Cat sitting on a sign that says "Do not upset the cat"
Tropes: Animal Companion, Hidden World, Magic, Portal Fantasy

Tucked away on a quiet street, the bookstore doesn't have an address - but it doesn't need one, as it magically appears to those who are meant to find it.

Okay, so the job ad seemed amazing. I get to take care of this really neat bookstores that has an amazing espresso machine. There is this cute little black cat that sits on the counter and I get to live upstairs. What better opportunity could ever be out there, as I pay off my ungodly student loans?

Little did I know as soon as the paperwork was signed, I find out the cat talks, and magic might just be real?

This is a serial that posts once a week.

Episode One

The job ad seemed normal enough. It had been in an email along with a long list of other ads from one of those job sites. I had signed up on such a website hoping to find anything after graduating last week. Those student loans were a heavy weight waiting to drop. While I had a few interviews, nothing had jumped out at me, and I had nothing lined up. Each night I would surf the web looking for anything that caught my eye. During high school and college, I worked in several coffee shops, so it was my fallback plan. It seemed like my business degree would be a waste but I really didn't care. I ignored the warning bells and went to college anyway, yet this position seemed perfect.

Barista and Caretaker for a bookstore - experience wanted. Room and board included plus student loan repayment. You must like cats. The shopkeeper is going to retire and needs someone to help the cat, run the small shop and keep the coffee flowing. 

I mean any job with student loan repayment was amazing on its own, but this one involved cats too. That was why I was standing outside the storefront in the sunshine. A wooden sign depicting a cat and a book hung out above the door and the writing in the window seemed to sparkle in the sunlight: Magical Emporium of Wares. The window showed stacks of dusty books, along with an old wingback chair that held a knitted throw.

All I wanted to do was curl up in the chair and never leave. Still, I needed to pass this interview. I received a reply almost immediately after I sent my resume in, which was a positive sign. It said they were looking forward to chatting with me and to show up at a certain time. I couldn't find an online presence for the store, but directions came up when I searched for them. The interview time was in five minutes, and I was hoping to explore the shop first.

The wooden door was a bright blue, and the latch was silent as I opened it. The door rattled and the sound of a ringing bell filled the space. I jumped ever so slightly at the jarring sound. Eagerly I glanced around the bright room. In front of me and to the left were bookshelves lining the wall, filled with books of different sizes. Wooden signs hung above the very top of the shelves noting the various genres. It seemed nonfiction books were first before changing into my favorite section, fantasy and science fiction. 

On my right were big bright windows with the chair I’d seen from outside, but the center of the room was a wide open space. Along the wall was a long wooden counter. It had to be someone's pride and joy since the wood almost sparkled in the sunlight streaming in from above. An old-fashioned cash register was on one end. The register seemed to have buttons like on a typewriter, along with a more modern screen that faced the shopkeeper. On the other end of the counter was a high-end espresso machine.

I did a double-take. Look at that baby. The Yas400 and in bright red. Getting to use that was worth almost anything. The cost alone could keep me on a decent budget for almost a year. I moved closer before catching something out of the corner of my eye. It was a sign like an old-fashioned poster hung on the wall over the register:

Do not upset the cat

The cat is always right

Do not go behind the counter

Do not upset the cat

That was strange. They spoiled the cat for sure. Note to self, do not upset the cat. That would be the key to acing this interview. Inside my head, all I could picture was a cat in a tie asking me questions. Too much caffeine and not enough sleep. An old bell sat on the counter next to the register, and I figured I would need to tap it to get some help. After tapping the bell, quiet returned to the space. 


A cat suddenly jumped up onto the wooden counter. Bright green eyes were staring right at me. I totally felt judged.

"You must be the cat the sign is talking about. Do you like pets?" He was such a pretty black cat, though his eyes were such a vivid color. All I wanted to do was see if he was a cuddler. Some cats loved pets and others hated them. I held out my hand for him to sniff. Hopefully, he liked me and he wouldn't get upset. It was in the rules after all.

