A Little Heretical


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Scene Title A Little Heretical
Synopsis Eileen stops by the Ichihara Bookstore on Roosevelt Island to pick up some new material, place an order and pay for a tarot reading — in that sequence.
Date July 29, 2009

Ichihara Bookstore

Nestled in the heart of the main street marketplace, the Ichihara Bookstore is an old and crooked structure pressed between two newer high-rise tenement buildings. The old glass windows and creaking wooden door on the shop's front give it a rustic and old-world feel. Catering to both antique books and newer prints, the narrow aisles and tall shelves are packed full of literature. A single shelf for periodicals lies near the front counter, while signage both out front by the register and in the back of the store indicates that tarot card reading is done on-site at request for ten dollars per reading.

Behind the old and weathered wooden counter that contains the register and a small stack of reserved books, a narrow wooden staircase leads upwards to a black wooden door with peeling paint, revealing red paint in narrow strips beneath, a rope crossing in front of that door hangs with a small sign that reads, "Private".

Bookstores, both new and used, are a common sight in New York City, but Eileen has a certain fondness for the type that lie off the beaten path. The Ichihara Bookstore on Roosevelt Island is one such business, and although she's never gone inside, she's walked by it enough times for the establishment's eclectic exterior to have caught her interest. Thanks to Jensen Raith, she now has enough pocket money to warrant and excursion inside with the intention of picking up some reading material so she can restock the Garden's depleted paperback library.

She peruses the shelves in relative silence, her booted feet creaking along the floorboards as she moves from section to section with the lazy intent of a small, whiskered predator on patrol. She isn't looking for any one thing in particular, but she wouldn't be averse to pouncing if something interesting were to poke its nose out from between the stacks.

Like a hand.

It's not a severed one, securely attached to a woman on the other side of the bookshelf, but grasping and pawing none the less. Tumbling in front of the hand, a hardcover copy of Neil Stevenson's Snow Crash lands on its spine with a clunk, flapping open to the middle of the book when it lands on the floor. "Oh bother."

The hand retracts from the space in the shelf, and the dark-haired proprietor of the store who had wiled away her time organizing on the opposite side of one of the stacks from Eileen grimaces in good humor as she rises up on her toes, motioning over the top of the short shelf with one hand. "Could you— I didn't realize how shallow that shelf was." The book was clearly pushed out of alignment by her maneuvering of the books on the other side, causing it to tip over the way it did. Unfortunately she didn't catch it in time.

Eileen drops down into a crouch and picks up the book from the floor, closing it so that the cover lays flat. She glances at the title, then up at what she can see of the proprietor from where she's squatting. Then, slowly, she rises back to her full height and begins moving around the shelf instead of attempting to pass the book through or over it.

"Haven't read this one," she admits, coming into view. Dressed in a brown leather jacket and a pair of faded denim jeans that fit low on her hips, it isn't easy to pinpoint what walk of life she comes from — she could be almost anyone, though the youthfulness of her face and the brightness in her pale green eyes places her age somewhere in the early twenties. "Is it any good?"

"It's a bit absurd," Hokuto notes with a wrinkle of her nose, a faint smile crossing her face as she circles around the shelves to come into the same aisle. "It's about a sword-wielding man named Hiro who goes on something of an adventure to save the world…" one dark brow rises slowly, "absurd."

Carefully nudging another book back with the tip of her index finger, there's a certain Cheshire quality that comes over the dark-haired woman as she shifts her focus back to Eileen. "I… apologize for indirectly stalking you while you browsed," her arms fold across her chest, weight shifted to one bare foot as her head tilts to the side, "I also apologize for the lack of air conditioning in here, the power has been off and on all week due to the heat." A sigh escapes her, one hand leisurely tucking a stray lock of black hair behind one ear.

"Your accent…" her eyes narrow a touch, "Wales?" Not quite, "I— must seem like an invasive crazy old woman," she adds with a nervous laugh, "I— don't have many customers out here and, I think I'm starting to go a little stir crazy." The look on her face is sheepish uncertainty, quite honestly believing that she does seem like a crazy-person with the ramblings.

