Chai, Cake and Chocolate


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Scene Title Chai, Cake and Chocolate
Synopsis A continuation of The Threat of Peace: MacKenzie and Ygraine move to a coffee shop, where they bump into Grace.
Date August 14, 2008

Erica's Coffee Shop, St. Albans, Queens

By the time that MacKenzie emerges from the library, Ygraine has moved a short distance away. She has her rump propped on the padded seat of a large motorcycle. Wrap-around shades now conceal her eyes as she peers up towards the Summer-bright sky.

MacKenzie looks around for a moment before spotting Ygraine and laughing. "I wasn't expecting to see you *there*," she says, face still in a smile.

Ygraine shrugs amiably, cracking a grin. "If it has two wheels and goes fast…. So - do you know of any good coffee shops 'round here, or should I offer you a lift somewhere?" She gestures to the panniers. "I've got a spare helmet…."

MacKenzie taps her chin and a moment later says, "If you like cozy, there's a place in St. Albans I like called Erica's." She adds, " … if you're sure giving me a lift is no trouble."

Ygraine quirks a grin. "If you don't mind hugging a leather-clad stranger - no, none at all." Pushing to her feet, she turns to bend over the panniers, fiddling with the locks before producing two helmets - both plain black, with tinted visors. She holds one out to MacKenzie. "Your chapeau, madame."

MacKenzie curtsies and says, "Merci." She then removes her hair band, dons the helmet, and straps it on.

Ygraine tucks her shades back into her jacket before donning her helmet and swinging onto the bike. Half-turning, she offers a hand to MacKenzie to assist her in mounting the vehicle.
"Of course, I've put my foot in it again. I'd hazard a guess that you're a madamoiselle, not a madame. And it would certainly have been polite to suggest that you were", she muses.

MacKenzie shrugs and says, "I'm an American. Madame, madamoiselle, escargot — it's all the same to me." She accepts the hand up and sits behind the younger woman. "But, yes," she clarifies, "I am unmarried."

Ygraine giggles. "Now, you certainly don't seem like a snail", she observes, righting the cycle beneath herself and her passenger before rumbling the engine into life. "Slip your arms around me if you need to, or you can hold onto the handle behind if you're confident. Just make sure to shout instructions - I've no idea where we're going."

"Sure thing," MacKenzie says while holding onto the bar behind her. She directs Ygraine to go east, towards the heart of Queens.

After settling herself more comfortably into position and carefully checking the flow of traffic, Ygraine swings her bike out into a gap between a battered SUV and a truck gaudily painted with an advertisement for a mobile refrigeration service.

For most of the route to Erica's, the gum-chewing passenger in the ice-truck sits with his window wound down and a cigarette dangling in the open air, while he provides a running commentary for his driver and anyone else in earshot. He seems to be pointing out an array of women who catch his eye - though his enthusiastic commentary is in some East European tongue that even his colleague might not understand.

MacKenzie warily looks over at the passenger but says nothing. When she looks ahead again, she sees that a city bus is taking the cross street, despite not having the green light, and she puts her arms around Ygraine. "Jesus," she says. "I hope public transit doesn't kill us all before ending our dependence on foreign oil."

Ygraine part-turns her head to glance back over her shoulder, though her visor conceals whatever expression she might be wearing. "You've still got it good, here, compared to most of the world. For oil prices, at least. You wouldn't believe how much it costs elsewhere…."

Considering the words, MacKenzie raises her eyebrows and tilts her head. Her thought is interrputed, and she points at a cafe with a small, hand-painted sign hanging on its front and says, "That's it up there."

Ygraine nods, swinging over towards the side of the road, casting her gaze around to check for a suitable place to leave her bike in comparative safety. Rolling to a halt, she reaches up to unfasten and remove her helmet. "It always feels weird to cover up with this thing. I'm used to feeling the wind as I ride…"

While removing the covering on her own head, MacKenzie asks, "You don't feel unsafe without a helmet?"

