When I first downloaded the Cinder app, I was drunk. While out with friends, I downloaded the app for a laugh. We swiped through the pictures, ogled the sexy elves, and speculated over who would hook up with a bridge troll. So when days later I got an alert, it took me a moment to even remember what it was. Then I almost erased the app.
I probably should have erased it, but it was a stunningly lousy day. On the way out the door in the morning I spilled coffee on myself. I had to go back and change, making me late to work. From there the day went downhill, and I never managed to claw my way back to the top. Somewhere around lunch time, my friend texted me to say my ex-boyfriend of six years had posted engagement photos online. I’d never even been able to get the bastard to meet my mother, and here he was posing barefoot on the beach with some chick he had known for six months while she flashed a rock. At that point I unofficially gave myself the afternoon off, kicking off the countdown until I could get a drink.
I was not okay about him getting married. It would be nice to say I didn’t care and was totally over him. I wasn’t. Up until the engagement photos got posted, we had still been talking, and I had sort of thought maybe we would get back together, which just showed what a fool I was. Hell, I was pretty sure he’d slept with me since he’d been with his soon-to-be wife, which just went to show what a dirt bag he was.
Better to be a fool than a dirt bag…the short, sad story of how I got to my current problem. Not that getting an alert was a problem per se, but it did present a quandary. I’m a human. Usually, our interactions with the magical world are limited, and I wasn’t sure I wanted my first foray there to be via a hookup app.
My finger hovered over the screen of my phone. Fuck it, I thought, and laughed at my own pun before opening the app to see the notification.
Jabberwocky has sent you a Cin.
The thought “Beware the Jabberwocky” ran through my head, but then I remembered the Jabberwocky didn’t survive the poem. Perhaps, like most user names, all the clever ones were already taken, and it probably meant less than I thought. There was a picture of the Jabberwocky. He was cute, but not in a way that would make you look over your shoulder at him. In fact, he looked almost disappointingly normal compared to some of the orc profiles I had swiped past. I scrolled down further until I found what I was looking for. He’d left the species section blank but, buried in the list of questions he’d responded to, I found the answer. Or more precisely I learned he ‘didn’t want to let his vampirism define him’.
I scrolled back up to look at the picture again. Jabberwocky looked nothing like the mysterious and deadly handsome vampires I’d seen in movies and on magazine covers. He was a faded bronze, with dark hair and brown eyes. His skin was just starting to crinkle around his eyes, as if he smiled a lot. His crooked grin showed just a hint of teeth. I zoomed in but couldn’t make out even a hint of fang. The alert icon flashed again.
I pushed it and a message from Jabberwocky popped up.
Hi. I noticed we are in the same area, and we have some of the same interests. Maybe I can buy you a cup of coffee one night? :[
It took a moment for me to realize the :[ was a vampire face and not some sort of frowning robot.
I panicked that he knew my interests. I started flipping through the app and realized I must have drunkenly logged in from my social networking site. I hadn’t fully exposed myself, but there I was in my profile picture in a wedding photo booth. I wasn’t sure what it meant that a vampire had messaged a woman whose picture was of her in a boa holding a mustache on a stick over her mouth as she made duck lips at the camera. It was also sort of weird to think of the orcs, trolls, and satyrs who must have all swiped past my picture without stopping, which was almost insulting. Not that I wanted to be hit on by an orc, but I didn’t want to be rejected by one either.
Before I could change my mind I sent off a quick reply, or “Cin” as the app titled them.
I’d love to meet but how about a drink instead of coffee. Does tonight work?
At least this way I wouldn’t have to drink alone. I had a few friends who would be happy to hold down my sorrows while I drowned them in cheap booze, but I didn’t feel like talking about the engagement photos. Everyone would want to talk about my feelings. I didn't want to talk about them. I wanted to pretend I didn't have any. It hadn’t been a particularly ugly breakup, so I assume they were all still friends with him online and saw the pictures. I tried not to look at my phone for as long as I possibly could, which was all of about twenty minutes. The little notification light was blinking, so I tapped on it.
Sure. Meet me at Amuse.
Amuse was a popular local wine bar with a good reputation. It wasn't my kind of scene, but since I was looking to shake things up, it was the perfect place to meet. I could go there with a vampire and pretend to be better than I was. A new, more sophisticated version of myself who went to chic wine bars with handsome vampires and didn't embarrass herself.
How about 9?
Which would give me enough time to get ready but not enough to lose my nerve. As soon as he sent back a reply saying he was looking forward to it, I already found myself regretting it. What had I gotten myself into?
