This story is loosely (very loosely) based on a true story. It was written as a gift to a friend who requested a fluff piece with a little romance.
Claire put her wallet in her bag and checked her reflection again.
Claire put her wallet in her bag and checked her reflection again.
Her shirt was white, smooth but not stiff, just meeting the waist of her gray slacks. She fingered the collar. “A little too big,” she decided, closing her eyes tightly for a moment. When she opened them the collar was less severe and rounded at the points.
“Better,” she said over the butterflies in her stomach. She wasn’t fussing with her clothes because she was suddenly worried about her fashion sense. She was doing it so she’d stop thinking about the whole illusion slipping.
Usually appearance was easy for her, a quick thought in the morning and she had two arms, two legs, one head, and a modestly stylish outfit.
Ever since Harriet had asked her to dinner she’d been checking for tentacles every five minutes.
Not that tentacles were bad. She was very pleased with hers. They had shed into a lovely pearly white this year and every pair was smooth and flexible. Still, it wouldn’t do for Harriet to see them. Clayton wasn’t somewhere you went out with your tentacles showing. Harriet was open-minded for a human, but Claire was sure she’d run screaming if her date showed up with eight pairs of tentacles, no matter how nice the coloring was.
She gave herself another long look from reddish hair to sandaled feet. She bit her lip over the sandals, if she slipped it would be so noticeable — “Nope,” she told herself, shaking her head. “Enough of that or you’ll be,” she glanced at the clock, “late. Shit!”
Fifteen minutes late. She barely stopped to lock the door in her rush to the car.
She made it to the tiny sushi restaurant tucked in next to the grocery store in seven minutes flat.
She could see Harriet inside as she got out of the car. The tall woman was frowning, her long arms crossed over her chest. Claire knew that was human for mad on any day. She sighed and hitched a contrite look onto her face. “Sorry I’m late,” she said as soon as she cleared the door.
Harriet turned, still frowning until she spotted Claire. Then her face broke into a brilliant smile. “They haven’t got a table for us yet anyway,” she said uncrossing her arms and pulling Claire into a hug.
Claire returned the hug enthusiastically, her morphed clothes were as sensitive as skin and it felt nice to hold Harriet. At least until she felt her leg start to shake. Claire backed away abruptly with a fearful glance at her foot. It shimmered into a thick curl of tentacle for a dizzying second and then back to pale flesh with five toes. “Did they say how long the wait is?”
Harriet was frowning again but she didn’t look down at the foot. She shrugged. “Twenty minutes, maybe less. Do you want to go somewhere else?”
Claire couldn’t tell if she was supposed to say yes or no. Harriet had suggested the place and she didn’t know the area well enough to make her own recommendation. “Well, is it worth the wait?”
Harriet smiled again, just a little. “I like to think so,” she said, her soft brown eyes boring into Claire’s.
Claire swallowed nervously and turned away, spotting a bench near the hostess stand. “Then we’ll wait,” she said, claiming the end of the bench.
Harriet watched her long enough to make Claire want to check a mirror again before she joined her on the bench. She left a space for a whole other person between them and Claire began to wonder if she’d done something wrong.
“Did you get your mock up out on time?” she asked, casually glancing down without making it look like she was checking her feet again.
Harriet snorted, her hand falling into the space between them. “At nine o’clock last night. They called with changes before we’d sent them anything.”
“At least you didn’t have to go in today,” Claire said, smoothly settling her hand on the bench. Holding hands was appropriate in restaurants — she’d seen humans do it.
“That wasn’t going to happen,” Harriet said decisively, turning to face Claire. Their hands touched, one of Harriet’s fingers sliding over hers.
“Your table’s ready.”
Harriet jumped, pulling her hand back and standing. “Right,” she said, not looking at Claire.
Claire followed the hostess and Harriet to a small table along the back wall.
Harriet picked up a menu and disappeared behind it. Claire followed suit. She’d had sushi before, she really preferred it to most of the overcooked meat they served on this planet. “Is the sashimi regular good?” she asked.
“I was just thinking that. It’s kind of big though, for one person.”
Claire frowned behind her menu. Her idea of too much food differed from a human’s by a lot and she’d been looking forward to the whole plate. Now her stomach would be rumbling all night. “We could split it,” she offered lightly, forcing the frown from her face before she lowered her menu.
Harriet was still reading hers, though she’d set it down on the table at some point. “That should be good with some edamame and gyoza, and maybe an eel roll?” she suggested, glancing up.
Claire smiled brightly and nodded. “Sounds good.”
The waiter appeared quickly, setting down a pot of tea and two small cups. “Do you need another minute?”
Harriet shook her head and ordered. Claire watched the way her mouth moved and looked away hastily when she found Harriet looking back. She grabbed the teapot to have something to do with her hands. “Tea?” she asked, holding it toward Harriet’s cup.
Harriet had her head canted to one side. “Thanks.”
Claire’s hands felt a little shaky, but she didn’t spill a drop. She focused on her own cup, only pouring a little.
“So, did you and Leanne swing?”
Claire’s head shot up in shock and her steady hand fell to the table taking the tea pot with it. Hot tea splashed the back of her hand and up her sleeve. “Shit!” she hissed through clenched teeth.
“Oh! Are you ok?” Harriet darted out of her seat and righted the tea pot. She reached for Claire’s hand.
Claire pulled it away, wrapping it in her napkin. “Just let me go mop up. I’ll be right back,” she said, not waiting for a reply before she rushed to the ladies room.
She shouldered the door open and once she was sure no one else was in the room she unwrapped the napkin and let her tentacles fall into the sink. The arm had split at the hand all the way up to the elbow, her lovely white tentacles an angry red. She ran cold water over them with utter relief.