"Nothing so exotic," Eileen says with some sarcasm and a breathy hint of laughter. She offers Hokuto the book. "London, originally," she adds, not quite as an afterthought, "but New York feels closer to home." As she speaks, her eyes roam the shop, eventually coming to settle on the other woman's naked feet. Something that resembles a smile twitches at the corner of her mouth. "I suppose that's why you haven't got any shoes?"

While it might not be readily apparent, she's talking about the heat. Wearing something as heavy as a leather jacket on a day like today may not have been the wisest decision; droplets of sweat prickle along the edge of Eileen's dark hairline and shimmer faintly in the shop's ambient light. Her free hand reaches up and wipes at some of the perspiration with the back of her exposed wrist rather than her sleeve.

There's a snort of a laugh and Hokuto's smile grows just a touch wider, "Oh, well, partly. I'm a bit of a tomboy about things like that, I tend to go barefoot whenever the opportunity arises," walking on her toes, she slips past Eileen and nudges another book back from the edge with a touch of one finger. "Unfortunately, it's a precarious thing to do," she motions down to the old hardwood floor, "what with the threat of splinters."

For a moment, Hokuto stares distantly at one of the book covers, then looks back over her shoulder to Eileen. Pointedly, she watches the younger woman in silent inspection, one hand blindly reaching for something laid out on the shelf, before slowly drawing the book out by the corner of its spine. "Were you looking for anything in particular?" The book she's tugging on remains half concealed, just angled up on one corner, half removed from the other rows as the question is offered up, partly expecting the answer, or perhaps hoping for it.

Eileen sets the book down nearby where it won't go unnoticed the next time Hokuto makes a sweep through the aisle. "I work for a non-profit," she explains, and it isn't a lie. Not exactly. "A lot of the people we help don't speak English as their first language, and I haven't had much luck finding literature for our library." She watches the other woman move, curiosity in her expression. "You wouldn't happen to carry any foreign titles?"

There's a momentary pause as she realizes it might be wise to clarify, followed by a glance toward the front desk as though she expects to find what she's looking for on the other side of it rather than out in the open. "Spanish. Vietnamese. Mandarin would be best. We're taking care of a six-year-old boy who just lost his father. I don't know how well he can read, but I'd like to expose him to something he might be familiar with."

Hesitating withdrawing the book, Hokuto nods her head slowly, "We have a few — admittedly old — foreign language books. Nothing in Mandarin, but if you'd like I could order something." There's a hesitant smile that forms as she listens to Eileen's story, "It's unusual, for people to try and take up something like that— wayward children." Her brows crease together just a touch, "Losing a father, it's not easy." Her smile turns a bit bittersweet, fingers relaxing against the corner of that book. "I don't do much bulk ordering, but I'll order requests for prior customers. If you'd like, I can put something through for you… pick up a few titles for younger children." Then, shifting her eyes askance, Hokuto quietly tugs the hardcover book she was holding out the rest of the way.

"This, perhaps for yourself." She grips it by the spine and offers it out with one brow raised. There's no explanation, not immediately, and the cover combined with the title is evocative enough. A wolf rests prominently on the front of the book, along with a fair-skinned and willowy young woman with a black-winged bird perched on her forearm, dark trees silhouetted in the background, feathers falling around them. The title, The Wolf and the Raven is prominent in gold-leaf script on the top of the book, with the author's name, Diana L. Paxon at the bottom.

"It's a Norse fantasy," that Cheshire smile is back, and the book is urged out. "The story of Brunhilde and Siegfried, it's something of a love story, very classic and old…" Brown eyes survey Eileen's reaction as the book is held in one hand, "only 320 pages, it's a light read." Her smile is gentle, hopeful, and subtly knowing.

"Oh, I'm afraid I'm the last person who ought to be reading love stories." There's an apologetic note to Eileen's voice, accompanied by a ruefully curving mouth, but she does not outright reject Hokuto's recommendation. Instead, she closes the distance between them for a closer look and takes the book from her outstretched hand. "It would be lovely if you could put in an order or two," she says, tracing the gold-leaf script with the very tip of her finger. She has the hands of someone who spends a lot of time outdoors without using them — apart from the dirt wedged under her fingernail, they appear soft and relatively free of calluses… if a shade or two paler than is probably healthy.