It took me a while to decide on an outfit. In the end, I went with jeans and an embroidered blouse with canvas slip-ons. It looked dressy but not like I was trying too hard. When I arrived at Amuse, I immediately felt underdressed. It seemed all the other women in there had gotten a memo I had missed that the dress code was a short dress with sky high heels. When I saw Jabberwocky, he looked out of place too, but his presence helped him carry it off. He was lounging on a low velvet couch looking at the crowd with a detached amusement, as if he knew something they did not.
“Hi, I’m starchixs,” I said, telling him my username and immediately feeling stupid.
“Hey. I am the jabberwocky.”
When he smiled his crooked grin, his face was transformed from good-looking to handsome. When he smiled like that, it just made you want to get to know him. He stood up, gesturing to the couch beside him for me to sit down. It seemed almost overly polite, but his smile and easy manner kept it friendly. I perched on the edge of the couch feeling like I was underdressed and in over my head.
“Can I get you a drink? I have the wine list here.” He passed me the heavy leatherbound menu sitting in front of him on the low table. Since almost all of the wine I drank came from a box and what didn’t came from tiny bottles with screw tops, I had no idea what to order. My panic must have shown on my face because he took the menu from me asking, “Not much of a wine drinker?”
I smiled and said, “Not much of a wine connoisseur. I drink it just fine,” and hoped I didn’t sound like a drunk. Although, if I'm honest with myself, I do hit the bottle a bit more than I should.
“I can order for you if you like, or we can go somewhere else,” Jabberwocky offered. He looked a bit unsure, which made me feel bad.
“No, no this is fine. I’ve just never been here before. Can you order me a red wine? I like a Zinfandel or a Syrah, I think?” My statement morphed into a question.
He looked at me before waving over a server.
Dressed all in black with a high, tight man-bun, the server took Jabberwocky's order without writing anything down. I wasn't sure I understood anything the two of them said.
He settled back into his side of the couch, casually slung his arm over the back and looked at me. “So, come here often?” he said in a wry voice.
“This isn’t really my kind of place. I’m more of a dive bar girl,” I said, settling a bit further into the couch. It was large enough that we could sit without touching, even though he had his arm over the back.
“Really? I am too…not the girl part, the dive bar part. How do you like the Cinder app?”
He took a sip of a dark fluid I assumed was wine. In the dark bar even blood would have looked black. I wondered if it was blood and that's why he ordered before I arrived.
“Honestly? I haven’t used it before. I downloaded it about a week ago as a lark, had a shit day today, and when you hit me up, I figured what did I have to lose?” I shrugged.
“Really?” he mused. “This is your first date with a monster? I’m honored. I’ll try to go easy on you.” My panic must have shown on my face, because he quickly added, “Oh, no, I’m just kidding. Sorry. Really. It can just be a normal date.” I flinched a little when he said the d-word. Changing tactics, he continued, “Or a normal drink with friends. I don’t want to be a creep.”
“It’s okay,” I said. He was getting slightly frantic, and it made me feel guilty. “I just didn’t even think of it as a monster date. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever even met a vampire before.”
Jabberwocky laughed. “You have. We just don’t go around in black capes, baring our teeth at everyone.”
I laughed and relaxed a bit. I had replied to his Cin on impulse without ever considering what it would mean. In my loneliness, it had seemed like a good idea. However, now that I was sitting there with a real person, real vampire, I found myself worrying about his feelings and his expectations. I didn't want to hurt him, but I also wasn't committed to getting bit.
On TV and in movies, vampires were always portrayed as dazzlingly sexy and confident, but Jabberwocky seemed to be…well, just a nice guy. I’d heard that the bite of a vampire was supposed to be narcotic, causing a sense of euphoria. It was such a powerful feeling people got addicted to it. I didn't want to risk addiction. At the same time, I also wasn't sure I wanted to miss out on such a mind-blowing high.
I was saved from my nerves by the arrival of my glass of wine. I gulped down half of it without actually tasting it before looking up to see Jabberwocky watching me, looking slightly concerned. I set my almost empty wine glass down on the table and looked at him apologetically. “Sorry. It was a long day.”
He smiled. “No worries. Shall I order you another one?” He was already looking around for the waiter.
“No, no, thank you. Do they have a food menu?” I picked up the leatherbound wine list and started paging through it. I hadn’t eaten all day, and I could already feel the wine starting to fuzz my head.
“This really is your first time, isn’t it?” he asked, sounding bit awed.