The screen died with a cathode ray flicker as Jill powered down her bartending station. The BTC logo on the back began to throb slowly with a soft neon glow, indicating sleep mode. Free from her post, she stared at the blank screen for a second before heaving a theatrical sigh and stepping out from behind the bar.
“Hooooneeeeeey!” The voice of a regular drifted in as the door swung open, and an alarmingly young looking red-haired Lilim girl surveyed the bar, dressed as always in a short skirt and bright puffy-sleeved top with a perky bow tie. It was a carefully selected uniform for the work she did after dark.
“Ah, Dorothy. Sorry, we’re just closing.” Dorothy swept in anyways, walking on tiptoes like a child. Jill, unperturbed, headed towards the jukebox to switch the music off.
“I know. I came for you!” Instead of continuing to the counter, the Lilim girl bowled into Jill, knocking the wind out of her and wrapping her in an embrace of servos and synthetic limbs.
“For me? W-why are you hugging me?” Jill froze, holding her elbows up. A door behind them clicked open, and Jill guiltily turned to see who it was. Meanwhile, Dorothy was burrowing her face in Jill’s chest.
“Because I’m paying her to!” The newcomer declared. It was Dana, emerging from her office and looking pleased at what was unfolding. Jill stared at her, and then down at Dorothy.
“All. Night. Long.” the Lilim girl confirmed, and nuzzled her obnoxiously.
“To put it simply: Dorothy will go home with you and she won’t leave your side.”
“And what do you hope to accomplish with that?” Jill raised an eyebrow. She lowered her hands into her apron pockets, careful not to make any motion that could be misinterpreted as encouraging Dorothy’s invasion of personal space. Dana grinned at them both.
“Well, at first it was to calm that rage you had earlier. It was either hugs or a cold bucket. You’ve calmed down a bit, but honestly, I know better than to leave you alone for another night. At the very least, all the cuddling will give you an epiphany or something.”
Jill took her hands out of her pockets just so she could haughtily fold her arms. Dorothy’s head got in the way.
“That’s some alien reasoning right there.”
“It’s not. You need hugs. Many. You need some human… err…” Dana glanced at Dorothy. “...humanoid contact right now. You had your alone time. Now, we’re playing by my rules.”
Dorothy ceased her nuzzling and looked up at Jill. “Please take care of me!” She said in a chipper, jesting tone.
On their way back to her apartment, Jill pointed out that it was more likely that Dorothy would be taking care of her, not the other way around. The city streets were dangerous at night, and it was a given that anyone in Dorothy’s line of work had to be capable of protecting themselves. Jill usually banked on being a terrible target, trying to make sure she was always walking near someone better looking and better dressed, and always in the lightest part of the street.
Dorothy probably knew this as well. She insisted they hold hands, and was practically dragging Jill along the sidewalk, despite not knowing the way back to her apartment. At every intersection, she asked Jill for directions, and then went on, humming tunelessly and flashing knowing smiles back at her.
As they were climbing the stairs to her BTC housing unit, Jill was unlucky enough to be seen by two of her neighbors. An elderly couple that lived three doors down. She caught a glimpse of the woman whispering something to the man, and gesturing vaguely in her direction.
God. What does this look like? Jill thought. She was being led enthusiastically by a petite Lilim into her own home. Given the hour and the reputation of her district, it didn’t take much to deduce Dorothy’s occupation. She didn’t need this.
Jill led her inside with minimal fumbling, closing the door swiftly behind them and breathing a sigh of relief. At least they were in private now.
She stiffened. Private.
“So this is your lair!” Dorothy said, all too loudly. Jill winced. Could her neighbors hear them? She hoped not. How thick were the walls, anyways?
“It’s very you, Jill!”
Jill blinked, and then fumbled for the light switch. She saw Dorothy, outlined in the vestibule by the cold light of the fluorescent bulbs, smiling brightly at her. Lilim clearly had good night vision.
“Very me? What does that mean?” Jill asked.
