Bright chrome rungs, static fluorescent lights, pale painted walls, white tiles, red carpet, marble, wood, laminate, and hundreds and hundreds of yards of manipulated fabric: soft, stiff, flowing, supported, beaded, laced, stitched, painted…
Ruby was getting a headache.
There was no denying that Arana knew what she wanted and where to find it, but the woman wanted options, so it wasn’t a simple hunt and pounce. It was hunt, pounce, turn over, pry, and walk away to repeat with another saleswoman, at another store, with another change room. They had been doing this for hours.
That was it. There were other priorities.
“We’re eating,” the tiny woman told her charge, marching up and placing a small hand on Arana’s wrist where it was tilting back another dress to consider.
Arana blinked at her. “Oh. I forgot. Sorry. Sure, let’s go get something to eat. Can we do it outside? I need a smoke anyway,” she said, a bit rambly for Arana.
“Yes,” Ruby all but pounced. “There’s a diner with a patio, half a block away.”
Arana smiled and patted her shoulder. “You should have said something sooner, dear,” she pointed out. “Anyway, we’re almost done, so we can finish up pretty quickly after we’ve eaten.” She turned toward the door, humming to herself briefly. “What time is it?”
“Four.” That may have come out rather sullen, but being called ‘dear’ dredged up an unpleasant memory. Fucking Triad.
The immortal glanced back at her, brows lifting at the tone. “Right. Well. Food. My treat,” she said, picking up her pace once they hit the streets. “You really should have said something sooner. I forget when I’m hungry sometimes.”
Shaking her head, Ruby moderated her inflections. “I’ve heard the stories,” she said, injecting some humour into her words. “And… all this has been… much,” the young woman admitted, blinking in the sunlight and slipping shades over her eyes.
“Mm,” was the noncommittal reply, as Arana slowed. She eyed the sign beside the cafe, then charged right inside and got in line, leaving Ruby to follow. “What did you want?”
Drifting in to stand beside the other woman, Ngai Mun scanned the menu on the board above the counter. “Roast beef sandwich, and soup. Oolong tea,” she added, spotting a blue haired girl at the cashier.
Arana’s gaze darted over the menu, then to the girl beside her, and she quirked a brow. She glanced back toward the front just as the cashier noticed them and brightened with recognition. Aaahh, they know each other. “Alright,” she agreed, as the person in front of them moved on, and they stepped up to the counter. Arana gave the woman a smile. “Hello.”
“Good afternoon,” the clerk greeted her. “What can I get you two?” She nodded to the redhead. “Yo.”
Ruby flashed her a tight smile.
Arana nodded to Ruby. “She wants roast beef and soup, and Oolong tea,” she said, smiling wryly. “I’d like a salad and regular iced tea, no sugar.” She tugged a wallet out of her back pocket and glanced at Ruby. “That all?”
The young sniper nodded, then let loose a short tangle of melodic syllables which made the woman on the other side of the counter grimace even as she rang up the change for Arana’s fifty. The clerk answered in kind and Ruby chuckled and shook her head.
“Sorry about that,” Sydney said to Arana, name plates were helpful things. “Ruby and I like to catch up on family gossip.”
Ruby cut her a sharp look, then shrugged.
“Please take a seat,” the woman continued, ignoring the redhead. “I’ll bring your food over as soon as it’s ready.”
The brunette nodded, brows lifting slightly. “Hm. Yes, of course, thank you.” She turned away. She hadn’t noticed at first, but there was a veritable bubble of protection around the girl. How interesting. Arana wondered if she knew it.
She stepped out onto the patio, tugged a seat out and sat, smiling at Ruby. “So! You two are friends?” she asked, feigning idle curiosity.
The tiny Asian nodded. “Family ties,” she said cautiously, obviously sifting through her thoughts for the correct phrases. “Obligations and honour.”
“Oh, I see,” Arana murmured, tugging out a pack of cigarettes. She smiled as she lit a stick, inhaled it and then released. “Oh, that’s better… shopping always stresses me out.” She grimaced.
