I was surprisingly energetic the next morning considering how little actual sleep I got the night before. There is something so incredibly peaceful about sitting on a balcony in the sun over looking the ocean.
"Hey beautiful." "Hey yourself." He slid his cool hand along the side of my legs before lifting them just enough to sit down on the lounger, placing them gently on his lap as he sat. I shivered and not from the cold of his touch. We sat in silence, drinking our coffee, as our eyes burned holes into the others soul. I knew I had to leave soon and that made the moment all the sweeter. It wasn't to last though and a ringing phone pulled him from my side and back into the room. I sighed as I reluctantly began pushing myself to my feet. I hadn't made it out of the chair before the trilling sound of my mobile grabbed my attention.
"Where are you?" "Good morning to you too brother dear." I retorted with mock honeyed tones. He laughed at that and I knew that was the only acknowledgement I'd get of the demonstration of his impatient nature. "Moon said you left early this morning to check on Flax but when I came to the hospital you weren't here." Bless Moon for covering for me. Per might not have noticed I didn't come home last night but Moon most certainly would have. "Of course you wouldn't find me at the hospital silly." I tried my best to seem admonishing and teasing as I bluffed my way through the lie that Moon had provided. "He's likely to still be asleep at this time. I popped over to his hotel to see if Malt had heard anything about him through the night."
"Right, ya, good thinking." He trailed off and I could tell he was getting distracted. I needed to keep him interested in this case, after that little incident at the hotel I knew I couldn't do it without him.
"Hey how about you meet me at that new coffee shop so we can go over what we know so far. I just can't get my head around it and I need your insight." That wasn't entirely true but I knew it would pique his curiosity.
"Sure! I'll see you there in five."
"Make it twenty and you have a deal." I could have made it there in five but there was no way I was going to let him see me in the same clothes I was in last night.
"Deal." He hung up and threw on my clothes before heading to the door, blowing a kiss to Malt on my way out.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Twenty minutes later and he was already there waiting for me. The new place was just like any other coffee shop springing up all over the country and it wasn't until I got a whiff of the aroma surrounding it did I understand why it had become so popular.
"Hey." I said sliding in beside him. I didn't bother with asking how he was, I just got right down to it. "We need to find out what Ice and Nilla were doing at that concert. Ice wouldn't melt if you shoved him against the service of the sun." Per started chuckling at that. "What?"
"You just can't handle that you couldn't tease the information out of him can you Mint?"
"You're one to talk." I muttered under my breath. "Very funny Per but it doesn't change anything. If he won't crack we need another way in, we need to get to Nilla. That little berry knows something and my bet is she isn't as innocent as she looks." I felt Per stiffen at my side but assuming he'd seen a bird or something I carried on. "I called around and Ice will be meeting some record execs this afternoon. So I say it's time for you to bring out the charm again while I dig around and see what...."
"No!" The force of Per's statement shocked me. "You can't just go running around butting into peoples lives because you feel like it! Nilla has nothing to do with this leave her alone!"
His eyes were fierce and I knew there was no crossing that look. Nilla must have really gotten to him. The only time I had ever seen him like this was when kids gave Moon a hard time in school when we were younger.
"Alright if you insist. I guess I just got carried away." And so had he. I didn't know what he saw in Nilla but it was obviously something strong. I wouldn't come between them but.... An idea began to form and to occupy Per I asked, "So Mr. Smarty Pants what do you suggest?"
While Per got going on his rather elaborate schemes as to how we were going to find out what happened to Flax I made plans of my own.
Leaving him to his ideas of getting into Ice's family home (as if we could ever find that!) I carried on with my original plan with only a very slight modification.
The studio was as crowded as I remembered it from my own days here with dad. Crowded and yet somehow empty of anything real. The people in the hall may have changed but their attitudes hadn't. Everyone of them radiated self-impotence.
True to form the little mouse was hiding behind a book while people came and went around her, completely unaware of her presence. In that moment I could see what drew Per to her. She seemed so vulnerable somehow.
More satisfied than ever with this plan I plopped down beside.
"Wow this place hasn't changed a bit. Hurry up and wait and make sure you look good doing it."
"I'll tell you a little secret though. Every single person that walks through those doors is a complete and utter nervous wreck. I'm Mint by the way, you must be Nilla."
She finally looked up from her book eyes nearly as big as those ridiculous glasses. "I know who you are but how...how do you know who I am?"
"My brother, Per, told me about you. He was quite taken with you if I might say so." Her cheeks flushed bringing out the only colour in her otherwise pale face.
"I'm sure you must be mistaken." She muttered turning her face back to her book. I examined her closely looking for any sign of duplicity but could see only innocence, what was this girl's story!
"I don't think you see what he sees in you. " I teased trying to make light of it.
She didn't look up, in fact she barely reacted at all her voice flat and lifeless. "I know what I look like in the mirror."
That one statement nearly broke my heart. I may not understand what Per saw in her but no one should be filled with so much doubt and self-loathing. I leapt up and grabbed her arm. "Come with me."
"With you? Where? I can't just leave."
"You can and you will. These things take hours and there is no way you need to sit out here waiting all that time. Besides I have something to show you."
