I find my way to Lady’s bar, appropriately named Lady’s Bar, without much difficulty. It’s a modest building tucked downtown between a fast food joint and a bookstore. There’s a cute neon light up top, and a menu on display outside the door. The only thing really separating it from a normal human bar is signage in a language I don’t recognize. Which… really begs the question, does everyone in Duen speak english? Am I going to run into culture barrier problems? I’d spoken to Cassius without thinking about it, but it’s entirely possible that I could have opened my mouth and shocked him with my earthly utterances.
I still have so many questions for Lady…
A man at the counter greets me with a toothy smile. The bar is otherwise fairly empty. To be expected, since it’s still the middle of the day.
JUN: Is Lady here?
?: She was, but she ran to get a few things we ran out of. Can I help you instead?
JUN: Oh, probably not, I was just going to bug her with some questions… I’m, uh, her new roommate I guess?
?: Huh. Really? That’s odd. She didn’t say anything to me about a roommate…
The man squints doubtfully at me, as though he suspects I might be lying. Meanwhile I just gawk in return, wondering what he is. Huge, semi-transparent fins protrude from each side of his face, and a long, flexible projection of some sort dangles from the crown of his head. His cheeks and arms are littered with tattoos, and when he angles his chin just right, I can see slits on his throat. I stare for a moment before it occurs to me that they’re gills. So he’s a fish!
…Maybe…? But then how would he be alive on land?
?: Well, I’m Calisto. You are?
JUN: Jun. Er, nice to meet you, Calisto.
He puts a hand out, and more transparent webbing connects each of his fingers. His shake is firm and confident, and though there’s no malice in the gesture, I catch his black eyes darting up and down like he’s sizing me up. I turn away self-consciously, both grateful for my mask and also suddenly embarrassed of it.
CALISTO: Are… you a life leech like Lady? Or a shapeshifter? I can’t quite place you.
JUN: Uhhh, neither…
CALISTO: Sorry, sorry, that was awful rude of me to ask. I’m just a little surprised that Lady would have someone move in when she’s lived alone for as long as I’ve known her. She hurtin’ for money lately or something and just not tellin’ me?
JUN: Nothing like that. I’m just a friend of hers who needs a place to crash for a while, and she graciously opened her doors to me.
This explanation seems to finally click something into place for Calisto, and he visibly lets his guard down. Suddenly he’s very animated, gesturing and nudging like we’re old pals, and while I’m normally a fairly hands-off person, there’s something about him that makes it feel warm and welcome.
CALISTO: Ahh, ain’t that just like a Lady!! She’s always helping others out. Sorry again for my atrocious manners. I deal with a lotta strange types, as you can imagine, working a bar…
CALISTO: How’s about we get you somethin’ to drink? On the house. Any friend of Lady’s is a friend of mine.
Every time he leans in closer to me, I smell salt and a summery breeze. It’s a nostalgic scent that I find myself trying not to get lost in.
JUN: I don’t really drink. But thank you all the same.
CALISTO: What’s that? How about a chocolatey milk, then?
JUN: Haha, okay, a chocolate milk sounds great.
I bite back the desire to ask questions about where milk comes from in this world. I don’t exactly want to announce that I’m an oblivious human to this guy I just met, and I also don’t know if I’m ready to handle whatever the answer would be.
JUN: So are you close to Lady?
CALISTO: As close as a whale and its barnacles.
CALISTO: Kidding. I s’pose we’re close. We look out for each other. Do each other favors. Hide bodies for each other.
CALISTO: All seriousness, I owe her a lot. Seems like you do, too.
JUN: Guess we’ve got that in common.
Calisto smiles broadly, and his massive teeth gleam as he does. Conversation with him comes so easily despite how withdrawn I usually am. I guess I can see how he’s well-equipped to be a bartender. Lady picks ‘em good.
Speaking of Lady, the front door jingles and she steps in with a few grocery bags.
LADY: Ah, Jun! How are you, dear? Acclimating to the area okay?
JUN: I’m fine! I was just chatting with Calisto.
LADY: That so? He’s not being a pain in the ass, is he?
CALISTO: Hey! Don’t be mean to me or I’ll quit.
LADY: Like hell you will. Try working at another bar with how much you flirt on the job. You’re lucky I don’t dock you for it.
She reaches across the counter and pinches his cheek fondly like he’s a little brother. He tolerates it, but only barely.
CALISTO: It’s called good customer service. The online reviews seem to like me for it.
LADY: Whatever. You’re embarrassing to watch sometimes.
She rolls her eyes and turns towards me.
LADY: Follow me into the back, Jun. I’ve gotta put some stuff away.