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Book 2 – Chapter 3 – Sealed For Your Protection – Part 1

Trisha, Ted, and I lounged patiently by the lobby’s finger-streaked windows watching airport taxis fight for space to unload, and as we suspected, Simon and Chet failed to show at 7:00, and 7:05 and 7:10. I left messages with both their answering services and we decided to hell with them. Trisha and I shared a list of restaurants from the con bag on the armrest between us, leaving no room for Ted to peek over so, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when he vanished.

After a quick reconnaissance, we tracked him down behind one of the wooden columns that hid water pipes or nuclear weapons in the lobby. He was chatting with Escaflowne, who was taller than I could jump, even without his Doc Martins, and had the stubble and tresses of a geekier, Scottish Fabio. “Yeah, I flew in today,” he was lamenting to Ted, “At the end of last year, I had a full week’s worth of vacation left they forced me to use. But we had a crunch on the server project, so I ended up counting my lunch breaks as vacation. I had to work ten hour shifts to take two hours off for lunch every day. I’m not doing that again.”

“Urgh,” Ted said, “I can’t believe they don’t let you roll it over. When I was at Synergistic, they were really flexible that way.”

“Are they still in business?” Escaflowne said.

“No, crashed in 2002,” Ted said, stoic as if it was gossip. He spotted us before we could interrupt him. “Have you figured where you want to eat yet?”

Fluttering the menu at him, I said, “I was thinking ‘Yumi’s’. They had the best sushi last time. Hey, ‘Flowne.”

Escaflowne put his hairy arms around me before I could explain this was a bad time. “What’s with this ‘hey’ business,” he said and squeezed me quick. Trisha tossed her hair to one side and winked, but he only shook her hand. “Hey Applewing,” he said, “I haven’t seen you in a while.”

“And yet, here I am,” she said.

I slipped between them. “We’re doing the dinner thing,” I said.

“I’m in the mood for Yumi’s,” Escaflowne said, “And I can drive. Who else is going?”

“Just us,” I said, “Simon and Chet were supposed to come but, you know, boys will be boys.”

Escaflowne crossed his eyes and pinched his tongue out in his weird parody of a kabuki actor. “Don’t those two ever stop?” he said.

I nudged Ted. “Is Yumi’s good for you?” I said.

“It’s fine,” he said.

Escaflowne had a rental parked several rows out in the overflow lot behind the hotel. With the balmy evening, out of the air-conditioning, I started to sweat. It must have been an aphrodisiac to Escaflowne by the way he stuck to my side. He matched my gait so perfectly, he became a huge phantom left that I couldn’t shake off. Ted and Trisha orbited close, too; not like they would sleep with him, but they were eager to divert his obvious animal heat into a nearby black hole if he wouldn’t share it. I tried head shakes and subtle pouts to reassure Trisha and drown out Escaflowne’s leaking thoughts of riding me cowgirl style, but she and Ted were too sensitive to pretend otherwise. Escaflowne let his affection flow freely, while Trisha, Ted and I, to some degree, bottled ours up lest our faces were splashed with it.

“Do you ever wonder what that green gak stuff from Nickelodeon was made from?” I said.

“Wasn’t that super-dyed oatmeal?” Ted said.

“I thought it was runnier than that,” Trisha said, “Like liquid latex, but stickier.”

“No, if you watch those episodes over again, you’ll see it’s chunky,” Ted said.

Eventually, Escaflowne was queasy enough that he lost step with me. I made sure to slip in the back seat of his gray rental while Ted rode shotgun. The suspension creaked and my seat belt didn’t stick. Escaflowne put on “Magic Carpet Ride” on the stereo while we orbited the hotel, hunting for a way out.

Our hunt for a parking spot on the highway side completely paid off when we stepped in the straw-yellow dining room of Yumi’s, laden with the subtle scent of clean fish. It was the best parts of the seashore filtered out, without the brine and seagull-dumped rotten oysters. The restaurant’s owner waited in the entrance, solemn as the nearby Lucky cat statue until he shouted, “[????]” in a quick community theater fashion, loud enough to raise my hackles and hide behind Trisha. He seated us at two wobbly tables pushed together near the busy kitchen.

We squinted over the tiny print on the menu cards. “I want the yellowtail,” I said, “What are you all in the mood for?”

“Yellowtail’s good,” Trisha said.

Escaflowne had picked up on my hints and chose the seat diagonal from me. His fingers swept over every item on the menu. “Yes,” he said.

