turning to Cotton Candy with his smile still glued to his face. Greta liked Mo's smile, a large, toothy smile that seemed genuinely friendly. She could easily see why Grandma Flo was so charmed by him.
"Greta needed our help, not Candy," Darius said, elbowing Mo. "What's up, Greta?"
"Oh, um, it's just that Grandma Flo needs to get to a poker game and we need to get the car all unloaded. I can get all my stuff in the apartment myself, we were just hoping that you guys could help us with getting the stuff out of the car," Greta added quickly.
Darius laughed. "We'll help you get your stuff in the apartment, too, don't worry about it. It's not like we've got more important things to do."
"Thanks," Greta said.
"You guys know what to do," Grandma Flo said, handing Darius her keys. "Stay out of her stuff," she warned them. "That means you, Mo."
Mo grinned mischievously. "Me?" he asked innocently. "What have I ever done to be suspected of something so – "
"Quit talking," Darius said, slapping Mo lightly over the head. "You look smarter with your mouth shut."
The two continued down the hall, arguing playfully as they went.
"I don't know what's wrong with those two, honestly," Grandma Flo said with a breathy laugh. "They're usually so well-behaved. They must be trying to show off. I'm sorry, Greta. I'm sure they'll quit wagging their tales so eagerly when they realize no one's getting their hands on my granddaughter without going through me first." Grandma Flo wiggled her eyebrows suggestively and Greta held back a gag.
"Grandma!" Greta exclaimed, hiding her disgust behind false playfulness.
"I'm still young," Grandma Flo said seriously. "You know those boys are howling after me." Sure, they just can't stay away from you, Greta thought sarcastically. Grandma Flo led Greta back into the apartment. "I tried to get the best I could from the money you and your parents sent but there wasn't much I could do. Most of it's from thrift shops so you might want to earn some money and sell the old stuff so you can buy some new furniture. You're lucky that you live here. The thrift store's only a few minutes' walk away, Mo and Darius can show you, and all the cute little downtown shops are just around the corner and obviously the beach is right across from here, I made sure you got a lovely view."
"Where d'you want the bags?" Mo's voice interrupted Grandma Flo. Greta turned to see Mo carrying six suitcases at once, with Darius in tow, carrying an equal amount with a few extra plastic bags that carried her shoes.
"That was fast," Grandma Flo said, slightly shocked.
"Oh, you can just drop them there, I'll get them to where they're supposed to go later!" Greta said quickly, seeing the strain on Mo's face. Mo let go of all the suitcases at once and Greta winced. "I didn't realize you'd literally…drop them."
"Sorry," Mo said. "I lost my grip." It was obviously a lie but Greta laughed anyway. Darius set the suitcases down carefully, sending Mo a meaningful stare as he set each suitcase down individually.
"Well, now that that's done, I have to get to that poker game," Grandma Flo said, giving Greta, Mo, and Darius each a kiss on the cheek as she hurried out of the living room. "Boys, you take care of Greta!" she called and in less than a minute Grandma Flo had driven away to the important poker game at Ed's.
Mo and Darius exchanged amused glances and laughed. Greta smiled nervously, wondering if they were going to leave too. She found herself wishing they'd stay.
"So, you need any help unpacking?" Mo offered. "Sorry for, uh, dropping everything."
"It's okay," Greta said, only half-lying. "But I don't want you wasting your time unpacking my stuff with me."
"I don't care," Mo said with a shrug.
"Well, I've got a date," Darius said, rolling his eyes. "You guys enjoy yourselves, I gotta make myself beautiful." Greta laughed and waved back as Darius raised his hand and turned to leave. "Oh, and Mo," he said, turning back for a moment. "You listen to Cotton Candy – I don't wanna hear any complaints from Greta about you, got it?"
Mo raised his hands and held them behind his back. "My hands are tied!" he said seriously, his blue eyes wide. Darius laughed and left. Mo looked over at Greta. "So what am I doing?" he asked, looking at the suitcases. "Shall I start with the undergarments first?" He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively.
