I was in the Corner Diner, facing the morning rush. The entire restaurant was packed with customers, all of whom were here for our locally famous breakfasts.
Though I’d enjoyed the last two days, which I’d had off, I was actually happy to be back at work. Sure, it was long, tiring, and frustrating work, but there was something to be said for doing something productive and actually making money. The last part was especially important. With a forced smile, I tried to focus on what I was doing, because if I screwed up a customer’s order, not only would Astrid be upset, but I could lose my tip.
“Order up,” Astrid called out. “Table three…”
“I’ve got it,” I said, since that was one of the tables I was waiting on today.
As I was grabbing the order, Danielle came up as well to get a fresh pot of coffee. She gave me a tired smile and said, “I like the new makeup. It looks good on you.”
“Thanks,” I responded with a blush. I was still using the newer version of my goth makeup style, and definitely preferred the results. And apparently, so did Jake and just about everyone else. “Now to see if this helps with my tips any.”
Danielle chuckled at that. “I hope so…”
I gave Danielle a friendly smile, before carrying the plates over to the table. “I have pancakes and a Denver omelet…”
About ten minutes after this, I noticed as one of the regulars came through the door. Most of the time, I would have given a friendly wave, just to make them feel more welcome...and give a better tip. However, this was Tom Adams, who none of the waitresses wanted the misfortune of serving.
“Hey, babe,” Tom greeted me, because I was the closest waitress to him. “You’re looking especially hot today…”
“Thank you,” I said with a forced smile, though I really wanted to punch him instead. However, Astrid would have a fit if I did that. Guys like Tom, almost made me thankful that I’d switched to the other gender, while at the same time, making me wish more than ever that I hadn’t, just so that he’d leave me alone.
Fortunately, when Tom sat down, he picked a table that was in Danielle’s area, which meant that I wouldn’t have to deal with him. I let out a sigh of relief, then gave a cheerful smile to Mrs. Reyes, an elderly Hispanic woman who was known for being friendly and polite, even if her tips were always modest.
“So,” I told Mrs. Reyes as I read her order back to her. “That’s the house special, with your eggs over easy, and with the sausage instead of the bacon.”
“Yes,” Mrs. Reyes responded pleasantly. “And if I could get a refill on my coffee…”
“Of course,” I told her.
Then, just as I was turning to take her order up front, I heard a familiar voice exclaim, “The other night was great. We need to do it again sometime…”
With a glance, I saw that Tom was talking to Danielle, who looked extremely uncomfortable. “That isn’t going to happen,” Danielle said awkwardly. “Now, what can I get you?”
Tom just grinned, while giving Danielle a lecherous look. “I’ll have the hash, with a side order of you…”
“I’m not on the menu,” Danielle snapped, obviously trying to keep from decking Tom, or at least, from saying something that would get her fired.
“You seemed to enjoy it well enough the other night,” Tom said with a smirk. Then as Danielle turned to walk away, Tom grabbed her arm.
I really didn’t like the way this was going, so I hurried over to Tom’s table, to help Danielle. “Isn’t it time for you to go on break?” I asked Danielle, who gave me a look of relief.
“Come on,” Tom protested. “Don’t be like that…”
I wasn’t sure what to do next, other than punching the jerk, and I was getting damn close to doing just that. If he grabbed at Danielle again, then I’d probably go ahead and do so, even if it meant getting fired.
Suddenly, Astrid was standing there with her hands on her hips, glaring at Tom. “Thomas Michael Adams,” she announced in a firm tone. “You’ve been a regular customer here for years, but if you don’t stop harassing my girls, then you won’t be welcome here anymore…”
Tom winced at that. “I wasn’t harassing…”
“Do you understand me?” Astrid demanded.
After hesitating a moment, Tom reluctantly responded, “Yes, ma’am.”
Astrid continued to stare at him for a moment, then turned her attention to Danielle. “Well, you heard Pan. Go on and take a quick break.”
“Thank you,” Danielle said, though I wasn’t sure if she was talking to me or Astrid.
Unfortunately, the downside of Danielle being able to take a break after that, was that I had to pick up the slack. However, that was a small price to pay, and I knew that she’d do the same for me, if it became necessary.
Tom didn’t cause any more problems, though he was still bragging a little too loudly about some of his conquests, to the guys sitting close to him. Normally, that was simply obnoxious, but this time, he made a few references to Danielle, which temped me to pour coffee into his lap. But as long as he kept his hands to himself, and didn’t insult us directly, I could behave as well.
“What an ass,” I muttered to myself, relieved when he finally paid his bill and left.
Once the breakfast rush was over, and everything slowed down a little, I finally had a chance to talk with Danielle. “So,” I started awkwardly. “You and Tom…”
“I don’t know what came over me,” Danielle admitted with a shudder and a look of distaste. “He isn’t my type, and I have no interested in him. But the other night, at the bar… I don’t know. It was like something clicked and we were all over each other…”
“From the look of things,” I pointed out wryly. “Whatever clicked, seems to have clicked right back off…”
“Definitely,” Danielle agreed. “I can’t believe I actually slept with that loser…” She paused at that and shook her head. “I might have thought he’d slipped something into my drink, if I know for a fact that he never got close to it…”
Astrid overheard our conversation and gave Danielle a disappointed look. “I thought you had better taste than Tom Adams.”
