Monday, June 11, 2012
Have It Your Way
(Sorry, folks. The flash I meant to do today, Miss Elly’s answer to Vernon’s proposal, wouldn’t work for me, so instead you get the care and feeding of dragons. Once again a story decided to blindside me. All the stuff I’ve got in my queue and the one that wants to get written right now is Jase and Burne’s story. What can you do? I’ll get to the big announcement next week, swear to Cas.)
Jase had always considered himself a spontaneous—less generous members of his family labeled him “impulsive”—sort of person, but once he started dating Burne he got a massive crash course in definitions. Dragons lived by impulse, indulging their whims at will. They could shift into creatures the size of City Hall and blast fire hot enough to melt the faces off Mount Rushmore. Who was going to stop them?
They were strolling through the town square when they passed a sandwich shop. “I’m hungry,” Burne announced, and swerved right into the shop without breaking stride. Jase darted after him.
Burne had already reached the counter and was giving his order to the flustered, acne’d clerk. “Roast beef, raw and dripping. Also drippy tomatoes. I like to lick the juices off my skin. No onions or lettuce. I can’t abide lettuce, and onions make me belch. You don’t want to make me belch. Don’t bother to toast the roll, I’ll see to that myself.” Belatedly, he remembered Jase. “What would you like?”
“Um … ” Jase trailed off pointedly. Getting no help from his disapproving expression, Burne turned back to the pimply clerk. “Is there a problem? It’s your job to serve us our food when we’re hungry, correct?”
“Uh, yes, sir, that’s true, sir, but there are other customers ahead of you. Please go to the back of the line.”
“There are?” Burne turned around, and grunted at the sight of the half-dozen humans he’d displaced. He appeared honestly surprised at their presence. Knowing Burne, Jase thought, he had probably spotted them, assessed their threat status as nil, and forgotten them in the five strides it took him to walk from the door to the counter.
“C’mon,” Jase said, and took Burne’s arm. “It’s not that big of a wait.”
Burne shook him off. “They don’t mind.” He lowered his voice to an ominous rumble to address the cattle behind him. “Do you?”
The humans shook their heads violently and assured him no indeed, go ahead, they were in no rush. Except for one. The elderly woman with the mahogany cane stood her ground. “See here, young man. You don’t go barging in and cutting in line. It’s not polite. I was here first.”
She whacked him with her cane. “So move your ass to the back of the line before I tan it for you, you snotty prick.”
Great, Jase thought. Now he’d have to practice his rusty herding skills and get six-feet-eight-inches worth of affronted dragon out of the sandwich shop before he burned the place down.
To his astonishment, Burne backed off. With deference. Jase hadn’t known dragons could do deference. “Of course, madam.” He whirled on the clerk. “Were you preparing this lady’s sandwich? Then get to it! What’s the matter with you?”
He stepped aside to grant the woman access to the counter. She hobbled past him, muttering, “Snotty prick” under her breath.
The rest of the customers seemed content to huddle against the wall. Maybe the wisps of dark smoke curling out of Burne’s nostrils had something to do with that.
“So,” Jase murmured, “Why isn’t she cinders?”
“You want me to challenge her? Are you insane? That’s a queen dragon.”
Jase eyed the elderly woman doubtfully. She was currently berating the hapless clerk. Something to do with mayonnaise. Jase himself stood barely five-eight, and he still topped her by a healthy margin. “She’s a dragon?”
“I think so. She’s certainly got the attitude, and the fire.” Burne shrugged minutely. “The old ones are adept at disguising themselves. It’s best not to take any chances.”
“So the big, tough fire-breathing dragon takes orders from a little old lady.”
“The females have ruled our breed since the beginning of time.” Burne downed a hard swallow. “They’re bigger than we are.”
The woman snatched her sandwich from the clerk. She brandished her cane at Burne. He hurried to the door to hold it for her. “You’d better get yourself some manners, young man,” she snapped as a parting line. He smiled and nodded politely.
With the queen attended to, Burne returned to the counter to oversee the creation of his own lunch. Jase assured him he wasn’t hungry. Burne took the bag and paid with a gold coin. The clerk gawped at it, his pimples standing out in stark relief against his pallid skin. “Keep the change,” Burne said carelessly. The other customers remained against the wall until Burne and Jase were safely back on the sidewalk.
“So much trouble, just to get a sandwich. This is why we employ cooks. I hope he didn’t toast the roll. I like it just a little crispy. Are you sure you don’t want anything? French fries?”
“I graze all day long. I’ll get an apple at the grocer’s or something.”
But Burne wasn’t listening. He was glaring at his sandwich. Little tongues of flame licked from his flaring nostrils. “The idiot! He put lettuce on it! I told him no lettuce!”
“Give it here.” Jase tugged the offending greens free and popped them into his mouth. “Tell you what: how about from now on we eat in?”