An Ordinary Girl
As promised, here I am with my next story. After a little excursion to Faith as a protagonist, I'm back to writing about Rilla, though of course the entire gang will feature to varying degrees. I have no idea yet how long this story will be and I'm not making any estimates, so we'll just have to discover its eventual length together ;).
As for the idea behind this… well, I wrote about princes and princesses already, so it might follow from that logically to lean even further into the fairy tale theme and which better way to do that than to write about magic? That's right, I'm about to infuse magic into the lives of the Blythes and I have a feeling it will be quite a ride.
I should mention, perhaps, that I'm not well-versed in the modern fantasy genre. I know my Harry Potter and I've seen some Charmed and... that's pretty much it. Therefore, I'm totally making this magic world up as I go along. If there are rules and customs I'm not adhering to as I do, know that this is why.
Regarding for chapter titles, we're turning to The Dark Ages of Pop Music for this one – the 1990s and 2000s. I picked female interprets only and tried to find a good balance that also includes lesser known and/or European acts. Some of the quoted songs are bad, some not so bad and some objectively awful, so I think we'll have fun with this!
As usual, I value and welcome any comment you might like to send my way. I truly cherish my conversations with readers, so please never be shy. I love reading what everyone thinks and I love chatting about it, too.
And now, without further ado, let is delve into a world full of both beloved characters, questionable music and magical beings!
This could get messy
The man at table 17 is a witch.
I know that with absolute certainty. I know it as certainly as I know who I am.
Or no, scratch that. I'm a lot more certain about the man being a witch than about almost anything concerning myself. After all, the question of what I am – and what is wrong with me – has baffled many a person cleverer than myself.
That, alas, is a problem for another day. Right now, the problem at hand is sitting at table 17 and is undeniably being a witch. At least that's a fact I can trust in.
Carl always asks me how I know, but I've never been able to describe it. It's not a smell or a feeling. There are no goosebumps and no cold trickle down my back. There's just a deep, unshakable certainty that tells me quite what creature is standing in front of me.
It's also how I know that this bar is rarely frequented by magical beings. It's too conventional for dwarves and too crowded for vampires. There's the occasional shapeshifter and sometimes we get a demon-in-denial, but mostly, our customers are reassuringly normal humans.
In all the months of working here, there's certainly never been a witch. Until today.
Obviously, there's no way I'm getting anywhere close to him.
"Susanna?" I grab the sleeve of a passing colleague. "Can you take over table 17 for me?"
She smiles apologetically. "Sorry, no time." With that, she tugs her sleeve from my grip and hurries on, balancing a tray of sickeningly colourful cocktails as she does so.
I sigh and quickly glance around the room. It's a busy Friday night and all my other colleagues are rushing around, carrying drinks and empty glasses to and fro. I did, too, until a moment ago when the presence of a witch stopped me in my tracks.
A witch who, just now, is looking around searchingly, before making eye contact with Sven, the Swedish bartender. A nod is exchanged between both men and my stomach sinks.
"Rilla!" Sven calls out mere seconds later. "Table 17 wants to order."
Oh, they do, do they?
I shoot a dirty look at Sven's back, which he thankfully doesn't see as he has returned to pouring a pink-and-orange confection of a cocktail. I usually like Sven fine, at least when he isn't – unknowingly – sending me to brave the presence of an honest-to-goodness witch.
My pace, as I set out towards table 17, can only be called sluggish and must stand out in contrast to my busy colleagues. I still hope that someone might cross my path and rescue me, but luck isn't on my side today. I reach table 17 unencountered and this time, there is a cold trickle down my back alright.
"Looks like we got the lame duck waitress," one of the men at the tables declares, loud enough for me to hear and, indeed, loud enough that I know he meant for me to hear.
I take a deep breath and start my inner mantra. I may not hit a tray over a customer's head. I may not hit a tray over a customer's head. I may not hit a tray over a customer's head. I may not –
"Maybe we could put her talents to better use?" suggests another man and leers at me. "A nice, slow striptease, perhaps?"
– hit a tray over –
Surely, I can't be hired for hitting a tray over his head? I mean, if Nan were here, his hair would already be on fire!
But no. Deep breath, Rilla. Remember that rent is due. You can do this!
"Welcome to the Bottoms Up Bar. Are you ready to order?" I force a most insincere smile to my face. It takes all I can give to fix it there.
"I take the striptease special," replies the leering one without missing a beat and leers some more.
My smile slips. My hands ball into fists by my side. "I'm afraid we offer nothing like that. Would you like to have a look at our cocktail menu instead?"