“Small.” Dorothy began decisively, and then seemed to stall out.
“And… cozy? Like a nice little den to retreat to. When I met you, I thought you’d be the type to burrow in when you weren’t forced out in public.” Jill kicked off her shoes, and stepped inside. She tried to see her apartment with a fresh set of eyes. Where to start? Perhaps most striking were the beer cans. There were unopened cases stacked in a corner, and empty cans abandoned on almost every horizontal surface. It made her look like a slob. Not that the base decor was much better. A den? More like a hovel.
The walls were adorned with tacky posters from concerts that Jill had never gone to. To her embarrassment, two posters were displayed more prominently than the rest: a jumbo sized Model Warrior Julianne poster, and a gag poster from the bar, with a blown-up picture of Dana and the bolded text “World’s Best Boss”. There were a couple shelves with action figures she had wasted money on, and a cheap prefab cabinet that held her liquor collection. The only furniture was a mini-fridge with a TV balanced atop it, and a kotatsu table with a stained blanket. Looking at the disarray that surrounded it, Jill realized it was obvious that this was the epicenter of her little den.
It didn’t help that she hadn’t been feeling well enough to do anything lately. Her usual nest by the table was surrounded with used tissues and instant food wrappers.
It was, in a word, pathetic. Jill slumped her shoulders, and began to wish she were somewhere else. If only Dana had at least given her some notice so that she could have cleaned up before Dorothy invaded. Maybe she could have retained at least a little bit of the dignity she had left.
Jill looked despondently at Dorothy as she politely removed her shoes and set them carefully aside before entering, and the silence stretched. Jill stood awkwardly, not sure what to do with herself as Dorothy ambled closer. It was easy to see that Dorothy had a plan of action, and Jill was afraid to find out what it was. Luckily, she was saved by Fore, as he sauntered into the room, blinking sleep out of his eyes.
“Cat!” Dorothy exclaimed, and diverted her course to bend down and stroke him. She stayed silent while Dorothy fawned over him, watching her synthetic hands glide over his black fur and scratch the sides of his head. Fore was purring, clearly glad to have some less jaded company. Jill stood awkwardly, arms half-crossed, listening to Dorothy babble compliments at her cat.
“He likes you.” She said finally.
“I like him back.” Dorothy said simply, and looked over her shoulder at Jill. Her eyes were the same shade of red as her hair, and had a depth to them that inspired thoughts of lasers, telescopes, and fibre optics more than it did human warmth. “So, before we settle in, can I get a tour of the place? I’m not just here for business, after all.”
Dorothy rolled her eyes.
“Duh. We’re friends, right? And I’ve never seen you outside of Valhalla. It’s like you only exist when you’re working. You know you’ve been in there every single time I’ve come in for almost a month? It’s like you never stop working. I wanted to see what you were like when you weren’t on the clock.”
“Oh.” Jill scratched her nose, and looked around with a pained expression. “And? Any different so far?” Dorothy shook her head with a smile.
“Not much. But I think it’s just because you’re still in uniform.” she said, gesturing. Jill looked down at herself dumbly. Of course she was still wearing her work clothes, complete with vest, tie, and an all too tight pencil skirt. A suit of armor for a customer service job. “Why don’t you slip into something more comfortable?” Dorothy asked, and winked one of her unsettlingly robotic eyes.
Jill obliged her, opting to change in her cramped bedroom while Dorothy warmed her feet under the kotatsu. She emerged a minute later dressed down in loose khakis and a simple t-shirt with the BTC logo printed on the front. When Dorothy saw her, she cocked her head to the side.
“Not what I usually get when I make insinuations like that, but okay. If this is what human Jill wears, I’ll take it.”
“Human Jill? As opposed to…”
“Wage slave Jill.”
“Ah.” Jill hovered in the doorway. Dorothy frowned.
“You’ve lost the uniform, but you haven’t taken your customer service face off. Is something wrong?” Jill stood on the threshold and looked helplessly around.