“Me too,” Danielle replied with a grimace. “I know I wasn’t THAT drunk…”
Before I could say anything in response, a small group of people came into the diner. There were two adults and three children, so it looked like a family. Danielle immediately put on her professional smile, then hurried over to help them, leaving me to finish cleaning tables on my own.
While I cleaned, I thought about what Danielle had said, and realized just how close her experience had been to my own. Danielle had no interest in Tom, then suddenly, that changed and she ended up in bed with him. I’d had no interest in Jake, at least not like that, but suddenly, that changed and I ended up in bed with him. All of this had happened, right after Tom and those other two guys, had gotten pushy with us.
“There’s something strange going on,” I thought aloud. After everything that had happened to me, I was feeling a little paranoid, and I definitely didn’t like the idea of strange and mysterious events, which might be some kind of threat. “And I’m going to find out what.”
I was surrounded on all sides by a thick swirling fog, and I felt lost and confused, wondering where I was and how I’d come to be here. At the same time, there was a sense of deja-vu, a strange certainty that I’d been here before. Then, it suddenly came to me, and I knew where I was.
With those words, more memories returned. I remembered talking with Jake after dinner, and how that somehow led to us making out. And of course, that led to something even more intimate. We had sex, for the second time. It had been slower, and not as all-consuming as the first time, but I’d enjoyed it even more.
The memory made me blush brightly, filling me with guilt and arousal. I’d enjoyed the experience, and had loved every moment of it. And for a short time, I’d been able to forget who I used to be, and the aching grief that now filled my heart. For a short time, I’d been able to pretend that I truly was the woman Jake thought me to be.
“But I’m not that person,” I reminded myself aloud. “Not really.”
However, the truth was, I was no longer sure who I was. Byron was gone, and I no longer looked, or even felt like him. And whether I liked it or not, he was never coming back. But at the same time, I was still trying to understand who I was becoming. Who was the new Pandora? At the moment, I felt like I was caught between those two people, not quite one or the other, though admittedly, the balance was tipping more and more each day.
With a glance down at myself, I saw that even in a dream, I was still a woman. “Who am I?” I quietly asked myself.
“You are Pandora,” a voice answered from the mist. With that, Aunt Dora stepped out of the mist and greeted me with a faint smile. “Welcome, Pandora.”
“Hello, Pandora,” I greeted her back. Somehow, this greeting felt appropriate.
With that, the other Pandoras all emerged from the mist, appearing on all sides and surrounding me. However, they kept their distance, and I felt welcomed rather than threatened. They were letting themselves be known, while letting Aunt Dora and I talk.
“What’s going on?” I asked. “Why am I here?”
“You know why you are here,” Aunt Dora told me with a faint smile.
One of the other Pandoras called out, “It is our duty to guard the box, and all that is held within.”
“It is our duty to protect that which is stored within,” another Pandora added, “without using it ourselves.”
“And it is our duty,” a third Pandora called out, “to gather the lost artifacts, and place them within the box for safekeeping.”
I stared at Aunt Dora for a few seconds before whispering, “There’s an artifact nearby…”
Aunt Dora nodded at that. “Indeed.”
My thoughts immediately turned to what had happened with Danielle and myself, and how strange it was that both of us would suddenly become overwhelmingly attracted to men, whom we previously hadn’t been interested in. For Danielle, it seemed to have worn off, because she was once again disgusted by Tom. However, I was still attracted to Jake, as our sex tonight proved.
“There’s an artifact involved?” I asked.
I’d suspected that there might be, or at least, I’d wondered if it was possible. After seeing the things I had, and experiencing what I have, it changed the way I looked at things. When I looked for an explanation of things, I now considered that magic might be involved. Before this had all happened, I never would have considered magic as an answer, at least not seriously.
“There is,” Aunt Dora agreed. “The box senses its power, though you could not hear the warning…”
That made me blink. “Warning? The box tried to warn me?”
Aunt Dora bowed her head slightly. “Yes. But you exist too much in the world of the living to always hear the whisper of the box. The world itself often drowns out its voice. We are here to help you with this…to relay what the box has to say, until you learn hear past the noise.”
“O…kay,” I said uncertainly.
“There is an artifact nearby,” one of the Pandoras said.
Another spoke up, “You have felt its power.”
“Your first duty is to protect the box,” a third Pandora spoke.
Then Aunt Dora said, “But if you can, try to recover this new artifact.”
With those words, the mist began to close in, and I knew that this meeting was over. The Pandoras had delivered their message, and disappeared into the mist, leaving me alone, though only for a couple seconds.
I bolted upright in bed, gasping for breath. Jake was asleep beside me, snoring softly. I stared at him for a moment, remembering the sex before we’d gone to sleep. Then, I remembered the magic artifact that appeared to have somehow been responsible.
“Oh shit,” I whispered.
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