Part 32 - Shell

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A crow peeled off from the others and glided to the beach. Its change into an apparent Frenchwoman was as simple and honest as stage magic: One moment, the crow hovered over the sand, and the next, Audubon's high heels left an impression.

"Please. You don't even dance." Audubon picked up a shell and held it to her ear.

I didn't mean it as a proposition, Ray thought.

Trivia put her hands behind her back.

Frowning, Audubon dropped the shell and selected another.

"Listening to the ocean?" Ray said.

Audubon shook the new shell like she was making a martini. Her expression brightened. She moved the shell in front of her face. There was a wet, sucking sound, then a crunch. She discarded the shell. A segmented leg jutted from the corner of her mouth.

"Eugh!" Ray said.

Keeping one hand behind her back, Trivia pointed to her lips. "You've got something."

Audubon daintily pushed the crab leg into her mouth, looked skyward, and bobbed her head back and forth until, to Ray's alarm, a bulge formed in her throat.

"Are you okay?" Ray tried to recall the last time he'd seen a restaurant poster describing the Heimlich maneuver.

Audubon rolled her eyes and retrieved a compact and a tube of dark lipstick from her smoking jacket. After she had satisfied herself with her appearance, she said, "It's called a gular pouch, idiot."

Ray shrugged. "I mostly studied botany."

Audubon glanced at Trivia, then back to Ray. "I don't want to hear about your 'field studies.' I just ate."

"You're interrupting," Trivia said.

"I'm terribly sorry." Audubon waved Trivia off with her talons, but when she realized that Trivia was hiding her hands, her demeanor became gleeful. "I really am! Please continue what you were doing."

"We were talking," Trivia said.

And smooching, Ray thought. You should try it some time, you might be less of a—

Audubon sighed. "Just shoot the moron. You've had your fun."

Trivia displayed her empty hands. "You're mistaken. I wasn't going to."

"You weren't aiming your bow at lover-boy's heart?" Audubon said.

She really does have good eyes, Ray thought.

Trivia wore a pained expression.

This must be embarrassing for her, he thought. Don't worry, I've got this.

"Audubon, can I have a minute?" he said.

Audubon smiled. "For you? Of course!"

"Ray, don't," Trivia said.

Ray gave her a reassuring wink and approached Audubon.

"Closer." Audubon brushed her hair over her ear. The bulge in her throat made her look like she had a broken neck.

Ray leaned in to whisper, but averted his eyes. "I don't think you've always hated Trivia. She'd have no reason to put up with the way you treat her. Think about that for a second. You're angry now, but one day you'll be friends again, or family, or whatever you are."

Audubon lowered her voice to match his. "You couldn't possibly understand what we are."

"Sounds like you have something special then. Maybe don't throw that away. If you want someone to be mean and scary at, be mean and scary at me."

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