Down the street from Wellspring is a local restaurant. It has the rustic, earthy charm of an independent bistro and the vibrant colors of the local art community showcased in the frame prints that line the walls – as well as a few small shrines maintained by the owners.
Like the name implies, Fern Grill is well landscaped with healthy green foliage that invites customers inside. This eagerness is only exceeded by the enthusiasm of its staff.
One such enthusiastic staff member is Luke.
Going to the same state university as his agrestic roommate Preston, Luke has been gradually gaining experience as a cook– shooting towards food service careers that allow him to best utilize his refined carp palette. He’s even made a few culinary creations for his roommate – in the rare times when he has time off from his theatre or performance classes.
Like other carp, Luke has smooth, cerulean scales and a piscine appearance – with barbs on the corner of his lips and a fin on the top of his head. He’s not especially tall for a carp, but his love of food definitely shows in his fuller physique.
On one particular night, Luke takes a lunch break on the covered patio near the entrance. Just as he sits down with his meal, he sees Irene and Cassandra pass through the entrance. Luke made friends with them at Wellspring recently after running a food stand at the midsummer festival, and he was impressed with how well they were running the Lotus bookstore with Eugene.
Trailing just behind his two raven friends is a female carp he has never seen before. Wearing bold, warm colors with comfortable fabrics, she has a certain intensity that draws Luke’s attention.
Sometime later, the three women come outside onto the patio near Luke.
“So you finally are taking a break from cooking?” Irene says with a playful smirk.
Luke nods and takes a few bites of his dish and takes a nervous sip of water – just as his eyes briefly meet those of the mysterious young carp just behind Irene.
“Yes. It’s pretty hard not to get hungry when you’re cooking so much good food” Luke replies. “Did you and Cassandra just order?”
“Yes we did, Luke” Cassandra interjects. Gesturing towards the female carp, she says, “This is our friend Hayden. She started working with me and Irene at Lotus recently.”
Hayden glances at Luke and waves softly at him before saying, “I hear this food is to die for, so I just had to come here when we all had time off from the store.”
Irene, Cassandra and Hayden sit at Luke’s table – with Hayden giving Luke a measured, curious glance from across the table. Shortly afterward, their food arrives and the three women enjoy an array of dishes and drinks as Luke is about to finish his own dish.
“Why don’t you meet up with us after your shift is over?” Cassandra says.
“Sure” Luke replies. “I’ll text you when I’m done.”
After several more hours of working the grill and a blur of evening customers, Luke takes off his apron, hops in his car and drives down to the Lotus bookstore. Irene and Cassandra are waiting for him at the entrance.
“Eugene is working the closing shift right now” Irene says. “Hayden is in the back study with some fresh tea and engaging reading material.”
The three of them make their way through the store and back down the hallway into the study. Hayden is relaxing on the couch and reading under soft, warm incandescent light.
Irene and Cassandra glance at each other for a moment. Cassandra says, “We’ll be in the front if you need us, Luke.”
Luke hesitantly sits down on a loveseat across from Hayden and takes a sip from his teacup before breathing a relaxed sigh, leaning back and getting comfortable.
“What are you reading?” Luke asks.
Hayden pauses her reading for a moment, looks up and says, “It’s a book about anthropology, history and linguistics. I was just reading a bit about why we anthropes call ourselves what we do.”
“What did you find out?” Luke replies.
“Long ago, anthropes used to regard other species more euphemistically” Hayden says. “We used to give ourselves names about our attributes, but it was too imprecise.”
“What changed?” Luke asks.
“Over time, anthropes began to see themselves, and their origins, as deeply connected to the natural world, and significantly naturalistic – even inherently magical” Hayden replies.
Hayden gives Luke another curious glance and asks, “What do you think?”
“I think there is magic in everything” Luke replies softly. “It’s really amazing to me that there are so many kinds of people on Earth – especially in the modern era.”
Luke finishes his tea and says, “Would you like to go for a walk in the temenos?”
“Yeah. I’d like that” Hayden replies.
Luke and Hayden stroll around the Wellspring temple grounds as the balmy summer evening is in full swing. Deep into the temenos is the public garden – with plants of many varieties and a beautiful, idyllic pond under the glowing light of the moon.
Luke and Hayden watch koi fish swim in the pond nearby and enjoy a moment of silence together. Breaking the silence, Luke says softly, “Looks like they are enjoying this beautiful garden as much as we are.”
“Indeed they are” Hayden says in a breathy, relaxed voice.
“So, I picked up something on the way here” Luke says. “Would you like to see?”
Hayden nods as Luke pulls out a small box. “They are chocolate covered grasshoppers. Irene told me you like them.”
“I do” Hayden replies. “You’re too kind. Let’s share them, okay?”
“Sure. If you’re offering” Luke says.
Luke and Hayden sit on a bench in the Wellspring garden and savor the grasshoppers for a while.
“I’d be interested in tasting some or your cooking” Hayden says boldly. “Irene says your roommate Preston is always impressed by your culinary skills.”
“Really?” Luke says as he rubs the back of his neck a bit nervously.
“Absolutely” Hayden says brightly. “How about next time I meet you at your place?”
“Sure. I’d love to cook for you” Luke says excitedly. “I’m sure Preston and his boyfriend Lucien would love to meet you too.”
“So, it’s a date then?” Hayden replies.
“Definitely!” Luke says emphatically.