The moment the word 'cocktail' leaves my mouth, I know I've made a mistake. Mentally I hit myself. Outwardly, I stand still and wait or the inevitable.
Rent is due, rent is due, rent is due, rent is due.
The leering one opens his mouth – and gets elbowed in the side by the fourth man, sitting by his side. "Leave the waitress alone, Doug."
I don't know who he is, but he's currently my favourite person in the entire world. I'm also not surprised by the leering one being called Doug. He looks like a Doug.
"Would you like to order something?" I repeat, hoping to use this unexpected moment of not being insulted or sexualised to take their order and get the hell away from here.
"A bottle of whiskey, please," orders the nice one and even smiles at me. "Your best whiskey."
"We have a Johnny Walker Black Label you might enjoy," I suggest, secretly crossing my fingers that this encounter will be over soon.
The hasty one interjects, "We'll have that one, and quickly."
Breathe, Rilla. Just breathe.
"And a glass of water, too." That's the witch.
Distracted by his rude friends, I didn't keep an eye on him throughout, but that doesn't mean I ever forgot about his presence. It's pure self-preservation not to.
Witches, after all, are dangerous.
"Certainly." I nod, already taking a step back. "A bottle of whiskey and glass of water. Right away."
I don't want to turn around, so I keep walking backwards, almost stumbling into Mindy, another colleague, as I do so. She gives me a confused look, but I just shrug apologetically and hurry towards the relative safety of the bar.
"A bottle of Black Label and a glass of water for table 17," I relay to Sven and pull a grimace.
He, seeing me grimace, raises both eyebrows. "Want me to spit into it?"
Briefly, I look over my shoulder, considering his offer. As I do, my eyes immediately meet those of the witch. Unconsciously, I recoil and turn back around.
"Tempting, but no," I tell Sven. Who knows, after all, what the witch heard, even over the noise of a busy bar. With witches, you can never be sure.
As Sven prepares the order, I dash over to the other side of the room and deliver a couple of beers to table 12. On my way back, I'm stopped by a gaggle of girls who seem have made it today's goal to try every cocktail we have on offer. Armed with their manifold order, I return to the bar and dump it on Sven, who groans when he hears it includes two Mojitos.
Alas, we all face our personal challenges. Mine sit at table 17 and are by now looking at me with varying degrees of impatience.
"One bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label," I announce with much more cheer than I feel. After all, rent is due and with Carl currently out of a job, one of us needs to be able to pay it.
"And not before time," grumbles the hasty one. I ignore him and place four glasses on the table, before proceeding to pour whiskey into them. (Really, for being so snobbish, these four can't be as posh as they'd like to be. Otherwise, they'd know that you don't order whiskey by the bottle.)
Out of the corner of my eye, I see the leering one staring at me, the kind of grin on his face that makes me want to smash the still mostly filled bottle on his head. I only just restrain myself when I see the nice one elbowing him. At least one person at this table is on my side.
The witch, alas, clearly isn't.
With the whiskey poured, I place the bottle on the table – without smashing anyone's head in beforehand, mind – and reach for the glass of water still sitting on the tray. That's when it happens.
An almost imperceptible movement of the witch's hand and the water glass shifts before I even have a chance to touch it. It moves, tips over – and empties its contents over my top and jeans.
Sharply, I raise my head to look at the witch. He meets my eyes, perfectly unhurried, and studies me with unconcealed curiosity. "Interesting," he comments calmly.
Interesting my –
Breath, Rilla. Nice and calm. Just continue breathing.
"I'll get you another glass of water," I assure him through gritted teeth.
"What, no apology?" asks the hasty one. (Maybe I should simply re-christen him into the rude one?)
"No apology needed," chimes in the leering one and grins his grin that makes my skin crawl. He is staring at me and I am suddenly uncomfortably aware that I'm wearing a white top. Looking down, however, I am relieved to see that most of the water landed on my jeans and that the shirt only has a smallish wet patch in the general area of my stomach.
"Stop staring, Doug," chides the nice one, once more coming to my rescue.
I righten the now empty glass on the tray. "I'll get you another one."
"No need to," replies the witch. "I don't need it anymore."
So, drenching me in water was his plan to begin with, huh?
That little –
Calm down, Rilla. Think of the rent. Rent, rent, rent, rent, rent.
This time, I do turn my back on them as I go back to the bar. I don't do it gladly, especially not after having witnessed the witch using his powers unashamedly in public, but for now, my need to get away from the lot of them is greater than my need for safety.
