"I probably shouldn't be here."
<NYC> Evolve Cafe - Lower East Side
Spacious and open, this coffeeshop has a somewhat industrial feel to it, grey resin floors below and exposed-beam ceilings that have been painted up in a dancing swirl of abstract whorls and starbursts, a riot of colour splashed against a white background. The walls alternate between brick and cheerfully lime-green painted wood that extends to the paneling beneath the brushed-steel countertops. There's an abundance of light, though rather than windows (which are scarce) it comes from plentiful hanging steel lamps. The walls here are home to artwork available for sale; though the roster of prints and paintings and drawings and photographs changes on a regular basis it has one thing in common -- all the artists displayed are mutants.
The seating spaced around the room is spread out enough to keep the room from feeling cluttered. Black chairs, square black tables that mostly seat two or four though they're frequently pushed around and rearranged to make space for larger parties. In the back corner of the room is more comfortable seating, a few large black-corduroy sofas and armchairs with wide tables between them. There's a shelf of card and board games back here available for customers to sit and play.
The chalkboard menus hanging behind the counter change frequently, always home to a wide variety of drinks (with an impressive roster of fair-trade coffees and teas largely featured) though their sandwiches and wraps and soups and snacks of the day change often. An often-changing variety of baked goods sit behind the display case at the counter halfway back in the room, and the opposite side of the counter holds a small selection of homemade ice creams. A pair of single-user bathrooms flanks the stairway in back of the cafe; at night, the thump of music can be heard from above, coming from the adjoining nightclub of the same name that sits up the stairs above the coffeehouse.
It's early in the evening and music has begun to filter down from the nightclub upstairs from the Evolve Cafe. Sitting on an armchair near the stairway, a horned young woman has an open book set down on her lap as she stares vacantly and sips a cup of coffee. Her elongated ears twitch occassionally at the rhythmic beats from above and a minute passes before she sets her beverage down on a nearby table and resumes reading. The spine on the book titles it as 'The Hollowing' by Robert Holdstock and is quite creased. Paige herself wears a comfortable looking black-dress that falls precisely at her knees and has sleeves that cover only the tops of her shoulders. Instead of leggings, her lower limbs are furred and her bare hooves are on display.
Having been sitting in the parking lot in her bright white Tesla X, Allison has been staring at the club for the last thirty minutes. She has unlocked and locked the door several times, chickening out as another strange looking pair heads in through the front doors. Tonight she is wearing a pair of knee high black boots, a long black skirt that hits at the knees and a dark red sleeveless top with a black spiral pattern on it. Her blonde hair has a few colorful highlights along the bangs as well. Taking in a deep breath, she finally exits the vehicle, then tugs a black hat down upon her head to hide her eyes as she heads through the door to take a quick look about. Everything about her screams nervous anxiety, even with one foot tapping along with the beat of the music.
Marinov walks in a few moments after Allison, presently wearing a knee length plaid skirt with la few dangly pieces of fabric hanging off of it, a black shimmery vest and a light checkered jacket. They raise up a hand in greeting to Paige and remark to her, "I passed by a pretty fancy car out there. Electric! Gentrification, am I right?" The youth holds up an index finger to disinvite any response to their comment and instead asks, "You want me to pick up anything for you at the counter?" They glance towards Allison and then do a double take. Quieter tacking on, "Does she look familiar? Do I know her?"
Matt's arrival is somewhat more dramatic than usual, conveyed as he is on a /throne of bones./ The wheelchair is a remarkable, if macabre, work of art, covered as it is with intricately tessellated bones from a variety of animals. The man himself is also on the bony side, pale and gaunt and clad in a light pink t-shirt that reads "Book Lovers Never Sleep Alone" above an image of a cartoon figure curled up in bed with a book, gray cargo shorts, and black athletic sandals. For all his sickly appearance, his hair is a healthy, glossy brown and remarkably well-groomed by his (non-work-day) standards. "I should have asked B to install a /fog machine/ in this thing," he laments good-naturedly. "Ah, bonsoir, Marinov!" This last brightly, as he coasts to a stop at the end of the queue.
