Natalie peered around the corner, wondering how much longer she would have to wait before the bird’s murky song echoed through the halls and set her free.
The wizard colonel in charge of the palace was unaware of her existence, and that was the only thing saving her ass right now. Natalie crossed her fingers that he wouldn’t find out about her before it was too late.
The first notes trickled through the corridor, and Natalie blew her advantage by stepping out at just the right moment, right into the path of Wizard-Colonel Larkspur. Their eyes met, and as he raised an eyebrow, the fear in her expression made him realize that this was a person he needed to know more about.
“Seize her!” he commanded, and the first three guards behind him grabbed Natalie by her arms and waist before she could turn and run in a desperate bid for freedom. “Bring her to me.”
The guards somehow managed to march Natalie the four feet between them, and the wizard colonel reached out a finger and tipped her chip up so he could look deep into her eyes. The puzzlement cleared from his face in an instant, to be replaced by a loathing that even the guards behind him could feel. Natalie cringed at the hurtful gaze, fearing the worst was about to happen.
“Take her to the dungeon at once!” His voice trembled the slightest bit on the last word, and Natalie was the only one who caught it. Her heart lifted anew with fresh hope, and she cooperated with the guards tugging her along.
She looked back over her shoulder just once, and her timing was perfect enough to catch Larkspur mid-shudder.
Natalie began to smile as she stood a little straighter. Maybe things weren’t as bad as they seemed after all.
He leaned against the stair railing, shoulders hunched, hands fisted in his blue jean pockets. The overhead light was busted; the empty socket stared from the middle of its broken glass face.
The girl ran up the stairs on a mission. Hey stepped back just enough to let her pass, but kept watch on her beneath lowered eyelids. She wasn’t going anywhere that he found interesting.
He strolled down the breezeway to give her access to the stairway again when she was leaving. She wouldn’t meet his eyes, but he was used to that.
She sat at the bar, the dimness blanketing her with its soft cushion of comfort, her finger sliding sensuously around the rim of the double old-fashioned glass resting before her. She looked to her left, and then to her right. No likely candidates in sight.
She sighed, and slid her glass toward the bartender, who had magically appeared at just the moment her glass became empty.
“I’ll have another, please,” she said, pitching her voice just loud enough for him to hear her, but not loud enough to draw too much attention to herself.
The bartender nodded, and returned with a fresh Crown and Coke for her. He nodded at her, accepting the bill she passed him without comment.
“Keep it,” she nodded back at him.
He turned to serve the next customer.
She leaned back from her precarious perch on the bar stool, almost too far. Her leg jerked, and she caught herself at the last second. She slid from the stool onto her own two feet, on solid ground once again.
She failed to note the bartender watching her out of the corner of his eye.
Her right foot slipped on the wet bar floor, and in her panic to grab the edge of the bar, she nearly knocked her full glass over, but this time, she missed it.
Finally somewhat steady again, she reached for her drink, to take a sip or to toss the whole thing back, she wasn’t sure yet. An inch above the bar surface, her grip loosened, and she dropped the glass, spraying whiskey and soda everywhere.
Her eyes widened, and then she threw her head back and laughed heartily.
“I’ll have another!” She cried to the bartender, heedless now of the volume of her voice. He shook his head at her as he mopped up her drink. She cocked her own in momentary confusion before realizing that this was it.
She’d been cut off.
The shame stayed with her for days, and she couldn’t bring herself to return to that bar for a full week this time.
To tell you about what happened at work tonight. I swear I will. Even if you forget to remind me.
It was one of the most surreal experiences of my life to date.
Tilly woke frantic, struggling to kick out from underneath the covers. When she was finally out of bed, she realized that it was all a dream. She didn’t even have a donkey, let alone one that was capable of operating a submarine and shooting torpedoes at the Empire State Building.
Marlon and Marion held their violet frothy drinks aloft and clinked glasses.
“To us!” Marlon cried.
“To vacation!” Marion corrected him.
Marlon laughed and nodded at her as he took a long sip from his glass, nosing the paper umbrella out of the way. “Remember that time your parents took us to Disneyland and the pilot invited us into the cockpit to have a look, because we were seven and what seven-year-old wouldn’t love that? This island reminds me of that trip. Isn’t that weird?”
Marion set her drink down on the bar. “It should sound weird, but it’s not. Now that’s weird. I was thinking of the same trip just now, although probably for a completely different reason.” She gestured towards a couple having an argument between the bar and the beach. “Those two remind me of my parents. So loveless, not a thought for the chase anymore, only for the end of their marriage.”
“Wow.” Marlon took another heavy slug from his glass. “That’s almost a sobering thought.” He winked at Marion. “But we’re on vacation, girl, there’s no need to dredge up painful memories. I know your parents had their problems, but everyone does. Except us, except today. Bartender?”
The bartender looked their way, and Marlon waved his near-empty glass. The bartender nodded as Marlon raised a peace sign in his direction. Within seconds, the second round was in front of the pair of old friends.
Marion added her first straw to the second glass, and stirred thoughtfully. “I know we’re on vacation, Mar, but I can’t help but think about all the bad things that we’re missing back at home. All the annoyance that’s waiting on us when we get back to work.” She twitched the hem of her white tennis skirt into a straight line across her knees. “The Huntress is going to have it in for us for coming back with a tan when she’s been stuck there, you know that.”
“I don’t know why she has that nickname. It doesn’t make any sense. She doesn’t hunt, she has all her intel brought to her by the office snitch. And besides, it’s her own fault she doesn’t use her vacation time properly. Drink up.” Marlon led by example and waved the bartender down again.
Marion shrugged and finished off her second drink. “Ouch!” Her hand flew to her forehead. “Sorry, brain freeze.” She squinted at Marlon. “Whew, it’s gone now. Where’s the next round?”
He laughed as the bartender set another pair of glasses before them. “It’s right here. Toast!” He raised his glass.
Marion matched his pose. “What are we drinking to this time?” she asked.
“To sunlight, to sea air, to beach life…to freedom from fax machines and rolling chairs and mail room clerks eager to get in someone’s pants. To drinking!” Marlon smiled broadly, and Marion couldn’t help but leave her worries behind and join his frivolity.