Page 2: The Waitress and the Werewolf
This is a bad idea. It is definitely, very much, a terrible, bad idea.
Mia Kotsiopoulos moved to the outskirts of Nolan, West Virginia in order to disappear, places like this tended suck the memory out of anything. But this was definitely going to be memorable.
She stood outside a beige building wearing oxford shoes, brown slacks that went to her shins, and a short-sleeve blue button-up. It was much better than her usual "tatters and questionable hygiene" approach.
She had even showered before she showed up.
But nonetheless, she had shown up to a service-workers house in the middle of the day, holding flowers. She never thought the movie she played out in her head would be the "creepy stalker" variety.
Mia was standing outside a mini condo with a beige outside and beige door and a scraggly bush in the front. A house cat peered at her from one of the windows across the street and the sun beat hot against her neck from up above.
She stared at a door with cheap silver numbers on the front and flap for mail, it looked unassuming and quiet. It was in a small neighborhood that was made smaller by the size of the town itself; Mia had followed the scent of sunscreen perfume and grease all the way here.
She tried to deny in her head that she memorized the waitress’s scent, but that would be a bold-faced lie at this point. She kept staring at the door.
The cat hissed at her from across the way and Mia hung her head, “what am I doing?” She turned to leave, she wasn’t this, she promised she wouldn’t be.
She crept back toward her Mitsubishi and slammed her wildflowers in the passenger's seat, trying to suppress any nascent feelings bubbling up. All she did was bandage your arm, Mia reminded herself, it was nothing.
Then she heard a voice calling, “Honey Cakes!” The voice carried, “Honey-Honey!”
Mia lifted her chin up and peered down the long sun baked street, a figure stood cupping her hands around her mouth and wearing a fluffy lilac robe. The figure looked left and right, walking frantically in Mia’s direction without looking at her. “Here girl! Honey Cakes.”
“Oh,” Mia straightened up, her mouth making a small perfect circle. The waitress looked visibly distraught, her eyes red-rimmed and long hair undone and tumbling lankly down her back. Her robe had a yellow stain on the sleeve and a thin nightshirt peaked out from underneath, crumpled and forgotten.
Mia took a couple uncertain steps forward; the waitress looked every which direction on the ground before she noticed Mia. Her eyes went wide, “you.”
Mia suddenly didn’t know what to do with her hands, or face, or any part of her body. “Are you missing your dog?” She asked quickly.
The waitress seemed to take a long second to respond, frowning slightly and probably weighing this all in her head. Maybe she was thinking of calling the police on one of her customers randomly showing up near her house.
Then she nodded hesitantly, “yeah…”
“I was just on a walk,” Mia tried to justify her presence, “and I heard you calling out.”
The waitress touched her messy hair and looked down at her feet, they were bare. “Cool. Alright. Enjoy your walk.”
Mia straightened up, “also,” she struggled, her face flushing slightly. “I wanted to thank you. Really thank you.”
The waitress seemed to look at her for the first moment, eyes focusing out the depths of their worry. “Don’t mention it,” she said with a familiar breezy note to her voice, “only a dick would leave you out there to bleed out.”
“I don’t know about that,” Mia rubbed the back of her neck self-consciously, “most people probably wouldn’t even let me eat there in my state the first time.”
The waitress shrugged loosely, “most people suck.”
Mia gave a newfound smile, “can I help you look for your dog?”
She paused again, lips puckering and noticeably bare of makeup that day. She gave a tight nod, “you have good eyes?”
“No,” Mia said simply, “but I can, uh, I can help.”
The waitress gave her a perplexed look, “alright, yeah, this way.” They walked down the sidewalk together and the waitress pointed around. “I lost her a night ago…” She said weakly, “it’s been almost 72 hours.” Her voice sounded strained and fragile.
Mia looked both directions, “I can definitely help. Does she respond to a whistle?”
The waitress nodded, “I trained her with my brother, he’s big on dogs. Before she became just mine, he used to do this big wolf whistle to get her to come," she smirked in a private way, "he was such a show-off.”
Mia broke into a fond expression, “K.” She wet her lips, put two fingers in her mouth, and let out a truly impressive sound, a ringing golden whistle that echoed down the street like a shot arrow.
The waitress let out a whistle of her own in response, “woah.”
“Honey Cakes!” Mia called next, “Honey.”
They walked down the cracked sidewalk and toward the center of town, Mia tried not to stare at the other girl, and tried even harder not to bump into her. It was a long walk.
