“I believe you have a reservation under the name ‘Warner’.” Gareth smiled. The hostess looked up from her station. She caught her breath.
“Oh, Warner, yes. . . ” Smiling rather deliberately, she reached for the menus behind her. “Will you be needing some children’s menus for . . . “
The Warner party had taken her by surprise. It was rare to see people with children at the restaurant — especially for a seating at this hour. But then again, these didn’t quite look like children. The hostess was very young. Her nametag said “Kristal.”
Gareth looked down and to his left. There he was: Alichino, the one who gazed up at him through bloodshot eyes. Alichino turned his brooding, gray face towards the hostess station. He wheezed through his crooked, yellowed teeth. They were bared in a sneer. Spittle drained over his bottom lip. His large eyes glared. A long, hairy arm stretched upwards towards the toothpick dispenser as he whined in a soft, high-pitched warble.
Gently, Gareth caught Alichino’s hand. The toothpicks were saved. At least this distraction had kept Alichino from paying too much attention to Katie’s companion — the one they had met only an hour or so before. The car ride from her apartment had been an adventure.
“No,” Gareth shook his head, “I think we’ll just share plates, right Katie?”
Gareth glanced at Katie and smiled, embarrassedly. She was distracted, fighting to stay in place as Okumura yanked her back toward the front door. Kate held one of its tentacles and gently pulled. She dug in and tried softly consoling Okumura. The being’s bony, spiked exoskeleton expanded like an agitated puffer fish. Though it shook violently, it was — blessedly — almost silent.
Katie reached into her purse and pulled out a pair of embroidered oven mitts. Gently and slowly, she reached down and picked him or her up. Gareth assumed Okumura was female because it was pink, though Katie had only referred to it as “it”.
At the table, the foursome settled in. Other parties glanced at them, but without much interest. This was because they had the same situation: all of them, to one degree or another. Most were aware how difficult it was to get away together as a couple for an evening, especially for young people. There were some gestures of sympathy and irritation, but mainly just shrugs and nods.
“So, this is nice!” said Gareth, finally. Katie nodded and smiled. Gareth was at a loss for small-talk, so he cut to the chase. He really didn’t mean to get so personal so soon. “So you said online, uhh. . . .” Gareth almost reconsidered. “You said you were just getting over a . . . relationship?”
Katie smiled. “Yes,” she began — tentatively — but with a clear effort to be open with her feelings. “I’m taking it easy right now. Just trying to get over — well — Carl.” She shook her head and smiled wistfully. “We were together five . . .”
The highchair shook. Okumura’s giant, red cat-like eyes darted at her. There was the sound of a sudden, deep breath. Okumura instantly inflated by about a third again its previous size. Its bony protuberances rubbed against the highchair, making a destructive-sounding, scratching noise. Katie looked at it and then back at Gareth. There was an uncomfortable silence, then soft, awkward laughs.
“I think I need to use the ladies. I’ll be right back!” said Katie, trying to be cheerful. Gareth nodded. She put her potholders on again, then stood and carefully grasped Okumura. She needed to release the locking tray of the high-chair to extract it. She strode off in the distance, holding it before her as she said “excuse me” to the other guests.
Gareth watched Katie walking to the ladies’ room. He turned back towards Alichino, seated in the chair next to him. He had already ripped a hole in the white tablecloth and was poking his long and canchred red tongue through the hole suggestively. He looked at Gareth and hissed.
He lifted his head up and spoke through spittle. “You need to do her in the ass. Hard! Tonight. Tonight!”
Gareth looked away nervously.
photo credit: louis konstantinou via photopin cc