North Enders by Starling Author's Note: The first part of a long-ass story I've had kicking around for years now. "How's the coffee shop?" Luna asked, gesturing at what had once been an old house across the street. The interior, visible through large windows, looked bright and pretty. "Best in the city," the young building manager answered with a conspiratorial wink. "You'll love it." "Perfect," Luna grinned. She handed the young woman her signed lease. "My movers should be coming in tomorrow morning, around eight. Is that all right?" "Of course" the manager said brightly. "Welcome to Halifax." She left, leaving Luna alone in the large, bare loft. It was more than she'd wanted to spend, but with little time to apartment hunt, she was in no position to complain about a beautiful space six blocks from her work. With no place to sit, Luna slumped against her kitchen island, pulling her knees up to her chest. She pulled out her phone and shot off a text to Blake. Got the lease - movers come tomorrow. A simple, perfunctory message. Blake's response came almost immediately. Eaten by a polar bear yet? Luna couldn't quite bring herself to respond, the way she couldn't quite bring herself to deal with anything involving Blake. She'd hoped the whole 'yearlong assignment in Canada' thing would give her a graceful, easy out. But Blake hadn't wanted to break up, nor had he wanted to come with her. So now she was in some kind of relationship limbo - the worst of all possible worlds. Casting a baleful look outside, Luna couldn't help but wonder if this had all been a colossal mistake. For three years, she'd been a trainer for a large Content Management System. She originally wanted to work in development, but had been lured by the promise of travel as a trainer. She wished she'd realized that the travel promised was Rochester, Indianapolis, and Kansas City - a far cry from her dreams of Hong Kong, Paris, and Sydney. Four months ago, she'd all but begged her supervisor for the chance to move to the international training team. He came back with a slightly different offer. The company was expanding into Canada, opening offices in Toronto the coming year. They'd need a trainer from headquarters to show new hires the ropes. They wanted Luna to become that trainer. After a year in Toronto, Luna would be promoted to head of the international team. ---- "Do you think it's really that cold?" Luna asked Cory in the next cubicle after her meeting. He laughed. "I think it's a cover by their government. Can you imagine how many of us would be flooding the border if word got out that it wasn't a frozen wasteland? Plus Toronto is supposed to be cool. Isn't that what all of Drake's songs are about?" Well, Toronto proved too expensive, so the new offices moved to Halifax. And Cory, it turned out, was deeply mistaken regarding the weather. It was only October, and already there was snow on the ground. Luna sighed. Maybe a latte would brighten the mood. The coffee shop, at least, was bright and airy, with plenty of green plants to offset the overwhelming moist grayness. ---- Hunter looked up from his pastry at the jingle of the front door chimes, quickly stashing it behind the cash register. It had been slow all day, and he sent Marnie, the college girl who worked the afternoon shift, home over an hour ago. An unfamiliar face - and the most attractive one he'd seen in months. A younger woman - he guessed around his own thirty-two - with a head of the silvery blonde hair that was so in fashion now, and a pair of the largest, darkest eyes he'd ever seen. He attempted to nonchalantly pull his sweater away from where it clung to his chubby waist as she approached the counter. "What can I get you?" He tried not to stare too intently. "Medium latte please, with an extra shot of espresso." "Soy? Two percent?" She looked like the type of ultra trendy it girl who only drank the milk of freshly harvested avocados. "Whole milk, thanks." Hunter nodded, hiding his surprise. "Might be a few minutes, since there are so many orders ahead of yours" She let out an obliging bark of laughter. It was a harsh, not entirely pleasant laugh that contrasted sharply with her meticulously feminine appearance. Hunter liked it. He asked for her credit card, noting it was American. Luna Amelia DiAngelo. It was a name for a supermodel or a video game heroine. She certainly looked like she could step flawlessly into either role. "American?" "Yeah, Arizona. You too?" "What gave it away?" - prompting Luna to laugh again. Almost fifteen years in Halifax and Hunter still hadn't been able to shake his Charleston drawl. He hadn't tried to lose it for years - customers liked its distinctly American charm. "Cold here for a Zonie" he joked. "I've only been here two days and I'm beginning to worry all ten toes won't survive the winter" "How long are you here for?" Hunter couldn't help but hope she'd be a familiar face in the coming days. "A year. Work assignment." "Wow. You living in the North End?" "Yeah, right around here." Luna didn't want to tell a stranger she could see into the shop from her window. Hunter handed over the latte, watching as Luna curled up on one of the lounge chairs across the counter. She flipped idly through one of the art magazines someone had dropped off last month. "If you follow us on Instagram, your next latte's on us" Hunter added from across the counter. She smiled and obligingly clicked through her phone. Hunter's own phone buzzed moments later - moonoftheangels started following you. Hunter made sure not to look at her profile while she was sitting right in front of him, waiting until she had finished her latte and left with a smile, promising to return. He was pleased to see that her profile was public. And he was even more pleased that it didn't consist of hundreds of heavily edited selfies. Her pictures were vibrant, funny, alive. A disastrous dinner attempt. A Phoenix sunset. Hiking among the cactus and stunning desert landscapes of Arizona. A quirky photo of herself and an overpreened bro drinking massive margaritas. The bro was tagged as Blake, and his account featured an unsettling number of gym selfies and photographs of Luna. ** Luna came back the next day, sharply dressed in sleek high waisted pants and a pretty blouse. She ordered her free latte and an egg sandwich to go. She left Hunter a large tip and a larger smile. "I told you I'd be back". He grinned. "Is this your first real day of work?" "Yeah. I'm glad it gets me out of the house while the movers are here." Hunter nodded. "If you want to stop by on your way home, we do a Monday night happy hour. Nothing crazy, but a few different wines and some snacks. It's free - a thank you to North Enders for supporting us." She agreed to come, leaving Hunter inexplicably anxious for the rest of the day. Sure, she was pretty, but so what? Hunter had seen plenty of beautiful women. They didn't set his nerves on high alert like Luna did.