O if thou werest a covetous creature,
That thou mightst realize that which is thine.
The day itself lieth prostrate at thy feet,
Heaven's boons bestowed upon thee plentiful.
Ripe and radiant thy lips, fruits dripping ambrosia.
Beyond the touch of withering flesh,
Ears to hide saccharine secrets,
Yea, as many as will fit.
Yet not one eye for me?
How readily I wouldst relinquish unto thee all three,
If thy senses and thy heart wouldst allow.
An eye for the blind,
May thou seest my whole heart.
I, into thy arms, that thou mightst hoist me,
Yea, that I mightst taste divine fruit.
Aye, many times over lest all three be drawn away,
Lest my apple falleth from thy eye, and we made to begin again.
I do dread it most of all.
This is all my fault. This is all my fault. This is all my fault...
Aria had a plan.
Purple eyes darted upward, and out of the glass-paned double doors toward the other end of the curved block, the place where, bathed in bright tungsten, the entrance to Cookie's instrument and instrument repair shop glowed. They were still open, and Cookie had not yet returned. Wheeler must have been keeping watch inside. For the moment, things seemed alright, and yet still, the Siren couldn't help but feel an overwhelming sense of dread.
But I can fix this myself. I can. No one else needs to be a part of this.
Adagio's ominous words from earlier on that day repeated themselves over and over in her mind.
'So, we have to be careful with what we say out loud from now on, and we have to be careful with what and whom we choose to be around.'
Ever since that moment—and admittedly after the succeeding hour or so of misdirected, probably mismanaged rage—things seemed to become quite clear to the solemnest of Sirens. A series of solutions, self assurances rather, laid themselves out as plain as day to her, the first of them being, of course, to find a way to keep an eye on Cookie. That's what Adagio had meant, wasn't it? That everyone they interacted with could potentially fall victim to this vengeful time mage? Therefore, precautionary measures would have to be taken until she could follow through with a way to stop Starshot, or at least make him lose interest in his retaliatory endeavours.
Luckily, the first part of her plan had already been somewhat taken care of. She'd been watching over Cookie in the evening time from the safety of Bubbles ever since that night on the mountain. Located on the same curved street, Cookie's shop was in clear view if one were to strategically seat themselves in the corner closest to the bar's door.
However, after the revelations of that day, simply watching for the shopkeep until she left work every evening no longer seemed enough. What if something were to happen in the morning before she came into the shop? What about on the way or after she went home? Aria had needed a new idea, and ultimately, she had come up with one, an idea that seemed somewhat suitable for the task of getting Starshot off of their backs.
The Siren pondered to herself as her eyes darted back toward the page of her poetry book. Her lips curled up into just the whisper of a smile as she read that oh, so beloved passage. Something tugged fiercely at her heart as she finished it. The feeling came on so suddenly, that she hadn't the time to prepare herself for the tightness and heat that ran up through her chest, her throat, and into her face. A pressure built behind her eyes as old emotions overwhelmed her. She leaned forward so that her forehead rested upon the page. Her mind raced with incoherent images of her life, her sisters, and the current object of her most sincere affections.
Seas... Please just give me a little more time. Just let things stay calm until I can...
Feeling something warm threatening to escape out of the corner of her eye, Aria quickly caught herself, shot up in her seat, and knocked her palm repeatedly against her forehead. This method usually did the trick when it came to warding off emotions that began to feel a bit too emotional. This time proved no different. Soon, all of those too soft and too warm things faded back into the distance where they belonged until they again felt like the flat, moving paintings that they ought to be.
Groping around the circular wooden table without taking so much as a peek from behind her book, Aria's fingers eventually made contact with the icy dampness of her glass. Hand wrapping around the container, she hoisted it, brought it and its malty, golden contents up to her lips, and tipped. Taking four big gulps, she let off a refreshed sigh, and clunked the frothy drink back onto the wood. Flipping a page, she forced a chuckle she was almost certain she didn't mean; however, at the moment it didn't quite matter to her whether it was a sincere action or one of utter denial.
"Oh, Shakesmare, you suave bastard, you."
The evening was still rather young, and Bubbles had not yet filled up with the expected tired and worn, weekday evening crowd on the hunt for some comfort from their mundane lives at the bottom of a seductive glass of liquor. For a moment, Aria's superficial act of calm twisted and molded her mind until, just for a second, she was actually able to enjoy her reading, even to forget her current mission and the worries that inspired it. However, when the bell at the door to the bar resounded throughout the room, it almost sent her tumbling. Instinctively, she pulled her legs off of the tabletop, and ducked low into her seat, thinking herself caught.
Luckily, Cookie was not the one to enter, as she had feared. However, the figure who did was no less intriguing.
What's she doing here?
Aria's penetrating gaze followed the sweet cream colored girl as she made her way through those first few early evening rumpled suits, loosened ties, and faded makeup jobs. Upon reaching the bar, the figure scratched at her brown hair, and leaned forward onto the countertop. Waiting somewhat impatiently for the tender to find a free moment, she plopped herself down upon a nearby stool, and groaned loudly. Ever alert to the sound of displeasure taking place in the bar, the barkeep, a thirty-something, maroon-skinned man, perked up, his head spinning about in her direction.
