(~6 minutes to read)
(The story so far…
Stella is a contestant in a “Miss Sea Star Canada” pageant, and during a pre-competition visit to the ladies’ room, the suckers on her very realistic starfish costume got her stuck to the wall. Guy, a security officer and her knight in shining armour, rescued her by releasing her limb by limb from her costume. By way of thanks, she has agreed to buy dinner for Guy at a seafood restaurant.
We pick up the story as they meet up after the pageant.)
“Hi Guy,” shouted Stella across the heads of the crowd outside the Artists’ door.
“Sorry—I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on,” shouted Guy. He noticed all the turned heads, smirks and eye-rolls, and hastily continued, “I mean, I didn’t recognize you with your costume off and your street clothes on.”
“It’s okay,” said Stella. “I know what you meant. EVEN IF EVERYONE ELSE’S MINDS WERE IN THE GUTTER!”
The turned heads returned, and the eyes unrolled. Guy made his way through the throng to Stella.
“My car’s just ‘round the corner,” he said. He pulled his radio out of his utility belt and held it to his mouth as he pushed through the crowd, Stella in tow. The crowds melted before them, and they quickly reached Guy’s car.
“I’m starving—I could eat a horse!” said Stella.
“It’ll have to be a seahorse,” chuckled Guy. “It’s a seafood restaurant we’re going to, remember?”
“Is seahorse on the menu?” asked Stella, going with the flow.
“Are you kidding? I might not know much starfish, but seahorses I do know. I kept them as pets. I used to race them, but they couldn’t get the hang of jumping the fences. Then I found out they’re threatened as a species, so I gave up keeping them. Apparently, the Chinese use them in medicines, mostly for treating impotence… sorry—that was inappropriate for our first date…”
“No worries,” said Stella. “I was going to make a tacky joke about the medicines having to be made from sea-stallions.”
They both laughed. Stella thought she’d let the “first date” remark go for now.
“So what do you do in your spare time, now you don’t keep seahorses?”
“I build photographs using Photoshop and green screens,” said Guy. “I try to combine images that have a connection—for example, a giraffe riding on an open-top, double-decker bus. The bus and the giraffe both seem to defy gravity—they should tip over or something, yet they don’t.”
“O-k-a-y-y…” said Stella. “Give me another example—I’m not getting it yet.”
“How about a beaver driving a Zamboni through a Tim Hortons’ drive-through? Beavers don’t drive, and Zambonis don’t normally leave their arena, yet… Here, let me show you,” he said, getting out his phone. [Note to readers: do not attempt to show photos on your phone while driving. It’s against the law in many jurisdictions.]
“Hey, that’s cool!” said Stella. “I like the way you made the beaver big enough to reach the controls. How did you get it to pose in front of the green screen?”
“Easy. I cast a spell over it with my magic harmonica.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“Nope. I play a special tune, and any living creature in earshot becomes susceptible to my suggestions.”
“Like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, you mean?”
“I guess. Except ‘The Multi-hued Harmonicist of High River’ doesn’t have quite the same ring.”
Stella thought quickly. Was she in a car with a crazy guy? A crazy guy from High River? What if he really had such a power? There’d be no telling what he could do. Would he use it to take advantage of her? How would she know? She knew about the dangers of Rohypnol, but harmonicas? How can a girl keep herself safe these days? What kind of photograph might she end up in?
They pulled into the parking lot of the Hexagonal Octopus seafood restaurant and parked in the furthest corner.
“This is it,” thought Stella. She girded her loins, thinking they might be in danger.
“Don’t you dare get your organ out I mean your mouth organ your harmonica… Let me out of this car!”
Guy started laughing.
It was a warm, reassuring laugh, not the mad, maniacal laugh that you might have imagined.
“Did you believe me about the magic harmonica?” asked Guy. “I’m sorry if I scared you.”
“Then why did you park over here?” asked Stella, not at all convinced.
“My licence plate sticker is expired, and I don’t want to attract attention. Look, I’ll get out of the car and leave the keys in the ignition. If you feel unsafe, just move over to the driver’s seat and drive away.”
Stella thought about it. She could trust him and carry on with the dinner date, or chicken out and drive herself back to her hotel in his late-model Mercedes. (Don’t you hate it when writers drop new information in like that?)
She chose trust.
In the restaurant, they chatted some more about Guy’s photographs, and Stella told Guy about her penchant for wearing sea creature costumes. She’d started out as a mermaid, but had quickly become disillusioned by the number of mermen wanting to check out her tail. She’d flirted briefly with trout costumes, but discovered that “trout” was a euphemism for an annoying old woman and looked for something else. She’d sampled life on the dolphin pageant circuit, and dabbled with the flatfish crowd, but floundered in their company.
“So I thought I’d try starfish pageants,” she said.
“What do you do for a living—a real job, I mean?” asked Guy.
“I work in an underwater aquarium on the BC coast,” replied Stella. “We’ve got seals and big fish and a couple of leopard sharks in the collection. I do all the maintenance in the tanks; clean the glass, vacuum up all the fish droppings, and prune the aquarium plants. I used to do it in my mermaid costume to amuse the visitors, but some kids got worried about ‘The Little Mermaid’ swimming with sharks, so I just wear a regular wetsuit now.
“What about you? Is security your career?”
“Yes, and no. This security gig is how I’m paying my way through college, learning to be a cyber-security specialist. I finish next month, and then I start a job on Vancouver Island.”
He paused a moment.
“Perhaps we could meet up when I get there, and you can show me around.”
“Maybe,” said Stella. “So if you’re a student working security gigs, how come you drive a Mercedes?”
“Parents gave me money to get through college. I blew it all on the car, so now I have to work my way through. They could afford to give me more, but they want to ‘teach me the value of money’. So far, it’s working.”
The small-talk and getting-to-know-each-other continued throughout the meal and while they waited for the bill.
Guy fidgeted with his wine glass. “So… what about that guided tour of the BC coast and the island?”
“Are you kidding?” said Stella. “This is a ‘thank you’ dinner, not the beginning of a lifelong relationship!”
Guy frowned. He felt in his pocket. He smiled wistfully at Stella, pulled out his harmonica and began to play.