“You’re late,” the man behind the counter proclaimed, and I nodded but didn’t meet his eyes just yet. While it was rude of me, I couldn’t stop staring at the guy’s nostrils. You could fit a quarter in those suckers–the large way. It was difficult to tell if he was flaring them on purpose in response to my irritating tardiness, or if they were stuck that way. When he took a deep breath, lifted his chin–which only enhanced my view because of my short stature–and relaxed his shoulders, his nostrils remained their impossible size. Bummer for him.
“I do apologize about that, Mr. Colville. I was delayed on my way here,” I replied, bowed my head slightly, and broke eye contact to appear properly put in my place. It also gave me a minute to take in the clothing boutique.
While it wasn’t a large store, and therefore not capable of providing an excessively lavish experience, there was a refreshment table, lovely racks holding the gorgeous clothes, a shoe and jewelry section, and a decent-looking dressing room in the back left corner. Not one that has curtains that don’t completely cover the doorways, so you’re always worried someone is seeing a sliver of your rear-end if they look through it; it had lovely dark-stained wooden doors. I caught sight of a price tag out the corner of my eye, did a mental double-take, then had to suppress a low whistle.
It was a little rich for my tastes, though most of the time anything outside of a thrift store was. Budgeting for bills and food didn’t leave much wiggle room for getting new clothes, though you could find some pretty nice stuff in thrift and secondhand stores–if you knew which parts of town to look in.
He gave a snide harrumph and I looked back up at him. His suit was tailored close to his scrawny frame, so he couldn’t completely cross his arms over his chest or he might rip a seam, and it took away from the stern stance he was presenting. Blond hair that was short on the sides and back, but long on the top, was combed toward the front to give him bangs. With an index finger he delicately brushed the bangs from in front of his ash-blue eyes, and brown marbled, thick-framed glasses with an index finger.
“It’s Sebastian, not Mr. Colville, and in the future I expect you to be here at least ten minutes early to review your work orders for the day with Kessa–she’s the head seamstress and she’ll be your direct boss,” he said, and peered at me over the brim of his glasses.
I’d been sewing most of my life, and I’d learned from my mother and grandmother. While most stores these days didn’t have tailoring services, you could usually find them in places like this, for which I was eternally grateful. I was a jack-of-all-trades, of sorts; learning skills as I needed them for new jobs, but I’d always been just a little better at sewing. Apparently, ‘getting into trouble,’ doesn’t count as a viable skill on a resume.
“Yes, sir,” I said, and nodded my head for good measure. He looked me over once again, a sneer curling the corner of his mouth, likely at my wardrobe choice. I did my best not to fidget, reminding myself I was used to the opinions of others coming down hard on my eccentric behavior and, at times, worn clothing. This is no different, I intoned, and I need the job.
I smiled in return to his narrowed eyes and doubtful sneer, and did my best to appear harmless…which might have worked if three large men hadn’t barreled right through the storefront window, quickly followed by two more.
Sebastian ducked behind that counter faster than rabbit darting into its warren. I dove behind a rack of clothing, thankful for its solid, if not pretentious, design, and waited. Adrenaline pounded through me, and I wasn’t sure how much more I could take of the ambushes today. It was getting stressful and weird–even for me.
“Where is she?” a voice growled, and I grimaced. See? Those damned Strixes were bad luck, and I had a sinking feeling I knew the ‘she’ they were after.
Sebastian spluttered, his tongue failing him, and a couple of the men emitted low growls that had the hair standing up on the back of my neck.
“Sh-sh-she wh-who?” he stuttered, finally capable of speech–unfortunately for me. Sebastian didn’t seem overly fond of me, and likely wouldn’t bat an eye at me being taken or killed in front of him. Damn it.
“The girl we know came in here–we can smell her,” the only one who had spoken so far, insisted.
Smell…and I almost thunked my head back on the wood of the rack. They were probably pack-mates of the guy who was eaten earlier, making them some kind of shifter or Were-animal. Yeesh, what rotten luck. It’s not as though I could stand up and explain what happened, that I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time–they’d probably still eat me, given their rage and bloodlust. I hadn’t seen any fur, but when shifters and Weres were this angry a change wasn’t far behind.
Before Sebastian could confirm or deny my suspicions on his character traits, sirens wailed in the background–close. An advantage of crossing one of those crazy wealth-poverty lines of the city, and being in such a hoity-toity part of town, was that the police response time was faster.
A couple of the men let out half-yell, half-howls, followed by a thunk when they dropped what I assumed was Sebastian, and glass crunched as they made their escape. I stood, still shaky, and met Sebastian’s wide eyes with my own.
“Get. Out. Now,” he ground out, and pointed emphatically at the ruined doorway and windows. His tanned skin was pale, and his shocky expression was morphing into something uber-pissed that even a Mountain Troll would be proud of. The front of his otherwise crisp shirt was wrinkled with a couple of broken buttons, from where they were probably holding him in the air, and I winced at the red markings around the base of his neck. It was hard to believe, though, but now that he was angry and truly flaring his nostrils, they were even bigger. Wonders never ceased.
I didn’t say anything, just nodded and carefully my way over the glass to leave the store before the police showed up. Last thing I needed was to be outed as a Mid by any Omnies that would show up, which was bound to happen due to the strength and strange behavior exhibited by the men.
Can’t go back to the apartment. I bit my lip, not a clue where to go, but headed right out of the store just as a crowd was gathering to gawk. I slipped by and made it around the corner just as a police car squealed to a halt in front of the boutique. Despite my predicament I could only sigh–more cup of noodles for me until I could find a job. At this rate, though, I might not live to see the next sunset, let alone my next meal. Some days it just doesn’t pay to get out of bed, in more ways than one.