"What can I get for you, sweetheart?" he asked whilst busying himself with drying some freshly rinsed tumblers.
"Uh, yea. Is Bubba here?" the girl inquired.
At once, both the bar keep and Aria gave her the same, suspicious look, granted the Siren was doing it behind the girl's back from where she sat in her dimly lit corner.
Bubba? What does she need to see him for?
"Bubba? What do you need to see him for?" the tender asked, reading her mind.
The brunette slicked a hand back over her tightly gathered hair.
"Look, just tell him it's really important, okay?" She sounded as if she'd have absolutely no qualms with begging if that is what it would take to have her way that evening.
The tender studied her for a moment before shrugging off his cares for the matter completely. Turning about, he headed off toward the back.
"Wait here," he instructed, briefly turning to point a finger in her direction. When he did, his eyes just so happened to land upon Aria where she sat hunched behind her book. "Aria, dammit!"
Shit, shit, shit...
"Take those damn shades off if you're gonna read in here, will you? It's driving me crazy! I've got this uncle..."
Shooting upright in her seat just as the brunette spun about to glare at her, the Siren put on a disinterested facade, licked a fingertip, and casually flipped a page in her book.
"You know, Buzz," she sighed, "typically I require at least a dinner and a movie before I allow anyone to start telling me what I should take off."
The Siren's eyes were trained upon the page, her words upon the bar keep, but her mind upon the brunette whose increasingly shocked and temperamental glare was beginning to burn holes into the side of her skull.
"Yea, yea," the tender grunted, before waving the matter off and disappearing around the corner for good.
When the two were left alone, the other girl's staring became even more unbearable. Still, Aria held her ground, eyes plastered upon her book, half finished beer in hand, a relaxed slump in her shoulders as she leaned back in her seat. The glass met her lips again. She didn't realize how much she actually needed the comforting flavor of cool, golden ale upon her tongue until she tasted it once more. The calm that the bittery delight brought her was marred only by the cream colored girl resting a hand upon her table, and blocking out what little reading light she had.
"You're in my light," the Siren muttered. Flipping another page. Her gaze remained unmoved from her reading material.
"I remember you, y'know," the brunette murmured, a hand upon her hip. "You're that little, blue nut's friend."
"'Friend' would be a gross exaggeration," Aria quipped, taking another sip from her glass.
"She send you here or something? Are you following me for her?" the girl asked, a tinge of worry now becoming apparent in her voice. The sudden rank scent of her nervous energy filled the air.
Aria decided not to oblige her with a response. This girl was clearly a jerk by trade, and there was only room for one cowboy in the browbeater rodeo. Besides, she had more pressing matters to attend to, and hopefully by ignoring the mortal, she'd eventually grow bored and wander away.
"Hey!" the girl screamed, reaching out to grab Aria's book from her hands, and slapping it closed upon the table. "I'm talking to you!"
For the first time that evening, Aria glanced upward to meet Patti Mint's sapphire glare. Removing her glasses, she eyed the plume of energy seeping out of the girl, and slowly leaned further back into her seat. Clasping her hands across her stomach, she shot the waitress a ridiculing grin.
"Paranoia suits you," the Siren observed. "At least better than whatever it was you had going on the last time we met."
Chewing upon her bottom lip, Patti recollected herself into the calmest visage she could muster, pulled the seat on the opposite side of Aria's table, and moved to sit. As quickly as she had done so, the Siren's legs shot out, her dirty boots planting themselves squarely upon the chair.
"That seat's taken," she lied, dragging the chair closer. "And let's make one thing absolutely clear: Like hell does Sonata give me orders."
The Siren wrapped her fingers around her half-finished beer, and tapped her nails against the glass in sequence.
"Besides, it looks like she's doing a pretty good job of getting to you all on her own."
"Right. Th—then what are you doing here? It couldn't just be some coincidence that I end up running into the friend of the nut who's ruining my life, and right when I try to get away from her for two seconds during a shift that we share."
Aria's nose scrunched at these words. Studying Patti, she opened her mouth to speak, only to be startled into silence by a booming voice with all the enjoyable qualities of a heavy duty food grater coming from the bar's dim hallway.
"I keep tellin' y'all not to pull me outta mah office until nine! Nine. Nine! Nothin' but knuckleheads 'round here!"
Around the bend shuffled a large, round, and very bald purple man donning a salt and pepper beard and mustache grown long enough to just about hide his entire mouth from view. Scoping out the state of the half empty bar as he made his way in, he sighed loudly, and ran a hand over that shiny head of his.
"Give me streng—S'nobody here, Buzz!" he shouted back into the dim hallway. Upon turning around again, his grass green eyes immediately landed upon Aria, though interestingly enough, doing so required that he somehow look straight through Patti first. At once, his entire aura brightened, at least whatever parts of it weren't covered by his facial hair.
"Oh, hey, Aria, sweetie. Didn't see ya there. How you doin'? Nice glasses," the middle aged man beamed, almost as if he were talking to a dear niece. From somewhere down the hall, a muffled exclamation—clearly Buzz'—could be heard. The tone made it clear that he was objecting to something or other.
"I said nobody, Buzz!" the bald man replied, shutting up the muffled contestations once and for all.
Aria snickered, took the opportunity to snatch her book away from Patti, and pop it back open.
