Short Lived Passing
The place was called Cobacabana. It was situated next to a long strip of white sand beaches that overlooked a warm ocean. The ocean water was the main draw for tourists and residents alike, as it was a beautiful turquoise in color that shifted to a warm orange-yellow when the sun was beginning to set. The breeze coming in from the sea was always warm and inviting, and salt and seagulls made their home in the air year round.
Cobacabana itself was a sturdy looking building, made of sandalwood and constructed in a way where the only threat from the sea was a hurricane, though as the slogan went: “We haven’t had one in decades!” And that was worn like a badge of honor, bringing comfort to the visitors.
It was a bar with a tightly thatched roof, wicker barstools and lounges, and fants affixed to the ceiling that blew a nice cool air over the patrons when the place was crowded. Kept the flies away too, and seemed to ensure that only good vibes circulated through the place.
It was owned by a Dainty named Coba, who had light brown skin, sandy hair, and colorful socks. He loved his job, and he’d fallen in love with the sea because of it. It wasn’t unusual to see him prancing from patron to patron, serving drinks along the bar and offering conversation whenever he could, but he was a busy Dainty and all his patrons knew it.
One thing that he enjoyed the most, was when new patrons would find their way into his cozy little corner of the beach, grab a seat, and sit - sometimes nervously - as he eyed them from afar. He was no stranger to all manner of new creatures showing up. After all, it was a well known fact that Daintys had spread across the cosmos, some even going so far as to travel to worlds never before heard of or seen. There was no real reason that other beings couldn’t do the same.
He’d been curious about this one, though, for he had yet to see a creature with legs longer than his.
With his classic prance, hee scooted past a number of his regulars, flicking his rounded ears at them in acknowledgment, but not stopping to talk. He could always do that later. Some of his more hands-on patrons tugged at his ostentatious yellow and orange tropical-print shirt, but he ignored them.
Once he got to his new patron, he leaned to one side, arching a thick eyebrow.
“‘Sup, dude,” he said. “Can I get you anything?”
His patron turned to look at him. A tall creature. Cream and white with long dropping ears. Reminded Coba of a rabbit, but they had incredibly long legs that ended in a rounded toe. Coba couldn’t see any socks, but he remained respectful.
“We got a gnarly special on for newcomers if you’re up to it,” he continued. “I call it the ‘Astroblast’.”
He splayed his fingers out in an attempt to add a little pizzazz to his pitch, but his patron simply started at him blankly.
“Where am I?” they asked.
“Oh, dude, you’re at the Cobacabana. I’m Coba and run this fine establishment.” He stuck out a hand. “Pleasure’s all mine.”
“I’m Pepper.” That was it. “I’m just visiting.”
“That’s kinda how it works,” Coba replied. “Can I put you down for anything? I got more than just the ‘Astroblast’.” He splayed his fingers out again, but Pepper did not seem that interested in the jazz hands.
“That sounds good.”
Coba produced a little writing pad from his pocket and jotted the order down. Pepper, he noticed, was looking at his socks.
“Take it you’ve never seen a Dainty before?” he said. “I get that a lot, dude. Like every day just about.”
“No, I don’t think I have,” Pepper replied. “I like your socks?”
“That’s right!” Coba beamed, the creases around his eyes getting deeper as he let out a laugh, “Well, right back at ya’, dude. I ain’t never see a…whatever you are. Welcome to Cobacabana. I’ll get you your drink and we should totally talk. I bet you have an interesting story to tell.”
“I’m a stranger,” Pepper replied.
“It’s my job to talk to strangers. That’s what this whole thing is all about.” He motioned to the rest of the patrons, who remained transfixed in their own conversations. “Part of why I love it is because I get to talk to cool dudes like you. And also because of the waves. Mostly both though, man.”
“You talk funny.”
“Yeah, I guess I do! I guess you do, too. Let me get you that drink.”
Coba, once again, pranced away, ignoring his regulars to mix up a couple drinks. He’d made it a point to not drink himself if he was entertaining his guests, as to be inhibited in any way would make his job harder in the long run, so he merely poured himself a glass of flavored sparkling water and made his way back to Pepper, who was still there, though much smaller than he remembered seeing her.
