Well, what a month it’s been. My oldest daughter had a birthday, I had a birthday. The children spent a week with their grandmother, and I–who was convinced this would be the greatest week I’d had in years–actually spent a large chunk of that time moping and wishing they were home. How pitiful is that? I was ashamed of myself. Almost as ashamed as I was when, the night Mr. Hubs delivered them to his mother, I actually was afraid to go to bed by myself, although in fairness I have to say that this is a big, old house, which makes lots of bizarre creaks and pings and noises in the night. Almost as ashamed as I was when I realized, at about nine o’clock that night, that with no husband or kids in the house I could watch whatever I wanted on TV and there I was watching Goodfellas on DVD for the millionth time. Not that there’s anything wrong with Goodfellas, of course–it’s one of my favorite movies, as evinced by my having seen it like a million times–but I can watch Goodfellas anytime I want when the kids are in bed or at school or whatever, whereas bad TV about plastic surgery disasters or documentaries about murders or whatever else only air at specific times and I usually never even find out they’re on.
Also, I was sick last weekend. Stomach bug or something, I don’t know, but it was awful.
What else? Hubs and I have been watching Twin Peaks and this Venezuelan soap opera called Eva Luna, which is dubbed in English. The dubbing is…interesting, I’ll just put it that way. But it’s fun. I wish my Spanish was better, because the telenovelas always look like the coolest things ever.
Anyway. Enough about dull things like me. I meant to post this last Friday (but again, sick, bleh) so here it is today: a little sneak peek from the newest short which will be part of the collection I’m hoping like hell to have out this month. (As usual, this isn’t copyedited so may change slightly when published.)
The Perfect Plate was a sort of overdressed greasy spoon, squeezed in between a dry cleaner and a dollar store in a bland-looking strip mall a few blocks away from Church headquarters. The food there pretty much sucked, but that didn’t matter. It wasn’t like Chess was going to eat anyway.
What mattered was that the place wasn’t in Downside, which made it a place she could meet Beulah for lunch without people noticing them together. Word that Bump’s Churchwitch was hanging out with the sister of his rival, Lex, would travel pretty fast; word that Terrible’s girlfriend was hanging out with Lex’s sister would travel even faster. Nobody would be happy about that.
It was a good thing she’d spent her entire life keeping secrets. Otherwise she might wonder if she was ever going to be able to just be honest with other people. Other people besides Terrible, at least.
Speaking of secrets…she dug her pillbox out of her bag, grabbed three Cepts from it, and choked them down dry before she got out of the car and made her way through the heavy, steamy heat toward the restaurant.
Ice-cold air blasted her the second she opened the door, instantly chilling the sweat on her skin. It took her eyes a second to adjust to the dim interior—well, dim compared to the sunlight outside, so bright it felt like an assault—to see Blue already there, lounging at one of the little tables in that elegantly lazy way she shared with Lex. Her white sleeveless top exposed bare golden-skinned shoulders; her hair was up in a perfect messy twist, and her black cigarette pants probably cost more than Chess’s base monthly salary.
She smiled when Chess sat down. “You’re late.”
“It’s only five past.”
“Five minutes late is still late.”
“Well, you’re still a bitch,” Chess said, “so I guess we’re even.”
“True.” Blue straightened in her chair and picked up the menu. “Are you eating? Am I actually going to see you consume food?”
Chess shook her head, just as the waitress arrived and they went through the whole dull just-a-Coke-no-really-just-a-Coke routine and Blue ordered one of those rich-girl salads that were mostly green Styrofoam and cost fifteen dollars.
“Busy at work?” Blue asked, when the waitress finally wandered off.
“No.” Damn, that came out kind of flat and cold, didn’t it? “It’s just, August is a really slow month. It’s been a really slow summer.”
Blue’s slightly raised eyebrows showed that she’d caught the lame repetitions of ‘really,’ and knew what they were hiding. “And I guess it doesn’t help that you’re not the most popular girl in the place these days.”
“I guess it doesn’t.” That was an understatement. Ever since Elder Griffin found out about the psychopomp hawk she’d killed and the illegal sigil she’d carved on Terrible’s chest to save his life, he’d been, well, less than enthusiastic about her.