Greta laughed. "Well, the heaviest bags have all my books in them," she said thoughtfully. "I can do my clothes later, but the books and stuff are going to take awhile and they're murder on my back."
"Leave it to me!" Mo said cheerfully, lifting each suitcase to test its weight. When he finally grimaced from the weight of one of the suitcases he knelt and unzipped it. "Found them! Where's the bookcases?"
"Oh…good question," Greta said, realizing she hadn't seen any bookcases. "Hold on, maybe they're in my room…" She quickly checked her bedroom but there wasn't even a shelf to put some of them on. "Damn," she muttered. "I guess I'll have to buy a bookcase later. I'll just keep the books in the suitcase for now…"
"I could go with you and get a bookcase. Gabriel's got a truck that's perfect for carrying furniture," Mo offered.
"For real? Great!" Greta grinned and checked her purse. She had a few hundred dollars on her in cash, to pay for groceries, but she guessed if she could find a cheap bookcase she could deal with eating cheap noodles for a week or so before she got a job.
"Let's go now," Mo said, "before Darius leaves. Hold on, lemme just grab his cell so I can call Gabriel and tell him we're coming over."
Greta waited on the old, beat-up couch in the living room while she waited for Mo. She smiled to herself. Thank God Grandma Flo knew Mo and Darius. She wouldn't have been able to get a bookcase over to her apartment herself and she wasn't sure she would have bothered going to the trouble of getting it delivered and she couldn't deny that she was more than a little grateful to have someone with her as she unpacked everything. Doing it by herself would have been lonely and frustrating.
A few moments later Mo returned, cell phone in hand, and waved Greta to come with him. "Okay, Gabe says we can borrow the truck. He never says no, but, you know, you don't just take someone's truck…" He laughed. "He wouldn't even notice, though. He's so obsessed with writing his music, you know, so he just forgets about everyone else. Sometimes he doesn't come out of his house for days. He just sits in there at his keyboard and then when he finally comes out he's got this masterpiece." Mo shook his head and chuckled. "I wish I were that committed."
"You write music?" Greta asked curiously. She couldn't picture Mo as the next Beethoven. The thought alone made her want to laugh.
"Sort of," Mo said modestly, his cheeks growing slightly pink. "I should just stick to playing but sometimes I really want to get something down and it just comes out in music."
"That's so cool!" Greta gushed, wishing she could write music. "What do you play? I bet it's something like…the trumpet or something."
"Uh, actually…guitar," Mo said with a laugh. "Where'd you get trumpet?"
Greta tried to picture Mo holding a guitar but he was so small she found it hard to believe he could hold it properly. "Guitar?" she repeated, dumbfounded. "Are you really good?"
"I guess," Mo muttered, suddenly growing shy.
"I don't play anything," Greta said, sensing Mo's obvious displeasure at the turn in the conversation. The two left Greta's apartment and started walking down the street toward, Greta assumed, Gabriel's house. She wondered who Gabriel was. Didn't Grandma Flo mention him? She was pretty sure she had. "…oh, you'd like Gabriel, he's quite good at the piano…" Of course, Greta remembered, he was the one who had apparently offered to take Greta in. Grandma Flo had sounded fond of him. She had also sounded fond of Mo and Darius and look how nice they had turned out to be. Greta hoped Gabriel was as nice as Mo and Darius were.
"You don't play anything?" Mo repeated incredulously, his mouth hanging open in shock. "How can you not play anything? At least you sing, right? I mean…you have to listen to music…you can't survive without it."
"Correction," Greta said with a laugh. "You obviously can't live without it. I prefer painting, myself."
"You're a painter?" Mo asked, taking a moment to think it over. "Oh well, it's still art. I guess that'll have to do. Are you really good?" He smirked, obviously aware he was asking her the same question she had asked him about his playing the guitar.
