“Ready to get your ass kicked?” Rye said smugly.
Lily rolled their eyes and chuckled. “Oh, in your dreams!”
It had been ages since Lily got to play against Rye. Even if it wasn’t quite the same as before – they were half a city apart, their voices carried over Discord instead of the cozy atmosphere of ASZ –it was still great to hear his voice again.
“Any day now, Lily,” Rye smirked.
“I’m thinking!” Lily replied, adjusting their headset. They couldn’t quite settle on which character to pick. They didn’t have much to do while things were locked down, so they’d taken the time to learn a lot more characters.
Rye sighed. “We both know you’re just gonna pick Darkrai, get on with it!”
Finally, Lily made their selection. “You sure about that?”
“…Chandelure? You know they’re a glass cannon, right?”
“Emphasis on the ‘cannon’ part! Mess with the candle, you’re gonna get burnt!”
“Oh, for God’s sakes… is that really the best trash talk you can muster?”
Lily’s head spun around, their long hair accidentally smacking Magnolia’s face which was suddenly right next to them. “Whoa!”
“What’s up?” Rye asked.
Magnolia brushed Lily’s hair out of her face. She pressed a finger to her lips.
“Um… n-nothing,” Lily said. “Something just fell over, I think. Anyway, let’s go!”
The round was a curbstomp. Lily was utterly dominating Rye’s Empoleon, effortlessly predicting his every attack and opening him up for devastating combos. Alright, time for the final-
-blow? Suddenly Rye had them against the wall, pummeling them with a Surf and leaving them at nearly half health. What the heck?! They shook their head and quickly bounced back, getting off the wall and salvaging the round.
“Oh, there you are!” Rye said. “You were just kinda standing there for a moment.”
“I was what?” Lily furrowed their brow. Why would I have… Then they connected the dots. They turned to Magnolia, who wore a magnificently smug grin.
“Everything good over there?” Rye asked, sounding more than a little concerned.
“…Yeah,” Lily replied. “Peachy. The, uh, internet here’s been kinda spotty the last couple days, I think I’m lagging out a bit.”
“Really? Huh, would’ve thought your sugar mommy could afford decent internet.”
“She’s not a sugar mommy,” Lily groaned. They blushed even harder at the sound of Magnolia chuckling next to them. “Y-Yeah, uh, I think I’m gonna have to get this fixed. Sorry, but can we maybe try this again some other time?”
Rye sighed. “Yeah, alright. Not like I’ve got much else to do these days. Same time next week?”
“Sounds good. See you later!”
When Rye hung up, Lily pulled off their headset and pouted at Magnolia. “Mistress! I was in the middle of-”
“…of… um.” Lily blinked. What were they talking about?
“Well, you certainly don’t seem busy right now,” Magnolia said. “So I’d like to ask you about an idea I had.”
“What kind of idea?” Lily asked. “Like a bedroom idea, or…?”
Magnolia chuckled. “Oh, Lily, you know I wouldn’t need to ask if I had one of those ideas. No, this is something a bit more involved. My company recently acquired a small property, nothing special, about 500 square feet. It used to be a coffee shop, but had to close down because of the pandemic.”
She took her glasses off and rubbed her temples with a sigh. “The problem is, none of my associates can find someone willing to rent it out. With how things are, most businesses are too busy trying to keep their existing locations to even consider getting another one. We can afford to let it sit empty for as long as we need to, but they’re getting restless, and they want me to find someone.”
“That’s rude of them,” Lily said. “Just because they couldn’t find someone, that doesn’t mean they can dump the responsibility on you.”
“Thank you,” Magnolia groaned, “I couldn’t believe how insolent they were being.”
“But… what does this have to do with me?”
“Well…” Magnolia scratched the back of her head, looking uncharacteristically embarrassed. “I was wondering whether you might be interested.”
“What?” Lily gasped.
“It doesn’t matter what goes in there, so long as something does. Whatever you want, I can make it happen, and I’ll handle – well, I’ll have someone handle – all your expenses and budget and everything. You don’t have to say yes, but it would really help me out here.”
Lily rubbed their chin. “I dunno… what would I even do? What would people like, what would they pay for?”
“It doesn’t have to make money,” Magnolia replied. “Honestly, you just need to fill that space for a while until someone else can move in. I know that sounds callous, but sometimes that’s how this world works.”
“Hm… so it can be anything I want?”
“As long as it can fit in there, yes.”
Lily thought for a moment. What’s something I would want, but isn’t common enough that you can get it anywhere? “How about… a milkshake shop?”
