I sighed.  Apparently, I had annoyed some sort of power and they had cursed me with the characterization “girls laugh at me.”  Could be worse.  Could be “smells like pork.”  Bacon’s good, but I already have a problem with attracting strays.

(As a sidepoint, the old adage that dogs are wary of power and cats preen against it is basically a good rule of thumb.  I know lots of canine familiars, but they’re naturally suspicious.  When I was a kid I just thought that they didn’t like me.  It made walking home alone from school kind of an unnerving experience.)

I pushed my fists against my forehead, rubbing that place where the edge of my hair meets the barer skin.  I can’t remember the name of that slice of anatomy right now… oh… scalp… but it’s a soothing gesture.  “I give up.  I can’t expect something that isn’t human to act that way, and I just don’t understand women.”

Sylvia laughed.

I was saved from having to say something else that would no doubt have continued to humiliate me in the eyes of the whole gender by the waiter coming back with some tapas I could distribute.   I asked for a refill of my soda and excused myself to use the men’s room.

I stared in the mirror for a few minutes before washing my hands.  Doloise wasn’t an albatross, exactly.  “Neither fish nor fowl,” I said.  Certainly not kosher, I decided, looking at the sink.  I kept telling myself I couldn’t get involved with her, but wasn’t I already living with her until she worked off her debt?  Neither of us were the type to sit and “talk about our relationship,” for sure.

I rubbed my chin.  Had Mags given me a clue to Matana’s nature when she suggested I shave, or was she just being difficult about the state of my dress? Or something else?  She was a woman – it could have been anything.

I decided I’d avoided my dinner companions as long as was polite and returned to my seat.  I had my refill.  Doloise and Magda had both made it back, and neither were obviously bleeding or burnt.  Maggie was breaking the bread, and Doloise was sipping at her iced tea.  She’d found a crayon somewhere and was idly decorating the paper table-covering with a pretty design of leaves and vines in periwinkle blue.

I insinuated myself into the conversation by asking what they’d been talking about while I was gone.  I’m smooth that way.  Very suave and humble, too, if you’ve forgotten.

“Matana is taking the semester off for these visits,” Sylvia explained, “but I have a full schedule.  I was going for pre-law, but I’m officially undeclared right now.”

“And Matana?” I asked, politely.

“No law for me.  I am not that much of a bloodsucker,” she suggested, wrapping her lips around the word by way of not laughing.  “I was in integrative physiology before they changed the name.”

I tried figuring it but she gave it to me.  “Exercise science.”  She waited for me to make the obvious joke.

“I thought adrenaline ruined the flavour,” I said, because it was expected.

She ignored me.  “I was studying the effects of exercise with the intent to see how it interacted with shapeshifting.  You don’t see a lot of  werewolves… with extra weight, but do they still need to take aerobics classes for their hearts?  What is the actual source of their enhanced strength, and can it improve through weight lifting or other programs?”  She smiled.  “It has been hard work sneaking that focus through, but I have a pretty liberal advisor who just thinks I have a strange sense of humour.  I was also on the track team.”

“Until?” Sylvia asked.

Matana just waved her hand towards her mouth.  “Until another opportunity interfered.  I do not regret it. ” She laughed. “I am a little short for it, anyway.”

“But you tried harder,” I suggested.

“Indeed,” she said, giving me a hard look.

Our plates had the courtesy of arriving at that point.  We passed the things we needed to pass around like we were adults who never made things go widdershins when the proper direction was clockwise.  Or something like that. We were doing a fine job at that when Doloise’s tea spilt across the table and into Matana’s lap.

Doloise did not get up and apologize, but both Maggie and I did.  Matana’s eyes were wide, and I could see there was a problem.  She scooted her chair back.

“I cannot get up.”

I hurried with the napkins while Sylvia called over a waitperson. “What’s wrong?”

“I seem to be stuck to the chair.”

Doloise started laughing.  Her design shone blue for just a second and I felt the -pop!- as it released, Matana making it up off her chair with a half-stumble and a frown.

“That is a petty charm,” she said to Doloise as she finished wiping off her lap.

“A moment’s freeze for the cold one,” she said.  Doloise stood up and asked the confused waiter, “May I have some more?”