It had been three weeks, and Cara was amazing. Everyone liked her. Her training in the coffeehouse, as we called it, had been surprising. Most new people found remembering all those combinations of flavors difficult. Like knowing how many shots of espresso go into the writer’s blend, or how to mix it just right so that the coffee notes still float through. Or knowing to heat the milk to between 60°C and 70°C, or you could scorch the milk. These were some complicated things to learn while working at the coffee bar. Dark Sparks had a big board of drinks from coffee to teas, and Cara had mastered all of them in the three weeks she had been there.
I was in the office when my heart pinged with the same tightness that I had experienced with Cara a few weeks ago. I stood up, went toward the coffee bar, and scanned the customers to see if it was for any of them. No one stood out to me. I ventured down the hall to the break room and overheard Cara having a heated conversation with someone on her phone. I tried not to eavesdrop, but with my goddess hearing, it was hard not to.
“No! You can’t do that! Where are we supposed to go? It wasn’t his fault!”
I could hear a man on the other end, telling her something like he needed them to be out by the end of the week.
She looked over at me, and I could tell she was crying. “I need to go,” she told the man on the phone and hung up.
I went to leave, but the pull on my heart said to wait. I turned back to Cara. “Hey, you okay?”
“That good, huh?” I joked, trying to make the mood lighter.
“No,” she said, wiping away her tears. “I’m sorry. It’s just that I can’t seem to catch a break. It’s like the world is against me or something.”
I lifted an eyebrow at that, mortal always seemed to need to blame the universe. If they only knew…
“How can I help?”
“Oh no, Nike, it will be fine.”
By the look of her, I knew she wasn’t fine. I didn’t know what it was with this mortal female, but there must be something bigger that I needed to do for her. I just had to figure out what it was.
A few days later, I got an urgent call from Kai. He needed help at the Mermaid’s Tale Bar and Grill down on the wharf. It was the grand opening, but he would be away and needed me to oversee things. It was a daunting task, and I would be away from Dark Sparks for a few weeks, but I knew the team could handle things.
It was fall in Olympus, and my siblings and I did an outstanding job handling things for Kai and all would still be standing when he got back. I made a lot of new friends, but that is a story for later.
I got a call from Carl a few days in. He said it was urgent, so I flew directly to the shop. I landed and walked to the loading dock where he had asked me to meet him.
“Hey, Nike.” Carl waved at me as I walked up the ramp. He had his hands in his back pockets and kept glancing around to see if anyone was there.
“Hey, Carl. What’s up? Why are we out here?”
Carl seemed nervous, rubbing the back of his neck with his left hand before answering me. “There’s something I need to tell you about,” he looked over at the back door, then back at me, “about Cara.”
I braced myself for the worst because Carl wasn’t one for stalling. Yet here he was, stumbling over his words as he tried to tell me something. “What’s happened to Cara?”
“I’m not sure really, but she’s been coming in and…”
“Carl, please, just tell me what has she done?”
“Oh no, Nike, she has done nothing wrong. I’m sorry to give you that impression.”
I breathed a sigh of relief.
“It’s just that she’s been coming in pretty banged up lately, and we’re all kind of worried about her. She looks exhausted. Jacob found her asleep at the break room table the other day, and when he went to wake her up, she almost decked him.”
“Where is she now?”
“I told her to take the rest of the day off. That was three days ago, and she hasn’t come into work since. I know how you helped me, and I know you are trying to help her, too.”
I gasped as I tried to think of what could have happened to her. “Thank you, Carl. You did the right thing by telling me.” We shook hands and went back to the shop. He headed for the counter while I ducked into the office to see what I could find about my missing assistant manager.
I remembered from a television show I’d seen once where the girl at the computer had to look at the employee files to find the address of a person of interest. So I decided to do the same thing and searched the employee file box. Thanking all the gods that her info hadn’t been added to the digital system yet, I found her address and ducked out the back door. Running down the ramp and into the alley, I took to the air and headed to Cara’s house.
I found her building easy enough and landed near the front door. I knocked on the glass to get the doorman’s attention. He got up, walked over, and unlocked the door before opening it. “Yeah? What is it?”
“I’m looking for a girl.”
“So is everyone else, lady.”
I was taken back by this. “What do you mean by that?”
“I mean, what do you want here, lady?”
“Oh, I’m looking for a young woman by the name of Cara Voltest.”
The man shook his head. “She don’t live here.”
“What? This is the address she gave her employer.”
“Well, she ain’t here now, lady.”
“Do you know where I might find her?”
“I can’t give you that information; it’s private.”
I was becoming impatient with this mortal as the tightness returned to my chest. The doorman started to close the door in my face and I pushed on it lightly to keep it open. Okay, I forgot my own strength and shoved the door off its hinges, knocking the man over. Feeling my wings push against my tattoo, I concentrated to hold them back.
Surprised, the man crawled away from me. I hurried over to him and picked him off the floor. As I held him in the air, he pointed to the desk. I put him down, and he rushed to his computer. He typed quickly and then wrote something down on a piece of paper. He gave it to me with a quivering hand. I turned to leave, stopping because I didn’t want our legal department to get involved. I tossed some money on his desk and said, “I was never here. If you tell anyone I was, you will look like that door. Do you understand?”
The man nodded, the fear clear in his eyes. I hurried out the broken door and took to the skies. As I flew, the tightness in my chest became very painful, and I pushed myself harder to find Cara.
I arrived at the new address to find a rundown house and a neighborhood that was in bad shape. There were boarded up buildings across the street, with many broken windows. The lock on the front door had been broken. I walked in and ran up the stairs. The smell inside reeked of ammonia and cigarettes, a smell I found as disgusting as a Roman communal toilet.
I made it to the front door and knocked. I could hear the sounds of cartoons and someone praying. I knocked again. “Who is it?” a little girl’s voice said through the door.
“Hi, my name is Nike. I was wondering if Cara was home.”
“Mama, there is someone here for Sissy,” I heard the little girl call out.
A few chains slid from the door before it opened. A woman’s tired, tear-stained face peered out at me. “Yes? What is it you want with my daughter?”
She couldn’t have been more than forty, long, black wavy hair, her dark eyes puffy from crying, her slim build wrapped in a sweater.
“Yes ma’am, I’m looking for Cara. Could you tell me where to find her? Please?”
“Who are you, and what is she to you?” the woman asked suspiciously.
“I’m her boss, and she hasn’t been to work in three days. We’re worried about her.”
Just then, a little boy came to the door, moaning and pointing at me. The woman grabbed the boy’s hand and said, “No, don’t point at people.”
But the child kept moaning and rocking, looking at me. I knew what he saw. He saw who I really was. He pulled away from the woman and went back inside.
“I am so sorry about my son. He…he has special needs, and he doesn’t mean any harm.”
I smiled and nodded at the woman. The boy returned with a picture of Cara in his hand. He pointed at the photo, then at me. His mother said, “No, Daunte, go put that back.” But the boy wouldn’t stop pointing at the picture, then at me.
The little girl came up to the door and said, “He wants her to help Cara, Mama.” The boy stopped gesturing as soon as the girl said this.
“You…you can help my Cara?” the woman asked me.
“I can try. Please, where is she? Is she in danger?”
The woman looked me in the eye, tears forming as she nodded yes.