NOTE: This is the text of Lily 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.
Lily Frey looked at her latest therapist with what she hoped was patience but probably looked like contempt and tried to explain the situation again.
“In Ireland somewhere in the 800s, I was walking along a cliff edge when I saw the Viking ships. I was thirty and therefore a crone, but Vikings are surprisingly unpicky when it comes to rape and murder; it’s always closing time and mead-goggles for them. So I picked up Pangur, Brother Sedulius’s cat, to run back to the Abbey. There was this big blond guy on the path, pretty clearly a Viking come ashore early to scope the place out. This has turned out to be a pattern in my life. For some reason, I always get the early Viking. I backed up to run, and the path was rough, and I tripped, and he grabbed for me, and I fell over the cliff edge onto the rocks below with Pangur.” She thought of Pangur, waiting at home, expecting a treat in exchange for her betrayal of leaving him for an hour before she went down to work in the diner. Vanessa would probably have tuna in the kitchen for him. He could wait. “Anyway, I must have gone head first because I died pretty much instantly on the rocks, so aside from the fact that I was dead, it wasn’t too bad. And I’m pretty sure the Viking went with me, so that was good. Vanessa, my best friend, says that’s wishful thinking, but I think it’s justice.” Lily looked at the therapist.
Dr. Ferris nodded, her plastic smile as firmly in place as every hair on her clearly dyed head. “Of course, you’re Irish, all that red hair.”
“That was twelve hundred years ago,” Lily said. “I don’t think you get reincarnated by country. I have no idea if I had red hair then. Then is not now.”
Dr. Ferris nodded. “And how often have you had this dream about the Viking?”
Lily thought about throwing something at her. The woman had been annoying from the moment Lily had arrived—“Lily, I’m so glad you’re here”—and every instinct she had was telling her to go for the door, but she was on her third therapist and if she ditched another one, people might start thinking the problem was her. She only had seven therapy sessions left on her insurance. Now was no time to be picky just because the woman’s hair absorbed light like a black hole and her skin was the color of an overcooked cod–
“Lily?” Dr. Ferris said.
Lily tried again. “It’s not a dream. It happened.”
“Let’s go back to the first . . . memory,” Dr. Ferris said, nodding and smiling, obviously refraining from putting finger quotes around “memory” with great effort. “Do you think this might possibly be a buried fantasy, something you long for and can’t express?”
Lily looked at her with contempt, not even trying to fake patience anymore. “Anybody who thinks Vikings are a fantasy hasn’t met a real one.” She stopped to think about the guy on the path. Her First Viking. Big. Blond. Caused her death. And her cat’s death. Well, Brother Sedulius’s cat, but after several reincarnations, pretty much her cat–
“Vikings are not a fantasy.”
Dr. Ferris blinked. “Actually, they are for many people.”
“Those are fake Vikings, mine are the real thing. I have it on good authority that their foreplay involved an ax. ‘Brace yourself, Bridget’ is not a joke.” Dr. Ferris looked taken aback, and Lily gave up. “Look, this isn’t going to work as long as you think I’m crazy.”
“I don’t think you’re crazy–”
“You think I have difficulty telling the difference between fantasy and reality.”
Dr. Ferris smiled a healing smile. “Who amongst us doesn’t?”
“Me. I have too much reality, it’s all new, and I need help dealing with it. That will clearly not be coming from you.” Lily stood up. “I’m sorry Dr. Ferris, but just no.”
“Wait.” Dr. Ferris stood up, showing real emotion for the first time.
Lily shook her head. “You’ve already decided that I’m delusional and your job is to help me see the truth. But I just told you the truth, so we’re never going to get anywhere. I need somebody who can think outside the therapy box, not somebody who will be the box.” Lily hoisted her bag onto her shoulder. “I wish you the best. Stop dying your hair, it makes you look older.”
“Ah,” Dr. Ferris said, smiling again. “Anger. That can be very productive. I really think–”
Lily narrowed her eyes. “I’ve been angry for thirty years and several lifetimes. Hasn’t produced a thing except this line between my eyebrows. See it? Looks like it was made by a very small ax, doesn’t it? Vikings. Hate ‘em. Starting to hate you, and one day you will again tell me my past lives are all dreams, and I will pick up your stapler and thwap you with it. I’m saving us both a lot of time and trouble by ending this because this is not good for either of us. Or your stapler.”
