Chapter 7 : Sagittarius is in Asparagus
Carlotta yanked open the door to the student bar and was immediately hit with an off putting waft of stale beer and cheap body spray. Even on a Tuesday evening the place was buzzing with drunken high spirits. As Nisha and Mindy entered behind her, Carlotta felt several pairs of eyes on them. Sometimes it was difficult to keep a low profile, despite their efforts at super casual attire. Vampires were by nature appealing to humans the same way venus fly traps were attractive to insects.
As if on cue, a girl in an oversized University College London hoodie half-slid, half-fell off her barstool, sloshing the pint of snakebite in her hand all over the floor. She began to make her way unsteadily towards them, a wide yet vacant smile plastered across her already plastered face. Carlotta side-eyed her approach apprehensively whilst looking around the dimly-lit space for the person they were here to meet.
The inebriated Geography student misjudged the space between two tables and collided with the corner of one, sending it skidding several inches whilst another wave of her drink became a slip hazard for other punters. Recovering with what she clearly thought was style and grace, she continued her beeline towards them.
Starting to feel just a little bit desperate at this point, Carlotta scanned the room again for any sign of Chet. Meanwhile, Nisha and Mindy were now watching the drunken horror show approaching. Nisha’s face was a mixture of dismay and concern. Like Carlotta, she wasn’t looking forward to dealing with whatever messy situation was about to unfold once this girl got within speaking distance. Mindy, by contrast, looked at best curious and at worst positively gleeful.
The beer drenched undergrad eventually reached their table. Still staring into their faces with glassy eyes, she switched her now mostly empty pint glass into her other hand and attempted to lean casually on the back of a chair. Her hand missed by a good three inches. With a look of total surprise, she was suddenly heading floorwards. All three vampires reflexively lurched forwards to try and catch her but in a textbook example of the kind of defiance the truly drunk often display for gravity, she somehow managed to catch herself. Straightening, she attempted to take a casual swig of her drink, oblivious to the fact that the last dregs had just been emptied down the front of her own top. She looked into her empty glass with disappointment and bemusement for a moment before re-focussing blearily on Carlotta, who was watching this sad display with a look of resignation.
Blasting them all with what was probably meant to be a winning smile but which in reality had more of a manic ‘the lights are on but nobody’s at home’ quality, she spoke.
“Hey I’m Katee, yougirlsarehot. Do youwannagedadrninkwifme?”
In her element, and loving every glorious minute of it, Mindy opened her mouth to respond. Nisha stomped hard on her foot before they all ended up at a warehouse party chewing on Tide Pods, or whatever it was the kids were into these days.
“Ow! What’d you do that for–”
Nisha shot Mindy a warning scowl, “Leave it, Min.”
Mindy pouted but obediently kept a sulky silence.
Carlotta began to open her mouth to say something, anything, that would convince Katee to toddle off back to her friends but she was spared by a voice echoing across the bar.
“Wagwan my sistrens!!”
All three vampires flinched.
“Chet, Jesus, how many times? You are so crushingly white, you can’t talk like that.” Carlotta chided, sounding tired.
Chet threw back his head and laughed loudly. He looked like he’d come straight from some exclusive Hamptons country club. Which made sense, because that’s exactly the world he had grown up in. As he moved confidently towards them, Carlotta took in his salmon chino, blue pinstripe shirt, and navy blazer ensemble teamed with a pair of tan loafers. No one would ever believe that this privileged man-child with his perfect white teeth, baby blue eyes and blonde curls was also the most well-connected purveyor of magical goods in London.
Coming to a halt, Chet beamed at Carlotta, “You Brits, so politically correct all the time.”
Carlotta frowned, “Actually, Chet–”
Chet’s eyes snagged on Katee who was gazing vapidly up into Nisha’s face, swaying ever so slightly back and forth on the spot. He pointed at her and looked to Nisha with raised eyebrows.
Nisha looked mortified, “Absolutely not, I have no–”
“Oh, were you going to…?”
Nisha blanched, “No!”
Chet held his hands up in a no offense gesture, “It’s fine if you were, I didn’t mean to interrupt. I hate when the waiter clears the plates before you’ve finished, amirite?”
Nisha was starting to look flustered at this point, like she didn’t fully understand how she ended up in this conversation. Carlotta stepped in to rescue her.
“We don’t know this young woman, Chet. She just came up to, uh, say hello.”
Chet nodded sagely, “Gotcha. That does tend to happen to you lot, doesn’t it?”
Winking at Nisha, he turned to Katee, who was still blissfully oblivious to everything going on around her. Bending down, Chet spoke gently as if addressing someone who’d just suffered a terrible shock.
“Hi, Katee. Katee?”
When she continued to gaze adoringly up at Nisha, he frowned and clicked his fingers in front of her face. She flinched, blinking as if coming out of a trance.
“Hey, girl. It’s time to go back to your friends now. I think they’re doing tequila shots with creme de menthe chasers, amazing huh?”
