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|16th Jul 2017, 7:18 AM||Baking Bad #51|
Chapter 24: Baking Bad
“Home baked cookies! We also have brownies, scones, and muffins too!” Alanna called down the main street of midtown Isla Del Kashmire.
She was trying to drum up interest to any passersby on the street. They’d made a few sales since they first set up the bake sale that morning. Saturday mornings were a bit slow in the sleepy island town but now that it was nearing afternoon, more people were up an and about.
Franz left the sales to Alanna. She had the natural enthusiasm, charm, and plus she didn’t scare customers away. Unlike Franz, who seemed to whenever he stood up to try and help her sell. He didn’t smile or say anything so all anyone judged him by was his intimidating height. So after a few failed attempts, he ended up sitting off to the side behind the farthest table and continued to read a book. He’d help if Alanna if she really needed it but his contribution to this project was mainly the baking. And since it was her idea, it was her turn to take the lead.
Two little girls heard Alanna’s call and approached the table and looked over the sweets with hungry eyes.
“Can I have all these chocolate chip cookies?” the little blonde girl asked and gestured to the cookies set out at the end of the table. There were more in the canisters but those had the pecans in them.
“Uh…” Alanna seemed to be thrown off at the large request, “They are 3 simoleons a piece, do you have enough for all of them?”
“Of course I do,” she seemed offended, “I’m not poor.”
Franz glanced up from his book briefly with a frown. The way the girl had said it was in such a way It reminded him of when he was a boy and children had taunted him for not having a lot of money. What they didn’t realize was that even though his mother had owned the bakery, all their revenue would go back into it, leaving very little for personal luxury.
Alanna held up her hands in apology for any miscommunicated inference, “It’s 30 simoleons total,” she placed the baked goods for the girl into a plastic bag. The little girl held out her hand and dropped the exact amount into Alanna’s palm and smiled. She put it in the money box behind her next to her bicycle.
“Make sure to tell your friends; we’re here until 4:00!” Alanna said as the girls walked away with their cookies. Alanna turned to Franz with a slightly disheartened look, “Franz, they took all the plain chocolate chip cookies!”
Franz shrugged, “Maybe you should have bought them earlier if you wanted some.”
When she didn’t respond, he ripped his concentration from reading and saw she was slightly pouting. He let out a sigh and a half smile, “Maybe I can make you some later tonight, if I have any ingredients left.”
His answer made her grin again and his half smile spread into a full one at seeing it. He went back to reading.
“What business do kids have wandering around with all that money though?” He wondered aloud. His eyes scanned the page but he wasn't taking in the words anymore, reminded of the insults kids taunted him with.
“It’s the weekend. Parents probably give their kids spending money and let them loose on the neighborhood. Isla Del Kashmire is a safe enough place. I bet most kids spend more than half the cost of all those cookies at the arcade,” Alanna explained, “didn’t you ever do that?”
“No,” he answered. He didn’t really discuss his past to anyone, not even Alanna. She had gone to school with him, though was not in his classes and she knew he wasn’t wealthy but didn’t know the extent of how dirt poor he was as a child—his entertainment options were very limited. He instead, went to the public library because it was free. He could spend all weekend holed up in a quiet corner in that old building where no one could bother him and read to his heart’s content. Speaking of such an activity, Franz continued to read his current book and didn’t discuss the subject further. It was a book that was listed as a ‘classic’ but one he had never yet gotten around to read—but he knew why, because it was an old book–set in history not the imaginative futurescapes he was accustomed to with science fiction.
“I loved ’War and 'Peace’,” Alanna mentioned, referring to his book as she leaned against the small planter underneath the coffee shop window.
Franz took a moment to finish reading the paragraph he was on and then retorted as he turned the page, “You love every book; just like you love every person you meet.”
She seemed to think about it and then shrugged, “I don’t think that’s true so much on the people part but so what if I love every book I read?”
“Customer,” Franz nodded as he saw movement above the book spine without focusing on it. Alanna straightened up and started to greet them.
Apparently, they weren’t actually interested in buying, but only had paused at the bake sale table before going on their way into the coffee shop.
“You sure you want to miss out?” Alanna asked, trying to make them reconsider.
“Why should I buy overpriced brownies here when there’s a bakery a few blocks down the street?” they asked and made a nod in the direction of the old building.
“All proceeds go toward helping a woman afford medical treatment, every bit helps! Plus, you get something delicious out of it,” She replied. The way she explained it–on the right note between sad and yet optimistic–was enough for the stranger to hand over the amount they had considered to be too much a few seconds ago in exchange for a brownie. Franz was sometimes in awe of how Alanna could handle people she had never met before. She treated them as if they were old friends that she just hadn’t seen in a long time, which blew his mind since they hadn’t existed in her life until that moment.
It was her superpower.
“Tell your friends! We’re here till’ 4:00!” Alanna waved goodbye as they entered the coffee shop; their intended destination.
“If you love all books, then there’s no room to compare good from bad,” Franz continued to converse on the topic they had started before the last customer.
“They all have their merits,” she continued on with him, “Maybe I’m just not picky?”
“You don’t like raisins,” he reminded her. Though he knew comparing her pickiness for food to books was like apples to oranges.
She gave a playful scoff and slid her index finger into the valley between the pages of his book and pulled it downward to cause him to make eye contact as he had only continued to read the entire time during their conversation. He met her gaze and she had one brow arched indignantly.
“Raisins are the mummified corpses of grapes and taste like the inevitable fruit-death that they are. They have no business being in anyone’s food, least of all something as delicious as a cookie.”
He had to crack a smile at her annoyance because it was so rare and it was terrible of him but he had intentionally encouraged it by bringing it up. It was all in harmless fun, though. Raisins were the only thing he’d ever see her get somewhat judgmental about in the times since they had become friends. Even when he’d snack on them she always had to make a disgusted face or comment on how unappetizing they were. He’d been unfortunate enough to share a bag of trail mix with her that contained the little pieces of dried fruit and that was the day he discovered her hatred of them.
“So, if you read a book with raisins in it, would you still love it?”
She seemed a bit taken aback and had to think on the hypothetical, “If the book discussed the truth of it—that raisins are disgusting—yes, I would still love it.”
“I don’t suppose I would.”
Franz nodded as if though he had made a point, though neither of them were arguing a point, and went back to reading.
Alanna managed to sell a few more baked goods to interested people passing by and it was nearing late afternoon. When she wasn’t selling she would try to engage Franz in conversation and he wouldn’t have minded usually but it was slightly annoying to continually be interrupted in the middle of it. He didn’t want to snap at Alanna and potentially make her displeased with him, so he would always just read to the end of the page and then participate in whatever she wanted to talk about—usually about where he was at and what he thought so far of the plot.
His nose was buried in his book, his brain half-concentrating on Alanna and half-reading which made for a disconnected experience.. But Alanna knew not to spoil it for him, and she was excellent at talking about books without giving away the plot points, which he appreciated anytime they discussed books he hadn’t read yet.
“Another customer,” he mumbled, noticing some incoming movement. He could tell from listening they were most likely a woman because there was a distinct click of heels on the sidewalk.
“Good afternoon Ma'am!”
“Afternoon,” the woman said while continuing to pass. Maybe not a customer after all. Her voice was only vaguely familiar to Franz’s ears. He assumed he’d heard it before from a bakery patron.
“Could we interest you in a muffin? We did have chocolate chip cookies but they sold out.” Alanna said. Franz didn’t see the point of her even bringing up the cookies unless it was to subtly remind him to bake more.
“No thank you, I’m actually on my way to…” the clicking of her heels halted, “…the bakery.”
That was odd.
Why would she have stopped if their destination was not here at the bake sale? Franz suddenly felt like he was being watched; he glanced up. The woman was looking at him with slightly narrowed eyes as if trying to recognize him.
He knew who she was. He had her business card.
“Aren’t you the baker’s son?” Shelby Barnett asked.
Franz set his book in his lap and crossed his arms. He nodded.
“Well, perhaps you can save me a trip,” she opened the side of her leather briefcase and pulled out a paper. “This is the last paper I need your mother to sign to complete the sale of the property.”
Franz prickled with immense agitation. It wasn’t just 'property.’ It was his childhood. It was the legacy of his family that was on the table for sale. Nothing as impersonal and simple as 'property.’
“No,” he replied and picked up his book, flipping through to last page he could remember.
Alanna was staring at them wide-eyed, not having even expected this was the woman who represented the impending end to the bakery.
“Excuse me?” Shelby Barnett was taken aback by his recalcitrant response.
“Do your job and deliver it yourself. After all, you are head of development,” Franz elaborated slightly and didn’t look away from the pages as he flipped through them. He really ought to have brought a bookmark. He didn’t sound particularly angry but his delivery of the words oozed with resentment.
“It’s one document!” Shelby frowned and held out her index finger to emphasize that fact. Her voice began to rise with irritation and her brow plummeted at his non-compliance. She seemed used to having her requests fulfilled. How could she not, being someone that made deals to buy up others’ cherished businesses? “If it’s too hard of a task for you to comprehend, you must be some kind of…imbecile!”
Franz slammed his book on the table face-down and stood all in one swoop, anger erupting through his usual placid features and creating quite a scary visage instead. His arms lashed out and he made the same gesture of his index finger on one hand while the other curled into a fist, and he growled, “If you can’t deliver your one document then I doubt I'm the imbecile here.”
Alanna had crossed her arms and her usually friendly demeanor had turned cold as soon as the woman had insulted Franz. Shelby Barnett flinched and took a step backward, suddenly showing a hint of fear at the beast she had awoken with her insult. She took a breath and kept her glare, “I take it back, you’re not an imbecile, you’re just an asshole.”
“He is not!” Alanna made an outburst of anger before Franz could respond. It surprised him momentarily because he’d never heard her shout like that before. Alanna picked up a frosted cupcake and hurled it at the Cosgrove Collective’s head of development. It grazed the woman’s work blouse, leaving a trail of chocolate across her shoulder. “Now get out of here before I throw another!“
Shelby Barnett kept a nearly incredulous yet contemptuous glare and stuffed the document back into her briefcase as she turned to get away from them. As she walked away she called over her shoulder, "You better get used to selling your goods on the street because you won’t have a bakery by next week.”
Another cupcake hit her in the back, this time it was thrown by Franz and it was a harder hit since Franz had a more powerful arm. She turned around with a scowl of pure hatred and then moved quickly to put distance between herself and the bake sale before either of them could throw another cupcake at her.
Alanna popped a giggle and Franz looked to her in bewilderment. What about that exchange was humorous? He didn’t have to voice his question before she answered, “I don't think she's going to tell her friends we're here 'till 4:00.”
"How could she? You didn't let her know," he shrugged, but he still felt very riled and on edge. It wasn’t often people stoked the flames of his temper to a level that caused him to react. Franz had been taunted before with the same caliber of name calling—because he took his time to speak, because he had been held back a grade, and because he didn’t often make eye contact with those that spoke to him. He hated it and thought he was done with that juvenile behavior once he graduated high school.
“Thanks,” he said and sat back against the planter.
“For standing up for me,” he answered. Even in grade school when he was teased, no one ever contradicted the name-calling. Most of his schoolmates believed he really was all the unkind names he had been called.
Alanna smiled with a small spark of sympathy in her eyes; she understood. It was one of a hundred reasons he was grateful to be her friend.
Some more people were coming. They both looked forward and saw Reggie Orbinson sauntering along, across the street and clearly smiling at the sight of Alanna.
Franz felt his arm muscles involuntarily contract in anticipation of use at the sight of Reggie approaching. Alanna quickly put herself in front of him so he had no choice but to listen to her and his view of Reggie was obstructed since he was still leaning on the planter and not at full height.
“I invited Reggie to come check out the bake sale. He might buy a good amount and we need to sell. Whatever there is between you two, let it go and please do not make a scene.”
Alanna was the thing between them. Now, literally and figuratively back when the friendship went south. It wasn’t the typical guys-fighting-over-the-same-girl trope either that was so common in young adult novels or 'love triangles’ as people called them. Franz only defended his right to be her friend and Reggie was always the one insisting there was more to their relationship. Maybe because Reggie was selfish and entitled enough to think he was the only one who deserved Alanna Thackery’s attentions, romantic or otherwise.
Franz didn’t have the energy to argue, but gave a small nod of agreement since Alanna’s gaze was so adamant. She smiled in thanks and turned around to greet Reggie.
“Hey there,” Reggie said, not paying mind to Franz, who was just sitting there with his eyes narrowed to near slits and filled with pure animosity. He didn't mind, he was used to not being noticed or acknowledged by most people.
“Hey Reggie. Thanks for coming, let me know if you see anything you want to buy,” she said with a warm smile.
“No problem, I said I would come,” he said and looked over the treats displayed on the table. He brought his hand to his chin, “Any recommendations?”
“Well we sold out of my favorites—the chocolate chip cookies—but these scones are pretty scrumptious. They are made with honey and pecans. Or the muffins, they are slightly crispy on the tops and then soft as clouds in the center.”
Franz ripped his gaze away, noticing that some red-headed kids were observing the table of goods as well. One was photographing the muffins. They didn’t seem familiar at all, which was uncommon for a small island town.
“What are you doing?” Franz asked in a low, near-threatening voice.
“Taking pics, what does it look like?” The teenage boy said. His voice was irritating, and made Franz want to punch him just for talking. The girl, who stood next to him and must have been his twin sister–since they looked so very similar—flipped her hair as the boy stood and took another picture.
“Don’t mind him, he’s hopeless. We’re from Memosa Bay High School; we're on the newspaper staff and I have an assignment to write about the charming things that go on in Isla Del Kashmire. This bake sale looks cute enough so I thought I’d write about it. Can I get some more information from you about this?”
Franz heaved a deep sigh–he hated talking to people and this seemed right up Alanna’s alley–but when he glanced toward Alanna, he could see she was still occupied with pointing out more of the edibles for Reggie’s consideration, “Sure.”
“I think you’ve sold me on the muffins,” Reggie finally picked something. Alanna gave a little yip of encouraging glee and asked him how many he wanted. To her surprise, he wanted the whole baker’s dozen!
“And throw on that row of scones for good measure. Mom will love them,” Reggie added. She took his cash and bagged him the whole amount of goods. That was one heck of a sale!
She stepped out from behind the bake sale table and thanked him profusely for his patronage before giving him a hug of gratitude. He gladly received it and then asked, “Are you still able to come with me to check out what I’m working on for the robotics group?”
“Yeah, it’ still on my schedule.”
“Great, that’s…so great,” he smiled in relief and swapped the bag from hand to hand with a bit of awkwardness, “Do you want to me to pick you up?”
Alanna seemed to think about it and then nodded, “Yeah it will save time I think. Are you coming back to Isla Del Kashmire after?”
“I can if you need me too. I can drive you anywhere,” he replied.
“Yeah, just pick me up whenever you are headed out then and I’d like to come back here if it’s not a problem, thanks Reggie! ” Alanna confirmed. She gave him another hug in farewell.
Franz's attention had been split trying to listen to Alanna's conversation and answer this girls’ questions about the bake sale. He also name dropped his mother’s bakery in case it could help in anyway–increasing business or adding to the customer base. The girl finally seemed satisfied and took her brother away from the bake sale. They hadn’t even bought anything which annoyed Franz. What annoyed him even more was how Alanna kept embracing Reggie the whole time. It wasn’t that he was jealous, but in Franz’s opinion, Reggie didn’t deserve to get the same warm and welcoming treatment she gave to nearly everyone else. She didn’t know him like Franz had.
“You’re hanging out with Reggie again?” Franz asked. He felt a bit sour because she never seemed to have the availability to hang out with him most of the time yet she went and made time for Reggie.
“Yeah, he invited me to see the robotics group at Sim State,” she answered as she was looking at her cell phone. She was checking the hour. It was almost time for them to pack up. They agreed she would take any extra baked goods to her parents’ home because if Franz did, it would arouse suspicion from his mother. He couldn’t fit them all in the kitchen of the community college, that was for sure.
Alanna glanced up and saw Franz’s frown of obvious disapproval, “What’s the matter?”
“Nothing,” Franz bit his tongue and relaxed his expression to it’s usual impassiveness. He wasn’t going to badmouth Reggie because that was something Reggie would do to him behind his back, and he didn’t want to be the type of person that Reggie was, “Just be careful.”
She knotted her brows with slight confusion, uncertain if Franz was making a general statement on her well-being or referring to the mayor’s son, “I will, thanks.”
In a half-hour’s time they started to pack up the remaining cookies and muffins. Overall, they had sold more than not, so that was good. Alanna gave Franz a hug goodbye and wished for his mother wellness. She put the box of Tupperware containing the leftover baked treats in the basket of her bicycle and pedaled off toward her parents’ home.
Franz knew that Alanna could see and hang out with whoever she pleased. It was her decision, her life. However, he was still bothered at the thought of Reggie being the one she did want to spend time with. Reggie had wanted to ‘start over’ and be friends but Franz saw through that motivation just the same as he saw through his sister’s explanation of a ‘friend’. Reggie wanted more from Alanna, and always had.
