They stopped for lunch in a little café Owen liked to visit when he was staying with his grandmother. It was cheap and cheerful but had some of the nicest food Owen had ever had in a café. Of course, nothing surpassed his grandmother’s cooking, but this came close. He wasn’t one for fancy food and the general fare of homecooked stews, pies and burgers suited him fine. They also had the best coffee he’d ever tasted outside the city. Aggie wasn’t impressed with coffee and the shit she gave him tasted like it had gone through the intestines of a cow.
Bran couldn’t sit still. Owen had led him to a table at the back of the café where it was quiet and there was space around them to stack their bags. Owen liked to sit here because it was slightly secluded and gave him an opportunity to people-watch. Bran was over-the-top excited by the prospect and bounced every time someone came in making comments way too loudly. Fortunately the comments were always good, but it still took a while and some embarrassment before Bran got the idea that people didn’t really like to be noticed, even when the really cute guy in the corner was waving and telling you the colour of your hair reminds him of flowers and perfectly matches the pattern on the walking stick you’re using, especially when he went on to say that “It’s really amazing that a human this old can walk at all.”
“But it is,” Bran said in a far-too-loud stage whisper when Owen made him sit still and sent an apologetic shrug to the woman who sat down heavily, a confused expression on her face, as if she wasn’t quite sure whether she should be pleased or offended. “Humans don’t live that long, a hundred if they’re lucky and they get… sort of…broken down at the end. Most of them give up after about seventy years and then they die.”
Owen closed his eyes and cringed. He took a deep breath. “Maybe it’s because we get old and die so quickly compared to your…people, we really don’t like being reminded how fragile and we are and definitely don’t like our own mortality shoved in our faces.”
“I don’t understand.”
“We don’t like to be reminded we’re going to die, especially if it’s likely to be sooner rather than later. We also don’t like reminding that our bodies don’t work as well as they used to.”
Bran frowned, considering, then a dark expression crossed his face, draining the joy out of him.
“What’s the matter?” Owen asked, but Bran shook his head. No amount of prompting would get him to speak, so Owen changed tack and distracted him with the menu. Bran perked up and threw himself into an exploration of human food, but he never quite regained his sparkle.
By the end of the day, they had so many bags and boxes it would have been impossible to carry them all home, so Owen called a taxi. Bran chatted to the driver non-stop all the way back. In Owen’s experience the local taxi drivers weren’t a talkative lot, but Bran had a way about him that made people open up and by the time they arrived home they knew all about, Rhys’s family, his financial situation and his slight gambling problem.
“Tell Amy fenugreek is good for menstrual cramps, especially when they’re just starting, and if she adds some lemon to the last rinse when she’s washing her hair, the sun will give her natural highlights. Oh, and tell Mair to keep her feet up. It wouldn’t go amiss if you gave her a foot-rub with lavender oil every night, either.” He helped Owen take the last of the bags out of the car, then turned back with a very serious expression on his face. “Please don’t make any more bets. It only gets worse, never better and even when you’re winning you’re really losing because it’s just sucking you in deeper. There are places in the deep lake where the floor looks pleasant, and pretty plants grow, but if you walk into them they’ll suck you down and you’ll never come out again. Please don’t do that, not with the baby coming. Mair needs you, and Amy needs her dad at home and not out hiding somewhere.”
Owen didn’t hear what the driver said, but he saw him reach out of the window and pull Bran closer. Bran bent and Owen could have sworn the man kissed his forehead. Shaking his head, Owen turned and struggled up the path with bags in his hands, under his arms, and even one in his teeth. He was wondering how he was going to open the door, when it swung back to reveal a grinning Aggie.
“Have a good time, did you?” she said, her voice lighter than Owen had heard for a long time. His grandmother was many things – wise, resourceful, capable and endlessly kind, but one thing she wasn’t – usually – was cheerful, and the first thing that hit Owen when he saw her, framed in the doorway, a bright smile on her face was that he’d never seen her smile so wide or her eyes quite so bright and she looked…younger.
Bran danced past him, just as laden but somehow less burdened, and planted a kiss on Aggie’s cheek then breezed past her. Aggie turned after him, grumbling about so much energy making her feel tired, but he didn’t miss the sweet smile, or the way she raised her hand to touch her cheek. He smiled. Not only was Bran a faery but he was magic.