“Doesn’t this bother you?” She asked, gesturing vaguely around the apartment.
“Doesn’t what bother me?” Dorothy frowned, looking around.
“The mess. You were right, this is my den, but it’s a pigsty.”
“Nope!” Dorothy chimed. “I’ve had clients living in way messier places. This doesn’t faze me.”
“Well, it fazes me.” Jill said slowly. Dorothy had her head cocked to the side, listening. It seemed she was processing things. Jill continued. “It’s been a rough few days. I’ve kinda turned this apartment into a…” she trailed off and ended in a shrug. Dorothy nodded.
“Pity hole?” she finished the sentence tactlessly. “I understand. Hey, how about we spend a couple minutes on it. I’ll help you clean it up.”
“You sure? That’s not your job.”
“Positive. I’m here for more than just business, remember?”
A couple minutes came and went, concluding with Jill running an overstuffed garbage bag out to the dumpster on the ground floor, her feet pattering on shiny, rain-slick concrete. Nighttime rain was a common occurrence in Glitch city, which was fortunate. It let the smog settle. Jill took a moment to light a cigarette under the awning by the dumpster. She took a drag, holding the smoke in her lungs as if it would help stave off the chill. For a second, she thought about leaving, but maybe Dana was right. Maybe time alone wasn’t what she needed right now. Besides, it wouldn’t be wise to go on a journey of introspection on the streets of Glitch City after dark. That was how people disappeared.
After a few minutes, she found her resolve. Stubbing her cigarette on a post, she departed the safety of the awning at a jog to avoid getting wet, and headed back to the apartment complex. She took a deep breath before opening the door to her unit, and tried to slip in as quietly as possible. Once inside, she re-engaged both locks on her door, and turned to see Dorothy sitting cross-legged at the kotatsu in Jill’s usual spot, aggressively petting Fore.
“That took a while” Dorothy said mildly.
“Sorry. I had a smoke.”
“Knew it. Here, sit down.” She dragged a cushion out from under the table, and patted it in invitation. Jill hesitated before obliging, padding softly over to the table and dragging the cushion a little farther away as she sat down.. The rain pattered on outside as she stared at the table, feeling suddenly self-conscious. What was going to happen now?
“You look cold” Dorothy said in a teasing voice. “We should do something about that.” Jill looked up and saw Dorothy smiling like a cat. Rather than address the insinuation, Jill’s brain seemed to shut down. She floundered for a conversational moment.
Dorothy must have noticed. Her smile turned more comely, and she added “You had some hot chocolate in your cupboard. How about I make us some? That’ll warm you up.” Jill nodded dumbly as Dorothy skipped up towards the cramped kitchenette and started opening cupboards. She glanced at Fore, who was trying to re-introduce order to his ruffled coat via industrial amounts of spit.
Jill tried to think. What was she nervous about? What’s there to be afraid of? She trusted Dorothy. She knew that she had nothing to fear from the Lilim girl. So why was it suddenly so hard for her to speak easy when they weren’t talking over a counter?
“I like your mugs. They’re cute.” Dorothy said, setting out a pair of matching cups, one with a small robot clutching a heart drawn in circuit motifs. The other had the same robot, watering a plant drawn in a similar style.
“They’re from a TV show” Jill said automatically.
“What about?” Dorothy asked, spooning chocolate powder evenly into both mugs. “Does it involve cute robots?”
“Yeah. I mean, that’s pretty much all it involves.”
“Then it’s good in my books. I love cute robots.”
“Because you’re a cute robot?” Dorothy paused in pouring the boiling water from a special faucet to fix Jill with a vexing smile.
“Honey, are you hitting on me?” Jill sniffed.
“Why would I be hitting on you? You’re already here for the night, aren’t you?”
“So it was a genuine compliment then?”
She returned, setting a mug and spoon in front of Jill, and sitting, this time, across from her. Jill smiled meekly and began to stir the mug.
