Life isnt fair. Deal with it. He smiled up at her sweetly.
They were sitting in the Thai restaurant, and well, three of them were sitting, at least. Despite Caitlyns arguing, Wils wouldnt let her change back, saying that if she wasnt going to act like herself, then he was leaving, so she was stuck as a centaur. This wasnt the first time any restaurant had had to accommodate, and after Henderson v. Linsky most places tried hard to accommodate these days, but the best that the restaurant could do left Caitlyn laying on the floor, her head about six inches lower than Wilss, and her hindquarters sprawling where another table would have been, which was highly embarrassing. She hoped nobody would trip over her.
So how do you know Caitlyn? asked Wils of the other two.
From work, said Christine. Capital Mutual Investment. Were both on the third floor.
He nodded. And what do you do for a living? he asked Rob.
Rob shrugged. Actually, Im a pediatrician, he said. I specialize in Changed children. Keeps me busy. Youd be surprised how many doctors dont want to treat a kid whos cold-blooded or has fangs and claws. Its really kinda sad
But it makes him good money, said Christine, smiling up at him.
Hey, no hanky-panky at the dinner table, grumbled Caitlyn.
No? Bummer, said Wils slyly.
So what do you do for a living? asked Rob.
Me? A little of this, a little of that, said Wils. The others looked at him darkly. Okay, I guess Im not gonna get away with that, am I? Well, lessee... I was a cop just after college. My degree was psychology, but I havent used it much. I got bored with the cop thing after a couple of years, so I did some security consulting for a while. I was a subcontractor in Saudi Arabia after the Ramadan War, and made a pretty penny doing that. These days, I work part-time at a small magitech company on the Lower East Side. Im officially supposed to be an operations manager, but half the time Im just making phone calls to make sure stuff arrived safely. My boss does most of real work. Its an easy job, it pays well, and it leaves me with a lot of free time. Could be worse. And, well, thats about it.
Wow, sounds like youve been around, said Christine. Whats the company make?
He laughed. Mostly cleaning supplies, he said. Ever heard of SpotsOff? Thats one of ours. Did about twenty million in sales last year.
Caitlyn had never heard of it, but Christine nodded.
So what do you guys recommend here? he asked. Their Pad Thai any good?
Everythings good, said Rob. Its hard to go wrong.
Caitlyn shrank a little.
Dont worry, said Christine. Well order something for you. Ive seen some of the kinds of stuff you like.
Thanks, said Caitlyn, but she didnt look reassured.
So you two are dating? asked Rob.
Yes, said Wils.
No, said Caitlyn.
Well Im slowly breaking her down, he chuckled.
I dunno, Caity, said Christine, sipping a beer. Your boyfriends kinda cute.
Hes not my boyfriend, not yet, anyway.
What, do you have some kind of initiation ritual? said Rob.
Wils chuckled. With her, its an Olympic sport, he said.
Very funny, grumbled Caitlyn.
Okay, no more grumpy, said Wils. What do you want to talk about then?
Caitlyn paused. In reality, all she wanted was to flee, to go home, to escape the embarrassment of being here and being a monster and being with this strange guy in front of these two people who were judging her every last breath and all the other people in the restaurant watching and looking at her and every single one of them was inconvenienced by her just even being there
I need to powder my nose, she said.
Again? said Wils.
I have a bladder the size of your head, she said, and its full. Yes, again.
Im coming too, said Christine.
Wils and Rob exchanged glances. That was more than I needed to know. Yikes. So how bout them Nicks?
* * *
The girls came back about fifteen minutes later, and Caitlyns hair and tail were each tied back in a ponytail. She looked a bit more upbeat, but the way she was nibbling on her lip suggested she was still very nervous.
Hi, sorry about that, said Christine brightly, looking up at Caitlyn.
Sure, said Rob. You two feeling better?
Caitlyn nodded and sat down.
Is this because I wouldnt let you change back? asked Wils.
Caitlyn shook her head.
Are you sure? Look, I wasnt trying to make you feel bad. If you really want to change back, go ahead.
Caitlyn shook her head. She wanted desperately to change back or run away or worse, but shed made a promise to Christine.
Did anybody see that documentary on the Change last week? asked Christine, trying to shift the subject a little. I cant believe the History Channel pulled Spielberg out of retirement for it.
Me neither, said Wils.
Wait a second, said Caitlyn. You werent there when
We have a TV set in our bedroom, said Rob hastily. We had a private showing.
Caitlyn nearly commented, but let it drop.
So, Wils, what do you think caused it? asked Christine. I mean, everybody has a theory.
