Act Like You Belong

“Well, I’ve never been, so that’s where we should go next. Don’t look at me like that. I’m the one trying to experience life here, so…oh, wait, hold on…excuse me…yes, excuse me…this is decaf.”

Paulette froze, a forkful of eggs halfway between her plate and her face. Dinah was looking at the waiter pleasantly, an easy smile and a charming twinkle in her eye giving her heavily made face a sort of Stepford feel. She didn’t look angry. She didn’t sound angry. The waiter, barely more than a boy and possibly still in high school, certainly didn’t think she was angry. He was standing at the table, looking down at her with that trained curiosity everybody in the service industry develops. Practically Swiss it was so neutral. He thought he could fix this. Paulette knew better. Either she had spent enough time with Dinah now to know her whims, or whatever rotten magic was inside her was rubbing off on Paulette and making her a mind reader. She put her fork down and readied herself.

“No, it’s regular,” the waiter said. “It’s what you ordered. I remember.”

“Yes, regular is what I ordered. In fact, I remember asking for ‘all the caffeine you have.’ I phrased it as a joke, but it wasn’t really a joke. But here I am, sipping on a decaf.”

The young man held his hands out before clasping them together in front of him. A long practiced gesture. Sorry not sorry. He still didn’t know what was happening here.

“There must have been a mistake in the back, let me replace it for you.”

Dinah put her hand over the mug before the waiter could reach for it.

“No.”

Paulette swallowed. “Dinah, don’t.”

“I seem to not be making myself clear,” Dinah said. She looked at Paulette. “Aren’t I being clear?”

Paulette shook her head, less as an answer and more as a please don’t do this.

“Well,” Dinah said, knowing full well what Paulette meant and pretending it meant what she wanted it to mean. “Let me be clear.”

The young man had been watching this back and forth completely still except for his eyes, bouncing back and forth like nystagmus had struck. He still looked carefully neutral, except…there was something in his smile now, wasn’t there? A sort of smugness? Oh. Oh, no.

Dinah leaned back in her chair to look the waiter in the face. “What I am saying is, you purposefully gave me decaf instead of regular as some sort of petty revenge for some perceived slight. I asked for cream and sugar so you thought I wouldn’t notice. But I did notice, Tyler. I noticed very much.”

Again, Tyler’s hands went out and then back together.

“I’m sorry, madam, but I would never do such a thing. It was just a mistake.”

“Oh, it’s madam now? What happened to stuck up hose beast?”

For the first time, neutrality broke. The Swiss had taken up arms, and Tyler’s face cracked. Just a bit. The smugness was certainly gone. What was he afraid of now? A write up? Getting fired? He would be lucky.

“I didn’t…I don’t…I’m not sure what you heard, madam, but-”

“I am sure!” she said. “Now, beast, sure, I’m not sure how you knew that, but I’ll give you that one. But stuck up? HOSE?

“Madam, I-”

“And I don’t even like your tone on madam. Or that you’re calling me that at all. This is a truck stop diner, not the Four Seasons. I’ve never been so disrespected, and I’m going-”

“Dinah, you can’t kill him.”

The two of them looked at her like they had forgotten she was there, each with their own display of shock. Tyler looked like he wanted to run. In fact, why hadn’t he? At the very least Paulette would have expected him to bail for a manager by now. With an internal sigh, she realized Dinah must have been keeping him there. She really was planning on killing him. Right here.

“Why not?” Dinah asked. “I hurt his feelings, so he gives me decaf?”

“So you kill him?” Paulette hissed through her teeth, leaning forward. No one at the other tables had noticed the little spat and she wanted to keep it that way.

Dinah crossed her arms. “He needs to learn you don’t mess with a demon’s coffee.”

Tyler’s eyes grew wide, but otherwise he didn’t move. At all. Dinah had frozen him, hands together, slightly bent at the back. Paulette had three sentences to save his life. Four, tops.

“But you don’t want to be a demon anymore, remember? You’re trying to be human. And humans don’t kill other humans for just being a jerk.”

Dinah let out a laugh. “You humans kill each other for everything.”

“Not all of us,” Paulette said, shaking her head. “Just the worst ones. Do you really just want to be the worst kind of human?”

That at least got her to think. Paulette could see it in the way she shifted back in the chair, her shoulders now sloping. For all of their magic and their power, it was turning out to be quite easy to manipulate a demon. Pick a vice and play on it. In this case, pride.

“So,” Dinah said, drawing out the word. “What do most humans do in this situation? The best ones?”

Paulette shrugged. “The best ones would never have done what you did in the first place. A normal human would grumble about it to their friends but never say anything to the waiter. Give him a bad tip. But not, like, a bad bad tip, because tips are their livelihood. I don’t know, like, twelve percent.”

“And that will teach him a lesson?”

“No,” Paulette admitted. “But I think you’ve already taught him one. Look at him. He peed himself.”

“Oh. That’s what that was. Gross. Get away from me.”

Whatever was holding Tyler in place dissolved, and he turned to run, slipping on his own puddle at first and still trying to power through like a cartoon. Now the rest of the diner was looking at them. But there wasn’t really anything to look at. Just two women having a soggy breakfast.

“Won’t he tell somebody?” Dinah asked.

“No. And even if he does, no one will believe him.”

“Do you think he’ll be afraid for a while?”

“Definitely.”

Dinah beamed. “Okay. Now, back to Dollywood.”


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