Over Coffee + Part Four (cont)

+

"Fate?" Wufei snorted. "Sounds like someone has watched Serendipity a few too many times."

"He's perfect!" I enthused. "Handsome, intelligent, kind to animals, so romantic--"

"Whatever," Wufei snorted. "Bring him along Saturday, and we'll see how he measures up. You are coming on Saturday, aren't you?"

"Did Duo invite you too?" I wondered. "Any idea what's happening?"

"Sally says she has a fair idea but she's not telling me. But apparently Duo and Hilde both have their final exams on Friday, so by Saturday they'll have finished their degrees."

It couldn't be Howard's news, could it? Duo wasn't supposed to know-I shrugged. I guess it would all be sorted out.

"By the way, Quatre, is something wrong at work? One of your sisters rang me to see if I knew what was wrong with you-she said you've been distant all week."

I sighed. "Let's just say they've gone too far. I'm actually seeking alternate employment. The problem is most of my inheritance is tied up in the company--"

"Alternative employment?" Wufei repeated. "What happened?"

I explained. Wufei was, of course, outraged.

"You've got enough grounds to sue them-you shouldn't let them treat you this way. Don't quit-stay and fight it out."

"But I don't want to work there anyway. I've had enough of my sisters- I'd rather head out on my own then put up with their scheming."

"Well, good luck," Wufei said. "I'll let you know if I hear of anything that might suit."

I thanked him and set the phone down. What to do now? Just dealing with my sisters at work was exhausting--

There was a knock at the door.

I answered it-and blinked as I discovered a delivery boy holding a gorgeous bunch of roses.

"Delivery from a Trowa Barton," he said. "Sign here."

Rather bemused, but very happy, I strolled back into my apartment, smelling the flowers. They were gorgeous-beautifully scented--

There was a card too.

"See you at eight," it read. "Wear a tie."

Eight? I glanced at the clock-it was now quarter to. I had just enough time to shower and change before Trowa arrived.

"Where are we going?" I asked him. "And why didn't you tell me earlier?"

"I wanted it to be a surprise," he said, holding the door open for me.

It was. The most perfectly romantic evening ever. Dinner at a cosy restaurant, then dancing--

I was in heaven.

I was so wrapped up in my Trowa induced happiness that not even the snide remarks of my sisters could bring me down. That is, until the meeting.

Rani came to my desk apologetically. "Excuse me, Quatre? There's a board meeting now-we need you there."

"But board meetings have to be scheduled at least three days in advance-why wasn't I told?" I had a premonition. "It's about me, isn't it?"

"I'm sorry, Quatre. Iria called it-she has the support of Anya, and most of the others-but not all of us agree with her." Rani looked at me anxiously. "The failure of the Fairbrough merger's really upset her. There's nothing we can do--"

"It's all right. Whatever Iria has to say, I can handle it," I said.

I was right, but only just. What Iria had to say was a lot worse than anything I could have anticipated. Furthermore, most of the board- pretty much comprised of my sisters since Father's retirement three years earlier-agreed.

I sat it out and let Iria deliver her ultimatum-conform or else-and then stood.

"I should like to draw your attention to two things," I said. "One, my work history. I have handled a large number of cases, many highly important over the years, and I have done so, without giving either the board, or our customers, reason for complaint. Two, the human rights commission statement on employment which clearly states that dismissal or harassment on the grounds of sexuality is wrongful, and grounds for legal action."

"You wouldn't sue us!" Lila protested. "Not your own family!"

"If you continue to treat me in this way, then yes," I said. "Unless-- "

An hour later I walked out of the building, without a job but with a stunning recommendation from the board, a month's salary in advance, and an agreement in which my sisters would buy out my share in the company over the next month. I set up a bank account, with instructions to reinvest the money as soon as it came in, and then left. I wandered for a while before sitting down on a park bench and letting it sink in.

I had done it. I was free.

It would mean a lot of changes, I knew. I'd have to let my apartment go, find cheaper accommodation, maybe sell my car. But I couldn't help feeling cheerful about this-free!

+

"It's certainly unique," Trowa said, looking interestedly around the cafe. "And I can safely say those are the biggest cockroaches I've ever seen."

I laughed. "Wait till you try the food."

"Quatre," Wufei nodded to me. "Mind if we join you?"

"Go ahead," I said. "Trowa, this is Wufei, a good friend of mine. And Wufei, this is Trowa."

"Pleased to meet you," Wufei said. "Quatre, Trowa, this is Sally."

Sally was not what I'd expected. For one thing she was tall and robust, with a pleasant face and some very interesting plaits. Her posture was relaxed, although standing close to Wufei, she did not seem possessive. My misgivings about the relationship slipped away as the two of them sat down-they fitted together as if they'd been a couple for years.