"Good, Bubs," she greeted him in a flat tone, flipping through the book's pages to find her place, "although Buzz didn't seem to like my shades very much, I've gotta say."
"Well, I s'pose that's why Buzz is currently cleanin' out Sarge's shit box with a lil', iddy, biddy kiddie shovel, as we speak," Bubba replied in an all too calm manner, before reaching into the fridge which sat behind him, pulling out a cold bottle of beer, and cracking it open.
"That boy don't know how to follow instructions worth a damn. Couldn't "follow instructions" his way outta a wet paper bag." He took a swig of his drink. "But hell, does he know how to throw down a mean Sidecar, I tell you. Didn't think any you kids even knew what that was about."
"Aw, bullshit," Aria chided him. "Sidecars are the best. Those and a good Bronx." Naturally, she withheld her opinion that the cocktails generally tasted far better back in the thirties, decades before Bubba was even born, and decades before people became so uptight about the regulations that went into the means of getting drunk off of their asses... Well, after that whole, stupid Prohibition thing, of course.
The man shot a finger out in her direction, looking half stunned, half overjoyed.
"Firstly, young lady, there will be none-a that foul language comin' outta you in my presence, hear me? Secondly... that right there is why I like you, Aria. You got an old soul. Refined tastes."
In all honesty, despite whatever sort of affectionate banter this might have looked like to any onlooker, Aria was simply enjoying whipping up her own brand of trouble. Taking a glance at Patti every so often out of the corner of her eye, the Siren could see the girl visibly becoming more and more nervous at the slow revelation that she was well-liked by the bar owner. She didn't know what, exactly, Sonata was doing to the waitress back at Sammy's, but by the scent of the smog hovering over Patti's head, the situation in which she currently found herself must have seemed quite familiar to her.
Hmph. Serves her right.
"Is this you trying to sweet talk me for that cash I won off of you at dominoes last week?" Aria chortled, nudging her chin in Patti's direction to finally call Bubba's attention to the girl's presence.
"Shh! You crazy? I've got a reputation to uphold 'round here," Bubba hissed much to the Siren's delight. "Why don't you go have a chat with that friend ah yours, Cookie. I bet she knows all about losin' cash at bones."
The man shook his head jovially.
"That gal. Pretty and useful as a royal flush on a last hand, let me tell you. Can't bluff worth a damn, though, poor thing."
His gaze remained on Aria just long enough to see her flinch at the mention of Cookie, pick up her beer, and take a long, dismissive swig. It would seem that their conversation had outlived its charm.
"C-Cookie, huh?" Patti stammered, forcing her way into the exchange. Both pairs of eyes landed squarely upon her. "I-I know, Cookie. Very cool gal."
Aria's swig of beer nearly came back up through her nose. Her brain was screaming.
You what, you little—?
Trying to muffle her sputters, she clasped her hands over mouth, and turned away to face the wall.
"Gives me cooking lessons from time to time. She's amazing," the waitress finished.
Oh, fuck that forever.
Before the Siren had the chance to pop up out of her seat with a bout of incoherent cursing, Bubs had turned very purposefully in Patti direction, passing her a clearly disingenuous, overly drawn smile.
"Yes, missy? And how may I hep you this fine evenin'?" he asked her in a rather patronizing tone. The fact that he too sounded slightly annoyed with the girl for interrupting his conversation worked to settle the Siren's nerves just enough to get her back into her seat.
Aria took a deep breath and passed Bubba an intrigued glare. It seemed interesting how the man so quickly switched gears whilst speaking with Patti. It was almost as if he could sense the waitress' haughtiness almost like a Siren could. Aria snorted to herself and shook her head. Not often, but every once in awhile, a mortal would surprise her with their level of perceptiveness.
"Uhh, yea, Bubs, is it?" Patti began nervously, her eyes still darting between Aria and the bar owner.
"A-that would be Bubba to you," he corrected her with a smirk hidden somewhere behind that beard of his.
Again, this drew a ridiculing snort from the Siren. This mortal was hopeless.
"Rrright. Bubba," she repeated, forcing a nervous smile. The grin melted into a melancholy stare, the most honest expression Aria had seen the girl wear the entire evening.
"Look, Bubba," she sighed, leaning forward onto the counter. "I'm just gonna be honest with you. I don't know you personally, and maybe you don't even like me, but I need a gig."
The girl rapped her knuckles nervously upon the bar wood.
"I've got some... uhh..." she passed a wary glance Aria's way before again facing him, "personal issues going on right now, and really need the money. I know how to serve, I know how to mix drinks, and besides, you can never have too many pretty girls working the bar, right? Brings in more customers."
After this rant, Bubba returned the waitress' withering grin with a look of complete unamusement. It took a while for him to reply.
"Missy, I don't wantcha to get the wrong impression of me. I ain't heartless or nothin', and I certainly ain't blind to your troubles. Believe you me, I been there more than a couple times, myself. But here's the thing..." Bubba leaned in. "I don't know you from Adam, and this here establishment is mah baby. I don't let just anybodeh work here."
Aria watched on curiously, not bothering to sip from the glass that was pressed up against her lips. Her eyes lingered on Patti who slumped down onto a stool in front of the bar, looking mostly defeated. Something began to tickle in that honed, perceptive part of the Siren's brain. An idea began to form, but not yet enough for her to clearly decipher what it was.