Magnolia blinked. “Milkshakes? Just milkshakes?”
“Well, I dunno, maybe malts and slushies too?” Lily shrugged. “Just, like, ice cream-adjacent drinks.”
“Alright,” Magnolia sighed. “If that’s what you want to do, then that’s what we’ll do. But keep in mind, you’re going to be on a very tight leash.” She paused. “I mean financially. Your budget will be very small, you won’t be chained to a post or anything.”
“Yeah, I… gathered.” Lily looked down at the headset in their hand and their eyes widened. “Oh, that’s what I was doing! I was playing against Rye, when-”
“-when, um… I…”
Magnolia chuckled. “Oh, I love that new trigger.”
“Huh?” Lily cocked their head to the side. “What new trigger?”
“I’ll tell you all about it…” Magnolia patted her lap and grinned. “After you help me unwind after my oh-so-stressful day.”
Lily smiled back, forgetting their earlier confusion. “Absolutely, Mistress!”
The car rolled to a stop in front of the empty storefront. Lily stepped out and held the door open for Magnolia, making sure their mask was tight across their face. The masks were a custom order, Lily’s being white with a pink floral design and Magnolia’s being black with a white floral design.
Once Magnolia was out of the car, they both turned and looked at the place. It had clearly been empty for a while, the “for sale’” sign sitting sun-bleached in the window. “It’s not much to look at,” Magnolia said, handing Lily a hard hat.
“Not much to look at yet,” Lily replied. They put the hat on their head and opened the door. They were thankful the mask was keeping out most of the dust. The floor was covered in it, the original tile pattern barely visible over the fine grey powder. A few work lights were set up, illuminating the cozy interior. The walls and ceilings were littered with nails and exposed wiring, the remnants of what must have been a pretty nice-looking décor. The countertop off to the side had some power tools scattered on top of it. Even after all this time, Lily could still smell the faint traces of coffee beans.
“Ok, so…” Lily paused. “What exactly do you want me to do here?”
Magnolia sighed. “Honestly… I explained this to you several times, Lily, is your brain truly so incapable of retaining information?”
Lily was thankful the mask covered their blushing cheeks. “S-Sorry.”
“Aw, lay off. That’s no way to talk to a cutie like that, Em.”
“Ah!” Lily squeaked as they practically jumped out of their skin. They turned around and saw someone’s head poking out from behind the countertop, then the rest of their body as the figure stood up and cracked their neck.
“I’ll speak to them however I wish,” Magnolia said tersely. “Lily, this is Beck. She’s done a lot of work for us over the years. Beck, this is Lily, the co-owner of the new restaurant.”
Co-owner? Well, I guess that makes sense, Mistress is paying for it after all. “Hi,” Lily said.
Beck waved at them. “Hey, hot stuff.” She wore a faded red trucker hat, a pair of worn blue jeans, heavy work boots, a much dirtier hard hat than the ones Lily and Magnolia wore, and a t-shirt that was more grease and paint than cotton. “Hat looks kinda loose. You should tighten it.”
“Tighten it?” Lily cocked their head to the side, and the hat tumbled off their head and clattered on the floor.
They quickly picked it back up as Beck chuckled. “First time wearing one of those, huh?”
“Y-Yeah,” Lily muttered. They put it back on and felt Magnolia’s hands touch the front and back of the hard hat, turning something on the back with a satisfying clunk until it felt snug.
“There,” Magnolia said. “Now, if we’re done discussing blue-collar chic, I believe we have some business to take care of?”
Beck nodded and pulled a tablet out from behind the countertop. “Lily, right? Em said this was your call.”
Lily took the tablet and furrowed their brow. On screen was an untextured 3D model of the room they were in. “What do I do?”
“Just tap something and you’ll see some options pop up,” Beck explained. “Try the floor.”
“Okay…” Lily tapped the floor, and sure enough, a selection box appeared next to it with a selection of tile patterns. They chose one, and the model changed to reflect it. “Oh, cool!”
“Now think carefully about this,” Magnolia said. “Make sure to select a color palette that looks pleasing. I brought over a book on color theory if you need any pointers.”
“I- wait, you brought a book?” Lily shook their head. “Whatever. Just give me a second to think.” What would be a good color combo? They tapped their chin and hummed to themselves. Maybe… yellow and purple? Yeah, that might work! Like the non-binary flag! They tapped around on the tablet until they were satisfied. “Ok, now what?”
“See that little camera icon in the top right?” Beck said. “Tap that, you’ll get to see what it looks like for real.”