What did she see in him? What did Franz ever see in him? Maybe it was because they were a matched pair as children–a quiet and awkward set of boys who were teased that had no business being friends unless Reggie was being physically bullied and Franz was a convenient friend to scare those other kids away. Maybe the real reason Franz was so bothered about them hanging out was because he had let himself be used by Reggie and didn’t want Reggie to do the same to Alanna.
It wasn’t a long walk back to the community college. Leaves were starting to change colors and it was peaceful, yet Franz’s heartbeat was quick and he didn’t feel at much ease after the days’ events. What he felt like, was hitting the gym–hitting something–to give the punching bag a bit more wear and tear. Hopefully, Illyana Sanchez, the person who he had relinquished the bag to the week before was out of town for fall break and not in the same mindset. He had listened to her rant that day–it wasn’t pleasant, being yelled at–but as long a he understood it wasn’t at him or about him, he was more apt to lend an ear.
He reached the entrance to the community college, taking long, hassled strides down the brick walkway when he unceremoniously stopped in front of the community campus shelter that posted ads, notices, and had a phone for emergencies.
He took a breath and wiped the hair out of his eyes and towards his ear though the strands were too short to actually tuck them behind it. He had been walking fast while furiously thinking, a result of Shelby Barnett and Reggie Orbinson and the threats they posed toward his family business and the best friendship he'd ever had.
A new poster had caught his attention hanging among the others—it was mostly red but what made him stop were the words 'fight’ and 'reward’.
Maybe if he weren’t in such a state he would have shrugged it off. Maybe he would have stayed in and baked Alanna those cookies she had wanted so much. But Franz was in a foul mood and his mind was running on that fierce sliver of anger that was yearning to be released—so he had no hesitation pulling out his phone and texting the number on the poster for more information. If Illyana was in town, she could have the punching bag because Franz was going to find something a bit more challenging and satisfying to raise his fists at.
|16th Jul 2017, 8:58 AM||#52|
"mummified corpses of grapes"
Just call me William, definitely not Who-Ward
|16th Jul 2017, 9:29 AM||#53|
Must be one of my favorite chapters. Also let's all agree that the raisins' description is a true literature gem :D
|25th Jul 2017, 5:08 AM||#54|
NO FRANZ NO DON'T DO IT IT'S A TRAP. Go mummify a grape or something.
"Passion makes no accommodation for self-preservation."
|27th Aug 2017, 7:31 AM||Wild Scarlet Oasis #55|
Chapter 25: Wild Scarlet Oasis
Leona didn't usually feel nervous. She had no qualms performing in front of people but meeting someone with such notoriety in the music industry as Edric King was a little bit nerve-racking. She had taken a taxi to the Wild Scarlet Oasis where she was to meet the singer and his manager.
The front of the adobe building was covered in ivy and the area around the front was beautifully landscaped with a variety of native desert plants. She couldn't see the actual oasis due to a large white, garden wall blocking the view.
Inside, Leona came upon a reception desk. There was new age synth music playing softly in the background with an upbeat rhythm, and sounded like a zen fiesta. Leona didn't think was a thing but it was the best of her ability to describe it.
"Hello and Welcome to the Wild Scarlet Oasis, do you have a reservation?" A cheery blonde looked up and asked with a smile from behind the desk.
"Edric King is expecting me," Leona felt a surge of pride and pleasure saying such a phrase as if though she was a very important person.
The receptionist seemed to look over a list she had in front of her and then nodded to herself, "Mr. King and his party are with the masseuse presently, would you like to check your bag?" She held out her hand and indicated toward Leona's purse.
Leona hesitated, wondering if she should trust the employee with her bag and decided it was acceptable. This is wasn't a place that fit with the rough and tumble reputation Pandora had. It was classy. She didn't see why she would need her purse if she was just eating lunch with them anyway. She handed her purse to the receptionist and asked where the masseuse could be found.
"Go through the sunroom, out the double door, through the open cantina and they are in the cabana on the right," she instructed, "and please enjoy your visit to the Wild Scarlet Oasis."
Leona wondered where the 'wild scarlet' part of the name came from as she walked through the double doors to the backside of the oasis. What she saw, immediately answered her question. The oasis was surrounded in lush plant-life, palm trees and a multitude of red-bloomed flowers. Only red flowers.
She followed the path around the oasis to right and found the masseuse's cabana.
There was an audible crack as the masseuse worked and the man on the table shouted, "Plumbobs man, I'm paying you for a massage not a broken back!"
The Masseuse apologized profusely and mentioned something about a lot of tension in the lower vertebrae. There were two additional people lounging in in outdoor chairs and watching the display. One was a blond man in a suite and the other, a woman with abundant braids.
Leona cleared her throat to get the attention of someone in the entourage.
The man and woman looked to her with puzzlement before Leona said, "I'm Leona Hillenburg and I believe you were expecting me."
They still seemed confused as they looked at each other and back toward her so Leona clarified, "I'm here to do vocals for Edric King."
The suited man stood at once and held out his hand, "Ah yes, Miss Hillenburg—my apologies for the slow reaction—it's quite hot out here and I'm afraid we are starting to suffer from heat exhaustion."
She took his hand and shook it, a bit concerned at his statement. Wearing a suit like that in the desert probably wasn't helping. But it was clear the blond's statement was meant as a poke to the man on the table—presumably Edric King—because he replied, "You can go inside if you can't handle heat, Zeigler."
He ignored Edric's remark and said, "I'm Luke Zeigler, Mr. King's manager. He will be done in a few minutes but I can offer you a seat in his private cabana until then," Luke motioned toward one of the huts down the walkway. Leona was a bit put off that she had to wait on him, she was on time for the meeting so why couldn’t they extend the same courtesy? She held her tongue and nodded, following the manager’s lead.
"I'm so glad you were able to make it. It's been hell trying to find the right voice to match to Edric's singing. My team was impressed with your range on the tape your agent submitted to us," Luke said as they walked down the path.
"Thank you," Leona said and felt humbled.
"No, thank you!" Luke smiled and gestured toward the opening to the private cabana which Leona followed and took a seat in one of the chairs, "Mr. King should be in shor—"
"Hell of a Day to be wearing that stuffy suit, eh Zeigler?" they heard Edric King as he walked up behind Luke and slapped him on the shoulder.
He turned his sight to her and smiled. She felt her breath leave her for a split second; by the great green diamond the man was attractive.
Antoine was handsome but Edric King was on another level. He had a very ethereal type of aesthetic—soft lips, sculpted cheekbones, and piercing eyes that could be seen through the sunglasses he wore—it was a type of male beauty that could leave a girl without her wits if she stared too long at him. Luckily, after her initial internal swoon, Leona was quick to gather her senses.
"You're the back up singer?" Edric King raised a brow and looked her over from head to toe with a slight smirk. There seemed to be something akin to doubt in his tone.
"We went through hundreds of auditions to find the perfect harmonic match to your voice, and this is the one person who could handle keeping up with your insane key changes.”
Luke seemed to be chiding the singer but Edric paid no mind until the last part about his ‘insane’ key changes—he promptly threw a glare at his manager in offense.
"Once you two are done chatting, please join us for lunch at the cantina," the woman said with a smile as she held a clipboard to her chest. Luke turned to depart and she followed leaving the two singers alone.
"So have you performed professionally before?" Edric sat on the arm of the chair across from her and crossed his arms. He had a heavy Quincian accent, where his spoken o's sounded more like a short 'a'. Quincy was a region on the opposite coast from Kashmire.
“You mean publicly?”
“No, like have you ever been paid to sing,” he clarified.
She was about to say yes but then remembered that the Battle of the Bands, the event that had boosted her reputation as a good singer in Kashmire—she technically wasn’t paid to sing at that. She did win money from it though.
She shook her head, “Not really. A band I sang in won a regional competition—”
“So I’m supposed to trust that you can be my back up vocalist at a live concert when you have no professional experience?”
“Yes, I have performed in public numer—”
“Do you even know my songs?”
The way he said 'my songs' came off a bit pompous but he had the right. They were in fact, his songs. He could afford to be arrogant, but that didn’t mean she had to like it nor stand for being interrupted so much.
Leona felt a bubble of agitation rise within her and stood abruptly which caused Edric to flinch and cease his rapid fire questioning. She pantomimed holding a microphone and belted out the intro to a song of his that wasn’t on the charts, in fact was buried in the number 10 spot on his album before the most recent which contained these ‘insane key changes’ his manager had mentioned.
She pointed at him while continuing to sing and stared at him intensely, turning up her stage performance even though they were in nothing but a small outdoor space.
They didn’t take their eyes off each other as she continued to sing. He seemed to be searching for a weakness and she was trying to prove that he wasn’t going to find a better vocalist than her. She couldn’t get a read on what he thought of her impromptu performance but at least he wasn’t interrupting her anymore.
She finally ended the song and to her utter relief his lips quirked up into a smirk of a different calibur and he gave soft, slow applause, “Well that answers that.”
"What kind of vocalist would I be to come here unprepared?" Leona raised a brow, and dared him to interrupt her again.
He paused, “That’s a rhetorical question, isn’t it?”
“Yes. Is this interrogation over?”
He sat back and looked her over again and made a small laugh at her annoyed tone, “How long have you been singing?”
“I’ve practiced every day since I was a little girl. Singing is my passion.”
“Mine too, so I guess we have that in common,” he stood up and stuck out his hand, “I look forward to you, Leona Hillenburg.”
“Ditto,” she replied and gave it a firm shake the way her father always told her to when on job interviews.
“Anyway, I’m famished, let’s get lunch,” he said and lead the way to the cantina. They emerged back into the bright sun. Leona wondered how Edric was not suffering the same as his manager in a black leather jacket.
“Aren’t you hot?” Leona asked, referring to his attire.
“Nah, this isn’t real leather. It’s a synthetic blend that looks like leather but it actually breathes really well—kind of like cotton,” Edric held out his arm and indicated she could feel the material.
It was soft, not slippery as she imagined it would have been. Well, that was a new fact she had learned.
“Besides, it’s not like I’m outside much to get too overheated.”
“Your concert tonight is outside,” she pointed out.
“Yeah but it’s at night. The desert during night time is actually quite cold,” he explained—and that was one fact Leona had forgotten from her earth science class in high school.
The cantina was a short walk away and it was shaded. There were a few tables and a bar. The woman and manager were already seated and chatting but stopped as Edric and Leona entered the vicinity.
“You’re just in time,” Luke waved them over. They sat down and a waiter served them plates of hamburgers.
As soon as Leona bit into it, she realized something was different. Edric watched her face with some sort of smug pleasure and said, “It’s vegetarian. The ‘burger’ is actually made of beans.”
Well that wasn’t so bad. She liked beans. She took another bite, chewed, and swallowed before asking, “Are you a vegetarian?”
“I’m pescetarian,” he replied.
“Is that a religion?” she looked to Luke and asked.
Edric King belted out a genuine laugh and Luke smiled with humor. It made Leona feel like she was missing out on something.
“It’s s a type of diet,” Luke responded.
“Yeah it means I don’t eat meat except for fish. Red meat is kind of bad for you, you know?”
Leona was raised on meat. She was a very steak-and-potatoes type woman. But she figured to each his own. The burger wasn’t ‘bad’ per se just unexpected. She ate it heartily since she too, was famished. She hadn’t had much to eat since waking up before dawn for the long road trip to Pandora.
“So the schedule after lunch is to get you a space to warm up with the band. We’ll run through all the songs on your set, then your opening acts will take stage and you both go to hair and makeup, after you are presentable, VIP fans are allowed backstage before the concert for autographs. At 9:30 you take the stage.”
“Sounds good,” Edric said. Leona blinked, catching only half of what Luke had rattled out on the agenda—it all seemed so fast! Technically they had eight hours until they took the stage but that was a lot of stuff to do!
“There’s an a private after party at the nightclub that’s optional but all the bands are invited. Antony Biacotti arranged it,” the woman added.
“Is Antony actually going to be there?” Luke asked, his interest piqued.
“No, I’m afraid not. He is in town though. I was just given a memo about it through his secretary this morning.”
“Well, I guess we can make an appearance,” Luke decided.
“It’s free booze, so we’re definitely making an appearance,” Edric amended.
Leona sat silently, wondering if this was how it was to be a famous singer—going through agendas and receiving invites to after parties. She had finished her food before the rest of them which left her awkwardly sitting there and listening to the conversation. She didn’t know anything she could contribute. She didn’t know who Antony Biacotti was, though he sounded like an important figure. She didn’t even know this woman’s name who was a part of Edric’s entourage.
“I’m sorry but I didn’t catch your name,” Leona leaned forward and said.
“Oh! I’m sorry, I never introduced myself. I’m—”
“Caroline, she’s my personal assistant,” Edric interrupted her. Caroline didn’t seem ruffled as if it was a common occurrence. “She gets me coffee, tells me I’m pretty, makes me sign paperwork...”
“I actually have some paperwork for you to sign, Miss Hillenburg,” Caroline ignored Edric’s quip and said before bringing out her clipboard onto the table top, pushing it toward Leona.
“What is it?” Leona asked, flipping through the pages.
“Your agent negotiated a compensation of 600 simoleons for vocal services for this concert. Your signature initiates payment, nothing more,” Luke explained. “However, if you prove to be a good fit we can work out a contract for more of a long term situation after the concert.”
She already proved to Edric she was a good fit but his manager had the final say. Leona didn’t worry about impressing Luke though, because from their short conversations so far, she already had the distinct impression he thought she was the best fit.
Caroline handed a pen over and Leona tapped the back of it against her lip as she read the paperwork and a set of numbers caught her eye, “How many hours am I lending my vocal talents to Mr. King today?”
“His set is an hour and forty-five minutes and practice should be two hours,” Caroline answered.
“The amount in this paperwork indicates I will be paid 215 simoleons per hour,” Leona pointed at a line on the second page, “The overall compensation of 600 simoleons isn’t correct because the performance set at an hour and forty-five minutes plus the practice set of two hours equals a total of three hours and forty-five minutes that you need my vocal talents. Take that time multiplied by the amount per hour in this paperwork and the compensation would be 806.25 simoleons.”
She glanced up and all three were staring at her. Edric looked confused, Caroline looked embarrassed, and Luke looked impressed.
“It’s basic arithmetic,” Leona shrugged and scooted the clipboard back across the table to Caroline without signing.
“I’m so sorry Miss Hillenburg. I will correct those numbers as soon as possible and print out fresh paperwork,” Caroline looked genuinely apologetic and took her clipboard back, looking through the papers at what Leona had pointed out.
“That..was a very good catch,” Luke noted, “You did that math all in your head within a few seconds?”
“Like I said, it was basic arithmetic,” Leona repeated. She didn’t like making a big deal of her gift with numbers because then people just expected her to be a calculator and asked her stupid math questions like it was a sort of novelty.
Edric was finished eating and stood from his chair, “Well Miss arithmetic, shall we?”
Leona cringed at the new nickname. Caroline followed Edric; she had taken her clipboard back. “We’ll take the limo to the theater and get you started practicing with Mr. King and the band so that you are able to perform your best tonight.”
Leona felt her heart flutter with nervousness again. She had to remind herself this shouldn’t be different from any other public performance and if she pulled it off the rewards would be worth all the effort.
“Good luck out there tonight,” Luke said and smiled with reassurance.
Leona swallowed her nerves and returned the smile—she was one step closer to making her dream come true!
|27th Aug 2017, 11:04 PM||#56|
Great update! I'm not quite sure what to make of this Edric fellow, but I like where it's going. Should be an interesting concert! :D
"Passion makes no accommodation for self-preservation."
|6th Sep 2017, 3:53 AM||Technical Issues #57|
Chapter 26: Technical Issues
Alanna propped her head up with her hand and looked out the passenger seat window as Reggie drove them to the engineering building where the robotics program met at Sim State University. Evening had descended on the land as they drove from Isla Del Kashmire and through Scandalica City, the nights were getting shorter now that autumn had come.
She was still trying to place what Franz was inferring when he told her to be careful earlier. She was worried about him, and felt like maybe she shouldn’t have left him so soon after the bake sale. She did want to see what Reggie was working on though, at least it sounded interesting—something about a spybot—he’d explained a bit on the drive over. Alanna had always been influenced by her brother’s interest in mechanics and it drove her to tinker around with everyday objects when she was younger to figure out how they were built. There was something fascinating and thrilling in discovering how objects worked.
The only thing of note she ever built was a weather changing device. It was a prototype and only affected a small local area. She won the science fair when she was a senior in high school with it but didn’t much do anything with it afterward. As far as he knew it was still in her parent’s garage. She made a mental note to check on its whereabouts when she returned home.
She was surprised that Reggie had taken an interest in building robots; he must have been too busy to explore the hobby in high school since she couldn’t recall him ever entering anything in the science fair. She knew he had been busy with debate and school council, since he held class offices over the years. She figured he was trying to follow in his family’s political footsteps and ready himself for the future.