The waitress started slowing down once they passed the post office, ten minutes had passed by then and she had started flagging, her chin drooping down toward her chest and expression cracking like porcelain.
Mia tried to move quick, “we’ll find her.” She reassured softly, “I’m sure she’s looking for you too.”
The waitress shook her head, she closed her eyes and took a jerky turn down a narrow alley, walking purposefully ahead, but making no noise or move to call for her dog. Her shoulders sloped into two perfect arched hills, trembling slightly.
“Wait,” Mia chased after her, “it’s only been a night, dogs come back from much longer trips than this.”
The waitress put her face in her hands, “it’s my fault.” She said, voice wobbling, “it’s all my fucking fault. I left the door open.”
Mia reached out toward her, suddenly unsure of what to do. “Anyone could do that. We can fix it.”
The waitress sniffed and shook her head violently, “I was yelling on the phone. She hates when I yell, and her dinner was late. I should have known this would happen! She deserves better, I can’t even keep one fucking thing right.” Her voice was wet now and heavy.
Mia risked putting her hand on the other woman’s shoulder, “hey, hey now,” she spoke softly, as if to not to spook a frightened deer. “I’m sure she knows you love her, and it was just a bad night. I’m sure she wants to come home.”
The waitress made a tiny, hiccuping sound and turned her large hazel eyes on her, watery and full. “I promised her I’d buy a place with a big yard by now. I promised, and,” she wiped at her face, “I lied. And kept lying and forgetting. And now she’s gone.”
Mia took a deep breath, “are carrying her leash? Or any of her things?”
The question seemed to surprise the waitress out of her self-pity, “any of her things?” Mia just nodded, the waitress reached into her pocket and produced a yellow collar. “I take her collar off when we’re at home since she hates wearing it.”
Misery was apparent in the waitress's tone.
“Okay,” Mia centered herself, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath in through her nose. “Alright.”
She also shouldn’t do this; it wasn’t something she allowed herself to do. Mia tolerated the wolf when it forced itself out once a month but tolerating and tapping into were two different things. This was fraternizing with hostile forces.
Mia’s sense of smell was already acute, but this was going take something fantastical.
She couldn’t "turn" in broad daylight like this, but the full moon was simmering just above, barely contained by the blanket of silky blue sky. Mia could feel the cool, surging power latent in her veins. Just a little, she told herself, just enough for this.
Her sense of smell piqued all at once, sensations rushing in like a floodgate being opened and storming the fort. Everything came into focus, the coffee shop next door brewing bitter smells, the lady down the street lathering her hands with coconut lotion, old meats, rotten fruits, sneakers.
She reeled back, taking a step toward the walls and clutching her chest. Mia quickly collected herself, took the collar in hand, and lifted it to her nose, taking a deep breath.
“This way.” She started walking decisively back toward the street, not sparing a look toward the waitress.
“Wait,” the other woman stumbled after her, “where are you going?”
“Follow me,” she said, “we’re going to find your dog.” She glanced over her shoulder and wet her lips, “trust me.”
≿————- ❈ ————-≾
Lionel had no idea what she was doing. She had no idea what she was doing last night when she yelled at her credit card company for an hour and no idea what she was doing when she called into work that morning for a "personal day." She never took work off.
She couldn’t lose Honey Cakes though, she just couldn’t.
The "five am woman" was back, Mia, and Lionel was watching her wide shoulders as she strode fixedly down the street. Her short hair was styled now, sides cropped short and bangs smoothed back, she was wearing pressed, clean clothes that flattered her sturdy figure.
Her skin was moon-bright under all the mud Lionel had seen coating her before. She had a mole on her chin and clear blue eyes in the daytime.
She cleaned up nicely.
Lionel, however, did not. She was fully aware that she was in her “lazy day robe” and her nose was no doubt still leaking, it couldn’t have been a worse day.
“No, I’m serious,” she spoke to the other woman’s back as they strode out of town, “where are we going?”
Mia didn’t look back, “we’re getting close.”
They left the main street and passed the last few houses in the town of Nolan, population 1,022. The rest of the houses clustered farther back and further out.
They were on bare road soon, where the sidewalk disappeared, and the world stretched out into trees, old tires, and white shacks in the distance that hosted scavengers and drug deals. Lionel followed mutely behind, she didn’t like crying, she liked it less when it was in front of other people.
“So,” Mia spoke up gently, “when did you get Honey Cakes?”