“There! That’s what I came here for.” Dorothy exclaimed.
“Huh? What’s that?”
“You. Sitting at the table with a mug beside you, smiling at me, still kinda blushing. Not wearing work-issued clothes.” She took a sip from her mug, keeping her eyes on Jill from over the rim.
“Are you hitting on me ?”
“Just observing human Jill in her natural habitat.” She shrugged. Jill nodded slowly, stirring the contents of her mug, and stared out the window. The view outside was a rainy neon smear. A few distorted shapes moved amongst the chasms between the buildings, but aside from that the city was in a rare period of stillness.
They finished their chocolate in silence, both of them staring out the window while Fore vied for their attention. When they finished, Dorothy collected their mugs and carried them to the sink, and then stood at the entrance to the kitchenette, resting a hand on her hip.
“So? What next?” She asked. “I’m here for you, the night is young.”
“What does that mean?”
“Real talk. We both know what I’m officially here for. I’ll do whatever you want me to, just say the word. I’ll wear whatever you want, touch you however you want. I’ll even roleplay if you want. That’s my specialty.” Dorothy stopped; Jill was shaking her head.
“No… I know Dana sent you over to look after me. Make sure I don’t do anything rash, right? We can just leave it at that. I’m ok now. I’m not gonna start downing pills or anything. You did your job.” Jill sighed. “I have a spare futon. You can take my bed and I’ll crash in here. I’m really grateful for your help and your concern. Really.”
It was hard, but Jill forced herself to look Dorothy in the eyes while saying this. As her words sunk in, Dorothy’s expression changed, and Jill realized that this was one of the very few times she had seen Dorothy looking honestly distraught. She watched as the Lilim let her arms hang and walked back to the table, and with eyes downcast, sat down opposite Jill.
“Can you do something for me then instead, Jill?” Dorothy asked. Her modulated voice was shaking, Jill noticed with some puzzlement. She swallowed.
“Yeah?” She was suddenly feeling guilty on top of feeling miserable.
“Just let me hug you, okay? You don’t have to like it. You don’t have to do it back. Just stand still, and give me five minutes where I can pretend like I’m helping you.” Again, Jill let the silence hang in the air too long. Dorothy sat still, staring at the table, wringing her hands.
“Okay,” She said, as though beginning a thought. Nothing else came to mind, so she just repeated the word. “Okay.”
And then, slowly, Dorothy sidled up beside her, crawling on knees and knuckles around the table, and lay herself across Jill’s lap. The motion was tender and deliberate, and Jill shivered at the touch. She felt Dorothy’s synthetic arms wrap around her waist, holding her firmly but not tightly. Her weight rested in Jill’s lap. Not heavy, but not nearly as light as one would expect from a girl so small.
Elbows up, unsure of whether she should touch her, or how, Jill sat still as a post. For a time, the only sounds were her breathing, the rain, and the small electronic hum that all Lilim seemed to emanate. That sound seemed suddenly very alive to Jill, just as alive as her own heartbeat. She swallowed again.
Dorothy was warm. That was another thing she hadn’t expected. Almost all Lilim models gave off some heat, she knew, but they usually didn’t have body temperatures comparable to humans. Dorothy must have deliberately warmed herself up with the chocolate and the kotatsu. Just for this.
She lowered her arms slowly and rested them awkwardly on Dorothy’s back. In response, she was squeezed briefly and gently around the waist. Jill sat up straight as if jolted, and then tried to will the tension out of herself. She told herself to relax, that it was just Dorothy, that she could say no at any time. It helped that Dorothy was lying still. Things weren’t going too fast. Things would be okay. Fore was lounging, watching them indifferently from the table.
“You okay?” Dorothy mumbled into Jill’s stomach.
“Yeah.” Jill smiled, and, hesitantly at first, began running her fingers through the Lilim’s hair. Like the rest of her, it felt uncannily human, but somehow softer and cleaner. Dorothy nuzzled up against her, matching Fore’s appreciation for head scratches. For a time they stayed like that, with Jill staring out into to the street, listening to the rain.