Ygraine glances around, cracking a grin. "I mostly cycle. Pedal-power. Leaves your face and the sides of your head bare. Being fully sealed up in this thing is a bit weird, but I admit that I don't mind being at one remove from the exhaust fumes." Swinging off the bike and to her feet, she moves to open the panniers once more. "I always wear a helmet of some sort, when riding. But I've only been riding powered bikes for a few years."

MacKenzie says, "Well, you drive like a pro. The only time I felt unsafe was when that bus driver decided that the road belonged to her." She hands her helmet to Ygraine.

Ygraine glances up to flash another grin at MacKenzie, sketching a curtsey before locking away the helmets. "I'm a pro cyclist. Or was. Sort of." Frowning momentarily, she shakes her head as if to clear it, then gestures to the coffee shop. "Shall we?"

MacKenzie makes no comment about the subject the younger woman seems to be trying to avoid. In response to the question she nods and scampers ahead to hold the door open for Ygraine.

Ygraine quirks another swift grin in response to the courteous gesture, raising one hand to mime touching the brim of a hat as she passes her companion and steps inside.

MacKenzie returns the smile and steps inside. The two women find that a woman in her early thirties stands behind a glass display of baked goods. Above her words painted on signs list the selection of coffee, tea, and food, and words written in pastel colors on a black board announce the specials of the day.

Ygraine pauses, scanning through the list of offerings, before stepping forward to request a hot chocolate - after a moment rather guiltily adding a slice of cake to her order.

MacKenzie gives the woman behind the counter a friendly smile and says, "Hi, Erica." After a brief, courteous exchange she requests a chai tea latte. Pointing at Ygraine and then at herself she says, "We're together," and extracts her wallet from her purse to pay.

Ygraine looks mildly surprised, but doesn't protest MacKenzie's decision to pay for them both. Instead, she collects her order and loiters, waiting for her companion before moving towards a seat.

In response to the surprised look MacKenzie says, "That's for helping me find the book." Upon receiving her order she follows Ygraine into the seating area.

Ygraine laughs, shaking her head again as she moves to one of the more secluded tables, setting down her mug and plate before lowering herself onto a seat. "You found me holding it, next to where it had been shelved. But thank you."

Smiling, MacKenzie says, "You're welcome," and sits across from Ygraine. "Good choice on the chocolate cake," she says.

Ygraine wiggles sheepishly, then shrugs out of her jacket to hang it on the back of her chair. Leaning forward, she rests her arms on the tabletop, her sleeveless top exposing toned musculature. "I try not to indulge too oftne, but figured that since I hadn't given in to temptation so far this week…"

MacKenzie smiles and says, "There's no reward for avoiding the temptation of eating chocolate cake quite like chocolate cake." She leans back in her chair and sighs, apparently getting more comfortable herself.

Ygraine laughs softly, then shrugs. "Well, the theory is that if you avoid enough temptations and work hard enough, you get other rewards…. But those'll have to wait a while, at least, so I figure that I can enjoy a touch of wild extravagance every now and then."

MacKenzie frowns and asks, "What extravagances are you missing out on?"

Ygraine nibbles on her cake, then chuckles again. "Cake, for one. Never got into the habit of drinking, so I don't really count that. And training seriously for competition kind of limits opportunities for any sort of a "normal" social life anyway. But I've got to watch what I eat, pretty carefully. I don't have to go on a fast, or anything, and I do get to treat myself more than some people might think… but I've tended to notice the effects on the track whenever I've let myself slack off for any length of time at all."

MacKenzie says, "Yes, there's no need to have a social lubricant, when there's no society to be a part of." She sighs. "You still go to the track regularly?"

Ygraine shakes her head. "Not really got myself set up with a proper training schedule here. And… I have to pay, here. Don't get the perks of training under official auspices, on this side of the Pond. For the most part, I can do a lot of work myself. Hence part of the reasoning behind taking the job I have - I'm a cycle courier."

MacKenzie says, "Ooh, yes, that looks like it will keep your body in shape — and your mind sharp. I'm surprised you and I haven't run into each other yet. Some days it seems all I do is sign papers that couriers have brought me."