Lionel ducked her head down. “When my grandma died.” She said without inflection, “My brother thought it would cheer the family up… and then she just became my dog.”
Mia looked over her shoulder and nodded, “what’s she like?”
“Terrible,” Lionel rubbed her face, “but she’s so sweet I forgive her for chewing up all my good shoes anyway.”
Mia chuckled and looked down at Lionel’s bare feet, her face flushed slightly. “Would you believe me if I said a dog got rid of all my shoes too?” She smoothed her hair back, “twinsies.”
Lionel couldn’t help but grow a small smile, “why do you think I let you in? Kindred spirits.”
Mia laughed, a round and full sound. “I’m not sure about that.” She paused, “but I would like to help.”
Lionel became somehow even more perplexed, where are we going?
“I’m trusting you,” she said slowly, “I don’t follow just anyone out into uninhabited areas without my phone on me.”
Mia’s back muscles bunched together, “it’s not uninhabited,” she pointed ahead, “there, that’s what I thought.”
A stray mechanics shop appeared just around the corner, white with two garages and a tiny office attached to the side. It probably serviced the locals and whoever was unlucky enough to break down out here.
“Well I’ll be damned,” Lionel sped up, “and you think she’s…?”
Mia just nodded, “see? Trustworthy.”
Lionel lit up, heart suddenly lifting for the first time that day. “If she is really here…” She said slowly, “will you trust me too?”
Mia frowned, “what do you mean?”
Lionel lifted her head, “my name is Lionel by the way. Lionel Campbell.”
“Oh,” Mia smiled, her entire face stretching into an enchanting excitable thing. “Oh, that’s a great name.”
Lionel shifted in place, “Xena is better.”
Mia shook her head, “completely not. I love lions.”
“And not dogs?”
Mia looked ahead, “Maybe some dogs.”
Lionel looked ahead too as the mechanics shop approached like a mirage, she was about to prompt Mia again, but a stray bark coursed through the air. A familiar high-pitched sound that was equally fussy and warm.
“Honey Cakes?” She called carefully, and then she heard another bark, “Honey-Honey!”
She started running as she saw the face of a floppy-eared brown and yellow dog stick her head up in the office window. “Girl!” Lionel was sprinting toward the door, hands outstretched, another bark followed.
They had found her dog.
— ❈ —
The mechanic had found Honey Cakes wandering by the side of the road the night before, seemingly turned around and confused. He brought her to his shop and gave her some food and water, he had planned to bring her to the nearest shelter the next day. Lionel had gotten there just in time.
Honey Cakes jumped up on her the second the door opened, and she wrapped her arms around the dog, “I missed you too!” She could have cried again.
She thanked the mechanic and put the collar back on her happy, dumb dog. Honey Cakes ran around in circles and barked at her, tongue out. It was a muggy warm day, but it somehow felt lighter than ever.
Afterward, Lionel, Mia, and the dog retreated toward the wild green grass near the shop, sitting down in a field to rub the dog’s belly.
“Thank you,” Lionel gushed again, “I would have never found her if that mechanic had drove her all the way to the shelter in Edward’s Town.”
Mia wasn’t looking at her, staring off into the distance instead, “no problem.” She grinned, “Lionel.”
Lionel stretched out across the thick grass, still petting her shaggy friend. “Well you’ve got my name now.” She steadied her gaze, “what’s your magic trick?”
Mia turned in profile, angling her head slightly toward her, expression blank, “what do you mean?”
Lionel leaned forward like it was a secret, “how’d you find my dog?” Her eyes went wide, “are you psychic?”
Mia chuckled, but it wasn’t exactly a happy sound. “You got me,” she lay back down in the grass, stretching out spread eagle and bathing in the sheets of sunshine. “I’m psychic.”
Lionel turned over on her side to face her, “A psychic who sniffs things and follows their tracks?” She said quietly, “and always shows up during the full moon covered in dirt?”
Mia glanced back at her, eyes filling with panic and brow denting inward. “Lionel…”
Lionel just shook her head, crawling up closer to her. “I never listened much to rumors and newscasters.” She spoke ever so softly, “it’s not my business.” She gave her a smile, a real one, “all I know is that you found my dog.”
Mia shifted away from her, she didn’t seem to be breathing. “It isn’t...I.”
Lionel reached out, clamping down around the other woman’s arm, “where are you from, really?”
Lionel just nodded, “Good. How do you like Nolan so far?”
Mia relaxed, just ever so slightly. “Well.” She said simply, words slow and pointed. “Best service I’ve gotten anywhere so far.”
