“I thought you didn’t drink coffee?”
I paused mid-sip as the cool mocha filled my mouth. Making sure to look as casual as possible, I rested an arm over the back of my chair and propped a foot on the opposite knee. Pursing my lips around the straw finally provoked a suppressed laugh from the tanuki sitting across from me.
My answer came after she finished laughing. “Usually I sleep in a little on Saturdays. But hey, you kept me up late last night, so I needed a pick-me-up.” I don’t think either of us could watch “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” again without getting a boner and lady-boner, respectively.
Jun’s lips flattened and her eyes avoided mine. “Sorry.” She suddenly became enamored with the chalkboard menu behind the café counter. One would never guess we fucked a few times a week for the past month.
“I’m a guy. I’m not complaining.” Pairs of eyes from around the humble coffee shop pricked at the back of my neck whenever I turned my head away from them. Jun kept her tail out of the way of others by resting it on her lap, but she couldn’t hide the occasional twitch of anxiety.
Conversation— any topic— seemed appropriate. “By the way, how’re you liking the new website?”
She straightened her back. “Oh. Uh, yeah. It’s looking good. It just sucks that we need to have advertisements all over it.”
“Tia told us to set them up, so there’s not much we can say about it.”
“I know. It’s supposed to be experimental, anyway, so I guess it’s smart to keep costs down.”
“We should just make advertisements for the site on the site.”
“Pff. Come on, how’d that even work?”
“Just disguise a picture along the border to look like an exciting ad that links right back the same page.”
Jun held up her head with a hand, fingers grasping at her hair. “Oh jeez, that’s so dumb and evil. People would avoid us on principle if we did that. Like, that’d be it for us. Networks would collapse, employees would leave in droves, and we’d be out of the job.”
“It’d be funny, though.”
“It would.” She had a little trouble getting her straw in her mouth before taking a long sip of iced tea. “So, uh, are you doing anything for the holida—?” Before she could finish, her phone went off with a cheery tune. “Sorry, I’ll just, uh.”
I motioned for her to answer it. After digging the device out of her pocket, she looked at the screen and ended the call. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah, just— oh, I got a new phone number.”
If I were any closer I would have pinched the fake smile right off her face. “What for?”
“Those telemarketers just wouldn’t quit, so I got the number changed.” She gave me her new number after I took out my own phone, putting it under “Jun.”
Downing the last of my mocha thing with one long sip, I took a deep breath. “It’s almost noon, though. Wanna get out of here?”
Her triangle ears perked up. “Yeah! Yes. Just let me get some water real quick.”
“Sure.” After her tea I predicted she would have to pee so bad in half an hour.
Bouncing with every step, she approached the register. The most recent customers waited for their orders by the little receiving dock on the other end of the counter. Thanks to her facing away from me, I got a nice look at her outfit: a thin and tight-fitting brown t-shirt with little string ties up and down the waist, plus a pair of khaki shorts short enough to show just a little bit of thigh. Good work, Jun. You made your date happy.
By the time I went and threw my cup in the garbage, she was still at the register. Sans a cashier. “Everything okay?” I asked.
She stood on the tips of her sandaled toes to look around the back end of the café. “Yeah, just—” she leaned over the counter and waved a tucked-in hand at an employee who stood off to the side. “Um. Excuse me, I’d like to buy this water please.” The teen didn’t look up from his phone.
“Guess he didn’t hear.” I cleared my throat and used my clearest authority voice. “Excuse me, could we get some help, please?” Made sure to put on my best polite smile.
The kid visibly sighed and removed a pair of ear buds that I didn’t see among his scraggly hair. That answers that question.
When he saw Jun, he raised an eyebrow. “What do you want?”
Though she paused, Jun put the water bottle on the counter and pulled her wallet from her pocket. Not a word about his lack of work ethic I watched as the kid lazily punched some numbers into the register and put out his hand to take Jun’s money. I think giving him the stink eye got him to work faster.
* * *
Though Jun seemed content with her water on the sunny day, I refused to keep a good mood. “That kid was such a little shit.”
She swallowed. “What? Why?”
“Just listening to music when he should be working, and refusing to be professional at all for you.”
“Leave him alone. He was just a kid.” Another gulp of water, and she put the cap back on it. “I bet you were just like that when you were his age.”
“Come on, did you see how he looked at you? Like you were an eyesore or something. I mean, believe me, I was worse than that, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
“Then just tolerate it. Getting mad just makes it worse.”
We passed some people going in the other direction. One of them, an older woman with graying hair, gave us a dismissive look as she passed.