“I’m not gonna move until you push me off, you know.” Dorothy said finally, her voice muffled.
“I kinda guessed.” Jill said, and with a sigh, dragged Dorothy out of her lap and upright. Dorothy blinked at her sleepily, with an expression that was half melancholy, half satisfaction, but much more calm than it had been a few minutes ago.
“Okay. It’s been a long day. I’m gonna take a shower.”
Dorothy nodded with her half-smile.
“Where’s the spare futon? I can set it up out here in the meantime.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Jill wrapped her arms around her. “It’s not worth the hassle. You can sleep with me.”
Even without seeing her face, Jill could sense the girl’s elation. Dorothy leaned into the embrace and returned it, tucking her chin over Jill’s shoulder. They stood up before separating.
“If you want a shower buddy just let me know.”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”
A few minutes later Jill had toweled off, and changed into a thin sweater and a pair of pyjama pants, decorated with the same cute robot as the mugs. She found Dorothy curled up in her bed, flipping through one of her old comic books. When she caught sight of Jill, her expression turned awestruck.
“What? What is it?” Jill looked down at herself, trying to follow her gaze.
“You look like a completely different person! I’ve never seen you with your hair down.”
“Oh? Really?” She turned to a mirror in the corner of her room. She hadn’t given it much thought before, but she hadn’t really gone out in public without her twintails. Not for months, at least. “I guess you’ve just never seen me in my natural habitat.”
Dorothy grinned, set down the comic, and tossed aside the covers, beckoning Jill to come join her. She was met with a questioning look.
“I borrowed some clothes. Hope you don’t mind.” Dorothy was wearing the BTC t-shirt and a pair of scandalously short shorts that Jill had forgotten that she owned. “If not, I can always take them off.”
Jill shook her head. “None of that lewdness here, thanks.” And crawled in beside her. The sheets were cool; Dorothy didn’t have enough body heat to warm her bed. Maybe it was the coldness of the sheets, and maybe it was her own nerves, but Jill started to shiver. Before she had gotten settled, Dorothy squirmed into her arms and locked herself around her torso.
She rolled so that Dorothy was lying directly on top of her, resting her head on her chest. A few more shifts and adjustments, and they lay comfortably still. Gradually, the bed warmed up, and Jill stopped shivering. Dorothy was humming softly, squeezing Jill every so often, occasionally raising her head to look up at her with glassy eyes and a curious expression, punctuated with a sweet smile.
“You know…” Jill began. “I’ve never been this intimate with a Lilim before. I didn’t expect you to be this...” Dorothy craned her neck up at Jill, smiling like a cat.
“Cuddly. I guess. Soft? I don’t know.”
“You’re adorable, honey.” Dorothy sat up, straddling a suddenly embarrassed Jill. She looked down on her affectionately. “I guess I could say the same for you.”
“For me? Why?”
“When you’re behind the counter, talking to customers, you’ve got this outer shell built up around you. It’s hard to picture you without that.”
“People keep saying stuff like that.”
“You can see why though, right?”
“Yeah. I dunno…” Jill sighed. “Maybe this is just a bit out of my comfort zone. Or it has been, lately.”
“Well, then we can take it slow.” At this, Jill closed her eyes and smiled wanly.
“Thanks. Really, it’s nice to hear you say that.”
“Don’t mention it, honey.” She rocked backwards. “So, you’ve never gotten close to a Lilim?”
“No…” Jill seemed lost in thought for a moment. “I’ve served plenty in Valhalla. But that was just a customer-bartender type of thing. Actually, I think you’re the first Lilim I’ve… touched? I guess let’s go with that.”
Dorothy cocked her head to the side.
“So you were expecting that we’re all chrome and whirring motors, then?”
“No! Well, maybe. Honestly I don’t know what I was expecting.” Jill looked helpless. “Sorry.”