"What can you possibly have to show me here?" Her voice quavered ever so slightly.
"This!" And this that I unceremoniously turned to face a mirror.
She tried to turn away as if not wanting to meet her own eye but I was having none of it. "I'm gonna show you what you can't seem to see yourself."
I shoved her behind a screen and started piling clothes in after her. I knew that she would automatically gravitate to sedate and demure and while I didn't want to make her uncomfortable I did want to push her boundaries. While she hesitantly tried on her new look I began to prattle about this and that ever so slowly making my way to the topic of most interest to me. Finally throwing on an outfit reminiscent of my youth I burst out laughing and I knew the moment had come. "Oh Berry do I look different from the last time Flax saw me in something like this."
"Flax, as in Flax Treacle?"
"My first love," I said conspiratorially. "I grew up with him and even thought I would end up with him at one point." A clattering from the corner made me know I had got her attention. "You ok back there?"
"Yes, everything's fine," she said a bit too hurriedly. "You grew up with Flax so that means you know..."
"Yep know Maize too. What a pair they make. Have you ever met them? Being in the same business I'm sure you must end up in the same place from time to time."
"I....I....no I've never met them. Um, it's getting late. I should be getting back to Ice now."
Fudge I was so close! She knew something, she had to with the amount of nerves that she was showing. "Not without your hair being done first." I said smiling. Gesturing to one of the beauticians I stepped outside to clear my head and try and figure out a way to get back on track. The second I was out in the dazzling sunlight my phone vibrated. Rats I must not have had reception in there. It was a message from Malt, eagerly I dialled my voicemail.
"Hey babe sorry I missed you. Just thought I'd let you know that Flax has been released and is here at the hotel. You should pop by, soon."
I could barely contain my excitement. Whatever it was that Nilla knew would have to wait. It's not like I was having much luck getting her to spill it anyway. I ducked back into the salon to pay for Nilla's makeover and scribbled a quick note of encouragement before dashing off again.
I watched closely as Mint sprinted from the salon. I had a feeling she'd go after Nilla no matter what I said and I wasn't surprised to learn that she had met up with Nilla at the studio. I was, however, surprised they had come here. I waited for a few more minutes but when Nilla didn't emerge my curiosity got the best of me.
"Oh I am so sorry!" I said trying to right the poor woman I had just barrelled in to.
"Per?" The melodic voice made me look up and I was stunned.
"Your sister. I don't know why I went along with it." She dropped her eyes, those sparkling brilliant eyes no longer hidden behind thick lenses. "I suppose I thought she would make me beautiful."
I gasp instinctively reaching out to grab hold of her in a vain effort to turn her towards me. "You were already beautiful."
"Well she ran off before it was done and I worried that maybe.... Nevermind. She's gone to see Flax if you're looking for her." She peeked up from behind her hair only to catch me gawking and unable to turn away. As our eyes locked for the second time I felt that the world melted around me leaving only her. "She....I....he...."
"Yeah?" I said stupidly hardly caring what she said as long as I could hear her voice. The summer breeze ruffled the leaves bringing the smell of her dancing around me. Unable to resist I drew her closer.
"Per," she breathed. Every inch of me was intimately aware of her yet there was this small voice in the back of my head, "That little berry knows something and my bet is she isn't as innocent as she looks."
She pulled away from me then, turning to the side and breaking the spell. "I should go. I can't," taking a deep breath she glanced back at me. "I get confused when I'm with you."
Emotions and thoughts whipping around me and tugging me in every direction I could only say one thing in response. "Me too."
Whatever this was now was not the time. I had to get to the bottom of Mint's little mystery if I was ever to figure it out though. Unable to help one last touch I ran my hand through her hair and ever so lightly kissed the tips as they left my fingers.
"Per, it's Flax!" I spun ready to protect her from what ever was causing the desperation in her voice. The plaza was empty of anyone but us the pain was etched deep within her face. "It's Flax," she said again nearly sobbing. "He's my brother."
"Take your medicine." I teased nudging it towards him once again.
"Mint you know how I feel about medicine. I've had enough to last a life time these past few days. I'm not putting any more of that stuff in my body."
We'd been out for a long walk on the beach, catching up and reminiscing about old times. I don't know why I thought that would make him listen to me, he never used to. Hearing the door to the patio open and close behind us I sigh and made to get up.
"And where do you think you're going?" Flax prodded.
I pretended not to hear the slight tinge of jealousy in his voice as I brushed off his comment. "Seeing how unreasonable you're being I'm going to find someone with a bit more sense."
"You mean Malt?" he scoffed.
In truth I was get a bit fed up with his neediness and it seeped into my voice. "Who else would I mean?"
"No! You're mine." And with that he scooped up the pills and popped them in his mouth swallowing them dry.
Immediately he started gagging and although I thought he deserved it for his rash and petulant action I gave in and went to get him some water. Fool boy, I thought to myself. That's why I no longer felt the same way about him, I needed a man. Snatching the glass with more force than I intend I stormed back towards the main room. A retching sound followed by a thud turned my angry walk into a run.