Ygraine chuckles. "I only returned to the city a week ago. I've worked, oh, three shifts now. If you want to put work my way, then make use of Alley Cat Couriers. They seem to be pretty respectable. Definitely better than some of the other operations…"

"I wouldn't know about that," MacKenzie says, "but you're a respectable person. I'll put in a good word for you."

Ygraine laughs. "Ahhh. Sorry. Now I'm trying to get you to employ me, having already taken cake from you and harangued you about politics…. I must be making quite the first impression upon you."

"Indeed you are!" MacKenzie says with mock indignation. "You're smart, you're courteous, you're passionate — I don't know how much more of you I can take."

Ygraine giggles, ducking her head and stirring her hot chocolate in response, though her cheeks have quite clearly flushed brightly. "Thank you. Be careful, or I might start believing you and develop the most dreadfully over-sized head."

MacKenzie says, "It will be alright. You prefer to let your hair blow free anyway, right?" She takes a sip of or chai latte and grins.

Ygraine peeps up, then laughs again. "Normally, it's tied back and trapped under a helmet of some sort", she observes dryly. "But I do love the feel of wind in my hair, yes. Normally I have to settle for it on my face and body."

"That must be nice," she says. "I don't experience a comparable desire when I'm kickboxing. If anything, I want to cut it all off."

Ygraine perks up a little, blush starting to fade a touch. "Kick-boxing? I do a bit of savate, though my coaches tend to be paranoid about my breaking a leg or the like. I'm hoping to find a club over here, though the gym I used to go to when I was here in '06 has shut down…"

MacKenzie takes another sip of her drink and says, "That's too bad. I hate having to find a new club after being in one I've liked. Do you have coaches telling you what to do even now?"

Ygraine pulls a face, nibbling on another mouthful of cake before shrugging slowly. "Sort of. They're rather more focused on the Olympics, of course. But I've got advice to follow, and suggested schedules, and I'm to keep in touch." Another momentary sour look, which she mostly hides by taking a long swallow from her mug.

"So," MacKenzie says, "Have you managed to make any friends this time around in the city?"
Ygraine peeps up again, squirms once more, then chuckles and shrugs slightly. "One. Perhaps. I'm not sure…."

MacKenzie leans forward and raises an eybrow. "Oh? Care to tell me about this could-be friend of yours?"

Ygraine blinks, clears her throat, then offers another nervous chuckle. "Well, she's either having fun bullying me a touch, or is more obtuse than I thought", she ventures.

MacKenzie guffaws. After taking another sip of her drink she says, "Did I mention that the cake is a pre-emptive apology cake?"

Ygraine giggles, glancing down at it before shrugging and mumbling into her mug. After taking another mouthful, she flashes a quick smile at her companion. "I was an intern at the UN, two years ago. There's not exactly a huge cross-over between that world and cycle couriering, and a lot of the people I knew then have left or been assigned elsewhere…."

Mackenzie lowers her chin and says, "I'm sorry. Losing friends is hard. In some ways it's fortunate that for the past four years or so I've had little opportunity to make friends to begin with."

Ygraine looks surprised, then cocks her head. "You don't come across as someone likely to have been locked up in solitary", she muses. "What on Earth was stopping you? Are you an ambitious career-woman working every hour God sends?"

Laughing, MacKenzie says, "No, I haven't been in solitary yet … which isn't to say I don't deserve to be." After a pause she says, "Seriously, I spend all my work days smiling and shaking hands with corporate execs who would lay off ten thousand people in a heartbeat to save a buck. I can't make friends with people like that, and when I see how fake people — and I'm just as guilty as the rest in that regard — I feel a lot less inclined to go out and meet anyone."

Ygraine winces, then nods sympathetically. "So, you find yourself buying chocolate cake for strangers you bump into in libraries and who lecture you on politics? No wonder you have a hobby that lets you kick people…"

"No," MacKenzie says, "I like you. I get a sense that you're … not like other people." After taking another sip of her chai latte she says, "That's a good thing."

