I need a heart to eat.” Clara swings her legs into the cracked booth.
“Physically, or metaphorically?” I sit across from her, and take a sip from my cherry milkshake. She was fifteen minutes late, so I ordered without her.
She laughs. “Both.” Her smile is wide enough that I can count every one of her shiny white teeth. She lost one of them last year. I try not to think about how.
A waiter comes up to us. He wants Clara to order lunch. This is one of those modern restaurants that seems to delight in charging obscene amounts for comfort food, just because they were deep fried in truffle oil or something. My milkshake was twelve dollars. The cherries in it were grown somewhere unattainably exoctic, they tell me. Clara gets a steak.
“As rare as you can make it,” she says. When the waiter leaves, she leans over to me and shakes her head. Her dark hair swings around her ears. “I’m such a cliche.” she chuckles.
I laugh too. It’s funny, her newfound preference for bloody steaks. It’s reminiscent of vampires, or werewolves, disguising themselves as humans and ordering their meat bloody. Clara is neither a vampire nor a werewolf, but she’s too close for most people's’ comfort. Sometimes, she’s too close for mine.
“I’d eat the damn thing raw if they’d let me.” She winks.
I have more of my milkshake. Its sweet, thick and cold. “About that heart, what did you have in mind?”
Our conversation is idle, which is probably bad, as it allows both our attentions to wander. I’m in the middle of a rant about my horrible job when I notice her staring at my hand. It's curled around my fork, skin stretched over pale knuckles and blue veins. She watches the meat at the base of my thumb. My voice trails off, and it takes a second before she notices. Then her head snaps up and she glances at me guiltily. “Sorry.” she whispers.
“It’s-It’s fine.” I pull my hands into my lap, for just a second. Then I return to eating. I pretend that I don’t mind her hunger. It’s not like she can help it. Probably.
A waiter comes over. He wants to refill Clara’s glass. She gives him a forced smile. I push my salad around my plate. I’m bored of lettuce. It’s a shame that lately, I’ve lost my taste for meat. The waiter is talking about some feature of the restaurant. It’s a large window made from different panes of glass, most of them clouded and warped like the bottoms of old coke bottles. Grey light filters through them. The waiter, his nametag says Mike, is explaining how they got it. I hear the date 1918, and then I hear the shattered crash of his pitcher slipping out of his hands. Iced tea spills across our table, and drips onto my lap. I jump up and grab a napkin to dab at my jeans. “Hey! What the hell?” Clara snaps at the waiter, handing me another napkin.
“S-sorry.” He stammers. He looks terrified, which confuses me until I see where he’s looking. He’s staring at Clara, at where her hair has swung away from her neck. His eyes are fixed on the shiny, mottled skin there, and, just underneath her left ear, the pale outline of a bite. He’s breathing very slowly. Inwardly, I curse.
“I’ll… Let me go get something to clean it up.” He says. He stumbles away from us, taking the long way around Clara. She’s noticed his behavior, his noticing of her scar. She grimaces, squeezing her eyes shut tight. Her mascara is cheap, and it leaves a faint line of black dust around her eyes. She rubs it away, and pulls her hair over her ears again.
“Oops.” She says faintly.
Mike the waiter comes back. He has a towel in his hand. Behind him is the restaurant’s manager. He’s a big man in a maroon shirt. He crosses his arms. “Which one of you is the undead freak?”
There’s silence. Nobody says that word anymore. For one thing, it’s offensive. Anybody who can be considered undead can also be considered alive, and should be. For another, the word brings up subjects that most of us don’t care to talk about.
Clara doesn’t exactly raise her hand, but there must be something in the way she averts his eyes that tips him off. He points to the door. “Get out.”
“Why?” I ask, though I think I know why.
“Because I won’t serve beasts.”
I don’t point out that we’ve already been served. “Beasts, seriously?”
“She’s a killer. Evil. I won’t have her in my restaurant.”
“I’m human.” Clara’s hands are shoved in her pockets, and her shoulders have gone slightly up in defense, but she glares at the guy.
He sneers. “Whatever was human in you died a long time ago. You’re just a shell now. The only thing keeping you moving is the demon living inside you.”
Oh, this is perfect. I knew this guy was prejudiced, but I didn’t realize he was one of those superstitious nutcases too.
“That’s a lie.” Clara’s mad now. I can see the waiter, Mike, shooting us glances while he tries to clean up the mess of tea and glass.
“You’re a dead thing. Go rot somewhere else.”
“I’m alive!” Clara shouts.
“Look, I’m not saying it again. Get out. Now, before you kill one of my customers.”
Clara shuts her mouth. Her jaw juts forward. I’ve never seen her this upset. I’m afraid she might cry. I’m even more afraid she might actually try to kill him. I step forward, and pull on her shoulder.
“Clara, c’mon, let’s just go.”
Clara shoves me off. She speaks to the manager, her voice low and trembling and furious. “I am human. I have a heartbeat. I have memories. I breathe air. I have a soul, for god’s sake!”
“The only thing you have is a craving for guts. Leave. Now!”
I manage to tug Clara away from him, towards the door. We get three feet before I hear him speak behind us. “Why don't you do us all a favor and send yourself back to hell.”
Clara freezes. I turn. I walk up to the manager. I hit him as hard as I can across the jaw.
He stumbles back a little, but I’m not actually that strong and it only takes a second before he’s recovered enough to hit me back. Pain discharges across my cheek. I fall to the ground, and stars flare up in my vision. I sit up in time to see Mike grab the manager’s elbow in time to stop him from attacking again. Clara pulls me up and away from him.
“Why do do you hate them so much?” I’m dizzy, but still livid at him.
“Why don’t you?!” He’s trying to break Mike’s grip, shouting, almost incoherently. “How can you have lunch with one? Don’t you know she’s a killer!?”
“She couldn’t control it! She was sick, do you think she wanted to kill?”
He chuckles, darkly. “Yes.” He says. “Have you ever seen an undead attack? They enjoy every second of it. I watched a group of those monsters murder my brother. They ate his face off right in front of me. They ripped his stomach open and ran away with his insides. He died while they laughed and swallowed bits of him whole!”
Clara goes still. She lets go of me, and walks right up to the man’s red face. He’s crying, I think. She’s deathly calm. In an even voice she says. “I remember you. You were screaming. It was funny. And your brother,” her grin is wicked, and jeering, “He was delicious.”
I can no longer understand what he’s screaming at us. Clara takes my arm and pulls me out the door. We walk away, shivering in the cold, misting rain.