I need to be there, in case she is a Sin and this is part of my test. As hard as it might be...
"No, it's fine. It's fine," Nathan said hurriedly, pacing for a moment before heading into his room. "When and where? And, um, I don't have a car at the moment..."
"S'ok, I'll get your address from Alton and pick you up. He wants to go to this place called Jupiter's that's a stone's throw away from his shop. Never been, but I hear it's semi-formal, so, um, dress nice?" Enya was rambling, apparently as nervous as he was. "Anyway, I'll be there in about ten. Does that work for you?"
"Yeah, sure. Sure. Later." After he hung up, he took a deep breath. Not Marni, he reminded himself. This is just for show. Nothing more.
Jupiter's was a bit further than a stone's throw away, but easily within walking distance of the bookstore. Enya had arrived to pick up Nathan almost precisely ten minutes after their call ended, and had Gloria in the car with her. Whereas Nathan (after staring at the sparse options in his closet) had simply opted to wear the same outfit Alton had put him in, the two women had apparently dressed for the occasion, and each had distinctly different ideas of what semi-formal meant. Enya had donned a green and black plaid halter dress that fell just shy of her knees, with one long zipper down the front and two zippered pockets, and wore black heels to match. Gloria, on the other hand, wore a form-fitting one-shouldered dress with rouched sides, the hem falling a good three inches above her knees, the top portion fading gradually from warm saffron to deep vermillion at the bottom, and naturally had red heels to go along with it. She'd seemed surprised to find out that Nathan was the "friend" Enya had mentioned, but didn't comment on it as they parked along the street in front of the restaurant.
Alton was waiting for them outside, leaning casually against one of the posts supporting the awning over the entrance, clearly aware that he was going on a date with a model. He was easily the most formally dressed in a light gray waistcoat and matching pants, the dark gray button-down shirt he wore beneath made more casual by having the top button undone and the cuffs rolled to his elbows. He'd pulled his hair back in a low ponytail and smiled pleasantly at the trio when they approached, removing the fedora he wore and bowing his head to them. "Ah, good. For a while there, I thought I'd gotten the time wrong and arrived too early."
"Oh please!" Enya teased, rolling her eyes. "You made the reservations; if anything, we'd be late, not you."
Gloria had been walking beside her and covered her mouth briefly, taking a good, long look at Alton from head to toe before touching the other woman's shoulder, a slow smile spreading across her face. "Honey, we might have been out of touch for over two years, but you still know what I like!"
Enya grinned. "Of course! You might have gone off to be a supermodel, but your tastes haven't exactly changed much. Though I still don't know what you saw in my brother."
"Funny, neither do I."
"Anyway..." Enya motioned towards Alton, turning her smirk on him. "Gloria, this is my friend, Alton. Alton, this is Gloria."
Again, the shopkeeper bowed his head. "A pleasure to meet you." He gave Enya a sly smirk. "Though perhaps you could warn me the next time you plan on setting me up with an international supermodel. I'm afraid I feel out-classed."
"Oh don't say that!" Gloria laughed, moving beside him. "I'm still a plain Southern girl at heart. Shall we?"
Alton cast one more look in the direction of the other two, a knowing, almost wicked glint in his unnatural blue eyes as he offered his arm to the model to take. "Yes, let's."
Nathan had stayed a step behind them during their walk and hung back while the introductions were made. When Alton and Gloria started into the restaurant, he turned to Enya with an awkward half-smile. "So... um... shall we join them?"
Enya chewed her lip and looked down. "Yeah, we probably should." Her head suddenly shot up and she turned towards him quickly. "Just so we're clear, we don't have to put up any pretenses for Gloria, okay? I told her you were my friend, so it isn't like she'll expect anything of you. I know this is tough enough as is for you..."
"Stop worrying about," Nathan cut in with a sigh and a shrug. "The less I think about it, the easier it will be. Okay?"
She nodded slowly, taking a deep breath. "Okay. Okay, fair enough. Let's catch up."
She only waited a moment to be sure he was following before hurrying in after the other two, while Nathan did his best to keep his pace steady as he walked after her. He just had to keep reminding himself that this wasn't really a date, and that she wasn't Marni. Repeating those words in his head, he walked into Jupiter's.
The place was very dark, the only points of light from the low-hanging lamps over each table, and even they had dark stained-glass panels dimming that, containing their illumination in small circles and creating little oases of brightness throughout the dungeon-like restaurant. The classical music that played for ambiance was barely audible over the low murmur of many conversations, and despite the number of other patrons, Nathan felt at ease. Normally, such a large throng of people would have made him nervous -- uncomfortable, at best -- but perhaps it was the intimacy that each table had that made the presence of so many others not just tolerable, but almost comforting. By the time he and Enya reached the other two, Alton had already pulled out a chair for Gloria. He made a small nod towards Nathan, gently hinting he should do the same for Enya as he took a seat. The writer promptly obeyed before taking his seat opposite him.
"What's this, Alton?" Enya asked, snickering as she sat beside him. "Am I sensing a pattern here?"
He smirked, hanging his hat on the back of his chair. "It's cozier, isn't it? Boy, girl, boy, girl. Besides, I like being flanked by two beautiful women."
Said women laughed, while Nathan managed an amused smile. This could be fun, he decided, if he just stopped thinking about how oddly familiar it all seemed. He settled in his chair, resigned to relax and enjoy dinner, when he caught a glimpse of something in the darkness beyond their table. Dread instantly curled up his spine.
What was that...?