Lionel rolled her eyes spectacularly, “Careful,” she said dangerously, “Honey Cakes could get the wrong idea. She bites people who she thinks are even close to flirting with me. A real puritan like that.”
“It’s okay,” Mia scratched the sprawling Honey Cakes behind the ears, “I have a way with dogs.”
Lionel ducked her head down, a flush creeping up her neck. This isn’t good, she swallowed. “So, what do you do, Mia? Dog whispering?”
“God no,” Mia sniffed, “Freelance coding, but I’m hoping to switch jobs when I, you know, grow up. Past thirty I’m thinking. Maybe forty.”
Lionel laughed, spirits lifting, “and what would you like to be when you grow up?"
Mia's eyes gleamed impishly, “I’m thinking tiny foods food blogger or custom shoelace knitter, that sort of thing.”
“Something practical,” she nodded solemnly.
Mia grinned so wide it looked like it might eat her face, “butterfly-dust expert maybe, professional harmonica tuner, wild hamster tamer.”
Lionel giggled, actually giggled, "that's what I was gonna guess! You took mine."
They snickered together, and something was so light in the air it felt like it might burst. Honey Cakes didn’t even try and bite the new girl, not that she ever would.
≿————- ❈ ————-≾
Lionel still didn’t know what she was doing, but something about this had become increasingly right. Increasingly like something she couldn’t escape and didn’t want to. The minute hand had ticked forward.
It was the end of her shift on a Friday, she kept glancing out the windows and checking the streets. Tilda was examining her, “why are you so jittery, Li?” She poked her as they passed each other, “this from the quitting? I’m with you there, Brad won’t even look at me if I sneak one nowadays.”
“No,” Lionel kept her eyes on the window, “it’s nothing."
“Nothing,” Tilda just grinned with her bright red knowing smile.
Lionel wrinkled her nose, “this is normal.” She looked out the door again, “I’m acting normal.” Her expression softened, the sun was far in the sky and it would only be twenty more minutes, she's coming.
Tilda laughed like aluminum foil being crinkled, “damn. I knew Mikey said you were smiling more, but I’ll have whatever stuff you’re on now.”
Lionel rolled her eyes, picking up a stack of dirty plates. “It’s called a good work attitude.” She turned on her heels, “try it.”
Tilda laughed again, huge and exuberant, Lionel had a weird notion she would miss that if she ever did manage to leave.
Another fifteen minutes passed, Lionel’s heart had moved into her throat and the world was turning in slow motion. Somehow, she didn’t mind.
She felt like she was giving herself whiplash turning each time the door dinged, she was only finally right the fiftieth time. A woman came through the door wearing a pair of slacks, oxfords, and a clean purple shirt buttoned to her throat, she smiled with all her teeth.
Mia was holding an array of flowers and a small box. “Hey.” She said gently and Lionel hurried over.
“I’ve got five minutes left,” she whispered, “but I don’t think they’ll notice.” Mia tilted her head to the side.
“Take your time,” there was something reserved in Mia's tone, her voice deep and sending a shiver down Lionel’s spine.
“Take a table, anywhere.” She ran to the back room to sign out, proper hours be damned. This was close enough.
“Is that what this was about?” Tilda commented, she still had five hours left in her shift and was a little grumpy for it. She squinted at the young woman seated in a middle booth.
Lionel just shook her head, “no judging. It’s not about anything.” She grinned so widely it felt like it might hurt, she winked. “Yet.”
“I ain’t one to judge," Tilda said loosely, "the lord made girl’s like that to tempt nun’s themselves.” She waved a hand in the air and snorted, “it’s a step-up from Rickey, I’ll give you that. This one actually know their way around a downstairs department store?”
“Oh my God,” Lionel threw her apron into her purse, “I’ll see you later Tilda.” She waved, “Tell Mikey absolutely nothing is happening.”
“He thinks that girl is a demon or something.”
“I know!” She ran through the door, “not even close.” Tilda was just laughing again.
Lionel darted up to Mia's table with wings on her heels, “Come on.” She came grabbed for Mia’s left hand, “Let’s get out of here. There’s a farmer’s market in Edward’s today, Edwards! I’ll pay for the gas.”
“Wait,” Mia said stiltedly, the reserved tone was back. “Wait. Just a moment. I wanted to… well, I have this for you.”
Lionel blinked a couple times, “Ah, Mia,” she grinned, “you know I love flowers, but I’m running out of vases. I’ll be filling the bathtub with them soon.”
