“I’m Owena,” said the lady, stepping into the car carrying a rather large and lumpy paper bag. If taking her groceries with her was the “weirdness” Tim had mentioned when he set up the blind date, Cameron thought things might turn out all right.

“Owena? That’s a pretty name.” Cameron actually thought it sounded like something fit for a frumpy great-aunt, but his date was clear-eyed and cute, so she was going to get a lot of latitude. “What do you do for a living?” he continued, hoping to break the ice.

“I’m a professional Euryklide or gastromancer; I prefer the former because people tend to think the latter means cook and I can’t even boil water without burning it,” Owena bubbled.

Cameron devoted considerable effort to not scrunching up his nose. “I’m afraid I don’t know that that means,” he said tactfully.

“I’ll show you!” Owena reached into her bag and produced two finely carved wooden dummies, a male and a female. “These are my friends and business partners, Llewellyn and Gwyndolyn. Don’t mind their silence, they’re just a little shy.”

“So…you’re a ventriloquist!” said Cameron. “That’s neat.”

“Please do not use that term, especially in front of my partners,” Owena said with a sour look. “Ventriloquism is vaudeville stagecraft, while Euryklides or gastromancers have a much more ancient and mystical tradition of prophecy, respect, and access to the animatory spirits of the cosmos.”

Cameron was quiet for a moment, unsure of how to respond without betraying how deeply weirded out he was. “Uh…Tim said you wanted to eat at The Crockery? That’s it right there.”

“Oh, yes,” Owena said, sounding bouncy again.” Cameron pulled the car in and parked it, but before he could get out, Owena placed the male dummy on Cameron’s lap. “I don’t usually get to take both of my partners out at the same time. Could you help Llewellyn inside?”

“Umm…I’m not sure…” Llewellyn’s dead eyes in Cameron’s lap were extraordinarily creepy.

“They know me here, it’s okay,” Owena said. “I take one of my partners in here all the time.”

“Because…it’s good practice?”

“Heh, I suppose it is!” Owena laughed. “We have a good rapport, the three of us, but sitting there and talking it out does take some of the edge off our occasional stage fright.” She dashed out of the car and inside before Cameron could say another word.

When they were inside and seated–with the waiter giving Cameron a weary and knowing look–Owena swiveled Gwyndolyn’s head to face her blind date. “Well hello there, handsome,” she “said” in a squeaky voice. Cameron had to admit Owena was good; her lips didn’t twitch at all.

“Hello there…ah…Gwyndolyn,” Cameron said with a forced smile.

“Well, don’t we have an inflated opinion of ourselves?” Gwyndolyn “said.” “I was talking to Llewellyn.”

“Gwyndolyn! Be polite,” Owena admonished her left hand.

Cameron sighed, and fiddled with the levers inside Llewellyn for a moment. “Hello there,” he said. Cameron did his best, but his voice was barely disguised and his lips moved visibly. “F-fancy meeting you here.”

“Sounds like you have a touch of the flu,” Owena laughed. “What are we having?”

“Veal, I think,” Cameron said. He manipulated Llewellyn to say something he hoped would be charming: “How about a plate of wood chips?”

“Oh, that’s real nice,” Gwyndolyn appeared to say. “A baby-killer and a cannibal. You two make a right nice pair, don’t you? I guess it’s what you’d expect of two sods with wooden heads.”

“Come now, Gwyndolyn,” Owena said to, well, herself. “No need to be rude.”

“I’m just telling it like it is,” was the lady-dummy’s “response.” “Lllewellyn’s always a blockhead, but this sod has got a lot of impressing to do if he hopes to make it to date number two.”

Oh, that was it. That was the end. Cute or not, Cameron was just about finished with this date. “Look, toots, it’s not his fault that you’re nuttier that a sack of squirrels,” he responded using Llewellyn. “I mean, taking your dummies on a first date? Insisting on a weird name for what you do? Treating us like we’re not just fancy scrimshaw? Way to get off on the right foot!”

“Llewellyn, what’s gotten into you?” Owena cried, looking genuinely shocked.

“It’s not like we don’t get it,” Cameron continued with his bad squeaky voice and worse ventriloquism. “You set a high bar, bring out all the strange on date one to scare off anyone who isn’t serious. But you know what? I think you’re convinced that no one is a better match for you than your little toothpick friends, me and Gwyndolyn. And you know, you’re right.”

Cameron stood up, set Llewellyn in his place, and left.

“I’ve never heard you lose your temper like that before,” he heard Owena say to the dummy behind his back.

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