"I'm sure she still would if you like." Leaning against the bony handlebars of the wheelchair is one skinny dark-haired teenager, in fraying jeans and Adidas sneakers and a tee that reads 'I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.' Matt's stop isn't quite as final as it should be; his chair rocks a bit more forward when Gaetan rests his weight further against it, the toe of one sneaker pressing against the heel of the other as he leans forward to peer at the menu. Then at Marinov. "Hey. Something Different, right?" His eyes are skating absently around the room beneath his mop of shaggy hair. He does -- kind of a double take when he spies Allison. Then looks back to the menu quickly.
Not having noticed Marinov's wave, Paige gives a small start as they address her - her shoulders pull together briefly and her ears flick up. With a deep breath, she sets the book down on her lap again. "Hey," she greets her felinoid friend with a smile. "I, uh ... maybe a croissant?" When the teen makes their inquiry, the goatish mutant turns in her seat to observe Allison. "She /does/ look familiar." Her eyes then flit to Matt and Gaetan as the two enter and she offers them a wave. The young woman's attention returning briefly to Allison, she offers, "They don't look that comfortable here, do they? They're not ... going to like pull a gun or anything, right?"
As the other pair come in from behind her, Allison shuffles out of the way of them, wringing her hands together as she continues to look about the cafe. Her eyes fall upon the furry cat guy for a moment, then nervously looks over to the wheelchair made of bones. Chewing on her bottom lip, she gives another glance to the door, as if pondering escape back to fresh, evening air and the comfort of her vehicle. When Paige addresses her, she glances over, ".. Huh?" She looks behind her, then back to the other girl. "I .. um.. I'm not with them."
"Holeeeee shit," is all Marinov can muster upon first seeing the bone throne. "Let me... let me just take a mind picture of this. So I can have it forever." They hold up their fingers in a box shape and say, "Click. Did B... ? Because it is... incredible. Oh, dobry vecher, yeah. Something Different. How's it going?" They nod acknowledgement towards Paige's croissant order and then blink slowly when Allison speaks, "Huh? Um..." They sniff the air lightly and say, "I think everything's fine. Like, safe."
"It /would/ make for an even more delightful entrance. Especially if I hone my ghoulish laughter a bit more." Matt steeples his fingers, tapping their very tips together like a cartoon villain hatching a dastardly plot. Whether his chipped nails and raw cuticles add to or subtract from the impression probably depends on the inclinations of the viewer. He looks up at the nervous blonde ahead of them in line, flashes her a warm smile when she glances back at them. "If I may be so presumptuous, the pecan pie here is spectacular. I recommend trying it a la mode." The smile only grows wider at Marinov's amazement. "Oh, yes, this is B's work. Not only is it the /coolest/ wheelchair, it's also the most comfortable and functional one I've ever ridden, which is saying--Mythago Wood!" This interjection comes as he glimpses the book in Paige's lap. He lifts one hand to cover his mouth, the duck of his head embarassed, though his voice has a smile in it when he speaks again. "Forgive me, it's just been /ages/ since I've read through those."
"Don't worry," Gaetan says offhand, "nobody thought you were with any of us." He's still looking at the menu -- at least until he glances over toward Paige's book. His head ducks, slightly. A quick smile curls at his lips. 'Ages', he mouths. "He means it's been like six /whole/ months." The smile widens at Marinov's mental-snapshotting. "You should see the crown and sceptre that goes with it." His hands drop from the handles of the wheelchair, tucking into his belt loops. After some consideration: "Now /I/ want pie. It really is pretty great."
Paige winces as she's overheard by Allison and offers the other girl a friendly, sheepish smile and then a concerned look. "Sorry about that. Evolve really is a safe place. Are you alright?" Her ears press down and back. "I promise I'm not a threat. And I second the pecan pie recommendation." An appreciative once-over is given to Matt's wheelchair and she seems about to comment on it when he mentions her book - a topic that causes her to light up. "Mythago Wood is my /favorite/ series, the furred mutant confesses with a large smile. "It always just ... uugh blows my mind. This is the third time I'm reading them. I found a copy of The Hollowing at the thrift store." She does laugh at Gaetan's commentary. "Even a day after a good story ends is too long."
"Yes. I'm fine." Allison says in a quick, assuring voice. "Just my first time here. I .. uh .. heard there is .. you know ... music.. and stuff." She rubs at her opposite shoulder with her hand, trying not to stare too hard at anyone's particular physical mutation. She gives a scuff of the ground with her heavy black boot. "I'll try the pie later. Thanks for the recommendation." She offers up a goofy, awkward smile to them.
