Chapter One: Can't You Ever Treat Anyone Nice

I was born at a very young age. I blame this on my parents. Actually, I blame a lot of things on my parents. The fact that a four-foot-tall Asian man hooked up with a seven-foot Scandinavian woman with a fetish for gaudy interior decorating is one of them. Aside from giving me a brain cramp and grossing me out beyond all belief when I try to imagine how said hooking up is even physically possible, the fact remains that it happened, and I am the freakishly sorry result.

At the moment, I'm busting my pathetic little ass trying to hold onto a day job for more than a week. I'm twenty-four years old, went through bloody university, and I'm having trouble staying on at the local Starbucks! Call me delusional, but I *don't* think that's the way it's supposed to work out. However, now that I think about it, there's not much you can do with a degree in what we grads (all... three of us...) call 'magic history'. Also known as the culmination of useless knowledge about all the fucked up things that famous druggies and guys who cut themselves in half did over the years.

I myself prefer the title 'Doctor of the Arcane.' Most people just call me 'craaaaa~aaazy'.

"You're a fucking screwup, you know that, Vain?"

Or... that.

"That's four seventy-five at your first window," I told my ex-boyfriend, plunking two styrofoam cups of steaming coffee down on the counter with a sickeningly insane grin.

"Jesus Christ! What the hell is wrong with you!?" Devon snapped, shoving a five-dollar bill at me. "You're fucking psycho, Vain. One of these days you're going to meet somebody that *won't* put up with your twisted bullshit, and *then* where will you be?"

"Oh," I said thoughtfully, placing the bill in the cash. "Do you hear that? It's the sound of me not caring!"

Devon scoffed, giving me a disbelieving look and shaking his head. "Y'know what?" he said with a barked laugh. "Fuck you."

"I do believe the saying is 'been there, done that,'" I replied, flipping his quarter change at him. He didn't even bother to try and catch it, but the anorexic-looking sad excuse for a male next to him did, then slid it into Devon's back pocket. The kid, evidently Devon's new boy-toy, had been glaring at me the whole time. As if a coffee-pusher ex was likely to 'steal' Devon away from him. I wanted to tell the kid to be careful, his face would get stuck like that, and hey, he was ugly enough already.

But I didn't. Because I think I was doing a pretty good job of making Devon homicidal without having Sick-Stick try and hit me with his purse or gouge my eyes out with his manicured nails.

Devon shook his head at me, dark brown bangs moving back and forth across his high forehead. "Bye, Vain," he said, then picked up his coffee and left the door with a little tingly-tingly of those damn bells, Sick-Stick trailing behind him like a lapdog.

"VANITY! Get your lazy ass wiping those tables or you're fired!" The manager barked. I frowned, picked up a dishtowel that looked like a dead fetus, and began to wash the scum of urban decay off imitation marble, wondering why I even bothered.

Tuesday S. Vanity, alias Vain. My mother always told me that she chose my name for a reason. Severin, in her native language, is the name of a saint. Right. Over the years, I've come to discover that Tuesday Severin Vanity means "beat me up and take my lunch money" in my native language.

Scrubbing violently at the marble table, I briefly caught my reflection. Pure white hair flopping languidly over a high forehead, trailing into too-large, gleaming eyes. One was an orangey-amber, the other dizzyingly indigo, each fringed by long, straight dark lashes. I flashed a scowl at myself, showing the tip of one slightly pointed canine, very light against my glossy lips and smooth brown skin.

People tell me I'm sexy. I think I look like a freak on a leash.

"Hey, freak on a leash!" A hand slammed down on my shoulder, nearly crippling me. I snapped my dead-baby dishtowel back, and was rewarded with a swear as it connected with a satisfying 'sliiiishmp' with what I presumed to be Echart's face. Turning, I gave my best friend a snakelike smile. Best friend is a lightly used term. Only friend is closer to the truth. But we got along well.

"How's it going, ugly?" I asked.

Echart rolled his eyes and flipped his hair. He was a walking contradiction; he looked like a horny, flat-chested girl with homicidal tendencies, but he was anything but. Well, perhaps horny. Definitely. And flat-chested, possibly homicidal... Well, he was a guy. And he was as straight as a ruler. This fact is much lamented by yours truly, if only for the fact that he has a really, really nice ass. Currently, said appendage was being shown off rather nicely in his extremely tight leather skirt, accented by dark red spaghetti-straps and platform heels.