The cat meowed again loudly. Talkative cat. That was new. All the cats I had been around didn’t really make much noise unless it was time to eat. Or I was eating.


The voice came from above and I jerked back my hand. Woah, the ceiling was so tall. They hid a second floor up there, with a railing above the counter on the second story. An older gentleman came out of what looked to be a doorway and peered over the railing. This place was bigger than it looked from the outside.

"Ah, you must be Sable. I will be right there. Too many emails today."

He then vanished. The sound of someone going down wooden steps followed, and I walked closer to the counter before the white-haired man came out from a different doorway behind the counter. I hadn't noticed that doorway until just now. So many secret nooks and crannies. He could be someone’s grandpa with short white hair, thin glasses and a kind look. A knitted vest covered a white button up and his pants looked pressed.

"I totally get having a ton of email - especially with that job ad. This is like a dream job." I couldn't help but blush as the words tumbled out. This was not the impression I wanted to make, but either I would get the job or I wouldn't. The worst-case scenario would be getting hired for a week and then being fired. I would rather they saw me for who I was upfront.

His bright blue eyes studied me and flicked up to my hair. At the moment, my hair was short and a bright purple, but his eye color made me want to change it to blue. It had been a while since I last changed colors. The cat meowed again and broke the tension, drawing my attention back to the black furball.

"Well, we are looking for a great fit. That matters more than anything else. This place is special and the person who gets hired needs to be special as well." He motioned to the edge of the counter. "How about you come around this way and make us some coffee? That will get a big requirement out of the way."

My eyes flickered up to the sign. "Are you sure? I know what the rules say."

"Come, come. You have permission," the old man said with a smile.

I scooted behind the rounded edge of the counter and my jaw dropped at how much room was behind it. It was practically roomy. The red machine seemed to glow in the light and I smiled at the man. "What would you like to drink?" I resisted the urge to rock back and forth in place. I was actually going to get to use this baby even without getting the job. No matter what, I was going to make her sing.

"I am simple, what is your favorite?" he asked.

I thought for a moment, then replied, “I will drink just about anything. How about a few shots? Then I can make a mocha for you to try, and I will have a latte.” 

Everything I needed was nearby. There was a grinder, plus a mini fridge under the counter and syrups in a line near the wall, along with a canister for the used grounds. It was a nice little setup, but it was clear that while they made drinks, they must not have a morning rush. The last coffee shop I worked at had a morning rush, and this setup was just a little inefficient. It was off in one corner without a staging area to line up multiple drinks and get them done quickly. Still, maybe the personal touch was what they were going for. Especially considering the space on the counter was clear, giving you a direct line to chat with the customer. 

I started my dance with the orders. If barista work paid just a little bit more or if I hadn't gone to college, I would have just stuck with it but everyone had pushed me to go, so I went. Under the counter, there was a row of different coffee mugs along with mismatched teacups. Way too cute. I couldn't help but reach for the teacup.

“I would like a latte - I love the foam,” came a voice from over my shoulder.

The grinder was going, but I still heard the soft request. It sounded simple enough. I nodded in response. The shots were easy to pull, and I tasted the first to make sure it was okay. Then I poured the second shot into one teacup, for a straight espresso. Next up was a mocha and then finally the latte. For that one, I went with a large mug instead of the teacup, topping it with a ton of foam.

Finally, after a small breath, I turned back to my audience. Both the shopkeeper and the cat were watching me. "Have at it..." I motioned with my hand.

The cat padded over directly for the latte and I glanced at the man in confusion. Caffeine and cats, I wasn't sure if that was a very good idea. Not to mention he was taking a drink requested by the shopkeeper. Plus, who let their cat drink coffee? It couldn’t be normal. The black head darted into the teacup, lapping eagerly. I didn’t know if I should stop him. The cat was always right after all. His whiskers came out covered in foam. It was so cute, but I resisted taking a picture with my phone. I needed to be professional after all.

"He can decide on what he wants," answered the gentleman. He didn’t seem worried at all.

