Chapter One: Of Night and Day
It wasn’t unusual for me to be here. It kind of grew on me, and ever since my first visit, I’ve always been compelled to stay. It was welcoming, granted a little weird, but you got used to that pretty quick. Or at least I did.
“Finish up! Dawn’s almost here and I’ve got to open soon.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I replied. I put the finishing touches onto the painting and presented it to her. “What do you think?”
“Dark,” she muttered. Ms. Nightingale, or Ms. Night, was a woman who seemed older than she was, her frizzy hair so blond it was white. She kept it short and spiky, and her demeanor was much the same. But with costumers she could be as friendly as a cuddly puppy. I was one of the lucky ones that met her short-tempered side after hours.
Ms. Night owned a shop that was a mix between a coffee shop and a crafts area. She offered spaces for artists to work with a little coffee thrown in to boot. It’s a really brilliant idea, honestly! I never knew how many art-lovers lived in our small town before I started coming here.
I was a regular visitor at the Painted Mug (wonderful name, right?), but my visiting hours were not like the others. My times here were usually at night. I wasn’t an insomniac, in case you were wondering. But every night, ever since the start of summer, something kept waking me up at one in the morning. A nudge on the foot, a tap on my head, a growl in my ear, or a screech in the yard – there was no end to the various types of ways I woke up. But I always did.
And my parents wonder why I sleep so early.
“Dark like me,” I replied, looking at my painting and thinking of my black hair and deep brown eyes. I had taken dark shades of color and swirled them into a messy swirl. Occasionally I added specks of white and yellow, small lights in a dark night.
“You can put that with the others,” Ms. Night told me. I took my painting from the easel and walked over to the wall where artists could display their works. My pieces were on this wall, and I felt some pride when I watched people admire them while I drank my coffee.
“Now, Raven, do you think you could work the counter today?” asked Ms. Night.
“Of course,” I said, walking over to the coffee-shop portion of the Painted Mug. Snatching an apron off a hook, I stepped behind the counter and started the coffee machine.
It wasn’t long before the first person arrived. A mousy looking woman, with dusty brown hair drawn up into a sloppy bun and big round eyes, scurried through the door and caught sight of me.
“Morning,” she squeaked at me.
“Good morning, Meg,” I greeted. Meg, another regular here, was rather timid when it came to meeting other people. She loved to make threaded necklaces and bracelets. In fact, I think I still have one of her bracelets somewhere in a swamp I call my room.
Meg ordered a small coffee with a streak of cream, and took that over to a table. The next person to come in was Mr. Thun. Unlike Meg and me, Mr. Thun wasn’t a regular. I’ve only seen him twice here, and I didn’t really know him well enough to say much about him. Kind of scares me though, with his wide-set shoulders and beady eyes. I’ve seen him sketch some, but I’ve never seen the actual drawings.
He didn’t order anything today, sitting off by himself and bringing out his sketchbook. Casting me a glance that pierced me like lightning, Mr. Thun hunkered down to sketch. Unnerved, I tried to calm my racing heart so hard I didn’t notice when a customer I’ve never seen before walk up to the counter.
“Do you sell foods,” asked she, a small girl with red hair streaked black. It was depressing for me to see young girls dye their hair.
“Y-yes,” I stammered, still recovering from shock. I pointed out the menu to her, and she politely ordered a scone.
“You here for the food or art,” I asked after I had gotten a hold of myself. The girl smiled at me, pleasantly surprised to be in a conversation.
“Both, and that’s a wonderful thing,” she replied.
“It is. I love this place,” I agreed.
“You don’t look like you sleep much,” commented the girl serenely, pointing to my eyes, “you’re expression gives it away.”
“No, in fact I don’t,” I said, rubbing a hand across my face to stimulate my mind. I made a mental note to get some coffee as soon as this customer was dealt with.
“Any reason in particular,” she asked.
“Interrupted sleep,” I answered truthfully.
“I’m Amanda, by the way,” she stuck her hand out over the counter.
“Raven.” I shook her hand. It felt cool against my hand, which was odd because my hands were usually really cold. When she released my hand to me, I pressed it to the skin of my other arm. Nope, I wasn’t warm – I was as just as cold as before. She was even colder.
Somehow that thrilled me.