At the end of Chapel I turned right again on Pohl. Pohl had a parking garage, a very 70s apartment building slightly humanised by all the laundry flapping on the balconies, and an accountant, humanised not at all by the aspidistra in the window. An accountant would have an aspidistra. At the end of Pohl I turned right again and . . . well, imagine that, I was on Bradbury, and there, two blocks away was the Eatsmobile.
A nice cup of tea, that’s what I wanted, out of a warmed mug from a pot with a cosy. I hauled myself up the steps by holding onto the railing. Somehow my knapsack had got heavier since I signed the forty-six hundred contract copies for Rose Manor. It was probably the blood loss. It was probably the invisible life-force shunt that all ongoing contracts involve, doubtless including house rentals. I knew a lot about ongoing contracts. But then perhaps the fact that mine required frequent personal contact with vampires and evil magicians and other risky social misfits put me in the wrong frame of mind.
The lunch rush was over, so I thought I might get away with nailing a booth. I slid out of The Knapsack and fell in after it.
“Well, hello there,” said Bridget, Mistress of Tea. “Haven’t seen you in at least four hours.”
“I tried to stay away as long as I could,” I said.
“I know,” said Bridget. “We have that effect on a lot of people. Tea?”
“Yes please,” I said humbly.
“And a nice jelly doughnut?”
“If you listen you can probably hear the sizzle from here. Ryuu is squirting the jelly in the first batch. Raspberry, boysenberry or crabapple. He dips them in sugar while they’re still warm, you know? So the sugar melts some. Then after he sticks the jelly in he dips them in sugar again.”
I was drooling. “All right, all right. And a jelly doughnut.”
I thought about it. I stopped thinking about it. “If you make me choose I’ll have to have one of each. And then I’ll need to buy a new pair of jeans.”
“Zenna’s has good jeans. Two blocks away, on Sturgeon.”
“You’re not helping. Boysenberry.”
Wise. I doubted that. I reluctantly opened my knapsack and pulled out my laptop. Turned it on. Discovered that the Eatsmobile had free wifi. I was going to dedicate my next book to this place. Although I’d better check first that this wouldn’t get me banned. Not everyone would want something entitled FLOWERHAIR THE INDOMINABLE dedicated to them. Especially if my or my editor’s hand slipped and the art department, unhindered, produced a cover with a lot of orange and pink and some extravagant nipple protectors. Opened my email program and ran my eye down the list. The top name was Norah’s. Hmm. There were, in fact, several from Norah. I opened the newest: IF YOU DON’T ANSWER THIS BY THE TIME I LEAVE THE OFFICE I AM COMING UP THERE AFTER YOU. WHEREVER THERE IS. YOU’VE GOT YOUR PHONE TURNED OFF TOO?? WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON? TALK TO ME.
Best friends. Every recently divorced woman who has run off into the unknown because she doesn’t know what else to do should have one.
Bridget reappeared with a tray and slid it on to my table. The mug was gorgeously warm. The tea cosy had a slender long-legged black dog on it. I looked at it nervously. Then I turned it around. The other side had another slender long-legged black dog on it, only now she’d turned her head to look at me reproachfully. I sighed. I poured my tea. I moved the sugar bowl in front of the teapot and its cosy, but I could still see her eyes watching me. I started trying to write to Norah. I’ve got a house. It has Yog-Sothoth in the cellar and a tower with a madwoman in it but I will be well protected by my dog and the big black old iron stove whose name is Caedmon. I’m moving in tomorrow. I stared at this for a while. Norah usually rolled with my eccentricities pretty well—she had been known to say that I was fun to watch—but I thought possibly not in the present circumstances. I deleted it. I sighed again.
Bridget came back with the jelly doughnut. It was so good it almost made me cry. I was licking my fingers when my tea cosy caught my eye. I thought the dog was now looking more hopeful. “You’re not going to be a beggar, are you?” I said, but the sugar bowl was in the way and I couldn’t see if she wagged her tail or not. I looked up, and there was a young man sitting at the counter, grinning broadly at the woman talking to her tea cosy. Gah. I tried to write to Norah again. Wait till I get moved in and buy a bed before you visit. Two beds. I’m renting a house called Rose Manor, isn’t that a hoot? It’s big enough for house parties though. And a dog. Okay. I could send that one.
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