“Ah man, looks like I left the shrink ray on,” Coba said, passing the drink over. “You’re not a kid, are you?”
Pepper looked offended. “No. I don’t stay big for very long.”
“Good by me, dude. I ain’t hatin’.”
Pepper accepted the drink and Coba hopped into the chair across from her with his own. He sipped it immediately and had his eyes fixed on Pepper, who sipped her drink through the long curly straw with a little difficulty.
“So, tell me a story, dude.”
Pepper looked at Coba, her expression unreadable. She repeatedly sipped through her straw as if lost in thought. Carefully selecting which tale she would offer this stranger in a strange place.
“One time, when I was making a delivery in a place not that far out of Corriedale, I found this guy,” she started. “It might have been more correct to say he found me. His name is Jonathan. Anyway, now he is convinced I’m part of some kind aneemays and he won’t leave me alone. I’m not allowed to beat him up or I’ll probably be cursed.”
“Wow, dude, that sounds gnarly and not even in a good way.”
“That is my story.”
And that was that. Coba finished his drink, a nice strawberry flavored sparkling water, he gathered Pepper’s empty glass as well, and then thanked his lucky stars that he didn’t have to deal with this Jonathan person. Sounded like a real loser.
After Coba’s run in with the odd fox creature in Cobacabana, he had taken to glancing up every once in a while to see if she would visit again. He enjoyed his more mysterious guests, and spent a great deal of mental energy into remembering their faces so if they ever happened to show up, he would be able to lay on the charm.
Nearly a month passed before he saw her again. He had taken care of his little bar by the beach as usual and as the first month of the year came to a close, he was placing large and ornately crafted pink and red surfboards in front of the bar one morning when he heard a throat clear behind him.
Coba spun around, his fanciful floral print shirt flapping in the early morning ocean breeze. It was a little chilly, as it often was before the water warmed from the sun again. And there she was. Pepper. She looked dirty and ragged, but otherwise about as stoic as she had when she had first arrived. He noticed that she was her larger self. Almost six feet tall.
“Oh, hey, it’s you!” Coba said. “‘Sup, dude? How’s it hangin’?”
Pepper looked into the bar. “Are you open?”
“Not yet, but, you don’t look so good, dude, so I’ll let you in.”
“I want to do a job for you.”
Coba blinked as Pepper stalked past him and into the bar. He had a number of piles of things to get ready before the big event. Well, he hesitated to call it an event, but still counted because he was going all out for something special. Sort of.
“Uh, a job?” He runned the back of his head, ruffling his hair and pinching his rounded ears down. “I dunno, dude, I’m kinda preparing for a thing actually.”
Pepper surveyed the bar. There were an incredible amount of decorations that resembled hearts and cherubs. The hoofed cherubs were holding arrows and flew with tiny little wings, though the decorations were all flat on the bar.
“I can help with set up and you can tell me about it.”
Coba swallowed. “I mean, uh, yeah, sure.” He took Pepper to the cherub decorations and gave her a roll of twine. “Just hang these ones up on the wall behind the bottles. Should look good.”
Pepper took the twine and immediately set to work. “What’s all this for?”
Coba coughed. “Uh, you first, dude. You tell me what happened to you and I tell you what I’m preparing for.”
Pepper fell silent and an uncomfortable silence strung between them for a long time. At some point, Coba had decided to continue with his set up, twirling red and white streamers together as he made ribbons on the walls with them. He also hung up some glittery heart ornaments and pinned lights around the door frames.
Cobacabana was quickly becoming festive with all the amenities perfectly put in place. Coba never rushed his guests, even if they were sort of working for him for a short period of time. Pepper was an efficient worker and Coba did end up appreciating it in the end. As he finished the big ticket items, Pepper cleared her throat again.
“I almost hurt somebody,” she said. “I’m not supposed to do that sort of thing anymore, but…” She trailed off and didn’t elaborate further.
Coba considered letting it hang in the air, but it wasn’t going to help his nerves, which were starting to mount now that the work was almost done. He’d have to make good on that request and he twisted his fingers through his hair more to soothe himself. It didn’t work that well, but Pepper seemed like she wouldn’t be judgemental.
At least not openly.