I still say it was an accident, said Rob. I think they just didnt know what they were doing.
But what about the boats? asked Christine. Eyewitnesses reported a half dozen small black boats shooting up the river toward the university only half an hour before it happened.
People boated on that river all the time, said Rob.
In November? said Christine.
So do you think it was terrorists? asked Wils. Thats what DHS keeps saying.
I dont know what to think, said Christine. I mean, the facts are obvious, but the rest is so fuzzy.
Maybe they wanted it to happen, said Caitlyn, and the others turned to look at her. She stuttered. I I mean, what if they were trying to do this? Yeah, what if they were trying to ruin my life? Theyd sure succeeded.
Thats just crazy, said Christine. Whod want this? Monsters and mythics and furries and freaks walking the streets, magic drugs wreaking havoc on kids, and potions and spells and garbage like that? I hear theres even a few dragons in Finland now. Japan geez, have you seen the pictures of Japan? Life was a lot more predictable when all we had was science.
Wils shrugged. Well, there are some benefits, if you think about it. I hear tell Detroits racing to be the first to make a flying car now. Caitlyns a lot stronger than I am, and faster. Shed make a hell of a cop. And have you ever watched the Changed Basketball League on TV? Blows your mind.
Caitlyn glared at him.
Or not. But the point is, there are benefits.
Unless you end up like that one woman with the detached head, said Rob. Did you see her on Marty Fuller last night? Said her left arm is twice as strong as her right just because she uses it to carry her head all the time.
But even there, it has benefits, said Wils. She could whoops, has anybody decided on what we want yet? he asked as their waiter sidled over to the table, bobbing anxiously.
They all quickly scrambled to pull up their menus and pretend like theyd been looking at them. The men both ordered extra spicy, and Christine found a nice mild chicken platter for Caitlyn. A few minutes later, the waiter disappeared.
Alright, so where were we? said Rob. Yeah, so I think it was an accident, my wife still cant decide, Caitlyn thinks they did it on purpose, which is completely ludicrous if you look at the facts
I didnt say that, said Caitlyn. I just said it was a possibility.
Anyway, that leaves you, Wils. What do you think?
Wils didnt answer for a moment, and the bustling restaurant seemed to grow quieter.
If I knew, Id tell you, he said, and his voice was deep and solemn. Caitlyn turned toward him, and he looked deadly serious. I dont guess. This new worlds complicated enough without guessing. Facts only.
No-one said anything.
And then, as if nothing had happened, he grinned. Well, then, he continued brightly, anyway, did you hear that Zombie Panic is actually going to use real zombies? Apparently several of the actors had reanimation clauses in their wills. Joan Rivers head is even doing a cameo. Gotta love Hollywood these days movie magics not just a phrase anymore.
Christine chuckled. Im good with that just as long as there are no zombie sex scenes, she added, and the others burst out laughing.
The food arrived quite a bit more slowly than any of them had hoped, and a fair portion of the rest of the conversation was puddle-shallow entertainment news, but it was far easier for Caitlyn to join in the conversation during that part. Eventually, Rob had to get up and talk to the manager, after which the food finally did arrive, and it was delicious or Caitlyn was so hungry by that point that anything wouldve been delicious.
They walked home afterward, leaving a moderate tip at best, and as they approached the apartment building, Caitlyn stopped.
Go on ahead, she said to Rob and Christine, and the other two nodded.
Wils looked at her oddly. Did I do something wrong tonight?
No... I just... Wils, youre a great guy, youre cute, youre smart, youre loaded... but... I dont know. You scare me sometimes.
Sorry, he said.
You come on so strongly, and it I dont know how to handle it. My lifes a crazy train wreck already, and the last thing I need is a roller-coaster relationship to add to my mixed metaphors. I just dont know what to do with you.
Sorry, he said.
So... look, youre fun to be around and all, but can you tone it down a little? I mean you
Nope, he said.
He shrugged. I am who I am. I figured that out a long time ago.
But, I mean, I do kinda like you, and Id like to get to know you better, but I just dont know how to deal with
Sorry, Im not gonna change, he said. I am who I am, take it or leave it.
But I cant
He turned around. Look, I was really liking us, but apparently you werent. Im damn sorry it didnt work out, cuz youre a real catch. But if you ever want to give it a shot again sometime, gimme a call. You have my number. He started walking away.
Wils, wait! she said.
Sorry, he said, not turning back. But keep in touch, yhear?
Caitlyn sank to the ground as she watched him walk off, and the only thing she could think as he left was that she was going to catch hell from her mother over this.