“So Rainbow, do both of your mothers work?” Mrs. Thompson took a drag off her cigarette, a long, brown Saratoga that smelled like an old, well-worn sock. Calvin felt his palms instantly break into a sweat as his mom’s blue eyes raked over his and Rain’s joined hands. He could see the tip of her tail twitching beneath the kitchen table, a sure sign that she was about to perform a train wreck. They hadn’t been there for even five minutes.
Rainbow’s eyes drew down into slits and she stiffened, the casual smile she had been wearing when Cal had introduced her dropping off like a heavy slice of pizza from a flimsy paper plate.
“I’m sorry?” Rain cocked her head slightly. “I don’t have two mothers Mrs. Thompson.”
Calvin watched his mom lay her cigarette in the plastic, yellow ashtray and reach for the bag of cheese puffs. Her tail curled smoothly around the scratched, rusty metal table leg, coppery scales shimmering in the smoke-laced sunbeam coming through the window above the sink. Rain wouldn’t see it. She couldn’t. Calvin had accepted long ago that spotting tails and horns was his own special way of being different. He lived with it because he had no other option. To the right of the bag was a ramekin filled with what looked and smelled like horseradish, the color a near-perfect match to his mother’s home-dyed hair. Not taking her eyes from Rain she moved her hand unerringly to the ramekin and dipped an orange puff, twisting it slightly to get a thick coating on the submerged end.
“No? I thought names like Rainbow and Starshine were used only by lesbians.” The puff disappeared into her mouth and her narrow jaw closed in a perfect imitation of a cow chewing grass, side to side, grinding the food down to a pulp. The smell of the horseradish blossomed outward, mixing horribly with the smell of fresh tobacco smoke and stale ashtray.
“I’m afraid not,” Rainbow said shortly. “My mother is Ojibwa and my dad is an engineer.” Her eyes followed the cheese puff, tracking it all the way into Mrs. Thompson’s mouth. “You know, the guy who drives the train?” Rainbow didn’t back down from much. It was one of things that Calvin really liked about her. Still, he eyed the old green refrigerator that was humming grumpily next to the hallway and wished he were ten years old and could still hide behind it.
“That’s too bad,” Mrs. Thompson said licking at the cheesy, orange dust on her fingers. “I would have loved to ask a few questions about the living habits of lesbians.” She reached for another cheese puff. “So what is oh-jib-wha? Some kind of indian?” Rain’s left eyebrow popped upward and she froze, her hand clamping tightly onto Calvin’s.
“Native American!” she snapped. “You know what? I have something else I need to do today. I wish I could say it has been a pleasure but, it hasn’t.” Rainbow wrenched her hand from Calvin’s grasp and stormed out the kitchen door letting the screen slam shut behind her. Calvin stared after her, his mouth hanging open in shock.
“Oh dear,” his mother said with a soft laugh. “You better go after her Cal, I think she may have misunderstood.” Clipping his jaw closed Calvin looked at his mother in outrage.
“Jesus Christ, mom! Why do you have to say every little thing that pops into your head?”
“What?” Another well-coated cheese puff made its way toward the maw. “What are you talking about?” Crunch, crunch.
“AAHHHHHhhhhh!” He threw up his hands in frustration and stalked out the door after Rain.
Rainbow was already at the bus stop by the time he caught up with her. She was standing like a statue with her head down, apparently trying to burn the sidewalk with her anger. Panting from the run he stopped in front her, searching for some kind of explanation to offer. He didn’t know what to say and actually expected to hear the worst from her. She was the first girl he had ever taken home to meet his mother. Not that he had a colorful history with women but more often than not had found himself pushed quickly into the friend zone. Rainbow had been a first in many ways for him and, judging by the look on her face just then, she could very well be the last. He said the only thing that came to mind.
“Rain, I’m sorry.”
Rainbow lifted her head to look at him and Calvin was struck by the particular shade of green in her eyes, the result of merging so perfectly with the chestnut-like brown. He wasn’t sure if anyone had ever felt weak in the knees before by hazel eyes but he certainly did. Her face was still flushed with anger, those beautiful eyes snapping off sparks. Long wisps of her black hair fluttered in the cool winter breeze, making him think of strands of cotton candy in the machine at the county fair. Calvin’s stomach tightened painfully in pre-grief. He missed her already.
Rainbow took a deep breath and the emotion visibly drained out of her, almost like a valve had been opened to release the enormous pressure within. Surprising him completely she reached for his hand and smiled.
“Does she have a tail?”
Calvin felt his shoulders drop from their painful position around his ears and his stomach stopped eating itself as their fingers entwined. He exhaled, unaware he had been holding his breath.
“The largest one you’ll never see,” he said and gave her a shaky smile. “She is the Gargoyle Queen.”
(Battle of the Goulash here)