Eyes locked on his face, Katee nodded vaguely. Chet beamed at her reassuringly.
“There she is. Off you go. Back to your friendy friends.”
Gently, he grasped her shoulders and spun her around. Then, with a little shove of encouragement, he sent her shuffling back across the bar to her mates, who hadn’t seemed to have noticed she was even missing.
Chet watched her briefly, then with a satisfied sigh he turned back to face the others.
“Undergrads, huh? Our shining future.”
Carlotta rolled her eyes, “Chet, you’re an undergrad. And have been for, what….five, six years now?”
Laughing, Chet began to lead them to an empty booth in a marginally quieter corner. “Oh Carlotta, you don’t need to worry about me. My father owns half of Manhattan. I can just buy a degree if I need one. Can’t see any reason that I would though, not like I need to get an actual job or anything.”
Carlotta sighed, “Right, of course.”
As they settled in the booth, Chet raised his hand and shouted to the bartender, “Ricky! Four pints of your finest Guinness please!”
He graced the assembled company with a classic wink and finger gun combination, “Good old English beverage for you three.”
Reflexively, Nisha blurted, “Guiness is Irish.”
Chet shrugged, “English, Irish, same thing.”
Carlotta put her face in her hands in disbelief, “Oh my god, Chet, no. How long–”
His face rearranged itself into an expression so innocent it was almost laughable, “Don’t get your panties in a twist, Carlotta. Aren’t you French anyway?”
“I mean, yes, but–”
“Well there you go then. No harm done. Oh look, here comes my man Ricky with the refreshments.”
Scowling, Ricky placed the tray of pints down on the table somewhat harder than necessary, causing the velvety contents to wobble and slop.
“Chet. For the last time, this is a student bar not the bloody Ritz. We. Don’t. Do. Table. Service.”
Chet grinned and pulled a crisp ten pound note from his wallet, tucking it into Ricky’s breast pocket.
“There’s a good chap.”
Ricky sighed heavily, placed a pint before each of them and stomped off back to the bar, calling over his shoulder as he went,
“You need to settle your tab, Chet. It’s getting ridiculous.”
Chet ignored him and took a long sip from his drink, his eyes moving back and forth between Nisha, Mindy and Carlotta.
“So. Aside from a desperate desire to see me and the charming decor, what brings you girls here this evening?”
Calotta leaned back against the battered leather of the booth, “We need something and we need to get it tonight.”
Chet nodded, digesting this, “And what would that be?”
Chet’s eyebrows shot up as he sucked in a breath through his teeth, “Odinthought, huh? You know that’s not easy to come by, Carlotta. Even with proper lead time.”
Carlotta nodded, “I know, but I thought maybe the Nightmare Market…”
Chet tilted his head and made a semi-thoughtful face, “Maybe. There is a guy, well, not really a guy. It’s an Asmodean, but he does trade in a wide variety of emotive distillations and extractions. It won’t be cheap though and of course there’s my fee…”
“The cost won’t be an issue, Chet.”
Chet’s face broke into a wide smile, his sparkling teeth almost glowing in the dimly lit room, “Well alright then, ladies. We have an accord. London Bridge Station. Midnight.”
Carlotta swirled the amber liquid around in the bottom of her glass, lost in thought. It was quiet tonight at The Dusty Trail. She was sitting slouched over the bar with an Old Fashioned, just passing the time until they were due to meet Chet. Somewhere from the far corner, she was vaguely conscious of the sound of Mindy and Nisha playing pool with a couple of other regulars. The DT was one of the few remaining lesbian bars in London. It felt like just yesterday that there were loads of places to go if you wanted to dance with your girlfriend without some sweaty, coked up wanker trying to grind on you, as if your relationship was all just an elaborate show to get his attention. But these days it was just The Dusty Trail or SheBar in Soho. Sure, there were club nights at other places but in terms of dedicated spaces, the options were thin on the ground.
Carlotta took a sip of her drink, enjoying the soothing burn as she silently reminisced about the fun she’d had in this spot over the years.
During the day, the DT was a casual tumble of tables and chairs with huge glass doors that opened up completely during warm weather. Weekend brunch here was legendary and the whole place was abuzz with queers of all varieties sipping mimosas and flat whites. Not that the vampires got to actually go in person of course, being daylight and all. But it sounded delightful. In the evenings the space is transformed into a club, complete with a small dance floor and DJ booth. Weekends showcased the best of queer music including DJs and live acts. Nisha did regular sets of oldskool, rave and jungle, under her nom de tune DJ Snazzle, alongside other queer UK artists and even the occasional international guest. Weeknights were more laid back, with acoustic gigs, poetry readings and the occasional workshop . Regardless of what was on, Carlotta always felt a sense of relaxation here that was hard to put into words. Within the four walls of The Dusty Trail she could be her true self, without the defensive armour queer women often donned when out in the wider world. She couldn’t be her full vampire true self, obviously. Still, it was refreshing to let some of her walls down.