Tilting her head, Ruby gave her a questioning look. “You seemed to enjoy it.”
Arana smiled wistfully. “Oh, I do… I used to shop all the time… well, when I was a child.” She shook her head. “You don’t seem to like it at all,” she added, a bit put out by the thought. She paused, gaze flicking over the immediate area. They were being watched, but… she couldn’t tell from where.
The other woman in contrast was completely at ease and shrugged lightly. “I order my clothing in from a military catalogue,” the sniper said without a thread of wistfulness, “and if I need civilian clothes, I just go in and grab what I need.”
“Boring,” Arana yawned. She shook her head. “Ah, but if that’s what suits you…” Where was it…? Somewhere… Arana turned her head slightly, glancing toward the door as if searching for a waitress bringing their food. She made a comment about just that, as her gaze darted to the side and–ha! There. Brat couldn’t hide from her!
“Some people have different priorities,” Ruby said easily, then nodded to Syd who was threading her way through the tables towards them. The redhead flicked a few fingers beside her thigh and the blue-haired woman lifted one shoulder in a shrug. No time for a chat today, and her charge wasn’t cleared for disclosure anyway.
Arana smiled at Sydney. “Who’s the boy in the corner?” she asked. (and in the corner, there was the distinct sound of someone choking on their tea.)
Warm brown eyes blinked as the woman turned to look in the direction of Arana’s finger. “Dunno, is he cute?”
Meanwhile, Ruby was putting a few facts together about what she knew about Syd’s stalker-turned-lover and bit down on a hiss. A few things about Arana abruptly fell into place too.
Arana didn’t even bother hiding her glance this time, and smirked at the brat turning beet red. “Yes, I suppose, in a tomato-esque way. I don’t think it’s healthy to be that red…”
She watched him drop his head onto the table, and chuckled.
Sighing, the blue-haired Syd shook her head and set out the plates and food. “If he’s bothering you, I can ask him to leave,” she offered. “We know about him, he won’t raise a fuss.”
Arana’s manner softened. “No, no, he isn’t bothering me at all. I was just fascinated. He really is a peculiarity.” She shook her head, then lifted a brow. “So he’s a good boy?”
A dark slim brow arched up. “Not really,” the woman answered blithely. “He’s been stalking me for months.”
Across from her, the sniper choked down a snicker and instead grabbed her sandwich and bit down.
Arana snorted. “Stalking you?” she echoed, baffled-amused.
“Yeah.” Sydney shrugged. “But as I said, he’ll go away if I ask him to.”
“Good,” Arana said with a nod. “Well, it was nice meeting you, kiddo. Expect a tip, mm?” She winked. “And I hear that garlic works to ward off stalkers. Or was that vampires…? I always confuse the two.” She waved a dismissive hand.
Ruby looked up from her late lunch and shook her head. “Pepper-spray,” she intoned wisely. Then paused. “Better yet, Gary.”
Syd reached over and poked the smaller woman in the shoulder. “He’s not that bad!” she said laughing, though whether she was referring to the stalker or ‘Gary’ it wasn’t clear. “Anyway, thank you for the advice.” She nodded to Arana. “If you need anything, just let me know. Enjoy!” And with that, she whisked back to the counter, detouring a bit to throw a balled up napkin at the boy in the corner. It bounced off the back of his spiky head.
He looked up from apparently trying to sink into the table, face completely red, and then scurried to his feet and followed her inside. Arana chuckled. “Ah, young love,” she said wistfully.
“Ah, food,” the sniper reminded her. “Eat. Medic’s orders.”
Arana blinked, and frowned at her. “You’ve been talking to Medic about my eating habits?”
“Eating habits?” The other woman gave her a skeptical look. “You don’t have habits. It’s obvious you only eat if someone else cooks for you. The doctor isn’t blind nor is he stupid. You don’t hide it.” She shrugged. “Besides, the food here is good.”
Arana frowned at her again, but dug into her salad.