Dr. Ferris stopped smiling. “Fine.” She took a deep angry breath. “You want outside the box? Come with me.”
She opened the door and went out into the long white plastic hall that held the offices of X College’s Therapy Group (a division of University Health), and Lily followed her, curious more than anything.
Dr. Ferris stopped in front of another white door and knocked.
How does she tell all these white doors apart? Lily thought, and then the door opened, and Dr. Ferris said, “Nadia?” and Lily looked past her and saw a tall Latina woman with a streak of blue in her hair wearing a T-shirt that said, Do I look like a fucking people person?
“What now, Carolyn?” the woman said. “Did I park outside the lines again?”
“This is Lily Frey,” Dr. Ferris said, her smile gone along with the lilt in her voice. “She needs a therapist who thinks . . .” She made finger quotes. “‘. . . outside the box.’”
Nadia looked at her with exaggerated patience. “I am—” She made finger quotes, too. “‘–Not Working Today.’” She looked past Ferris at Lily. “Nothing personal.”
“Completely understandable,” Lily said.
“Lily thinks she’s been reincarnated,” Ferris said, contempt dripping from her voice.
Nadia sighed. “Maybe she has been reincarnated.”
“So I brought her to you,” Ferris went on. “You are definitely outside the box. I don’t think you’d know a box if you saw one.”
“I know them, I just don’t hang out in them,” Nadia said, with an undercurrent that said, I’m going to slam this door in your face now.
Lily nodded. “That’s how I feel about Vikings. They’re always there, but you don’t have to make them part of your life.”
Nadia raised her eyebrows. “Lotta Vikings in your life?”
“Not always. There was the Plague, and don’t ever let anybody tell you a ship is unsinkable, but Vikings show up often enough that they’re a definite theme in my lives. Show me a tall, drunk, blond guy who spends a lot of time flexing, and sooner or later, he’s gonna kill me, probably with an ax.” Lily stopped, knowing she sounded insane. “Although the last guy who tried to kill me with an ax was not a Viking.”
“In a past life,” Ferris said with heavy condescension.
“No, that was three weeks ago,” Lily said.
“I only have six therapy sessions left on my insurance,” Lily said. “I could use some help.”
Nadia opened the door wider. “Come on in.”
“I like your t-shirt,” Lily said, and went in.
On the way back home, Lily tried to regroup.
It was one thing to explain about the reincarnation since that’s why she was in therapy in the first place, at least that was the reason if you asked her boss at the museum. She personally felt it was getting hit in the head with an ax by her co-worker and former lover and waking up with detailed memories of past lives, but regardless, they all agreed that therapy was a good idea.
It was another thing to start shrieking about Vikings and bad hair. That was just going to be a bad look for her no matter how much she justified it.
And she could justify it, the fact that she’d ended up with three not good therapists alone justified it. To be fair, they were probably just not good for her. Well, no, the guy who’d kept hugging her probably wasn’t good for anybody. Nadia, though . . . Maybe she can help me sort this out.
Because that was all she needed, to get everything sorted out. She’d had a perfectly normal life three weeks ago, a great job at the museum and an every-now-and-then, fill-in-when-needed job at the diner she’d worked at for years, and then came the ax and a lot of memories she didn’t want and now everything about her life was different and nothing made sense.
Well, the diner made sense. Working in the same place for fifteen years did give you a sense of continuity, especially when the people there were like family, and there was always good food and mostly good music—sometimes Cheryl went off the rails with the music but that was just part of working for Cheryl—so it was good she was back to working there full time.
And now that she had Nadia, maybe therapy would be good, too. Nadia was really her last hope. She only had six sessions left.
She reached the old building that housed The Surprise Diner—“Every Meal An Adventure!”—vowed to stay calm and sane at all times, and climbed the three flights to her apartment in the attic, wincing as she heard her cat Pangur yowling at her through the door. “I don’t want any lip from you,” she told him as she went in. “I’ve had a bad day.”
