Across the table, Sheila studied John. She shook her drink, so that the straw whirled around and around in the ice-and-pop filled glass. “So,” she said, “are you going to bring it up, or am I?”
John sighed. “Yes,” he agreed. “There’s a hole in my chest with a puppy in it.”
“It’s very cute,” Sheila admitted. “It’s just also blazingly disturbing, particularly on a blind date.”
“I know,” John admitted. “That’s why I have the puppy. I hoped that the cute would balance things out a little.” He reaches into where his ribcage should be and pets the puppy. It wriggles its tail and makes happy noises.
“You don’t date very often,” she said.
“No,” he agreed. “I have a magic mirror. Usually, I just show it to whomever I’m going to date, and it breaks their heart. It simplifies the whole affair.”
“That would be the large, gaudy mirror at your side?”
He nodded. “It was a gift from Merlin.”
She frowned at him. “That’s ridiculous. Merlin lived thousands of years ago.”
He shrugged. “Technically, Cyber-Merlin, a magical artificial intelligence born in the Internet and programmed to emulate his historical precedent.”
The puppy whined. Sheila made a face. “Does it really work?”
John tilted his head to one side, then shrugged again. He picked it up. The waitress approached their table. “How is everything?” the waitress asked. John held up the mirror so she could catch her reflection in it. Her knees trembled. Bestowing a cold glare on John and then casting a vicious look Sheila’s way, the waitress stalked off.
Sheila pointed a small gun at John and clicked the trigger. “Ow!” he said. “That’s harsh.”
“This,” Sheila said, “is my chilling lecture gun.”
“No kidding,” said John, rubbing his arm. “You don’t need to shoot me. I feel bad enough already, okay?”
“Then why do you do it?”
John shrugged. “I guess it’s the only way I know how to date. The last time I tried to really hook up with a girl, she tore my heart out. It really hurt, and I wound up having to keep a puppy in my chest.”
Sheila’s expression softened. She pulled a small fuzzy confidence out of her coat pocket and handed it to him. John sighed and shook his head. “It won’t help,” he said. “This whole date was a stupid idea.” He found himself turning the confidence over and over in his hands. Then, with a fierce shake of his head, he put it down. Sheila pointed the gun at him. Click!
“Hey!” John said. “Stop it.”
“You were going to use the mirror on me,” she accused. “And you didn’t even give my secret back first.”
John sighed. “I’m trying to change,” he said. “Cyber-Merlin said that I should try to talk to at least one girl without a destructive magical ancillary. But we’ve been talking for two minutes and all you’ve done is shoot me twice, insult my puppy, and give me a fuzzy thing.”
She put a rue on the table next to the confidence.
“You’re well-equipped,” John admitted.
She giggled. “At home,” she said, “I have a special intangibles lab, where I can make various-colored fuzzies out of the intangible aspects of my life.”
She stacked amusement, vibrant spirit, a bit of daring, and a large glob of joy on top of the confidence and rue. “See?”
He poked at the daring.
“Oh.” She blushed, and pulled the daring back. “That’s just lint.”
“I thought it was nice,” he said.
She hesitated, looked thoughtful, and then returned it to the pile. “Well, I suppose it does have a certain color.”
“I don’t see any compassion or sympathy, though.”
She blinked cheerfully at him. “Nope.”
“I was kind of hoping, you know, what with my heart being torn out and all . . .”
She checked her pockets. “I have some fun, and maybe a spiritual connection, angstbunny. That’s about it.”
“Let me see the spiritual connection.”
She shrugged, took it out, passed it over. He hefted the puppy in one hand, pulling it out of his chest. It wriggled its back legs.
“Oh, God!” she exclaimed, seeing the hollow void the puppy left behind. The gun came up in a two-handed grip. Click! Click! Click! Her eyes were wide and white.
He dove behind the table, reaching desperately for the mirror, as chilling lectures spanged into random restaurant patrons. He flung the mirror up, hiding behind it, and it struck the edge of the table, and cracked.
Paralyzed, shocked, catching her reflection in the cracked mirror, she dropped the gun and sat back. A few minutes passed.
“I was just going to put the spiritual connection fuzzy in my chest,” he said, and did so. “See?”
“You partially broke my heart,” she said, face pale.
“You shot at me for something I couldn’t help!”
She sighed. The rue fell from the table and landed next to him with a thunk. He looked down. “So what do we do now?”
On giant treads, the tentative kiss tank 3000 burst through the door.