“Everything alright, Mr. Walters?”
“Oh yeah... she's fine. Just fainted in the park.”
“Are you sure? She looks so pale...”
Chuckling rung over my head. “I'm afraid that's just her color.” Another laugh. “Don't worry, she'll come to soon.”
“And you said she fainted in the park?”
“Oh man... the poor thing. Is she not used to seeing giants?”
“She's more used to it than many.”
I blinked several times as the voices continued to talk over my head. I didn't recognize the one at all... but the other one... the male.
“I'll make a fresh batch of coffee for when she wakes up,” the female said again.
“That would be great, Viv. She's probably going to need it.”
The woman giggled. “You're such a gentleman, Mr. Walters.”
“How many times do I have to tell you to call me Luke?”
My eyes flashed open and I was met with the underside of two chins speaking over me. One woman. One male.
One was Luke.
“Look!” the female exclaimed, dipping her head. “She's waking up. Oh good. I'll get that coffee. Don't want her to freak out too much,” she said, scampering away.
Luke's chin lowered after she departed. “Are you alright?” he asked. I couldn't stand the soft concern in his voice. I rubbed my eyes and tried to figure out just where the hell I was but nothing looked familiar. I jerked up.
“Now, now,” Luke said, going to cup his hands near me. “Slow down. You don't want to faint again, do you?”
“Don't touch me!” I screamed. I scrambled away to get away from those horrible hands. The same hands which tried to help Evans push me. “Don't you freaking dare touch me!” I found my footing and looked around. To my surprise, Luke lowered both hands to the table and looked around. His blue eyes finally landed on mine. I must have looked like a wild animal. “Where are we?” I snapped.
“Calm down,” he said again.
“Kidnapping!” I screamed. “Help! Help me!” I ran to the edge of the table and looked around. There were no ladders. No ladders. No escape. “Help!”
“Maya, are you out of your mind?” Luke asked, trying to box me in again with those hands.
“You kidnapped me!” I wailed. “You took me without asking! I'll report you to the No Hate Alliance! I don't care what deal you struck with Ronan, this is too much! I've been kidnapped! Please! Help me! Someone!” Several giants looked my way, but most shook their heads and returned to their meals. “What's the matter with you people? Did you hear me? I've been kidnapped.”
“Maya, if you'll just listen—”
“I'm calling my dad,” I hissed. I whipped my cell phone out from my pocket and immediately I was hit with two missed calls.
I frowned and tried to shake off the sting of the fact that he didn't call.
“I'm calling my dad,” I said again, turning my back to Luke. As soon as I started to dial, two giant fingers plunged into my vision and plucked the phone over my head.
“Now listen, Maya,” Luke said, as I snapped my head around. “I didn't kidnap you.”
“You took me, without asking,” I hissed. “That's kidnapping.”
“You were going to pass out.”
“I didn't ask for your help.”
“I took you to a public place,” he said, waving his hand around for effect. “Obviously I didn't kidnap you.”
“You didn't have my consent,” I hissed.
“I doubt you'd be so obsessed with consent if another human had helped you instead,” he snapped back. His blue eyes narrowed and I grew frightened all over again.
“Please!” I screamed to a waitress coming near our table. “Call the police! Tell him to give me back my phone. I've been kidnapped!”
“Kidnapped?” the waitress stopped at our table and dropped off a giant-sized mug and a human-sized one. Both were steaming and both smelled amazing, but I tried not to focus on that. “Oh sweetheart, you'll be alright. You just passed out in the park. Mr. Walters here brought you in so you wouldn't chill to death. The temperature is dropping like crazy out there for you little ones.”
“I'm not little!” I shouted.
The waitress' face grew pink. “O-oh... of course not,” she said. “Sorry about that. I don't talk to many humans. I meant no offense.” She looked towards Luke. “Is she going to be alright?”
“She's going to be fine,” he said, rolling his eyes.
“I most certainly am not going to be fine!” I growled. “I want my phone. I want to get the hell out of here. I want to get away from you!”
“Maybe you should just let the girl go,” the waitress said. “Let her call her dad. Maybe it's a bit unnerving being around all the giants.”
“Her father is a giant,” Luke said. “So I doubt that would make much of a difference.”
“It would make a difference! My dad never tried to push thoughts on me! My dad never kidnapped me! And my dad certainly never tried to date me to prove that humans were—”
“Do you mind giving us a few moments?” Luke interrupted before I could get out my last words. I noticed he had dropped my cell phone into the front pocket of his shirt. I frowned as the waitress bristled.