“How does that work?” Lily tapped the icon and the view switched to the camera’s perspective, but after a loading icon flashed for a few seconds, the camera then showed what the room would look like with Lily’s selections. The walls were a bright yellow, the ceiling a rich purple, the floor a black-and-white checkerboard pattern. “Wow,” Lily gasped, “this is fancy…”
“Let me see it,” Magnolia said, taking the tablet out of Lily’s hands. Even through the mask, Lily could tell Magnolia was frowning. “This is the palette you chose?”
“What’s wrong with it?” Lily said. “I think it looks nice.”
“It’s a bit… garish. Perhaps if you tried more muted colors?”
“But I… I really like it.”
“Mind if I take a gander at it?” Beck chimed in.
Magnolia handed her the tablet. Beck looked around the room, examining it like one would with a piece of fine art. “I think it’s nice.”
“You do?” Lily beamed.
“Yeah. The yellow gives it a kinda sunshine-y feel. Hey, that’s not a bad name! Sunshine Shakes, how’s that sound?”
“Oh, I like that!” Lily turned to Magnolia, doing their best puppy eyes. “Can we keep it? Please, Magnolia?”
Magnolia sighed. “Oh, fine. We’ll have it your way.”
“Yay!” Lily hugged Magnolia tight and giggled happily. “This is gonna be so awesome! My milkshakes are gonna bring all the boys to the yard!”
“Oh, yeah,” Beck chuckled, her eyes looking Lily up and down, “I bet they will.”
“What yard?” Magnolia wheezed, struggling for air. “This property doesn’t have a yard.”
“Very funny,” Lily chuckled.
Magnolia tapped Lily’s forearm to signal that they should let her go. When they finally did, she took a deep breath. “No, I’m serious. What are you talking about?”
Lily waited for her to crack. Then it became clear that Magnolia wasn’t joking. “…Never mind. So, what’s next?”
Lily spun around and posed coquettishly. “Do you like it?”
The dressing room was luxuriously large, giving Lily plenty of space to model their uniform. Magnolia put a pencil to her lips and studied them. “Hm… rather plain, don’t you think?”
“Really?” Lily looked down at their outfit and frowned. They thought it was a pretty charming ensemble – a light yellow sweater with a brown skirt, black thigh-highs, and a purple apron. They wanted something that seemed approachable, yet also cute.
“Yeah,” Beck said, “kinda makes you look like a bumble-bee.”
“I-I’m sorry,” Lily blushed, “but why is she here?”
“I like to get a second opinion,” Magnolia replied. “Besides, sometimes it’s nice to have someone who has more of a… ‘grounded’ perspective.”
“And by that, she means poor!” Beck chuckled. “Listen, I’m no fashion expert. I was fixing up my dad’s chopper while the girls in my class were chatting about ‘Project Top Model’ or whatever. But I know what I like, and honey, that ain’t it.”
“Okay,” Lily sighed, “well, what do you like?”
“Well…” Beck licked her lips, her eyes undressing Lily. “I think you’re too covered-up. Show a little skin.”
“Excuse me?” Lily looked towards Magnolia, but saw her nodding her head.
“Yes, you’re completely right,” Magnolia said. “Let’s maybe go for something sleeveless? And lose the socks.”
Lily raised an eyebrow. What the heck? Why is Mistress just cool with Beck being all creepy towards me? After what Indigo did at the auction, I thought she’d be a lot more protective of me. “A-Alright, sure.” They turned around and closed the curtain behind them.
A few minutes later, they stepped out and posed again. They wore a yellow polo shirt and black short shorts, with no apron. “How’s this?”
“You’re sure yellow’s a good pick?” Beck said.
“Well, it matches the walls, right?” Lily shrugged.
Beck and Magnolia exchanged glances. “…Sure it does,” Beck replied. “But I’m not sure it looks good on you.”
“Hm, yes,” Magnolia nodded, “it’s just not your color. Remember that dress you wore the other night? Maybe something blue, like that.”
“Nah, I’m thinking pink,” Beck said.
“Pink?” Lily asked incredulously.
“We’ll try both,” Magnolia said. “Does that work, Lily?”
“…Sure.” Lily rolled their eyes and walked out of the room. Soon, they appeared again, wearing a color-swapped version of their last outfit – a pink polo shirt and blue denim short-shorts. “Eh?”
“Eh,” Beck replied. “Needs some, like, va-va-voom.”
Lily cocked their head to the side. “‘Va-va-voom?’”
“I believe Beck and I are once again in agreement,” Magnolia piped in. “You need to be wearing something more provocative.”
“What do you mean, ‘provocative?’”
