Maggie had to do a little dance in getting the table arrangements the way she wanted them.  I’d actually heard of it before at a friend’s wedding, where instead of just above and below the salt there’s some kind of superiourity awarded for being the ones closest to the bride and groom.  I presumed that in Maggie’s mind there was some kind of flowchart involved in who she sat where, so I just hung back and waited for an empty seat.

Seating five is always awkward, anyway.  I think the rule is pretend you’re seating six, and then take a chair away, but I’ve not yet worked at a restaurant.   When I finally grabbed a seat, I figured Maggie had balanced it right.  I sat at the head (or foot – knowing Maggie) of the table.  Maggie was on my left, and Doloise on my right.  Sylvia was on Maggie’s left and Matana on Doloise’s right.  I figured that about balanced cruelty and naïveté.  Who knows, maybe women keep some kind of scoreboard in their heads.  Or maybe she just wanted me farthest in the aisle so I’d be most likely to have someone trip over me.

“I do not drink wine,” Matana said, passing the list over to Mags.  I almost chuckled.  Actually, unless they were badly integrated, vampires could (and should) drink or eat anything their host could.   That was a little social signpost to see if a vampire had gone pulling too much from Outside; could they eat a hamburger meal from a fastfood joint without any real problems?  I quirked an eyebrow at Matana anyway, placing the passed wine list back on to the table.

“I am well in control of my hungers,” Matana said.  She seemed a little put out.

I didn’t have to imagine the Vampires Anonymous meetings as Wizard Pratchett already had.  (I wished again I could find out who had cursed him.)  Of course, in real life, people only really wear support ribbons when they were going on camera or other special functions.  I smiled.  “Just don’t bite Doloise.  She bites back.”

Doloise made a growl of assent.

“What’s the occasion?” I asked Mags after we ordered our food.  It was one of those waiters, you know, the kind that only listen to one person at the table, and that usually the one of the same gender.  I know it’s a hard job, but I didn’t understand that phenomenon.  I had been at meals where the chosen person had been a woman and no man could get in a word edgewise, even when the chosen woman had repeated the exact same thing I just did about my own order.   Oh well – I had to order for Doloise anyway.

Matana had chosen a salad.

“Matana is an exchange student from a coven back East,” Magda explained, “and we’re inducting Sylvia.  I figure anyone with the kind of control she had deserves a chance to develop the power.”  Sylvia smiled shyly.

“Exchange student?” I asked Matana.

“There are many ways to deal with the infection, my dear gentleman E.   I decided on a course of temperance, and so I learn techniques which flow with the laws of this place rather than the coldness Outside.”  She had beautiful, liquid eyes.  I believed her utterly.

Of course, then I glanced at Doloise, who had one hand playing idly with a fork and the other in a fist just under the table.  “Use the spoon,” I said.

She looked up at me.

“It hurts more.”

She dropped the fork and picked a spoon up instead.

“Sylvia, really, it’s nice to see you.”  I didn’t want to bring up any possible painful memories, so I was suddenly at a loss of what to say.  My back-up mouth kept working, though.  “Sure you’re going to learn the right things from the Mags?”

Maggie kicked me under the table.

“I do want to learn,” she said.  “I am a bit cautious as we are expected to take certain oaths before we are even told what the oaths will mean, but I am anxious to gain control.”  She pointed gently over to Matana.  “For example, I had guessed there was something special about ‘Tana, but I have figured out she’s a vampire from your uncoded language.  I am not sure about your…friend.”

“Doloise isn’t my friend,” the back-up brain said in a hurry.  Doloise leaned back.

“Indeed.  I am his guide and guardian.”

I knew that hurt studied-neutrality face.  I’d seen it on other women.  “That is, she is a friend, but that’s all it is.  Sorry, Doloise.  I didn’t want her to think you were anything…but what you are.”

“And of course, you are correct,” Doloise’s eyes were glowing softly inside her shades. “I am only what I am.”

“Doloise, let’s go take a powder break.  You do, do that, right?”  Maggie stood up and grabbed Doloise’s hand.  “Girls, don’t eat E alive.   We’ll be back in a minute.”

I looked at Sylvia and Matana while they stared at me.  “I know, I know.  It’s not even how I say it.”

Sylvia chuckled, and Matana sighed, shaking her head and smiling.  “You poor, poor man.”