“I’m preparing for a love game,” he said finally. Felt good to say it out loud. His voice was a bit unsteady. “It’s that time of year, y’know? Everyone starts preparing for love confessions and I am no exception. I get nervous though, dude.” He motioned to the rest of the lounge, which was covered in tacky decor.
“What are you nervous about?” Pepper asked.
“Oh, just everything,” Coba replied. “I’m a cute bartender and even though I try not to make a big deal of it all, I have to field a lot of love confessions, especially when the drinks are flowing, dude. Afraid someone might mean it.”
“I understand.” Her tone seemed so final.
Coba crossed the room, his hooves making a tap-tap-tap across the wood. The tension in the air seemed to lessen as he did so, and he grabbed two brooms. He handed one to Pepper, who took it without question.
“I guess I am afraid that I will fall in love but we’ll be in a bar.” Coba began sweeping in silence again. “That seems so cliche, dude. A guy like me falling in love in a bar by the beach? I saw a movie about that very thing. It was very popular back in Oh-Two.”
Pepper listened as she swept as well. “Then why do you prepare for this festivity if you don’t even like it?”
Coba shrugged, though Pepper wasn’t looking at him. “I have to. You know, it’s like, tradition here. We gotta prepare for confessing our love. I don’t have someone like that, so I do something a little different. I just make the atmosphere so other Dainties can do it in my stead. Guess unless I do fall in love.”
Pepper hummed. “Is that something you want?”
Coba shrugged again and, again, Pepper wasn’t looking at him. “I mean, I guess it’s bound to happen one day. For now I just consider it me professing my love to my patrons for their continued support.”
“Does that include me?” Pepper added rather sharply.
“Uh,” Coba laughed. It was awkward. “Something tells me I should be saying no. So how about no this time?”
Pepper snorted and it sounded like a barely contained laugh. “Deal.”
Once Coba and Pepper had finished their work, Coba prepared Pepper a simple drink for the road. As he turned his back, Pepper poofed into a smaller form and had to climb up onto a barstool to look at him.
“I’ll get that shrink ray checked out before you come again, brah.”
It had become something of a routine by now. Coba, the owner of Cobacabana, a bar that was situated along the beach in an so far nondescript Dainty City on some planet far far away from wherever the Dainties came from, would set up his bar on the slower days and Pepper, a creature that Coba still knew little about, would come to visit.
She often looked ornery and bothered but in the kind of way where it bubbled just under the surface. And because Coba still knew precious little about her, he was none the wiser. Her responses of “my face is just this way” would suffice for the moment, but Coba always found himself ruminating on it in the aftermath. Long after the red and pink confetti was cleaned up. A day or so after the monthly festivities he hosted in the bar.
This time, however, he was sure that he was going to get something out of her. He hadn’t forgotten the first time they met, and his plan was going to be flawless.
It was important to understand that Coba, by all stretches of the imagination, was NOT a gamer. Of any kind. Not even a phone game. This, by extension, also meant that he was not a game designer, and had no knowledge of how he would go about doing that.
A friend of his had shown him a new trading card game. Apparently it showcased a number of holographic cards, with a “unique and intuitive” battle system and easy to follow instructions. Coba thought it would have been a good idea to introduce an easy to learn game to his favored guest.
Not a host, though, never a host. Well maybe if he thought about it, he was sort of hosting Pepper in a way.
And like clockwork, there was a knock on the door of his bar. It was simultaneously loud and soft. A hard bang with a soft material. He opened the bar door and Pepper walked in. She was covered in dust and pine needles that stuck out of her. She showed no real signs of pain so Coba didn’t think that much about it.
“Long day?” Coba asked.
“Long night,” Pepper replied.
“I’ve been there before,” he added, trying and failing to comfort her. “Not so much with the pine needles though, dude. What? In a forest or something?”
“I only have a few hours before I will be sent back,” Pepper said. “You have work for me?”
Coba’s stumpy little tail twitched with excitement and he took Pepper’s large hands into his own and pulled her to the bar. She went willingly, though the extreme height difference made it difficult for her to keep up without being half carried.
“No work for you this time,” Coba said. “But my friend showed me this cool trading card game and I wanted to try it out.”
Coba nodded vigorously. “It seems kind of random, dude. Kinda because it is, not gonna lie, but it seemed like it would be fun to at least try it. My friend promised me that it was going to be an easy game to learn.”