Ygraine lifts her brows, squirms, then grins and shrugs. "Thanks. It's not often that being weird gets me praise, so I'm happy to take it when it's offered."

"Weird is very underrated," MacKenzie says. "Of course, I'm biased."

Another blink, and Ygraine cocks her head. "Save for your willingness to be kind to a stranger, you don't seem too odd to me. What'm I missing? Do you Goth up and go to "alternative" clubs at the weekend? Collect garden gnomes? Take your holidays in New Jersey?"

MacKenzie says, "Well, let's see. I'm twenty-nine, and I've only had one romantic partner in my life; I'm a black woman from the hood who managed to break the glass ceiling of white corporate America; my idea of a fantastic Friday night is sitting at home reading from a book entitled 'Advanced Genetics'; and —" She pauses and takes a sip of her drink. "Well, let's just say the Goth kids ain't got nothing on me and leave it at that."

Ygraine cocks her head, then chuckles at the woman sitting opposite her at one of the corner tables in Erica's coffee shop. Leaning back in her chair, she raises her arms, locking hands behind her head as she studies MacKenzie quizzically. "What I've spent most of my life straddling is a pedal-bike, so you might not be too odd there - at least not by my standards. Advanced Genetics… well, I'm enough of a nerd that I was babbling at you about revised editions not too long ago. And Gothing up? Tried it a couple of times. Kind of fun. Though I've never really got the hang of doing complex things with make-up…"

The bell on the door chimes as Grace lets herself into the shop. Her reflexive scan of the store's patrons passes by the corner table without really noticing its occupants — she's contemplating free tables, not looking for vaguely familiar people. A moment later, the woman strides across to the counter; the rasp of her ruined voice as she places an order both makes her speech distinctive and renders it hard to overhear just what she's ordering. At least for those any distance away.

MacKenzie says, "Ooh, makeup. I could help you out there. My sister and I used to give each other makeovers all the time." When she hears Grace's voice, she turns her head just enough to glance at her and then looks back at Ygraine. "I met that woman the other day," MacKenzie says quietly. Without a hint of sarcasm she asks, "Doesn't she have the most amazing voice?"

Ygraine leans over in her seat a touch, peering at Grace for a moment, before chuckling. "Sounds a bit like she gargles glass", she murmurs to MacKenzie. "Makes me think… sorry. About to wander off into geekdom again. Generally, it's my voice that gets commented on. People keep seeming so surprised to find an Englishwoman here."

Grace doesn't realize she's the center of attention until well after her bit of speech — once the drink and muffin are paid for and she's turned away from the counter. Not that the attention is unexpected, mind. Meeting the gazes of the two in the corner, the woman smiles — although the expression is a subtle one, and more akin to a smirk than not.

MacKenzie says to Ygraine, "Well, you do have a delightful accent." When Grace looks her way, she immediately smiles at her. She looks back to Ygraine and says, "I should invite her over."

Ygraine offers Grace a warily polite smile - then giggles, ducking her head in response to MacKenzie's latest compliment. Cocking her head, she shoots her companion a rather surprised look. "You know her? Or you just collect people with interesting voices?"

Meanwhile, the subject of conversation winds her way back through the tables. She's acknowledged that she was noticed; now Grace is either on her way to a seat or perhaps even out the door. The route she's taking could lead to either.

Quietly MacKenzie says, "Maybe a little of both." MacKenzie looks over to the woman near the door, and in a louder than usual tone says, "Grace, come join us."

Ygraine shoots MacKenzie another quizzically curious look, then uses one booted foot to nudge out a chair in mute invitation to the stranger, whom she eyes over her mug of hot chocolate as she takes another sip.

When her name is called, Grace turns and gives the corner table another, closer look. One brow lifts, and she changes course towards her summoner. "Well, hello again," the woman greets. "MacKenzie, wasn't it?" Blue eyes flick to Ygraine in silent query. Despite the unspoken invitation to sit, Grace doesn't quite yet.