"But I'll tell you what," Bubba finished, a compassionate look in his eye. "If you can get a good reference, somebody to vouch for ya, and I don't discover nothin' less than savory 'til then..." He shrugged. "Well, I suppose we'll see. That sound good to ya?"
Aria's eyes brightened as the idea that had been forming around the corners of her mind finally solidified. She took the last swig of her beer, and silently moved to stand.
In the meantime, hope had returned to Patti's eyes, but just barely. Too busy racking her brain for ideas, she didn't even notice Bubba scratching his bald head, and turning away to face Buzz who had just reentered the bar. The tender began to scrub his hands off in the sink just as the older man was passing him by.
"Why don'tcha, ah... why don'tcha set this young lady up with a drink?" Bubba murmured to the bar keep, clapping a hand upon his shoulder before disappearing again down the hallway. Buzz eyed the anxious looking brunette suspiciously, having missed the conversation that had taken place prior. Still, orders were orders.
Removing a fresh glass from the bar, he picked a particularly strong ale, filled it to the brim, and slid the thing in front of Patti upon a fresh napkin. The girl started at the sound of glass upon wood. Her eyes darted toward the drink and then toward Buzz. Her head began to shake, slowly at first, then quite decisively.
"Oh..." she murmured, digging into her pockets in vain. "I-I'm sorry, but I don't have any—"
A fuchsia hand came down hard upon the countertop beside the waitress, some creased bills folded below its palm. Patti's head darted around to gaze at the sudden intruder.
"I've got this one, Buzz," Aria murmured to the bartender, her eyes never drifting from the mortal girl's face. "And pour me another while you're at it, will ya?"
Not caring enough about the strange energy now passing between the two, Buzz simply shrugged, grabbed the bills, poured Aria her extra drink, and quickly walked away to help another patron.
The Siren grinned brightly, ignoring the way Patti recoiled back into the barside at the sight of it.
"You and me... I think maybe we should have us a little chat," she beguiled, picking up both glasses.
"Why?" Patti inquired, cocking a suspicious eyebrow.
"Because it would be in your best interest if we did... is why," Aria sniffed, swirling her drink around. When the waitress still did not respond, the Siren sighed and rolled her eyes. Her patience wearing thin, she leaned in, and peered into Patti's two, blue orbs.
"Why don't you get your whiny bee-hind up off of that stool right now, and come have a seat with me?" Remembering herself, she forced out something that was supposed to be reminiscent of a sweet smile, but came out looking more like a hungry sneer. "It'll be worth it to you. I swear."
Patti hesitated for just a second longer, a lack of action that made the corner of Aria's mouth begin to twitch. Thankfully, before this could turn into a full blown eruption of despise, the waitress hopped down from the bar stool, and gazed up warily into the eyes of the rather menacing figure before her.
"Smart," Aria chirped.
The first few moments were filled with a suffocating silence between the two. Patti sat looking completely averse to the situation in which she now found herself. Hands clasped in her lap, head bowed, drink untouched, she stared warily at the Siren almost as if she were prepared to make a quick run for the door at any moment. Ignoring her nervous mannerisms, Aria sat in the seat opposite her, coolly sipping upon her drink. She took this opportunity to study the streams of energy now seeping off of the mortal whilst her legs, which were again kicked up and crossed upon the table, shook carelessly back and forth.
After a few minutes of this, Patti, expectantly, lost her patience. Pounding a fist upon the table, she leaned forward.
"Listen, if you think I'm stupid or something, and I don't know what this is about, then you've got another thing coming. Idunno who you two freaks think you are, but you're not gonna fucking control my life. You got it?"
Aria never even flinched. After finishing off her sip from the glass, she calmly placed it down, and clasped her hands over her stomach.
"That's a good ale you're not drinking," she rasped, scratching at the bandages upon her neck. "Cost me nine whole bucks. Perhaps you should try some."
"Look, just tell me what this is about, okay?" Patti pressed, near pleading.
Aria studied the girl for a moment before shrugging, and pulling her legs off of the table to sit upright.
"So, you know Cookie, huh?"
"Yea, I do. And?"
"How long?" Aria followed up, tapping her nails upon her glass.
"Idunno. A couple years," Patti replied.
The Siren's nails stopped their tapping.
This little... morsel had known Cookie longer than she had. Aria couldn't help but feel just a tinge of jealousy.
"I met her through Wheeler, that jerk," the waitress finished, absent-mindedly scooting her glass about the table with an extended finger.
Aria recalled Wheeler talking about Patti the day they ended up at the Nuclear Sunburns concert. That was also the last day she'd even been anywhere near Cookie.
"Yea, yea. You two dated for a while," she stated, nodding her head. Patti grimaced.
"H—how did you know that? I swear to God if you've been snooping, I'll—"
"I work at Cookie's shop," Aria reassured her with a raised hand. She thought for a moment. "Well, I used to. Wheeler told me about you, but I've never seen you come in or anything, and I worked late."
"Yea, I only ever go to Cookie's house," Patti replied. "Can't cook on a busted violin, can you?"
Aria's fist clenched. For the accursed life of her, she could not compute how this little brat had become so close to Cookie that the woman might have felt comfortable enough to invite her into her home... repeatedly.
