The Old College Try

"There are so many young people here," Lia observed, eyes trained upon a cadre of Ugg-clad students traipsing down the road towards the Starbucks that sat cater-cornered from the place where she might well spend her nights for the foreseeable future.

Yes indeed, Lia stood in a place that she never really thought she would find herself in; a college town. Larkspur was a hotbed for the university lifestyle -- well-lit, safe, and dozens of convenient millenial amenities sitting a stone's throw from the cheap, but safe apartments that Lia and Jo would probably be browsing later that week.

Well, that and the lack of dominion asserted by any other mythological beasts who may otherwise reject their attempts to establish territory.

For now, though, there were more important matters at hand; in order to stake a claim, the coyotes would need an enterprise. And it just so happened that the first vacant front that they had the chance to investigate sat here, at the intersection of Frappucino Avenue and Block Party Boulevard.

"We don't have to pee on it, do we?" Lia asked, staring skeptically at the candidate for whatever sort of storefront the coyotes would end up establishing.

Things were finally coming together! They had enough coyotes for a band, an underground crime lord to fund their ventures, and now they owned a whole building! A pretty nice building, if Jo did say so herself.

She stood beside Lia, surveying the storefront with a beaming smile. "Y'know, I couldn't tell you," she confessed brightly. "But I peed before we left, so I figure we'll hold off on that for now."

"We signed the lease for it a couple days ago," Jo continued as she moved to the door. "We were thinking live music on the weekends—local bands, cater to the college crowd, y'know? And then some hipster shit on week nights. Like slam poetry or whatever." She held the door open and gestured for Lia to enter.

"Slam poetry?" Lia asked, clearly confused. "I thought the wolves handled the fight club."

She stepped across the threshold of the storefront, eyes scanning the as-of-now empty space. It could well make a fine venue, if correctly remodeled and apportioned. The foundational pillars weren't too hard to work around, and the sight lines would be pretty decent if the stage was put against the south wall. Couple that with an already-existing bartop affixed to the front of house -- a remnant of the place's previous identity as a defunct small-time coffee shop that succumbed to the Starbucks Tsunami -- and it really did feel like an all-purpose space that could be leveraged towards all sorts of ends.

Lia wasn't terribly fond of it as it was now, however. The big, empty room felt like the sort of place where illicit things happened in the dead of night. The sort of place where commodities were bought and sold to interested patrons who promised to take care of their newfound possessions.

The coyote shook her head, dismissing the thoughts. "We have a lot of work to do," she said simply, "but it could be pretty nice. Plus I don't have to worry about getting fired during the full moon."

Jo snorted out a laugh. "No, it's just like, poetry but for the cool kids," she explained, although she was still a little uncertain on the difference herself. Either way, apparently college students were into it.

"It's going to be super nice," she corrected confidently as she paced further into the building. "And we can use the upstairs as a VIP lounge. For the band and our friends or whatever."

"We're gonna have to hire a couple people. A bouncer and a bartender, at least, until one of us gets a hang of it. I can barely pour myself a drink as it is." How were they even supposed to do that? Just put up a Craigslist ad and cross her fingers?

"...I can mix the drinks," Lia squeaked quietly. It was a bit of an unexpected offer; the girl wasn't much for alcohol. "I'm pretty okay at it."

The littlest coyote skirted across the edges of the expansive venue space, analyzing every nook and cranny as if she were a realtor assessing its value. A hand idly dragged over the concrete walls -- it was spartan and a bit ugly, honestly, but it could easily be turned into something aesthetically worthwhile.

"I dunno about bouncers, though," she conceded. "Do we hire humans? How do we pull that one off? There would be questions."

"Okay," Jo said without thought as she reeled a bit in surprise. Lia and mixing drinks didn't exactly fit together. "Yeah, totally. I'll pay you—as long as you show me the ropes, too." She grinned, brushing her surprise aside for now. If the coyote was a woman of hidden talents, so be it. She wasn't going to question her.

"If we can't find any furry bouncers, then yeah, human ones," she confirmed. She shared Lia's reservations but doubted there was a way around it. "Just to work the door for the primarily human clientele. I'll still be here to keep an eye on the nonhuman ones, at least until we can find someone else to help out."

Jo shoved her hands into her pockets as she walked to the center of the space. "I don't expect much trouble," she added after a moment. "The vamps seem mostly content to stay in Cordova, and I'm at least crossing my fingers that the other weres aren't interested in in-fighting." Yet, at least. It would come, once other groups began forming, maybe in direct competition with another of their species, and while space remained at a premium.

"Why would they be?" Lia inquired. Genuine confusion played across her face as she leaned upon a cement support pillar, crossing her arms across her narrow chest and peering across the room towards her would-be king.

"It doesn’t make any sense for weres to fight amongst themselves," she points out. "Why would they when we all have the same problems? If anything we should be trying to figure out how to best protect ourselves from the humans. What are we going to do if we’re fighting over who gets to build the fanciest bar when the military decides that we don’t get to live here anymore?"

