I do not want beer.
I've never much cared for beer.
It tastes like moldy bread and fizzy mouthwash to me.
Still, I have a six pack of it in my little basket as we browse the grocery store downstairs. It's not as big as the one I've worked in the last eight years but it's still got a good variety of products.
The shelves are taller than at my old store. The prices are a bit higher than back home but aren't too bad. I pause where I stand, a four pack of toilet paper in hand.
is home now, I remind myself.
"You okay, Page?" Eterna asks from behind me. She's returned to her six and half foot tall form since the store has more head space. I've already asked her to get things from the higher shelves twice. I'll probably give her the beer if she's of drinking age. If she's a young Ember I'll shove it to the back of the fridge, maybe give it to Detective Windgate as a gift.
"I'm fine," I say. "Just, the move is a big thing. I've been on the fence about it a long time and sort of...finally pulled the trigger on a whim, you know?"
She crosses her arms and leans against the shelving next to her. I really hope she doesn't knock them down. "I know all about 'whims' and shit like that. I am a CoL, you know."
"I am aware," I say before putting the toilet paper in my basket.
Eterna follows me around as I do my shopping. It's like having a giant shadow, who occasionally points out that meat gets put on sale on Fridays, which I missed, or that the staff hides the best things behind other products. That last part doesn't surprise me, of course. We did that in my store too.
When we're ready to check out we stand behind the minotaur I saw earlier in the day.
"Ivar Misthelm," they say to me before shaking my hand. "He and him. I'm a lawyer," he adds. "If you ever have any trouble let me know, alright?"
"Will do," I say. "Nice to meet you. Page Simmons, any pronouns. I'm pretty flexible, to be honest."
Ivar raises an eyebrow at that and lets out a snort. He finishes purchasing his groceries, which includes a few cuts of steak. The beef surprises me more than the minotaur being a lawyer, to be honest.
He walks around with himself half bovine and eats steak? Does he change back to Basic before he has dinner or what? Doesn't it bother him that he's eating cow?
I show the cashier my driver's license to buy the beer and then pay for everything. Eterna offers to carry things for me, I give her half the bags, minus the one with the beer. I'm still not sure how old she is.
We're halfway through the courtyard when she gets closer to me and bends down. "I am so sorry I forgot to ask your pronouns and stuff. I mean I told you mine and I even called you 'mixter' and I guess I was just too excited and all."
"It's okay," I say. "There were only a couple CoLs in my old town and we didn't really talk much. I'm used to people not keeping neutral until they ask pronouns and all."
"Oh my gods," Eterna practically dances around to get in front of me where she starts walking backwards, her tail wagging back and forth checking for obstacles. "You're from a Basic town?"
I wouldn't call it that.
"I'm from a smaller town, yeah," I say. "But you're not the first CoL I've met, if that's what you're thinking."
"Of course! You said there was another one in your town," she nods vehemently.
"Not what I meant," I sigh.
Eterna's tail moves to one side and just misses hitting a trashcan that's directly behind her. Before I have a chance to say anything she's already taken a long step back and is tripping over backward.
Only one of the grocery bags breaks. Thankfully, I have the eggs and other fragile items. Eterna transforms quickly back to her Basic form before rolling over onto the gravel walkway cursing. She's frantically trying to pick up my oranges and toilet paper.
I switch my grocery bags to my left hand and kneel down to extend a hand to her.
"I got it," I say. "Let's get you up."
Her face is very similar to when she had shifted, albeit now far more human. She doesn't have the fangs, horns, or pointed ears. Her skin is darker brown instead of red. She's more beautiful now than when she was using her powers, even if she is about to break into tears. She also looks nineteen, tops.
I'm glad I kept the beer.
I move my hand a little to get her attention then hold it out for her again. "Come on, up we go."
Eterna takes my hand and I help her to her feet. She looks down, her hands holding the bottom of her blouse as I move the oranges to the unbroken bag and shove the toilet paper under one arm. I wad up the torn plastic bag and toss it in the can she tripped over, which now has a noticeable dent in it. If no one's fixed it in a couple days I'll pop it back into shape. To my surprise Eterna's still standing where I left her when I turn back around.
"It's okay, Eterna," I say.
She looks up at me, tears in her eyes. "I bet...I bet I look like an idiot."
"You tripped, it happens," I say. "Come on. You're tired from keeping that shift up so long, right?"
She looks down before squeezing her eyes shut and nodding.
"Lets go eat some of those cookies, okay?"
Eterna has calmed down by the time we get back to my apartment. We head inside and I put the groceries away before returning to pour us both a glass of milk in the reusable plastic cups I bought.
The plastic is a little scuffed from skidding across the gravel outside but they're still usable. I make sure Eterna doesn't see that one of the plastic bowls cracked when she fell. I can replace it without trouble.
"These are really good cookies," I say. "You bake them?"
She nods. "I stress bake."
"Stress? You doing okay?" I ask.
"This...it's the first time I've been on my own and I've only had my powers for about four months," Eterna says. "My family didn't like me changing my name but they didn't mind me moving."
"I'm so sorry," I say.
"Can..." she begins then takes a gulp of her drink. "Can I ask you how long you've been a CoL? You are a CoL, right?"
I finish off my cookie and nod. "Sure. February 17."
"This year...no. Shit. You don't mean this year. You mean the February 17th. CoL Day. You're a first gen? What the fuck?!" Eterna jumps to her feet as she shouts. "WHAT THE FUCK?!"
I drink the last of my milk while she freaks out a bit more.
"Feb 17th? The very first fucking day?! Holy shit. What the fuck!?"
If she gets this worked up about when I became a CoL I am not going to tell her my class, I think to myself.
"Take a breath, Eterna," I say. "It's not that big a deal."
"Yes, yes it is," she hisses. "I just made a complete ass of myself in front of an oldie. Fucking shit."
She shakes her head. "You don't look like you've been a CoL for ten years," she says. "Is that what you do? You just keep yourself looking young?"
"I'm only thirty five," I say.
"You got carded."
"We were in a grocery store that caters to CoLs. Everyone gets carded," I say. "You could make yourself look a hundred if you wanted to. They card everyone."
"Let me see your I.D. I wanna see your class," she demands.
"It's getting late and I had a long few days. I want to put sheets on my bed and go to sleep," I say.
She takes a step toward me like she's going to try to force me to hand over my wallet. I stare at her, hard.
"Trust me, you do not want to do that."
Eterna takes a step back and puts her hands in the air. "Sorry, I got a bit worked up."
"We all do," I say. I get up from my stool. "I think it's best if we call it a night. Thank you again for the cookies, Eterna."
I gently put a hand on her shoulder for a moment before gesturing toward the door. "It's fine. Maybe tomorrow you can show me around more? I may be more familiar with being a CoL but I'm lost when it comes to being in the city. I could use any tips you have."
She's fighting tears again. "Really?"
"You...don't hate me for being an ass?" She asks weakly. "I...I was gonna try to get your wallet and..."
You would have failed.
Instead I say, "I don't hate you. You're fine. Thank you, again."
I see Eterna off to her apartment, which is across the hall rather than right next door.
I only get a glimpse of the interior of her place but it's colorfully decorated with a large fluffy recliner in the living area. There's a well maintained altar to Loki in one corner of the room. A dish with cookies on it, offerings, sits with candles on either side. The smell of baked goods wafts out the door.
I thank her again before going back to my place.
My sheets are for a twin bed and the apartment came with a queen. I lay the flat sheets on top of the mattress with a blanket and pillow before going to sleep.
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