What drew me to her? It was the way she walked down the street that caught my eye, how people parted in her wake. It was the way she swayed, how the sun played off the velvet gleam of her exoskeleton. It was her glass-sharp grace, the snap-quick turn of her head that told you she’d take whatever she wanted.
People scurried out of her path, but I stepped right into it. There was a tense moment when she glared at me, and I wondered if she’d bite off my head, but I managed to ask her out to dinner. To my surprise, she accepted.
I wasn’t usually so forward—too much, too fast, and people bolted like gazelles. But she was no gazelle.
It was my first time, dating a woman like her. There were generally two ways such a date could end: a chaste kiss on the cheek with a weak “call me sometime?” or a wild romp that ended in decapitation. For someone so dazzling, I’d take my chances.
I cared about looking appealing to her, and it made me second-guess myself, throwing on outfit after outfit. I didn’t pick that red dress, the lacy “unwrap for a good time” number. I selected something casual and black, loose and unrevealing, which said: “I’m chill. I don’t need much, don’t take much, don’t need you. I’ll give you only as much as you give me, and nothing more.”
I ditched the silver stilettos and opted for sensible flats, in case I had to run.
She’d chosen a high-end steak house, dim-lit and wood-paneled. The maître’d was poised and proper. When we strolled in, he greeted my date by name. I couldn’t grit my teeth right to pronounce it, so she asked me to call her Anna.
From the side-eye the roaming waiters were giving me, there’d been other dates here. I sniffed for lingering hints of cleanup bleach, and found none. No recent deaths, at least.
They attended to us immediately. Our waiter asked after drinks, then skipped straight to the main courses. You didn’t leave a woman like her hungry and waiting.
The waiter kept his hands carefully folded near his chest, as he addressed Anna. “What will you have, Madame?”
Anna gestured for me to order first, casually waving a barbed arm. The waiter pretended he hadn’t flinched, and smiled at me. “And what’s your pleasure, Miss?”
I scanned the menu in panic, looking for something small and innocuous. Most men disliked it when I showed more hunger than they had—a big, bloody steak on a first date meant there’d be no second. “I’ll go with the Caesar Salad.”
“Really now,” said Anna. “Who do you think you’re with?” She was large and lethal, green and sleek, stunning. She snatched the menu out of my grasp, and as she did, the spines on her arms grazed my skin. I suppressed a shudder of longing.
“Porterhouse for two,” Anna said, staring down at the waiter. “We’ll take it black and blue, and you’d better not overcook it. No salt.” She spoke slowly, tossing each word like a stone down the darkest well. The waiter, and everyone around us, was riveted with fear. It made my heart skip. With a polite bob, the waiter scurried off, rushing our order to the kitchen.
No small talk. We sipped our red wine silently, appraising each other. Our steaks soon arrived on a wood slab, seared dark on the outside, cold and raw within.
“Well,” said Anna. “What are you waiting for?”
I took my fork and knife, cutting myself a dainty slice.
Anna laughed at me—a sound like metal scraping asphalt. She gripped the steak between her barbed arms, ripping a hunk off the bone. She set upon it with her mandibles. No one dared look in our direction.
“Dig in, darling,” she said. “I’m not afraid of your appetites.”
So. I’d not done a good enough job of hiding what I was—it was peeking out through the edges. I chewed my small bite and swirled my wine, watching the red rings it left. “Well. They all say they’re not afraid, at first. Then they decide I’m a little too much for them.”
“There’s no such thing as too much.” Anna clicked her mandibles. “My, what a tight little box you keep yourself in.”
She looked at me intently, trying to decide if I was prey. Her eyes filled her face, massive jade moons. Part of me was small and fluttering; it wanted to flee, to bolt for the door. But the other part—the one I took pains to strangle and drown deep—rose slowly, like a stone island rearing from the sea.
For the first time, the very first time, I felt seen.
There was no need to pretend to be something I wasn’t. Following Anna’s lead, I shunned fork and knife, grabbing the meat with my hands, gnawing, teeth scratching bone. Fat and red juices ran down my chin, dripping off my wrists.
Anna was smiling. It wasn’t in the twist of her mouthparts, but in the tilt of her head and antenna. “That’s more like it. See how easy it is, when you’re not afraid of making anyone uncomfortable?”
The restaurant had gone dead quiet around us, but I didn’t care. I waved for our check, and with the same hand snuffed out our candle between my thumb and forefinger. It hurt, the bite of hot wax and scorching wick, but the pain ran down my spine deliciously, making everything sharper.
“If you come home with me tonight,” I said, “will you turn around, and chew off my head?”
“Darling, just don’t leave me unsatisfied. And don’t ask me for promises I won’t keep.”
It was all I could do not to grin. We walked out into the street holding each other close, like lovers, like raptors, and I was in love.
© 2018 by R.K. Kalaw