Mouthful of Diamonds

Belle Vista 
outfeet minus accessories

 Minerva had spent an atrocious amount of time getting ready. Most of that was rifling through her wardrobe, packed to the brim with things she'd loved anywhere from months to years - and yet, finding the right combination for this evening was a huge pain in the neck. Suddenly, all of her dresses made her look like somebody's kid sister filling the role of flower girl at a wedding. She didn't want to look juvenile, but like, also, she didn't want to give Sokol the wrong impression. Nothing too revealing, but also, did that floor-length skirt make her look like a convent hopeful?

 She'd done her makeup, too, after ten thousand years of debating what kind of style she should go with - ultimately settling for a natural look, which really just meant eyeshadow in various shades of light brown. She twitched back and forth between feeling like she was trying too hard and that she was still going to show up looking like a high schooler. Easily more than a year stretched between her and the last time she'd been on a date, but she was sure she was just this skittish every time she went on one.

 Ultimately, she'd slipped out of the house largely undetected, and would find the restaurant with relative ease. Still, she felt nervous, and all the way from her car to the host's stand, she would zip her little silver crucifix back and forth on its dainty chain. It was easier to drop her necklace when she had something to distract herself with - interacting with the host, admiring passersby, looking to see if Sokol was already there. She wondered if he'd be dressed nicely too, or if maybe she'd gone a little overboard for dinner at a Brazilian restaurant.

Outfit is this but about 5% less tight and just a watch

Poor Minnie, relegated to Thursday entertainment. Her date at least was punctual, arriving inside the steakhouse within minutes of when she did. He spotted her at the podium and smiled as he approached with a friendly Hey!, going in for an extremely polite one-armed hug and a kiss on the cheek. "Nice to see you again," he added with his best angel smile. "You found the restaurant okay?"

 There he was! Minerva grinned toothily at him, returned the one-armed hug for all it felt a little awkward - it seemed it was likely that only she felt that way, perpetually embarrassed these days. The kiss on the cheek was cute, she thought, and would fail to keep from flushing up to the hairline for it. "You too, yeah, I did," she said, hurriedly, grinning dumbly for it all.

 As they were led to a table, she would pipe, "It smells great in here!" And it did, the enticing perfume of cooking meat, for all she didn't eat it. She had done well to check this establishment's menu beforehand, to make sure they had a decent variety of meatless stuff, and had not been disappointed. If nothing else, she would be fed. "So, how's your week been?" Unable to be quiet and sit still at the same time, she would dive right in.

Ohh, that blush. Minerva was nice to look at, which was why he'd talked to her at all, but it did feel like putting the moves on a grade schooler. Off-putting, but still, she was something to pay attention to for an evening. "It does," he agreed with her same excited smile, though turned down a notch. He let her pull out her own chair to avoid the risk of making her face so hot it sprung a leak, instead settling into his own. "It was interesting, actually," he responded, leaning over the table a little with the air of someone ready to share something juicy.

"Do you believe in magic powers?"

 She settled in, acutely aware of the heat in her face, doing her best to will it back to its usual color. The continuation of conversation helped. He leaned in, speaking almost conspiratorially, and she would mimic him, crouching forward slightly with a cheeky smile. And then - oh! Her eyebrows rose, expression betraying some sense of surprise. Play it cool, Minerva!

 "Oh, uh - yeah, it seems possible," she offered, trying to keep it neutral. Maybe Sokol had powers too! It had her hooked, anyway, and she watched him expectantly, maybe anticipating some little display. How bold it would be of him!

She played along, leaning in to close the distance between them, and he found he enjoyed that. She seemed startled by the question, but it was nothing that roused his suspicions; instead he continued to unroll Iago's story for her entertainment. "I never have seen it, but this week a friend of mine cut his hand to the bone — and a girl in the same room healed it From gushing blood to not a mark, just a few minutes." He leaned back a little, still astounded. "Have you ever heard anything like that?"

 As Sokol went on, it became a little more clear that he probably did not have powers. Minerva banked on Sokol - and many others - being honest, unfortunately. She absolutely had heard of that. She'd experienced it firsthand! It sounded like Ashley to her, in fact. Maybe saying yes would somehow be incriminating for one or both of them - well, except that it seemed like she did it pretty publicly!