She lifts her eyes from the cover and gives Hokuto a look of mild reproach. "It hasn't got a teary ending, has it?"

There's something of a wry smile that Hokuto offers to the question. "Most love stories do," she says quietly, gently laying a hand on Eileen's shoulder as she precariously slips between the small girl and the bookshelf to move along to the other end of the aisle. "So this non-profit group you work for," she moves to the edge of the aisle, pausing before turning to look towards Eileen with her head tilted to one side, "does it have a name? I try to make a handful of small charitable donations yearly, and someone willing to look after the children who lost their families in the bomb," because that makes the most sense, hypothetically speaking, "it pretty admirable. For someone so young— " she cracks a smile, "you're a bit wise beyond your years."

Moving to a table at the end of the aisle, Hokuto reaches down for a small, leatherbound notebook that she paws open with one hand, sliding a pen out from the concealed spiral binding before looking back towards Eileen, expectantly waiting for the name so she can jot it down, and not try and commit it to a memory with a few holes in it.

Beneath the notebook, spread out on the table, a handful of tarot cards are tucked together, perhaps the remnants of a reading done earlier, as the sign out front states. The King of Swords and the Ace of Cups poke out visibly, with the Page of Pentacles and the Three of Wands adjacent to them.

"Nothing my employers would feel comfortable disclosing," says Eileen as she follows Hokuto over to the table, "but if you're being sincere then you can place your donation with Light of Change. You might say they're our sister organization." Her attention is immediately drawn to the cards, brow knitting together with a subtle combination of mirth and fugitive's apprehension.

King of Swords. Ace of Cups. She's due to meet Raith in an hour and a half for dinner at the Sheung Wan Kitchen on Staten Island. The chances of that being a coincidence are about the same as Hokuto offering her a book based on Norse mythology with a wolf and a raven on the cover. Still, she isn't about to cry foul just yet. "If I leave with something today and promise to come back for my order whenever it's ready," she offers, "will you cut me a deal on a reading?"

There's a narrowing of her eyes, subtle lowering of lasher in a curiously familiar expression just out of reach. It's like Eileen's seen it before, but can't quite place where. "Light of Change, alright…" She regards the latter question with less scrutiny, slipping down into her seat as she writes up the offered name and closes the leather notebook, leaving the pen out as she slides the book aside. "If you're going to place an order of a few books, I think I can cut you a deal," she notes with an off-handed smile, sliding the other cards into her hand and then laying them atop the stack of others left out of the box.

"I'm a bit ashamed I forgot to clean up after myself this morning," she cuts and shuffles the stack with one hand, focus shifting up to Eileen, viewing the young woman through the cage of dark lashes. "But if it's a reading you're looking for, then take a seat." There's a motion with her nose to the old and worn wooden chair across from her at the round table. "I'd offer you some tea, but I don't think it's really the weather for anything hot and I'm all out of ice."

Having given the deck a quick shuffle, she slides it forward towards the space in front of where she urged Eileen to sit. "Cut and shuffle that however you feel like, don't worry about anything as silly as focusing on a question or something… the cards already know." She leans back in her chair, folding her lap. "And please take that jacket off, you're making me sweat from how warm you look in it."

Eileen peels off her jacket, revealing the fitted gray top she wears beneath it, and hangs it on the back of the chair as she takes a seat at the table opposite Hokuto. Curls of dark hair illuminated by the light that seeps in through the window tease at her temples at the curve of her jaw, stylishly mussed. She tucks one behind her left ear.

Shuffling should be a simple thing, and so it is. Wordlessly, she picks up the deck and begins to rearrange the cards with nimble fingers and the precision of a practiced artist. Although these are a little bit larger than what she's used to, she's spent enough time in the company of men like Ethan Holden to know the swiftest and most efficient way to handle a deck. "That's just as well," she says as she taps the edge of the deck against the table and then slides it back across to Hokuto. "Tea and ice aren't meant to go together. Heresy."