It was a moment of surprising clarity – and vexing realism – from the diminutive European orphan. She knew it, too. "Sorry," she added. "Just – I’ve seen this kind of thing go belly-up in a heartbeat before."

Jo shrugged, unbothered by Lia's line of questioning. "Fuck if I know why we do it." Her voice held a note of tired resignation, but she forced a small smile to offset the sudden morbid turn the conversation had taken. Then realized that was dumb and dropped the smile because Lia had (presumably) been through enough shit already for Jo to try to gloss over all of this.

"People want power. Throw territorial beasts into the mix and you get a clusterfuck. Or a powder keg. That's probably the better metaphor, at any rate." She paused to bite the inside of her cheek in thought, wondered if she should bring up her old bands—especially wondered if she even wanted to talk about it in the first place but couldn't come to a conclusion on that one—then shrugged again, deciding that no one wanted to hear about her skeletons in the closet anyway. "People are assholes, and there's nothing easier to hate than other monsters."

"People want power," Amalia repeated, the last of the three words lingering upon her lips as she spoke it. It tasted sour and acrid, like she imagined battery acid would taste. "That is certainly true."

The coyote shrugged her shoulders; she did not wish to think or speak about the subject any longer, and honestly she was rather upset that she had brought it up in the first place. "...Can we have a room with a television?" she asked, her voice quiet and more than a little pleading. "I -- I want to use my money to buy... a Switch. I've always -- I've always wanted my own video games."

Jo suspected she had hit a sore nerve. Which she should have considered, given Lia's enigmatic past, but she hadn't been thinking about that. And it was too late to take the words back now.

But not too late to ply Lia with fancy gadgets or whatever else would make her smile. "We can totally have a room with a TV," she agreed with a warm smile. She approached the coyote, a little slowly out of some instinctive concern over arousing alarm, and rested a hand on the small of her back. Jo gestured vaguely in the direction of the door. "C'mon, let's go to Best Buy and spend an irresponsible amount of money on video games."

If she strained her ears, she swore she could hear her bank account weeping in the distance.

Lia winced backwards in response to the sudden advance; she had no issues with Jo's touch, but there was something about the enclosed, grey space of the room that had the girl on edge. Her coyote raged in the background as her eyes flared a deep, panicked amber.

Then Jo's hand was on the small of her back, and a sense of belonging overcame the sense of fear. This place may have seemed analogous to past nightmares, but there was a safety to it that had not ever been there before. She sighed, and the color faded.

"We can't do that," she reminded Jo. "We need to furnish this place."

Her beast brushed affectionately against Lia's. "We can," Jo disagreed evenly, waving a dismissive hand. "We have a mattress, a dresser, and a shitty TV already. What other furniture do we need?" She paused a beat to consider before adding, "I play penny pincher enough to splurge on this." On Lia specifically, but saying that out loud would be just too gay. And probably weird.

Lia hesitated; her coyote was quite pleased, but she still felt irresponsible and undeserving of any sort of splurge on Jo's part. She was enough of a freeloader as things were, after all.

...But damn it, she really wanted to play her very own video game.

"Alright," she said quietly. "If you're sure we can afford it. I -- you can play it first, if you want." It was at once an astoundingly childish and amazingly goofy statement for the young adult coyote to make. Amalia made to step towards the front of the building once more -- but hesitated, instead tentatively stepping towards Jo and wrapping her arms around the other woman in a thankful, happy little hug.

"Thank you," she murmured quietly. "It means a lot."

Jo didn't parse Lia's movement until her arms were entirely around her in a hug. Oh. Well that was a surprise. A pleasant surprise? Yes, definitely a pleasant surprise even as she tried to wrap her brain around it.

She rubbed Lia's back affectionately. "Of course, man. You know I'm here for you." Wait, did she know that? They'd never really said those kinds of things out loud—as frank as Jo tended to be, she didn't feel a need to state the obvious.

Nah, it was fine.

Jo was there for Lia. It was an unexpected statement -- even if at this point it was obvious to any neutral observer. Still, it (as well as the comforting touch) filled the anxious girl with something akin to peace and pleasantry.

Lia smiled softly, forehead pressed against Jo's collarbone. She reveled in the closeness for a long moment. Still, it was perhaps best not to push the envelope. Best not to make things too weird, even if all Lia really wanted out of life was to be held by someone who cared for her.

The girl stepped back, and smiled. "Best Buy, then?"

Jo gave Lia's back one last friendly pat when the woman pulled away. Definitely a pleasant surprise—which Lia seemed full of today! First about bartending and now with this. Either way, Jo felt absolutely tickled that she could make her happy, even if only materialistically via fancy electronics.

"Yeah, let's get outta here," she agreed brightly and then led the way out the door.

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