Mia shook her head, and suddenly Lionel recognized the diving sadness behind her gaze. “Want to sit for a moment?”
Lionel frowned and folded into the booth across from her, heart sinking. This was supposed to be the day. After a few dinner’s out at other restaurants and a trip to the fair Lionel had decided it had been long enough, she was ready to kiss a wolf.
But maybe Mia knew that.
“What is it?” She held herself perfectly still.
Mia looked at her hands, tapping her short nails on the table. “Open this.” She passed a present to Lionel, it was elaborately wrapped in shiny blue wrapping paper and the bow on top might as well have been a work of art onto itself. Uh-oh.
Lionel hesitantly took the box, she picked at the ribbon on the top tepidly, then she put it down again. “No,” she lifted her chin up, “I won’t.”
Mia’s eyes went wide, a half-hearted smile followed, “I promise it’s not a dead bird or something.” She said delicately, “I’m not actually that much like Honey Cakes.”
Lionel shook her head, “I know what this is.” She huffed, “and I’m not having it.”
“What is it?” Mia blinked rapidly and then sighed.
Lionel made a face, “it’s only been a few months,” she whispered, “passing through should take longer than that I say. A little longer. I have an uncle who’s been passing through here since ‘75.”
Mia’s head fell, broken down on the spot, she looked away. “You’re too smart for your own good.”
“I know a going-away present when I see one.” Lionel made a face at her, “I suppose you were hoping I was an idiot.”
“No!” Mia squirmed in place, “it’s one of those things I really like about you... it just makes this so much harder.”
“Then don’t do it,” Lionel swiftly looked toward the road outside.
Mia sighed, reaching for Lionel’s hand and taking it. She stroked the top of Lionel's hand with her thumb, “don’t worry.” She whispered, “your life will be better for it. Wolves… are carnivores. They eat everything good whole."
“They’re pack animals too,” Lionel took her hand back and looked down at her lap, “are you just going to keep being alone after this? Is that really better than being with…” She hummed for a long moment, “you know.”
She looked up just in time to see Mia bow her head, “nothing would be better than that.” She reached for her again, “but we can’t.”
Lionel’s pulse spiked, I can't do this, it was too much, she couldn’t. She sprang to her feet, hopping up and slipping out of the booth and dashing for the door. She ran out into the parking lot and took deep gasping breaths. “Goddammit.”
Mia ran after her, “Lionel.” She called desperately. “Lionel, you know what I am. You already guessed a long time ago; I have a target on my back.”
“So?” Lionel looked up at the puffy white clouds and gritted her teeth.
“Wolves are bad news. Lone one’s are even worse…” Mia struggled with her words. “I have to keep moving. There are hunters, and other packs. I didn’t mean for this to happen.”
Lionel turned, slowly, carefully, around. “But it happened.” She whispered, “you really want to go back?”
Mia shook, barely moving at all. “I can’t do it to you. I can’t, it’s not a stable life.”
Lionel’s hair tickled her shoulder tops as she moved, “fuck stable.” She took a bold step toward her, “I let you into my restaurant, all grubby and sad-looking. Let me in now.”
Mia didn’t move back, “God, this is hard.” She murmured, “I won’t be able to replace any of it you know.” Her brow dented, “you, arguing with telemarketers, cooking everything with that weird cheese, yelling at the TV. I won’t be able to replace it.”
Lionel put her hands out, “then don’t.”
Lionel crept closer and Mia didn’t pull away, her expression softened. Lionel slowly rested her arms around Mia’s neck, inhaling her earthy scent and drinking in her clear eyes, Mia let her. It was bright out, bright and heart-pounding, but Lionel found a way forward, moving their faces so close together it stung.
Mia put a hand through Lionel’s hair and her breath tickled her cheek. “You might regret this.”
Lionel shrugged, “try me.”
And then they came together, golden and impossible. She kissed her, a sugar rush of lips and firm touches, they had been waiting for this. Mia’s fingers pressed into her waist and drew her close, kissing like an undertow with no ground to catch yourself on.
Lionel kissed back, hungry and soft for it, soft with the warm breathy sighs and movements and all the things she hadn’t hoped for. She got lost in the heady world of a girl and something she didn’t know was possible.
She was new again.
≿————- ❈ ————-≾
Mia drew one last thing on a receipt for the diner: thanks for everything. I’ll return her in one piece.
Lionel added something as well: I won’t.
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