Friday night at Lala’s Last Resort. Snowflake sat in a dark booth at the rear, beyond the long, gleaming bar that dominated the room, lit up like a cabaret stage. Struggling to calm herself, she stroked the naugahyde of the bench fretfully. It was one of the reasons she came here. She abhorred leather.
She glanced at her reflection in the glass of a forgotten singer’s photograph. Her lashes were preposterously long and her eyes, well. Snowflake’s eyes had been the ruin of who knew how many reckless supplicants. She was stunning.
That wouldn’t make this evening any easier.
Late as always, he shouldered his way past the swinging doors, and Snowflake felt a dangerous heat enter her, a potent cocktail of menace and arousal. His sheer physicality was overwhelming, an animal presence that became, instantly, the white-hot center of every room he entered. With the standard short-list of reactions, the other patrons registered his implacable progress down the long room. Snowflake fought an urge to flee, to overturn the table, to run and not stop running.
Buttons reached the booth, heaving and straining to press his powerful frame into the space between the bench and table. His enormous hump set the lamp spinning. At the next booth, a fat man frantically waggled fingers at the waiter as his date succumbed to hyperventilation.
The bench sagged with a crisp crack as Buttons settled himself, then turned the full, awful weight of his attention on her. A searching, accusing gaze.
“Moo,” he said.
She dipped her chin, shaking her head lightly side to side.
Buttons’ eyes traveled the periphery of the room once, twice, marking its power centers and potential threats, avenues of escape, lines of attack. He snorted, and turned back to Snowflake. The dark of his eyes dilated, the uncanny light in the depths holding her as if she were caught in a squeeze chute.
“Moo?” he asked, with disarming gentleness.
She glanced away. “Moo,” she thought. It was time to be firm, time to stand on her own four feet. Never mind how the grey hair deepened to black across his shoulders, hump and throat. And the huge ears that hung heavy and furred beneath the thick, ribbed horns, curving proudly up and back, she mustn’t dwell on that, or on the heady, exotic reek of his sebaceous glands. She had to close the door on all of that, tonight, or issue her final surrender. She turned, meeting his gaze directly.
“Moo,” she said, with a resolve that surprised them both.
Buttons bellowed softly and slammed his skull against the wall, causing a shower of publicity photos of yesteryear’s starlets. By now most of the customers had remembered other places they had to be. The lone waiter scurried from table to table handing out checks.
Suddenly, the man strayed into Buttons’ flight zone. Buttons stamped his foot twice and bent his massive neck dangerously, directing the stiff arch at the waiter. With a tiny scream, the man fell back and crabwalked toward the cashier stand. The few remaining customers scribbled hasty IOUs on their bills and hightailed it. You paid a little extra for a joint with atmosphere, but this was too much even for the uptown crowd.
Snowflake stretched out a forefoot and laid it lightly over one of the enormous, striated hooves, manicured and polished until it glowed like black onyx.
“Moo,” she said, soothing him. “Moo.”
He softened slightly and his breathing slowed, though his tail remained stiff, held away from his body. He looked at her, all the pain and injured pride of his breed laid bare on the long face.
“Moo?” he demanded.
Snowflake sighed, exasperated. They’d been over this a half dozen times. She wasn’t here to dance the same sad tango again. She’d come to extricate herself, at last, from his labyrinth of lies, degradation and casual cruelty.
She was still young, wasn’t she? She was beautiful. Why, she descended directly from President Taft’s pet cow, who had grazed the White House lawns. And she still produced over forty thousand pounds of milk a year, that was a fact! She was a girl with options.
She looked at Buttons, and the truth hit her like a mallet to the head in a cold room. A visible tremor raced down her silken white and black flanks. She didn’t love him. Not anymore.
She took a deep breath, raised her chin, and let the big bastard have it. The facade fell away, and she spoke without fear, giving voice to years of waiting and hoping and hurting. She held nothing back.
Buttons stiffened, his eyes bulging from the sockets. His tongue lolled and the coarse hair along his back lifted and shook. He raised his tail and struck the edge of the table with the heavy black switch.
“Moo,” he snarled. She flinched, tears starting in her eyes, but held her ground.
And then it was finished. Buttons heaved out of the booth and moved with affected swagger for the entrance, throwing his head left and right. A crash as he battered a door off its hinges, and Snowflake was free.
She listened as the hoof-falls receded. She didn’t know what to feel. Joy lingered close by, but she didn’t yet dare claim it as her own. It would take time, but perhaps not much.
Lala’s was empty but for Snowflake and the little waiter, cringing by the kitchen doors. She turned to him.