“Ugh, do we gotta spell it out for you?” Beck groaned. “Your boobs! We wanna see your boobs more!”
Lily’s jaw dropped. “Wh-What?! Magnolia, don’t tell me you agree with her?”
“Well, you know what they say,” Magnolia chuckled. “Sex sells, Lily. The shorts can stay, but look for a crop top, something that shows off your cleavage.”
“I-I…” Lily shook their head. “No! I don’t wanna dress up like that!”
“Aw, what’s the matter, cutie-pie?” Beck rose off her chair and slowly approached Lily, grinning hungrily. “If you’ve got a hot bod, why not flaunt it?”
“I’m not that kind of person,” Lily said through gritted teeth. “C-Can we just come back some other-”
“I can help you look,” Beck interrupted. “Trust me, I’ve got a good eye for this stuff.”
“I’m… sure you do,” Lily said. “But I don’t need your help.” They turned around and started towards the curtain, but Beck stepped in front of them.
“I insist,” Beck smiled.
“L-Leave me alone!” Lily shrieked.
“Aw, c’mon, babe,” Beck chuckled, “we’re just-”
Suddenly her head lurched to the side. Magnolia held her by the hair, the fury of a thousand suns burning in her eyes. “Back. Off. She’s mine.”
For a moment, Beck looked panicked. Then, Lily watched in astonishment as her expression smoothed out, her eyelids drooping and her jaw going slack. A soft sigh escaped her lips as she murmured, “Yes, Magnolia.”
“Now,” Magnolia said, “sit back down, and don’t think until I say so.”
“Yes, Magnolia.” Beck walked back to the chair, her limbs loose and tired, and she flopped down in the seat like a ragdoll.
Magnolia turned back to Lily, concerned. “Are you alright, plaything?”
Lily’s heart raced. “Y-You…” They didn’t know what to say, so they blurted out the first thing that came to mind. “You hypnotized her?”
“I hypnotize all my business partners,” Magnolia shrugged. “At least if they become involved with you. Can’t risk any of them blowing the whistle on our arrangement, right?”
“I guess…” Lily exhaled, and felt a quiet laugh bubble up inside them. “So, all that, was that like a prank? Like, you just wanted to mess with me, right?”
Magnolia blinked. “…No, Lily, it’s not a prank.” She paused. “Go get the crop top.”
Lily sighed. “…Yes, Mistress.” They went to the back and returned a few minutes later, their cheeks burning crimson. “Do I really have to wear this?”
“Oh, absolutely,” Magnolia replied. “But it’s just missing one little thing…” She stood up and reached into her purse, pulling out a pink silk scarf. “Turn around, plaything.”
Lily did as they were told, and Magnolia placed the scarf around Lily’s neck, tying it in the back. “There,” she said, “now you’re perfect.”
“I really think my first outfit was good,” Lily muttered.
“Good, but not what your restaurant needs.” Magnolia sat back down and grabbed the limp, mindless Beck by the back of her neck. “And what do you think?” She bobbed Beck’s head up and down to make her nod. “See?” Magnolia chuckled. “You’ll be a smashing success.”
“…Are you gonna wake her up?”
“Wake up, plaything.”
Lily groaned and rolled over in their bed. They cracked their eyes open and saw Magnolia standing over them. “Mmuh?”
“Up, up! You don’t have all morning!”
“Buh…” Lily propped themselves up and rubbed their eyes. “What’re you talking about?”
Magnolia rolled her eyes and scoffed. “Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten! Your restaurant is opening today, and you need to be there on the double!”
“It’s what?!” Lily shot out of bed, their heart racing. “What do you mean it’s opening today? A week ago it was completely empty!”
“Oh please, do you really think a space like that would take more than a week to finish? And besides, I already took care of your staffing, equipment, business license, and all that.”
“Yes!” Magnolia sighed. “Now get ready, the driver is waiting.”
“Y-Yes, Mistress!” Lily got done in record time – they managed to shower, do their makeup, and get dressed in just under 15 minutes. All along the drive, Lily imagined how their first day would go. They pictured the restaurant, all dolled up in yellow and purple; their staff, all dressed like they were and helping them fill orders; and the look on Magnolia’s face once they were done for the day. She’s gonna be so proud of me!
Finally, the car pulled to a stop in front of the building. Lily practically jumped out of the car and gawked at the sign added above the door. “Sunshine Shakes,” it read, in bright white letters. Wow, that’s awesome! But… “Hey, Mistress? Why’s it white? I kinda thought we had a yellow and purple thing going on?”