She glanced at him. He was sitting rather stiffly, as a new driver’s ed student would behind the wheel. He used to be so at ease around her when they had been acquaintances at school. At one point it seemed like they could have been more, but fate just didn’t work out that way.
She no longer felt that prick of infatuation she once had for him, but she was willing to give him a chance at being a friend since he wanted to start over. She had so little friends, it seemed. It didn’t help she was always studying and hardly had time to spare. Though through some slick time management she was able to hang out with Franz and it was very nice to have spent the last two days in his company for the bake sale project. She hoped they had made enough to cover some cost of treatment for his mother. That brought her thoughts back to how she was worried about Franz and she hoped she could see him again soon.
“What are you thinking about?” Reggie asked and she jumped slightly since he had been sitting silently since he had stopped explaining the robot he was working on.
“Friends,” she replied.
“Yeah, thinking about how I’m always so busy. I wish I had more time to spend with friends.”
“Well you have time now,” he pointed out, “You’re spending time with me, a friend.”
“You’re right, and thanks again for inviting me to see what you’ve been working on. Will you enter any of the competitions?” Alanna wondered. Antoine had entered about every year and won championships. He was kind of a prodigy though.
“If our advisor thinks I should, I will.”
“But you wouldn’t otherwise?”
Reggie’s shoulders seemed to slump a little, “What if it’s not good enough?”
“Don’t be afraid to try, Reggie! Even if there’s better entries out there, at least you know you did the best you could and where it stands,” Alanna encouraged him and he smiled once more.
They parked and then entered the engineering building, which was a brick building with a large room filled with work stations, tables, and counters for a multitude of building and testing activities.
There was hardly a soul in the room but for them, what she assumed to be the adviser, and a then familiar redhead messing with a robot on one of the tables.
“Reginald, good to see you. It seems only you and Mr. Calhoun here didn’t rush off into any Fall Break plans,” the adviser greeted them. “Who is your friend?”
“Professor Carr, this is Alanna Thackery,” Reggie said but saw Alanna was busy considering Shane, the guy at the table, who seemed to be all but ignoring her. Reggie hadn’t talked to Shane since his father, Elm Calhoun had publicly announced he was running against Reggie’s own father for mayor in the upcoming election. Reggie nudged Alanna to get her attention and greet professor Carr in return. Professor Carr’s eyes lit up at hearing her last name.
“Hello,” she said and stuck out her hand with her usual friendly smile.
“Are you related to Antoine Thackery?”
“Yeah, he’s my brother,” she said and then understood why this robotics adviser looked so keen, even if she wanted to, she didn’t have time to dedicate to any student organizations, “but I just tagged along to see what Reggie was working on.”
“I see,” disappointment in the professor’s tone was evident, “Well maybe you will like what you see and be inspired to join our program.”
“Thank you for the offer, but I have a lot on my plate already,” Alanna explained and then looked around the room as if she were trying to avoid any more offers from the adviser, “Reggie where’s your robot?”
Reggie led Alanna to the farthest table where some parts and tools were spread across the surface and a green machine with propellers was off its power station.
“So this is my spybot,” Reggie said gesturing out to it.
“Aww, it’s so cute! Look at its little eyes,” she gushed and then noted the hovering propulsion system, “So is it like a drone?”.
“Yeah, it could be classified as one. I built in a photo-capturing system. On command it can snap 10 frame rates per second out of each eye and load them into any server I program it to. Neato huh?”
“That is really neat!” She said, “Is it all manual though? Could you set it for automatic recording or have it adapted to any algorithms so it knows what to look for and record?”
This was why he had the slightest hesitation in showing Alanna his work. Her suggestions were great but they were beyond Reggie’s skill at programming and he didn’t want to come off as an inadequate builder. The twisted dilemma in his facial expression must have been evident because Alanna’s look softened, “It’s a great concept and I think you could push it to be more unique.”
“Like A.I.?” Reggie guessed.
It was what her brother would have done, but Reggie was not Antoine.
“Or you could also put an audio component into the recording mechanism” She said, with her hand on her chin with consideration. “A picture is worth a thousand words they say, but if this bot is meant to spy, then audio would surely be helpful in interpreting what images you capture.”
Reggie thought about it as he lifted his bot off the table and carried it over to a work station, “That’s a good idea. I’d just have to open it back up and add some wires to the microcontroller and leave some kind of opening for a microphone. The programming might take a bit though.”
“And once it’s tested out and polished, I’m positive you could take it to the university competitions,” Alanna smiled with encouragement. She was so perfect. Reggie could feel his heart doing somersaults in his chest as he opened a series of drawers looking for the tools needed to take his robot apart. How could he have ever believed the lies about her? He could still feel a prick of fury deep down at his sister for orchestrating them.
Reggie found a screwdriver and began to unfasten the screws that held the frame of his spybot together.
“Don’t forget this one,” Alanna stood by and pointed to a screw underneath the extended propeller of the chassis. He wasn’t going to but did that one next since she had pointed it out.
“So how long will it take you to program audio in?” she asked.
“I don’t know, I’ve never done that part before. I will at least install the microphone tonight—I can do that much,” Reggie replied as he unspooled some of the yellow wire off the work station’s wire rolls and promptly cut it with the wire clippers.
“Why the yellow wire?” Alanna asked.
He didn’t know if she was testing him because she knew more about wire than him or if she was genuinely curious, either way he replied, “For power conduction.”
“Where will the microphone exit the frame?” she wondered.
“I’ll make a hole at the top,” he said, though hadn’t thought about the positioning until she had asked.
“Wouldn’t it pick up more accurate audio if it were at the bottom?” She pointed to the underside of the chassis. “Since it’s hard for sound to travel over an obstacle? It’s why the mouthpieces in our phones are at the bottom.”
Reggie felt a wave of something unpleasant—perhaps it was him being overwhelmed at her questions and suggestions. He still had yet to take all the screws out. She wasn’t doing it to be mean or demeaning but it was highly distracting.
“I’ll figure it out,” he snapped but didn’t mean for it to sound so snide. He could tell by her sudden abashed expression that he had come off as rude. Of course, he appreciated her enthusiasm and encouragement in his hobby but she was too eager to add her commentary and it flustered him. No girls ever did that around him.
“Okay,” she responded and bit her lip, backing out of his workstation space, “I’ll just…leave you to it then.”
He could have kicked himself. He had wanted to impress her and his awkwardness had ruined it. He quietly undid the remainder of the screws in the chassis while thinking of what to say to get back to her good side. He watched in regret as she retreated toward Shane Calhoun.
Unbeknownst to Reggie, the Calhouns had lived a few houses down from Alanna, and Shane, their middle son was in most of her classes throughout school. Shane usually kept to himself though, and often spent recesses doing extra studying. He was somewhat of a rival of Alanna’s when the science fair came around every spring.
Professor Carr stood from the desk at the head of the room and said he was taking a five-minute break before walking out. There wasn’t much for him to oversee since only two members of the program were present.
“What are you working on?” Alanna approached Shane and asked casually as if she had just seen him yesterday, when in reality she probably hadn’t spoken to him since before graduation. He’d grown a lot taller.
From the looks of it, he was building a robot frame with wheels and had a bright red chassis.
He seemed startled at being addressed by her—being interrupted from a highly concentrated state and took a deep breath, “It’s an automatic plant enhancement aide.”
Alanna chortled, “Say it in Simlish please?”
Shane’s expression took on a somewhat smug grin and he lifted his foot into the chair seat, gesturing at his work, “It’s a gardening robot.”
She’d seen gardening robots before. Antoine had had been making them since he was in junior high. Was Shane not even challenging himself anymore? She was somewhat disappointed. In school, they had tried one-upping each other each year at the science fair. Alanna usually came in second place to Shane’s projects except senior year when her weather changing device got all the blue ribbons in every category. She had never seen the redhead so livid when he hadn’t won first place and for once, had to face the feeling of being only second best.
“How is that any different than a hydrobot kit you can get online?” Alanna asked.
Shane crossed his arms with indignance, and faced her “It also trims bushes and hedges in addition to watering the plants. It has all-terrain wheels so it can move across lawns, even ones with steep hills and can check a plant’s stats by analyzing the leaves.”
Alanna raised a brow with scrutiny. How in the world was he able install and program an analytic component? Either he had really stepped up his game since high school or he was lying.
“What does it scan for to determine the plant’s stats?”
“Exposure to the sun and current water capacity,” Shane answered, seeming more and more prickled by her questions.
“And you coded that yourself?” she asked doubtfully and crossed her arms as well.
“What are you getting at Alanna? Look I didn’t invite you over here to start interrogating me about my project so why don’t you back off? Not everyone can have a genius brother help them build their machines.”
“What are you getting at?” she threw her hands down with offense.
“Everyone knows you were tired of being in second place all the time at the science fair and so had your brother build you a weather changing machine so you could take first for once.”
“I did not! I kicked your behiney fair and square!” Alanna all but shouted with a deep frown setting into her usual pleasant expression. How dare he accuse her of cheating! Couldn’t he just get over losing already? That was two years ago! She built the contraption all on her own and she didn’t even let Antoine see it because she didn’t want his help and wanted to do it herself!
Her shout got Reggie’s attention, pulling him out of his brooding because he’d heard that word before, or rather, had read it in a chat box recently. He didn’t think it was that common of a saying.
No. It couldn’t be…Alanna didn’t seem the type to even have an interest in video games. He had a hard time believing she was the person behind the competitive and sassy violet_fire handle in the Rush Hour tournaments. It must have just been a coincidence that Alanna used the same unique figure of speech violet_fire had in their last message.
“It doesn’t matter if I got pieces of the code from the internet, at least I’m doing a lot of the work myself,” Shane ignored her protesting and kept insinuating she had cheated to win. It made her blood boil. “Even if the watering mechanism isn’t wholly responsive to the stat data yet.”
Alanna grabbed a screwdriver and wrench off the table and began to undo the bolts in Shane’s robot. He let out a shout of protest and Reggie looked a bit horrified at her sudden actions. What had possessed her to start tearing someone’s robot apart? She vigorously pulled the screws out and Shane yelled, “By the great green diamond, what are you doing?!”
“You can’t fix your water mechanism responsiveness when your robot is still put together. You have to evaluate the components that you’ve already installed,” she answered in a growl, and then turned an eye to him, daring him to stop her.
His face fell into a mix of horror and wonder at her words, “You’d really try to help me after what I said to you?”
“I’m going to prove to you that I never cheated by fixing your problem.”
Maybe in his heart, Shane Calhoun knew Alanna hadn’t cheated but held so much resentment for that science fair loss that cheating was the only reason to justify it. His pride wouldn’t accept that she did better than him on her own merits.
Alanna was determined. If Shane could see her navigate through his machine and pinpoint his issue and find a solution it would prove she had the same if not better skill in tinkering.
Reggie couldn’t believe she would do that for Shane either. Shane certainly didn’t deserve her help after the he insulted her. If Reggie were built like Franz, he would have definitely stepped up to Shane and demanded an apology. Seeing her in this fierce state however, he wasn’t sure he would even need to step in and it made him reconsider his thought about not suspecting her to be the one and only violet_fire.
Reggie had connected his wire and microphone while they had been arguing and had nothing else to do the rest of the night. Unless he wanted to spend a few hours messing with the microcontroller to figure out how to add audio to the transmitting piece.
“Alanna, didn’t you need a ride home?” Reggie approached them. She had, after all, indicated at the bake sale she wanted to go back to Isla Del Kashmire after checking out the robotics program.
Alanna was focusing hard on opening up Shane’s robot and she didn’t even look at Reggie, “It’s fine. I’ll just go back to my dorm when I am done here.”
The way she had answered was so flat, unconcerned, and concentrated as if Reggie didn’t even matter. Shane stood by with his arms crossed and was observing how Alanna was tearing his bot apart but didn’t say a word. If he really believed she had cheated then he wouldn’t be letting her do this and would have stopped her. Was he just using her to make a better robot?
“Are you sure?” Reggie checked to make sure; he had hoped after this he could invite her to a movie or to the old Sim State tower to stargaze—anything to spend more time with her. It was like he was being swept further and further away from her no matter what he tried to do to keep close.
“Yeah, go on without me,” she decided and popped off the chassis to reveal the inner-workings of Shane’s gardening robot.
Reggie couldn’t stand around awkwardly and keep asking her if she was sure that’s what she wanted so he turned around and departed without her. He passed Professor Carr on the way out—who was coming back in from his break—and when the advisor asked about Alanna, Reggie mumbled something about her staying and helping Shane. Carr’s reaction of delight was the polar opposite of what Reggie felt.
Reggie made it outside and took a breath of the night air, feeling greatly frustrated. First of all, at himself for screwing his chances up by snapping at her. Secondly, he was still in a state of uncertainty, pondering whether or not Alanna as indeed his Rush Hour rival. Lastly, he was annoyed at Shane for being so inept that Alanna felt like she had to stay and fix the issues with his project.
He kicked at a rock and sent it skittering across the sidewalk into the grass and some posters caught his attention that were put up on the side of the building. There were election posters. Annoyingly, Elm Calhoun’s poster had been adhered over his father’s campaign poster which had been put up first. He would have ripped it down if it didn’t ruin the poster underneath.
There was a big red and black poster that he hadn’t seen before but it was advertising something called a fight night. What was odd was that there was no information on the location, just direction to text a phone number for details. That had all the hints of something shady going on. Well, Reggie had nothing better to do, and Alanna wasn’t going to be coming with him so why not watch a bunch of people beat the crap out of each other? Besides, what was the worst that could happen if he checked it out?
|10th Sep 2017, 4:08 PM||Fighting for a Cause #58|
Chapter 27: Fighting for a Cause
This isn’t shady at all Franz thought with sarcasm as he stood in front of a warehouse. He was at the address that was returned to him from when he texted that number on the fight night poster. The address had led him to a location in Scandalica City that consisted of a few dilapidated warehouses that obviously hadn’t been maintained in a number of years as evident by the vines and weeds trying their best to reclaim the three-story brick building.
What was he getting himself into?
He would have cared more if not for the promise of one thousand simoleons if he happened to win this fight. He knew he was a good fighter, the question was—how good would his opponents be?
Would he have any opponents? Considering the very abandoned nature of the lot, he wondered if he was the only person there. He spied light from the second story and some movement—so there were people in there after all. Franz crossed the street and walked the perimeter of the warehouse looking for a valid entrance that wasn’t chained or boarded up.
“Hey, you looking for the fight?” He heard someone ask from the shadows. Franz curled his fists on instinct. Wandering around in the shadows was not a good life choice for anyone sneaking up on him.
“Oh hey buddy, sorry, didn’t mean to scare you,” the owner of the voice—a guy—held up his hands to show he wasn’t dangerous “Looks like you are looking to fight—you wanna be a fighter?”
Franz nodded wordlessly.
The guy stepped out from near the wall of the warehouse and Franz got a better look at him. He wore a vest and tie, had scraggly brown hair that grew into his eyes which were underneath a very prominent set of eyebrows.
“Follow me,” the guy indicated and moved forward. Franz didn’t inherently trust this guy, just hanging around an abandoned warehouse in the shadows but he hadn’t seen how to get in yet and figured it’d be okay to follow him. They stopped in front of a door that had a lock broken off. The guy pulled the chain away that was wrapped around the door handles and entered. Once inside, there was little light to see anything by.
The guy reached out, picked something up and handed it to Franz; it was half a mask, shaped like something a surgeon would wear but made of heavier, flexible material and almost looked metallic. Franz could barely make out an intricate design on the front but he didn’t know if it meant anything.
“Put that on. It protects your face and identity.”
“Why am I protecting my identity?” Franz frowned.
“This fight isn’t exactly above water if you know what I mean. Let’s just say if the cops bust us up, you probably won’t get identified on your way out.”
Franz nodded with understanding and slipped the mask on over the bottom half of his face, securing the loops behind his ears to hold it in place.
He followed the guy further into the warehouse and there was more light down the way. It led to an opening with a sink and old sets of lockers, probably for the workers that used to be employed here. He saw there was a gathering of other potential fighters with the same type of mask obscuring their mouths.
“Are we done waiting? When do we get to fight?” A buff man asked with impatience; his voice muffled and his brow was notched into a frown.
The same guy who had greeted Franz nonchalantly walked around them all so he was standing in front like a host of sorts, “Hold your horses. Before you go up to fight I need you to pick out a name—it’ll be your alias when you come around to fight."
"I call dibs on King Cobra!” The same buff guy shouted.
“Boomslang !” The shorter of the fighters determined with enthusiasm right after.
“Are we going with a snake theme? I like it,” the host nodded in approval and looked toward Franz and the man sitting on the bench.
“Sure, I’ll be The Anaconda ,” the guy in the beanie shrugged and picked a snake.
Franz didn’t really like snakes but there was one kind he didn’t mind petting when their class went on a field trip to the zoo. It was so big and long, but it wasn’t the type known to bite and poison its prey. Strength is what made it feared in the wild.
