Shed already concluded that he didnt need to know that Kat was out of town. It was simpler to just act as if everything was normal. Well, as normal as she could feel being stuck as a horse for a year and a half, at least.
A year and a half... she couldnt believe so much time had gone by already. But the calendar confirmed it: This was the end of April. A year and a half ago, shed gone to sleep as human for the last time, and woken up the next day with extra legs. There was no rehab, of course; you woke up knowing how to use your new body like youd always had it. But there was plenty of therapy. Plenty of therapy. Which had nearly brought her to bankruptcy twice.
Her mother had suggested that she try to get a job using her new body, like construction work or maybe with the police. And shed pointed out that she hated physical jobs, loved her art degree, and just needed a break. Of course, shed just needed a break for the last six years, but any day it was around the corner. It had to be.
The clock ticked closer to seven, and she snapped out of her reverie. He would be waiting downstairs. This shirt had to be good enough. After all, this wasnt a date.
Once more, she tossed over the thought of changing into a human, but shed spent nearly the entire day as a human, and her body was tired of the abuse. She had no idea why it was so straining to do it well, actually, she had a pretty good idea, and it involved squeezing five hundred pounds of horse into half of a hundred-pound sausage, and she was often surprised that doing it didnt violate the laws of physics entirely. Or maybe it did: The laws of physics werent as solid these days as they used to be. There were even reports of
The clock chimed. Seven oclock. She was late.
* * *
There was no doubt as to which of the men outside the apartment building was him. He was standing there in a dapper pinstripe suit, with a matching fedora and a shiny black cane, and he looked like a millionaire playboy.
Exercising your jaw usually involves it moving both up and down, he said, grinning at her.
She boggled, and clamped two hands around her mouth, hastily shutting it.
Well, then, shall we? he asked, offering an elbow.
She looked down at him. She tried to stifle a laugh. She laughed. She laughed so hard that she stumbled sideways and leaned against the brick of the building, barely able to speak.
Okay, whats so funny? he asked, lowering his elbow and walking over to her.
I... oh, man, I guess it just struck me, she said. I mean... hah, oh, wow, I mean, Im a foot and a half taller than you are, for one thing, and Im sturdier too. I dont exactly need to lean on you for support. Heck, if anybodys gonna do leaning, itd be the other way around. And this isnt a date, anyway.
He shrugged. Seemed like a gentlemanly thing to do at the time, he said. And thats right, its not a date, but we need to keep up appearances.
She swallowed hard. Thats right. She was supposed to be acting like this was a date that wasnt a date. Or was it was a date... Or... no, wait. It was supposed to be
Uh, ground control to Caitlyn? he said. Are you okay?
Not in a long time, she answered, standing upright.
A year and a half, she said, and started toward the park. Well, actually, she didnt remember being all that okay even before a year and a half ago, but at least she was normal then. He nodded, and started walking beside her.
They passed a handful of people, and around the next block, he looked up at her. You dont have to hate it, you know, he said. There are a lot of successful people whove changed.
Successful, but are any of them happy?
He shrugged. Beats me. Is anybody happy? Happys a pretty relative thing. See that guy? That hot dogs making him full, for now. And those two? Theyre enjoying that kiss, but theyre gonna be shouting over money later. Youre best off just trying to enjoy what you can when you can.
I used to enjoy skiing, she said. I havent done it in two years now.
Im sure theres somebody who makes centaur skis, he said.
Do you even know how ridiculous that sounds?
She fell silent for another block.
After they crossed the street, she stopped, her arm out in front of him, and turned to him. Alright, whats the deal? What are you doing here? Cheer me up? Is this a pity party? Did you lose a bet? Do I just seem easy or something? You got some kind of weird horse fetish?
He shook his head. You dont have tattoos or piercings, you werent visibly drunk last week, you talk like youve actually had an education, youre at least somewhat conservatively dressed, youre not hideously ugly, and you seem to have a good sense of humor. Theres an impressive woman inside that body, and Id like to get to know her better.
Inside that body, she repeated. So you dont like the horse either.
No, I meant theres an impressive woman inside that rock-hard suit of armor you have wrapped around yourself. Shes smart, shes sexy, and shes empowered, but shes hiding. Im hoping that if I hang around you long enough, youll let her out to play.
Caitlyn frowned and started down the cement ramp into the park. He followed behind her. A jogger, floating in an oblivious musical universe of his own, darted past them and slammed into her hindquarters, knocking her aside.
Hey, watch it! she said, turning around, but he was gone.
You okay? asked Wils.
Never better, she grumped, and didnt turn around and didnt start moving again.
I dont date, she said, not looking at him. I havent had a date in almost two years.
I dont want to date, she continued.
So Im not dating you.
She stopped. Then why the hell are you following me?
He shrugged again. Hope springs eternal.
What did I do?
She growled. You were cute and interesting, she said. Isnt that enough? Theres an impressive man inside that body, and by God I swear Im not going to get to know him better even if it kills me.
He smiled, walked around in front of her, and looked deep into her soft brown eyes, which had started to tear up a little. He took her hand, gently, and looked like he was about to say something romantic and kiss it.
He looked up at her. I think thats enough, then. Im sure your friend has forgotten about you by now, so you can safely go home. Adieu, Lady Caitlyn, and I shall see you next Friday at seven.
He whirled about, his coattails flying behind him, and with an almost-comical hop, he briskly paced away from her down the sidewalk through the trees.
Wha... Wils! she cried, and darted toward him. Hey!
He turned a corner around a cement wall, and she reached it only a moment later, but he was gone. A single piece of white paper fluttered in the air in his place and floated down to the ground. She bent down and picked it up.
It had writing on it. Nine six two... she began.
There was a voice from the street up beside her. Wils face peered down over the metal railing. "Thats just for your records," he said. "Please dont call it unless you have to."
See you next Friday, he said, and disappeared.
* * *
It wasnt until shed walked all the way home in an utter daze that she realized that the jogger whod bumped into her had actually been a thief, and her purse was gone. By the next morning, shed successfully torn off one of the walls of the second bedroom with her bare hands, consumed the entire remaining carton of mint chocolate chip ice cream, and cried herself to a restless three-hour sleep. But the slip of paper with Wils phone number rested safe in a pristine little porcelain box on the mantle of the apartments false fireplace, and somewhere deep down, she felt like the purse was a fair trade for that.