“Huh?” Magnolia furrowed her brow. “Oh, right. Well, bright contrast increases visibility. We want the name to pop out from the stonework here, and the yellow wasn’t quite enough of a contrast.”
“I guess that makes sense…” Lily shrugged. “Ah, well, at least the inside will look nice!” They flung open the doors, a small bell signaling their entrance, and took three steps inside. “…What the heck?!”
The interior was all wrong. Instead of a cozy, quirky little shop, the room now looked more like a 50s diner, with stark white walls and chrome barstools at the countertop. The only flashes of color were the barstools, the tops of which alternated between yellow and purple. “Wh-Wha…” Lily stammered. “I don’t understand… What happened?”
“I came to an agreement with Beck while you were trying out your outfits,” Magnolia said. “We realized that your design, while… charming, in its own way, wasn’t going to have much broad appeal. I worked with her to develop this new design. I think it’s quite nice, personally.”
“You weren’t even gonna tell me?”
“I figured it would be better to see for yourself. After all, now that you can see it, you realize how much better it is, don’t you?”
Lily looked around the room. “It… does look nice, but… it doesn’t really have anything to do with my design.”
“That’s not true. Look,” Magnolia said, pointing at the floor, “we kept the checkerboard pattern. And the barstools, they have the colors you picked out. I simply wanted something that looked a touch more restrained.”
Lily opened their mouth to speak, but before they could, someone entered the room. They peeked over Magnolia’s shoulder and saw a young woman, a couple inches taller than Lily, wearing a large coat. “Um, hi,” she said. “I’m not late, am I?”
“Not at all!” Magnolia said brightly. “You’re the first one here, actually. Lily, this is one of your employees, Ashlynn.”
“Oh!” Lily gasped. “R-Right. It’s nice to meet you!”
“Nice to meet you too,” Ashlynn replied. Her hand fidgeted with her coat as she held up a small lunchbox. “Um, can I put my stuff down somewhere?”
“There’s a break room in the back,” Magnolia replied, “you can put it there.”
“Thanks!” Ashlynn walked briskly past the two of them and headed for the back room. Wonder why she’s got that big coat… oh, wait, duh! She probably doesn’t wanna run around in this skimpy outfit!
“Well,” Magnolia said, “I should be going. The rest of your employees should be trickling in over the next hour or so.”
“Wait, next hour?” Lily raised an eyebrow. “When do we open?”
“Not till 11-o-clock, I believe.”
“Then… why did you make me wake-”
Lily blinked. “Huh? What was I talking about?”
“If you can’t remember, it must not be very important,” Magnolia chuckled. “Oh, I forgot to mention something. I reached out to a rather famous restaurant critic. She’ll be coming by later this afternoon. I expect a ringing endorsement.”
“What?!” Lily gasped. “But what if we’re not ready?”
“Then I’ll be very disappointed.”
Gosh, I really can’t mess this up… “When do you think she’ll be here?”
“Hm… hard to say. She’s a very secretive woman. No one even knows what she looks like.”
“But then how will we know when she’s here?”
Magnolia chuckled. “Oh, trust me. You’ll know.” She grabbed Lily by the shoulders and looked intensely into their eyes. “Now, don’t get too nervous, plaything. You may only have a small handful of braincells even on a good day, but I know how capable you can be when you set your mind to it. As long as you don’t let your fear get the better of you, I’m confident you can pull this off with flying colors.”
Lily beamed under her admiration. “You really think so?”
“I’m never wrong about these things.” Magnolia checked her watch. “Oh, I really do have to go. But first…” She leaned in and whispered-
Lily blinked. Magnolia was gone. The car sped off up the street, leaving Lily alone.
“E-Excuse me.” Mostly alone, anyway. “Are you gonna change, or…?”
Lily turned around and saw Ashlynn standing behind the counter. But she wasn’t wearing the same outfit Lily was. Instead, she wore a simple white dress shirt, with a yellow apron and black slacks. Why isn’t she… Lily groaned. Oh, of course. Mistress just wanted to trick me into wearing a skimpy outfit…
They walked up to Ashlynn and sighed. “Look, can I be honest with you? I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. This all kinda came together really fast, and I don’t have any training or experience or anything. Would you be willing to help me out?”
“Trust me, uh, Lily, was it? That lady you were talking with just poached all of us from the Shake Shack on Newbury. We’re pretty close-knit, so we can kinda just run ourselves.”
Ashlynn nodded. “The only thing we need is someone to take orders.”
“I can totally do that!” Lily breathed a sigh of relief. “I’m sorry, this is probably gonna be really hectic the first few days.”