It now occurred to her that this small factoid could work to her advantage, as annoying as it might have been. The Siren's jaw worked about as she considered what she had learned, trying to make it settle with what she had previously assumed.
"So, I hear you like the Nuclear Sunburns," she mentioned, not really sure why she was doing so.
"Love 'em. Why?" Patti replied, leaning back in her seat, and crossing her arms.
This response made Aria narrow her eyes. She exhaled sharply, took a sip from her glass, and clunked it back down upon the wood.
"Nevermind. Listen, I've got a proposition for you, a favor to ask, if you will."
Again, Patti scoffed at her.
"I don't even know you. What the hell makes you think that I'd do you any favors?" she asked.
"I'm sorry," Aria clucked. "I was under the impression that you actually wanted this bar job."
And then it all seemed to click in Patti's mind. Sitting up in her seat, she finally reached for her glass, and brought it up to her lips. After a few gulps, she placed it down, and leaned forward.
"I'm listening," she purred, her sapphire eyes glistening.
This drew a smile out of the Siren.
"Good. I need you to watch Cookie for a few days. Every evening, you have to make sure that she gets home, and every morning make sure that she shows up at work. If you can schedule some of your cooking lessons within those times, then even better, as far as I'm concerned. If within that time frame, for whatever reason, she doesn't show up where she's supposed to be, I want you to call me immediately."
The entire time the Siren was speaking, Patti sat there shaking her head. When Aria had finished, the girl grimaced.
"No way. Maybe you and your blue friend are fine with stalking people but I—"
"Sonata's my sister," Aria corrected her, tired of the waitress using the word 'friend' to describe their complicated, and coronary-inducing relationship.
Patti cocked an eyebrow.
"Well, that makes a hell of a lot of sense, then, doesn't it?" she quipped. "Regardless, there's no way I'm gonna—"
"Do it and not only will I put in a good word for you with Bubs, but you have my solemn promise that the 'blue nut,' as you so eloquently refer to her, won't hear a peep about it from me."
This silenced Patti. Her lips drew in tight.
"And if I refuse?"
"Then you don't get the job, and I tell Sonata, anyway. Whatever consequences come with that are your burden to bear, and my entertainment with which to amuse myself. Simple as that."
Again, Patti was shaking her head. The grimace had stretched wider across her face, and it was made clear that she was now quite furious.
"This is illegal, you know. Like, everything about you and your wackjob sister is illegal," she hissed, rising to her feet, and reaching over to snatch the book out of Aria's hand. She shook it menacingly in the Siren's face. "It's already bad enough that I've had to take this crap from Sonata, but like hell am I gonna take it from some stupid, purple, sour-faced grump that I don't even know. I should drag your ass out back right now, and—"
Aria's eyes flashed. Her hand shot forward, and slapped the book out of Patti's grasp, pressing it against the tabletop. Her nails dug into the wood around it. With the other hand, she managed to grab hold of the mortal's collar, dragging her forward, and nearly upsetting both of their beer glasses.
It warmed the cockles of the Siren's cold heart to be reminded of the pegasus-like agility that had never quite managed to leave her, even after all these lifetimes. Still, at the moment, she found herself lost in a state of complete impatience. Staring coldly into Patti's eyes, she shook the startled girl's collar once, and drew her in even closer.
"You know, I suppose you aren't to blame for not knowing who I am; so I can't fault you on that. But I would advise you to start rethinking the way you approach people you're mostly unacquainted with. You never know who you might be threatening, and it seems that's already gotten you into enough trouble as is." The Siren quite literally growled, something deep and feral escaping from her core. "What say you try that whole bit again?"
Patti said nothing, lost in a state of terror at the speed at which Aria had managed to get hold of her. A shiver ran up her spine as she listened to the immortal's nails scraping against wood, dragging her book back toward her own side of the table.
They stood there like that, glaring into each other's eyes for a long while. A few patrons and even Buzz had paused what they were doing to stare.
"No trouble in here, ladies. Take it outside, okay?" the barkeep urged cautiously.
Aria's eyes still had not wavered from Patti's.
"Whaddya say, Patti?" she posed.
The last thing she expected the mouthy waitress to do was to break out into tears. Yet, no sooner had she spoken did large droplets begin to fall from those sapphire eyes, hitting the table with very audible 'plops'.
Needless to say, this reaction caught the Siren by surprise. If Patti had chosen that particular moment to deck her in the jaw, the punch would have most certainly landed. Not knowing what else to do, Aria's eyes darted about, a sickened look befalling her as, finger by finger, she released her grip upon the brunette's collar.
"Uuuh," she stammered, ringing her hand off as if such disgusting levels of emotion were dangerously contagious.
"I can't do this anymore!" Patti exclaimed through a fresh spray of tears. "Everyone hates me!"
Now, they were drawing even more stares. Aria felt her face beginning to flush as her eyes darted about. Sinking down into her seat, she opened her book, and hid her face behind it, fed up with the overly dramatic waitress' antics.
"Geez, will you relax?" she hissed. "I wasn't gonna actually hurt you or anything. Just... y'know... maybe sock you once in the boob or something."
Shockingly, this didn't work to quell the mortal's distress.