Marinov's ears twitch lightly, "Well, there is some music here up in the club, but like, music in the cafe is different. I don't like the pie, but me not liking something should be taken as a glowing recommendation 'cause frankly, I don't like anything good." They listen for a moment to this book-talk with a tilted head, not a single shred of recognition written on their expression.
"The scepter has a /skull/ on it," Matt confides, eyes bright with boyish excitement, "the eyes light up when it says spooky things, though I suppose it looks a lot more dignified when it's /not/ doing that." He gives a happy sigh, though it's hard to say whether he's fondly recalling his chthonic regalia or the books he and Paige both enjoy. "That's the one with Jason and the Argonauts in it, no? It's true, though--like being away from a good friend." The shadow that passes over his face is fleeting, easy to miss altogether. "Oh! Welcome to Evolve, then. I'm Matt, by the by, and this one is Gaetan," he tips his head at the teenaged boy standing behind his chair. "There's often music here, and all manner of delicious food. And /tea/, which--oh, a nice, light pouzhong, maybe. And a ginger scone?" This last sounds a little uncertain.
"Stuff." Gaetan echoes this kind of dryly. "Right. Yeah. People /definitely/ come to Evolve for the music." He lifts a hand, pushing his hair back from his forehead. "Are you, like, slumming here?" Sort of curious. He's /actually/ looking back at Allison now, finally, with /just/ the mildest hint of exasperation. "Won't that give your agent some kind of fit? You /have/ an agent, right? -- C'mon you really want a chocolate croissant today." As an aside to his brother. /Scoffing/ at this Ginger Scone nonsense.
"It is," a grinning Paige informs Matt dutifully while holding up the book, a finger tucked in to hold her current place. "My favorite is probably the first, but they are each so unique - I've never read anything else like them. And you should get the scepter to light up whenever -you- say spooky things, too," she offers off-handedly. "Wait ... agent?" Gaetan receives a quizzical gaze and then Allison. "Wait." The horned mutant adjusts herself to lean more closely towards the other girl. "Aren't you like a singer or some -- Oh! You were on that show! Weren't you? You know - the one with the people in the chairs?"
"No, I'm not /slumming/ it here. I just ... whatever... " Allison lets out a soft sigh past her lips as her blue eyes glance towards the door again. "No, my agent doesn't know I'm here either. I probably shouldn't be here. All it will take is one photo out of context .." She chews on her lip softly again, then gives a look over to Paige as she is recognized. She nods her head slowly. "Yeah. I was on The Voice. Came in seventh .. " Her shoulder lifts upwards in a shrug. Her stubs her foot against the ground a few times, then gives another glance to the door before she looks to the others again. She swallows tightly. "... So ...um... what's it like ... being a mutant?" She asks quietly. ".. Was your parents okay with it?"
"I can't believe that you didn't bring your skull scepter, Matt. My mental picture could've been way better," says Marinov to Matt, "Is it a bone crown too?" They consider that and pull their phone out of their bag with the intention of looking up bone crowns, but instead look up with startled realization at what Gaetan and Paige say. "Oh! That's why I recognize you. You do the..." Their ears swivel about as they try and think of something, and then settle on humming a bit of 'Dazzler'. They stop humming when Allison asks her question. "What's it like... being a mutant?" They cross their arms a bit uncomfortably over their stomach before attempting a light answer. "Are you asking for research for a song? 'cause I'm prepared to answer if I'm casted in the music video."
Matt's smile returns, just a touch crooked. "Depending on what one considers 'spooky', that scepter would either remain forever silent or babble nonstop. I /do/ wish now I'd brought it, though, and the crown--which is mostly comprised of vertebrae. I'm not certain what /from/, but it's more comfortable than you might imagine." He does not look particularly shocked at the revelation about Allison, though his face twitches slightly when his brother presses her about why she's come to Evolve. The twitch and the smile both smooth away at Allison's question, though. His green eyes search the pop star's face, keen and piercing. But when he speaks it's an aside to Gaetan, quiet. "Oh, very well, you've persuaded me." He's very easily swayed, apparently. "Chocolate croissant it is. Though that calls for a /different/ tea--jin xuan, I think. Yes."