"Glad to see you could all make it," Duo greeted us. "What can I get you?"

"How about an explanation?" Wufei grumbled, half-heartedly.

"No can do, Wufei, wouldn't want to spoil the surprise," Duo said. "Well, Q-aren't you going to introduce me?"

"Oh, of course," I said. "Trowa, this is Duo."

Lunch was of course terrific, and I enjoyed the conversation. Sally was highly intelligent, and not beyond arguing with Wufei-but showing a good sense of humour and the ability to tease him without getting him angry. Trowa was rather quiet, a little shy in the presence of so many strangers, but contributing his opinion with a subtlety that ensured he was listened to. Just as we were finishing the meal, a man arrived.

"This is it," Duo told us in an undertone, before going to greet the man, and leading him to a table-that I noted, had been set up in the centre of the cafe and that had remained free despite the fact that the cafe was getting crowded.

Hilde appeared, smiling, and sat down at the other end of the table. I thought she looked a little nervous.

I frowned, not having any idea what was going on.

Wufei and Sally were apparently better informed.

"Is that Walker she's with?" Wufei asked.

Sally nodded. "Walker and Hilde have been together for almost two years now," she explained to Trowa and I. "I'm guessing we're here because Hilde's decided she wants to make it permanent."

"Oh, wow!" I said, looking over to where the two of them sat chatting. "That's - wonderful--"

"Shush," Sally told me. "It looks like Duo's got something."

Duo set a cake down on their table, on which something glinted. I grabbed Trowa's hand as he backed away, leaving Hilde, Walker and the cake--

Walker looked at Hilde, who said something, looking him earnestly in the face. There was a long moment after she finished in which he did nothing--

And then, with a smile, he picked up the ring and put it on his finger.

"Of course I will!" he said, loudly enough to be heard by the rest of the cafe-who promptly broke into applause as Hilde, crying happily, hugged him.

Howard brought out champagne glasses, and we toasted the happy couple. "Stick around, everyone-we're going to party!" he announced.

Hilde cried the entire time. Happy tears of course. Walker looked as though he'd just won the lottery. Howard was at his best playing the host-and I hadn't seen Duo look happier.

"What've you been up to since we last met?" Duo asked, as he sat down in what had been Wufei's seat-Sally had threatened him until he'd agreed to dance with her. Trowa had had to leave early-a pair of tiger cubs had just been born, and they needed careful attention. "Aside from tracking down tall, dark and elusive, of course."

I blushed. "Well, I'm out of a job-I'm not sure whether I lost it, or I quit, but either way, the end result is that I'm looking for work."

"Well, that might not be such a bad thing-I mean, your sisters didn't exactly strike me as the nicest people to work with."

"I'm not terribly upset," I admitted. "But I haven't really decided what I'm going to do."

"You don't want Hilde's job, do you? She's been offered an internship at a law office in town, so today's her last day here-I mean, its not the world's greatest job, or the most glamorous, but it'd be a great help-being the start of the holidays, everyone wants to go away, no- one wants to work--"

"Sure," I said.

"Great!" Duo said. "Let's go find Howard."

Howard nodded as Duo made his suggestion. "It's fine by me, but it's not really my decision."

"What do you mean?" Duo asked as Howard winked at me.

"Ladies and Gentlemen," he said, clearing his throat for attention. "We're glad you could make it here today, to share Hilde and Walker's engagement party-and to hear the announcement I'm about to make. Howard's has been open for almost thirty years now. In that time, I've seen many changes-staff, menus, décor-it's been a blast. I can't say they were all good times, but I wouldn't change anything. Some of our older customers might even remember when this pest turned up," Howard continued, clapping Duo on the back. "He used to bring his toys down from the office to play with them in the cafe. Our staff got used to walking around him when he fell asleep on the floor. When we sent him to preschool for the first time, he cried because he missed the cafe."

"Geez, old man, bore the customers, why don't ya," Duo muttered under his breath, his face suspiciously pink.

Howard ignored him. "That's the column he gave himself concussion running into when he was eight. Trying to get away from Hilde, who, if I remember rightly, was trying to kiss him. Anyway, the truth is that he's been an integral part of this cafe for years now, and that's why I've decided to give the cafe to him."

It was one of those 'wish you had thought to bring a camera' moments. There was this second where Duo was obviously wondering if he'd heard Howard right-and then it clicked and he just stared at him.

"You can't be serious-old man, this cafe-you built it from scratch!"

"I know," Howard nodded. "Try not to wreck it, will you?"

Duo had to wipe his eyes in a way that was somewhat suspicious.

"What, no smart remark?" Howard teased. "Ladies and gentlemen, a truly historic occasion-my grandson is speechless!"

+

"That's great," Trowa said. "So, your friend is now in charge of the café?"