“Oh, so like Pokemon?”
“I have no idea,” Coba said. “But just trust me, dude, it’s totally sweet. They have these…holographics? Yeah, holographics, and they are supposed to be super strong I think. They have like four zeroes on the side.”
He produced a shoebox from under the bar. Anybody who had known a thing about Dainties would have stopped to ask what the shoebox was for considering Dainties didn’t have the anatomical structure for wearing the common depiction of a shoe, and Pepper had yet to see anything other than a Dainty when she came to this place.
Thankfully, it was never addressed, for when Coba popped the top of the shoebox off, a mountain of various pieces of colorful cardboard shifted around inside.
“Yeah, so I have the rules around here somewhere,” Coba said. “Let’s play a game.”
Pepper picked out a few of the cards. They had pictures of Dainties on them with a number of odd symbols and numbers printed along the sides. “I don’t get it.”
“Each player must pick forty cards to start their deck,” Coba read off an index card. “Be careful to choose cards that will be advantageous to use. You have Dainty Summons, Magic Boosters, and Counter Cards.”
Coba dug around in the box. The Dainty Summon cards were easy enough to understand. Obviously, they had Dainties on them. Coba picked only the Dainties he knew, most of whom were some kind of celebrity. There were about thirty Dainty Summon cards in his hands by the time he was done picking them all out. The rest he chose at random.
“Do I have to know who these people are?” Pepper asked.
“I don’t think so,” Coba replied.
Pepper picked up forty random cards without looking at them.
“In order to summon a Dainty Summon card, you have to use your charge points. Each player gets twelve charge points. If you sacrifice a Dainty Summon card that has already been summoned, you get the Sacrifice Return points labeled on the card. The stronger the Dainty, the more Sacrifice Return points. Those are added to your Charge Points.”
Pepper looked through her cards. Some of the Dainty Summon cards did, indeed, have points on them outlined with a big circle.
Coba frowned. “Eh, this seems like a lot of work, dude. There’s like ten more rules here. I’m uh, not so sure about this. How about we play it a different way?
“Makes no difference to me,” Pepper said.
“Cool! Street rules are a go, dude. I say we put down the Dainty cards and whoever has the highest number on it wins!”
“Isn’t that just War?”
Coba slapped down a card, covering it with his whole hand. “Dainty Attack go!”
Pepper pulled the first card on top of her “deck” and put it down as well. It was the same exact card.
“What do we do when it’s a tie?”
Coba threw all his cards back into the shoebox. “How about a seltzer instead?”
In the early spring months, Coba was a busy Dainty. It was fair to say that he was always a busy Dainty on account of him owning a bar, but this was something entirely unrelated to that. Or, rather, it was only tangentially related to that. Cobacabana did need a little something to spice the place up.
Something that wouldn’t freak anyone out or be too much of a mess to clean up after. So far he’d been enlisting the help of a curious little creature named Pepper and she always seemed to show up when he needed her most. Amd, as usual, the little cream and white creature showed up. Right on time.
She still hadn’t really told him what kind of creature she was. He had asked a couple times in the in-between visits, but she usually just did not answer him or changed the subject.
He liked to think that she was some kind of cool alien from another world, or a living plush toy with a dark past, but she just shrugged and would compl\ete whatever task he was working on.
Today, it was bug hunting.
“You need a bug?” Pepper asked. It did not seem to turn her away. “What for? I thought bugs in bars were bad. Isn’t that why you clean all the time?”
Coba nodded. He was dressed a little differently today. Normally, he was considered a “mildly fashionable beach bum” by most, but today he was sporting something a little more appropriate for trekking out in the weeds to find bugs and dirt.
Pepper looked no different than usual. Still small and very angry under the surface. But she was starting to relax around Coba, which he appreciated greatly.
He had that effect on a lot of people, alien or otherwise.
“Yes!” He said with an air of triumph. “I thought about what would be a good addition to the Cobacabana, and I figured that a large and rare beetle display would be just the thing. It would make a friend of mine very happy. He likes that kind of stuff.”
“He likes pretty things, and rare beetles with rainbow shells is just the thing to catch his attention. Dude, trust me on this one. Bastille is a little wierd. Good, but weird.”
