The waitress, a middle-aged woman with stringy blond hair, wearily rolled her eyes. She hurriedly marched away from the young couple seated in the window booth. The waitress took long strides to the kitchen as she tossed a tired glance at the bartender behind the service bar. As she scurried away, the bartender, a gentleman in his mid-fifties, looked back at her understandingly.
The couple still had not ordered anything to eat or drink. Lost in conversation when the waitress had approached them a third time, they had stared up at her wide-eyed and asked for a few more minutes. It had already been twenty minutes since they had been seated, and the waitress was losing her patience. ‘At least order drinks,’ she thought, exasperated.
The waitress, whose name was Alice, shuffled to the bar to place a drink order. “Vodka Gimlet, straight up, and a Blue Moon, draft.”
“Those two gonna’ order any time soon?” queried Harry the bartender, who eyed the couple as he mixed the Gimlet. Harry the bartender was simultaneously going grey and balding from the back of his head forward. Harry was a Carlsbad, Californian, born and raised. In his prime he had served on the Carlsbad firefighting squad. Now, Harry tended bar part time. “I mean, do those two think this is a bus station?” He paused, again glancing at the couple. “I’ll tell you what, though, they are an attractive couple. I mean, just look at that young lady. She is an absolute stunner.”
Alice wrinkled her nose, and she barked in a hushed voice at Harry. “Shhh, you! That girl’s just a baby. She’s probably younger than your daughter. Probably not even out of high school or college. You’re a dirty old man!”
Harry grew defensive. “What? What did I say? Don’t be ridiculous. I’m just saying she’s a lovely girl. Am I lying? OK, he’s a good looking kid too, but he’s not my type. Is that wrong to say? I’m just saying, they look like they stepped out of People Magazine or something, those two. They’re fresh.” Harry shook his head. “These drinks aren’t for them, are they? You probably need to ask them for ID.”
“Uh, no. These drinks are not for them. I wish they would order beverages. Anything.” Alice tersely shook her head side to side, and then she marched off in the other direction. She set the drinks in front of two middle-aged businessmen in wrinkled white shirts and matching, gold power ties. Four thirty in the afternoon, early to start drinking, but, as the cliché goes, the businessmen were certain it must be five o’clock somewhere.
At the table, the young woman, whose name was Belinda, stopped speaking for a moment, eyeing her friend, Jake. “Why are you looking at me like that, Jake?” Belinda’s brow crease deepened.
“Uh, looking at you like what?” Jake had been staring, as if hypnotized, at Belinda’s hands. His thoughts had drifted to a story he had heard about how his new friend, Belinda had killed a half-bird, half-human creature on the rooftop of the Azteca Hotel in Las Vegas. That incident had happened two days ago. Jake decided to come clean with Belinda. “Actually, I was thinking about something. According to Sara, when we were in Vegas you ripped a bird man’s heart from its chest. Then you threw the creature’s heart over the balcony, as if you were tossing away a crumpled piece of paper.” Jake shuddered inwardly, focused on Belinda’s large dark, brown eyes.
Belinda’s cheek near her left eye twitched in irritation. She wrinkled her nose. “You haven’t been listening to a word I’ve been saying, have you? All you can think of is that bird man story. You need to listen to me, Jake. We don’t have a lot of time. I have to get back to La Jolla soon or they’ll notice I’m gone.”
“I’m sorry.” Jake confessed, “It’s just a horrifying story is all.” He noticed Belinda had not denied the veracity of the story.
Thick, almost jet-black hair, which was pulled back by clips and hung slightly below her shoulders, framed Belinda’s elegant face. Now her expression had grown blank. Her eyelids hung halfway down, displaying her irritation.
“I don’t understand the big deal, Jake.”
“Well, OK, you know I got in a fight with one of those bird man things in Vegas too. But, come on, ripping the heart out of something? That’s pretty scary. I’m sorry. I just don’t ever want to be on your bad side.”
Belinda shrugged her left shoulder and then her right shoulder up and down in a harsh, wave-like motion, as if trying to relax her body. Then she crossed her arms and leaned back. “And really,” she spat hastily. “That fight bothers you more than the High Magi making me send your brother away?” She regretted the words the instant they escaped her lips.
Jake slowly dropped his eyes to the table. “How could you say that to me?” he whispered.
Belinda instantly realized her mistake. She slipped her hand across the table and into Jake’s hand, the fair complexion of her delicate hand sharply contrasting within his olive skin. At the bar, Harry, who had been minding the young couple’s business for some time, thought to himself, ‘Ah, isn’t that nice? They’re so sweet.’
Belinda maintained steady contact, her hand firmly clasped over Jake’s. She closed her eyes, as if daydreaming of some far off place. Jake gazed up at her face in shock as the warmth from Belinda’s hand rushed into his arm and spread through his body. It was as if thousands of tiny warm spheres had raced through his skin, deposited their heat along his periphery, and then sank deeply into his veins and organs. He felt uplifted by the flow of energy, like a firework about to burst. Jake’s dilated pupils reflected her face. “How did you do that?”
Belinda opened her eyes cautiously, as if Jake might not be there anymore. “Do you feel better now? Less frightened?”
Her hand still held his tightly. She smiled. “Jake, there’s never going to be a time I’m not going to be on your side. You don’t have to be afraid of me. I’m here to make things OK. Don’t you know? Good witches make everything better? I love you, Jake…like a brother.” She said this last part to qualify her statement, even though she knew Jake belonged to another woman. Jake stared down at the table again, embarrassed. Belinda felt a fleeting sense of discomfort at Jake’s reaction, but she let it pass.
Belinda had whispered these last words. Jake, still eyeballing the tabletop, nodded in agreement just as a hunched, elderly woman in cat-eye glasses, her white hair tied in a bun, slid into the booth behind them. The elderly woman turned around briskly and shot Belinda a tight-lipped glare.
“Maybe we should take this from the top, go through the whole story again outside by the flower fields or something,” Jake said. “It’s crowded in here. And I’m not really hungry.”
The little old lady turned around again to peer at them, an irritated look on her face.
“Boo!” shouted Belinda, spreading her eyes wide at the elderly bloodhound.
The woman sharply turned around. “Well, I never,” the elderly woman chirped under her breath.
“Yeah, me neither,” muttered Belinda. “And my boyfriend is a gazillion miles away, so probably no time soon either.” Then Belinda murmured in a hoarse whisper only Jake could hear: “Nosey!”
Belinda sighed loudly.
Jake instantly shot his hand into the air, flagging the waitress to let her know they were going to leave. “Let’s get out of here,” he whispered to Belinda.
Jake glanced at the table next to them, where an older gentleman, who was eating alone, cut into a thick steak, dark red juice squirting from the meat. All Jake could think of were bird men hearts spurting blood.
Belinda noticed the old man ripping in to his steak, and she grinned, as if she was guessing Jake’s thoughts. “Time to go already?”