“Maybe you should just let her call—”
“Five minutes,” Luke said. “If I can't calm her down in five minutes, come back to the table and take her away yourself. I'll give her back her phone.”
“I'm not going with another giant!” I screamed.
“Viv?” Luke tried again. “Please?”
She nodded reluctantly. “Five minutes,” she said softly. “That's... that's all I can give you, Mr. Walters. I know well, but that... we can't have humans coming in here screaming about kidnapping. It looks bad for business.”
“I get that,” Luke said. “Time me.”
“Right,” she said, softly. She turned her attention to me. “The coffee's fresh, button. Take a few sips and hopefully you'll start feeling better.”
“I'll only feel better when I get the hell out of here,” I growled as the waitress left the table. “And where the hell is here anyway?”
“Take a few sips of coffee,” Luke said. “You'll feel better.”
“Is that a command?” I snapped, eying the coffee just the same. “Or are you going to force me?”
“I'm not a pusher, Maya,” Luke said. “I can't push you to do anything.”
“But you can ask others to do your dirty work? Give me my phone.”
“I will. I meant what I said to Viv. Just give me five minutes. Five minutes, Maya. That's all I'm asking.”
“Give me my phone or I'll scream.”
“Will you listen to me?”
“Give it to me!” I yelled, thrusting my hand out towards him. “That's mine. You already stole me, you want to steal my phone too?”
He frowned. “I was only trying to help—”
“Then help me... by giving my phone back,” I said. I jerked my hand again. “Now.”
His frown grew more pronounced, but eventually he reached into his pocket with two fingers and found my phone. He held it out towards me before holding it up again. “Please,” he said. “I meant what I said online. I just wanted to talk to you. If you'll just listen—”
“You listen to me,” I said. “The phone. Now.”
Miraculously the tiny cell phone dropped into my palm. I curled my fingers around it and brought it closer to my chest. I stared up at Luke, expecting him to look angry, but he still remained calm... worried even. With shaking hands, he reached over to grab his mug and took a long gulp.
“It's still hot,” he offered.
He slumped a bit. “You're really going to be like this?” he asked. “When we spoke online—”
“When we spoke online, I thought you were Ronan,” I said over him. “If I knew... who you were... I would have blocked you in a second.”
“I guess I can't blame you for that.”
“You shouldn't.” My eyes flickered to the steaming mug, my cell phone and then back towards Luke. “Why didn't you just tell me who you were?”
“I thought you knew,” he said. “But looking back on it, I guess I should have been surprised that you were so open to meet with me.”
“Because humans are simple creatures, right?” I said.
“It's more complicated than that,” he said, nodding towards the cup again. “Drink.”
“Speak,” I said, commanding him like an overgrown dog. Which he was in my eyes. “Where the hell are we?”
“We're in Cohawk,” he muttered.
“Cohawk!” I screamed. “That's over an hour away!”
“For you,” he muttered. “It's where I live.”
My brows furrowed. “I thought you lived in Peaceburry. Most of the giants who go to school there, do.”
“I don't,” he said. “I... I like having a place to come home to everyday.”
“What?” I asked. “This dump?”
He frowned and took another sip. “Yeah, Maya. This dump.”
I rolled my eyes. Seriously, who was this guy? Where was the guy who asked his friend to push humans and laughed about how simple they were? Who was this calm and collected giant who seemed stung by every word I said? I glanced down at my phone again and finally tucked into my pocket.
“Five minutes,” I said, taking a few steps towards the cup of coffee.
“Don't thank me yet,” I snapped. “I still haven't decided whether I should report you for kidnapping. You can't do that! You can't just pick people up off the street and take them to another town an hour away! That's wrong! Can't you see how wrong that is?”
“I had to talk to you. I thought you knew it was me. I said we'd meet in the park and we'd go someplace I feel comfortable.” He leaned back in the booth a bit. “And I feel comfortable here.”
“And what's here, exactly?”
His face grew soft. “My dad's diner,” he said.
I narrowed my eyes. “Your dad?” I asked. “You mean the strict bastard who no one's ever seen?”
He shook his head, surprising me. “No. My first dad.”
“Your first one?”
He nodded and looked away. “This place belongs to him.. and when he... uh... passed.. he left it to me. So I guess technically it's my diner. But Viv and Ted basically run the place. Viv was the waitress who brought the coffee. Ted works in the back.”