"I guess," Greta said and the two laughed.
"What do you paint?"
"Nude models," Greta said seriously. She looked slyly over Mo's shocked face and cracked a smile. "Just kidding," she said with a giggle. "Right now I just like painting the models in ads and stuff, like Vogue models, but I want to be able to paint live people some day. I'm still working on getting shadows right, too."
"Is it that hard?" Mo asked doubtfully.
"More than you know," Greta said. As a car whipped by the driver leaned on the horn. Mo's face lit up and he waved enthusiastically. Greta laughed. "I've never passed a person I know when I drive somewhere," she said, shaking her head.
"Really?" Mo gasped. "I see people I know everywhere! Maybe it's just because Oak Harbor is so small. Where did you live before you moved here?"
"Seattle," Greta said, rolling her eyes.
"That's so cool! I've always wanted to live in Seattle. I bet the art scene is insane." He sounded jealous for a moment, then wistful, and smiled. "I'm going to move to Seattle one day. We all are, the whole band. When we find the right girl to sing Gabriel's songs we're just gong to leave Oak Harbor and make it big in Seattle."
"Why can't you find a singer now?" Greta asked. "I mean, it can't be that hard. All my friends back home had no problem whenever they wanted to start a band."
"Gabriel's really picky," Mo said with a sigh. "He only wants the best of the best and it has to be a girl. He wants a girl with a soft, husky voice, but she has to be able to hit the high notes too. Girls like that are practically impossible to find! And someone who doesn't mind spending all her time with guys and instruments and noise and beer and stuff. Girls don't like that stuff. They like shopping and…other things like shopping." He wrinkled his nose in distaste. "And even if we do find the right girl who doesn't mind all that, what if she tries to change Gabriel's songs? Gabriel wouldn't let anyone touch his music and he's even more protective of his lyrics. He won't even let Darius help him and Darius used to write all the music and lyrics for the band he was in before he joined us."
"Darius is in the band too?" Greta asked, wondering what he played.
"Yeah, he's our bass," Mo said with a grin. "He's really good. He used to sing but Gabriel likes writing for girls more and that's why we decided to look for a girl instead."
"Wasn't Darius a little insulted?" Greta wondered out loud. If it were her she would have been more than a little mad that Gabriel wouldn't write any more music for her.
"Nah," Mo said with a casual wave of his hand. "We all knew that Gabriel wanted a girl." He paused for a moment and chuckled. "I feel like I'm talking about a baby." They stopped suddenly and Mo motioned the house they were standing in front of. It was an old, brick house with an uneven brick path leading up to the front door. An old truck sat in the driveway. Greta wondered if it was completely safe to drive in but decided to keep the thought to herself. "Gabriel!" Mo yelled.
"Why don't you just knock on the door?" Greta asked incredulously.
"This is easier," Mo replied with a laugh. "Gabriel!"
The front door whipped open and Greta's eyes widened. Standing the doorway was one of the most attractive men Greta had ever laid eyes on. His body was long and slim, particularly his legs, his arms lightly muscled, but only enough so he didn't look like a skinny wimp. His hair was wavy and black, resting lightly on his shoulders, his face slightly feminine looking, aside from the fact he had a small beard on his chin. He wore a pair of faded, tattered jeans and a white wife-beater, yet he looked like perfect anyway. This was the Gabriel that had offered to let her stay with him. Damn it, Grandma! You should have told him I'd stay with him! Greta complained silently.
"What do you want?" Gabriel growled when he saw Mo standing at the end of the brick path.
"I called you earlier and you said we could use your car!" Mo answered with a grin, undisturbed by Gabriel's irritated tone. "Greta's getting a bookcase from the thrift store and we need the truck to get it back to her apartment. I called you, like, twenty minutes ago."
Gabriel thought for a moment, then shook his head. "I don't remember," he said softly. "Come on, lemme get my keys."