 "Oh, um - no, I haven't," she said cheekily. Nervous, she'd try to tack something on, cover a lie that Sokol couldn't possibly detect, right? "But that's really awesome! I guess I've always thought of like, mind reading and fire stuff when I think of magic abilities." Basic stuff, right? Belatedly, she leaned back, smiling softly as a waiter came to take their drink orders and dispense menus.

Nothing there, unfortunately. He shook his head with aftershocks of astonishment, taking his menu with a smile. "It's not something I ever heard of. Really surprising, I thought, that she would do it in the open like that, but..." He shrugged, letting the topic drop and returning a curious eye to Minerva. "If you could have any magic power, like things out of the movies, what would you choose?"

 Minerva nodded, couldn't quite find the words to echo his sentiments of she is bold! He pressed on, and Minerva looked down at her own menu, grinning reflexively. "I think it would be cool to talk to animals. Or to fly." She really did like her little metal magic, but she had a small, ticking paranoia that bringing it up would hit too close to home. "What about you?" Gathering some courage, she looked at him again with the same cheeky sort of grin. "Mind reading? Shapeshifting?"

Everyone wanted to fly. Innocent people, especially, all wanted to fly. But she went ahead and guessed at his own aspirations, and she was close enough that he grinned and meant it, narrowing his eyes as if to scold her. "I would go crazy with mind reading. I'm much too nosing into everyone's business already. But if I couldn't do that, I would move things around with my mind."

 Minerva laughed a little - she didn't know if Sokol really was the nosy type. Maybe that was why he'd approached her at the art gallery to begin with. Grinning still, a potentially permanent expression for the evening as she found herself getting a little more comfortable, she glanced at the menu again. They had a whole section marked with familiar "V"s, and she'd skim the options for a moment. Roasted vegetable feijoada, black bean stew, yucca fries. "You said you like cooking, right? Have you ever made something Brazilian?" Their little chat about magic people had ended well enough, but she was happy to venture into a different discussion now.

Sokol took a chance to skim the menu as she did, steeling himself mentally to eat only a natural quantity of food even though his lion was salivating at the thought of whole skewered slabs of barbecue. "Like this? No, I didn't try it before I moved here. I make a lot of things from my culture, I guess, things I grew up eating." Boring himself slightly, he frowned for a moment and made his selection before returning to his investigation. "Did you end up painting anything after your look at the gallery?"

 Minerva's eyebrows rose some in interest, and she might have asked about what his culture was, specifically, but he moved on. She kept the question in the back of her mind, smiled sheepishly at his question. "No, I haven't painted anything," she confessed. "But! I have been trying my hand at silversmithing." It felt bold! She had been sure to brush up on how that kind of thing was done traditionally, with molds and furnaces, but she'd managed to make something she liked with only the force of her mind! It made her a little giddy.

 "Here, I'll show you." She pulled out her phone, tapping and scrolling until she found the picture she'd taken of a very small horse sculpture. It was rough in many places, lacking great detail due to its size, and not very shiny given the lack of an acid bath, but it filled her with pride all the same. She turned the phone towards Sokol so that he could see it as well.


That word caused problems for Sokol, and he was careful to compose a mildly interested expression and ready his most convincing lie about a silver allergy. But to his good fortune, she pulled her phone out instead of that unlucky object — why would she have brought it here, anyway? — and he leaned in with a silent sigh of relief. "Look at that! I didn't know people even make things like this anymore!" He looked over at her with an appreciative smile, then back to the photo for further study. "This is what you meant when you said you were starting sculpture. How do you make this?"

 Minerva beamed, warmed by his enthusiasm, enjoying the attention for it. It really didn't seem like a very common art - at least, not in silver. People were more likely to use sterling for jewelry. He asked about the process, and boy was she ready!

 "Well, you start with a wax mold, and when it's hardened you build a clay cast around it. When the clay is hard, you melt out the wax and fill the chambers with your molten metal of choice. Then you have to like, sort of bury the cast in sand to help it cool off and keep it upright while you wait. Then you chip off the cast and smooth out your product! I guess you're also supposed to dip it in an acid wash to make it shiny, but I skipped that part. I like the rugged look." She grinned as she spoke, happy to pass such information along, even if it was very far from the method she had used.