MacKenzie nods and says, "That's right," while smiling. She says, "Ygraine, I'd like to introduce you to Grace. Grace — Ygraine."

Ygraine nods and raises a hand in welcome. "Hi there. A pleasure to meet you", she says, her own voice carrying distinctly British and educated tones.

The other dark brow goes up at the sound of Ygraine's accent. Well, and the name. "Likewise," Grace answers politely, now settling down in the chair and placing her burdens on the table. Inasmuch as a muffin and a cup of black coffee are burdens. "Didn't expect to run into you again so soon."

MacKenzie says, "Neither did I — and certainly not in St. Albans." Turning to Ygraine, she explains, "Grace and I met in Little Italy." Turning back to Grace she asks, "What's new with you?"

Ygraine nods again, acknowledging MacKenzie's words, but seems content to remain quiet and cradle her drink in her hands, leaving the other two free to talk.

"Some people move around more than others," Grace points out. Rather than immediately answer Kenzie's question, she wraps her hands around the cup of coffee and takes a sip. "New?" the woman echoes. "Very little. Just muddling along." Another sip. "And yourselves?"

In a mock cheerful tone MacKenzie says, "Today the men in the research department sent me a report that said that we'd make more money if we put women with bigger boobs in our ads." She shakes her head. "In other words, nothing new really. Just more of the same." She turns to Ygraine.

Ygraine cracks a grin. "It's probably true, y'know", murmurs Ygraine, before shrugging. "Not that I'm an expert on marketing, by any means. That might be useful in making a living, after all."

The corners of Grace's mouth pull back in a slight smile. "No," she agrees, "no news there." Tilting her head, she turns her attention to Ygraine. "Not interested in making a living?"

Nodding, MacKenzie says, "I wish I could say the research told us about nothing more than the bias of the researches, but you two are probably right."

Ygraine chuckles ruefully. "Women tend to buy magazines showing half-naked beauties in strange outfits, and put more money into doing so than men, if I remember aright. The style of photography may be a bit different, but…." She shrugs. "For myself - I'm an academic and cyclist. As far as making money goes, MacKenzie certainly made the better career choices."

Grace lifts her cup to Ygraine. "Maybe. Seems like nothing's all that great these days." Setting it down, she unwraps the muffin. "Academic, huh? What is it you study?"

MacKenzie says, "I won't insult anyone's intelligence by saying that I don't have it good now, but I don't think that has much to do with good choices on my part. I was flipping burgers until I was twenty-five despite having a four-year degree. I think it was more a case of dumb luck than anything else."

Ygraine shoots MacKenzie a sympathetic look before smiling ruefully at Grace. "Nothing, at the moment. But my first degree was in history, and my second in a specialist area of international relations. Neither's exactly going to set me up with a "career", unless I get very lucky indeed. And since I've spent most of my spare time cycling rather than writing or conducting research, I'm not exactly prime material for recruitment by any university…"

Listening to the other two, Grace shakes her head a bit, although it seems to be directed inward rather than out. She tears off a piece of the muffin and occupies herself with eating it. Afterwards, the woman takes another drink of coffee before rejoining the conversation. "Sounds like you could use a bit of that luck," she comments to Ygraine.

MacKenzie asks Ygraine, "Would you like to be a telemarketer where I work? That's how I got started there. The pay is bad, but you get to irritate the hell out of strangers."

Ygraine laughs, shaking her head. "No, no! Believe me - I'd far rather enjoy the freedom of the road. I'll stay a courier, and pass on the chance to work in a modern sweat-shop." Looking to Grace, she shrugs slightly. "My goals aren't really related to normal careers. I'm more interested in winning races, and maybe retiring to find a way to solve international conflict when my time's up."

Grace takes another sip of her coffee. "A dreamer, then." The harshness of her voice hides its inflection; is that statement good or bad? Tipping her head up a bit, she finishes off the drink, setting the cup down on the table afterwards. "Better you than me," the woman continues.

MacKenzie says, "I think it takes a lot of courage to be a dreamer … considering that in half my dreams I realize that I've somehow ended up at work without my clothes on."