Pangur did the cat version of rolling his eyes, his tail lashing.
“In a minute,” Lily said and changed out of her jeans and tee and into her pink waitress uniform, trying not to think about her present life and her pasts, none of which made sense. I don’t understand anything about anything, she thought, but that sounded wimpy, so she yanked her hair on top of her head and corralled it with a scrunchie. Control, that was key. I can do this, she told herself, but I’m going to do it my way.
As a first step, she sneered at the little white cap hanging on the hook by her mirror, the cap Cheryl had been fool enough to think the wait staff would wear—“What am I, a French maid?” she’d said, and Cheryl had stuck one in her mailbox anyway—jammed her pink striped reading glasses into the curls on top of her head to take the girly out of the pink uniform–I am wearing this pink ironically, the glasses said. Do not mistake me for sugar and spice, or I will cut you because I am full of confusion and repressed rage–and then went back to Pangur at the door.
“We are not going to the park,” she told the cat. “I don’t have time and it’s chilly out there. You’ll just have to mug whatever’s in the parking lot.”
Pangur yarred at her, his patience exhausted, and Lily said, “Fine,” and opened the door.
He scrambled down the three flights of stairs as if he’d been imprisoned in Hell instead of a perfectly nice attic apartment with a blue Fiesta food bowl, a yellow Fiesta water bowl and unlimited soft places to stretch out on, not to mention a scratching post/climbing thingy that had set Lily back $69.99. Tragically, the apartment did not have anything in it he could attack and maim and pillage, which meant it was subpar as far as he was concerned.
My little Viking, she thought as they hit the ground floor, although at twenty-two pounds, Pangur wasn’t anybody’s little anything. She steered him away from the door to the diner kitchen and out the back door, determined to stay calm as she slung burgers for the next eight hours.
Out in the parking lot, Pangur became a new cat, lord of all he surveyed, which was a lot of blacktop with a border of weeds and a centerpiece of dumpster. Still, turf was turf. He bounded across the blacktop and into the weeds near the diner steps, keen to stalk anything mouse-shaped, which meant the chipmunks had better watch their asses, and she followed him to make sure he wasn’t going after anything he couldn’t handle.
At the steps, Pangur lifted his head to the breeze, which was a lot breezier than Lily wanted, full of early April chill, and then froze, hearing something that Lily didn’t.
There’s my life now, she thought. Everybody knows something I don’t and it’s all totally out of control . . .
That was whiny. Be like Pangur, she thought, watching his tense Norwegian Forest cat body focus on his prey as he began to stalk. Focus, that was the ticket. Somewhere in the weeds under the three metal diner steps, a mouse was about to meet his maker. Poor thing, she thought, it was just standing there, innocently freezing to death in that bitch of a wind while danger approached—
“Lily?” Sebastian said from behind her, and she turned to see her ex, smiling his standard charming smile, private and intimate and clueless because she was never going to be private and intimate with him again.
“Go away,” she said, and took a step back as Seb took a step forward.
Pangur took a step forward, too, slinking low as he zeroed in on something rodent-like under the steps.
Great, she thought. I’m prey. Well, no she fucking well was not.
“C”mon, honey, give me a chance to explain.” Seb came close and did the old loom-over-her-to-look-macho bit that she’d fallen for once—tall guys were catnip for anybody over five-nine—his broad shoulders blocking out the last of the sun so she shivered.
There’d been a time she’d thought he was the handsomest man she’d ever seen. He was still good-looking, but there was a decided weasel cast to the handsome now, that sexy five o’clock shadow just looked like a dirty chin. “I think the ax you tried to kill me with was explanation enough.”
“C’mon, Lil,” he said, the voice of reason. “You know I didn’t try to kill you. The ax fell off the table.”
“You knocked it off the table while you were lunging for me and then you fired me.” Lily took another step back. “I hate you.”