"Well, you know, it's not so bad," Gaetan says with a /fierce/ smile, "sometimes you're having an ordinary day getting a snack and then /celebrities/ stop in to grill you on what it's like being a mutant." Still smiling just as bright, he's pulled out his phone to snap a quick picture of Allison -- "Hey smile!" coming, really, only after he's already pressed the button. "I'm getting a chocolate croissant, too," he announces to his brother. And to Allison, gesturing to the counter (with his phone): "You going to order? You really should put them in a music video, anyway. It'd give it a whole next-level of class."
Paige isn't as adept as the others at masking her emotional response to Allison's question. Indeed, her smile fades away and her posture deflates. Her jaw works as her ears twitch at the others' contributions to an answer. "It's ... life, you know?" she eventually offers to the celebrity, staring towards her lap. "My parents," she begins, bringing her arms across her chest. "Are not okay with it. But I didn't ask them. And I didn't get a choice." With a deep breath, she lets her mind move on to other topics. "I'd be /careful/ putting Marinov in one of your videos," she warns. "They might /out/-class you." Her words are said in a joking, not mocking or insulting, tone.
"No, I'm not doing research for a song or looking to put anyone in a music video. I just .." Before Allison can finish her thought, Gaetan takes her picture, causing her to blink a few times before a look of anger crosses over her face. "Hey. Delete that! What the hell, man." She goes through a quick range of emotions, from anger to anxiety. "/Please/. Delete it." She gives a quick glance to Paige, the only one who gave her a real, honest answer. ".. I'm sorry. That sucks." Her eyes keep cutting over to the photo taker, curling her hand slightly to try and stop it from trembling.
"Hey, it might just be the big break I've been looking for," says Marinov idly, before continuing to Allison, the fur on their neck rising a little bit, "I just... listen, I don't know you, and like. If someone's asking for my story, I sure as hell want to know the reason for it. Being a mutant, especially a monster like me, can be a raw fucking deal. So, if you were gonna use what I say for something, I'd want something back, yeah?" They glance over towards Gaetan with a tilted head, but watch Allison's reaction more closely. They hiss softly through their teeth, "And it's a raw deal being the kind of person who would sully a celebrity's rep just by standing next to her."
"I'm not sure," Matt says slowly, his voice easy and his expression placid, "that you are asking the right questions--at least not of people you have just met. Personally, I think that the best way to learn about the experiences of mutants, for good or for ill, is to get to know us as people. Which, if /that/ terrifies you so..." He gestures at Gaetan's phone. "...might not be the path for you."
Gaetan just hikes his brows up. Tucks his phone back into his pocket. He finally slips /past/ Allison at this apology, sidling up to the counter to just place the order for himself and his brother, slightly more tense perhaps than he had been a moment before. "You really should try the pie." He's stepping aside to collect a paper bag with his pastries, though.
"You're not a monster. There's nothing wrong with the way you look." Allison says to Marinov, though her voice is still tense, bordering on shaking. Her fist clenches up tightly, digging her nails into her palms as she can feel the sting along the surface of her skin. "I don't want to try any pie. I just want you to delete the photo. Why are you being a jerk for? I'm not in here bullying any of you, so why are you messing with me for? You want to sell it to TMZ or something? You looking to get paid?" She gives a shake of her head and starts for the door, digging the keys out of her pocket. She has a miserable look upon her face, running her free hand back through her blonde hair. "Whatever." She mutters to herself. "Knew this was stupid."
Marinov takes a deep, slow breath, tonguing their teeth for a moment in thought. "Prosti. I'm gonna take a walk," says Marinov, sounding tense still. Another breath is taken. "Mr. T, next time I see you, I hope you have that bone crown with you. Being the bone king on the bone throne. Seeya, Gaetan." They offer a half wave and head off towards the exit door.
"No, there's nothing at all wrong with how they look. What's wrong is how humans--or other mutants--/treat/ them for it." Matt laces his fingers together and settles his hands in his lap. His eyes skid aside briefly to Gaetan, then settle back on Allison. "You have come into our safe space, such as it is, out of curiosity. That's not wrong in itself, but it would profit you to /listen/ to the people you seek to learn from." He watches Allison depart, giving a miniscule shake of his head. But his smile returns easily enough at Marinov's exhortation. "I'll do my best, of course. If I'm lucky, I'll be looking a bit less bony than my accessories by then. A bientot!"