"I don't understand! Why is everyone making my life so miserable?" Patti wailed. "I mean, I know I'm not perfect, but all this? This is too much!"
"Shh!" Aria pressed, somehow managing to sink even lower into her seat. "Just shut u—Look, it's not you, okay? You just got tangled up with the wrong person. Sonata's crazy. Both of my sisters are actually crazy, and to be quite honest, you probably don't deserve whatever it is she's doing to you, alright? Is that what you wanted to hear?"
"Wait a minute. There's another one of you loonies?" Patti yelped, her eyes going wide with panic.
"Just fucking calm down, and drink your beer for Chaos' sake, you freaking baby!" Aria hissed, baring her teeth. "Nobody's gonna hurt you!"
Surprisingly, this worked. Sniffling to herself, Patti nodded once, picked up her glass, and nursed it through a few dry heaves, just as a baby would a bottle. When she was absolutely sure that the girl wouldn't break out into sobbing again, Aria sat up.
"Look, I can get you this job, and make sure you don't lose it, okay? I just need you to watch Cookie like I said for a few days. That's all."
The way the waitress was looking into her eyes and sniffling in the most pitiful manner made the Siren think she just might break out into tears once again. Choking back a few small heaves, Patti gripped her half-finished glass with both hands, and took a deep breath.
"You must really like her or something, huh?" she squeaked. Aria jumped in her seat, looking around to make sure nobody had heard.
"Wha? Who told y—Of course not!" she denied, then pausing for a moment to stare at the girl. "Uhh, why? Do you or somethin'?"
Patti rolled her red, teary eyes. Gradually, her usual demeanor returned.
"Pfft. I don't swing that way, thank you very much. Buuut," a glimmer of a grin escaped her, "I can tell that you like her a lot if you're asking me to follow her around like this."
"I, uhhh. Errr..." the Siren stammered, her entire face going even rosier.
"Hey, it's alright! I don't really care," Patti cut in, running a finger around the rim of her glass. She thought to herself a moment. "Now that I think about it. She does mention you a lot."
Aria's eyeballs nearly popped out of her skull.
"She does—Ahh, w-what does she say?"
"Never mentioned you by name, I guess because she figured it wouldn't ever matter to me. Only calls you 'that girl that she works with'. Always talking about how cool and pretty you are or whatever, though I don't see it, honestly. Says you're capable of holding obscene amounts of liquor, which again explains a lot, and that you're the only non-old person she knows who still actually listens to a cd player in a non-ironic way."
There went that weird chest flutter and mouth curling sensation again. Aria bit down upon her tongue to halt it before it could spread.
"Also mentioned how good you are at guitar, actually. Said I should ask you for a lesson or two one day if I ever wanted to learn, but I don't think I'll be doing that anytime soon," Patti finished, cutting her eyes in the Siren's direction.
"Uhh, yea. Don't bother. I wouldn't say yes, anyway," Aria murmured, her mind not all the way present. Willing herself back to attention, she sat upright, and forced a stern look onto her face. "Listen, none of that is important right now. All that matters is that we help each other, okay? Do we have a deal or not?"
Patti studied her for a moment, again chewing voraciously upon her bottom lip. After a few seconds of consideration, she reached out with a hand for a shake.
"Deal," she replied.
Aria moved to take her hand, only for the waitress to quickly pull away, shooting the Siren a sly grin.
"But first, I wanna hear you say it."
Aria shot her an angry glare, already knowing what was to come.
"Say what?" she asked anyway. One could never be too sure. Perhaps this wasn't any sort of impending humiliation like she thought it was after all.
"I want to hear you say out loud that you like Cookie. That you care about her enough to ask me to do this."
Nope. Humiliation it was.
Aria's eyes narrowed into spiteful slits. This girl was pushing it, alright. Not only was she foolishly bent on pissing her off, but by insisting that she say such a thing out loud, she was also on the verge of putting Cookie in even greater danger.
"No," the Siren hissed with finality.
Patti shrugged and studied her fingernails.
"Well, maybe Cookie and I could have a longer chat next time about how you—"
"I won't," Aria insisted, her eyes going wide. "I can't."
Eyeing her suspiciously, Patti rubbed the pads of her fingertips together.
"Fine..." she murmured, the word full of implications, and none of them to the Siren's liking.
At last, Aria took a deep breath, and closed her eyes.
"You're such a bitch," she muttered, at which time Patti giggled, and picked up her beer glass to take a sip.
"Hey, I'm gonna get whatever enjoyment out of this that I can, and nothing less," she joked, raising the glass to her lips.
"I... like her," the Siren grumbled under her breath.
"Whawassat?" Patti prodded, raising a hand to her ear. "Didn't quite catch that."
"I frikkin' like her, alright? She's one of the few people alive who I can tolerate, and so what? It's not like that makes me weird or different or something! Everybody loves Cookie! Big fuckin' whoop!"
By this time, Patti was chortling into the rim of her glass. Placing the thing down gently upon the table, she clasped her hands together as if she were on the verge of closing down some tenuous deal in a boardroom meeting.
"I never implied that you loved her, but that's good to know! Sweet even," she purred.
Aria's lips fumbled about for a moment before they settled into a defeated grimace. Her entire head had gone red.
