I admit, I got carried away. Instead of singing in my head, I think I was singing out loud. Whatever she heard, Olivia is obviously displeased. The usual pungent smell of her anger and regret suddenly reeks of burned rubber.
Her shoulders are tight, she’s blinking rapidly, and she scrambled backward until her ass hit the wooden counter that separates the room into two parts.
I’ve clearly startled her. I need to do something. Smiling. It’s the universal signal for “I mean no harm.”
I’ve been told there’s a term called resting bitch face. I make it a point to have a resting happy face. Evidently, that’s not enough, so I widen my smile.
Instead of the intended effect, she tries to pedal backward even though she can’t push her way through solid wood.
Another universal signal of peaceful intentions is to place the arms at a ninety-degree angle with palms facing away from you. When I do this, though, she yelps and makes a whiney, blubbering noise that I think is intended to include English words, but is unintelligible.
“I mean you no harm.” I say this slowly, making certain to keep smiling all the while.
“F-fangs.” The word is a whisper. “Claws.”
Shit. I don’t know why my claws extended. I’ve terrified her somehow.
This time it’s me who walks backward until I hit the plate glass window at the front of the shop. I keep my smile firmly plastered on my face until I realize her muttered “fangs” was not a compliment.
Slamming my mouth shut and pressing my lips together, I shove my hands into my pockets, lower my gaze in case she finds that threatening, and say, “I’m Tyler. We had an appointment.”
Her scent is pure terror now. I’d leave, except I think that would get us both in trouble with the Colonel. Rumor has it they’re paying the females exorbitant wages. For those sums of money, they expect the women to teach us something.
I can only remain in this program if I’m on my best behavior. Scaring the crap out of a female is going to get me sent to the southern barracks where we’re not allowed outside if we misbehave.
The room is silent for a long minute as we figure out what to do.
“Sorry, Tyler. It’s just that your teeth are really… scary.”
Perhaps smilingisn’tthe universal signal for “I mean no harm.”
“I can leave if you want.”
Since we were liberated, I’ve studied human courtesies because I want to eventually be accepted into regular society. If I understand correctly, now would be the time for her to tell me everything is fine and I don’t need to leave.
Though I have no interest in running a clothing store and would happily return to my dorm, I don’t think this mess-up is going to help qualify me for what they call a “public-facing” job.
When I finally raise my gaze to her, the look on her face tells me she’s as excited about teaching me how to run a clothing store as I am to learn it.
“If you don’t think you can tolerate being in the same room with me, say the word and I’ll leave.” I have no desire to stay where I’m not wanted, though right now I’d like to melt into a puddle and ooze out from under the front door.
My words do something to Olivia. Her scent changes to… what? Sorrow? She cocks her head and takes one step toward me.
“It’s…” She shakes her head. “I don’t want to be here, Tyler. It wasn’t exactly bait and switch. I came here of my own volition, but I imagine none of us were jazzed about the idea of being out of communication with everyone we know for two years. But that’s not your fault. I’m bitter, but that’s not an excuse to take it out on you. Please, let’s talk.”
Fashion Frenemiesreally did a number on me. I always considered myself a nice person, but the way I just treated Tyler was far from nice. I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready to hear all the sordid details of what happened to these guys before the military rescued them, I imagine I’d cry for a week. And what did I do? I made the guy feel like public enemy number one.
“Let’s sit and talk.” I lead him toward the folding table and two chairs the military guys set up in the back corner.