Pepper shrugged. “Alright. How are we going about this?”
Coba handed her a small butterfly net. “I got these from a patron I know. You just look for the bug and when you find it, you have to catch it in the net. It’s supposed to be made out of a bug friendly material so there is no way you’ll hurt it unless you do it on purpose. Or eat it.”
Pepper raised an inquisitive eyebrow.
“Don’t give me that look, dude!” Coba replied indignantly. “Those were their words, not mine.”
Coba scoffed in mock offense and turned to the weeds. It was a field not that far from the Cobacabana, though to even call it a field was a bit disingenuous. It was more like an overgrown parking lot. A place where years of sand blowing up from the beach and neglect from the locals had turned it into a pseudo field, where only the hardiest seaside reeds could grow.
Or whatever else could grow with a topsoil made of asphalt and sand. He led the expedition with the confidence of someone who had no idea what they were doing, but wanted to impress anyway. Pepper merely followed Cona’s lead, occasionally picking up a bug with her bare hands and showing it to him.
Most of what she picked up scared him. It was clear that outside of this specific kind of rainbow beetle, Coba did not like bugs. Made his skin crawl and his socks itch.
“I can feel it, Pepper,” Coba said as he was waist deep in the densest weeds. He crouched down. “I can hear it too. The loud buzzing.”
Pepper couldn’t hear anything but was perfectly content in letting Coba play pretend. He seemed to be having a good time and she wasn’t going to make him give it up just because there were sand flies skittering around in the false underbrush.
“It sounds like a helicopter. Like an old vinyl. Like…bad radio reception.”
Pepper opened her mouth to respond, but was silenced by Coba expertly leaping out of the woody reeds, his long legs carrying him higher than she thought possible. He swung the butterfly net over some of the weeds and wiggled it around as he laughed.
“I got it! Pepper! I got it!”
Pepper didn’t see anything until Coba turned the butterfly net over with a quick flick of the wrist. He twirled the butterfly net around until it closed up and he held his catch in front of Pepper.
She did and what she was was twigs and leaves and flies. But also, a beautiful beetle. It was indeed as Coba had described it. Rainbow iridescence on a hard outter shell. It also had a big horn and long spindly legs and beady eyes. It looked like a candy almost.
‘Well that sure is a beetle,” Pepper said, picking it up. She chewed on it a little.”
“Hey hey hey!” Coba pulled back, nearly falling into the weeds again. “You can’t eat it, Pepper. That is not allowed.”
“I wasn’t going to eat it. I was just checking for poison.”
Coba righted himself and puffed his chest out. He didn’t believe her for one second and he swatted at her hands to let the beetle go. “Well I can’t be too careful, now, can I? I saw that glint in your eye.”
The truth was, Coba did not see any kind of glint because Pepper’s eyes were always closed. No wonder he’d see the biggest beetle ever before she did. He did, however, decide to forgive her, but just this once.
“Okay, dude. We got the rare bug and now, I’m going to make it a house and put it on the bar. If anyone asks, it’s a robot bug.”
“And also you never saw me here at all.”
Coba and Pepper parted ways. He saw her and then when he turned his back, he could feel that she was gone. He’d see her again for sure, but the more pressing matter now was that he knew absolutely nothing about bug care.
Aww well, better get started.
It was about mid spring. When the middle of spring was coming around, the beach outside of Cobacabana would see the beginning trickles of tourists coming from the big city to settle in for the summer. The weather was good enough to walk the beach with the occasional day that was appropriate for a swim, but soon the sands would be filled with pops of color, striped beach balls, and swimsuits of all colors.
That was the busiest time for Coba, the Dainty who owned Cobacabana, and in the waning spring showers, he was preparing for the summer season. No doubt, he wouldn’t be available to go about the fun stuff that happened, and he would miss the activities, but he was anticipating something happening this year to change all that. Though he wasn;tsure if his friend would be able to make it. If the messages were anything to go by, Bastille’s tour was still a work in progress.
Coba, at the very least, would be excited to see him. But for now, he wanted to go out with a bit of a bang. He’d done a bug hunt with a weird little fox creature that he was starting to consider a friend by now, but there was always that worry that Pepper wouldn’t show up when he needed her company. Interdimensional texts were a bit out of reach, and she had never mentioned a cellphone, so it was anyone’s guess when she would arrive.
