The waiter cleared the table outside the cafe’s front door and slipped two mint-green paper menus onto two white plates. I opened my mouth to object, fingers tugging on the stretched-out sleeves of my mustardy sweater. I was hoping for an inside seat.
“Thank you,” she said first and slid into the sunnier spot. The waiter put his hand on the back of her chair to wish her, only her, a delicious meal. She smiled with white teeth and a fluency I had never seen in real life.
She told me about her job at a flashy digital agency as I watched the sun play with her clean hair and white skin as if they were pools of saltwater. Her blue eyes held a ring of green in the middle that I could see when she opened them wide, wider to tell me about the size of her new office.
“I could put a hot tub in there it’s so huge!” she said. “Get in hot water to get out of hot water, you know?” I didn’t. But I was enjoying her light reflecting back on me, making me seem more appealing than I knew to be true. I was afraid that if I looked away, I would lose my own potential.
“Should we split the calamari?” she asked, making the same face as her profile pic. “Or are you one of those people who doesn’t like to share?”
“I can share,” I said.
“You look like you might be a pig for squid. Are you a hog for a cephalopod?”
“I don’t think so.” I said carefully.
“Don’t get me wrong,” she said. “I appreciate a girl who can eat.” Her blue eyes searched my sweater; I drew my arms in tight. She was testing me for weak spots. My jokes could be like that too, but hers were better. My mother told me I scared people. “No one’s out to get you,” she’d said, pinching my arm between her fingers. “Try not to bite everyone’s head off.” She was too kind to say what was real: I was hard to love.
We ordered the main course and three men turned to admire her as they passed. One stopped and asked if he could take her picture. She ran a hand down the back of her neck and offered him her left side. That’s when I realized our outdoor seating was good marketing: a beautiful woman makes a shiny lure. In my whole life, I had never thought of myself as bait.
“I’m glad I found you,” she said, pulling my mind to attention.
“Me too,” I said.
“I always wanted a sister,” she said and reached her pink hand across the table, palm up, waiting for mine to fill it.
“Me too,” I agreed, even though growing up, I only asked for a dog. I placed my fingertips on hers to see how it felt and she snapped her other hand on top of us both. Our hands were the same, except for my nails, short and chewed on. Hers long and impossibly iridescent.
“Now that you’re here, I don’t think I’ll ever let you go,” she said, showing me her teeth like she had to the waiter. She barked a laugh, her hands still holding mine, her nails starting to find skin. “My sister! My very own sister, can you believe it?”
The waiter placed the squid in front of her and I watched the creature’s smallest tentacle reach for a slice of lemon. It was an illusion; the dish was warm and grilled. I stretched my own arm across the table to stab a bite. She pushed the bright white plate two inches closer to me.
“Are we sharing?” I asked.
“You can have it,” she smiled, leaning all the way back in her chair. “I’m not hungry anyway.”
I was starving. I forked puckered legs into my mouth over and over, as she mooned about a trip to hidden hot springs, each pool more scalding than the last.
“Sounds uncomfortable,” I said, a bite lingering in my cheek.
“Oh, you know the story of the boiling frog,” she said.
But I didn’t.
“Suffice to say, it’s quite pleasant actually!” she laughed. Heads turned at the table on the other side of the glass door to catch the source of her perfect sound.
“You like things hot, I guess,” I said.
She cocked her head like a curious seal.
“Hot tubs, hot springs…”
“I run cold,” she said. “At least that’s what my boyfriends tell me!”
“Me too,” I said, a little warmer after filling my stomach. “Maybe it’s genetic.” But then why did she choose seats out in the early winter air?
“Have the last bite,” she gestured at the plate, one arm and one lemon left in an eddy of speckled aioli. I obeyed and washed it down with iced tea. She told me about the regular mud baths that kept her skin young and flexible.
“It’s like being buried,” she purred. Suddenly, the world in front of my eyes flickered and faded. Then the sirens, the freezing pavement on my neck. I couldn’t move or speak but I was still there and so was she.
“She’s mine!” I heard her shriek through sobs to a cast of blurry figures. “Let me stay with her!” Her silky arms wrapped around me, she brought an ice cube to my lips, still sweet with tea. She lifted me into her car on her own, cooing nursery rhymes as she worked. The last thing I remember is how the leather seats stank of the beach.
Rebecca Ackermann is a writer, designer, and artist living in San Francisco. Her short fiction has been published by Barren Magazine, Wigleaf, Flash Frog, and others. Her essays on tech and humanity have appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, The Week, and elsewhere. You can find her tweeting bad jokes and strong opinions @rebackermann.