“Python,” Franz said, though his answer was made even more muffled by his mask.
“Well that settles that. Since Boomslang and Python were here last, they’ll go first. Then King Cobra and The Anaconda will fight. The winners of those two matches will go head to head for the finale and whoever wins will get the cash. Any questions?”
King Cobra rose his hand and said “Yeah, are there any illegal moves?”
“Can’t use items, it has to be a fight using body strength only. The masks protect your identity and your face so try not to knock each other’s teeth out despite that. Also, this goes without saying but no groin hits—I think we’re all in agreement that sucks.”
They all nodded with affirmation.
“When is a match done?” Boomslang asked.
“When a guy goes down and can’t get up for five counts the match is over. Anything else?”
“Does insurance cover this?” The Anaconda wondered.
The host looked to Franz to see if he had any questions but Franz didn’t voice any. He was just ready to fight. He had been sizing up his opponents in the short time they had been gathered. Boomslang was small, which meant he could be quicker and most likely depended on evasive moves. The Anaconda was of average build and Franz had a hard time picturing him taking anyone out, especially if he was wearing a hat to a fight. The real contender here was King Cobra—the dude was ripped, and a lot bulkier than Franz who in contrast, was pretty lean in his midsection. Franz’s stomach was his weak point in a fight so he’d have to watch for any punches thrown that direction.
“Okay, so the first two fighters can follow me up to the warehouse floor. Wait until you hear me whistle and then you can begin,” the host motioned them forward. There was an old lift that surprisingly still worked that they stepped onto and rode up. The doors opened and the host told Franz and Boomslang to get out while he stayed on. A moment later they saw why as there was a third floor that looked down onto the second from above.
There were people, which unnerved Franz upon initially seeing them gathered on the same floor. So, this was a fight for spectators? Of course, why had he thought any different? The room was occupied by a decent number of college-aged students who had no doubt seen the same posters plastered throughout the campuses of the region and had their interest piqued.
Franz and Boomslang walked to the middle of the room, the floorboards creaking every step. It briefly made Franz wonder if the floor could hold everyone after years of disuse and gradual decay. The fighters faced each other and silence fell over the room. Boomslang must have been hyped up to fight, his brows were slanted inward in a glare—already considering Franz the enemy. Franz had no ill will toward this guy, but he needed that money and he’d gladly put a beat-down on him to obtain it.
The host shouted out an introduction of the fighters by their snake aliases and then a sharp whistle pierced the silence. Boomslang charged toward Franz.
Franz immediately brought his leg up and halted the charge by connecting the force of his knee into Boomslang’s stomach. A few of the spectators cheered and some winced as Boomslang stumbled backward with the breath knocked out of him. It was Franz’s turn to make an attempt to attack, and in a few long strides he was toe-to-toe with Boomslang and threw a punch. Like he suspected downstairs, the guy evaded it with a quick dodge and scrambled around back of Franz. Boomslang threw his weight into Franz’s side and pushed him off balance. Franz pivoted and made another attempt to throw a punch. Boomslang dodged that too.
Franz cursed in his mind, he needed to be faster to land a hit on this opponent. Boomslang darted to the left as Franz went right, and then the opposite direction. Suddenly Franz saw stars as something hard came up from below and caught him in the jaw. An uppercut .
Franz staggered backward and received a second blow to the right of his face between his eye and cheekbone. It was painful.
A surge of adrenaline washed through him and he stormed forward, nearly knocking Boomslang wholly to the ground. Franz kicked the guy’s feet out from under him as he tried to regain balance and that time, the action did put Boomslang to the floor where Franz decked him in the face with a series of hits, until Boomslang’s nose started bleeding. The people watching were cheering. Boomslang held his hands up to defend himself and Franz halted his assault.
“Stay down or I’ll knock you out,” Franz warned as he stood straight, towering above the smaller man; he didn’t want to have to repeat the act of rendering someone unconscious in a fight like he did all those years ago. He was just a kid then, there no telling how much more damage he could inflict now that he was a man.
Boomslang peered out from behind his hands with blood gushing from his nose, running into his lips. He looked afraid and apprehensively nodded.
They heard the whistle again and another shout that proclaimed that Python was the victor. Franz held out his hand for Boomslang to take to stand again but the man refused. Franz retracted his hand and walked back to the lift. He ignored the cheers and congratulations from the spectators as he boarded.
The other two fighters were waiting to enter the lift when the doors opened on the lower floor. No one said a word as they walked past each other but considering the aggression he sensed radiating off of King Cobra, Franz didn’t believe The Anaconda had a fighting chance of beating the guy.
Since he was alone, Franz unfastened the mask from his face and looked at his reflection in the mirror above the sink. He winced as he brushed his fingers against the reddening skin of his cheek and saw bruising was starting to set in around his eye.
He had dinner with his family tomorrow and they’d surely ask him about where he got such a wound. Fauna would be especially nosy and annoying about it. Franz wasn’t one to lie about thing either, so he could already taste that annoying dilemma on his tongue.
A wave of cheering could suddenly be heard through the thick ceiling. What was everyone so happy about? Franz wondered on that as he looked above him.
On the fighting floor, King Cobra has just knocked The Anaconda out cold. The poor guy was flat on his back, unmoving. After a few moments the shout went out, proclaiming King Cobra as the winner.
King Cobra was drinking in the positive energy from the crowd as they applauded and shouted for him. He held up his hand to his ear to milk more of that intoxicating sound.
From the lofted area above, two men observed the action. Between the two of them, they had orchestrated the event.
“Do you really think this going to work?” Nick asked, rubbing his chin with consideration. He was a bit apprehensive—seeing how King Cobra had taken less than five minutes to render his opponent unconscious. It was unsettling, especially if he won and then found out that the prize money was all counterfeit. Nick had no desire to share The Anaconda’s fate.
“It’ll be fine,” Cain assured and crossed his arms with a smile.
After Nick had found out that his tuition had been revoked, he had gotten ahold of Cain since Mr. Eyebrows was the only other person who knew about the counterfeiting machine on the Armscor property. Cain had listened to Nick’s issue and the idea he had to use the counterfeiting machine to supplement the amount of tuition he owed.
Cain said that wouldn’t work; if Nick paid in counterfeit money, it would be clear that the source of the counterfeiting came from Nick. The solution was to cut the counterfeit money with the real deal. They had an entire warehouse that wasn’t being used—basically a shitty venue just stable enough to hold some kind of clandestine gathering—and that’s when the idea to have an underground fighting ring came into existence.
Phase 1 of the plan was to advertise a fight night with little detail, have Cain set up an untraceable automatic number that would text any number that texted for info the address of the fight, then charge a 10 simoleon cover for people to watch the fights. To tempt people into fighting, they would offer 1,000 simoleons in counterfeit money since neither of them obviously had a legit grand to throw around. Cain and Nick both knew from experience that once a fight broke out, it was hard to look away so the activity was sure to generate interest.
Phase 2 had still yet to take action but Cain predicted that those who had come tonight would surely talk about it to their friends. To remove all paper trails of the illicit activity going forward, he would give everyone the date and time of the next fight for them to know and to spread word about. The draw and catch was exclusivity—if anyone missed a night, they’d be out knowing when the next one was.
Phase 3 was the natural addition of betting on fights, but they didn’t want to count their chickens before they hatched. This enterprise, in addition to solving Nick’s problem, had the potential to rake in a lot of money for them. That was, if they didn’t get caught first.
Nick thought it was too risky at first but Cain had faith it would be successful and had fought to convince him it would work and Nick didn’t really have any other options for quick cash besides taking out a loan but he had no credit to his name to even accomplish that.
The Anaconda jolted up suddenly, coming out of his stupor and winced. He pulled himself upward and limped back to the lift to go back downstairs and tend to his face which was turning into one big bruise overall.
The doors opened and Franz stepped off, passing the unfortunate Anaconda and noting how badly beaten he was from King Cobra’s assault. Franz would have to certainly put up a lot of defense on King Cobra if he had any chance to win.
His mask was back in place and he frowned as he walked toward the middle of the floor where King Cobra waited.
“If you quit now, I’ll spare you the extra bruising,” King Cobra taunted him. Franz had given an ultimatum to his first opponent in the same manner but that was because he didn’t want to hurt the guy more than he had to. He could tell King Cobra didn’t care if he hurt him; he just wanted an easier way to win the money. Franz wasn’t backing down now.
He didn’t say a word in response which caused King Cobra to match the frown and ready his fists. Franz did as well.
The host above re-introduced them to a round of cheers from the crowd and then whistled as a signal to start.
As Franz observed earlier, King Cobra was aggressive, so he immediately struck outward with one of his fists. Franz was prepared for that. He caught his opponent’s fist between his elbows and clamped them together, using the sheer power of his shoulders to take the upper hand. Franz twisted King Cobra’s arm the opposite direction which bought him a few seconds to wind up and sock King Cobra in the chest.
He stumbled backward and let out a shout followed by a few coughs and seemed to stretch his arm muscle that had been affected by Franz’s move.
“So you want to play rough, do you?” He asked though Franz knew it was rhetorical. King Cobra lashed out once more and Franz side-stepped the incoming blow, returning a counter-punch into the side of his torso.
Talking was useless in a fight. It was distracting and Franz always found that to be the downfall for those he had fought over the years. They all were more concerned with their ego and hurling insults than concentrating on beating him. This is why Franz considered himself a good fighter.
“I’m going to send you to your mommy in a bodybag,” King Cobra snarled and made another forward attack but Franz wasn’t like The Anaconda that could just be barreled over by sheer physical prowess. King Cobra made contact but Franz didn’t go to the floor, he offset the weight by rolling and ended up being the one to pin his opponent down instead. The fight which had loosely been akin to boxing was now outright wrestling.
It was difficult keeping him down, because he was stronger but all the tussling was not something Franz was used to in a fight and that left him with a lot of open points.
A sharp jab to his midsection rendered him breathless and he fell forward, momentarily immobile with pain searing through his ribs. He felt like he was going to vomit and rolled onto his back. King Cobra scrambled to stand again and loomed over him. If his mask hadn’t concealed the lower-half of his face, Franz was sure he would have seen an evil-ass smirk spread across his opponent’s mouth at this reversal of power.
He had drowned out the crowd’s noises until now, and upon hearing the cheering and clapping he knew that they favored King Cobra. Why? People always seemed to do that—cheer on those least deserving to come out on top, who already were on top and it was Franz who was always clamoring to get there and getting knocked down every step of the way.
Franz had to get up if he didn’t want to be counted as down. King Cobra raised his fist and it was coming down with a promise of pain, fast, right in between Franz’s eyes if he didn’t do something to stop it. Reflexes kicked in, and though it was painful for him to move—he grabbed King Cobra’s arm, effectively stopping the blow and pulled him forward while simultaneously bending his leg like a spring to catch King Cobra’s stomach on the underside of his sneaker—and flipped the buff body wholly over his shoulder. King Cobra landed into the floorboards with a crack, and no one was sure if it was the wood giving way or a bone that had broken.
Franz stood and turned just as King Cobra pulled himself up, holding his arm with the other and glaring daggers. He stumbled forward in an angry desperation, winding another punch up with his good arm. Franz grabbed his fist, parrying the sloppy attempt and then popped King Cobra hard, square in the face with his knuckles which he had been sharpening on a punching bag for the past few weeks.
The heavyweight fell backward and revisited the floorboards, blood starting to trickle out of his nose.
Franz watched carefully to make sure the guy was down for good and he slowly counted in his head, seeming to hold his breath as the seconds ticked by. After the final count, it was announced that Python was the night’s best fighter. Franz let out a breath of relief.
The crowd erupted into a ruckus for him, now that he had proven himself to be an underdog. He still felt sick from the blow to his midsection. He ignored them once more as he passed to go back downstairs. He didn’t know where else to go but knew he needed to get his reward and get the hell out of there. He was in pain and he was tired.
Once back in the room he had first entered, he found Boomslang and The Anaconda were cleaning up their blood. Yet, both still had the masks on. It was probably in everyone’s best interest they didn’t know each other’s true faces.
“Are you okay?” Franz asked Boomslang.
“M'fine,” Boomslang mumbled and didn’t make eye contact, apparently still sore that he had lost.
“You bested King Cobra?” The Anaconda said in muffled wonder.
Franz nodded and sat on the bench, tenderly feeling the side where he’d been jabbed.
A few minutes later the host returned to the room alone and thanked them all for participating.
“Next fight is tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m. If you don’t come, this may have been your last chance.”
“What do you mean?” Boomslang asked.
“Well, the only way to find out when the next fight is, is to show up. So, if you don’t come tomorrow—you won’t get the information you need for the following fight.”
Not shady at all, Franz frowned to himself with the same sarcasm as earlier . To be fair, the host had all but admitted this entire event was not strictly legal. But Franz had dinner with his family tomorrow night, would he have to skip it just to be in the loop?
“Where’s King Cobra,” The Anaconda wondered.
“He’s going to go find some medical attention for his arm. But I told him the deal and when the fight is tomorrow and he’s rearing for a re-match,” the host turned an eye on Franz, nearly taunting him to return and fight again.
Franz stared hard and didn’t shy away, “Where’s my winnings?”
The host laughed and dug through his pockets until he found a wallet, “You didn’t think I’d forget that did you?”
He handed over a wad of bills, crisp and rolled. Franz separated them out and found 10 bills worth 100 Simoleons each. This was what he needed and more of it too.
“I’ll be back tomorrow,” he mumbled. There was no way of getting money faster to pay for his mother’s treatment, that is unless they took the bakery—and he was literally fighting to save both.
“Me too,” Boomslang promised.
Franz’s pocket started buzzing which startled him. He rolled the money back up and stuffed it in his pocket while removing his cell phone to check who was calling. It wasn’t a number he recognized.
“Hello?” He answered, though his voice was muffled through his mask.
“Is this Franz Schoulsburg?”
“Hello this is Doctor Wellington from the Regional Mercy ER; I’m calling you to let you know that your mother, Yvette, was admitted about a half hour ago after she was found collapsed and unresponsive. Please come to the hospital as soon as possible–”
“Is she okay?”
“She’s stable but we found something concerning—please we need you down here now.”
Franz was already moving toward the exit, despite calls from the other guys in the room asking what his problem was. His heart had picked up pace, stung with a deep worry for his mother’s health. He emerged into the night and found it hard to breath. His thoughts were clouded with dread and he ripped off his mask, while stuffing it in his other pocket—letting the night air fill his lungs. He broke into a jog even though his body was still in pain from the abuse it had taken during the fight. Luckily the Regional Mercy Hospital was in Scandalica City and Franz could get there faster than the bus if he just ran the eight or so blocks downtown instead of riding and having to stop every five minutes.
With his adrenaline rushing far faster than it had when he was fighting, he started sprinting and disappeared into the darkness.
He had been too preoccupied to even notice that someone had witnessed him fleeing, had seen his whole face, and they were not the sort of person to keep that information to themselves.
|12th Sep 2017, 4:16 AM||#59|
- my face after reading the last 2 chapters
Things are getting so intense! Poor Franz. I hope he comes to his senses before he goes too far down this road. Hang in there, buddy!
"Passion makes no accommodation for self-preservation."
|17th Sep 2017, 6:55 AM||A Major Gamble #60|
Chapter 28: A Major Gamble
Illyana stared into the bathroom mirror and saw someone else staring back.
Alarie had definitely taken ‘dolled up’ to a new level. There was an abundance of product smeared over Illyana’s face, from the tan goop called 'foundation’, to the ruby red lipstick. Then there was the sticky, dark, thick mascara she couldn’t touch without it looking like she spilled ink on her hands. Even her cheeks were powdered in a heavy red blush. She never wore this much make up.
“It looks good, don’t worry,” Alarie assured and leaned closer to her reflection to touch up her own face. Alarie made it look so easy—she had been a practiced magician with the stuff since she was in junior high. She puckered her plump lips and made a kissing face at herself before smiling and turning to Illyana who still silently eyed her made up mirror-self.
“You should be irresistible to any man down there now,” Alarie said and grabbed Illyana’s arm to lead her out of the bathroom. Illyana wasn’t sure if that was a true statement and couldn’t help but to feel a pinch offended.
“So I repulse men otherwise?”
“You said it, not me,” Alarie replied and made sure to check that she had the hotel key card on her before they went down to the casino. Alarie was wearing a tight red and black dress and impossible shoes which Illyana couldn’t understand the point of. Illyana just had worn what she brought that was best–a striped tank and a crocheted grey vest. Though, Alarie insisted on letting Illyana borrow a necklace to give the outfit a little flair.
Alarie had also spent an hour straightening and taming Illyana’s naturally wavy hair by slicking and braiding a portion of it before gathering the rest into a ponytail. It felt like they had spent the last two hours in hair and make up for maybe that much time or less down in public. Illyana hated wasting time, and this whole beauty routine seemed like the worst way to do it.