“Well, you’ve got a rare opportunity to satisfy your curiosity.” Dorothy leaned forward and gently took Jill’s hands, guiding them to rest on the small of her waist, just underneath her shirt.
“Here.” She said.
“Just here?” Jill asked, flustered.
“Well, optimally everywhere.” Dorothy gestured vaguely at herself. “But whatever you’re comfortable with. Here is a good place to start.” And with that, she leaned forward and wrapped her arms around Jill again. After a moment, Jill’s hands left to pull the covers up to their necks, and then hesitantly returned, clumsily finding their way back through all the layers of fabric to rest on Dorothy’s synthetic skin.
An hour later they were still awake, drowsily snuggling against one another. Jill had jumped on the rare opportunity to be the big spoon, saying that she’d never been with anyone shorter than her before.
They lay side by side, Dorothy’s back pressed up against Jill, covers drawn up to their necks against the chill of the poorly-heated apartment. Jill had one arm wrapped around Dorothy, cupping her right breast. Dorothy was holding her other arm hostage, hugging it like a stuffed animal. The Lilim’s head was tucked snugly under her chin, and the only sounds aside from Jill’s slow breathing were those of the steady rain outside.
Gradually, their conversation grew less and less coherent, and some time after Fore came in and curled up against Jill’s back, she drifted off to sleep.
Gray sunlight bled in through Jill’s curtains, dragging her out of a groggy sleep. She blinked and rolled over, trying absently to clear her head. She didn’t manage it. That was par for the course; Jill couldn’t remember the last time she’d made it out of bed before noon. She closed her eyes, and lay face down in the pillow. Yes, this was an average Wednesday morning.
Average except for the smell of food. Realization dawned on Jill. Was Dorothy still here? Had she already left? She started to drag her body upright, but was interrupted by a weight slamming into her back. A small, bubbly, robotic weight.
“You’re awake!” The Lilim chirped in a voice that was far too loud for the hour. Jill tried again to get up, but it was futile with Dorothy pinning her down. She gave up, and slumped back, face down in the pillows. Dorothy’s arms wrapped themselves around Jill, locking her in a mess of bedsheets and synthetic limbs.
“Hmggggg” said Jill.
“I made you breakfast!” Said Dorothy.
“Nnnnnnnhhgg” Jill replied.
Eventually, Dorothy left to tend to breakfast, and Jill managed to drag herself out of bed and over to the kotatsu. Blinking in the sunlight, she watched Dorothy fuss over stovetop pancakes, still dressed in Jill’s shirt and shorts. She found herself admiring the Lilim’s legs. They were a pleasing shape, and looked almost perfectly human, but they were made uncanny by the strange mechanical joint where the knee should have been.
When Dorothy turned around with the plate of pancakes, Jill’s eyes shot guiltily over to the window.
“There! I hope they’re good. Because I’m not having any.”
“Nah. I ate yesterday. My organic parts work pretty slow, and it takes a long time to metabolize stuff. My tech says I eat too much anyways.”
“Huh.” Jill accepted a knife and fork and, suddenly ravenous, started on the stack of pancakes. They weren’t done from scratch, obviously. The mix must have been in her cupboard for months. With food as expensive as it was, you tended to stockpile anything non-perishable.
Dorothy sat beside Jill, and Fore climbed into her lap.
“Can I have a bite?”
Jill speared a generous amount of pancake and held her fork in front of Dorothy, who opened her mouth to accept it. She kept the fork in her mouth and chewed thoughtfully, making direct eye contact the whole time. Jill raised an eyebrow, and returned her lopsided smile.
“It is good,” Dorothy said. “ Damn , I’m good.”
“Agreed. Was making breakfast part of the overnight deal?”
“Nope! That one’s special for you.”
Jill glanced at the clock.
“It’s ten. Do you need to be anywhere? I feel kinda bad for keeping you here.”
“Nonsense. You were pretty sound asleep so I just made myself at home.”
“You did? You didn’t sleep?”