"Wow." He listened to that laborious process, trying to imagine it around the little horse. "How do you melt the silver?"

 "Well, you put it in a metal pitcher - I don't remember what it's made of, but it has a higher melting point than the silver itself, and you put it in a furnace that reaches almost two thousand degrees." She emphasized the words "two thousand" because that kind of blew her mind, even though she'd done none of that. If it seemed like Sokol was done marveling at the photo, she'd take her phone back. "And once it melts, you pour it into the mold, very carefully." Obviously! She giggled a little.

It was...interesting, if not something he could easily picture Minerva doing. He could not imagine anyone who worked with molten metal managing to do so without eventually being riddled with burn scars. "That's really interesting. Who taught you how to do that?"

Before he could get an answer, though, a waiter returned to take their orders. Sokol ordered barbecued steak, because he was currently in love with it.

 Minerva was feeling a little extra confident, even if it was confidence in her ability to skirt around the truth. She'd hold onto her answer as she ordered after Sokol, black bean stew and yucca fries. Once the waiter had left, she dove right back in. "There's a class for it at the college in Lavender Heights," she informed him with a grin. That much was true, at least, even though she'd never taken it.

It was not until this point in their acquaintanceship that Sokol stopped to consider how old Minerva was. He had assumed 19 or 20, but something about the mention of the community college made a cold egg of fear suddenly drip down his back. If she was under 18 he would have to get up and leave this instant. She had to be older, though, right? There was no way they let high schoolers work with liquid metal. "You take classes there?"

YES, BECAUSE SHE WAS OVER EIGHTEEN. She would say so right now probably!

 Minerva remained blissfully ignorant of Sokol's sudden stroke of panic. She offered a sheepish little smile. "Uh, yeah! Well, I did. I'm taking a semester or two off," she informed him with a nod of confirmation. The reality of just how long it would be until she returned to school was unknown, though. "But! The work room is open pretty much year round for projects and stuff." Quick to cover her tracks with something she wasn't actually sure was true or not.

He didn't sniff out her lie, being too busy convincing himself that Minerva was definitely, definitely over eighteen. Oh god he'd given her a kiss when they arrived don't think about it or your eyes will go all silver — he picked up a glass of water and took a long drink. He would keep it together.

Moving along. "What is the reason you're taking a semester off?"

 His question sparked some embarrassment on her behalf, for all she'd worked so fervently to remind herself that money, or lack thereof, was nothing to feel so strongly about. Maybe there was more shame in being rich, anyway. "Ah, money," she confessed with a sheepish smile.

"Oh!" Well, he was stepping in it all over, wasn't he! "Don't mind me for asking. In my country it's not something to pay for, but I know things are different here. But time away from school can be useful, too."

He resisted the urge to fiddle with his silverware, beginning to feel restless, and concentrated on looking benign instead. "Do you want to talk about something else?"

 Her smile lost a layer or two of its embarrassment, warming up some for his words. If only America could follow that pattern! She only nodded, feeling a little better already for his attempt at soothing. It wasn't so bad, was it?

 "Um, sure!" She piped, adjusting herself in her seat, leaning against the back of the chair and crossing one leg over the other. "Tell me about where you're from!"

Sure, sure. He had a whole routine about this ready to go. "All right, well. I am from Czechia, which most people in this country call Czech Republic, or Czechoslovakia. But that last one is most wrong, because Slovakia is its own country since the 90's. Czechia is a small country right in the middle of Europe, and it is the size of South Carolina approximately. Smaller than Colorado." At this point in his presentation he paused for a break to smile.

 She liked the way he said all this information, the various names of the country coming out with the type of smoothness she wasn't sure she could ever imitate. She also probably would have called it Czechoslovakia. Geography was never her strongest suit. Still, she listened raptly, eyebrows up with interest. How big was South Carolina anyway? She had no idea, but smaller than Colorado. She returned his smile at the pause, a sign that she was listening, but also a little more eager to hear about like. Cultural stuff.

No comment! That was fine, he hadn't gotten to anything interesting yet. "We speak Czech in my country, which sounds like,
jsem v restauraci s dívkou.
And it's one of those places where our neighbors all speak a different language but they are all close enough to understand each other. Have you been anywhere in Europe?"