The casino floor was busy. There were bright flashing lights and bell sounds every few minutes from the line of slot machines at the middle. Illyana had never been properly gambling before and felt a bit apprehensive. She didn’t even have that much money and what was the point of blowing it on a slim chance at making more?
They approached an exchange counter where Alarie gave money to a teller and received chips of equal value in return. Illyana only could afford two green ones equal to 20 simoleons.
“That can get you like two low ranked games of poker,” Alarie said as Illyana held the pair of chips up in each hand, looking for guidance. She felt so lost in this particular world.
“Look, there’s an open spot at that poker table,” Alarie pointed to the corner. The poker table in question was a four-seater and slightly elevated above the rest of the casino floor. It invoked a sense of privacy that Alarie obviously didn’t catch the hint of. It had three players occupying it–there was a woman that looked like she was past her formative years who was shuffling a deck of cards while smoking and two younger men were her playing companions.
Alarie added in a low whisper, “The guys are pretty cute.”
Illyana sort of rolled her eyes, still not convinced that she needed a rebound to take her thoughts off Adam. She just needed time.
“Hey! You want a fourth player?” Alarie called out to the group.
The lady gave a short laugh under her breath, “If you have the minimum bet, sure you can join.”
Usually there were signs for minimum bets, at least on the bigger poker tables they had seen. This one didn’t even have a distinctive house player representing the casino itself. There was no indication of what the minimum bet was. Alarie nudged Illyana forward despite the lack of information and handed her 10 of her own chips. One hundred simoleons. That should cover it, right?
Illyana opened her mouth about to inquire what the minimum bet was when the lady turned an eye on them, “If you have to ask, honey, this table isn’t for you.”
One of the men stood from where he sat and looked over at them, “I could spot the chips, what’s the worst that could happen?” he looked toward the older woman, “I lose it to you, Mags, and you just gamble it all back for me to win. If Taz manages to win it, well he wouldn’t know what to do with it.”
The man turned to his friend and gave him a playful hit in the shoulder, to which they both laughed, and then faced the two women again. “So, which of you wants to play?”
“She’d love to!” Alarie all but pushed Illyana up the stairs and then said, “I’ll be playing craps, good luck!”
So Alarie was just going to leave her there with complete strangers? Illyana wasn’t a shy person but anyone could imagine it was uncomfortable betting money with unfamiliar people. They all seemed to know each other at least and Illyana suddenly felt like she was intruding.
“Well, take a seat then,” the same man who offered to spot her nodded at the empty chair and sat back into his. He shoved 3 stacks of speckled red and white chips piled 10 high each in her direction. “Mags, it’s your deal.”
“You any good?” she asked Illyana.
“I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve even played before…” Illyana answered and Mags looked pretty happy about that fact; the man frowned, and Illyana’s eyes widened as she scrambled to cover her blundering honesty, “I mean, I’ve never played with people! I’ve played computer simulations of the game, and I know the rules and I know what hands are worth more.”
“You got yourself a greenhorn, Tony,” the man named Taz laughed as he picked up his cards that Mags had dealt.
“She could have beginner’s luck,” Tony argued to which Taz scoffed as if he didn’t believe in such a thing.
Tony looked like a man who put too much faith in the concept of luck. Illyana had a few too many hard knocks in life to truly ever blame them on bad luck, and by the same hand, the good things she liked to think she had control of and it didn’t come from an arbitrary entity that acted so random in what it favored. It was awful to think one couldn’t take hold and make good things happen to themselves.
She picked up her hand and found two kings, a five, eight, and nine.
She twisted her face with uncertainty and then noticed the man—Tony—was staring at her. “What?”
“That’s your poker face?” He asked dubiously, almost in a teasing tone. She immediately relaxed her face, forgetting that was an aspect of playing with people. Computers couldn’t read emotions. Maybe that’s why she found it so easy.
She could tell they all were seasoned gamblers, and Tony seemed like type of man to always win and he hadn’t even laid his hand yet. This thought alone prompted that tiny competitive fire, deep in the center of her.
She laid down her three discards and hoped the replacements would be something better.
The woman named Mags collected her cards and flipped three new ones face-down for her.
This time, it was another king, and two tens.
Illyana nearly grinned but caught herself, remembering not to give it away. She wanted the others to bet, to think they were going to win—then she would swoop in with her full house and get it all.
“Raise?” Mags asked, nodding at Illyana.
Illyana didn’t know how much the chips Tony had given her were worth exactly and so pushed two forward which prompted him to whistle and say, “You must be confident in what you have.”
“You just raised the bet by a thousand simoleons.”
Illyana blanched. Why would he have spotted her that much? She had at least ten thousand simoleons worth of chips right in front of her!
“Did you mean to bet the red ones?” He asked.
She nodded, though it was obvious she hadn’t a clue they were worth five-hundred Simoleons each. She still had a good hand and figured she could win.
Tony raised the bet by five-hundred. Taz did by another grand. Illyana started to feel perspiration form on her forehead. That was a lot of money. Mags folded.
“Ley 'em,” Mags demanded and they did.
A quick scan of the table rendered Taz’s hand a two pair—fives and eights–and Tony’s was a flush of spades.
Tony made some noise at losing his flush out to Illyana’s full house as Illyana scraped up all the chips at the center of the table and started stacking them into neat towers. That competitive fire in her was growing ever larger now that she had won her first ever hand.
“Again,” she smiled and Taz became the dealer.
Five hands later, Illyana was 4-1. She had gotten a little too enthusiastic about a straight and over-bet—losing fifteen-hundred back to Tony. So, it wasn’t too concerning but she hated losing.
While they were playing, they began to chat. Illyana had eventually introduced herself somewhere in the middle of the second hand when Tony had asked, before the conversation wandered to business. From what Illyana gathered, Tony was some kind of businessman—what with talks of investment and business growth.
They were in the sixth deal when Tony asked, “So what brings you to Pandora, Illyana?”
“What makes you assume I came here? I could be a local,” Illyana replied while studying her hand.
“You’re not a local,” Tony laughed.
Illyana shifted her site toward him with a frown. He wore a grin as if he knew things she did not. It was the grin of unapologetic confidence, and surprisingly reminiscent of a boy that she once knew—a boy that used to be her friend but she no longer talked to.
“How would you know?” she challenged.
“Pandoran locals tend to have a little…wildness…about them. If you come around enough you can easily tell a local from a tourist.”
“And which are you?” Illyana snapped, to know and be sure.
“Certainly not a local, though I’ve been down here enough times they are starting to know who I am.”
That answer prompted Mags to laugh and Tony eyed her, “What? The same could be said for you. I know you are here at least every weekend, young lady.”
“Pandora is where the excitement is,” Mags laid her discard hand in front of Taz and he swiped them into a pile with the others and exchanged those for a new set.
“Or rather, the money,” Tony amended for her.
The two exchanged a smile that had a hidden meaning and was lost on Illyana but she could tell they were both on the wealthier side if they spent their free time gambling every weekend. Especially If they all had piles of chips worth 500 simoleons a pop.
“So where are you from then?” Tony went back to questioning Illyana, must having decided she could never be a local girl with or without her confirmation.
“Isla Del Kashmire,” Illyana mumbled and exchanged her discards for new ones.
“I grew up there, it’s a boring little community that judges people too harshly,” Mags stated and put her discard down for Taz to exchange as well.
Sure, Isla Del Kashmire didn’t have a lot of draws—it consisted mostly of residences. Though, it had a few small local businesses—a bakery, a dance studio, a coffee shop—it wasn’t all bad. Unfortunately, since the community was quite small, gossip spread like wildfire. That is why Illyana couldn’t wait to graduate and try getting an apartment in Scandalica City where the real action was.
“Don’t sound so bitter,” Tony seemed to tease but Mags wasn’t having any more of it and threw him a look that clearly told him to drop the subject.
Illyana received her cards back and had nothing worth betting on, much to her disappointment—just a pair of fives. Though…they didn’t know that. She pushed in half a stack of chips—not even caring anymore since they were on loan and Tony didn’t seem to mind.
Her move got all of their attentions but she practiced a facial move she liked to call ’the Schoulsburg’ on account of that’s always how her fellow-student looked. Blank and emotionless.
None of them raised the bet further and cut their losses by folding. When it was time to show hands, Tony was astonished he had fallen for her bluff. Taz could have even beaten her if he hadn’t tapped out because he had a pair of tens which were higher.
“I’m done for the night,” Mags declared much to Tony and Taz’s whining and pleading for her to stay, “Oh shush, you boys know I’ll be back next weekend. I always am.”
“Be sure to give your husband my condolences since you lost yet another small fortune of his money tonight,” Taz called as Maggie pulled a cigarette out of her purse and flipped him off on her way out of the casino. There still there was a hint of teasing in his voice, though the statement had sounded quite rude to Illyana. It didn’t seem like anything he said was to be taken seriously, but maybe Mags was just tired of it.
Alarie had gotten done with craps and was waiting for Illyana. Illyana held up her finger to indicate she needed a moment.
“Well, thanks to you I have quite a bit more money tonight. You sure you aren’t a lucky charm?” Tony approached her and left the chips on the table.
“I just win once I put my mind to it,” Illyana boldly stated. Obviously, she couldn’t have known she would win all those hands but liked to think it was because of her determination. She turned an eye onto Alarie who was suddenly chatting up Taz behind them.
“Thanks for spotting me the chips, it was fun,” Illyana said, turning her attention back to Tony. They walked down the stairs together and Illyana wondered why he wasn’t taking all of his chips.
“You’re welcome and don’t worry–I’ll have a casino employee take the chips to the teller booth and convert the winnings. It’s a part of being a VIP guest,” Tony explained as Illyana’s question was plain on her face as she eyed all that potential money. “You want a drink?”
“What?” Illyana’s attention snapped to him immediatley.
“Can. I. Buy. You. A. Drink?” Tony said slower and more pointed with a teasing smile.
Was this make up stuff really so powerful it caused rich, handsome, men to offer her free drinks? She still seemed dumbfounded but broke out of staring stupidly at Tony when she caught sight of Alarie behind him, nodding vigorously with encouragement.
They made their way to the nearest bar. Taz and Alarie followed. Apparently Alarie had scored a free drink as well. If Rafael were there, he would have been losing it fast at the sight of her being so flirty. But Alarie always maintained the fact she was doing it more for the free stuff than the man behind it, which barely put Rafael at ease.
“What’s your poison?” Tony asked, leaning up against the bar.
“Sweet or savory?”
Illyana bit her lip and smiled slyly, “Savory.”
Tony flagged down the bar tender and ordered two Bloody Mary cocktails for them. Alarie went with something more simple and Taz bought her a beer.
“So you really have only played poker on the computer then?” Tony wondered.
“Yeah. I’m a college student. I really can’t afford to gamble with real money,” Illyana said and sipped her drink steadily.
“Then why are you in a casino?” He arched an eyebrow with wonder.
“I drove a friend here and she’s at the Edric King concert tonight. The tickets were sold out so I’m just hanging around with my other friend there,” Illyana pointed over her shoulder at Alarie who was laughing at one of Taz’s jokes.
It didn’t seem fair that Tony was learning all this stuff about her but she didn’t know anything about him but from pieces of conversations he had. “So, what do you do for work?”
“I’m an investor and a business risk assessor—they call me in when a business wants to be publicly traded on the stock market and I gather all the information I can and let the investors know if it’s worth buying stock in.”
“Wow…” Illyana didn’t know what to say, “That sounds…important.”
He laughed heartily, “It probably sounds really boring to you.”
She shook her head and set her drink on the bar top, “I asked because I wanted to know.”
“And now you do. By the way, what is your major? You said you were in college?”
“Yeah. I’m a literature major. I write for the music section of the campus newspaper—I want to get into music journalism.”
“But you couldn’t even get into an Edric King concert?” Tony laughed, still teasing.
“It was sold out weeks ago!” Illyana retorted in defense, causing Tony to laugh harder. He had a nice laugh…it wasn’t annoying or obnoxious or full of ridicule though sometimes his words could sound like that. When he stopped laughing it always faded to a smile. He had good teeth too. He had a good face. Alarie wasn’t wrong in her assessment, Tony was cute.
They continued chatting and drinking. The conversation came around to music and Illyana enthusiastically recounted her days of playing guitar and listening to her favorite metal songs her aunt had introduced her to. Tony admitted that he went through a metal phase in high school and wore spiky bracelets and leather vests. His admission caused Illyana to go into peals of laughter, trying to imagine this clean-cut business type jamming out to old Iron Maiden records.
“As much fun as this is, I need to go make sure my chips were collected and the funds transferred to my account,” Tony said, as he finished off his second bloody mary and left the empty glass for the bar tender to collect.
“I can make sure too,” Illyana said, not really thinking through her words since she too, had gotten a second bloody mary and was feeling tipsy. All she knew was that she enjoyed talking to Tony and she didn’t want to leave him just yet. “I can tell them I won it for you.”
Tony gave a broad smile and then gestured for Illyana to follow. They walked to the teller booth where Tony spoke with the associate and then the associate started laying out thick stacks of simoleons.
Illyana’s eyes widened at seeing such a sight. She’d never seen so much money before in her life! How loaded was this guy exactly?
“Count it,” Tony demanded.
“With her here?” The man behind the counter looked at her unsure about starting.
“She’s fine,” Tony assured and the teller started counting, “She actually won a majority of it for me tonight.”
Illyana was starting to feel the buzz from the vodka wear off by the time the man got to the seventy-eighth stack. Tony looked pleased and was nodding to himself while grinning in approval.
“That’s great. Transfer all of it into the Exetto account for me, thank you,” Tony instructed. The associate nodded and started to take the stacks of simoleons into the back. Illyana felt kind of tired and made a yawn; she wondered how late it was. She wondered how many free drinks Alarie had scored off of poor Taz.
“Now,” Tony began and turned to her, boldly slipping his arm around her shoulder, “What do you say we find someplace more private?”
Illyana would have been fine with talking more with him but the sudden physical aspect he’d involved set alarm bells off in her head. This was the moment Alarie had been convinced would help Illayana overcome her heartbreak but—despite Tonys laugh, humor, and obvious wealth—Illyana didn’t feel up for it. And sure, Tony was as handsome as any young businessman they expected to be lurking around the casino on a weekend but it didn’t make up for the fact that Illyana wasn’t emotionally ready for anything as sudden, impersonal, and messy as a one-night stand.
“Thank you, for everything, Tony—but I’m going to decline,” she said and maneuvered herself away. A split-second later he re-attached his arm behind her back, this time his fingers slightly gripped her waist.
“I like a girl who plays hard to get, don’t get me wrong,” he said and Illyana frowned and stopped walking, “So how about I sweeten the pot? I’ll give you a quarter of what you won for me tonight.”
“For what, exactly?”
“What do you think?” he raised a suggestive brow and said in a tone that told her enough of what he was trying to get.
Illyana’s gag reflex threatened to strike and her expression plummeted into a glower. Thankfully the amount of blush Alarie had put on her cheeks hid her crimson face mixed with sudden anger and embarrassment.
“No,” she said, her voice turning hard and she again, maneuvered herself away from his grasp, this time making it not so subtle she wanted him to fuck the fuck off.
“Come on…” she heard him let out in a tone of exasperation at her unwillingness. She shuddered and didn’t respond as she left him behind. She was disappointed that she had wasted her time with such a self-entitled jerk.
The next thing she felt was both his hands grab at her hips to reel her back toward him and before she could think, she turned and decked him in the mouth. The blow was hard—harder than either of them expected because Tony went down easily. Illyana had been spending a lot of time at the punching bag recently. Her knuckles were like wood.
It took Illyana a second to realize what reality was. She looked down on Tony’s form; his lip was busted open and bleeding and he wasn’t moving.
“Boss!” exclaimed the man behind the counter, who had seen the whole incident.
This was bad. No wonder he had been so unconcerned about lending her the chips to play at such a high steaks table–she was gambling it all back into the house if she were to lose it to him! So, he must have lied about his stupid boring investment job to impress her. What an Asshole!
She bolted without another thought and turned the corner to find Alarie still chatting and drinking with Taz at the bar.
“Let’s Go!” Illyana prompted Alarie urgently and Alarie handed her drink to Taz.
“Come on!” Illyana was openly panicking, as she looked behind her. She didn’t have time for Alarie to ask questions; Illyana needed to get off of that casino floor. Luckily, there was no angry man lurking out from behind the wall, which meant Tony was still prone on the ground. She turned without another word and started running toward the elevators. Her urgency and lack of explanation must have pricked Alarie’s senses to bail for she could hear Alarie suddenly behind her, taking long, brisk strides and maintaining balance, even in her ridiculous spiked wedge-heel boots.
“Why are we running?” Alarie scowled in question, keeping pace just behind Illyana.
“I punched him in the face!” Illyana cried.
“I’ll tell you once we’re outta here,” she replied and finally, finally made it to the elevator. Illyana pushed the up button frantically over and over though she knew that it wouldn’t make it arrive any quicker. It made her feel like she was doing something to actively further the distance between her and Tony.