"You sound like my mother." There's a soft laugh to come with those words, tracing the tip of her index finger over the top of the deck along the wavy symbol printed on the back. Her dark eyes lift up to Eileen, a quirk of a smile creeping up with the laugh, "I think I'm willing to be a little heretical when the humidity gets this bad, though." One by one, Hokuto begins to lay out the cards on the table, two parallel lines of three with a single card in the middle, shaped something like an H.

"I did a relationship spread," her smile becomes a bit more wry, "girls your age, it tends to be a popular one. Hopefully I didn't step any boundaries by assuming. I haven't really done this spread often, the last time I did…" she smiles faintly at something unsaid, bringing her finger down to the top left card from Eileen's perspective.

"We start with this card. It represents how you see yourself, especially in relationships…" Her thumb nail digs under the card, and flips it over revealing a markedly familiar image; the Ace of Cups. It is a single chalice at the center of the card, with two streams of water flowing from it, a hand emerging from a cloud to hold the chalice aloft.

"Oh!" Hokuto notes with a quirk of her lips into an impish grin. "Now this is promising!" Both dark brows rise quickly, "This is the Ace of Cups, and it's a very strong and clear indicator of a new relationship, or turning over a new leaf in an old one. It's opportunities for joy, contentment… some readings also attribute this to fertility too," she smirks, playfully, "so I might be careful how joyful I get." She's thoroughly enjoying how positive the reading is, right from the start.

Positive is a nice change, but not a word Eileen would use to describe some of the turns her life has taken since the Verrazano-Narrows came down in January. She scrutinizes the spread with the veiled eyes of a skeptic, careful not to allow much emotion to creep into her facial expression upon hearing Hokuto's assessment. It's impossible for her in this day and age to disbelieve in clairvoyants — horoscopes and Tarot readings are still fair game. "I've seen that one before," she says of the card, wrinkling her nose. "Didn't know it had anything to do with fertility."

If the cards are right, and Eileen has an abundance of faith that they're not, then Ethan just might someday get his wish involving that heirloom of his. "Opportunities, you said. That isn't a guarantee, right?"

Shaking her head with a smile spread across her lips, Hokuto laughs softly. "Oh God no, nothing's a guarantee in this world, let alone love." Her lips creep up into a more crooked smile as she looks back down to that card. Her hand moves to the opposite of it, the card at the top right of the array. "This one here," she taps the back of it, "represents how you see your partner. It's sort've a window into your own perceptions, but it's not absolutes, just the… broad strokes?" She turns the card over slowly, revealing the image of a robed man with his back to the viewer of the card, one hand holding a staff buried in the ground, and two more gnarled staves jutting up around him.

Thoughtfully, Hokuto seems a bit surprised to see that there. "This… is the three of wands, in simplest terms it represents virtue. Maybe that's what you see in your partner, or maybe it's what you want to see." One black fingernail traces around the edge of the card's border. "It shows you see a strength in him, a resolve and determination you haven't seen in many others. It also means you see him as someone who can endure hard times, and also someone you can trust…" her brows furrow faintly, dark eyes lifting up towards Eileen, "he's the type to take a burden on himself, and not let anyone else bear it but him."

Hokuto's eyes find Eileen's gaze affixed to the image depicted by the card. When it comes to burdens, she clearly has some of her own to bear. "Could you ever be with someone you didn't trust?" she asks the other woman in a soft voice, its edges beginning to sound a little pink and raw, though there's no accusation in her tone. If it contains anything, it's remorse.

"Everyone's going through a hard time, and most men are proud. Stubborn." None of the ire simmering beneath her exterior directed toward Hokuto, however. She gives a slight curl of her upper lip, not entirely unkind. "You aren't telling me anything that isn't universally true."