“I didn’t fire you,” Seb said, his smile fixed now. “We just put you on leave. We all miss you. Dorothy was just asking about you. And Jessica–”
“Jessica replaced me,” Lily said, “and now she’s screwing up my project. And I didn’t want leave,” although truth be told, going back to work for Seb and his idiot Uncle Lewis wasn’t the dream job it had once been because it meant working for Seb, whom she now knew was a rat, and his idiot Uncle Lewis. Dorothy was a little odd, too, although she was an ace secretary so Lily could work with her. Competence meant a lot. “I loved working at the museum. I was good at it. And I was nailing that project, it was going to be wonderful. I am no longer crazy about you, and your uncle is a horrible person, but the museum was a good place to work until you hit me with an ax.”
“I did not hit you with an ax!” His voice rose, sharp, and he caught himself and smiled again. “Lily, be fair. You tripped back against the table and slipped and knocked the ax off as you fell. I wasn’t anywhere near you.”
That was such a blatant lie that she gaped at him. “You’re gaslighting me? Fat fucking chance, you moron, you lunged for me when I reached for that box, and you looked like screaming murder, and okay I fell trying to get away from you, but you were the one who knocked the ax on me, and while I have no idea if that was accident or on purpose, it was definitely you, you lying weasel, so don’t even try–”
“There’s no reason to get emotional,” Seb said, the voice of male sanity. “Calm down. How’s therapy going?”
“How’s therapy going? How’s therapy going?” If I had an ax right now . . .
“Because we just got a report that you’ve left another therapist. Uncle Louis was concerned–”
“Your uncle Louis doesn’t give a rat’s ass about me,” Lily said. “He’s up to something and so are you, and you hit me with an ax to stop me from finding out . . . something.”
“I did not hit you with an ax!”
Lily backed up and hit the first diner step, and Seb caught her arm. “Damn it, Lily—”
“That,” Lily said, trying to wrench her arm away, “That is what I’m talking about. That angry lunge you do to grab me. Let go of my arm or I will scream like a banshee.”
He let go of her arm. “You’re acting crazy, Lily.”
I know. “I’m acting crazy? You hit me with an ax. And you’re not even a Viking. Maybe my problem isn’t Vikings, maybe it’s axes. It’s definitely you–”
“We just need to talk this out.” Seb smiled again, but she could hear him breathing faster, see the anger in his eyes. “Come have dinner with me.”
“I have to go to work,” Lily said. “In a diner. Where I will have dinner. Also I’m never going anywhere with you again. Go away. Go far away.”
“Fine. I’ll pick you up after work.”
“No, you will not.”
He rolled his eyes at her, and she tried to calm down, be logical, because killing him wasn’t an option, she had no weapons. She had to start carrying a weapon. God, she really was losing it. “I don’t get off work until midnight, and you hate late hours. You’re a crack-of-dawn guy, which should have been a big tip-off that you’re psycho. Also I’m never going anywhere—”
“Fine. Have breakfast with me at the crack of dawn.” He smiled again. “We used to do breakfast a lot, remember?”
‘We used to do a lot of things a lot,” Lily said, backing up onto another step. “You know the one I hated the most? The crack-of-dawn breakfast. I’m not a fan of the dawn, Seb, which you evidently never noticed in the entire three months we dated. I hate mornings. And now I hate you. Come anywhere near me again and I’m filing a restraining order.”
He stopped smiling then. “That’s not funny.”
“Do I look like I’m joking?”
“I just need to talk to you, Lil,” Seb said, and for once he looked serious. Honest even.
“You should have thought of that before you hit me with the ax.”
“I didn’t . . . “ He stopped. “What the fuck is wrong with your cat?”
Lily looked around to see Pangur, now on the top step, his back arched, his green eyes narrowed, looking at Seb as if he were a very large mouse.
“Go away or my cat attacks,” Lily said and went up the final step.
The door behind her opened, and Cheryl stood there with a meat cleaver, her frizzy blonde hair standing out around her pale face like an out-of-control halo. “Is there a problem out here, Lily?” she said, her voice all light and sunny.
“Seb was just leaving,” Lily said.
“Oh, come on,” Seb said, and Lily moved to one side and Cheryl came down onto the first step.
“You remember my cousin Cheryl,” Lily said. “The one you kept saying was nuts.”
