ARC III PART III: The Thief of Time
November, Present Day
Not wanting to wait for a bus or train, Aoto called a cab. Lills, Rubén, Shoma, and Aoto crammed into the back seat of a car that could barely fit one person, let alone four. Rubén was squirming, desperate for space, but neither of the Aihara brothers could care less. Compared to a Tokyo train on rush hour, this cab was nothing.
As the car sped along, Aoto talked urgently on his phone in Japanese, presumably to his grandfather. Meanwhile, the cabbie tried to make conversation in broken English with Lills.
"Japan- you like?" he asked, glancing at her in the rearview mirror.
"So far, yes," Lills replied. "Only been here twenty minutes."
"I saw a paper lantern!" Ruben exclaimed. "Do you know where the big wall is?"
"Wall? There is wall," the cabbie replied, pointing at a concrete wall as they passed. Aoto snickered and muttered something to the cabbie. The old man laughed.
"What did you say?" Rubén asked.
"Doesn't translate," Aoto lied.
The cab pulled to the curb, and Rubén and Lills squeezed themselves out, leaving Shoma and Aoto to argue over who would pay. Aoto eventually did before leading them to a large, sleek door. An older gentleman was waiting for them, casually leaning against his cane. When Lills and Rubén neared, he bowed deeply. They both tried to do the same, with mixed results.
"You must be Miss Holbright and Mr. Castillo. My name is Koji Aihara. It is an honor to meet you both," he said. "It is a shame that we were not able to meet under more favorable circumstances."
"Thank you for meeting us, Mr. Aihara," Lills said.
"Please, my friends call me Koji," the man said, grinning playfully. Lills noticed that he had the same smile as Aoto.
Shoma unlocked the front door and disabled the alarm. With a well-rehearsed swish of his cane, Koji flicked on the lights, revealing the most beautiful antique store Lills had ever seen.
"This is- I just... wow!" Lills exclaimed to Aoto. "This is bloody brilliant! Is that really a Qing vase? Oh my gosh, I think I'm in love!"
"Can you please try to look less happy?" Shoma said. "In case you haven't forgotten, Darcy is still missing."
Lills cringed. "I'm so so sorry, you're right." Shoma ignored her, instead making a beeline for the elevator.
"Sorry, it's been a long day for him," Aoto whispered to her. "I'll give you a tour later to make it up to you. Though fair warning, I haven't actually set foot in this building in ten years."
"No he's right, that was crass and thoughtless of me," Lills said, rubbing her face. She couldn't believe she had been so selfish. Every second she spent fawning over the antique store was a second that should be spent search for her friend. Not wanting to waste another minute, she followed Rubén and Shoma into the elevator, with Aoto and Koji close behind. A scanner lit up, and Shoma pressed his thumb against it. As elevator dropped rapidly, Rubén grasped Lills' hand. Lills looked him up and down. "You need to get out of the tea house more," she said.
YOU ARE READING
The Time Traveler's Tea HouseScience Fiction
(Watty "Wild Card" Winner 2018) In the heart of Edinburgh, there lies a tea house that has been in business for over 100 years, despite the sign on the door always proclaiming it closed. It provides a haven for a specific type of traveler: one who j...