Though Coba’s fears were abated when he heard the front door to Cobacabana open with a jingle of keys. He’d decided to give Pepper a set of them to make it easier for her to make herself comfortable during the early morning or late night hours.
Today, Coba was perched on one of his barstools, tapping his hooves against the bar along the bottom of the counter. It was a rhythmic tapping, the kind of tapping that bred excitement. In his hands was an old Polaroid camera, and he was fiddling with it eagerly.
“Pepper!” Coba cried. “What’s up, dude? You’re just in time. We’re going to take pictures today.”
Pepper blinked at him, her dark eyes not betraying her emotions. She was honestly just here for a drink this time, but that could probably wait, especially because she wasn’t sure how the money situation worked in this world. She’d tried to prepare as best as she could, but it was still a bit nervewracking to ask if she was being honest.
“Pictures?” she asked. “Is this for your friend too?”
Coba grimaced. “Well, yes and no. It’s almost summer. And during the summer, a swanky dude like me is gonna be busy until the fall. Everyone on the beach is going to want a piece of this and I wanted to take a few pictures to put on the walls.”
Pepper nodded. That made perfect sense to her. Memories were important to some people and it only made sense to commemorate the passing of another year. It was like a birthday, but not quite as spontaneous.
Though could a birthday really be spontaneous if you knew it was coming?
“What kind of pictures?” Pepper added. “Like of that fancy bug we found last time?”
Coba shook his head and hopped off the barstool, prancing over to Pepper and holding the camera up to her. He snapped a quick picture and the flash caught her off guard. Her eyes flew open briefly and when the picture printed out, Coba shook it until it was developed and showed her the result.
It was her, looking shocked, with wide holes in her face accented by a small white pupil. She looked like a monster and she pulled away.
Coba patted her, unperturbed. “It’s okay if you aren’t super photogenic. You look great in this picture! I got you by surprise but the candid photos are the best kinds, dude. Look, I’ll take one too!”
Coba flipped the camera around and struggled to push the button with how wide the device was. He did eventually get it and he stuck his tongue out playfully as there was a big flash and the internal mechanisms chugged away at printing the photo out. He pulled it out and shook it until it developed and when he looked at it, he broke into a charming laughter.
“I look silly!” he said. “This is definitely going on the mantle next to the bug. I named him Beetlebob by the way. Bastille will love it.”
Pepper looked at the picture as well and she had to admit that it was a bit silly the way Coba had stuck his tongue out like he was trying to reach for something that wasn’t there. But that wasn’t likely going to be the only photo for today.
It was fairly early, long before Cobacabana would open and Coba grabbed Pepper bythe hand, dragging her out onto the beach. It was a day that was too shilly to frolic and play for that long, but Coba wanted at least one photo of the beach, and one photo of the ocean. Maybe if he was convincing enough, he could get Pepper in some of the shots as well.
“It’s be like a souvenir,” he argued. “You could take it back home and put it on your fridge, dude. It would be totally epic.”
Pepper saw no reason not to. She took the camera in her giant hands and fiddled around with it as Coba went to go play in the sand. He danced, pranced, jumped, and kicked up the damp sand, leaving his footprints everywhere. Pepper took as many photos as she could, understanding that this would probably be the last bit of wild fun Coba would have until the fall.
In a way, she felt bad for him. Where she came from, she didn’t have to work like he did. But when Coba was done, he took the stack of developed photos and stowed them away before hooking his arm around Pepper’s shoulders.
“One more for the road?”
Pepper smiled. It was hard, and she felt awkward and unwanted, but when Coba stuck his tongue out again in that way he did, she felt just a little more at ease.
This photo was the one that went on the mantle next to Beetlebob.
With summer in full swing, it was growing more and more difficult for Coba to find any time off. It had always been difficult to do so, but now it was about mid summer and he hadn’t had the time to do anything other than run the bar, sigh wistfully at his inability to go enjoy the beach, and sleep.
That was what he had signed up for, but it was almost the end of the month and he hadn’t seen the hide nor hair of his friend. He had been growing more fond of his time spent with her and she was even starting to show signs of enjoying her time with him as well. They’d gona bug hunting together, had made some fancy decorations, and had played a lot of card games with rules that made little sense to either of them.