“I’m nuts?” Cheryl said to Seb. “I never hit anybody with an ax.”
“Stop saying that,” Seb said, but he took a step back.
“An ax seems like overkill,” Cheryl said. “Plus they’re hard to carry around. Impossible to conceal. So I’m starting with this cleaver. It’ll be self-defense, of course. I came out when my cousin here screamed.”
“She didn’t scream,” Seb said.
Lily opened her mouth and took a deep breath, and Seb said, “All right.” He backed away, almost to the street. “You women are insane.”
“Fuck you and your uncle, too.” Cheryl opened the door. “Come on, honey, the dinner rush will be any minute now.”
Pangur dashed into the diner, heading for the kitchen door, and Lily followed him in, stopping inside as Cheryl closed the street door behind them.
“That was very kind of you,” Lily said, knowing she should take the cleaver, but so grateful for the rescue, she let Cheryl keep it.
Cheryl put her arm around Lily. “Well, you know, I’ve always thought of you as my daughter.”
“Had a good time in junior high did you?” Lily said. “You’re not that damn old, Cheryl. But I will definitely claim you as my favorite cousin. Especially now I know that you come with a cleaver.”
“Of course, dear,” Cheryl said, patting her shoulder. “Where’s your cap?”
“I am not a French maid,” Lily said.
“You’ve been eating meat, haven’t you?” Cheryl said, and went back to work.
“What?” Lily said, confused again, and then two customers came in through the door at the other end of the diner.
Big guys. Nordic looking.
Vikings, she thought, and then turned back to look through the glass door she’d just come through.
Seb was out there, watching her.
The Vikings sat down at the far end of the counter.
Pangur stood in the kitchen doorway, snarling like subtle gravel.
Vikings to the left of me, she thought, dickhead to the right, here I am stuck in the middle with my insane cat and my cousin who has a cleaver.
Possibly she wasn’t the only one who was losing it. Possibly the whole world was nuts.
That really wasn’t a comfort, so she shook her head and followed Pangur into the kitchen.
In the kitchen, Lily said, I think Seb’s stalking me,” as Vanessa flipped a burger with a practiced ease that was pure poetry.
“That cat can’t be in here,” Vanessa said, and dropped some tuna on the floor for him. “I told you that guy was a loser, but did you listen? No. Also, Cheryl went to another seminar last night, so if she’s acting strange–”
“Oh, hell, no.” Lily took her apron down from the hook by the door and put it on, trying to put Seb and the Vikings out of her mind. The kitchen smelled wonderful, as always. Vanessa was on her side. Pangur had tuna. Cheryl had always been loosely wound. Everything was fine. “She has a cleaver. Tell her you need it for something. Was the seminar about meat?”
“She now appears to be vegan.”
Lily went to the door from the kitchen to look out at the diner.
Cheryl was talking to a couple of students at table four who were just trying to eat their fries.
“Well, that has disaster written all over it. We’re a vegan diner now?”
“No,” Van said. “We’re a regular diner with a vegan proselytizer. So how was therapy?”
“I think I’m losing my mind, but I have a new therapist, so there’s that.” Lily tried to look cheerful while she cast about for ideas on how to head Cheryl off from telling the customers that their burgers were crimes against nature.
“You’re not losing your mind, baby, the world is just weird. And you told me about the new shrink. Fenris something.”
“No, I have another one. Ferris was . . . not good.” Lily picked up her order pad and put it in her apron pocket. “But I have high hopes for this one. Her name’s Nadia. We’re going to meet on Fridays, so in two days I will get sorted out.” And maybe stop shrieking at people.
Van looked at her from under raised eyebrows. “All I want for Christmas is sane co-workers.”
“It’s April, there’s still time,” Lily said and went out to the front counter.
Out in the diner, things were relatively peaceful. Cheryl had been on the job: the stainless counters were polished and everybody had food except for the two new guys at the end of the counter.
That was the upside. The downside was that Cheryl was picking up steam on her speech, her frizzy blond hair waving as she nodded at the customers to emphasize her point. Also the new guys were Vikings.