Suddenly her thoughts were interrupted by a lilting Scottish accent, “Penny for your thoughts, hen?”
Carlotta’s head jerked up and she was startled to find the bartender, Alex, polishing a glass directly opposite. She must really have been a million miles away not to notice her approach. Much to her sisters’ delight, she’d been nursing a bit of a thing for Alex for several months. Originally from Aberdeen but now London-based for her PhD in Feminist Literature, Alex cussed like a sailor and drank like a fish, but could still quote Virginia Woolf with total accuracy, even after a long night on the sauce. Tonight she was wearing her shoulder length dark hair in perfectly tousled chaos around her face. Her white gym tank read ‘Prepster’. Carlotta could see the edges of what must be a large, beautifully done tattoo covering one whole side of her torso peeking out around the edges of it.
How could someone be wearing essentially an oversized gym kit that looked like it was nicked from her kid brother, yet still look so perfectly put together?? Carlotta felt the blood rising to her cheeks, much to her eternal horror.
Managing a lopsided smile and hoping she didn’t look like the goofy moron she always felt like around Alex, she replied,
“Oh nothing. Away with the fairies.”
“Oh aye, I know what that’s like. My mum used to say if I spent any more time off with the wee folk one day I’d sprout wings and fly away.”
Carlotta laughed, “Honestly, that sounds pretty good right now, it’s been a weird week.”
“You’ve had a weird week too? We had two drag queens get into a fight in here yesterday. And I don’t mean harsh words, I mean a full-on fist fight. Feathers everywhere. I’ll be finding glitter for weeks. Savannah tried to break it up and took an extra large Mahnolo Blahnik to the face for her efforts. Absolute carnage.”
Carlotta couldn’t help but chuckle at this mental image, “OK you definitely win, angry drag queens are a level of drama of their very own.”
“Aye that they are, hen. I found sequins in my socks this morning. Madness. Sagittarius must be in asparagus or something.” She grinned playfully at Carlotta, reaching for a new glass from the dishwasher to polish.
Carlotta felt her heart skip a beat then took a firm hold on herself. Now absolutely was not the time.
Alex spoke again, “Will we be seeing you on Sunday then? For the foam party?”
Caught somewhat off guard by the prospect of anything beyond their potential demise on Saturday night, Carlotta cast about awkwardly for an answer.
“Oh, um, well…I’m not…I mean, I hadn’t really–”
Suddenly a voice spoke from behind her, “Yes, Alex, if we can, we will most definitely be here, won’t we Car?”
Carlotta glanced over her shoulder to see that Nisha and Mindy had wandered over without her noticing. Both looked positively gleeful to find her chatting with Alex. Great. She’d never hear the end of this now.
Alex laughed, “Well I’d expect no less of you, Mindy. I could name half a dozen ladies that will be coming solely in the hopes of seeing you.”
Mindy waved off Alex’s words with fake humility, “Oh stop it Alex, you beast.”
Nisha put her arm around Carlotta’s shoulders, “We’re doing everything we can to make sure we’ll be here on Sunday.”
Carlotta stammered, “Well, I’m just not–”
Nisha gave her a hard squeeze, Carlotta felt the air being forced from her lungs and nodded obediently, finally gasping out.
“Yup, we’ll be here. Can’t wait.”
Mindy slapped her approvingly on the back with what felt like an unnecessary degree of force. She winced, starting to feel a tad ganged up on.
However, Alex’s face had lit up. “Brilliant, well I’m not working so I’ll be here as a regular punter. I’ll look forward to seeing you all on the dance floor!”
Her comment, nominally for them all, was clearly actually aimed at Carlotta, as her eyes couldn’t help but let on. Carlotta, unable to look away, nodded mutely.
Mindy piped up decisively, “Brilliant, it’s a date!”
Carlotta groaned internally. These two would be the bloody death of her. Honestly, the youth of…..well, yesterday technically. She checked her watch and saw with some relief that it was time to go.
“Alright you two, we need to head out. Alex, thanks for the drink.”
Leaving the bar, she could feel Mindy and Nisha positively humming with the suppressed need to gloat. As soon as they were safely out on the street they both exploded at once.
“She’s so into you!!”
“Sunday is definitely a date–”
“WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO WEAR??”
Laughing in resignation, Carlotta held her hands up in a call for calm.
“Ok, ok. Let’s stay on task, girls. Eyes on the prize, innit? What I’m going to wear on Sunday really isn’t an issue if we’re all a little pile of dust on the basement floor.”
Mindy and Nisha both rolled their eyes and groaned dramatically as if Carlotta was a completely hopeless case.
“Ok, ok tell you what. If we are still alive on Sunday you two can choose my outfit. Happy?”
Both faces lit up immediately. As they made their way on foot towards London Bridge, Carlotta listened with growing concern to the series of ridiculous outfits the two of them considered for her. Wait….did they just say something about shutter shades?
Perhaps getting staked was actually the preferable option…
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