“Is this not a human friendly place?” I dared to ask. “I don't see any ladders yet.”
“It's really expensive to turn a place from giant only to co-ed,” Luke explained. “We haven't the money and Cohawk doesn't have many humans.” He shrugged. “I still hope to make enough money to turn this place around. Not that you'd believe that.”
“I don't,” I snapped, finally taking a sip from the mug. At least the coffee was good. I tried to soften my expression a bit. “So your dad's dead?” I asked.
“Y-yeah,” he muttered. “About ten years ago.”
“Ten years?” I groaned. “You mean you've been coming here and calling this your place...”
“Since I was eight,” he said. “What can I say? I had to grow up quickly.”
“I'll say,” I muttered. “I am sorry, though. For your dad, I mean. I know how much it can suck to lose a parent.”
“I know,” he said. “That's kinda why I wanted to talk you.”
“If you think that we're going to have some sort of kumbaya, moment because we both have dead parents, you're wrong, Luke. In case you've forgotten, I don't like you. I don't trust you. I don't want to be here. And I still think that reporting you to the No Hate Alliance would be a good thing for you. Maybe you'll learn that humans aren't so stupid and helpless after all.”
“I never said humans were stupid and helpless.”
“No. You just said they were simple creatures.”
“In a way, they are.”
I sucked in a gasp.
He held up his hands. “B-but... but so are giants!” he quickly tacked on. “We're all simple creatures... really. If you think about it.”
I swallowed my coffee and traced my thumb over the rim. “So is that what you wanted to talk to me about?”
“You said we had a lot more in common than you thought. Is this it? You stole me from my home, brought me to a yellow light human town... Cohawk, and want me to talk about how our parents died? Is that it?”
“It's more than that.”
“So what is it?” I asked. “The clock is ticking.”
He set his mug down. “I'm not a pusher, Maya.”
“But I am a mild blocker... like your stepfather.”
I glanced up. “How do you know that?”
“Because...” he grumbled. “He caught me blocking thoughts from him. Just as I caught him trying to read mine. The whole thing was complicated. It gave me a headache. It had been a long time since I ran into a giant reader. Your stepdad is freaking strong. I don't think I kept it out.”
“Kept what out?”
“My secret,” he said. “The secret I'm so desperate to hide from my friends. The reason I live in Cohawk and not on campus with my friends.”
“Some friends,” I hissed. “Luke, seriously, get to the point.”
“Let me show you a picture of my family,” he said, going to reach for his wallet. I started to roll my eyes. “I have a minute,” he said, trying to smile a bit as he pulled it out. He held a poster sized picture in front of me. “That's my mom,” he said, “and that's my dad. The one who bought the diner. That's my older sister Twyla and and that's my older brother Collins.”
“Yeah? So What?”
He tucked the picture away.
“This is a picture of me and my stepfather,” I said, going to reach for another picture in the massive leather wallet.
“Your mom remarried after you dad died?”
He nodded. “Almost immediately,” he said. “Honestly, I think she was seeing my stepdad even before my real dad passed.” His expression darkened for a moment. “My stepdad... he's not a good person. He... hates who he is.”
“Get to the point,” I said, beckoning him with one hand. “What's up with the picture?”
“This is my family now,” he whispered, showing me a new picture.
They were all there.
Luke. His friendly but chubby mother. His model-esque sister and his brawny older brother. I narrowed my eyes.
“That's great, Luke,” I said, looking up at him. “Congrats, but—”
“Look harder,” he whispered, holding the picture closer. “Look at my face.”
I shrugged. “You look pissed,” I said. “Which I'm starting to get—”
“Look at my brother's shoulder. It's right next to mine.”
I rolled my eyes, but turned my attention back towards the picture. And then... vertigo hit me all over again.
“That... that can't be right,” I muttered. My eyes flashed up towards Luke.
“I told you we had more in common than you thought,” he said remorsefully.
“But he...” I reached out and finally tugged the picture closer to my face. It couldn't be... but it was there... clear as day. “You mean your dad...
“Stepdad,” he corrected. “I only call him my dad so my mom doesn't get pissed.”
I went on. “...the asshole who's strict. The one you're afraid of...” I swallowed hard, “... the one who hates himself so much...” The coffee mug slipped from my fingers. Luke snapped the picture out from my sight and tucked it back into his wallet.
He nodded. “Y-yeah,” he croaked out. “He's a human.”