“It’s species-ist,” Cheryl was saying. “Does the cow eat you? No.”
“It probably would if it had the chance,” one of the students said, and Cheryl frowned at him and began to explain that the cow had been morally responsible, since it had stuck to a plant-based diet, and certainly did not deserve to end up on a bun, festooned with pickles.
The students took it pretty well, probably having experienced Cheryl before in a previous obsession and decided the food was worth it. Lily left her harassing them and went down the counter to the two Vikings on the end.
They were big, one brown-haired and calm with glasses and the other sort of blondish and grinning as she approached.
“Welcome to The Surprise Diner,” she said, straightening her glasses on the top of her head and hoping Cheryl wouldn’t be by in a minute to do anything rash, like show them pictures of dead animals.
The blondish guy widened his grin. “Well, hello. Are you the surprise in the diner?”
“That would be Cheryl,” Lily said.
“The vegan blonde?”
“Her voice does carry. What can I get you?”
Blondish got serious. “Two cheeseburgers with bacon, medium, double order of fries, and some of that coleslaw with the sour cream in it, please. Extra ketchup. Also pie. Lots of pie, but we can do that later. You busy later?”
“I’ll get the burgers on,” Lily said and turned to go.
“Wait,” Brown-Hair-in-Glasses said quietly, and she turned back.
He looked a lot like the other guy, big, blunt-featured and broad-shouldered, but he was calmer, older, sharp-eyed behind the glasses.
“One deluxe cheeseburger rare,” he said, “And a defibrillator for my brother.”
“That whole double order was for you?” Lily said to the blond guy.
“Don’t judge,” the guy said, and held out his hand across the counter. “I’m Bjorn.”
“Of course, you are,” Lily said and shook his hand once.
“And this is my brother, Fin,” Bjorn went on, gesturing to the brown-haired guy. “And you are?” He looked at the name tag pinned to her apron. “Lily. Pretty name.” He smiled again.
“Thank you.” Lily looked at the older brother, who nodded at her, perfectly polite, as he doodled something on the daily specials menu.
Lily looked closer. He had one of those thin black markers that art majors used, “snotty markers” Cheryl called them, and he was drawing a vine in the margin of the menu. He’d already drawn a dragon in there, a very small, writhing reptile, breathing fire on the BLTG (G for guac) listing.
“Wow,” she said, impressed by the intricate dragon, even more impressed as the vine grew before her eyes, beautiful as it twisted up the side of the daily specials.
Competent Viking. Talented Viking. Viking Who Doodles.
He reminded her of someone. Probably not in this lifetime, though.
“So, Lily,” Bjorn said, trying again. “What’s the story with Cheryl and the whole anti-meat thing?”
“Huh? Oh.” Lily looked back to see Cheryl, heading their way with the coffee pot. “I’m sure that will pass.”
She went back to the order window. “Three deluxe,” she called to Van and put the order slip on clip. “Two medium, one rare.”
“Meat is murder,” Cheryl said loudly, so Lily took the coffee pot from her, and went to fill the brothers’ cups in apology.
“Why is Cheryl still employed?” Bjorn said.
“Cheryl owns the diner,” Lily said. “Your burgers are coming right up. It’ll be fine, the cook is great, and most of the rest of us are sane.” Mostly.
“We know, we’ve been eating lunch here all week,” Bjorn said. “My brother liked it so much–” His brother turned and looked at him and he stopped. “We both really enjoy it here,” he ended cheerfully.
“Oh, good,” Lily said.
The older guy—Fin–met her eyes, as serious as his brother was goofy. “Is there something wrong?”
“Wrong?” Lily said brightly. “No.” Just two Vikings in my diner and a dickhead in the street. “Fin’s an odd name.” Were there Vikings named Fin?
“It’s short for Thorfin,” Bjorn said, smiling at her again. “So, Lily–”
“Vikings,” Lily said before she could stop herself.
“No,” Fin said, his eyes mild and his voice quiet. “Ohioans. We’re from Cincinnati.”
“There were no Vikings in Ohio,” Bjorn said reassuringly.
“There probably were,” Fin said. “Great Lakes. But that was centuries ago, so no, we’re not Vikings.”
