The moon was out and, like an unholy bloodlust, her penchant for Hoity-Toity’s thick, rich, chocolate cake ribboned with three layers of frosting wouldn’t let her go. Ezzy checked her phone; she still had time, but they closed within the hour. She slid into sandals, threw her hair into a messy bun, and stepped outside fully prepared to be mugged of all cosmetic dignity by the southern lack of breeze. Instead, the crisp air of an eager and trespassing fall filled her lungs like a good omen.
“Esmerelda, the Chocolate Conquistadora,” she said out loud, lunging at her car door with the car key –
Her arms began flailing around her head like a clumsy Durga, where an affliction of mosquitoes made threats with their mouths and kept promises by aiming and plunging them like arrows into her bared arms, neck, and face. The gaping mouth of the scream was not an option.
Dashing into the compact, she slammed the door –
Two squishes, one splat, and two smacks later, she threw the vehicle into motion. Streetlights and shadows camouflaged confidence and doubt; both looked dubious. She scratched her forehead, her ankle, her hand. Two-minute old bites? Or new ones? Ezzy shuddered and ran a red light while checking the dash and her feet for lurking savage insects. She was halfway to Hoity-Toity when the truth was revealed by an abundance of streetlights at a major intersection. The little vampires were clinging to the gray roof fabric above her head. They were lined up by the dozen.
Durga manifested again. Ezzy slaughtered many with one eye on the stop light and one spasmodic eye everywhere else. Dots and dashes of smeared blood littered the windshield as the light turned green. She screamed, smacking her ankle with one hand, trying not to careen into the next vehicle with the other.
“Oh, come on! Kamikazes!”
Was the chocolate cake worth this? Worth Zika? West Nile Virus? God knows what?!
Her teeth were ground to a halt with the brakes, as she pulled up to the cafe and lurched out of the car. Had she a scalpel, she would have taken it to her own ankles, arms, and face; everything itched now. Still, the cool air had left her some dignity to maintain, so she threw her shoulders back and conducted a serious operation of mind-over-matter as she waited.
Three people waited ahead of her. She stood, chin high, a conquistadora, nonetheless; she had made it before closing despite her vile attackers. Her left hand laughed at her, catching her eye, betraying her escapades under the cover of night. Ezzy balled her fist, disgusted, and left the line to wash her own blood off of her hands.
The line was cleared by the time she returned. She would taste the golden nectar of sweet, brown success –
“I’d like a slice of the chocolate cake, please.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. We ran out of that earlier today. But we have...”
Esmerelda heard not another word. The room blurred. She might have known; the mosquitoes were a bad omen. Her nerves were kicking and screaming holes through her resolve, but her body stood dead with shock.
Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all? What sort of idiot said that! No. It was not better to have loved chocolate cake only to lose it – and that after a war with a bunch of fencing devils!
“That’s okay,” she said, when the woman stopped talking. It was the bleat of a lost sheep deflated in hunger.
She could not return home empty-handed. She had braved all manner of hypothetical ills and terrible unknowns. Might as well find second best. There was a pretty good brownie at Sugar’s…
The moon was sitting higher; everything would close soon. Small city problems. Ezzy left the guts on the windshield and took the fastest route she knew to the lower tier cafe ten blocks away.
“How dare you defy me!” Ezzy raised a fist in the parking lot under the camouflage of shadow. She knocked the shift into park and sank.
How much gas had she wasted now?
Feeling sick and depleted of blood and bread, she called Jess, Martin, and Chloe, seeking solace. No one answered. It was a Tuesday night. They all had classes tomorrow morning. She’d have to forgive them.
Skeeters’ OPEN sign flashed two blocks down. Ezzy rolled her eyes. The irony. But it was better than nothing. Maybe they had chocolate and maybe they didn’t, but they did have a pretty good mocha. It would have to suffice.
One other chic sat in the back, head in the books. Esmerelda walked straight up to the waiting barista.
“What can I get you?”
“Raspberry Mocha, please.”
“You got it. Can I get a name?”
“Okay, Ezzy. That’ll be $5.50.”
Highway robbery, she paid – to keep her dignity.
“It’ll be up shortly.”
She took the red bench near the front window. It was a surprisingly cozy spot. The music had to travel all the way from the back of the room; by the time it reached her, it was a pleasant drifter shrugging with knowing smiles. The stillness of the atmosphere stranded her with her own thoughts. A few moments later, she clutched the hot raspberry mocha like her last life-line to a descent night.
Then, he walked in. The guy she liked from fencing class: Robere.
He put a hand up like a Native American chief, acknowledging her presence but halting any other communication, as he walked past to place his order. Ezzy mirrored his swift action and pretended to be preoccupied with Tall, Dark, and Thick: Mr. Mocha.
She looked like a festival of hives, and she had not dressed for this. She had dressed for chocolate cake – far more forgiving than a crush.
She listened for his order like a two-timing stalker. Please don’t be a frappé, please don’t be a frappé, please don’t be a frappé… She just couldn’t respect any man who ordered frappés; it was a bad sign.
“Chocolate Chip Frappé,” she overheard him say.
“Hey. Ezzy, right?”
He sat down across from her at the table. She smiled and tried to pretend that she didn’t look like a strange case of the measles and that he didn’t look like an ocean-slaying, Atlantis-gilded, Herculean conquistador.
“Yeah. Robere, right?”
“You’re not studying?”
“No. I was running an errand.”
“What are you drinking?”
“Nice. You know they have a killer flourless chocolate cake here – if you’re into that sort of thing.”
Pre-packaged judgements blanched across Ezzy’s heart.
“Are you serious?”
“Oh yeah. It’s good – I mean, if you like chocolate.”
Was he nervous? Why was he nervous?
“I love chocolate,” she blurted.
“I’ll get you a slice,” he said, standing.
“Oh no, that’s okay,” Ezzy smiled. “I’m on a diet.”
Like as of right now this very minute: diet. What was chocolate cake in light of these new developments?
He snickered and shook his head. “You don’t need a diet.”
She shrugged and smiled like a conquistadora and watched him guzzle down half of a frappé. Silence hugged them; he didn’t seem to mind. Still, silence might shoo him away too soon, so she took up a new mission: conversation.
“So, I was thinking maybe bad omens are overrated. What do you think, Robere?”