“Hey, I’m getting paid twice what I used to,” Ashlynn shrugged. “And we’re probably not gonna have to deal with the crazy rushes we used to get. I can put up with some growing pains.”
Soon, the other two employees filtered in. First was Greta, a shy, mousey girl with thick horn-rimmed glasses. And just under 10 minutes before the restaurant opened, Charlotte walked through the front door, a coffee cup in one hand and her phone in the other. She casually walked to the back room without even acknowledging Lily, tossing a faux-designer coat on top of Ashlynn’s and taking several minutes to find the right angle for a selfie. Well… at least she’s cute.
At last, 11-o-clock came, and Lily triumphantly turned on the “open” sign and waited.
“…So, like,” Charlotte said after about 15 minutes had gone by, “we are open, yeah?”
“I… I think so?” Lily furrowed their brow. “I don’t know if we did any advertising or anything, that was… handled by somebody else.”
“Well, it’s a specialty shop,” Ashlynn said, “it’s not gonna attract huge numbers. Especially not on its first day.”
“W-We’re not gonna go belly-up, are we?” Greta asked quietly. “I don’t really wanna go back to the Shake Shack. It was… loud.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that,” Lily reassured her, “I think we’re gonna stay afloat no matter what. I just feel bad you girls are all sitting around bored.” Maybe one of my friends can come over and get something. Lily pulled out their phone and sent out a message in their Pokkén Discord server.
Lilypad: hey uh weird question but can anyone stop by sunshine shakes, we just opened and no one’s here and i feel bad
It wasn’t long before they got a reply from Pierre.
Machamp’s Husband: i can be there in 10 mins tops
Slightly less than 10 minutes later, Pierre stepped through the front doors and whistled. “Wow, Lily, that’s quite an outfit!”
“Thanks,” Lily blushed. “Anyways, uh, welcome to Sunshine Shakes! What can we get you?”
“Oh, wait,” Pierre said, “you work here? Huh. Didn’t know you, like, worked.”
“I’ll tell you about it later.” Lily looked over to the side and saw the other employees giving them a weird look. “So, what would you like?”
“Hm…” Pierre scratched his chin. “I dunno, it’s been a while since I’ve had a milkshakes. Chocolate, I guess?”
“You got it!” Lily took his card, swiped it through the machine, and punched in the order.
Behind them, Ashlynn was hard at work at the machine, dumping a couple scoops of ice cream into a metal cup and pouring in some chilled milk. Greta helped her operate the machine, sneaking a few glances at Charlotte. Charlotte, for her part, stood off to the side, watching Lily and Pierre while they made small talk to pass the time.
After a couple minutes, Ashlynn placed Pierre’s milkshake on the countertop and slid it down to him like a bartender in an old Western. He picked it up and took a sip. “Hm...” He licked his lips and hummed. “Hey, that’s really good.”
“You’re not just saying that because we’re friends?” Lily asked.
“No, I’m serious, it’s amazing!” Pierre tossed a couple bucks in the tip jar. “Think I’ll be coming back here soon. See you around, Lily!”
Lily waved Pierre goodbye as he walked out the door, breathing a sigh of relief once it closed. “Alright, first one down.”
“I’m gonna take a lunch break,” Charlotte said. “Cover for me.”
Cover for you? Lily thought to themselves as Charlotte barged past them. You didn’t even do anything!
Greta sighed. “Um, boss… could I take my lunch break now too?”
“Ooh,” Ashlynn teased, “wanna eat lunch with your C-R-U-S-H?”
“Sh-Shut up!” Greta stammered, her glasses fogging up. “I’m just… hungry, is all.”
What was Ashlynn spell- oh, right, “crush.” I guess that explains why Greta was staring at Charlotte earlier. “Sure, Greta,” Lily said. “Just make sure you’re back out here soon, ok?”
“Thanks!” Greta practically skipped past Lily towards the back door.
Ashlynn chuckled. “Ah, young love. So I guess we’ll have our lunch break after them?”
“Yeah, I-” Lily’s stomach gurgled. Oh, right. I didn’t pack a lunch. Crap, what am I gonna do? I can’t just not eat!
As if answering their prayers, the door swung open and a familiar face walked in. “Afternoon, y’all!”
“Beck?” Lily raised an eyebrow. “What’re you doing here?”
Beck flicked her eyes to Lily, but quickly turned away. “H-Hi!” she stammered. “Uh, Em told me to bring you lunch.” She held up a small plastic container. “Sushi ok?”
“Oh!” Lily took the container and smiled. “That’s awesome, thank you!”