Brows furrowing slightly, Hokuto's focus shifts from the cards and up to Eileen. She watches her, listens to the scrutiny she applies to each possible meaning of the cards, then smiles to herself and gives a small shake of her head. "I think you might be missing the point of the cards. Most of the time, it isn't about revealing something unknown, but more presenting you with what you may already know, but have been unwilling or unable to realize. Something like, itemizing your thoughts, and putting everything in stock…"

She lets that linger for only a moment, before moving her card down to the next card; middle left. "This one should be more direct, though. It's how you feel about him, emotionally and not logically." As she turns the card over, the picture is notable inverted. It displays a woman with a crown seated in a chair between two pillars; one white and one black. "The Priestess," even if the name is written — admittedly upside-down — on the card, she explains it for effect. "This card, inverted, shows that your feelings for the man in question are muddled. You're being led astray, led away from what your heart feels by what your head is telling you…."

Quiet for a moment, Hokuto looks from the card to Eileen, then back again. "You feel that at times, he's insecure about himself, and hides that insecurity behind a conceited surface that is, ultimately, self-destructive. He's primal, unpredictable, like a force of nature, and…" she hesitates, smiling softly, "you care for him not in spite of that, but because of that."

It occurs to Eileen, whether or not she believes in the power of the cards, that she might very well be seated across from someone like herself. Evolved. Empath, Telepath, Clairvoyant—

She's itemizing her thoughts, all right, just not for the purposes of the reading. One by one, her mind turns over the possibilities and compares Hokuto's behaviour against what Vanguard taught her — in the end, she simply shifts uncomfortably in her seat and rolls her shoulders to work some of the tension she can feel building around her neck.

"There might be a man," she admits after a moment's hesitation, her eyes moving between Hokuto's smile and the spread on the table. Like the cards, Eileen is gradually becoming easier to read with every passing moment. "But what you're describing doesn't sound like a very healthy relationship."

"It seems that way," Hokuto agrees, letting her eyelids fall down, dark lashes shadowing her brown eyes, even as they drift up to regard Eileen thorugh that black cage, "but forewarned is forearmed. There's always time for change, one way or another." A bittersweet smile creeps up on Hokuto's lips, even as her hand hovers over the next card; the center-right. "This should give a strong indication of what stands between you and a healthier relationship. This card represents a current problem that is dividing your relationship, or one that will very soon arise, something that could — without effort — bring it to an abrupt end."

As ominous as the explanation is, it pales in comparison to the card itself. Laid out on the table, Hokuto flips over an inverted card depicting a man laying face-down on the ground, impaled by ten swords all driven into his back and one through the back of his head. Her neck muscles tense, brows furrow, and a strained sigh is pressed between her lips.

"The… ten of swords, inverted; it is ruin." Her words are hushed, unhappy, as if she was hoping for a lighter reading. "This… isn't entirely a bad card, but it requires strength to persevere through. This card, entirely, embodies the literal darkness before the dawn. It shows that you will have the single most trying moment of your time with this man approaching, a crushing and seemingly total defeat, that hides within it a hope for something new to begin. Life, springing up after death. It— it can mean many things. Financial or social ruin, something dangerous like a car accident…" Or nuclear war, if Catherine Chesterfield isn't losing her mind.

"Ultimately this card means an end to suffering, one final struggle you have to endure before everything finally rights itself, and you are given the opportunity for happiness."

There's that word again. Opportunity. Eileen seeps out a slow breath through her nostrils and then pulls air back in again, lashes fluttering as she gathers her composure to her breast and holds it there. Between the fall of Vanguard, their raid on Moab Federal Penitentiary and the disaster that was Pinehearst, she, Gabriel and everyone they know are long overdue for a period of peace in their lives. The implication that there may be more yet to come doesn't just cause her stomach to twist into knots — it tightens it into a fist-sized ball in the pit of her belly and coats its lining with lead.

She leans back a little in her seat and squares her narrow shoulders, keeping her focus on the cards instead of the woman explaining their meaning to her. She drags her upper lip across her teeth and folds her arms across her chest. This time, she has nothing to say in response except, "The next card, please."

Offering something of an apologetic smile, Hokuto nods her head and reaches down for the next card, letting her nails slip under it before hesitating. "This… card is how he sees you," there's no hesitation now in saying he, sometimes she's too worried about gender pronouns in these situations, but it's clear from Eileen's choice of words that it is a man in her life. "It's how his perceptions of you affect the relationship as well, and what he idealizes you as."