She had no idea how long she’d been standing at the sink, head bowed, tentacles limp, when the door creaked open. She barely had time to pull the arm back together.
“You ok?” Harriet asked, a heavy frown creasing her forehead.
Claire moved to block her arm from sight, quickly checking that it only showed a blistered red hand and a wet sleeve. “Fine,” she said in a high voice before she cleared her throat and tried again. “It’s nothing.”
Harriet raised one dark eyebrow and joined Claire at the sink, nudging her aside so she could see the arm. “Sure. You’ve been in here for fifteen minutes because it doesn’t hurt.”
Claire shrugged and allowed Harriet to examine her hand, wincing as Harriet carefully rolled up the wet sleeve to see how far the burn went. The sleeve was just as tender as the red skin and she had to grit her teeth to stay still. “I’ll be fine,” she insisted.
“Of course you will,” Harriet agreed firmly, “because you’re going straight home and putting aloe on it.”
Claire frowned in confusion, not sure what aloe was or why she was being sent home. “What about dinner?” And the dancing, she had been looking forward to that.
Harriet pulled some paper towels from the dispenser and carefully patted Claire’s hand and arm dry. “The manager came by while you were gone, said we could come back for a comp anytime.”
Claire, who had been feeling dismissed, nodded eagerly. “Sure, that sounds good.”
Harriet frowned again. “We’d have a hell of a time teaching you to swing dance with your hand like that,” she said with a shrug.
Claire watched her throw away the paper towels and move toward the door. Swing dancing. She’d almost forgotten what had made her drop the tea in the first place. “Swinging,” she muttered to herself, following Harriet through the door.
The manager and the waiter hovered around her apologizing as though they’d doused her in tea, offering her burn gel and insisting that she take a bag stuffed with their boxed up dinner order. She didn’t see Harriet until she’d escaped to the front door. Harriet was staring out the window, frowning at the sheeting rain.
“They packed up the food,” Claire told her quietly, wincing at a bright bolt of lightning that streaked across the sky.
Harriet looked at her with her lips pursed slightly. “Did you bring an umbrella?”
Claire shook her head. “I could give you a ride to your car. Where’d you park?” she asked, not seeing Harriet’s car in the lot.
“I walked actually,” Harriet said, turning back toward the window with her hands in her pockets.
“I could give you a ride home,” Claire offered quickly.
Harriet glanced at her, eyes flicking over the burned hand. “Ok, thanks. It’s only half a mile from here.”
Claire handed the food off to Harriet and made a dash for the car. The cool water felt wonderful on her arm, but she ducked quickly inside, opening the passenger side door and waving Harriet forward.
Harriet slammed the door behind her as she got in. She shook the water out of her eyes, hair already plastered flat to her head. “Wow. I’m glad I’m not walking.”
Claire turned the wipers on and gestured behind them. “Which way?”
Harriet glanced over her shoulder. “Oh, just get on Clarke and head toward the high school. I’m on Cedar Creek.”
“Where the florist is?” Claire asked, pulling out of the spot and heading toward Clarke.
“The condos are just past it.”
Claire nodded, needing all of her concentration to see through the downpour with such tiny eyes.
“I’m in the first building; you can park next to my jeep,” Harriet said once they’d reached the complex. It was a covered spot, the sound of the rain amplified by the metal roof.
Claire turned the ignition off and flexed her burned hand against the steering wheel. “We should do this again —”
Harriet’s eyes widened comically.
Claire laughed. “Well, we could try this again,” she corrected, pushing her wet hair away from her face.
Harriet took her hand from the console and held it as carefully as she had the burned one. “Tomorrow?”
Claire looked up from their hands to see Harriet much closer than she’d expected. “I’d like that,” she whispered.
“Me too,” Harriet said, touching her lips lightly to Claire’s.
Claire returned the kiss hesitantly; so much of her concentration was on keeping the hand Harriet was holding a hand. At least until Harriet scraped her lower lip with her teeth. Claire shifted and held Harriet’s head in both hands, her fingers buried in her damp hair. Harriet pressed into her mouth with her warm tongue, hands edging under the hem of Claire’s shirt.
Claire sighed into the kiss, she hadn’t even been sure this was a real date and now Harriet was kissing her with surprisingly rough human lips, her fingers carefully tracing the sensitive tentacles at Claire’s sides. She flexed them into the touch.
Claire’s eyes popped open and she jumped back, horrified to see the hands in Harriet’s hair had split into tentacles. “Harriet, I, I’m — ”
“A worm,” Harriet said with wide eyes.
Claire withdrew her tentacles and sighed, the slur stinging. “I’m really sorry,” she said, relaxing into her natural form.
There was a long silence.
Then Harriet laughed. “Well that’s a relief.”
Claire flinched at the sound and flinched again when she felt a touch on her shoulder. Reluctantly she turned.
Two large brown eyes regarded her happily from separate heads.
She jumped in surprise, hitting one of her heads on the roof of the car. “You’re a worm!”
Both of Harriet’s heads reared back a little at the shout. She made a shrugging gesture with two of her pearly blue tentacles. “Yeah.” She looked away briefly. “You’re not, well,” her heads expanded in a deep breath, “you’re not only into humans, are you?”
Claire blinked, eyes bobbing in surprise. “No, actually,” she looked down at her twisting tentacles sheepishly, “you were going to be my first.”
Harriet touched her burned tentacles gently. “Why don’t we take the food inside and get some gel on that burn?”
“Best offer I’ve had all day,” Claire agreed, curling the tip of one tentacle around Harriet’s. She arched carefully forward and all four of their mouths met perfectly.