Mo grinned again and grabbed Greta by the wrist, pulling her put the brick path toward Gabriel's house. The moment they entered Greta fell in love with the smell, primarily sandalwood mixed with vanilla, cinnamon, and cigarette smoke. Greta had always hated the smell of sandalwood. She loved it now.
The apartment was a disaster. Clothes were strewn about the floor along with paper covered in scrawled words. As Greta focused on them more deeply she realized they were lyrics. In the corner of the living room was a keyboard. On a table behind it there were about a dozen cans of beer and a cigarette still burning in an ashtray. It was exactly what Greta had always pictured for an artist to live in. Beer, cigarettes, and a keyboard, along with some sandalwood incense and clothes. It was all he needed, or at least that's what it seemed. Gabriel returned to the living room a moment later and Greta felt her breath catch in her throat as she was faced with him only a few feet away. He held a cigarette lazily between his middle finger and index finger. Every one of his fingers had one ring on it, if not two. Every ring was silver, worn so it didn't look new anymore, and worn so casually that it was as though he were born with the rings.
"There's the keys," Gabriel said. He looked over at Greta and smiled. "You're Greta?" he asked.
"Yeah." Greta nodded shyly.
"Nice to meet you." Gabriel extended his hand and Greta took it hesitantly. Gabriel gave her hand a brief shake and let it go quickly. "I've got work to do," he said and walked over to his keyboard. "Just leave the keys on the hook when you're done with the truck."
"'Kay, bye Gabriel," Mo said, obviously unperturbed by Gabriel's attitude. He and Greta left without another word. Mo climbed into the truck and unlocked Greta's door for her. "Nice guy, huh?"
"He seems a bit…quiet," Greta said carefully, not wanting to insult Gabriel in front of Mo.
"Yeah, he's always been like that. He's not very social," Mo said thoughtfully. "But he's a really nice guy and he's not so quiet when he gets to know you. Plus he was working on his music. He hates being disturbed so he's not as friendly as he usually is. Gabriel can be a nice guy, but when he really gets into his music and stuff he can be a real jerk too. I guess that's an artist for you, though." He paused for a moment and thought. "You're not like that, are you?" he asked curiously.
"I don't think so," Greta said thoughtfully.
"Good," Mo said, smiling. "The last thing we need around here is another Gabriel. One's enough for me. But you'll love him once you get to know him. We just caught him at a bad time. All the guys are nice. You haven't met Julian yet, have you? You'll love him. He's our drummer and probably the most responsible of all of us. He takes care of us all when we need it. Like last year, Gabriel got really messed up because of…well, he just had a really bad day, right? And then to make things worse he got kicked out of his apartment because he was really late in paying the rent and everyone was annoyed that he played the keyboard all the time. Julian took him in and let him stay for over four months even though his girlfriend Tempest had just moved in with him not even a month ago. He's a really good friend…I just wish everyone were more like him."
"You guys all sound so close," Greta said wistfully. "I've never had a friend that would just take me in like that."
"Never?" Mo repeated dumbfounded. "Well, we'll fix that! You're our new friend and we'll all take care of you."
Greta laughed. "Thanks," she said.
Mo grinned at her and pulled into a parking lot. "Voilà! Le Thrift Shoppe!" Greta laughed and followed Mo out of the truck into the old, beaten down building.
"We'll take care of you," he had said. Greta smiled to herself and felt the sudden urge to wrap Mo into a hug. Instead, she just followed his blond head, bopping through the aisles cheerfully, already fulfilling his promise…
Author's Note: Cotton Candy and the boys (Mo, Darius, Gabriel, and Julian) are all a part of this story because of the genius imagination that is lady moonlight's. Thanks so much for coming up with these characters, Allie! And there is the first chapter of Farewell to the Coffee Lands, I hope you enjoyed it. Whether or not you thought this was good, please send me a review and give me at least one piece of useful advice because no one's perfect and everyone needs a push in the right direction!