“It just sucks, that’s all.” I reached up to her head with my free hand and rubbed her head. When my hand lingered, and my fingers started rubbing one of her ears, she ducked away and held up her water bottle like a sword.
“O-okay, new rule.”
“I’m not a kid, so don’t rub my head anymore.”
I shrugged. “Alright.”
Jun put an arm around mine, smushing one of her boobs into me. “I mean, unless I specifically ask.”
When we crossed the street, hand-in-hand, a stark green sign stood in front of us, reading “Monterey Park.” Surrounded by a fence, the park held a barren baseball field in the far-off opposite corner, a dried-out football field on our side. A select few large patches of green grass.
A couple kids sped past us for the slides while their friends got some water from one of the nearby drinking fountains. Around the playground area were a few people who I assumed were parents. A pair of mothers chatted off to the side under picnic table umbrella. Meanwhile, a rather large and gray father wearing a dirty t-shirt crossed his arms and gave us a glare.
The sun already beat down on the playground despite the December breeze. I sighed and made for a bench. “Gonna sit down.” The sunbaked metal cooked my ass something fierce, but I wasn’t about to show it.
Jun shrugged. “Alright.” Once she sat next to me, she immediately shot back up with a hand on her rear. “Ow! Jeez!”
My laughter came without apology. “Too hot?”
She rubbed her butt and moaned. “Ugh, that hurt.” I couldn’t conceive of a reason for the display not to be on purpose.
Spying the drinking fountain next to us, she skipped over to it for a drink. I expected all the drinking fountains to be clogged with gum, but it flowed just fine. As she leaned in I couldn't help but watch— with a little envy— as the cool liquid drenched her pursed lips. Actually, it looked like she had a little trouble with it, having to adjust now and again and push her hair back to keep it out of the way.
“Did you skip drinking fountain lessons in kindergarten?”
She shot me a glare, turned the knob up all the way, and stuck her head under the arcing stream. The water cascaded over her sweat-drenched hair while she sighed with relief. She angled it so none of it got in her ears. Throwing her head back sprayed the water from her wavy hair in streams, landing as dark spots on the concrete, only to dry moments later. Much of it fell down her back and left smatterings of dark on her tank top. My eyes widened a little at the sight of her sex hair becoming even sexier.
I couldn't make eye contact when she looked my way.
She leaned over the fountain with a playful smirk and twitching tail. “Heheh. You okay?” I bet my life savings that the showing of cleavage was on purpose.
Stop it, boner. “I’m fine.” Before I could find something to talk about, a freezing stream of liquid splashed across my face. Though refreshing, I turned to find the culprit. A devious Jun crouched behind the fountain with a finger covering the nozzle. “You did NOT just—” Another stream fired into my face.
“Are your eyes still dry?”
Throwing caution to the wind, I tanked the water and stomped up to the fountain. Jun laughed aloud and ducked away from me around the other side of it. With free reign over the fountain, I sprayed it her way. She grabbed her tail to keep it out of my line of fire and scampered behind the bench. Her sex hair just got sexier with the water drenching it.
Only then did I notice my shirt matted against my front. “Jeez, you really got me.” Good thing I kept my wallet and phone in my back pockets.
The tanuki peeked out from behind the bench and deemed it safe to come out from her cover when I pulled my hands from the fountain.
A sigh escaped me as a breeze chilled the water on my skin. “It’s kinda refreshing, actually.”
She whipped her hands, sending droplets of water into my face. “Want to head back?”
Though I entertained the idea of taking off my wet shirt and whipping her with it, locker room style, I suppressed the urge and wiped my face with a hand. “Sure. My place or yours?”
Jun grasped my hand. “Let’s go to your place. I wanted to see something about your records.”
“Yeah? What about them?”
She snickered and squeezed my hand. “You’ll see.”
Though we received a few errant glances from parents, the kids running through the playground didn’t pay us much attention as we walked past. Though the generation that lived through the emergence of non-human species stayed cautious, the generation growing up with monsters seemed more open to the idea. The elementary school we walked past on our way to my apartment only reinforced the notion.
Though it was Saturday, lots of kids played in the playground, human and non-human alike. They most likely had daycare hours on the weekends. With the jungle gym and sandbox inside a chain-link fence that covered a large space above. I saw something like it on the news and how more and more schools needed better outdoor facilities for kids who could fly. The laughing playing kids and vibrant alphabet painted across the walls almost made me want to jump in and play, too. Just outside the front door, a small group of mothers talked and laughed with each other while one of their kids drank from a purple soda can.