Turning the card on the lower-left over, Hokuto reveals the depiction of a naked woman pouring a decanter full of water into a mirror still pool, another decanter in her other hand pouring out onto the ground. Behind her, an enormous eight-pointed star is drawn in stylized fashion, with seven smaller stars arranged below it, one of them off-centered above a mountain. "The Star." She smiles, there's a look in her eyes of relief that it isn't something debilitatingly negative.

"He sees you as a hope for a better life. You are, to him, a revival from the darkness of his past, a bastion of light that he cannot find in others. You are his inspiration, and the point of light at the end of a very dark tunnel. Very much so, this card means a strong, spiritual bond of love."

That is more the kind of reading she prefers to offer.

There's a tightness to Eileen's mouth that prevents her from returning Hokuto's smile. "I frustrate him," she says of the man in question, allowing some sordid amusement to creep into her voice as she speaks. "My own fault, really. We used to get along, but lately things between us have been—" She makes a vague gesture with her right hand. The word she's looking for is shitty. The word she settles on is, "Difficult."

Now she does smile, if in a self-depreciating fashion. "He cares for me," she concedes, as if trying to offer elaboration without giving too much away, "but he doesn't love me. At least not quite like that." Her dark brows arch as she finally lifts her attention from the spread and refocuses on Hokuto's face, studying her with an expression that combines wryness and sobriety. "Are you sure your cards haven't got it wrong this once?"

Dark brows rise up slowly, a smile starting to creep up on her lips as she shakes her head. "Once in a while they have, but it isn't about getting things right or wrong, it's what you take home with you after the reading— what you read into it more so than what I interpret them as. Maybe he doesn't love you… not like that, or maybe he does and you haven't seen it yet. Finding the balance between foresight and understanding is a tricky one, but it's the purpose of the cards, really."

Her finger dances over the next card, the lower right. "This one might help, though. The previous card is about how he sees you, but this one is more about raw emotions and how he feels. It might help give you a bit of insight into his emotional state, rather than the state of his mind." When she flips the card over, it depicts a man sitting cross legged with his back to a tree, three goblets arranged in front of him on the grass, and another held aloft in the air by a hand emerging from a tiny cloud.

Wrinkling her nose, Hokuto sighs softly at the card. "The four of cups, which… signifies luxury." But it doesn't sound like it's a pleasant luxury. "He is surrounded by love and devotion from you, but he takes it for granted. He ignores the real possibility of happiness you represent to him, and continues to chase something more intangible, something fleeting and ephemeral. He has an apathy and disengagement from the material world that makes connecting difficult. He wants love but is afraid to seek it out." Quirking her lips up, she adds quietly, "he's waiting for you to take the first step. Show him the way."

Show him the way makes it sound as though he's willing to be led. "Like you said," Eileen reminds Hokuto mildly, "he's insecure— conceited. If I told him what you just told me, I think he'd accuse us women of being born with a misguided sense of direction." There's no malice to her words, however. No spite. If anything, they're spoken with some degree of fondness. Now that she thinks about it, he'd do that thing he does if she told him she went to Roosevelt Island for a tarot reading. The one with the sardonic twist of his mouth.

"I'll take it into consideration," she promises, and in a way she's reminded of something Teodoro once told her about wanting to be loved and to be able to give love back in return, but rather than reflect on how it might apply to the Four of Cups, she finds herself struck by how much she misses him. Hokuto's advice is no substitution for the derisive counsel of her friend, no matter how shrewd.

"Oh! Oh no, no don't tell him about this," She motions with one hand flippantly to the cards, "no, no… I think that's more saying…" her lips creep up into an impish smile, "give him a reason to— to pay attention to you." Her head nods as punctuation to the sentence, a smile turning into a grin. "We've only one card left," she notes, motioning to the middle card between the two columns. "This one represents the challenge the relationship is facing, and in a way also reflects on the current status that it's in."

The fingernail of her thumb slips under the card, pulling up one edge, and as she turns it over, the depiction of a robed woman bound in white cloth with a blindfold around her eyes is shown. Hokuto's expression tenses just a touch. Around the robed figure, eight swords are driven into the ground. "The… eight of swords. Interference."

