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Viv wrinkled her nose, stepping forward reluctantly. Something about the garbage room just seemed off—and she wasn’t entirely sure it was just in terms of the rot. Tentatively, she stepped forward, her garbage bag hanging loosely from her hand.
On the one hand, it felt like this was deeply not her business; garbage rooms stank, it was something they did. She was just on edge. Sleeping three days and only waking up to stuff bread in one’s face and feed the cats would do that to a person, especially after then having a rich dinner of fried chicken and coke. The thing with the moth and Yasmin’s nervousness about this building had only added to it.
On the other, this was a heavily magical area, and her specialty was divination. Should she really be shrugging it off if she got a bad feeling about something?
Hesitantly, she made her way toward the garbage containers, picking her way around gross puddles of indeterminate fluid on the ground. Flies buzzed around the compost bins and the dumpsters alike, and fruit flies seemed to swarm on their surface. For a moment, she longed for colder weather to finally get here. No more bugs to worry about then.
The smell seemed to be the worst from the middle container. She made a face, looking up at it. If she really wanted to investigate, she’d have to grab the rim and haul herself up to look inside.
The light flickered overhead, and she froze in the middle of reaching for the rim. The last thing she wanted was for the power to go out while she was holding herself up over who knows what rotting, leaking mess. The stutter of the light sent large shadows through the room, warping the space around her.
“You okay, miss?”
She jumped, a scream strangling in her throat as the flickering light resolved back into the steady hum of fluorescent lights. Spinning in place, she barely held herself back from swinging her garbage bag at the newcomer.
It was an older man, white and with some sallowness to his skin, his salt and pepper hair swept back from his brow. He was leaning on a mop in a tub and wearing a janitorial vest with the name Theodore embroidered on it, his brows raised in some concern. She wondered how long he’d watched her creep her way across the floor toward a dumpster.
Viv’s face heated. “I! Yeah, sorry, I was just…” She trailed off. What could she say? She was worried about the garbage? “I was going to throw this out.”
“Let me get this for you, then,” Theodore said, still in a light tone, almost murmuring it. He left his mop in his bucket and came forward with a smile, hand outstretched. It didn’t reach his eyes, which were dark, hard, and, she thought, judgmental. “It’s nasty in here today, yeah? I’m just going to get this cleaned up and prepped to be taken out tomorrow.”
She wasn’t sure she’d been so embarrassed in her life, except that the entire last month had happened to her. “Yeah, sure! Thanks! Sorry,” she babbled, shoving the garbage bag at him, and fled.
When she made it to the ground floor, she ducked into the building’s gym room to wash her hands and splash her face. It still felt like it was practically sizzling. She must have looked like a total weirdo—she could only hope that he’d rounded the corner when she was at the dumpster already and it had looked like she was just waiting out the power glitch to toss her bag in, not playing amateur garbage detective.
She definitely needed to get out, Viv decided, looking at herself ruefully in the mirror as water dripped off her long, angular nose. Somewhere fun, somewhere that she could just relax for a bit. Live music and booze sounded like just the thing.
Besides—the quote she had read mentioned a neighbour’s party, and while she was pretty sure that the literal meaning was that you could learn to enjoy something outside your comfort zone if you just joined in… she had literally been recommended a bar that seemed like a party joint and was actually named the Good Neighbours. Couldn’t get more meant-to-be than that.
Trying to stop replaying the last five minutes over and over, she headed out into the night, determined to make herself enjoy the brisk air and the scurry of leaves around her ankles, red and brown and ashy gray. Autumn was her favorite season, and she was going to have a good night tonight if it killed her.
Google Maps wasn’t always reliable in Valleys—less through a fault of its own and more that the geography changed so often, roads shifting, buildings moving, shops opening and closing under their own power or, sometimes, their own will. There were even websites dedicated to trying to track the changes day after day. But Good Neighbours seemed like it was an establishment that had been around for a while, and sure enough, her phone brought her there easily enough.
From the outside, it didn’t look like much. It was a pub that had taken over what had once been retail space off a side street,with offices overhead—she had to assume that they worked opposite hours from the pub, so that the nightlife wouldn’t bother any of the workers. It had a brick front, and large windows with GOOD NEIGHBOURS written across them in sparkling gold and white window paint. The loud electric take on traditional Celtic music could be heard even with the door closed.
Of course, she thought, scanning the menu outside—standard pub fare, it looked like—with a name like the ‘Good Neighbours’, she’d expect a pretty high number of fae performers and servers. Probably under fae ownership as well, which would explain its reputation. Yasmin hadn’t identified it as such, but then, Yasmin also said she didn’t do bars.
From the poster hanging up outside, it looked like the band playing today was called the Merry Gentry, which only further affirmed her sense it was fae-owned. But it should be safe enough to go and get a drink; not eating or drinking on fae territory really only applied to spaces where they offered you something for free. A business was a totally different situation.
She headed in, almost bowled over by the music, and stood in the doorway, looking around as she got her bearings and adjusted to the noise of the screaming electric guitar jig currently playing, the dim lights and fog hovering around the tables, the patrons yelling at each other to be heard over the music. It looked like it was a ‘seat yourself’ pub, so she took a moment to figure out where to head to.
There were some quieter booths to the side and away from the stage, less occupied, where she could go and sit and just talk to a server when they came by; one booth was even entirely free. She could sit by the stage, and lose herself in the music, maybe get familiar with the band. Or she could go sit at the bar, where a beautiful nagi, a snake-woman, was serving up drinks.
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