Really, someone who couldn't afford a local college straight through had probably not traveled the world, but it was impolite to assume.

 Her smile grew as he spoke in his native language - if she didn't know it was Czech, she would have thought it was Russian or something. Funny that he should mention all the different languages in his place of origin should be close enough to bridge communication. "Oh! Uh, I went to England with my family once," she offered, giggling a little. It was her only trip out of the country. Nothing like Czechia, she figured. "What made you leave?"

See — people could surprise you. She had been to Europe after all.

The answer to her question was wrapped up in lion politics, but he thought he could give her a sanitized version. "The short answer is a business opportunity. The long answer is, I have a lot of people telling me what to do in my home. So being here is an opportunity for some freedom." A more self-aware smile now, though he was thinking how much Americans liked to jump at this answer. It was a country filled with ignoramuses.

 A business opportunity! Fancy! She grinned, listening as he went on with his slightly longer answer. She could understand that - living with her parents afforded her as much luxury as it did obligations.

 "Guess you came to the right place," she said with a little laugh, an attempt at a joke. America being the land of the free and all that, right? Get it? Anyway. "What kind of business are you in?"

There it was! Americans could never resist a little piling-on about freedom. He shook his head, growing more self-deprecating the further they traveled into his daily life. "Electronic production, but I am in the sales part of it, so my whole job is phone calls and lunch dates and making people happy." Relationships, you could say.

 Her interest continued as she listened, and for all she was a little surprised by what he described, she didn't think any less of him for it! She grinned, crossed her arms playfully. "That sounds pretty important," she remarked. "I would've thought you were like a CEO or something!" A little flattery never hurt, right? She couldn't wield it very gracefully beyond genuine compliments, but maybe it would do for now.

He laughed, doing a good impression of someone who was embarrassed of being in the spotlight. His uncle was CEO, actually, and he would inherit the position if he managed to take it seriously for long enough. Back to Prague and goodbye Mountainside. "It's something to do, I guess." Mmm, speaking of which. "How do you occupy yourself living in Avondale?"

 He laughed, and she found it contagious, chuckling a little along with him. It didn't sound like it was something he was very passionate about, but maybe something he was very good at anyways. He seemed smooth enough to pull all that stuff off. Her big grin subsided some, into a smaller smile that was some brand of humble.

 "Mm, hiking and doing stuff around the house, mostly. I tend to come into other parts of town for entertainment most of the time." She smiled a little. Maybe soon all that commuting would be consumed by having a full time job and she could justify the amount of gas used. "It's a pretty small town, population wise. There's not a lot to do except be outside."

He smiled and nodded along, unsurprised that Minerva could not find much to do around her home. Also thinking that a college-age (certainly) girl who professed to just puttering around the house for entertainment was...anachronistic? Boring? He shifted in his seat and smiled at her, tilting his head slightly. "Any dreams of moving into the city?"

 He smiled his charming smile and queried about where her future resided. "Yeah," she confessed with a light laugh, sheepish. "I mean, I like the woods and stuff, but. There's always something different and new in the city. More opportunities, you know?" There wasn't much for her in Avondale in the years to come except a cattle ranch, and maybe not even that. She hardly even rode the horses anymore. A move also appealed to her with its special brand of newness, and independence! There was just the matter of finding the means to execute it.

Every young person with the means available was migrating from town to city. It was no surprise to find Minerva among them, though she seemed particularly unready to navigate adult life of any kind. She had exactly the feeling of a sweet baby animal out with no supervision, pathetically easy prey for the first predator to wander by.

On that thought they were joined by waiters and trays, Sokol's entree including a show of meat-carving onto his plate that, when you were the only one who had ordered it, was slightly mortifying. He did a nervous sort of grin at Minerva as it happened, and soon any embarrassment was nudged aside by a leonine desire to eat a very large pile of rare meat. Once they were alone with their plates he narrowed his eyes at her, teasingly suspicious. "Do you not eat meat?"

 Minerva, for all that she avoided meat for the sake of her own bleeding heart and moral concerns, would not judge other people if they ate it. Sokol included, of course! It would be hard to be upset with him for it, anyway, this nice gentleman who had asked her on a date and been so cool. As such, she thought nothing of it, only thanking the waitstaff as they were left alone again. Her stew smelled very much like a bunch of beans cooked up together, but to her, it was enticing!

