- IV -

It was a good thing Hakan possessed effective coping mechanisms because any lesser individual would have likely keeled over and died from the sequence of tumultuous events that had occurred in such a short amount of time. Two weeks later, he still had yet to fully recuperate from the blow to his self-esteem after failing to pair the correct tea combination with the enigmatic Avery Fawns.

Something about the vocalist both fascinated him and rubbed him the wrong way. He admitted that at first he had been charmed by her down-to-earth attitude and intriguing presence, but there was also an unsettling quality to her that put him on edge.

You may want to think twice about going into that mode in public when you make these drinks. It can be dangerous.

The fact that she had known about his trance technique was startling enough. When she went on to attribute an element of peril to it, Hakan had decided on the spot that he would take her offer for information. 2-Gen Alpha's Destin concert was next week, after which he intended on cornering and subjecting her to a lengthy interrogation.

That was the plan, anyway. He doubted it would go so smoothly, given the fact that Luke had snatched the code for the VIP pass once he'd been briefed on the situation. The fanboy, giddy with excitement over the opportunity to meet his favorite rock band, even forgot how angry he was that Hakan hadn't called him when they'd shown up at Whiskey Tea Café.

The aftermath of 2-Gen Alpha's visit had a number of consequences for Hakan and his staff. Business at the café promptly increased even though the tourist season was starting to wane. The media and press hounded him for interviews about his interaction with the band and how they had liked his establishment. At first, he shared the café staff's exhilaration over the unexpected publicity. He had to hire several more people to accommodate their booming customer base, and he appointed a few to managerial positions while he attended various interviews for a week straight.

However, as the café's popularity gained momentum, so did the public's scrutiny of him as a person. He lost track of the number of times his picture had been taken—both with and without permission—for assorted local publications, and he'd found a particularly unflattering photo of his face splashed across the August issue of Destin Magazine. Many of the interview questions had begun to stray completely off topic and crossed over to more personal territory, such as his bachelor status and his activities outside work. He'd drawn the line when one bold female journalist asked the prize-winning question: "Boxers or briefs?"

He had since refused any further interviews.

Still, within a matter of weeks, he had become recognizable enough that most people in Destin knew him by name. It was alarming how he always managed to make it into the spotlight without meaning to… though, admittedly, he usually brought it upon himself even with the noblest of intentions. In this case, his attempts to gain more exposure for the café backfired and won him more exposure for himself instead.

Luckily, the café itself had accumulated enough reputation to inspire numerous published reviews, ranging from pleasant critiques to scathing evaluations. Most of the negative feedback centered on the servers' performance, the quality of the dishware, the interior décor, the amount of sugar in the baked items, and other aspects that really had nothing to do with the café's main selling point: the tea. What he did notice was that all of the reviews, good and bad alike, consistently praised his tea-matching ability—and after meeting Avery, he sorely needed the ego boost in that regard.

But while he was caught in the middle of the journalism feeding frenzy, he'd kept a vigilant eye out for any news on bizarre sightings at Crystal Beach. Unfortunately, the only news stories of interest lately were cringe-worthy photo ops of several of his enthusiastic employees wanting their five minutes of fame. Jen even made the front page of a recent issue of the Destin Log, garbed in a provocative café maid costume that would surely bring a lawsuit on exploitation of minors down upon Hakan's head.

With everything that had happened, his next entry to his father rivaled the length of a novel. He recapped the image of the black-winged figure, the appearance of 2-Gen Alpha, his first unsuccessful tea pairing, and the publicity the band had gotten him. He also included a few choice words about Joshua's role in all his stress.

And as if Hakan wasn't enough of a recluse, all the media and press attention had driven him into hiding during his off-work hours. When not managing the café, he played the part of a hermit, refusing to leave his residence unless absolutely necessary.

On this particular Saturday, he had talked his roommate into having a guys' night in. Luke sat in the living room of their apartment and prattled off about how "stoked" he was as he played the latest FPS game on his game console, his words growing slightly unintelligible from the five Miller Lights he'd consumed that evening.

Hakan sat at the computer desk next to the couch, only partly listening as he scribbled away on a notepad, brainstorming a revised tea recipe for Avery. On the monitor, he had a live streaming video of the band's concert in Indianapolis, Indiana pulled up.

"Hakan… dude…" Luke was slurring. "This whole thing with 2-Gen Alpha… so awesome. I love you, man. Have I told you that?"

"Only five times in the past hour."

"Seriously, though. I take back every joke I made about the café, about whiskey tea, about you being a pansy, about—"

"I think I get it, bud."

"Who would've thought, right? Out of all the places in Destin, they show up at Whiskey Tea Café." Luke tossed the controller onto the coffee table and did some sort of flailing movement that Hakan presumed was supposed to be a victory dance. "Dude! I'm gonna get to meet them one-on-one! Or two-on-three. Or, since they got a new keyboardist, would it be two-on-four? Or…"

"I'm glad you're enthusiastic now, because you totally flipped out right after I told you that you missed 2-Gen Alpha at the café," Hakan said wryly, pausing in his writing to take a swig from his garnished glass of Blue Moon. In addition to being a tea aficionado, he was a beer snob.

"Well yeah, I mean, you didn't bother calling me or anything while they were there, and you know I'm their number one fan—along with thousands of other people, I guess—and it's not every day your favorite band ends up at your best friend's workplace, and you know I have a thing for their singer, and—"

Hakan had to put a stop to Luke's excruciatingly long run-on sentence. "All right, I'm sorry. But at least you still have a chance to see them, right?"

"That's true…" Luke trailed off as his phone signaled an incoming call via the ringtone rendition of "I'm Not Your Boyfriend Baby."

While his roommate was momentarily distracted with his phone, Hakan took the opportunity to glance at the computer screen. 2-Gen Alpha's concert was going very well, judging from the exuberant screams of the audience. The band members themselves were having a blast, and he felt a brief adrenaline rush when the camera zoomed in on the frontwoman.

The laidback demeanor she'd displayed in the café had been replaced by her persona onstage. Charisma and spirit radiated from her movements and expressions. When he'd listened to the band's albums in the past, he'd assumed the distinct, unidentifiable harmony in the background of their songs had been some sort of electronic manipulation of a wind instrument. As he gazed at Avery performing live, he realized that sound was part of her voice.

As if she possessed more than one set of vocal chords.

Hakan leaned closer to the monitor, watching, listening, studying. Suddenly, he jolted in his seat.

In the span of an instant, something flickered from between Avery's shoulder blades and then disappeared on camera.

Large, torn black wings.

x-x-x-x-x

A/N: This seems to be faring better in views than it did when it was first posted, so I'll keep it as one of my active stories. Thanks for reading this far!