Wrinkling her nose, she takes a moment to consider what that means. "It's— in this context, it's showing your relationship has a great deal of unforeseen… snags?" Her brows rise slowly, questioningly, at her own words. There's a lot of outside influences trying to drive you two apart; people criticizing your relationship, picking away at it, perhaps even old lovers trying to worm their way back in to either of your hearts. Your main problem is that you're both being hamstrung by past failures or complications, unable to forge ahead."

She smiles, hopefully, "It means if you can learn to get past this," she gestures towards the other cards, "things might start clearing up." That smile fades just a touch as anxiety starts to come over Hokuto. "I— hope this hasn't really muddied the waters worse for you."

"The waters were already muddy to begin with," Eileen assures Hokuto as she rises from her seat, its legs squeaking against the hardwood floors underfoot, and removes her jacket from the back of the chair. "No harm done." Rather than pull it on, she slings it haphazardly over her left shoulder and reaches into the back pocket of her jeans, producing a wad of cash held in place with a flimsy rubber band. It's not an exuberant amount of money for someone her age to be carrying around, but it's enough that she probably ought to be keeping it in a purse or a wallet unless she plans on spending it all in one evening.

"Between the reading and the book," Eileen gestures to the bookstore's copy of The Wolf and the Raven, "how much do I owe you?" Her composure has mostly returned now that all the cards have been revealed and explained to her. Were it not for her dinner date with Raith, she might even be content to linger more than the few minutes it will take to pay Hokuto what she's due. Any lingering sense of worry or discomfort is carefully guarded and kept behind the courteous mask she now wears.

Still seated, Hokuto rests her chin in her palms with that feigned smile of acceptance, that her guests always leave once they've gotten what they came here for. She has to remind herself that this is a business, not just a home. "Fifteen," she waves one hand slowly, as if not terribly concerned with the exact amount. It's just few dollars higher than the price of the book alone. "It… was a pleasure finally meeting you," she nods with a nod of her head, perhaps with a clear head and less of this oppressive heat she would have chosen her words better.

"Hopefully the reading helps clear things up. I should have that order for you," she nods over towards the rows of shelves, "late next week. I'll put it in today, since I've got a reliable computer system up and running finally."

Fortunately for Hokuto, the same thing that contributes to her lapse in judgment convinces Eileen that she simply misspoke. She counts out three fives and offers them between the knuckles of her middle and index fingers, hand held out across the table. A moment later, she's the one looking impish with a slyly curving feline smile — a fat cat with a mouthful of yellow canary feathers.

"I hope you won't hold it against me if I send him in my stead the next time," she tells Hokuto as she passes her the money and picks up the book, tucking it under her arm. "If you can convince him consent to a reading, I'll buy out your whole children's section."

Playfully accepting that cat with the canary grin, Hokuto offers up a Cheshire one of her own as she takes the three bills. "I'm not much of a conniver, but I could probably corner him into it. He seems," she waves her hands towards the card, "from the— the reading," a flash of a more honest smile, "like a curious sort. You know what they say about curiosity and cats!" Then, suddenly remembering what they say about curiosity and cats, Hokuto grimaces and folds her hands in her lap.

"Er, well— maybe not quite like that."

"Maybe not quite like that," Eileen agrees. She snaps the rubber band into place again and slides the remaining cash back into her pocket. Then, with a farewell tilt of her chin, she turns and begins making her way toward the door — but just before she's about to cross the threshold and set foot on the sweltering concrete outside, she tops and tips a quick glance back over her shoulder at Hokuto still seated at the table.

"I'm terribly rude," she adds, dark brows crinkling into a sheepish expression, "and Eileen too. It was nice meeting you, miss."

A laugh erupts from Hokuto at the comment about rudeness, "I— I'm twice guilty." She wrinkles her nose, offering the young woman a smile. "Hokuto. Hokuto Ichihara." Like the bookstore, of course. "I'm… pretty sure I'll be seeing you again," she notes with a fond smile, lounging back in her chair with a creak of the wood.

"Just remember," she picks up one of the cards, wagging it around in the air, "opportunity."

It only knocks once.

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