Monday, October 10, 2011
Rollin' on the River
Chet sipped his coffee and swallowed hard, wiped pinkish sweat off his dark skin and roved his eyes once again around the coffee shop. She wasn’t coming. She’d chickened out. She was smarter than he was. Finish this cup, call it a night, and head back home to his life of unending solitude.
Why did he even listen to Sanjay? Personal ads never worked.
“Are you Chet?”
He nearly spit his coffee, but recovered just in time. He held the near-empty cup before him like a skimpy shield and studied the speaker over its rim. Blonde hair bright as sunshine with a smile to match, sky-blue eyes to go with the sunshine, and a figure skinny as a stick. He had to look twice to make sure she had breasts. “Connie?”
“Yeah. Hi.” She pulled up a chair and sat without waiting for an invitation. “Well,” she said brightly, “here we are.”
Chet set his cup down. “Yes. Here we are.”
“You nervous? Me too. I never answered a personal ad before. But geez, I saw ‘river horse’ and just had to, y’know? I mean, it’s not like there’s a ton of us around even under the best of conditions. Montana?” She snorted. “Forget it. All I’ve seen here is a seahorse, and he’s got two little kids and a girlfriend.”
“Would you like a cup of coffee?” Chet offered.
“Better not. I’m wired enough as it is. You know us. We have to keep moving or we die or something. Like sharks.” She trilled a little laugh. “I’m babbling, aren’t I?”
“I’m afraid so.”
She looked him straight in the eyes. “And you’re disappointed.”
“No! I mean, of course I’m not.” She continued to regard him with steady frankness. Chet sighed. “All right. I hoped you might be … bigger.”
“Yeah, I saw that in the ad. ‘Full-figured.’ Guess I missed the boat on that one.” Connie swept her hand up and down her skinny length. “Me, I like a man with meat on his bones.” She nodded at Chet. “You got that covered just fine.”
“You think so?” Chet said uncertainly. In a breed where bulk meant power, he’d always considered himself underweight. Clearly skinny Connie thought otherwise. “I could stand to gain a few pounds.”
“What for? You look great to me. I’ve tried adding blubber – these streams can get frosty. Never works. I eat and eat and it just burns off. Must be my metabolism.”
All right, that was just wrong. The sinister doubt that had been nagging at him since Connie showed up kicked him hard in the gut. “If you don’t mind my asking,” he said carefully, “what species are you again?”
“River horse. Like your ad said. You don’t know how excited I got when I saw that. I thought I was the only one out here. Well, me and the single dad.”
Chet shook his head. “No way you’re a hippo. Any hippo at your weight would be dead.”
“You’re a hippopotamus? How is that a – ” She cut herself off. “Oh. Right.” She laughed and slapped the table. Chet recoiled. “Greek. Imagine me missing the Greek thing.”
“‘River horse’ is our code,” Chet said. “It’s how we find each other. What did you think I was?”
“I thought you were a river horse, like me. We’re a subspecies of seahorse. When the merfolk moved inland to fresh water, they brought us along. That’s right, there wouldn’t be any of us where you’re from, would there? Or merfolk either. The crocodiles ate them all.”
“Damn crocs,” Chet agreed. “They’re the reason we prize bigness. When you live in the Nile, size matters.”
“Well, ain’t this a hoot.” Connie grinned at him. “So, Mr. Big-Bodied River Horse, what do we do now?”
Slowly, Chet grinned back. “Well, Miss Skinny-as-a-Stick River Horse, would you like to have dinner?”
“Sounds good. What did you have in mind?”
“The all-you-can-eat pasta bar over on Reynolds.”
Her sunny smile broadened to show off enormous teeth. Chet beamed back. No one would turn down a mate with healthy tusks. He rose to help her off her chair. Her new upright stance revealed the only fat on her frame. Chet whistled his appreciation. Baby got back.
“Maybe after dinner,” he suggested slyly, “We can go for a swim in the underground sea. I know a way in through the fountain.”
“You know about that? Cool. You’ll have to swim close to me, though. It gets cold down there, and I don’t have the insulation.”
“You leave it to me,” Chet said. Okay, so she was built like a stick. A man could get used to skinny. It wouldn’t kill him to shed a few inches in strategic areas. So far as he knew, there were no crocs in Talbot’s Peak, so why worry? He offered Connie his beefy arm and escorted her from the coffee shop.