It’s seven o’clock now, and I’m damn near starving. I try to wait until 9 but I can feel my body starting to cannibalize my circulatory system and I can’t focus on my essay anymore.
I put on a mask, the scary one with the skeleton teeth because I don’t want anyone to talk to me. My cute anime tote bag ruins the vibe, but I can’t find a scary one right now.
I head down the stairs; I stopped taking the elevator years ago. It’s an unspoken courtesy for us to not take elevators.
I slip my black gloves on before I touch the door, not wanting anyone to think I’m purposely spreading my “special germs.” 99% of those affected were bitten by an affected person, and it doesn’t transmit easily any other way, but whatever.
I peek outside to make sure it’s at least somewhat dark. We don’t like daylight savings because it confuses our internal clocks, which has very little effect on most people, but is pretty damn bad for our health.
It’s sufficiently dark. My black mask, black gloves, black skin blend in. I walk to the corner, head down, hands outside of pockets. Hands in pockets is more threatening, it’s better to have them lax and at your sides.
On the one lax hand, I want people to be afraid so they don’t try and get anywhere near me. On the other lax hand, I don’t want anyone calling the Service on me. I just wanna get my food and go home and finish my essay for English 201.
I head to Peachy’s Diner, past the faded sign that emphasizes “ALL WELCOME.”
Peachy is the owner. I have no idea what her real name is. And she’s Unaffected, but makes a point out of making us feel welcome in her diner.
“Evening, Roy! Or morning?” the little old man at the front, Steve, greets me. He says the same thing every single time I come in.
I smile at him. “Morning, Steve.” I’m pretty sure he’s been standing in the same place since before the diner was even built.
I take a seat at my usual booth. There are only a couple of other patrons, all of them wearing masks. It’s about the time we get up for breakfast and Unaffected head home for dinner.
I hear someone whispering and it sounds like Peachy. I can’t quite make out what she’s saying but she practically pushes a tiny blonde chick out of the kitchen. She locks eyes with me and turns a color I’ve never seen before. Peachy glares at her and she scurries over to my table.
I keep my hands on the table, lax.
“Hi,” I reply.
“Umm. What can I get you?”
“The number 4, please.” I sigh internally. She’s new.
“The number 4? Yeah, that's…”
“Blood sausage, eggs, and toast with special gravy,” I say quietly and patiently.
“R-right. Yes. Um, what kind of bread would you like?”
She’d been avoiding my eyes since she walked over, she meets them when I say sourdough.
“You want sourdough? Ok. And how would you like your eggs?”
“Over…nah, scrambled today.”
“Scrambled eggs. Anything to drink?” She looks fractionally calmer, like asking for sourdough and scrambled eggs has reassured her that I’m not gonna eat her.
“Yeah, I’ll take a grapefruit juice.”
She looks at me again, this time startled. “You want grapefruit juice?”
She shifts on her feet. “Didn’t think anyone actually liked grapefruit juice,” she mutters under her breath.
“Hey, what do you have against grapefruit juice?” I ask. It’s my favorite juice. Everyone always assumes it’s blood orange.
“Well, it’s kinda gross. Like orange juice’s bitter, angry aunt Linda.”
I snort and I don’t even mean to snort. “Linda?”
“Yeah, if grapefruit had a name it’d be Linda.”
“I like Linda,” I reply.
She smiles for the first time. “You and you alone.”
“What’s your name?”
The smile freezes on her face as if she can’t believe I would ask her something so benign despite talking calmly about my juice preferences.
“Um. It’s Chloe.”
I knew it was Chloe. It says it on her name tag, but I’m careful to keep my eyes on her face.
“Chloe. If you were a fruit, what would you be then?”
She drops her shoulders from where they’d risen to her ears. I’m good at this, putting people at ease. I have to be. “Apple,” she replies after a moment.
“‘Cause they’re boring and common.” She shrugs. “So. The number 4, eggs scrambled, sourdough toast and…grapefruit juice.”
She nods and turns away, then turns back slightly. “Uh. Coming right up,” she says awkwardly.
I give her a thumbs up.
She scampers into the kitchen, looking back at me all the while.
I sigh. I did my best.
I take off my mask when Steve comes by with a pot of coffee and down it in one gulp. It’s a stereotype, but we LOVE coffee. Honestly, we love any bitter liquid.
I’m pouring the rest of the coffee into my cup when Chloe returns with my food.
“Uh. Here. It is.”
“Thanks.” She sets the plate in front of me and takes a healthy step back. I try really hard to pretend not to notice, but something must show on my mask-less face because she turns that weird color again.
“Oh. I’m…I’m sorry. I didn’t…I just…”
I shrug. “It’s fine. I’m used to it.” I wave it off every single time. It hurts. Every. Single. Time. They look at me and they take a step back, they side-eye me, make sure I’m not doing anything even remotely dangerous looking. If I so much as cough they’re yelling that I tried to eat them. And then the Service comes. And then it doesn’t really matter what actually happened. They take one look at me, maybe a look at my ID, before deciding I was being threatening toward the poor, innocent, Unaffected girl. And I get a strike on my card if I’m lucky. Or, right then and there, they send me to a place we don’t come back from.
“No, no! I’m really sorry!” she says. “That was rude.”
I raise my eyebrows.
“I’m sorry. It’s my first day here and I’ve never worked somewhere that…caters to all,” she explains. “I’m not really sure what to do. I don’t want to offend you I just…,” she looks down.
“I’m not gonna eat you,” I tell her. “I’ve got a perfectly good plate of food right in front of me.”
“Oh! No, I know. I didn’t mean to imply that-“
“Then what are you afraid of?”
“I. I don’t know. I’ve just…there’s not a lot of you where I’m from. I always kinda looked in from the outside. Now I’m here. And you’re here. And I don’t really know what to do. Like I feel bad and I wanna help cause I know things must be hard for you, but I don’t know how.”
“Can I tell you?”
“Treat me like you treat everyone else. That’s all most of us are asking you for. We’re not gonna hurt you. We’re not gonna eat you or suck your blood. We just like our pancakes with some special red syrup on it.” I shrug. I realize this is probably just too much to ask.
She nods and starts to walk away. Then she stops.
“But. What does it taste like?” she asks quietly.
“What, blood? Like grapefruit.”
Brin Williams: "I am a Los Angeles native and San Francisco State University graduate navigating the intersections of my identity as a non-binary person of color in an ever-evolving world. I studied Creative Writing and Cinema in San Francisco before moving back to my childhood home in Los Angeles. Now finds me looking forward to branching out and into the greater literary world."