Fancy Date Night
(a Magic of Nasci flash fiction story)
Vincent drummed his fingers on the silky tablecloth, checking his phone for the fifth time in as many minutes.
He tugged at his uncomfortable tie. He'd had to book this restaurant reservation months in advance. Ina promised to wear a dress if she could see him in a suit. She really wanted this.
And now she was late.
The stuffy waiter came by, sniffing as he looked down his nose. "Are you sure you wouldn't like to order?"
"Yes," he said, trying to keep the edge out of his voice.
The waiter gave him a pitying look that said he'd seen this scenario all too often: the hapless date getting stood up, on Valentine's Day no less.
Vincent massaged the back of his neck, trying to stem his unease. Yes, Ina was a nature wizard and monsters weren't known for going on rampages at a convenient time. He'd known she might have to go on duty, so he'd texted her before arriving at the restaurant to ensure she could make it. She'd replied she was on her way.
That was an hour ago.
His leg started to get twitchy, and he bounced it up and down under the table. Maybe Ina had run into something really bad. She could be hurt on a mountainside, injured and unable to call for help...or worse.
He checked his phone again. No messages.
He finally pushed himself back from the table. He couldn't ignore the sinking feeling in his gut any longer. Ina had to be in trouble. Even if he didn't know where to start, he would look for her until he found her.
A commotion near the front door caught his attention. All the other couples in the darkened room stopped clinking their glasses and silverware to see what was going on.
"You can't go in there!" the waiter cried, trying to block someone from walking past the host's podium.
Ina skirted around him and scanned the room. The tension in Vincent's body evaporated at seeing her, but when he noticed the details, his muscled stiffened again. Ina's black hair, normally pulled back in a ponytail, was a tangle of twigs and dirt. Her pale green dress, also muddy, had been torn, exposing a few scratches tinged with blood. She wasn't wearing any shoes, creating footprints as she stormed across the room toward him.
"Ina," he breathed. The rage in her eyes indicated she was clearheaded, and her movements didn't appear sluggish.
She ignored the gasps of the other patrons as she threw her arms wide, exposing even more rips down the side of her dress.
"I spent a month's worth of plumbing jobs on this outfit!" she exclaimed. "But then one stupid vaettur jumped me, and this happened."
She held a pair of scuffed up high heels, the tips of which had been snapped clean off.
Tears formed in Ina's eyes. "I'm sorry."
Before Vincent could reply, the waiter got between them. "Miss!" he cried. "You cannot enter this establishment in your condition. I have to ask you to leave."
Vincent raised his voice. "She's my date."
The waiter flinched at Vincent's tone. "Yes, well," he sputtered. "I understand you were waiting for her, but given circumstances..."
"It's okay, Vince," Ina said. "I'm not welcome here." She turned back to the entrance.
Vincent shouldered past the waiter. "I'm going with you."
"Sir," the waiter called after them. "What about your bill?"
Vincent gave the waiter a look that made him wither. "I didn't order anything."
"Yes, but we have a reservation policy that states if you forfeit a reservation, you'll be blacklisted."
Ina slapped on a neutral expression. "You should stay and eat. I'll catch up to you later."
"Absolutely not." Vincent faced the waiter. "Go ahead. Blacklist me. The prices here are criminal anyway."
The waiter gaped as Vincent threw his arm around Ina and escorted her out. A couple near the entrance clapped as they left, causing Ina to crack a small smile. That made Vincent grin too, and he squeezed her tight as he led her toward the parking lot.
They ended up getting a bag of fast food and eating it on a worn picnic table at a nearby state park. Ina drew sigils for inner warmth so the chill wind of a dark winter evening wouldn't bother them.
Ina bit into her burger, then pulled her tattered dress sleeve back over her shoulder. "So much for our fancy date night."
"Says who?" Vincent countered. "I'm eating great food underneath a sky full of stars and sitting across from the most beautiful, badass girl on the planet. It doesn't get much better than this."
Ina put down her food and leaned her head on Vincent's shoulder. "Thanks."
If you liked this slice-of-life story, read more of Ina's adventures in Chasing Lightning.