“I plugged in. Went into low power mode for a while. But I don’t really need to sleep. That’s not really a thing for Lilim.”
“So what did you end up doing?” Dorothy grinned.
“Snuggled, mostly! You’re a pretty heavy sleeper, you know.” Jill nodded.
“Duh! It’s what I’m here for.”
Jill suddenly felt guilty. As nice as this was, it was all because Dana had paid Dorothy to spend the night with her. Jill was still just an item on their todo list. Something broken that needed to be tended to and fixed.
“Well.” Dorothy deposited Fore on the table and sat up, stretching. “Since you mentioned it, I do need to head out soon. I’ve got a few errands to run before I work tonight. Thanks for letting me borrow your clothes!”
Dorothy was halfway through removing her shirt when Jill held up her hand.
“In the bedroom, please.”
She finished her pancakes and deposited the dishes in the sink, then surveyed the apartment from the kitchen. It was cleaner, and brighter than she had seen it in months. A result of the early hour, she guessed. Despite everything, things didn’t seem quite so bleak.
Dorothy emerged from Jill’s bedroom, wearing her regular garb.
“Ok! I’m off, honey. I left my card on your nightstand. Call me if you need anything.” Jill approached her, and bent down for one last hug. Dorothy eagerly stood on tiptoes to meet her, and squeezed her hard. After a couple seconds, Jill let her go, and Dorothy stood looking up at her with an expression of curiosity.
“I’ll see you in Valhalla, then?” Jill said, eventually.
“Yeah! I’ll be there. Ciao!” And with that, Dorothy turned on her heel and left the apartment, turning around only for one final wave.
The apartment once again empty, Jill made her way to the balcony, and lit her first cigarette of the day. The morning sun made the city seem to sparkle, overpowering the omni-present neon signage. Maybe things weren’t so bleak after all. Maybe, just maybe, something good could come of this whole situation.
It was late in the day when Jill finally wandered into Valhalla. Gillian was behind the counter, punching stock information into his bartending terminal. Jill greeted him as she swiped her ID card and her own station booted itself to life.
“Evening.” She said in greeting.
“Ah, hey. How are you feeling?” He didn’t break his focus on the terminal.
“Lilim are soft, Gil. And warm.”
“Come again?” He looked up a Jill, frowning.
“That was it. Complete thought.”
“...right.” She saw him consider this, and decide not to pursue it. “So, on a scale from ‘steaming pile of shit’ to just ‘sad,’ where are you now?” he asked instead.
Jill sighed, dragged some chemical controls around on the screen in front of her.
“Hm. A sad pile of shit. I still hate myself. I’m still sad as hell, but… how to put it… the noise stopped. Does that make sense?”
“Sorta. Kinda.” Gillian went back to his terminal.
Dana poked her head out of her office, grinning broadly when she caught sight of Jill, and sauntering over to the counter.
“So, how were things last night?” Jill flashed her a shy smile.
“Cozy, I must admit. I can’t believe you paid Dorothy for that.” Dana made a shooing motion.
“Well, if you wanna call that payment, I guess.”
“I called Dorothy to tell her what happened to you and she was really concerned. She stuttered for a second saying that she had the whole night to go and she couldn’t just leave for free. I asked her how much and she said, ‘enough to pay for this soda I’m having is fine.’”
Jill didn’t reply. Instead, she stared down at the interface in front of her, arms at her sides.
“How did you get her number?” Gillian butted in. Dana laughed and shrugged.
“I have… contacts. Anyways, Jill. If you need a second break, a drink or a hug… just let me know, you hear?”
Gillian nodded approval.
“I’d make you the same offer, but I’m guessing hugs from me are the last thing you want. If you need a bartender, though, just let me know.” Jill nodded, a determined expression on her face.
“Nice to know. Anyways, we have work to do.” Jill retrieved her apron from under the counter and fastened it around her waist before facing the empty bar and whispering her mantra.
“It’s time to mix drinks and change lives.”