“What have you got against Vikings?” Bjorn said.
Lily smiled at them. “They murdered me.”
“I see,” Fin said, and went back to his drawing.
Cheryl walked behind Lily. “A cow screams every time you guys walk in here.”
“I understand if you want to leave,” Lily told them. “No charge for the coffee.”
“Are you kidding?” Bjorn said. “This is like performance art. There should be a cover charge. Plus there are cute waitresses.”
Lily looked around. “Where?”
Fin sighed. “He’s trying to pick you up. He’s doing it badly, but he’s trying.”
“Oh,” Lily said. “Well, thank you very much, Bjorn, but I’m taking a break from men. A long break. Nothing personal. No offense.”
Bjorn beamed at her. “None taken. Let me know when your break’s over.”
“I’ll get your order,” Lily said, and Fin nodded and went back to doodling.
Later, when they were gone, Lily looked to see if he’d left the dragon menu. He had, but now beside the dragon, there was a hissing cat and a tiny waitress with a sign that said, “No Vikings.” He’d done her hair in red marker, lots of curls on the top of her head. And striped glasses. Clearly a detail kind of guy.
“Funny,” she said, but she kept the menu because the dragon was beautiful.
And so was the waitress.
When they were back outside in the setting sun, Fin took a deep breath and tried to clear his head from the poleaxing it had just gotten.
“That Lily sure is cute,” Bjorn said as he started down the street back to their apartments.
“Yes,” Fin said, and thought, Her name is Lily.
Curly red hair in a sloppy bun on top of her head. Big brown eyes, like velvet. Deep dimples whenever she smiled. Striped glasses. Cheerful and bouncy and efficient and round and—
“My kind of woman,” Bjorn said.
“No,” Fin said.
But there was a shadow behind her eyes. Something was wrong there, and there should be nothing wrong there, Lily was made of light. A soft pink light–
“What do you mean, no?” Bjorn said. “That is my kind of woman.”
“Your kind of woman wears a push-up bra and tight tank top and hangs out in bars,” Fin said. He almost added, and does drugs, but it would not be helpful to mention that.
His kind of woman wore pink striped glasses and a smile like the sun.
“You don’t know that she isn’t wearing a push-up,” Bjorn said.
“Yes, I do,” Fin said, remembering the soft movement under the pink uniform. He wasn’t even sure she was wearing a bra. It wasn’t helpful to think of that, so he tried to move on, but he’d been having a lot of soft pink uniform thoughts ever since she’d come down the counter to pour his coffee—he hated coffee, but if that was what it took to get her to walk toward him, he’d drink it–and he stuck there for a minute.
“I saw her first,” Bjorn said.
“No, you didn’t,” Fin said.
He’d seen her outside the diner with her cat, talking to some dark-haired guy who was standing too close, so close that she kept backing up, making the cat hiss. The shadow probably had something to do with him. He’d have stopped the shadow guy but he didn’t know her. That was all she needed, another guy crowding her.
Also the cat looked like he could take the guy.
“You didn’t even flirt with her,” Bjorn said.
“Yes, I did,” Fin said.
And then she’d gone, and he’d told Bjorn he wanted a diner burger, and Bjorn had said, “We had a burger here for lunch,” and he’d said, “So order something else,” pretty sure that pink uniform she was wearing meant she worked there, and sure enough in a couple of minutes she came out of the kitchen, smiling at something the cook had said—the cook was also hot, he’d pointed that out to Bjorn—and then waited for her to come down the counter to him.
“I did not see you flirt,” Bjorn said.
“She did,” Fin said.
At least, she saw the specials menu. A woman with shadows behind her eyes did not want a full court press. Take it slow. Also she was fun to draw. All those curls. Those big eyes. Those glasses. That apron.
“I’ll flip you for her,” Bjorn said.
“No,” Fin said, and stopped walking, and when Bjorn turned to see why he’d stopped, he met his brother’s eyes for a long look.
“Oh,” Bjorn said.
“Yes,” Fin said.
“The cook is really cute,” Bjorn said and walked on.
“Yes, she is,” Fin said and followed him.