Ygraine snorts and giggles, coughing before managing to voice a reply. "I seem to recall that that's meant to suggest something about fear of social inadequacy, but I really can't remember. I suppose that my tips might go up if I tried cycling in the nude, at least…."

"I'm sure it does," Grace agrees matter-of-factly. She raises a brow at the other ladies' discussion of dream symbolism, but chooses not to contribute to it, instead pulling off another piece of the muffin and eating it.

MacKenzie says, "I'm sure *something* would go up, if you tried cycling in the nude." Then with an oh-did-I-just-say-that look she asks Grace, "How's the muffin?"

Ygraine blinks and gapes at MacKenzie for a moment, before blushing swiftly and brightly. Coughing a laugh, she drops her gaze to her drink, cradling it in both hands as she sips.

Grace smiles, ever so faintly; it's easy to miss. "Just fine, thank you," she replies, raven's voice slow on the words. "Would you like some?"

"No thanks," MacKenzie says, shaking her head. "If I need to shove something in my mouth, my fist will work fine." She takes a sip of her chai tea latte, looks over at Ygraine, and asks, "You alright over there?"

Ygraine peeps up, giggling again - though she continues to blush. "I think that your foot might be more appropriate", she teases with a smile. "And yes, I am. Startled more than anything else."

"If more difficult," Grace observes. Rewrapping the remainder of the muffin, she stands up, stepping around the back of the chair and pushing it back under the table. "I have an appointment I should get to — but it was a pleasure talking with you both."

MacKenzie smiles at Grace and says, "And it was a pleasure talking with you. If you have another moment —" She takes a card out of her purse and hands it to Grace.

Ygraine nods politely, mustering another smile in spite of her continued high colour. "And you. For my card… well. Bear Alley Cat Couriers in mind, should you ever want a parcel delivered."

Grace accepts the offered card, and nods to Ygraine. "I'll have to remember to bring mine next time," she remarks dryly — her voice lends itself well to that tone — before turning away and moving for the door.

MacKenzie smiles at Grace and waves goodbye.

Ygraine also raises a hand in farewell, watching the gravel-voiced woman depart, before letting out a long, slow breath and shaking her head once more. "Dare I even ask what you were thinking might "go up", or should I leave that topic wholly alone…?"

MacKenzie takes a sip from her drink and with her lips still behind her cup says, "I can think of a number of things. Shall I enumerate them all?"

Ygraine darts a glance past MacKenzie's shoulder, then - apparently satisfied that they're not going to be overhead - she chuckles and nods. "If you want…"

It is now MacKenzie who laughs nervously. "I didn't think you'd actually take me up on that offer."

Ygraine smirks, then shrugs. "I might be posh and English, but I have spent years dressing up in skin-tight lycra to be watched by a crowd", she explains. "I'm not _wholly_ helpless in the face of teasing…"

MacKenzie claps deliberately and says in a British accent, "Her Royal Highness would be most proud." The voice is her own, but with her accent she sounds like she could have been conceived, born, and raised in England.

Ygraine snorts and pokes her tongue out. "Not yet, she wouldn't. Or not particularly. I've not won anything of real note. And I'm here, while the team's in Beijing. But… hey. I'm officially on the road back, and all that."

"That's impressive," MacKenzie says. "A lot of people don't bother to find the road back."

Ygraine momentarily narrows her eyes, rather warily studying MacKenzie before mustering another smile, albeit a rather wan one. "I've not finished it, I'm afraid", she murmurs. "But I hope I've at least found it."

Smiling sincerely, Mackenzie says, "Just keep walking. That's all anyone can ask. I don't know if I'll ever get where I want to go — but I can try."

Ygraine chuckles faintly. "I'm far too much of a Brit to buy into the American propaganda line that anyone can be whatever they want to be, and that all dreams can be achieved - but I hope to manage at least a couple of mine…."

August 14th: The Threat of Peace

Previously in this storyline…
The Threat of Peace

Next in this storyline…

August 18th: Consequences Over Coffee
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