She dared to look over her shoulder.
From their line of site, they could see the teller and Taz were crouching next to Tony and Tony was slowly rousing.
The doors opened and Illyana darted inside, grabbing Alarie’s wrist and pulling her in behind. She could see now that Tony had sat up, though still was on sitting on the floor; his dazed, wandering, gaze landed on Illyana and their eyes connected as the doors were closing and narrowing their last view of each other.
An ominous shiver ran up her spine as he licked the blood off his lip and then smiled.
|20th Sep 2017, 5:53 AM||#61|
Oh, Illyana. I can't say the scoundrel didn't have it coming, but something tells me she's not out of the woods yet! Great update!
"Passion makes no accommodation for self-preservation."
|24th Sep 2017, 10:52 PM||After Party #62|
Chapter 29: After Party
BEST. NIGHT. EVER.
This was thought that flashed through Leona’s mind as another bottle free champagne was served to the table where she, Edric King and the rest of his entourage sat in Temptations, Pandora’s premiere night club. The free drinks were just the tip of the iceberg that had been a fun, eventful evening.
Leona killed it as a vocalist. As soon as she walked out on stage that evening and saw the large crowd, her nerves dissipated and she imagined they were cheering for her. Singing with such confidence, and also keeping up with Edric’s insane key changes like they had practiced earlier in the day—what seemed a lifetime ago now—made a noticeable positive difference in the music. Everyone she had talked to after the set said so at least. The roadies, the opening bands, and even the fans on their way out of the theater area. Well, she thought so at least, it was hard to tell with all screaming girls when Edric passed.
Luke, Edric’s manager, was especially happy for the improvement and had sung her praises nearly every chance he got which they could see grated on Edric's nerves a bit.
“This after party is wicked,” Edric said and poured himself another glass of champagne and looked to Caroline, “You gotta send Biacotti my thanks before we get back on the road.”
“Noted,” Caroline replied, “But it’s not much of an after party without dancing.”
She and the band’s guitarist then excused themselves to go dance to the beats being spun by a DJ in the next room.
“Speaking of which,” Luke turned to Leona, “I’d like to offer you a full-time position lending vocals to Edric’s live concerts and even feature you on his next album.”
Leona felt goosebumps erupt from her shoulders to her legs. This was the moment she had been waiting for.
“A feature?” Edric raised one of his brows and leaned in closer as if he hadn’t heard correctly, “you mean her name will be on the cover?”
That would be flipping fantastic and Leona didn’t like how Edric seemed so flabbergasted at such an idea. Putting her name anywhere wouldn’t diminish his popularity one bit but springboard her closer to her dream.
“Shouldn’t you wait until she at least earns it?”
“I think she has,” Luke said, tapping through his phone, seeming to be looking for something.
“What are you talking about? She’s only performed one show…” Edric continued to gripe but Luke held up his phone to show them some stats.
“Your next show in West Clayton was at only sixty percent total of ticket sales at the opening of your show tonight. As of forty-five minutes ago, it sold out. I can’t account for that up-tick in remaining sales as anything but your performance tonight with Miss Hillenburg’s vocal support. ”
Luke flipped his phone back into his pocket and grinned at Edric as if his point was made. Leona was good for business.
“My concert here sold out! And that was before having additional vocals in the show was even a consideration,” Edric crossed his arms. Leona frowned, not liking Edric’s tone or attitude he was taking. He seemed like a petulant child that wasn’t getting his way.
“Yes, but it didn’t sell out so fast after your previous show. Maybe you shouldn’t worry about ticket sales and leave that aspect to your manager. We’ll talk more about this later. For now, I think we should take example from Caroline…” Luke scooted himself out of the booth and held his hand out for Leona to take, “May I?”
Edric grabbed the champagne bottle and bent his head back to catch a stream of the alcohol straight from the opening and into his mouth. After a few gulps he set the bottle down and followed them toward the dance room of the club.
The DJ for the private after party pleased the crowd with fast techno beats that flowed into re-sampled hip hop tracks that Leona often sang in her bedroom as a teenager. She was purely enjoying herself, and felt a little sad that Alarie and Illyana couldn’t be there with her. However, it was short lived because as Luke danced with her, it wasn’t anything short of entertaining since the man had barely any rhythm.
At one point, Edric instructed the bouncer to let in any of the people waiting outside into the club. This significantly increased the body count on the dance floor and sent the room into even a hotter temperature. Leona felt a sheen of perspiration on her face and excused herself from dancing. She climbed a spiral staircase straight to the top floor where there was a convenient bar—she was parched.
“Wine. Zinfandel,” she leaned against the bar and ordered, noting her feet were starting to feel sore and the high heels didn't help that one bit.
“Want me to open a tab?”
“Put it on Edric King’s,” Leona said, not caring. He could afford it and she wasn’t that pleased with him at the moment for his insulting behavior.
“Add a Heineken and put both on Antony Biacotti’s tab,” Leona heard Caroline say from behind her. She turned and sure enough Edric’s PA was there. Had Caroline followed her? Was she like Edric’s spy too?
The bartender uncapped Caroline’s beer and handed it over before pouring the wine into a flute and sliding it toward Leona.
“So, it got a little too hot down there for you too?” Caroline asked and took a drink.
“Yeah, I thought this was supposed to be a private after party?” Leona asked and emphasized the word.
Caroline laughed, her voice was starting to sound raspy from shouting over the music downstairs to communicate. “It was but Mr. King is a very social person, the more the merrier is his style.”
“Unless he has to share the spotlight, right?” Leona grumbled and leaned her seat against the bar, taking a generous sip of her wine.
“Mr. King can be a decent guy when he wants to. He just is averse to change. Trust me, when Heis got a new guitar, Mr. King hassled him a week before accepting it was a better instrument. He’ll come around and see having you on his team will benefit him in the long run. Luke was right to offer you the job.”
Leona felt oddly touched at hearing those words from Caroline. Caroline seemed like she knew a lot about Edric and it made Leona wonder how long Caroline had been his personal assistant. They moseyed back down the spiral stairs to the landing on the second story that overlooked the dance floor.
“So how long have you known Edric?” Leona wondered.
“I got this gig about two years ago when he was an opening act for bigger pop groups. The record label that assigned Luke as Mr. King’s manager also assigned me to be his PA so that’s how long I’ve been getting him coffee, telling him he’s pretty and making him sign paperwork,” she laughed and peered over the balcony.
They saw Edric giving all his attention to a sultry beauty in barely any clothes. They were dancing very close and it had attracted a group of women that seemed to surround the pair like vultures, waiting for a turn to catch his attention. Leona raised a brow and made a face; there was no doubt he was an attractive man but she was so put off with his attitude that it cancelled out any type of swooning she would have done otherwise.
Leona wondered more about the record label, and then wondered if the benefactor for this party was relate din any way to it. If so, she would need to commit to finding this man and meeting with him at some point if he was so important.
“Who is Antony Biacotti?”
Caroline turned to Leona with a look of surprise, “You’ve never heard of Kashmire’s King Midas?”
Leona shook her head and her intrigue shot through the roof. But before Caroline could explain they were interrupted.
“So this is where you’ve two wandered off to,” Luke said from behind them and they whirled around in surprise. The music had been so loud they didn’t hear him sneak up on them.
“Mr. Ziegler, what do you need?” Caroline asked.
“That paperwork I had you write up this afternoon, can you please fetch it for me?” Luke said and Caroline rolled her eyes.
“With all due respect, Mr. Zeigler, shouldn’t that business wait until morning when we’re all a bit soberer?”
Luke narrowed his eyes, “We’re on the road at nine a.m. tomorrow and I don’t want to make Miss Hillenburg wait any longer than she has to.”
His vague comment was clear to Leona: he wanted her to sign a contract tonight for that full-time position. Even though Leona had drunk two glasses of champagne and was currently sipping white wine, she didn’t consider herself too buzzed to do business. Caroline gave in to retrieving the paperwork and left them without any other protest. Her reluctance made Leona really wonder if Caroline thought bringing her onto the team was a good idea or if she was just saying that before to appear nice.
It seemed like the only person who really wanted her around was the manager, but she already trusted Luke Ziegler above anyone else as his goals seemed to align with her own.
“Let’s move somewhere quieter,” Luke suggested and they went back upstairs, where Leona topped off her wine glass from the same bartender, and then they emerged out on the rooftop terrace. The desert air was dry and chilly. Leona shivered a bit in her red, sequined, dress that the concert stylist had picked out of her.
“Shouldn’t I contact my agent before I sign anything?” Leona asked.
“I’ve spoken to Ms. Drake, and the compensation package outlined in the contract is to her satisfaction,” Luke explained.
“What about my satisfaction,” Leona crossed her arms, “Will the numbers be right this time?”
“That was a clerical error that was corrected, and I’ve personally triple checked the figures for this one. You shouldn’t be disappointed.”
Leona had less doubt when Luke gave her the assurance that the record label wasn’t screwing her over. That was the moment Caroline joined them and handed Luke her clipboard. Attached was a much thicker stack of papers than the paperwork Leona had signed that afternoon after Caroline gave her the form with the corrected pay figure for the show she sang that very evening.
Luke handed it to her and she set her drink down on a low table and lowered herself onto an outdoor chair to look over it.
Ugh! She didn’t want to read through all of it. If Luke already worked it out with Naomi then Leona didn’t see why she had to go through it all over again. Naomi was paid to watch out for her best interests. Leona flipped through the pages and found the figure she was looking for.
She gave a low whistle.
That was more than she had expected but she wasn’t about to say that. She also found the contract’s duration and saw it was for four years. This was exactly what she had wanted. She didn’t need college anymore as a fallback plan. If she signed now she wouldn’t have to worry about school, or tests, or joining that stupid robotics program and running numbers for them in order to secure a passing grade. She was on her way to doing what she loved.
She set the contract back onto the clipboard and held out her hand, “Pen.”
Luke was ready with one and handed it over. A chilly burst of night wind blew cross them as she signed her name to the paper that would change her life moving forward.
Luke informed her that she could join them in West Clayton at her earliest convenience for the concert in two days, or even join them on the tour bus in the morning if she wanted. She knew she had to talk to Illyana and Alarie before she made a decision on whether or not she would do that.
After the deal was done, they all went back downstairs to dance and spent the rest of time dancing. Edric was too far gone by the early morning hours to give a care whether or not Leona had officially become his vocalist. She caught sight of him making out with a few different women throughout the night, and her opinion of him lowered already more than it had over the evening. Eventually, the after party wound down and the club closed.
Leona was feeling high on success and buzzed from all the free drinks as she hailed a cab to get back to the hotel. As she entered the backseat, the door on the opposite side opened up and Edric shoved his way in, nearly tripping over himself.
“Excuse you,” Leona snapped.
Edric rolled on his shoulder against the seat and grabbed his seatbelt while trying to buckle himself in, “You’re already riding on the coattails of my fame, why not ride in my cab too?”
She pushed into the seat behind the driver, next to him and glared, “Is that what you think this is?”
“I know it,” Edric didn’t sound angry but he had a smartass grin on his painfully handsome face as he accused her.
“Where to?” The driver interrupted.
“Pandora’s Box Hotel and Casino,” Leona snapped in frustration. Edric was still having trouble buckling his seatbelt with his drunken coordination so Leona grabbed it for him and snapped it in.
She had a lot of angry words but she refrained from screaming at him. He made her so mad. She was in for a long four years if this was how he regarded her. She had earned her place singing with him, and he would reap the benefits of her talents so she wasn’t ‘riding his coattails’ at all!
They didn’t say another word to each other on the way back. She supposed Edric was staying at the hotel too because he didn’t give any additional locations to the driver and besides, there was only one fancy hotel in the area. The other lodging options were shady, nearly broken-down motels—nothing suitable of such a pop star as Edric King. Though, she also wondered what the point of a tour bus was if he didn't sleep in it.
There was even more awkward silence as Leona and Edric exited the cab at their destination, walked through hotel lobby and casino floor which were sparse at the early hour of any people besides themselves, and the worst was they had to ride the elevator together. She ignored him, offended by him, but she doubted he would apologize—he didn’t seem the type to ever apologize to anyone.
She decided it best to find her hotel key to prepare and leave as fast as possible before the elevator stopped on her floor. She rustled through her purse, moving aside make up, receipts, and other bric-a-brac that her purse was home to. Yet, she couldn’t find that damn key card. She knew she had put it in there when she left for lunch at the Oasis. How the heck had it gotten lost?
She softly cursed in her breath which got Edric’s attention.
“What’s the matter?”
“I can’t find my key,” Leona sighed, continuing to vigorously dig through the contents of her purse. She took out her wallet and looked through the cards in there but it wasn’t among them. She hated to have to wake Alarie or Illyana but it looked like she would need them to let her into the room. She found her phone at least, but when she pressed the button to unlock it, the screen remained black.
“What the Hell?” She grumbled, pressing it again with the same result and then realized that it had run out of battery as she hadn’t charged it since the night before.
The elevator stopped and the doors opened. She couldn’t get off the elevator fast enough, and she didn’t elect to even bid Edric farewell before she was at the door of the hotel suite, knocking and pulling at the door handle, calling for Alarie and Illyana to let her in. No one answered.
“You’re gonna get security called on you if you keep up that racket,” Edric popped his head out and held his arm in front of the doors to keep them from closing again.
“My phone is dead, and I don’t have my key so the only way I’m going to get into my room is if my friends let me in,” Leona hissed, finally facing him for the first time since they first got into the cab.
“Or you could just come crash in my room and let them sleep,” Edric offered with a yawn, gesturing her forward back into the elevator.
“There’s no way I am sharing a room with you!” Leona glared at him.
“I guess you’ll just have to sleep in the hallway then. Goodnight,” Edric removed his arm and the elevator doors began to close.
That didn’t sound ideal either, “Wait!”
He quickly held his arm out again and gave her a smug smile as she rejoined him.
“Why don’t you sleep on the tour bus?” she finally voiced her earlier question.
“It’s not the sleeper kind. It’s just for riding. The record label puts us up in hotels in the concert cities,” he answered, seeming bored, tired, or both.
“So, your room as two beds?”
“Nah just one,” he replied and she shot daggers at him. If he was even remotely considering them sharing the bed then he was in for a rude awakening. He seemed to be finding her predicament hilarious though what with his stupid drunken smile was still pasted on his face.
His room was on the top floor. She followed him to the door where he inserted his key and they entered a nice room. A bunch of his clothes were on the floor and he had more luggage than Leona even. She noticed quite a bit of alcohol bottles on the nightstand and table as well. She wondered if he had a drinking problem.
There was the problem of just the one bed still. She looked to him with a frown before sitting down on it and stating, “I’m not sleeping with you.”
“Give me some credit, I’m a professional. I’m not gonna make any moves on someone I work with,” he said to her utter relief, and backed against the room’s sofa, before falling back onto it. “I’ll just sleep here. No big deal.”
She frowned; he was acting like nothing but a total ass earlier but now he was being tolerable? What was his deal? He grabbed a bottle of Jack Daniels from the table in front of the TV and drank it straight. If he was looking for a night cap he was overdoing it.
Leona unclasped the straps of her high heels and sighed at the comfort of her feet finding freedom. She’d gotten better at wearing them over the years but still relished the feeling of taking them off after wearing them for a long time. She rubbed her aching toes before shuffling under the bed covers. It wasn’t until she put her head on the pillow that she noticed how exhausted she was. This was much better than sleeping in the hallway.
She was in Edric King’s hotel bed. Some girls would kill for that kind of opportunity but she had her sights set on something greater and more worthwhile.
“G'night,” she heard him mumble as he shifted his weight on the sofa.
He really didn’t have to offer her this small luxury, especially considering how he didn’t even seem to like her that much. Caroline was right, he could be decent when he wanted to.
“Night,” Leona replied and flipped off the light, leaving them blanketed in darkness. After a moment she added, “and thank you.”
But Edric was already passed out.
|25th Sep 2017, 12:05 PM||#63|
Join Date: Nov 2016
Signing a contract without reading just because someone said they had sent it to your agent and she approves? Also, him insisting on the contract being signed immediately while Leona is tired and tipsy is not the best practice, I hope she won't have to suffer for it!
|25th Sep 2017, 7:55 PM||#64|
Oh, Leona I see trouble coming this way! Ok , Edric seems decent but I can't say the same for his manager...
|1st Oct 2017, 11:52 PM||Breaking Out #65|
Chapter 30: Breaking Out
The sound of running water gradually broke through Leona's slumber and roused her from where she lay. It had been less than an ideal sleep, sharing a room with an arrogant, yet somewhat generous pop singer who occasionally snored.
She had tossed and turned, not comfortable sleeping in the sequin dress she had worn at the concert the evening before and she did not want to remove it because of the previously mentioned singer sharing the room.
She opened her eyes and felt hair in her face, realizing that hers had escaped the confines of the braid it had been styled into. Her curls had never been obedient and now they were frizzy, and billowing around her face and shoulders freely.