“N-No problem,” Beck said. She scratched the back of her head and refused to meet Lily’s eyes. “That’s, uh, quite an outfit you got there.”
“Yeah, it’s a look,” Lily chuckled. Mistress probably made her forget all about that dressing room thing. But why is she acting so shy? She was the one who pushed for me to dress like this, after all. “Do you like it?”
Even with the mask covering her face, Lily could see Beck turning flushed. “Y- Um, it’s- it’s cute. You look good- like, uh, pretty, y’know?”
“…Thanks?” Wow, she is a disaster. Did Mistress make her more confident or uninhibited or something? “Do you want a shake?”
“N-Nah, I gotta… work. Do work. Stuff.” Beck let out a nervous giggle.
Heh, she’s actually really cute when she’s all flustered. Is this how Mistress feels when she plays with me? “Are you sure?” Lily smiled and leaned forward, giving Beck a better view of their cleavage. “It won’t take long.”
“Um!” Beck had to consciously force herself to pick her jaw up off the floor. “S-Sure! Yeah, I’ll take a… s-strawberry?”
“Coming right up,” Lily giggled. Soon, Beck’s shake was done. Charlotte handed it to Lily with a dirty look in her eye, and Lily handed it off to Beck. “Take care now. We might need a handywoman like you in case something happens.”
“S-See y’all around,” Beck mumbled. She quickly hurried out the door, the embarrassment radiating off her like hot steam.
Lily sighed, a silly grin hidden by their mask. Am I really this hot? Maybe I should go out more once it’s safe to, if I can make cute girls like her blush like that.
After everyone had eaten lunch, they quickly settled into a comfortable groove. Lily worked the register, and Ashlynn, Greta, and Charlotte alternated on who operated the machines. By 3 pm, they had a fairly consistent trickle of people coming into the restaurant. There usually wasn’t more than one customer at a time, but the crew only had a few minutes of downtime between them. As the afternoon dragged on, though, the flow of customers slowed to a crawl, and by 6 it was just as empty as it had been that morning.
Then, about half an hour before closing, Lily heard the bell ding and turned their head towards the front door.
The person who entered was totally unfamiliar. She wore a black shirt and black pants, with a red blazer that matched a streak in her long brown hair. The instant Lily saw them, something went click inside their mind. That’s… the restaurant critic! I don’t know how I know, but that’s gotta be her. That moment of realization turned to panic. Please don’t let me screw this up oh no she’s walking closer help aaaahhhhhhhhhh
“Good evening,” the critic said, staring down at Lily over her stylish glasses.
“H-Hi!” Lily stammered. “Welcome to…” Brain! Work! Please don’t blank out on the name of your own restaurant! “…Sun…shine Shakes! Wh-What can I get you?”
The critic’s eyes narrowed. “What’s your most popular flavor?”
Oh God, was I supposed to keep track of that? “That’s… um…”
“That would be cookies ‘n cream!” Ashlynn interjected. “We use Oreo bits and chocolate sprinkles!”
“That sounds adequate,” the critic nodded. “I’ll take one of those.”
Ashlynn, you’re getting employee of the month- no, the decade. “Coming right up!” Lily extended their hand to take the woman’s card, but she instead set her purse on the counter.
“I prefer to use cash,” she said. “How much is it?”
“Uh…” Lily flicked their eyes over to the register. “$4.24?”
“All I have is a twenty.” The critic placed a bill on the counter. “I trust that won’t be an issue.”
“Of course not!” Damn, my arch-nemesis… subtraction. Lily took the bill and took a deep breath. It’s okay, I just need to focus. Let’s see, ten minus four is six, nine minus two is-
Lily blinked. What was I… They stared blankly at the $20 bill on the table.
“Do hurry up,” the critic said smugly, “we don’t have all night.”
Hurry with… oh, right. Change. Lily shook their head. “S-Sorry, ma’am.” Ten minus-
“…uh…” Lily furrowed their brow. Dammit, why can’t I concentrate?
“Excuse us, miss,” Greta said, stepping up to Lily, “our manager here has had a pretty long day. I’ll count your change.”
“Oh!” the critic said. “Why, thank you.”
Greta popped open the register, glancing back at Lily with concern. Gah, she probably thinks I’m an idiot or something! And the critic probably thinks so too!
“Here you go, miss,” Greta said after a few moments, handing the critic her change. “We’ll have that right out for you.”
“Do you mind if I use the stool?” the critic asked.
“G-Go right ahead,” Lily muttered. They were thankful their face mask hid their blushing. Come to think of it, that critic’s mask… it’s the same pattern Magnolia has on hers. Wow, they must shop at the same store or something!