"Kiki broke up with me," Echart said, swinging a chair around and straddling it with ease, flashing a panty-shot.

"Which one is Kiki?"

"The Japanese one."

"The lesbian?"

"No, you asshole, that was Kanto. That was last week." Echart grinned flirtatiously at one of my co-workers as she passed by holding a mop. She glowered at him and flipped him off. The girl'd been around long enough to understand that 'commitment' was not a word in Echart's otherwise extensive vocabulary.

"Listen, if you expect me to remember your girlfriends' names, appearance, and favored sexual position, make a detailed log or something." Leaning my elbows on the table in front of him, I flicked my wrist back and forth, the corpse-like dishtowel making another unnatural noise. This time it was more of a 'shhluch'.

"Friday October 27th, Jacky Hiscock. Sixty-niner. Friday October 27th, twelve minutes after Jacky went home: Alexa Mackeesy. Likes to take it up th--"

Echart tried to decapitate me with a soupspoon. Needless to say, he wasn't particularly successful. Sticking my tongue out at him, I straightened up again and began washing the next table over. Some starving-artist-type glared at me over a cup of mocha latté and a Shakespeare book.

"So when are you gonna quit working here, Vain?" Echart asked conversationally, running his very long fingers through his even longer reddish-purple hair. His hair was a constant source of admiration and amusement for me. Oh the things you could do to a guy with long hair...

"When you stop fucking girls like the Apocalypse is tomorrow," I responded blithely, picking up a few empty styrofoam cups and trashing them.

"No, seriously," Echart said, looking at me blankly.

"Get out of my face before I scar yours for you." Feeling I had got one up on that particular exchange, I retreated behind the counter as several customers walked in, tossing the finally-really-dead-and-long-lamented cloth into a hamper underneath it.

Echart, though, wasn't that easily shaken off. "So, what?" he demanded, standing. He had his hands on his hips, jutted to one side under his petrol-colored leather skirt. "You planning to work in Star-fucking-bucks for the rest of your sick, sad, twisted little excuse for a life?"

"No, not particularly. I might graduate to Second Cup."

"And you wonder why you can't keep a date or a friend!" Echart cried, exasperated, throwing both hands up in the air.

"I've never wondered," I told him passively, scratching dried milk off the counter with one fingernail. "Are you going to throw a temper tantrum? Because it's been really boring around here lately, and I could use some distraction from the mundanity my life has become."

"See!? That's your problem!" Echart launched at the counter, leaning forward and looking at me imploringly-and-or-threateningly, depending on your perception. "Your life isn't going anywhere! You're not doing anything! You're just…" he searched for a word, dark violet eyes squinted in concentration.

"Existing?" I supplied helpfully, yawning.

Echart snapped his fingers. "Barely!" He crossed both arms across his chest. "You know what you need?"

"A hot, uber-fuckable boyfriend and a winning lottery ticket," I responded promptly.

"No! Well… that would probably help loads, but besides that. You," Echart pointed one painted fingernail at me, "need a vacation."

I blinked at him. "Excuse me?"

"A vacation!"

"Did I ever tell you about my experiences with vacations? The whole Neo-Nazi campground thing? Can you say… traumatized for life?" I crossed my arms, tilting my chin up stubbornly, absolutely refusing to be persuaded. The whole effect might have worked a lot better had I not been wearing an apron.

"Wanna go to New York?" Echart asked with a cheshire-esque grin.

"No! I do not want to go anywhere!" I shot back, brandishing a coffee cup at him.

"Come on," Echart leaned on the counter, smiling in the way he always did when he was trying to persuade somebody. When he smiled like that at a girl it was referred to as seductive. At me, it was more like 'try-to-creep-Vain-out-so-he'll-do-whateeee~eever-I-want!' "It'll be fun."

"I refuse," I told him flatly.

Echart's smile suddenly turned devious. "Draco is going," he said, casually.

"I don't care who's going, I sa -- who's Draco?" I looked at him suspiciously.

"I thought you said you weren't interested," Echart responded innocently, with a smug grin.