A lone lamia woman, dressed in office attire with a slacked tie and small briefcase, slithered out of the daycare center as we passed. At her side was a little boy in a baseball cap. The last time I checked, lamiae only ever gave birth to other lamiae. Was he an adoption? Looking closer, I saw glimpses of green and brown flakes of skin on the cheeks and gently pointed ears of the boy. I guess you learn something new every day.
The women only paused to give snide looks toward the lamia as she passed. The serpentine woman looked just about ready to cave into herself under the weight of their silent jeers. Being asked to tolerate those kinds of things left a bad taste in my mouth that only worsened as we walked past the daycare.
I let out a cry of surprise when something hard and metallic clocked me in the back of the head.
Heedless of the spray of soda, Jun felt at my head as if my skull cracked. “Are you okay? What was that?”
Sugary carbonation slid down my back and I smelled the strong scent of candy grape. To my left sat a spinning soda can. When I turned to look for the thrower, I caught sight of a mother ushering her son inside the daycare. Another little shit allowed to run amuck. At least he had the excuse of being six.
“Jeez,” I said, flicking drops of soda from my fingers, “what even is today?”
While Jun did something magic-y to get me cleaned up, the lamia mother slithered up next to me. “Are you alright?”
I wiped some more of the sugar water off my neck. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, leaning closer to whisper, “I think that might have been meant for me.”
Jun and I shared a glance and she asked, “Has that happened before?”
The mother sighed. “Unfortunately.”
Jun, myself, and the lamia family hunkered down at a bus stop a block away. Jun used some kind of tanuki tricks to magic away some of the mess, but my white shirt was already stained. It wasn’t as if I couldn’t just bleach it when I next went to the laundromat, but she insisted on trying. The businesswoman sat on the bench next to me, hands in her lap, dejected.
Getting a better look at the son, he seemed like a normal little kid, probably in first or second grade. Aside from the little green or brown scales around his neck, other smatterings of scales cropped up around his wrists and ankles. Some of the ones on his cheeks made neat little triangle patterns that meshed perfectly with the upturned direction of his ears.
Before I could do it myself, Jun got up from her seat on the bench and walked up to the boy. Crouching in front of him, she smiled. “What's your name?”
He raised an eyebrow and kind of leaned away from her. “Devin.”
Her eyes went wide with wonder. “That's a great name. And I love your scales. They look so~ cool.”
Devin looked away. “Nobody else says that.”
“Well, they're dumb. I bet they're just jealous that you look like a super hero! Do you read comic books?”
The lamia mother raised her head looked over at Jun and her son. “Thank you for being so nice about this. I really am sorry.”
“It’s really fine,” I said, “and now I smell like delicious grape, so, there you go.”
That managed to pull a smile out of her, though it quickly faded. “Most of the other children seem okay with my son. I’m grateful for that. But, they seem, well, afraid of me.” In any other situation I might have asked why she told me this. Then again, unless Jun and I walked down the street at the same time as her next week, we probably wouldn’t see each other again.
She continued. “I think I’ll get used to it when they stop throwing things at me when I come to pick him up.”
“Or they could get used to you instead.”
That earned me a shake of the head. “If only. I just want to know why they hate us so much.”
Because you aren't human. You're a freak. Freaks don't belong with normal people. Normal people don't slither around like snakes. Normal people don't lay eggs like some giant reptile.
Everything I regretted ever saying about lamiae came rushing back like a punch to the gut. I wanted to tell her, “I don't know why.” All I had to do was dig down into my past to tell her. A veil of guilt kept my mouth shut as she stared off into space.
From the corner of my eyes, I saw Jun twirl in place with and conjure a big plume of smoke around her. A roar of joy sounded from the boy, snapping me out of my guilt trip. Both the mother and I turned to look, only to see Devin staring with wonder at the figure emerging from the cloud. A tall, statuesque man with chiseled jaw and immaculate blond hair stood before Devin, clad in red, white, and blue.
Finally he cried out, “Captain America?”
Captain America saluted the boy, knelt down in front of him, and gave me a painful wink. “That's right, Devin. You're such a cool kid that I came all the way from the army base just to see you.” The boy could only stare in awe while his mother suppressed a laugh with a hand over her mouth. “Let me tell you something, sport. Everyone has something about them that's special. For you? It's not just your awesome-looking scales or your super-cool mom. What do you like to do? Any sports?”
Devin's fists pumped above his head. “I— I draw a lot and it's really really fun!”
I swear the white of Captain Jun's teeth caught the light of the sun. “You hang on to that, work hard, and always be good to your mom. You're doing America proud by doing whatever makes you happy, no matter what anyone says about what you you or how you look. You got it, sport?”
The boy nodded his head so hard I thought it'd fall off through sheer blind admiration. His mother faced away, and I could not tell if she was laughing or crying.
