The bartender’s giving me that look, the one that usually leads to a lecture, to me having to look for another place to get a fake ID from. I should have known it would be trouble from the moment I saw it was a woman - a man might let me slip through to seem cool. Women, though, were more likely to take the opportunity to view me maternally, to tell me what they think my mother obviously didn’t.
They’re right, in a way, of course. She never told me not to lie about my age, not to go to bars and get drunk. Then again, if I’d had one, she wouldn’t have had to worry about it. Back home, nobody thinks about ages, nor about alcohol. They don’t exist. But I’m not home anymore.
The bartender sets my ID back down on the bar, slides it over in front of me. “One drink,” she says.
I nod, happy to be getting even that. I have one of those faces, the kind that makes it impossible to tell age, but, if you had to guess, you’d feel confident in guessing young. Very young. “A white Russian,” I order, without hesitation. It’s what I’ve been craving all day - no, all month, since the glossy red hearts began showing up in store windows, chased by silhouettes of tiny baby angels, carrying bows and arrows. I was glad to see neither of those when I walked into the bar. Obviously, other than a few couples scattered around, if somebody was here, today, it wasn’t because they had, or were looking for, true love.
“Did he forget?” the bartender asks, putting my drink down. “Or have you just not met him yet?”
“I haven’t met him,” I told her, picking up the glass. She skimped on the vodka, but it isn’t terrible. They’re never quite the right taste, never the same, but it’s as close as I can get. I take another sip before continuing with, “because he doesn’t exist.”
“Oh, don’t be like that, hon. You’re still young - there’s no hurry. Trust me.” I do. She knows all about hurrying. She got married the first time when she was 18, got divorced less than a year later. She knew her next two husbands less than six months each before she married them. But she’d never really felt the arrow’s sting until the fourth.
Even so, she’s wrong. There’s nobody for me, no matter how long I wait. And I’ve been waiting a long time.
“Love’s a funny thing,” she tells me, as if I didn’t know. “It’ll sneak up on you when you least expect it.”
She had no idea. People don’t. True love isn’t sweet, it isn’t innocent, and, most of all, it isn’t random. The arrows don’t fly willy-nilly - there’s always a plan, always a reason. If you’re smart, you don’t question it. If you’re not, if you think that, just once, perhaps you should take the feelings of those involved into consideration, change the target, that’s it. There’s only one strike.
The bartender opens her mouth again, then changes her mind, reaching out to pat my hand before moving on to another customer. She can’t see the mark, of course, but even humans can sense an outcast, a lost cause. I shift on my barstool, hearing the soft crinkling beneath me. I’m not incontinent - it’s just a reminder, a pale imitation, but something of a comfort all the same, just like my drink.
I feel her in the room long before her hand finds my shoulder, long before her voice says, “What are you doing here, baby sister? You naughty little thing!”
The bartender looks up and over at us, worried she’s about to get in trouble, but I simply down the rest of my drink and hop off the stool, leaving her a ten dollar bill before vanishing through the crowd. I don’t want to make a scene, not here. She keeps her hand on my shoulder as she guides me to the door, then out to the alley. Finally, I turn to face her.
She’s tall - most of them are - and stunning - ditto - with long, black hair that almost seems to blend into the night sky, blowing ever so softly in a breeze that doesn’t seem to touch anything else around her. “Look,” she says, putting her hands on her hips, “You know why I’m here. You’ve had plenty of time to mope around - now will you stop messing around and get to work or not?”
I lost my bow a long time ago, but not my aim. The first bullet goes through where her heart would be, if she had one. Her hand darts out as the sound still echoes through the alley, smoke still wafting from the barrel. The bullets aren’t blessed silver - those things are expensive - but they’re usually enough to dissuade my solicitors. She’s a big shot, though. The barrel of the gun has to be burning hot, but it doesn’t phase her, as her grip is even hotter. As I watch, her fingers melt through the metal, and I let go, letting her throw it aside as she steps in closer to me.
Even though I can’t see them, I can feel her wings now, six of them, wrapping around me, encompassing me. Her hands, surprisingly gentle, reach up towards my face, wipe away a drop of my drink from the corner of my mouth. Her other hand moves downwards, beneath my skirt. “You’re still trying, aren’t you?” she whispers. “You still can’t accept that it’s over. You’ll never get back in.” My face begins to feel warmer - it takes a moment for me to realize it’s actually her hand that’s heating up. “There is no in between, cupcake. You can’t wander here forever.”
Another shot rings out, and she jerks away, back arching, the fire coursing through my body suddenly vanishing. She turns, just in time for the third gunshot to rip through her chest, and then she’s gone, the bullet whizzing by above my head, and into the wall.
“Come on,” he tells me, holstering his gun. “We’d better get gone before anyone calls the cops.”
I nod, follow him in silence to his car, sliding into the passenger’s seat while he takes the wheel. We drive in silence for a while before I finally tell him, “I need a new gun.”
He rolls his eyes. “I don’t see why, for all the good you did with your last one.” I don’t point out that, if he’d share his silver bullets, I could’ve done just fine. I don’t ask how he’d been sure enough of his aim on the last shot to know the bullet wouldn’t hit me after it had taken her down. I say as little as I can. He likes it better that way. I know that, if the others didn’t feel compelled to try to recruit me, he’d feel no qualms about leaving me behind, dead or alive. My choice or not, I know I’m just another fallen to him at the end of the day.
“I’ll see what I can spare when we get back,” he tells me begrudgingly. He always says ‘back.’ It isn’t home for him anymore, no more than any place on this world can be my home.
I look up at him for a little longer, just thinking. He could’ve just let her finish me off. He found fallen to hunt before he came across me, and while I made it easier, he could do it without me. I’m sure that it was something of a burden to him, keeping me around. But he saved me, nevertheless. There is a strange wave of warmth that passes through me, accompanying that realization. Even though part of me knows it’s foolish, I feel safe, there with him, safe and… something else. Something unfamiliar.
“Thank you,” I say quietly.
He looks at me with an odd expression and a shrug, but before he turns his attention back to the road, I see a tiny smile. I know it probably doesn’t mean a thing, and yet, it’s enough.