She heard the water stop and pinpointed that it was coming from the bathroom. She needed to use one but she wasn't about to barge in on Edric King in the shower. That was certainly most likely what he was doing in there based on the auditory clues.
It so happened she didn't have to barge into the bathroom because the singer came sauntering out in a bathrobe that wasn't secured and so exposed her to a view of him in his boxer briefs.
She sat up quickly and admonished him, "Have some decency!"
I'm decent enough. What? You've never seen a killer set of abs before?" he teased at seeing the struck look on her face and gestured at himself. She'd seen better abs than his recently and on a guy that was way more tolerable. However, she didn't voice that and instead lifted her lip in a half growl of annoyance before getting out of bed and pulling her shoes on.
"What are you smirking at?" Leona snapped out irately, when she looked up to him after buckling the final strap. She really felt yucky; she needed a shower. She needed to get into her own room and stood to leave.
Edric pulled open a drawer from stand the hotel phone was setting on and picked something up from inside it. She couldn't make out what it was at first--a credit card? He approached her and held it out, "I think you'll be needing this."
She saw what it was and tensed with angry confusion, "Why do you have this?"
It was her hotel key card.
"I wanted to make sure you were the type of person not to lose your head in an unfavorable situation, so I instructed the spa hostess to remove it from your possession. You handled yourself pretty well, so consider yourself worthy of being my back up singer."
Leona snatched the hotel key from his hand with a pure scowl, "You are such a--a--"
"Devil is one way to put it," she growled and before he could get another quip out or do anything else completely insane, she marched past him and out of his room.
What a complete idiot! Did he think he was being eccentric? Because it wasn't cute or quirky, or even remotely amusing--it was just annoying. What other 'tests' would he put her through just to entertain himself at the expense of her discomfort? She had, unfortunately, already signed the contract but had been so concerned with getting that position full-time that she hadn't considered what type of person she'd be working with for the next four years.
She called for the elevator by pressing the down button and flipped the hotel card in her hand over, and over, trying to calm her mind from the surge of anger she was feeling for being tested like that.
There was no avoiding Edric moving forward, she would have to work with him and see him daily. She wondering if she could talk to Luke about this and have him get Edric under control, after all, Luke was the manager. How hard was it to manage Edric? Maybe Caroline would know what to do if that failed. Caroline had to deal with Edric's antics day-in and day-out, being his personal assistant.
Leona stepped onto the elevator and punched in her floor number. She wondered if her friends were awake or had even worried about her?
"Try again," Illyana suggested.
"I've tried calling like ten times. Her phone is of--it goes straight to voicemail," Alarie said dialing Leona's number for the umpteenth time on her cell. The familiar error noise followed by a mechanical voiced message sounded yet again.
"Or its dead. Or she's dead," Illyana slumped forward with pure devastation written on her face.
"Plumbobs, you are so over dramatic. I'm sure she's fine. She probably just had a wild night is all and ended up somewhere else. She'll turn up sooner or later."
Alarie seemed to be unconcerned but the worried look on her face told Illyana otherwise.
Illyana knotted her brows with concern, "Hopefully sooner rather than later."
Illyana had been quite jumpy ever since they ran off the casino floor last night. She worried that any minute that jerk, Tony, would barge in, having hunted her down for punching him in the mouth. Not that he didn't deserve it but he held some significant power in the casino, that she was sure of. Thank goodness Leona had booked the hotel room so neither Illyana nor Alarie could be tracked down to a room by their own names.
Illyana was anxious for Leona's return so they could get the hell outta Pandora and back to their normal lives. There had certainly been enough excitement for her in one weekend.
They heard the distinctive click of the mechanical lock on the door give way and directed their attention toward it. Illyana tensed and crossed her arms. Alarie did the same.
Sure enough, their stray friend walked into the room, and a wave of relief fell over them to know she was okay.
"And where have you been young lady?" Alarie teased in a motherly voice which was amusing since Alarie was more likely of the three to act irresponsibly.
Leona looked slightly embarrassed and exasperated, as if she had a tale to tell.
"I'm so sorry! My phone died, and I couldn't find my room key," Leona began as she walked further into the suite. She was a mess, her dress was wrinkled, makeup rubbed off, and her hair was a tangle of curls. She looked like she had a long night of hard partying.
"How was the concert?"
Leona took a moment to get the gears in her brain moving, to get out of their angry cloud--thinking back to that time, before she blurted, "It was completely awesome! It was a sold out show and they cheered so loud--well probably more for Edric--but I at least pretended it was for me and guys--I got the full time position!"
They both exclaimed at the news. They, of course were thrilled for her but at the same time, they both thought it was all so sudden.
"So then what happened afterward?" Alarie prompted for more juicy news. She practically thrived off eventful stories or gossip from those she knew.
"There was an after party at this club downtown. I got to know Edric's entourage a bit more and we all danced the night away. It was so fun! Also got lots of free drinks!"
If there was one thing Alarie and Leona had on common, it was their love of free drinks.
"Nice!" Alarie raised her hand and Leona met it with a high-five.
"So where did you end up sleeping?" Illyana wondered.
"Well--I--" Leona began but was interrupted by knocking on the suite's door. She went over to answer it since she was closest. It couldn' have been room service yet. Check out time was 11:00 and it was barely past 8 a.m.
"Hey there Miss Arithmetic," Edric stood in front of her. He wasn't in his underwear anymore but a sleek red shirt, unbuttoned at the chest, and he was wearing his sunglasses again. He was holding out her purse to her, "You left this in my room."
Seeing him sent her anger surging back to the forefront of her mind; she crossed her arms and nearly spat, "Did you steal anything else from it? My ID, or phone perhaps?"
"Nah, I only get other people to steal stuff out of your purse, remember?" he teased but she didn't find it amusing. She looked into it and found her important effects in tact.
"Satisfied?" Edric asked, his voice dripping with faux sultriness. He was so strange, and she disliked it immensely. Who was the real Edric? Would she ever know? He changed his mood and demeanor so often and she'd only properly met him yesterday!
"Thanks," Leona said, but her tone wasn't indicative of gratitude. She shut the door on him and set her purse on the desk behind her. She left out a frustrated breath and then noticed Illyana and Alarie were staring at her in shock.
"You spent the night with Edric King??" Alarie knotted her brows in disbelief.
"Yeah, what's the big deal?" Leona didn't understand the sudden chilly attitude. They had just high-fived not even a minute ago.
Alarie's expression fell into offense, "What about Antoine? Does he mean nothing to you?"
"Whoa, whoa whoa--I didn't sleep with Edric!" Leona set the record straight. Alarie looked doubtful and Illyana just stood behind her with that same initial look of shock on her face. Leona couldn't believe they didn't trust her word, "You don't believe me?"
"Uh, you're the ambitious one here. What wouldn't you do to come out top?" Alarie bit out which sent Leona into a deep glower.
"As opposed to you with no ambition whatsoever?"
It was Alarie's turn to glower, but she ignored that insult and said, "You're deflecting."
"You'd think I'd actually get into bed with that creep to further my career?"
"You've pulled something like this before. Remember the Mayor's ball?"
Alarie was referring to when they were in high school and Leona had broken her commitment to sing in their band in order to have a spot to sing at the prestigious Mayor's Ball. She nearly lost Illyana's friendship over that incident.
"Yeah, and I learned my lesson. Illyana you don't actually believe I would do something like this to achieve my dreams, do you?" Leona looked toward her other friend for back up.
Illyana shook her head and replied faintly, "I don't know."
She'd like to believe that Leona didn't participate in any shenanigans with the handsome pop star in order to boost her chances at breaking into the industry, but the truth was Leona was fiercely ambitious, sometimes even blinded by it and Illyana couldn't know for sure.
"Unbelievable!" Leona threw her hands up.
"Can we stop talking about this and please get ready to go? If you both don't stop, the drive back is going to be really awkward," Illyana suggested uncomfortably. She didn't care whether Leona did it or not but then again, Antoine wasn't her brother. Illyana made her way back to her room to get dressed. She just wanted to get out of there, now that they had Leona back.
Leona frowned with narrowed eyes, seeing neither of them would fully believe her and said in an even tone, "Go ahead without me. I'll be riding Edric King's tour bus to West Clayton."
"Apparently you like riding a lot of things of Edric King's" Alarie accused.
"Oh my plumbob! Shut your mouth! I haven't done nearly anything as bad as you. I didn't touch Edric but you would in a heartbeat for a free drink and the thrill. You have nothing else going for you and you're just jealous of my success!"
Illyana felt numb as she watched her two best friends start to scream insults at each other.
It may have seemed highly contradictory that Alarie was getting so worked up at thinking Leona had been with another man when all she had done this weekend was push Illyana towards hooking up with any strange man that would have her. However, Alarie was a big supporter of her brother and Leona together. She had to be, with Leona's father as a strong voice of dissent about that relationship.
Alarie had never seen Antoine as happy as when he was with Leona. She wanted her brother to be happy and she thought Leona was happy with him too. He had practically jumped at the chance to see her again, even canceling his last speaking event to come into town to be there when Alarie had tipped him off on where exactly Leona would be. In her eyes, she had set them up to finally be together again and now Leona had ruined it.
"Stop fighting!" Illyana shouted in a sharp demand and her two friends stopped mid-insult to stare at her, "Let's just get packed and leave."
Leona arched an eyebrow and said, "Why are you so eager to leave?"
"She punched a mafioso in the mouth when he put his greasy hands on her," Alarie answered before Illyana could tell her to shut up.
Leona's other eyebrow popped high rendering her face in surprise, wondering what exactly happened last night while they were apart. It seemed like they couldn't keep Illyana out of trouble.
"Really? The mafia--as in the syndicate?" she then asked doubtfully. The syndicates had been eradicated; everyone knew that.
Illyana shrugged, "I have no idea. Alarie is just making it sound more exciting than it actually was."
Alarie crossed her arms but didn't deny it. So, Illyana clarified:
"He was coming on strong and didn't take no for an answer He happened to have a lot of money and someone referred to him a 'boss'--so I figure we should get outta Pandora as fast as possible before I get held for assault."
"Do what you need to, but leave me out of it. I'm taking a shower and then I'm leaving for West Clayton," Leona stated, while tossing her messy hair and brushed past them both to go to her room where she had left her luggage. She should probably find a way to return the dress they gave her for the show.
She pulled the curtains closed and wiggled out of the sequined dress, still furious that her own best friends thought that her ambition equated to desperation. Well, she hoped they felt foolish when she was a headliner, recording her own hits, and jetting around the world to perform them because that was the path she had put herself on now, and she wasn't going to sleep with anyone to get it!
She was regretful, however, that she wouldn't be back in Kashmire in time to help Antoine look for apartments because she had been looking forward to spending more time with him. He would understand though, he had a demanding job himself and knew Leona's goals were her priority. Sometimes she figured Antoine knew her better than anyone else, even Alarie and Illyana, even her own father.
She picked up her phone out of her purse, intending to text him the news, and then made a curse under her breath because it was still dead.
Illyana hadn't showered. She just twisted her hair into a braid and didn't understand why Alarie was putting on more make up since they didn't have anyone to impress. It was just a six hour drive in a desert. Leona and Alarie had gone from shouting insults to ignoring each other completely. However instead of worrying about how they were ever going to make up, Illyana was still uneasy about consequences yet to be foreseen regarding Tony.
His smile haunted her thoughts. The way he did it, even after she had popped him in the mouth was so damn unnerving. She would have figured he'd be angry. What did that smile indicate?
"Can we leave yet?" Illyana called as she hiked her backpack over her shoulders and slipped her sunglasses on. She was asking Alarie, who stood in the main room with her make up spread across the counter and was looking into the mirror behind the TV, since Leona was using the bathroom. They refused to even share a space together.
"Fine, fine," Alarie said and brushed an applicator over her eyelid then threw it into her make up bag and gathered all her products in after it. She stuffed it into her duffel bag and then slid her messenger bag over her shoulder, "I'm ready."
Illyana wanted to say something to Leona to let them know they were leaving but couldn't think of how to do it the current situation. Leona was being stand offish and probably wouldn't acknowledge it anyhow.
So instead, Illyana sighed and gave a nod toward the door and they quietly left the room.
After packing up the back of her Jeep, Illyana paused at the driver's side door and looked at Alarie, who was waiting for her to unlock the passenger side.
"Shouldn't we say goodbye? I mean--we won't see Leona for awhile if she's going on a concert tour."
"She wouldn't care. She doesn't even care who she hurts as long as she gets famous," Alarie snapped, "Besides, she didn't say goodbye to us. Just get in and start it up."
But then out of the hotel Leona emerged, rolling her luggage behind her, freshly showered, wearing her blue shades, and a floral dress that ended at her thighs--she looked just as a famous singer would.
And as she walked past them toward the tour bus, she didn't say word to them--just as a famous singer wouldn't.
|2nd Oct 2017, 12:34 AM||#66|
Awww, girls. Why you gotta be like that.
"Passion makes no accommodation for self-preservation."
|2nd Oct 2017, 2:30 PM||#67|
This is sad, I think Leona did not deserve the other's distrust, at all... But I am sad for all of them, the end of a friendship (even for a short time) is really painful.
|7th Oct 2017, 5:22 PM||Blacklisted #68|
Chapter 31: Blacklisted
Reggie found himself back at a coffee shop. It didn't matter which one around the campus he stumbled into on Sunday morning, he just needed the caffeine. Preferably to-go because he wanted to get a head start on fixing up his robot and program the audio component.
He'd felt like a weight was on his chest ever since he left Alanna and Shane there so they could troubleshoot Shane's robot. Alanna would never consider it, because she was just being helpful, but she was actively working against Reggie by helping Shane. Only one robot would make it to the collegiate competition from the Sim State robotics program. Reggie was hoping it would be his spybot, but there was no doubt Shane Calhoun was a heavy contender.
He didn't feel right either, with how he and Alanna had parted. He got the distinct feeling she was miffed with him as soon as he'd snapped out at her. He'd need to figure out something to do to make up for it.
He also could not shake the sight of Franz Schoulsburg running from the premises of the fight night location. Reggie had stayed up very late wandering around the seedy back streets of Scandalica City looking for that place.
Reggie had missed the event by only about fifteen minutes but found out from the spectators that had been present that the next fight was tonight. He would go again now that he knew where it was exactly and see if Franz was actually one of the fighters--that was Reggie's assumption anyway, and if his theory was correct, it would be proof enough to show Alanna that he had been right all along about Franz's violent nature. Then maybe she'd drop her blinders and stop hanging around Franz once and for all. Some charity cases just weren't worth it.
Reggie paid for and received his coffee in a container and was about to head out to the engineering building to get to work when an obnoxious voice reached his ears. It oozed with faux charm and had a slight whine to it. He turned an eye toward the sound and saw Marshall Cosgrove trying to hit on a girl that looked to be minding her own business.
Reggie frowned slightly. He knew Marshall; their fathers had been friends for years and had even gone to college together. They were in Hoh Fruhm together. Which was why it infuriated Reggie to no end that he still wasn't in the Greek society. He was legacy! He had the right to be in that fraternity but yet kept getting denied membership. He should have gotten in as easily as Marshall.
Marshall went to the prep school in Isla Del Kashmire so Reggie and he never really had the chance to be friends in their youth but looking at him, Reggie doubted he could tolerate Marshall's company for more than five minutes.
"Hey, um Marshall?" Reggie said to catch his notice. Marshall and his frat buddy turned their attention toward Reggie; Marshall recognized him immediately despite not having seen each other for a few years.
"What do you want, Orbinson?"
"Can I talk to you for a sec?" Reggie asked, making a slight nod toward behind him where they would be on the other side of the wall out of earshot from others. Marshall looked highly inconvenienced but sauntered over to where Reggie was. Reggie kept unconsciously tightening and loosening his grip on his coffee container. He wasn't scared of Marshall, but was a bit nervous. Marshall always played up the 'son-of-an-important-man' card well and had the seamless confidence to go with it, plus he was Hoh Fruhm's chapter president.
"Can't you see I was having a lovely conversation?" Marshall bit with annoyance and gestured toward the girl who now was being hit on by Marshall's frat brother. She looked kind of miserable, in Reggie's opinion.
"Sorry, but I heard there was an opening at Hoh Fruhm," Reggie said. He'd actually overheard it at this very coffee shop.
Marshall rolled his eyes, seemingly remembering the events that had led to the vacancy, "Yeah so?"
"So, I was wondering if you could take a look at my application—maybe get me voted in this time," Reggie said and Marshall seemed to consider the request for a few seconds before he belted out a sardonic laugh.
"No way, Orbinson. You have like a zero percent chance of getting in," he said, pulling his laugh into a serious frown and holding out his hand in a clear gesture that he wouldn’t reconsider. Reggie felt his gut fall in disappointment before it was replaced with heavy frustration at not understanding why.
"But I'm legacy!"
"Listen, I'm not supposed to let you in. So, I'm not."