After taking a few minutes to gather herself, mother and son left the bus stop. I got stuck waving them goodbye next to Captain America for a solid minute until they walked around the corner.
“That was a hell of a thing,” I said.
The Captain burst into a cloud of smoke, revealing Jun in his place as it dispersed. She sighed. “Just thought it'd be nice.”
I put an arm around her shoulder. “For just a 'thought,' it was pretty great.” We stood there for a moment before I made sure to ruin it. “I remember you saying once that you like dressing up as celebrities, but I didn’t know you got their parts down, too.”
Jun coughed. “Uh. I may or may not play out movie scenes as practice. In my bathroom mirror.”
I tightened my arm around her neck and kissed her on an ear. “You are adorable.”
As we walked home, I took a look at the neighborhood around us. It might not have been the best idea to come through that part of town for our date. The only places we went to together were downtown or in relatively nice restaurants. I didn’t realize stigma against extra-species still existed so blatantly. I made a mental note to ask Jun if she was okay with going on dates in a given part of town. Both of us needed more experience with the city, but it was better to be safe than sorry.
* * *
My fridge held eggs, milk, mayo, and some luncheon meat. My pantry had half a loaf of bread, cereal, some spices, and an unopened bottle of rum. We busily made ourselves sandwiches while we cooled off at my place and thought up a drinking game.
Jun said, “Every time the guy stares longingly at the girl, take a drink.”
“Ugh, no. We’d be dead by the time the movie’s over. And I don’t even want to see that one.” The mayo spread across my bread slice as gracefully as a wad of fresh wet gum, prompting me to toss the jar into the trash. I should follow my own advice and clean my apartment. “How about every time that one pirate walks funny?”
“So, just chug whenever he’s on-screen?”
“No, that’s too much!”
“Once per appearance, then?”
She slapped together the two halves of her sandwich onto the counter. “Yeah, that’d work.” As she walked toward the couch I took a gander at her bare legs and feet, because I’m a pervert like that, and followed at her heels. Together we plopped down on my bed-couch and, as if we rehearsed it, let our legs cross over each other’s in the center. I put the rum bottle between us.
“Oh yeah, do you have glasses for that?” she asked.
I turned on the TV and revved up the DVD player. “We don’t need glasses where we’re going.”
We bumped our feet and knees into each other every now and then while the movie played. The wacky antics and swashbuckling fun lead to many a sip of rum, which fit the movie to a T. I was just grateful for having a sandwich to chase every spicy gulp. For Jun, at least, probably wouldn’t fall off the couch any time soon, too.
During a lull in the onscreen action, I noticed something I never really examined very close: it felt easier to breathe than it used to. Air flowed into my chest, inflated it to comfortable capacity, and left with contentment. I glanced at Jun, who watched the movie with a piece of sandwich meat held between her lips as if in anticipation for the next scene.
With fingers faster than she could notice, I snatched the piece of meat from her and popped it in my mouth.
“Wha— Oh, come on, you have your own.”
I just smiled and turned back toward the TV. Out of the corner of my eye, she put the cap on the bottle of rum, set it down between us, and lifted her legs up onto the couch across my lap with a heavy thud.
“Was that supposed to hurt me?”
“It was a warning.”
“It was a warning against stealing my hard-earned food.”
“It was mine, though. I had every right to—”
The telltale jingle of Jun's phone tensed my ears. Her hand snapped to the pocket of her shorts and pulled it out before we could resume our silly banter.
“Again?” I said.
She gave me a look of exasperation. “I'm- I'm really sorry. I'll take care of it.” Jun took her ringing phone and stepped outside while I paused the movie. Her voice easily pierced through the door.
“Please, I haven't done anything to you people.” She said, though she probably had a hand over her mouth trying to keep down her distressed voice. “I'm begging you. Do not. Call me. Again.”
For a minute she stayed outside in silence. What could those people possibly have been calling her about? It definitely didn't sound like a conversation with a telemarketer. Though I hesitated, I hauled myself up from my couch and headed for the door.
She leaned against the railing just outside my door and jumped a little when I opened it. Her ears flattened, but she did not turn around. Taking a closer look, she trembled.
I put a hand on her shoulder and kneaded my thumb into her skin. “What's going on?”
Jun pushed a sigh from her chest and turned around. “Nothing. It’s fine. Let's go inside.” And so we did. I made sure the door latched behind us. The bottle of rum sloshed its contents as she slumped onto the couch. I stood above her, and arm leaning against the wall.
“Doesn’t look like nothing. What's going on? I don’t think I heard you yell at someone like that before.”
“Oh. You heard that.”
“You were pretty intense about it. Who was it?”