The guy took a sip of the espresso and then the mocha. "Both are delightful. How about you make yourself a drink and then we can walk through the shop? I want to make sure you know what you are getting into."

I must not do a happy dance. Play it cool, Sable. You got this, I thought to myself. 

I grabbed a bigger mug that was a bright blue color with glittery stars on it. A vanilla latte took little time and it would be tasty. All the ingredients were high-end, from organic milk to imported coffee beans, with only the vanilla syrup looking homemade.

"Who does the ordering?" I asked to keep the conversation going. More information was good. Plus, I had trouble with silence.

"You will, eventually. You can do it on the register."

That made things easy. Usually, someone else was in charge of that and it sucked not having any input. "What about the syrups?"

He chuckled. "I made them. The recipes are in the kitchen. I can show you if you want to follow me." He headed through the doorway that he came through earlier. "This door on the right is the storeroom for dry goods." His fingers tapped on the door, but he kept moving. To the left-hand side a staircase traveled upstairs. "We will go upstairs after the kitchen."

The short hallway opened up to a gigantic kitchen. It was an industrial kitchen that you wouldn’t be out of place on a cooking show. It had a large, gorgeous island with a wooden countertop made of the same wood as the counter out front. I could feel my eyes growing wide looking around. "Isn't this a little overkill?" I didn't know how to put this big and nice of a space to good use. Why was it here?

"It depends. I like to cook, and this is the kitchen in the building. While the shopkeeper's room is upstairs, it only has a mini fridge and an electric kettle. So any of your personal cooking will be down here."

I spun around in the giant kitchen. A list of different things I could learn how to cook or bake came to mind. I had put off learning how to cook since I had cheap fast food and ramen during school. But with this as an option, I would learn. Somehow. I would find some good cookbooks in the store. Plus, with the compensation package, I had a decent budget for food. They included it with the job posting after all. "The store only serves coffee, right? No food service?" I asked just to confirm.

"Only beverages, unless you want to change that. Sometimes, I had to order cookies or something for events, like book readings or such in the store. This is a creative job with lots of flexibility as long as you follow the rules. "

"That cat is always right?" I asked with a grin, though he didn’t grin back at me.

"Yep, that’s the big one.” He shook his head lightly, “Let's head upstairs. You can get a good view of the shop." He turned and slowly walked up the wooden steps and vanished around the corner. He moved quickly on his feet and I had to rush to keep up. There were bookcases along the walls, but I didn't see another staircase. This must be all private space. You could put a chair up here and keep an eye on below while being hidden.

Not to mention how bright it was from the skylights. 

"This is your area. Customers aren't allowed up here." He motioned to an opened door. "That is the studio with a private bathroom. Feel free to look around."

An excuse to snoop around was perfect, and I headed into the bedroom. The hardwood floors continued in this room from the rest of the shop. Bright skylights covered the ceiling. A big queen bed was against one wall with a desk on the other. A small counter with cupboards and a mini fridge were in one corner, along with a kettle. Multiple suitcases sat on the floor and the room was bare. Another doorway piqued my interest. White tile and a massive clawfoot soaking tub came into view. 

You will not squeal, I thought to myself. This shop was perfect. This studio was absolutely perfect. Now, I just needed to get the job. 

When I turned around, he looked at me with an eyebrow raised. "Does it meet your expectations?" He smirked at the joy I was radiating. 

It took everything to not start gushing about the room. "So, I man the coffee machine and the register. I order supplies on the register. What about the bookshelves and merchandise?"

"You won't be ordering that. The owner will be."

I would do this job well. Very well. Plus maybe put my business degree to use after all. "That sounds fantastic." I headed back out of the room and leaned on the railing looking at the bookshelves below. The balcony wrapped around three walls. On the far side there was another wall of glass and what looked to be plants growing. There was so much I kept missing.

"Ah, that's a small rooftop garden. I do not have a green thumb, but there is some space if you want to plant things."

Warning bells went off in my head. This place was too perfect.