Arc IV: Traitor

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ARC IV PART I: Traitor

On a sleepy street 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 journeys, not from place to place, but through time.

Rubén sighed as Lills as poured her fifth cup of tea, stealing a glance at the clock. For the last hour, Lills had hardly stopped to take a breath as she ranted about her most recent encounter with Aoto Aihara. Why he, and not Darcy, had been selected for the "privilege" of listening to this was beyond Rubén.

"I mean, I just don't get it," Lills continued, angrily stirring in the cream. "Why would he try to kiss me, then change his mind like that? It's utterly mad. What sort of game is he playing? And to think that I actually wanted him to is even more ridiculous! I don't want to date Aoto. We're friends. Really good friends. I like talking to him about art and history and tea, not where we should go on a date, or whether or not we should coordinate our jumpers! At least, I thought I did. What was he thinking? What was I thinking?" Lills pointed her teaspoon at Rubén. "You. You're a man. Explain this."

"Ahhhh..." Rubén shrugged. "Truth be told, I haven't courted a lady in some time, and even when I was young I was never particularly skilled at it. But as far as Aoto is concerned... I don't think he was thinking. He just acted."

Lills let out a frustrated huff of air. "Well that does me no good," she muttered, sinking into her chair. "If it was just a reaction, then where do I go from here? Do I ignore it or address it or choose something in the middle? This whole thing is a ruddy mess, and I can't stand it."

She sighed and rubbed her face. Now was Rubén's chance to make his escape.

"Seems to me as though you require time alone to sort your thoughts," he said, cautiously standing up. "In the meantime, I'll be in my room." Before Lills could rope him back into the conversation, Rubén bolted up the stairs, taking the biscuits with him.

Lills raised an eyebrow at his empty seat. "I didn't think I was that boring," she muttered, flipping out her phone. Her finger hovered over the number that would speed dial Aoto, but she couldn't make herself press it. She snapped it close and instead pulled a random book of the nearby shelf. Rubén was wrong. Lills didn't need to gather her thoughts; she needed a distraction from them.

***
Pasadena, California
June 2049

"Darcy, a little faster, please?" A voice called from outside the bathroom door, followed by a bang. "Auntie wants the dishes done before your boyfriend gets here."

Darcy checked her reflection in the mirror one last time before opening the door. Her cousin Harper was waiting on the other side, twirling the string of her Caltech hoodie. She raised her eyebrows and looked Darcy up and down. "You look awfully fancy for a barbecue," Harper remarked.

"Is it too much?" Darcy asked, looking down at her clothes. She thought that a sundress was a safe bet, but now she wasn't so sure.

Harper shrugged. Darcy nodded nervously and followed her cousin to the kitchen, passing dozens of old movie posters along the way. Her father had been collecting them since he was a kid, and there now were over two hundred of various sizes framed and displayed around the house.

Darcy's parents were already in the kitchen, prepping the dinner. She and Harper slipped by them to unload the dishwasher.

"You look fancy," her mom said.

"Harper just said the same thing," Darcy said with a nervous smile.

"Well, I'm sure that this boyfriend of yours will be very happy," her mother teased. Darcy blushed.

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