 Still, when Sokol remarked on her particularly plant-based order, she threatened to turn pink. She smiled at him, hoping he was not thinking less of her for it, just a layer or two away from realizing that if he did, that should be all she needed to know! For now, she wanted to be very careful to continue to appeal to him despite her diet. "I don't," she confessed sheepishly, wondering if she could fit herself into the ramekin of sauce that came with her yucca fries.

His eyes went from narrowed to wide, a show of genial exasperation. "You let me take you to a steakhouse." The intended subtext being, don't let people just drag you along into something compromising, though he was hardly her parent. He tried to move quickly past it, anyway, smiling at her as he reached for his fork. "I'm sorry for not asking earlier. Your plate smells very good, for the record." A lie!

 Minerva just couldn't. She grinned reflexively, big and dumb, covering her mouth as her face finally started to heat up again. She did let him take her to a steakhouse! But she'd looked at the menu first! To make sure she could eat something here! Interjecting with that kind of protest was very hard when she was trying not to laugh, even if it came out a tinkling, nervous sound.

 When he apologized, and seemed ready to let it go, she only shook her head, trying not to let her eyes water. She picked up her glass to drink from it shortly, offering some soothing. "It's fine, really," she insisted, her face hurting from the too-wide smile. "I promise, I looked up the menu online before I agreed to it." Gesturing lightly towards her stew and fries. "It does smell good." And then, she'd start to freaking eat so she could keep from staring and smiling.

Well. That was a hell of a reaction, and he looked on with what felt like a big-brotherly indignation, spearing a piece of steak wit his fork. Really this was not particularly entertaining for him, but she was enjoying herself at least. "If you say so," he replied archly, and from there it was a good time to eat.

After a small lull, during which time he allowed himself to enjoy his very small portion of steak, he rolled another question to her. "What made you decide to not eat any meat?"

 The stew was, well, very much a bunch of beans and veggies stewed together, and while it was beautiful to look at, Minerva found that it was not quite to her taste. She ate it anyway, but made a point to work on clearing her fries before the bowl. When Sokol spoke up again, easing some of the slowly-mounting nervousness she'd started to feel through the stretch of silence, she grinned again, helpless to do anything but smile.

 "Um," she began slowly, thoughtfully. God, she was going to sound like a big baby, probably, if she told him 'I feel bad for all the little animals losing their lives :('. Especially after getting the whole thing from her father, about the circle of life and the food chain and all that stuff she hated to hear.

 She decided to go with a more scientific answer. "Well. Factory farming is a top polluter, and also a very big factor in man-made climate change," she said carefully, looking into her bowl of beans. "And a lot of the times, the animals that are killed and sold are treated inhumanely." Maybe that was what bothered her the most - couldn't there be more respect about all of it? Why couldn't the lives of those animals be happy and warm before they were dispatched?

Minerva was absolutely not the first vegetarian girl Sokol had taken on a date. But he did a convincing show of listening with new ears, stealing bites of steak whenever she happened to glance away. "Really?"

A guilty look down at the lovely red juice on his plate, and a question that sounded sardonic but sincere. "Will I be upset if I know what they do to the cows?"

 She giggled for his question, a nervous sound more than it was particularly cheerful. "Um. I guess that depends on how much you care about cows," she responded sheepishly. She could never watch those harsh documentaries - online information painted a graphic enough picture for her. "It's pretty rough though."

He winced. "Well, I'm sorry, then. Maybe I need to look into it." Don't think about how you've taken down a cow bare-handed and then kind of sat inside the carcass, Sokol! That kind of thing shows in your eyes. "Do you want any dessert?"

 Minerva's sheepish smile persisted, and she sort of giggled for his words. Maybe he would! All the same, she tried to emit as much non-judgemental vibes as possible. No lecturing, no chastising! It was nicer to move on to the thought of dessert, anyway.

 "Uh, sure! You wanna split something?" That was cute date stuff, right?

Oh, Minerva. She was a very tall child, but not so bad for a mid-week diversion. "Sure. You can pick, since I dragged you here in the first place."

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