"If you don't tell me I'm going to fucking murder you, you freakish Nazi bastard," I told him, narrowing my eyes.

"Come with me and you'll find out, you psychotic fairy son of a bitch," Echart shot back.

I grabbed a spatula and brandished it threateningly at him. "If you don't tell me I swear to God I'll make you hurt in places you never knew you had."

"Oooh, is that a promise?" Echart grinned and batted his eyelashes flirtatiously at me. God, he was hot. I wanted to kill him.

"VANITY!" my manager shrieked. "Get back to work!"

"FUCK YOU, BITCH!" I yelled back at her, throwing my spatula down on the ground, followed seconds later by my retarded green visor and apron. "You are so paying for the whole trip," I told Echart calmly, grabbing my jacket and bag. "I QUIT!"

"You can't quit! You have to give two weeks notice, you--"

"Do you want to die!?" I screamed at her, then--


Now note this. All throughout our screaming match, the caffeine-addicted patrons of Starbucks didn't bat so much as an eyelid. Starving-Artist looked up once, but dismissed us as unworthy. But every head snapped up, eyes wide, as every single fucking lamp in the whole place blew up in a flurry of crackling electricity and snapping, exploding glass.

Everybody hit the deck; I felt a shard of glass skim the side of my face as I leapt under the counter. Swearing, the coffee shop resonated with screams, and I held my jacket over my head in a futile gesture. I could feel blood trickling down the side of my face, warm against my cool skin, and suddenly felt dizzy. I clutched at the floor with both hands, jacket and bag slipping down to the ground in the sudden, echoing silence.

Then, "Holy shit..." Echart breathed; and everybody started babbling at once.

I stayed kneeling on the floor for a few moments more, staring in numb fascination as slow drops of blood fell from my face, splashing in a scarlet puddle on the floor. Then a strong hand gripped my shoulder and pulled me up. "Jesus, Vain, are you okay?" Echart asked, looking genuinely worried. "You're bleeding!"

"I noticed," I responded slowly as he grabbed a stack of napkins off the counter and pressed them against the side of my face.

"Come on, let's get out of here…" Keeping a firm grip on my arm, Echart picked up my coat and bag with his other hand and led me out the door. I heard my manager yell something as we left, but really, I couldn't give a damn.

"What happened?" Echart asked in amazement as we headed down the street. He had let go of my arm, finally, and given me back my coat and bag, which I wore over my left shoulder. My right hand still held the napkins, pressed up against the bleeding line along the side of my face.

"Hell if I know," I replied irritably. "All I know is that I'm out of yet another job and I'm bleeding Niagara."

Echart looked at me for a moment, suspicion fading to concern. His violet eyeshadow was smudged slightly, strands of his dark hair in disarray. It suddenly struck me as very odd; I actually cared about Echart, and not in my usual sex-fiendish way.

He was my – god forbid! – friend.

"Okay, you're looking at me really weird," Echart told me with one pierced eyebrow raised. He reached in his jacket pocket and pulled out another few napkins for me.

"Well you're really weird-looking," I retorted, but offered him a smile. Twisted, perhaps, but I've always sworn I have a problem with social interaction.

"So are we going to New York?"

"I really don't have anything else to do," I admitted, rolling my eyes. "I'll go on the conditions that you pay for travel and lodging, don't ditch me the whole trip for the easy and indecently dressed, and get me out of New York – alive – the day after Halloween."

"You're on," Echart grinned widely.

I looked at him darkly. "Why do I get the impression that you've got some ulterior motive in mind?"

"No idea…"

"And you still haven't told me who Draco is," I pointed out, eyes narrowing. Echart batted his eyelashes at me innocently and ducked when I tried to hit him with my wad of bloody napkins.

"Aaaah! AIDS!" he yelled, laughing. Grinning, I caught sight of my reflection in a store window in the light from the sunset. A long, slowly-clotting scar ran along my right cheekbone. I frowned. Just what I needed.

"If it's any consolation," Echart said, peering over my shoulder, "I think it looks hot."

"Shut up, straight-boy," I smirked, elbowing him in the stomach. With him yelling in indignant pain, the two of us made our way down the street towards my apartment.

Needless to say, it promised be an odd weekend.