But it was fun, and Coba, as fanciful looking as he was, did want to have fun again.
Every time the door to Cobacabana would open, his rounded ears would perk and he’d shoot a hopeful glance at the visitors, looking for Pepper, and each time he’d be disappointed. And he’d do a little stomp in place that made him look like a little child. Nobody saw him, but he was allowed to pout a little even if he was normally laid back.
On the last day of the month, when all was said and done and Coba was finishing the clean up to the bar, the door opened. It could have only been one other, considering all his visitors could read the sign and knew that he was closed. It was a stifling summer evening, and the fans weren’t helping as much.
“Pepper is that you?” Coba called from the back.
“Cool,” he replied, unceremoniously throwing his broom into the corner. Sweeping could resume later. “I’ve been waiting all month for you, dude. I thought you were maybe kidnapped. Or, like, totally not gonna come. Which, like, you don’t have to but I still missed you.”
Pepper looked harrowed, but not in the way Coba was used to. She was carrying a comically large beach bag, and he could see a volleyball barely hidden inside.
“I was busy,” she said. “Summer is not a good time for me sometimes.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“But I made it,” she added. “And I thought we could do something together. With this ball.”
“It’s a volleyball, dude.”
“Volley…ball.” Pepper pulled it out of the bag. “I saw some other Dainties playing with it. So I thought we could do that too. If you want. It looked like fun. You like prancing in the sand right?”
Coba laughed. “Of course. Prancing is not all we do, you know.”
“It looked like prancing. And flying.”
“Well I guess there are some Dainties who can fly,” Coba admitted. “But, uh, let’s get going, dude.”
“It is dark,” Pepper said. “I made a place with a lot of light for us.”
She left Cobacabana without another word and Coba was quick to run after her, locking the door quickly before she disappeared into the darkness. Well, it wasn’t total darkness. Coba could see that not too far away from the entrance of the bar, a net with a number of torches had been set up. It was lopsided, as if someone significantly taller had set it up on one side.
It was sweet. There was even a little radio on top of a cooler. It wasn’t playing any music, but once Pepper got to it, she pressed buttons until music came out. It was music completely ill fitting to the situation. Something better suited for a dance hall rather than a game on the beach, but Coba appreciated it anyway. Pepper dropped the beach bag and pulled the ball out.
“I saw them throw it over the net like this.” She tossed the ball over the net and it landed in the sand. “And then you have to hit it back.”
Coba knew how volleyball worked. While he wasn’t entirely sure about how the points were calculated and what any of the moves were, he’d seen plenty of other Dainties play it. Seemed simple enough.
“Sounds good to me, dude.” Coba said, taking his place on the opposite side of the net from Pepper. “And, uh, what’s the net all about?”
Pepper’s expression was unreadable. “I couldn’t stay very big for very long.”
Coba threw the ball over the net and Pepper hopped over the sand to bounce it back. The music made the game feel much more intense than usual and Coba found himself getting more competitive than he thought he would initially. Pepper was fast and skimmed over the sand without much issue, while his hooves made it much easier to get slowed down.
They bounced the ball back and forth for a while before Pepper missed her chance and the Volleyball bounced out of the makeshift court. Coba pumped his fist in the air before diving after the ball again.
“And how do you know if you win?” Coba asked at some point. They were tied if the number of points was correct. Pepper served the ball.
“This can be the last one.”
Which meant that it was almost time for her to go. This particular round of volleys was the most intense of them all. Sand flew everywhere as the two of them lobbed the ball back and forth until finally, Pepper slipped up again and Coba scored the final winning ball.
Coba cheered into the night and Pepper grabbed the ball before it rolled too far away. When she came back, she shoved the ball back into the beach bag after fishing something else out of it. It was a trophy. A cheap one made of plastic with flaking fake gold paint on it. She handed it to Coba.
“This is what you get when you win,” she said, as if informing Coba of something new. Coba took the trophy. It almost broke in his hand with how poor quality it was. It was the best thing he’d ever won.
“Thanks, dude,” he said, but when he blinked, she was gone. “Until next time.”
But there likely wouldn’t be a next time. Coba never saw Pepper again.
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