To be fair, at least she was still alive. Both of those crimes were executable offenses, and if Elder Griffin had turned her in for them she wouldn’t have been sitting there whining to Blue. She wouldn’t even have been in the City of Eternity, the enormous cavern beneath the earth where the spirits of the dead wandered in endless silence. She’d be in the spirit prisons, her soul forced into solidity by electric current and tortured by fire and light and iron and whatever else the Church could think of to torture it with—and they were awfully inventive.
It was worth losing some income to stay alive and out of the City. It was worth losing every penny she had to keep Terrible alive; hell, if she had been busted and sent to spirit prison, that would have been worth it, too.
But it wasn’t the loss of income that depressed her. It was the loss of Elder Griffin himself. He’d been…he’d been her friend. More than her friend. He’d cared about her, helped her. Stood behind her. That had mattered more than she’d ever realized until the day it was gone, and it still made her chest feel hollow when she let herself think about it.
Which she didn’t want to do, any more than she wanted to talk about it for even one more second. “No big deal. How’s your thing, did you look at that place yesterday?”
A totally-not-fooled expression played over Blue’s face, but thankfully she let it drop before Chess could finish bracing herself. “I think it’s going to work, yeah. There’s enough space for all the girls to practice, and it’s not far from the school.” She hesitated. “The owner’s son asked me out.”
“Oh? What’s wrong with him?”
“I’m sure I’ll find out. Or, you know, Lex will, and he’ll tell me.”
The waitress arrived with their drinks. Good. Not only was Chess thirsty, but hearing Lex’s name, so casually, made her feel sick. It was as if a greenish lens of nausea had suddenly slid over everything. Not unusual, for thinking about him to make her feel…well, bad, but it was unusual for her to feel it so strongly.
The waitress—her name, according to the plastic tag on her white short-sleeved button-down, was Emma—didn’t look too hot, either. Or rather, she looked exactly too hot, as if she’d taken their orders and then zipped into a rubber suit and gone for a jog. Her dark hair was damp, her face flushed.
But she smiled to acknowledge their thanks, and seemed sprightly enough as she trotted off back toward the kitchen. Maybe she’d just been making out with the cook or something. Not Chess’s business, certainly, but at least it got her mind off Lex for a second and eased some of the queasy feeling. The Coke helped, too.
What really helped was the fact that her pills started to kick in, sending enough warm peace through her body that she didn’t blink when Blue asked, “Are you ever going to talk to him?”
Unfortunately, not blinking didn’t mean she didn’t still feel the hit, or that she had any idea what to say. “I don’t know.”
“It was just business. And he did warn you. He asked for your help and you said no, what was he supposed to do?”
Like what Lex had done to Terrible—trying to hire him, and then when Terrible refused, trying to have him killed—was the only reason she was pissed. It was the main reason, yes, but not the only reason at all. But then, Blue probably didn’t know about the rest of it, about Lex’s little “Too bad it ain’t in you to make that mean shit,” speech or how he’d almost destroyed everything for her just to prove he could. Somehow she doubted he’d told Blue about that, and she certainly wasn’t going to.
“Not what he did,” she said. “Kind of anything other than what he did, actually.”
Blue ignored that. “Look, I was pissed at him, too. I don’t blame you. But I know he feels bad about it.”
“I’m sure he spends hours crying from shame. Is this why you wanted to hang out today?”
“No. We just haven’t talked about it and I thought I’d—”
A blast of heat on Chess’s right side so hot it lifted her hair from her shoulder; screams erupted in the room, and Chess started moving. Fuck, what was that, had someone set off a bomb or—what the hell?
The waitress was on fire.
No, that wasn’t accurate. The waitress wasn’t on fire. The waitress was fire, a column of fire about a foot and a half in diameter that reached from the floor to the ceiling. Her unmoving black shape was barely visible through a wall of blue-orange, one arm extended like she’d been reaching for something.
It’ll be out as soon as I can get it out! It is coming along, so like I said I’m *very* hopeful for a release before the month ends. I’m hoping for the next Terrible novella to be out by the end of October, and a bunch of other stuff in the months to follow, too (including some all-new non-Downside stuff I’ve been working on), so I hope you’re as excited as I am.