Jun put hands over her face in contemplation. “Hoo. Okay. Okay. Some— well, maybe just one? No, probably more. Some people have been, uh, harassing me over the phone.” She looked off into space. “For a while now.”
My gut felt close to broiling. The frustration and second-hand guilt gnawed at me until they were all I felt. “Have you called the cops about it?” Just be sensible— a voice of reason in the insanity.
Jun gave me a look as if I suggested something ridiculous. “They're the last people I want snooping around in my personal life. Pretty sure they don't like it when a hard-working marketing supervisor isn't real. I doubt that’d improve the situation.”
My next words blurted from my mouth free of filter. “Maybe it's time to come clean, then.”
Her shoulders tensed and her ankles crossed. “No.”
Well, no going back from that one. “This whole Sylvia thing is making the most problems for you, isn’t it?”
“The harassment’s not so bad that I have to call the police, though. It’s just, you know. The usual garbage. Like, that I should never have come here, 'get out, get out,' 'nobody wants your kind here,' a-and, you know. Stuff.”
Jun reflexively pulled her tail to her chest when I sat next to her and picked up the bottle of rum. I motioned for her to take it. “For putting up with whoever this is, I think you deserve a few more drinks at least.”
Though she hesitated, Jun took it from me and stared at it in her lap. With a heavy voiced sigh, she kicked back the bottle and took too good gulps. “Agh. Whoa, okay, too much.”
Looking at the TV, the movie was almost over. Any minute and the credits would roll on their own. Somehow my mind linked credits to credit music, which reminded me of something Jun asked me earlier.
“Didn’t you want to check something about my collection?” I asked.
Finally she finished coughing. “Kuh. Yes! Yes, I did. Just wanted to see what you have. I’ll just, uh, do that right now.”
I stood up along with her and followed her to the closet. As she rifled through the sleeves, I picked out a specific record I meant to bust out earlier. Jun sat on the floor, her knees splayed out in front of her as she went cubby by cubby. Taking the chance while she was distracted, I set up my record player in the opposite corner.
“Let me know when you’re done,” I said.
Lucky for me, she seemed completely absorbed in going through the sleeves in the closet. Meanwhile, I brandished a vinyl disk from a sleeve with “Best of Ludwig Van Beethoven” written across the front. Though it took me a minute to find the right spot to place the needle, I eventually found the starting point for Waltz in E flat Major.
With a quick scratch, a steady piano melody played through my apartment. Jun’s ears perked up at the sound, turning to see what it was. I stood ready for her with an outstretched hand.
She tilted her head. “What? What’s going on?”
I smiled. “You know how to waltz?”
“Waltz?” Jun’s ears shrunk back. “Oh. Uh. No, no, I can’t dance at all. Bad idea. Bad baaaaad idea.”
Too bad for her I could lift her off the floor with my hands under each arm before setting her on her nervous feet. “If you can count, you can dance.” Her head turned left and right as I set our arms against each other correctly.
“What? Why? Where’d this come from?”
“Drinking cannot be our only activity while we’re at my place.”
Through her complaints, I directed her steps with the rhythm of the music. The dusty hard wood floor felt cold to the touch against our bare feet. True to her word, she was atrocious. Two left feet, off-beat, and didn’t know where to put her hands. I imagined her in an elegant dress of some kind, giving me further incentive to teach her.
The movie credits rolled on the TV while the physical activity got alcohol from earlier to really kick in. Soon we started falling all over each other almost on purpose. I made sure to catch her every time she tripped over her own feet, and her complaints turned to laughter as we slipped and slid around my apartment. The record wasn’t even on the same waltz anymore.
In time, Jun slumped against me, using my front to stay standing. “Whoa. Okay. I need a break.”
“You okay?” I held up her hand and twirled her over to the couch, where she let herself fall onto her back.
She pushed some hair out of her face and adjusted her slump against the cushion. “Just a bit dizzy.”
“Can’t have that, then.” I let the record play and sat next to her.
As soon as I got comfortable, Jun let herself slide down until her head fell onto my leg with a thud. With an almost pushy haste, she grabbed my hand and rested her head on our clasped fingers like a pillow. The warmth in her cheeks from the dancing reddened my skin. A sense of comfort permeated me as our fingers made subtle circles on each other’s palms.
“Just thought it’d be nice.”
“Yeah?” Jun flopped onto her back, nearly knocking the wind out of me with her head, and looked up at me with tipsy fondness. “It was pretty great for ‘just a thought.’” Jun blinked hard and looped an arm around my middle, burying her face in my stomach. I massaged one of her ears between my fingers as the credits rolled and the music played.