"You never bring this up in conversation to me or anyone else again, got it?" she commanded, digging her nails into the table.
"Ah," Patti halted her with a raised finger. "These are details not aforementioned when this agreement was made."
She then held her hand out for a shake.
"I'll follow her for you, and give you a call if anything should happen. That's all you need to know."
Huffing loudly, Aria reluctantly took the waitress' hand in her own, shook once, and then reached into her bottomless jacket pockets for a pen and two scraps of paper. After retrieving them, she covered one scrap with her book, discreetly scribbled her house number, folded it, and shoved both papers and the pen across the table.
"Here," she muttered. "Now, write yours down, and give it to me.
Patti looked perplexed as she stared down at the paper.
"God, what're you, like forty? You could have just told me the number so I could put it into my phone," she groaned, pulling her phone out of her pocket, and beginning to type in the numbers. "Here, I'll just tell you mine."
Aria, started out of her seat, book in hand. Covering the phone with the thing, she passed the girl an angry glare.
"No, you shut up, and write it down," she barked. "I'll memorize it."
Utterly confused, and too exhausted with the situation to care, Patti shrugged and obediently complied, scribbling her number down upon the unused scrap whilst Aria covered the paper from view. When she was finished, The Siren snatched the thing up, and stared at it intently. After a few seconds, she crumpled the paper up with a fist, pulled out her lighter, and torched it. The brunette before her scoffed at the odd sight of all this.
"You memorized it alread—"
"Yep," Aria replied, her patience for the entire rendezvous now gone. Gulping down the rest of her beer, she collected her things together, and stood up to leave. "It's getting dark. I suggest you get started right now."
Noting the Siren's impending escape, Patti bolted upright in her seat.
"W...wait a second. Where are you going?" the waitress inquired, turning about to face her as she headed toward the back of the bar.
Aria rolled her eyes yet again.
"I believe the owner of this fine establishment, and I are due for a chat about some possible upcoming employment opportunities, don't you?"
She then turned away to prevent herself from staring directly into the searing brunt of the most heartwarmingly grateful smile she had ever seen, plastered across Patti's face.
"Ack. My eyes."
Aria wasn't exactly clear on what to feel during the walk home. Somehow, she was caught in a space between both relief and grief. There was a plan to redirect whatever horrible actions Starshot might have wanted to take against them all, hurting Cookie included, but it almost seemed too simple to be as effective as she knew it would be.
Adagio had been the one to lure him and his wife in, but if Aria were to be absolutely honest with herself, it was she who had disrupted the time mage's life forever. Had she not drained his wife to the point of mindlessness, he would probably have never come after them in the first place. It was revenge for his wife that the wizard really wanted, and if she could thwart his avenues for taking it, then perhaps all this dread and terror would cease.
Looking back toward the warm light emanating from Cookie's shop door, Aria could just make out Patti's silhouette standing beside the threshold. Wondering why she hadn't decided to simply wait for her inside, she quickly remembered that the waitress wasn't exactly on the best of terms with Muddy Wheeler. Fortunately for the Siren, a few moments later, down the road and on the opposite side of the street, she spotted a familiar bomber jacket and poof of curly, white hair heading toward the shop door.
Knowing that she could not be spotted in the evening light, thanks to her dark clothing, she paused mid step in order to watch the woman. Loaded down with her usual bags full of bobs and bits, she walked up to Patti, smiled, and stopped to speak. Without having to hear a word of the exchange, Aria already knew what it was they were conversing about, and somehow that was enough to send a wave of calm rushing through her. Nodding to herself with satisfaction, she reached into her pocket for a cigarette and lighter, lit it, and then turned toward home.
Everything was going to be alright. Now, the only thing left to do was to find a little courage—preferably the liquid kind—in order to complete her important task. But concerning this, there was still one more thing that could—no, scratch that—would stand in her way: Adagio.
Admittedly, her sisters were clever enough to figure out what she was up to if given ample time to ponder on it all, especially together. Granted, Sonata tended to quickly lose interest in things if instructed to by her elders; however, Adagio was a nosey one, and Aria was quite sure that she would never stop delving until she had discovered everything there was to learn about whatever it was she was hiding. Thus, the sullen Siren committed herself to finding ways to keep them both as distracted, confused, and separated as possible until her mission was complete. It didn't have to be an overly elaborate production nor would it all have to last for very long. Simple enough, wasn't it? Already, a plan of action had begun to form in her mind. It worked to lift her spirits even higher, if that were at all believable.
By the time she had walked through the door of her home, Aria was cheerily whistling to herself through little plumes of cigarette smoke. The TV was blaring somewhere in the living room, and surprisingly, she didn't hear any of the typical sounds that would usually be emanating from the kitchen at this time of night, nor did she smell anything cooking.
Kicking off her boots by the door, she sauntered into the living room only to spot both Sonata and Adagio sprawled in various poses of carelessness across the old couch. Sonata sipped forlornly upon a near empty juice packet whilst Adagio, hair unraveled, bare feet kicked up onto the coffee table, flipped through channel after channel.
Snorting at the rather pitiful sight of them, Aria moved to stand next to her eldest sister, and still puffing upon her cigarette, placed a hand upon her hip.
"Who farted in your smog?" she inquired. Adagio's eyes were the only pair to slide in her direction, shooting her the most irritated of glares.