At the bar, I mutter to Sven, "Next time, you have my permission to put whatever bodily fluids you want into their drinks."
Sven laughs. When I look back at table 17, I think I can see the witch glance in our direction, but I quickly turn away before I can be sure.
Not that it changes anything anyway, of course. Witches are dangerous and this one is obnoxious to boot.
Thankfully, they seem to be content with their bottle of whiskey and are, apparently, able to pour it out by themselves, so I don't hear much from the for the rest of the night. Naturally, I keep an eye on their table anyway, because I learned as a young girl that you always keep an eye on the witch in the room, but at least he doesn't seem inclined to hex anyone or anything anymore.
Even with table 17 being quiet, the rest of my guests keep me busy for the rest of the night, especially the gaggle of girls at table 14. They continue to work themselves through our offer of cocktails and grow more drunk by the hour. In turn, Sven continues to steadily lower the amount of alcohol in their drinks and as midnight comes and goes, he starts serving up virgins altogether. Not that they notice, drunk as they are.
By half past one, the girls are drowsy enough to leave, stumbling from the bar to the two taxis I had Sven call for them. I might not know them, but from one young woman to the next, we need to look out for each other. When they're finally out of the door, most other guests have left as well and only a few tables remain occupied – among them table 17.
I yawn heartily.
"I can take it from here." That's Susanna, appearing by my side. "Mindy left an hour ago. If you want to, you can call it a night, too. Jessy and I will mop up in here."
I look at her, hesitating. "Are you sure?"
"Positive. You closed the bar five times in the past week," she reminds me. "It's our turn now."
Strictly speaking, we're all meant to remain until the end, but since the manager barely ever shows his face, there's no-one to make sure we do. Thus, when the crowd thins out, some of us usually head home, too. As we're splitting tips evenly anyway, there's no sense to stick around until the last customer has left.
Yawning again, I raise my arms over my head and stretch. "Well, then. Good night. Tell Jessy thank you from me, too."
Truth is, the months of working through the night are starting to take their toll on me and I'm pretty tired as a result. I'm also very eager to get away from the witch. Just because he hasn't directly hexed anyone tonight doesn't mean he won't start when closing time arrives.
I sneak another glance at table 17, but they appear to be deeply caught in a spirited, whiskey-fuelled conversation. None of them look at me and I'm glad for it.
Taking my leave from Sven and waving at Jessy in passing, I head for the employees' break room, which is really just a glorified broom closet, and fetch my back and jacket. There's a door off the corridor near the break room, which is marked as an emergency exit but is also where we slip out when we want to go unnoticed.
The back entrance opens into a dark, unappetising back alley that is home to an entire regiment of rats. (No matter how many times Carl tells me that rats are just misunderstood, I shall never believe him. He's the only exception I'm willing to make.) The pavement is wet with puddles, too, so I tread carefully so as not to get my white sneakers dirty. I'm so concentrated on not getting my feet wet that I make it halfway down the alley before I notice that someone followed me. When I do notice, I promptly step into a puddle.
It's the witch.
I know it without turning around and the moment I realise, my entire body tenses up, the ruined shoe all but forgotten. Right now, it's fight or flight and it doesn't take a genius to know that this is a fight I can't win.
"Hey, fairy girl," he calls out from behind me.
I stand frozen. I want to run, but the end of the alley is some ways away yet and there's no doubt that he could simply send a hex and trip me or something. Besides, how does the saying go? If it runs, it's prey.
Slowly, I slip one hand into the pocket of my jacket and close my fingers around the can of pepper spray. With my other hand, I reach into my handbag and feel around for my keys, adjusting them so that there's a key between each two fingers. (Obviously, none of this will do me any good against someone practicing witchcraft, but I have to work with what I have here.)
Even more slowly, I turn around. My hands clutch their makeshift weapons a little tighter. I suddenly wish, desperately, that I hadn't taken Susanna's offer to leave early.
"Yes?" I ask warily.
He comes closer in the dim light of the alley. It takes all I have not to turn around and run. The only thing keeping me rooted to the spot is a deep aversion to ever being considered prey.
"I just wanted to – " He's still coming closer, but suddenly stops himself and studies me closely. "Are you afraid of me?"
The fact that he has to ask is so ridiculous that a laugh escapes me. It sounds more hysterical than I care for.
"Of course I'm bloody afraid of you!" I snap at him. "In case you hadn't noticed, we're in a dark and deserted alley, you're a stranger following me around and there's no way for me to get away. That would already scare me enough even if you weren't a witch with a bunch of creepy friends and I wasn't, as you established earlier, totally powerless."