“As long as you go dutch,” I said.

Ted pointed to a few custom platters which looked really yummy. After we passed our orders in, Trisha mentioned how Battrickson’s rant hadn’t affected the panel on non-reptilian dragons, but their conversation set off without me. They didn’t notice that a dazed Simon and Chet had arrived.

I waved them over to our corner, and the restaurant owner swept a third table to our chain. Simon plopped beside me, giddy with months of college stuffing shaken out of him. “Oh, you waited. Didn’t you?” He said, “I got your message. See, Chet? I told you.”

Chet wiggled his tush into the patent leather cushion across from Simon. “Cheryl’s forgiven me,” he said, “And so has Trisha. Haven’t you?”

“We ordered already,” Trisha said, “So there.”

Escaflowne leaned around Ted, who squeezed himself forward. “Chet,” Escaflowne said, “I want to go over some new descriptions for the MUCK with you sometime.”

Chet tapped the table with his chopsticks. “Oh, right,” he said, “I was meaning to get back to you on that.”

A bump echoed under Simon and Chet’s table; each one had snaked an arm under it. Simon noticed my wink but continued his clandestine rubdown which we all tried not to mention. Escaflowne described another of his doomed ventures to rattle the kelpie kids online who tore through culture like candy. Ted asked why he bothered but Escaflowne explained they saw reason occasionally.

Simon had his two cents ready to throw in, when a freckled string-bean boy cleared his throat behind Chet. His sleeves were tucked in around his shoulders, his square glasses were on his nose, and his haircut probably took a minute with electric trimmer. “Hey,” he said. Chet dropped his conversation like a lead brick, with a stare that said one of them owed the other money. Simon let his hand free under the table.

“Hey!” Chet said, “I didn’t know you were coming. Simon, this is Kendrick. Kendrick, Simon.”

Simon shook Kendrick’s hand gingerly. “Hey,” he said.

“Glad to meet you,” Kendrick said, “Yeah Chet, I got the weekend off after all. I came down with a few of the BAGLY guys. We finished up with the cultural festival last week.”

“That’s fantastic,” Chet said, “how did it go?”

Kendrick gave a harmless slacker shrug, but beamed like he’d caught a fresh mouse. “Really good,” he said, “Barrett got a bunch of the cops to sign on to his youth program.”

“Oh my God, I need to hear all about that,” Chet said.

A pile of boys had commandeered the table near the restrooms. “He came with me,” Kendrick said, pointing to them.

Chet pushed his chair back without waiting. “Would you mind if I run over there for a few?” he said.

Simon shook his head.

Chet stayed close across the dining room but never touched Kendrick, not unlike when Escaflowne had attached himself to me.

I whispered to Simon, “Who was that?”

Simon spoke so softly, I hardly understood him. “Chet’s other boyfriend,” he said, “Fuck buddies mostly, he says.”

The boys seemed to enjoy Chet’s company, so Simon and I lost ourselves in Escaflowne’s latest tale. Some gay high school kids had posted an illustration of them cuddling, which was consumed by a notorious straight boy forum. As always, Escaflowne set them right. Simon needed smelling salts to keep from glancing across the room where Chet was pounding the table in hysterics.

Our waitress brought the platters over in record time, and Trisha surprised her by asking for more wasabi. Ted plucked his sushi as if it was angel food cake, and I’ve never been that good with chopsticks. I nudged Simon. “You should tell him his food’s getting warm,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said but only lifted a few pieces of squid and poked at their tentacles.

I tapped Trisha. “You mind if I use the bathroom?” I said and she scooted aside to let me out. I slinked over to Kendrick’s table and bent next to Chet. “Just to let you know,” I said, “The food’s here.”

He stopped laughing and scrunched his eyebrows at me, utterly confused. Then his jaw dropped. “Thanks,” he said, “I completely forgot.” He hugged the boys goodbye and followed me to our table, offering a sheepish grin behind his palm to Simon.

Simon chewed his food slowly, and went back to his squid-staring. Chet folded a napkin on his lap and faced Simon. “I’m sorry about that,” he said.

“No biggie,” Simon said without looking up.

Trisha mentioned we had seen Nekopuff in the elevator and we spent the rest of dinner griping about the foibles of our favorite artists. Simon made eye contact with Chet eventually, and Chet managed a few giggles out of him. We never had enough to say about artists.

Categories: Book 2 - How Cheryl Lost Her Tail, Chapter 3 - Sealed For Your Protection.

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