While Charlotte worked on the shake, Greta pulled Lily aside. “Are you ok?” she whispered. “You seem kinda out of it.”
“Yeah, I’m just…” Lily paused. Why would I have spaced out like that? I don’t feel tired or anything. That’s not normal, even for someone as ditzy as me. “I dunno. Brain fart?”
Greta narrowed her eyes. “If you say so.” She pushed her glasses up and walked away. What does that mean?
Soon after, Charlotte finished the milkshake and handed it to the critic.
“Thank you,” the critic said, removing her mask and taking a slow, contemplative sip on her straw. She smacked her lips. “Hm.” There was no inflection to her vocalization; it was neither clearly positive nor clearly negative.
She continued to sit at the stool, leisurely drinking her shake and scrolling on her phone. Lily twirled their hair around their finger, trying and failing to not look nervous. What is she thinking? She thinks we suck, doesn’t she? Or maybe she thinks we’re great? Gah, give me a sign, lady!
The critic stayed until it was time to close up. “U-Um, ma’am,” Lily said, their voice cracking a bit, “we’re closing soon.”
“I’m well aware of that,” she replied. “Your employees can leave. I’d like to speak with you in private after you’re closed.”
Lily gulped. Is that normal for a food critic? I don’t think it is, but… what if I refuse, and she gives me a bad review? “S-Sure!”
The critic turned back to her phone and her shake. When 7 pm rolled around, Lily told their employees to head home, and they all did, exchanging glances of confusion and concern.
Finally, Lily was alone with the critic. The air was suffocating in its tension. Lily didn’t know whether they should start talking, or whether the critic would.
The critic set her purse on the counter and wordlessly rifled through it. What is she-
Lily’s jaw dropped. The pendant swallowed their mind whole and spit it back out again, with one very important gap now filled.
Magnolia grinned when she saw the realization flash across Lily’s face. “Hello, plaything.”
“M-Mistress?!” Lily gasped. Their mind raced, the forgotten memory from that morning playing out in fast forward. Magnolia had dropped Lily into trance, and told them to not recognize the woman in the red blazer as their Mistress, but instead as the critic Magnolia had sent for them. “Oh, wow… that’s amazing! I can’t believe I didn’t recognize you!”
“Well, I’ve conditioned you enough by now that virtually any suggestion would stick,” Magnolia chuckled. “I wonder, though, how your mind interpreted it. Did you notice any similarity, or did I truly appear as a complete stranger?”
“I noticed the streak and the mask and stuff,” Lily replied, “but, like, I kinda rationalized it all away as coincidence, I guess.”
“Fascinating,” Magnolia said. She patted the stool next to her.
Lily walked around the table and sat down. “So, uh, how did I do?”
“Well,” Magnolia sighed, picking up her empty glass, “your math skills left a lot to be desired, but I didn’t exactly make it easy for you. The shake, though… top notch.”
“Really?” Lily beamed.
“Oh, don’t get a swelled head, I’m the one who picked out the employees for you. I knew they’d be good. But you seem to have done an admirable job keeping them sharp.”
Lily embraced Magnolia, peppering her neck with kisses. “Oh, thank you, Mistress!”
“E-Easy,” Magnolia groaned, frantically tapping Lily’s forearm, “you’re going to put me in the hospital.”
“Sorry!” Lily squeaked, sitting back down.
Magnolia took a deep breath. “I noticed something, though. Call it an uncharacteristic oversight on my part.”
“What is it?”
“You don’t have nametags.” Magnolia reached into her purse and pulled out a small box. “So I got you some.”
“Oh, yeah! I didn’t even notice.” Lily popped open the box and pulled out a nametag.
My name is…
My pronouns are they/them
“Wow!” Lily gasped. “They even have pronouns!”
“I knew you’d appreciate that,” Magnolia smiled. “Now, you must be feeling awfully tired after such a long day.”
Lily shrugged. “I actually feel fine.”
Magnolia glared at them. “I said.” She reached over and began scratching Lily’s side. “You must be tired.”
“Oh…” Lily sighed, the trigger hitting them quickly and making them feel increasingly drowsy. “I see how it is.”
“That little number of yours has put me in a certain mood,” Magnolia purred, “Tell me, Lily, do you know what a pillow princess is?”
“Hm…” Lily rested their head on Magnolia’s shoulder. “Sounds like an Adventure Time thing, but I think that’s probably wrong.”
“Well,” Magnolia chuckled as she kissed her plaything on the forehead, “I’m going to show you.”