I stare out the window of Ben’s truck as the Tim Horton’s pulls into view. I never thought I’d miss the days where the biggest thing I had to worry about were half-human caribou robbing produce from me, but here we are. I peek into the rearview mirror and watch as the centaurs-not-centaurs gallop after us down the empty road, hooves thundering against the pavement as they charge full speed towards where the supposed secret weapon is enjoying a coffee.
“You don’t actually think we’re going to find some ancient and all-powerful being at a coffee shop, do you?” I ask Ben, unable to choke the words back any longer.
“All-powerful? No. Ancient? Definitely. You’d know that too if you ever passed by the place after seniors’ day at the rec hall,” he jokes, laughing at his own wit. I chuckle to be polite, but I’m too distracted by our situation to find much genuinely funny.
“Do you think they’ll really be able to get rid of the sirens?” I ask, spotting another empty car pulled over on the side of the road, and thinking about the siren smoothie still needing to be cleaned up in my garage. I gag a bit at the thought.
“No idea. But at this rate, anything that stands a chance of helping us is a welcome change. Especially if it makes Claude haul ass and run for a bit.”
I look back into the mirror and see Claude, leading the pack—herd?—in our direction. They’re not quite as fast as Ben’s truck, but they’re moving quickly enough to not be left behind either, which is especially impressive when you consider their age.
“So you and Claude are friends, eh?”
“It’s… complicated. We’re friendly. We’ve known each other for a long time, but we’ve never seen eye to eye on big issues.”
Ben looks at me, grumbling a bit about being put on the spot, but eventually answers when I refuse to look away from him. “I don’t think magical beings and non-magical beings should be kept secret from one another.”
“What? Are you the guy who told me that if the world knew about the centaurs—”
“They’re still not centaurs.”
“—that everything would go to shit? People would abandon their religions, things would catch fire, the apocalypse would start—”
“Well only if Thom and the other horsemen decided it was time…”
“—and life as we know it would end?” I half scream at him.
“Not in those exact words, but yes. I definitely mentioned something along those lines.”
“So then why would you want centaurs—”
“I feel like you need to start calling them pi—”
“—and non-centaurs to mingle?”
Ben is silent for a while after that, eyes focused on the road as we approach the restaurant. “Well, long story short, I used to be bestfriends with a piaffhomme named Davide.”
“What?” I shout. He nods, but doesn’t offer more information up, and I wait until he’s ready to say more. “What happened?” I prod, when it’s clear he’s not volunteering more information.
“I stumbled onto the piaffhommes, ran away thinking I was nuts, and when I went back to check and see if I’d lost my mind, I met Davide. We got along, shared a liking for the same things, and got to bein’ friends. But his family wasn’t happy about him spending time with a human, so he started sneaking around late at night to see me—since I was forbidden from visiting him—and then, one night, he got hit by a truck on the way to my house. Clause has been firmly against human/piaffhommes interaction ever since,” Ben says, staring straight ahead at the road.
I look out the window to give him some semblance of privacy. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Ben say more than five words about his past, and for him to share something this personal with me almost makes me uncomfortable. Like I’ve stolen something from him.
We don’t say anything for a while.
Eventually the car slows down and stops, and I realize we’re in the parking lot of the Tim Hortons. The piaffhommes eventually join us, a few minutes behind the truck, and I watch them struggle to catch their breath. Claude, in particular, is beet red and dripping sweat, and he braces his hands on his hips as he sucks in air. I can see his speedy pulse, the vein in his neck thumping against his skin, and I’m worried he might have a heart attack.
Ben taps my shoulder and passes me a set of ear plugs.
“Time to get this show on the road,” he says, and steps out of the car.
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