"Uh-huh. Howard doesn't do anything by halves-he had me draw up the papers in advance and they signed them the next day. Howard's already planning holiday destinations-he's talking of going to South America, wants to meet the people who invented coffee or something. Duo says the real reason he's going is the beaches--" I shook my head, unable to imagine Howard hitting the beaches.

"I expect he'll have given you that job you wanted then," Trowa said, feeding me another grape. We'd taken a picnic lunch to the park and were currently basking in the sun, feeding each other, and doing couple-type things that would have made Wufei sick. Trowa had decided to surprise me-rather fortunately as somewhere amongst packing my stuff I'd forgotten all about feeding myself.

"Yes-I'm a kitchen hand-way to go up in the world," I laughed.

"Don't worry about it-you'll find something else soon. After all, you're brilliant."

I blushed. Trowa said the sweetest things.

"My goodness. Quatre?"

I blinked. "Uh-Treize?" I said with a sinking feeling. "What are you doing here?"

"I was taking my usual lunchtime stroll through the park-my office is just across the way there. I hope I'm not interrupting anything," Treize said. "But I've just come from a business meeting with your company, and I was sorry to hear that you no longer worked with them."

"Yes, well," I shrugged. "It was a mutually satisfactory outcome."

"Not for me. Whoever is managing our accounts is hopeless-I don't suppose I could convince you to manage them for me?"

I hesitated. "Are you sure that's a good idea? After all, we-uh--"

"Oh, I hold no hard feelings, Quatre. I think I should thank you-you gave me a much needed wake-up call. Whatever you decide, I wish you well for the future."

"Thank-you," I said as Treize bowed and departed.

"Ex-boyfriend," I explained to Trowa.

He gave me his Mona-Lisa like smile. "I gathered. So, you think you'll take the offer?"

"I'll have to think about it. I mean, Treize would pay a lot-but I'm actually enjoying not having to mind other people's businesses for them."

"So what do you actually do?"

"We're a combination of financiers, accountants, business advisers and consultants. I'm not really sure what you'd call us. We specialise in other people's business."

"Interesting. Are you sure you're not too grand to hang out with a mere zoo-keeper?"

"You kidding? Zoo-keeping beats dishwashing any day," I laughed.

"So, any luck finding a place to stay?" Trowa asked.

My heart fluttered. Was he going to ask me to move in with him? That would be perfect! "Not yet," I said coyly, looking down at my hands. "I'll have to find somewhere soon-my rent is paid up to Friday, no later."

"Something will turn up. Have you checked the University notice boards? I imagine a lot of student flats will be empty now its holidays."

I blinked. Well that hadn't gone according to plan. "I was thinking- wouldn't it be great if I moved in with you?" I suggested, lightly brushing his fringe out of his gorgeous eyes.

He froze, going completely rigid under my touch.

And not in a good way.

"Trowa?" I questioned.

"I... don't think that's a good idea. At least, not just yet," Trowa stumbled over the words.

I squeezed his shoulder. "Hey, its okay. If you're not ready for that yet, I can wait. If worst comes to worst, Wufei has said I can live in his garage."

"His garage?"

"Apparently there's a room attached, he keeps a pool table in. It's even heated."

"From junior executive to washing dishes and living in a garage--" he shook his head. "I have to go-the tiger cubs need feeding."

"Of course. Leave me the packing up." We kissed goodbye and he left- but I couldn't help feeling there was something wrong.

+

"So do you think I'm being overly paranoid?"

"I don't know-you know him better than I do. And I think you should trust your instincts-you're getting better at reading people."

"Really?" I brightened. "Thanks Duo."

"No problem." Duo resumed sweeping up. "I got an e-mail from the old man last night. He's in an old Mayan city with the weirdest name- Cheats-and-eat's-ya? Anyway, he sounds as though he's having a ball."

"That's good. You must miss him a lot."

"I do that. I tell ya, its downright creepy being in this place on my own-the lack of noise is disturbing. Hey--" Duo grinned at me. "Aren't you in dire need of a place to stay?"

"Now that you mention it--" I laughed. "You sure about this?"

"It's really designed for a family-Howard intended my parents to live here. Apparently my mother had different ideas." Duo got out the dustpan. "When you're done with the dishes, I'll show you what's available."

The flat was larger than it appeared, resting over the cafe.

"See? We've even got a sun-deck-although not much of a view. What do you think?"

"When can I start moving my stuff in?" I asked.

Duo laughed. "Whenever you like. I should warn you-I have a nasty habit of clogging the shower with this lot." He waved his plait at me. "Any bad habits I need to know about?"

"I've been accused of obsessive cleanliness," I answered. "That's about it, I guess."

"Quatre, that's not a bad habit, that's a godsend," Duo grinned. "This is going to be so cool. Finally, a flat-mate who won't complain about my music."

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