"Colleagues," he corrects.
I blink and stare. That definitely wasn't the reaction I expected. "Pardon?"
"They're colleagues," he repeats. "Not friends."
"And you consider that to be a relevant piece of information to this particular discussion?" I ask shrilly.
He shrugs. I can only just make it out in the half-light. "I thought not having creepy friends might make me less scary."
"Because having creepy colleagues is so much better?" I want to know, my voice tripping over itself.
Once more, he shrugs. "Does it help if I promise that I'm harmless?"
That's exactly what a serial killer would say.
"That's exactly what a serial killer would say."
This time, I'm reasonably sure that he's smiling. He doesn't seem as scary, now that I'm talking to him without being either attacked or hexed, but I know not to trust that feeling. Just because he can string words together doesn't mean this situation has changed. I still stand no chance against him.
Inside my handbag, I adjust the keys between my fingers slightly to get a tighter grip on them. Inside my pocket, I place one finger on the nozzle of the pepper spray, the better to be prepared should I need to use it.
Something about the movement must have caught the witch's eye and I think I see a frown appear over his face. "You really don't need to be afraid," he promises.
I only just manage to swallow down another hysterical laugh. Sometimes, I'd like for all men to walk in the shoes of a woman one day so that they might realise the dangers we face in these times – or, really, the dangers we faced in any time. Until they do, I don't think they'll ever really get it.
It's not my job to explain it to this specimen though, especially not when all I want is to get away from here and get away from him.
"So you say," I retort, taking a small step backwards. "I see no reason to trust you though."
He seems to consider my words for a moment, before nodding slowly. "Fair enough."
Oh, is it? How generous!
"I really just wanted to apologise," he continues. "That stunt I pulled with the water glass wasn't very polite."
"It was rude," I blurt out, somewhat unthinking.
The witch inclines his head slightly. "You're right. It was rude. As, I now realise, was following you out here. I wanted to apologise and didn't consider how it would look like to you. That was unthinking of me."
At least he can admit it!
"Do you accept my apology?" he wants to know.
I hesitate, before moving my head vaguely in what isn't really a nod but also not meant to be one. There is, after all, still a chance much higher than zero that he's just trying to lure me in and I have to be careful not to let him.
My not-quite-nod appears to be enough for him though, for he immediately adds, "I was wondering how it can be that –"
This time, I cut right across him. "It's none of your business!"
He raises his head sharply, clearly taken aback. "I was just –"
I shake my head and this time, there's no mistaking the meaning. "No! It's none of your business and I'm under no obligation at all to tell you. I don't even know who you are!"
"Oh." His face clears. "Kenneth. Ken."
"Well then, Kenneth-Ken, it's still none of your business." I want to fold my arms across my chest to prove my point, but as I'm still clutching both keys and pepper spray, that's not really an option. To make up for it, I jut my chin forward and raise my nose higher into the air.
I think I can see surprise on his face, replaced momentarily by what could be amusement. He gets no chance to reply to my assertation though, because right then, there's a sudden noise behind me, distracting him. I, too, whirl around and feel myself tense up again, now that my escape route appears to be well and truly blocked.
At the other end of the alley, I spy another figure, human or at least human-like. Whoever it is, they don't seem to have noticed me and the witch yet. They also appear to be drunk or maybe hurt, because they're stumbling around rather a lot in a way that would make me be concerned if I wasn't already too concerned for myself to care much about others.
The figure lurches forward and enters the flickering light beam cast by one of the sparse street lights. Only now to I recognise the figure as female, probably a woman not much older than myself. She's visibly in a bad state. Her hair is askew with wayward strands hanging in her face. Her clothes are torn and dirty and I think I spy blood on her sweatshirt. Her face is pale and her eyes wide-open. They have a crazy look to them, making her look vaguely unhinged.
Suddenly, the witch seems like the less threatening option.
He clears his throat behind me and the woman whips her head around. For a long moment, she stares at both of us, emotions flitting over her face so quickly that I can't discern them. Finally, her expression goes blank again, as if she herself can't settle on what to feel.
"Are you dead?" she asks, toneless.
And if I hadn't already known what she is, I would have known now.
"Demon," mutters the witch behind me.
I feel myself nod. She's clearly a demon, and a new one at that.
Inwardly, I groan.
As if my day hasn't already been long enough!
The title of this story is taken from the song 'I Love Life' (written by Melissa Lefton and Andrew Goldmark, released by Melissa Lefton in 2000).
The title of this chapter is taken from the song 'Hands Clean' (written by Alanis Morissette, released by her in 2002).