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Table d'hôte

"Does Zoltan always take any excuse to throw a party?" Megan asked G as they sat at the vampire's lavish table.

"Every one," G said, scooting her chair closer to the table. "And makes up others."

Watson sat across from Megan and G, and Jack Hammer sat at one end of the table, while Zoltan had reserved the other for himself. Simon, looking grey and sleepless and rumpled, arrived last and took his seat next to Watson.

Zoltan, resplendent in a black silk shirt and slacks crowned by a garnet velvet tailcoat and matching cravat, entered from the kitchen, followed by a trio of beautiful young men -- one white, one black, and one Asian -- each in waiter's black-and-white and carrying trays. Like a magician revealing his latest trick, Zoltan whisked the silver lid off the first tray and declared, "Venison!" The second was pronounced, "Goose!" and the third, with a broad and knowing smile, "Turkey!"

The trays arrived safely at table, and then more dishes materialized around them in a bustle of his hired waitstaff: pumpkin mushroom soup, sweet potato pie, asparagus and mushroom risotto, cornbread stuffing, and more. Zoltan seated himself at table as the bustle vanished back into the kitchen. "You will all forgive, I hope, if we do not say grace," he said with a sweet smile that made Megan laugh outright. He winked at her, settled his linen napkin in his lap, and said, "Will you please carve the turkey, Mr. Hammer? And you, G, would you carve the goose? The venison, alas, requires no carving, and so poor Simon must sit idle this year." He reached over and patted Simon's shoulder.

Simon appeared to awaken then, and smiled absently at Zoltan. "Oh. Thanks," he said, and returned to his distraction.

It was a merry and remarkably filling meal, and the food woke even Simon up enough to converse after a while. The desserts were copious and traditional: pumpkin pie, apple pie, and bourbon pecan pie, all warm and served with ice cream.

"If I weren't made of steel," Jack Hammer said as he leaned back from the table, "I'd bust. Zoltan, one hell of a dinner."

Zoltan managed to bow gracefully while still seated. "From you, with your family history of grand meals, Mr. Hammer, that is a great compliment."

"I'm just glad Doc Robotnik did that big overhaul of my sensory inputs last year," Hammer said. "Best tastebuds I've had since I lost the meatsack."

The group retired to Zoltan's parlor, seating themselves on the overstuffed furniture with the grace of overfed pelicans.

"Wow," Simon said, leaning back with his hands laced over his belly.

"Yeah," Megan said, flumping down in one of the chairs Zoltan kept for people like her and Jack Hammer, the ones made, apparently, of neutron star material.

Watson helped Zoltan pass around tiny cups of thick Turkish coffee and snifters of brandy. Little conversation occurred as they all settled into the mellowing influences of the dimly-lit room, comfortable furniture, and beverages, but words began to flow as freely as the brandy after the initial food coma.

Megan found herself talking to Watson and saying vehemently, "I don't know why anyone does it. I wouldn't get involved with anyone in spandex ever again. It's not worth it. Nothing's worth it."

The other conversations in the room ceased. Megan's ears began to burn.

"Helluva thing to say in Wonder City," Jack Hammer said, mildly.

"Yeah," Watson said. "I gotta wonder why you came here, feeling that way."

"There's plenty of people in Wonder City who don't wear spandex," Megan said, feeling the blush advance under the focus of the room's attention.

"I know why I don't want to date spandex," Simon said lazily (and probably drunkenly, Megan thought), "but why don't you?"

Megan glanced at him, then G, then down at her own knees. "I just... had some bad experiences."

"Everyone does," Hammer said.

"That's just it," Megan said, fiddling with the coffee cup that was very nearly too small to be a thimble for her, and suddenly couldn't stop the rush of words. "But normal bad experiences are, you know, people being alcoholics, or passive-aggressive, or just uncommunicative. The really, really bad stuff, with normal people, isn't as infrequent as we'd like, and when it's bad, it's really bad, but... you know, when things go wrong with spandex, it means supervillains in your living room or death rays through your roof or... or... being stalked by someone with fucking x-ray and telescopic vision." Her throat felt thick and her vision got blurry. "Or finding your goddamn roommate in sliced in pieces by laser vision and stuffed in the refrigerator because some spandex psycho got mad at her for dumping him and he thought it would be 'ironic.'" She savagely rubbed her eyes with the heel of her hand. "I'd rather deal with normal dysfunction any goddamn day."

There was a silence. She thought, Normal dysfunction can still kill people, can still be horrible, just as horrible. I know that. I know someone is going to say it, and I know it, and I'm just a... an... anti-spandex bigot... but I can't help it... She held her head in her hands and tried not to pull on her hair. She also thought, I'm sooo drunk.

When Megan dared to look up and around, the only person looking at her was Zoltan. The vampire sat with his chin propped on his folded hands, examining her thoughtfully.

She gave him a rueful smile and said, "Sorry for being a downer."

Zoltan smiled back and said, "No, I think you have reminded us all of things for which we should be thankful. That is what Americans claim this day is about, is it not?"

Watson leaned over and rubbed Megan's shoulder affectionately. "Sorry for setting it all off."

Jack Hammer stood up. "I better get home. Y'all look like you're about to start hugging." Pillows were flung by Simon and G. He fended them off and laughed. "No, really, the toy boy's due soon. I gotta get back."

"'Toy boy'?" G said, appalled.

Hammer grinned and shrugged. "Thanks, Zoltan. Dinner was great, man."

Zoltan rose gracefully. "But of course. Thank you for coming."

The rest took Jack Hammer's lead, rose, and trickled out with appropriate appreciative noises. Megan had the impression that Zoltan wanted to get on with the main event of his evening, which probably involved some or all of his hired waiters.

Megan lingered outside her own door, smiled good night to Watson and accepted a hug from Simon.

G looked at her and opened her mouth to say something.

"I," Megan said, mostly to forestall her, then rushed on, "I hate spending holidays alone. Don't you? I mean holiday evenings. Nights. Whatever." She gestured helplessly at her own door.

G regarded Megan for a moment, then nodded. "Yeah. I sure do hate it too."


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