21: The Antidote to Righteousness (JP)

It was mid-afternoon on a wet autumn day, the sun was hidden behind some clouds that had a serious gloom that shaded the bakery's front windows along with the rest of the street. There was a little breeze strong to move the rain but not make it driving. It was a wet kind of a day.
So far this was not a special Saturday in the Grindstone Bakery. There was no early rush of customers that they got on weekdays, commuters, people heading to work and regulars from the hospital down the street. Although there were a few of the latter clientele during their opening hours, the coffee and sandwiches there sucked. And the coffee house attached to the bakery had the best cookies in the county.
There had been a steady stream of people flowing in and out effortlessly without any incident. Nori was keeping the front cases filled, while Luna finished the last batch of mocha chocolate chip cookies in the back. No one had spilled any warm or cold beverages yet either. Everything was like a well-oiled machine.
Then it became the end of Nori's shift, and it was on Luna to see the last few hours of business through on her own. Her partner Amy was out of town for a family event, but she and Nori had done well handling things by themselves while she was away until Monday.
There was a lull soon after Nori left. A small study group took refuge in the corner with a pair of mismatched couches, and a man was enjoying a book with a warm raspberry scone at a table on the other side of the room.
“You told me I was full of shit,” the tall blond youth said over his shoulder to his companion.
“I did.” The other was a well built guy of sixteen maybe seventeen years. "And I wasn’t wrong.”
“Ah ou… Dude. Ou means dude.”
“Okay, right. Is that Afrikaans?”
“Ja.” He had reached the counter. “Hi Luna.”
“Hey Noah. You well?”
“All good here ja. This is Caleb. He’s a virgin.”
“Hey! I… I am not…”
Luna smiled. “Relax Caleb. He means it’s your first time here at the Grindstone Bakery. It means you get your first coffee for free. I’m Luna, this is my bakery and coffee house. Welcome.”
“Can I have a large flat white?”
“Sixteen ounce?” Luna asked. “That’s about double a regular. You want your usual Noah.”
Noah De Haan beamed wide. “Natuurlik. Do you have any cocada?”
Luna glanced at the front cases. “I think we still have one maybe.”
“I’ll have two if you got them.”
“How do you stay so skinny boy?” she asked, heading to the front of the store. “Do you want anything Caleb? It’s free too.”
“I don’t know what you have. But this place smells awesome. So I will start basic and go with a donut.”
“Jelly or vanilla.”
“Jelly of course.”
Luna placed the order on the counter and Noah tapped his card on the reader, and tossed some coins in the moderately empty tip jar.
“What are you drinking?” Caleb asked.
“Coconut latte,” Noah took a slurp. “Thanks Luna. Lets sit.” He gestured at a couple of beat up wingback chairs.”
“I thought the smell of coconut was off the cake on your plate. And just so as you know it is a big deal Noah. It sucks that people like Vincent bother you. You shouldn't have to deal with that."
Their lunch earlier in the week had been going surprisingly well, until Caleb had said Noah was full of shit. But the lunch break had ended and they had had to leave it like that. And despite the insult and the fact that Noah spent the whole thing looking like he was feeling like he had been four steps behind in the conversation, he had agreed to another meet up.
"Just what did you ever do to them, you know? Christian and Vincent, I mean. Have you ever given them a reason to be mean to you?" Caleb was trying not to sound judgmental, because he wanted to understand the situation from Noah’s perspective.
To give Noah an opening to respond he picked up his donut and took a bite, it was awesome, fresh and the jelly inside a tart contrast to the sugar encrusting it.
"I don't know," Noah mumbles into his drink.
"It’s not like you are an easy target Noah. You could cripple them both without breaking a sweat.
"I called Vincent stupid once last year," he replied risking a look at Caleb. “We were arguing about something in class,” Noah explained, "and he was getting on my nerves so called him stupid. I know that's not okay, but, in my defence, I didn't think he'd hold a grudge about it."
"That's not much of a defence," Caleb said, squinting at him sceptically.
"Yeah, I know. Thanks," he bites back, as he ran the top of his cocada through the froth on his coffee. "Two wrongs don't make a right. I get it."
"Hey, I can't judge you. I'm, like, the master of putting two wrongs together."
“I have a hard time believing that,” he scoffed.
“You are one of the… Noah.” Caleb avoided saying the word ‘X-Men’ in public, but the pause implied it.
“And that means gats like Vincent can take digs at me because they know I cannot touch them. They aren’t in training so it’s easy to be like that.” Training referred to the program of advanced training students could voluntarily undergo to participate in field work.
“Gats?” Caleb asked.
Noah blinked, his odd blue eyes momentarily on pause.
“Assholes,” he explained.
“I can't imagine you calling anyone stupid.”
Noah had lived in absolute poverty for years and had developed more than a few rough edges, life here at Xaviers had dulled those. People thought him nice and polite.
“I do think you're a little stupid though Noah."
His eyes dart back up, ready to fight. But Caleb is still smirking and teasing him.
"Excuse me?" he asks, mock-scandalised, trying to play along.
"I mean, first you call Vincent stupid to his face-"
"Yeah, over a year ago,” Noah says defensively
"And then you try to go toe-to-toe with the guy, which is just completely idiotic because he knows you cannot punch him out."
"I'm not gonna run scared from some dumb assed bully like Vincent," Noah growled, crushing the lighthearted atmosphere that they had been building. "I'm not a coward."
"I never said you were," Caleb said earnestly, "but you know more than I do, that you have to know when to walk away. In any fight against Vincent you are ultimately going to come off worse and he will look like the victim."
In a normal highschool the huge Vincent would be the bully and the stick thin Noah the target but theirs was not a normal school.
Noah’s attention was drawn to Luna, she had taken a step or two away from the counter, and was taking in the setting. Studying the architecture and artwork – or lack thereof – on the walls. A smooth charcoal grey paint hugged the walls end to end, black trim and a few framed accomplishments hung on the closest wall to the counter. A handful of those cheesy, flea market wooden wall hangings about coffee and sweets equating to happiness spread out among the empty spaces on the walls and between window panes. Sheer black curtains were tied back from the windows. This place gave off a vibe; Noah wasn't sure what kind of vibe, but he had always known it needed help.
He turned his attention back to the counter when Luna set down her own coffee and looked at him. “What?”
"This place could really use more artwork or something. This -" he gestured vaguely to the walls, "Is really kind of sad."
Luna came back from the pastry case with another cocada wrapped in a small brown paper bag, set it beside Noah’s coffee cup. “For later,” she explained. And what kind of art do you think it needs?" she asked, her expression crafted into neutrality. She wasn't about to let him know he just insulted her baby. Her proudest achievement after the bakery.
"I don't know, a mural at least," Noah shrugged, and then under his breath: "Or some real art hung on the walls."
"What are you suddenly an artist or something?" Luna asked, amused.
"No, but I know a couple, Illyana and Ethan would love the challenge.”
"So – what," Luna says, "You trying to talk your way into a job for your friends?"
"Hey, I'm not saying you have to hire them but you have seen them both in here sketching. And you gotta admit on a grim weather day like today this place could use some colour. The curtains are positively funereal.”
Luna looked at Noah, her brow furrowed. “For someone who says their first language isn’t English funereal is a pretty fancy word.”
“I have been watching PBS dramas.”
Luna considered Noah’s suggestion. “I will ask them next time I see them.”

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