"I thought I told you to only smoke outside or in your own filthy room," the eldest Siren grunted.
This comment didn't seem to phase Aria even though she still obliged her sister's wishes by smashing the butt out into an empty candy dish upon the table. Exhaling out her last puff of smoke, she nudged her chin in Sonata's direction.
"So, uh, she's not gonna cook tonight, I take it," she muttered. Neither of the two other girls moved an inch save for Adagio's shrugging. Both of their eyes remained locked boredly upon the T.V. screen. "Geez, that bad of a day, huh?"
Having gotten quite tired of not receiving any replies, Aria sighed, and quickly headed off toward the kitchen. The sound of the landline receiver being raised off of the hook, and subsequently, the middle Siren's voice mumbling something to itself wafted into the living room. After a while, the phone was slammed back down, and Aria returned with three wine glasses, and a freshly opened bottle of Moscato in hand.
"I ordered a pizza. Extra large," she stated. No response except for a low, gurgling groan escaping from the depths of Sonata's throat. Aria stared at her and motioned with her chin.
"No, really. The hell's wrong with her?"
Adagio's eyes peered into the rosy girl's hands.
"Sonata ate too much of that crap down at Sammy's again. Plus, she’s been complaining about her nose or something ever since she got home. Claims she has a cold, even though that doesn’t make any kind of sense, whatsoever,” the eldest Siren grumbled, side-eyeing the youngest girl. She then paused, remembering her initial point of contention.
“Is that my brand new Moscato in your grubby hands?"
"It is," Aria replied plainly, not looking unnerved in the slightest by the cautioning tone in Adagio's voice. "Want some?"
The eldest Siren studied her for a second, weighing out the pros and cons of lashing out at her sister before sighing heavily, and sitting up straight.
"I'm sorry, did someone tell you that my dessert wine somehow pairs well with your 'Mighty Meat Lovers Special'?" she harped until she saw Aria shrug, and fill one of the glasses near to the brim. The enticing color of it drew the eldest Siren in. Soon, she found herself licking her lips. "Dammit, just fill me up."
A small smile cracked Aria's stoic visage as she knelt down before the coffee table, placed the two free glasses down, and poured out a hefty sum for Adagio. For Sonata, she only filled the bottom portion of the glass. Passing the smallest vessel to the youngest girl first, Aria waited until she tentatively took it out of her hand.
"Drink it. It might actually help you feel better," she urged her. Hesitating for just a moment, Sonata studied the glass.
"This isn't gonna be gross like all the other stuff you girls make me drink is it?" she inquired apprehensively. Aria thought to herself for a moment.
"Actually, no. I don't think so. You might even like it."
Blinking a few times, the youngest Siren brought the glass up to her mouth and took a few tentative sips. Licking her lips, she nodded to herself a couple times, and then chugged the entire thing down.
"That is pretty good," she murmured. "Can I have some—"
"No," Aria replied bluntly, stopping up the bottle.
"Well, well. Someone's in a chipper mood tonight," Adagio gibed, ignoring Sonata's pouting, picking up her own glass, and giving it a swirl. "You drinking wine? Ordering us dinner? What's the catch?"
Aria had to admit that ever since things had so nicely fallen into place back at Bubbles, she had been feeling something akin to pleasant. She now saw her future clearly, and neither her sisters, nor anyone else would know, could hold her from it, or would suffer because of her past actions. Everything was going to be alright, and she would be the one to make sure of it.
"Eh, won a bet down at the bar tonight," she lied, trying to hide her desire to smile. "Figured I'd share the wealth."
"Ah, so that's where all of your cigarette funds have been coming from," Adagio hummed, taking a huge swig from her glass. "I hope you won enough to replace this bottle."
This made Aria chuckle, a sight that shocked both Adagio and Sonata into attention.
"You got it," she muttered without contest.
Getting up to go fetch some plates, the usually glum Siren never even noticed her two sisters gawking at her the entire way there. When she began to hum cheerily to herself, Sonata took the opportunity to tug repeatedly upon Adagio's arm, nearly making her spill wine onto her pristine white blouse. Swatting her hand away, the eldest Siren passed her sister an irritated glare.
"What is it?" she growled placing her glass down, lest any of her precious Moscato was accidentally wasted.
"Adagio," Sonata hissed, her eyes wide, voice panicked. "She's humming show tunes! I'm scared!"
Adagio considered this, rubbing her chin as she peered in the direction of the kitchen. Picking up her glass, she finished off its contents in one, big gulp.
"Hmm," she sighed, finding that she actually did agree with Sonata's sentiment. "Yes, she's definitely up to something, alright."
There was something brewing in the back of Adagio's mind—a bad inkling, a horrid suspicion. She dared not mention it out loud right at that instant for fear of spraying such foul thoughts into the atmosphere, granting them the ability to solidify and make themselves real. Instead, she would just continue to fill her gob with more wine.
When the doorbell finally rang and the two sisters witnessed Aria practically skip—in a rather Sonata-like fashion—to go fetch their pizza, Adagio poured herself another full glass, and quickly downed the entire thing. Something clearly wasn't right, indeed, and like every other secret that foolishly tried to hide itself away from her, she would be sure to get to the bottom of it once and for all.