Marshall began to return to what he had been doing before but Reggie actually reached out and grabbed him by his shoulder, "What are you talking about? Who told you to blacklist me?"
Instead of giving a straight answer, Marshall shrugged Reggie off in the same annoyed manner and replied sharply—"Why don't you ask your father?"
What. The. Fuck.
Marshall's cryptic answer left Reggie reeling with questions but the conversation was done as far as the fraternity president was concerned and so Reggie was left standing there while his coffee turned cold.
Robotics would have to wait.
Reggie wanted answers.
He hurriedly drove to the business district of Scandalica City since he'd tracked his father's location to the city hall. It was a Sunday, and the man really shouldn't have been working, however, since it was an election year, his father put in constant overtime to run a campaign and do government business simultaneously.
Parking was, thankfully, easy since it was the weekend. He finished off his coffee and tossed the container into a trash bin outside of the city hall before he started up the stairs to the entrance.The caffeine was hitting him now. He felt very energized, like he was on a mission.
His father had been mayor since Reggie was in junior high, so Reggie knew the ins and outs of the building quite well. He had even been a city hall page and interned a couple of summers to get extra credit for his government classes. As the only Orbinson son, he'd been groomed for a political life—taking debate, running for student council, participating in youth leadership workshops—yet he still didn't know if that was his true calling. He just hadn't found anything better yet.
As he took the corridor up into the East wing toward the mayor's office, he passed an open door and a beat later a stern voice carried out to him, "Reginald Orbinson, where do you think you are going?"
He froze in place before taking a few steps backward and sheepishly peered into Millicent Conway's office. Though her voice had sounded stern, she still had a playful spark behind her eyes when she regarded him.
Millicent was his father's assistant and had been for many years, even before his dad was the mayor. She was just out of college when she was hired on to work on Lawrence Orbinson's first campaign for the position. Reggie remembered having the biggest crush on her in his adolescence, mostly based on how pretty she was, and it was a fact she still looked very well for her age.
"I was just...going to see Dad."
"He's expecting me," Reggie insisted. He had even called beforehand and told him he was on his way.
Millicent twisted her steely features into thoughtful consideration and then stood, gathered up an armful of books, and said, "Fine, but I'll lead you in. It's my job."
Reggie made a groan with a highly exasperated nature. Couldn't they forgo formalities? It was Sunday after all. He let her walk past him and followed, knowing that arguing with her was pointless.
"You're in college now, right?" She asked as she lead him down the remainder of the corridor.
"Yeah, a junior."
"What's your major? Oh, let me guess. Political Science."
Reggie's silence was telling so Millicent nodded to herself, "figures." Then she made a small gasp followed by a grumble, "Shoot, I forgot to grab him a coffee."
She gave a few knocks on the double door to the mayor's office and they heard him bid them enter.
"Here's those books you requested," Millicent walked straight in and delivered them to the top of his desk, "I also brought you your wayward son."
"Take a seat, Reginald," his dad requested and Reggie removed his messenger bag and set it on the sofa next to him as he fell into it.
Lawrence Orbinson's office was grandiose. Decorated with a rich blue theme; there were fresh flowers in tall vases, long drapes, and a new addition was the large rug that covered most of the room that was a gift from Takemizu's ambassador. He had stacks of papers next to his computer and Reggie figured that's what was keeping him here on a Sunday.
"Coffee?" The mayor raised an eyebrow at his assistant, seeing it was missing.
"Sorry sir, I forgot it when I grabbed the books—but I can go get you one—" Millicent admitted but was interrupted by a dismissive wave of the mayor's hand.
"Don't worry yourself. Go home and relax; I shouldn't be keeping you here over the weekend anyway but your help is very much appreciated."
"Thank you, sir," Millicent seemed entirely relieved and quickly left, eager to have the rest of the day free to herself after weeks of overtime assisting the mayor.
In Reggie's opinion, Millicent deserved a break. He couldn't imagine it was easy keeping up with his father's demands.
"I take it whatever you wanted to speak to me about was of utmost urgency for you to come down here on a holiday weekend," his father said as he started taking papers off their stacks and signing them. He didn't glance up at his son, but maintained an open ear while he was busying himself with other matters.
Well, to be fair, Reggie didn't have any holiday plans except building more on his robot. He wasn't the type to go to Kashmire Point, hit the night clubs, or go out with friends—because he didn't really have any. He did want to play more Rush Hour, but his best opponent hadn't been online for a few days and he kept winning all his matches. That reminded him that he needed to explore more on his theory that Violet_Fire could actually be Alanna because she had mentioned she was studying all weekend and that could have been the reason Violet_Fire was offline.
Anyway, Reggie had to push that question aside and focus on getting answers for a more vital one.
"I ran into Marshall Cosgrove this morning, and when I asked about the status of my Greek society membership, he told me I'm never getting it and to ask you why," Reggie folded his arms as his father finally, did briefly glance up but not with any amount of surprise. Reggie leaned forward with a pointed frown, "What did you do, father?"
His father returned his concentration on the papers in front of him, continued signing the current one and then set his pen down. Next, he pushed his chair back and stood up, walking around his desk and motioned Reggie to follow him.
Reggie also rose to his feet, curiously taking steps after his father before realizing they were going into the private room. It wasn't somewhere Reggie ever was allowed to be when he visited city Hall—to him it was just a door off to the side of the Mayor's office but he'd seen his father take private meetings inside it before. Whatever his father had to tell him, it couldn't be overheard by anyone and it caused Reggie to be very concerned.
The room was small, intimate, and had the original hardwood flooring from when the city hall was first built. There were two vintage sofas, a bookshelf, and most notably a dart board with his father's political rival's face tacked behind it.
His father picked out a handful of darts from their holder and stood back from the dart board.
This was no time for games! Reggie crossed his arms again and frowned while clearing his throat—impatient for an answer.
"A few years ago, legislation came across my desk—" His father finally started to say, throwing a dart hard at the board. It whizzed past Reggie and stuck three rings from the bulls-eye. "It concerned a partition of land in Isla Del Kashmire that was found to be the habitat of a rare species of squirrel."
Reggie tried very hard but failed to see what a rare species of squirrel had to do with him being denied a spot at the most prestigious fraternity at Sim State University.
"The naturalists were in a frenzy to get that protection law passed; they blasted this issue all over the media, it was suddenly a very unpopular prospect to deny these squirrels a protected home—therefore, the council rushed it through and the only thing delaying it was my signature," his father threw a second dart and it landed closer to the center target. Reggie wondered how much time his father played darts here in his private room.
"So, I signed it to avoid the backlash of public opinion."
"Nice story...but—" Reggie uncrossed his arms and started but his dad threw him a look that indicated he wasn't finished and silently admonished him for interrupting. Reggie folded his arms again with frustration.
"Pryce Cosgrove had been gunning for that exact same land for a development project—he said it would have vitalized the neighborhood but that project died as soon as the land went under park services' protection. Cosgrove lost out on millions of potential revenue and I thought our friendship was strong enough to survive this...but..."
Now it all started to make sense.
"...I never expected him to be so petty about the loss. Not only did he stop speaking to me, but he convinced Calhoun to run against me this election cycle, probably to only have that land protection repealed. I also suspect that he's instructed his son to deny your application to the fraternity."
The final dart was thrown but went off-kilter and ended up piercing the area right above Elm Calhoun's forehead in the poster behind the board. His father seemed unconcerned for the shoddy shot and went to retrieve his darts.
So, in a sense, Reggie's predicament was his father's fault. Really, how important was a species of squirrel? There were tons of them around and what did it matter if it was a different type than the rest? Unless it had laser-vision and could fly, Reggie couldn't care less. He was livid that his father was more worried about public perception than his son's future. It wasn't fair! Then an angry thought suddenly caught in his mind and he snapped, "So how come Evie got into the Cosgrove Scholarship House?"
The Cosgrove family funded a scholarship program and Evie received it her very first year at Academie Le Tour.
"I suppose she was awarded that spot as a gesture of goodwill. She entered right about the time the legislation was being considered," his father ruminated and aimed his next throw. A small, wry, smile appeared on his face before he launched it, "Though can you imagine if Evie was denied? I doubt she would have accepted such a decision."
Reggie narrowed his eyes. What was his father implying? That Evie was more competent at being an Orbinson than him? Yeah right! He was a clean as a whistle and he doubted his parents even knew she was carrying on an affair with the maestro; it was so obvious the way she was always 'collaborating' with him, which she had been doing since she was eighteen. He just didn't get the appeal to why she kept it up all these years. His sister probably had many secrets that could ruin the family if unveiled.
He had to admit, his dad still had a point—Evelyn Jane, for all her scheming and manipulations, had always been very good at getting what she wanted. So, in this situation, the question now was W.W.E.J.D? The answer was quite clear—Reggie couldn't stand by anymore and simply hope things would go his way. He would have to actively make it so, by any means necessary.
|13th Oct 2017, 3:00 AM||#69|
There's Reggie's luck again... outdone by the wily squirrel. Poor kid just can't catch a break.
"Passion makes no accommodation for self-preservation."
|15th Oct 2017, 7:30 AM||Brother's Keeper #70|
Chapter 32: Brother's Keeper
He could imagine that anyone else would find the task of manually sorting a musical library as dull as watching paint dry but Cypress had taken it upon himself to re-arrange and catalog all of the station’s music. He’d already imported all songs from old albums into a digital format into the computer system. Re-filed all songs and made sure they had correct titles, artists, and genre attributes. Now he was just finding a way to put away all the albums in the studio’s collection to protect them instead of always seeing them piled on the tables and spread out in a scene of disarray. This to him, was actually enjoyable. It was more engaging than college lectures and coursework at least.
This musical project he had undertaken had been a long road. He’d started at the station last year, but as a radio broadcast assistant—someone who kept quiet and behind the scenes, helping any producers run a show that didn’t overlap with his class schedule. It also, annoyingly, consisted of him making runs downstairs to the café to pick up coffee for the DJs and musical guests. However, that changed this year when he was granted a later time slot where he could present and produce his own two hours of air time.
He finished filing away albums by artist V through W and took a moment to stand as he’d been crouching for a while. His calves ached and the left one had even fallen asleep. He stood and hopped a bit as all his weight shifted to his right leg to avoid the needle-like sensation in the other one.
It was about time for a smoke break anyway.
Since no one was at the station, or at least he hadn’t seen anyone else around—it was a holiday weekend and even the café was closed—he took the narrow stairwell to the roof to light up.
He liked the view from the station roof anyway—he could see all the campus buildings–across the quad and toward the library and the gym. He could even see the place he lived a few blocks down on the other side of some apartments.
He fished out a cigarette from the pack in his back pocket and lit it, shielding it from the wind so the flame would take.
He kept telling himself he’d stop but had yet to find the will to ignore the craving. Maybe I’ll quit next week, he leaned against the roof’s edging and thought.
Suddenly the door to the roof exit swung open and a woman came walking through it, nearly strutting her way over next to Cypress as she said, “What the hell are you doing here on a Sunday?”
He almost swallowed his cigarette at the abrupt invasion, his eyes grew wide—she was the station’s director.
Instead of swallowing the cigarette, he’d inhaled a lot of the smoke he had been trying to initially exhale and started coughing. She swung her purse onto the roof ledge and seemed satisfied at his unexpected response, “Mind if I join you?”
Cypress was still coughing but managed to shake his head, no—as he swallowed gulps of fresher air.
She dug through her purse and produced her own pack of cigarettes. She extracted one and pushed it between her lips and mumbled, “My question still stands, Cypress,” before she lit it.
“I was filling in the gaps of the station’s music library,” he finally answered.
“You know it’s a holiday weekend right? You aren’t getting paid for extra hours.”
Gabriella Lavillos had only been the station’s director for a few months since; she was promoted after the previous director retired. The year before, she had been the station's assistant director and Cypress used to get her coffee along with the rest of the other upper management. She was the one who had granted him his current position as a Thursday night DJ. He hoped that his project would be the thing that would get him onto be a midday producer so he’d have to stop talking to the public but yet still could create programs for a wider audience.
“I know—it’s just—I really wanted to get my project done.” Cypress explained and then narrowed his eyes suspiciously, “Why are you here on a holiday weekend?”
“My family is all too busy to do anything together so I figured I’d catch up on some paperwork. Didn’t realize I wasn’t the only workaholic in this place,” she answered, took a drag and released a puff of smoke while eyeing him.
“The same could be said for me too,” Cypress flicked some ash off the end of his cig over the edge of the roof. His parents surely would be working and his brother probably had plans with friends.
“You’re a good-looking guy; you don’t have any dates lined up?” She wondered.
Cypress gave a small, amused laugh, “No, not really the dating type.”
“So, a one-night-stand type then,” she teased and took another drag.
He shook his head and then swiped some of his loose, dark hair back behind his ear, growing a bit uncomfortable with the topic of his non-existent love life, especially discussing it with his boss. It had never been a priority and never would be. Though most people acted as though it should.
“Your family—what are they so busy with?” Cypress asked to change the subject. His own parents barely had time to spend with him as a child and his poor brother had the same fate—though Cypress had been there for Cedar, practically raising him.
“My mother said she was entering a quilting competition, and my brother threw me over to go to Kashmire Point with some frat buddies,” Gabriella lamented and tossed her hair with a huff.
“You have a little brother too?”
She made a wistful half smile,“Yeah, though he’s taller than me now so I guess not so little anymore.”
Cedar had yet to reach Cypress’s height, although he was growing fast. It had been at least a month since Cypress had last seen his brother, so who knows how tall the kid was now?
Cypress tossed his cig to the ground and stepped on the tip with his toe to put it out. Gabriella did the same and then picked it up carefully between her two fingers as she grabbed her purse. He followed her lead and also snatched up his, figuring it was technically littering if he left it on the roof though he usually threw it off the building and into the bushes below after it was extinguished.
“How did you know I was here?” Cypress asked as they made their way back into the building.
“I heard you stomping on the roof,” she stated as she unlocked her office door, walked in, and threw her cigarette butt in the trash.
“Come on, I wasn't stomping,” he protested as he threw in his after though he didn’t follow her all the way inside.
“Well I heard you from down here so let’s just chalk it up to your heavy footsteps.”
Her office was very cool. It was modern and fun, dressed in mostly slick whites with pops of color. She had a large pop-art canvas on one of her walls that looked like it could have been one giant album cover, hanging plants, and a sort of bean bag chair to relax in.
“By the way I wanted to ask you about something,” Gabriella said as she took a seat at her desk and wiggled her mouse to wake up her computer. Cypress remained near the doorway, unsure of what she wanted exactly.
“We’ve been getting calls since Thursday of people requesting some song I have never heard of before. I’ve looked it up in our system but can’t find it. I did some digging and found out that you aired it during your last shift.”
Cypress crossed his arms, knowing he’d been caught—he’d have to explain where it came from, and the fact was that he’d had people hanging around at the station after hours that weren’t scheduled guests.
“So, that song was played live by one of my friends…” he began to explain and Gabriella’s gaze snapped sharply to him with surprise. She had told him before not to have extra people hanging around during his time slot! “…Sorry! It’s just that he’s a really good musician and no one ever gives him enough credit.”
“Come here and see something,” she demanded in a stern tone and Cypress shuffled around the desk, and leaned on the top of it waiting to see whatever she wanted to show him. She nodded at her computer screen where there was a form of logged song requests and whether or not they had been played. If they were, the cell would highlight green and if not, it would be red.
There was a lot of red on the log, and mostly associated with a song titled ’unidentified jackass love song’
She sat back and crossed her arms, “We can’t meet standards if you air songs we don’t have in our library.”
Cypress bit his lip with regret, but then smiled at realizing he shouldn’t have any, “But it could be.”
The station director grinned, anticipating his solution. Cypress didn’t always follow the rule book but he made up for it in his passion, knowledge, and ingenuity when it came to music. Cypress motioned for Gabriella to follow him as he went across the hallway and into the tiny technical studio where he worked. He pulled out the chair for her to sit on and then handed her a pair of headphones.
She put them on without question and Cypress flipped a switch on the board.
A pretty acoustic melody floated out and into her ears.
“This is it?”
“I recorded it,” Cypress said proudly and leaned back against the table.
“Can you add it to our library so we can keep on playing it?”
Cypress nodded enthusiastically. He didn’t add it originally because it was proof of his misconduct but if the station director wanted Orion’s song to play, Cypress would happily let her play it. Orion should be credited as the great musician that he was.
It’s just a pity his break was with a love song about Cain Nova.
“Great!” Gabriella smiled and continued to listen to the song, bobbing her head from side to side. When it was over she took off the headphones, stood, and patted Cypress on his shoulder–“No more unscheduled folks in the studio during your shift though—I’m not going to ask again—and I’d hate to have to fire you before your next promotion.”
“My next promotion…?” Cypress was befuddled and his gaze followed her as she stepped back into the hallway.
She didn’t elaborate but gave him a wink before disappearing. She wasn’t playing when she said she would fire him for another breach of conduct, and he was only slightly unsure if she was dangling the hint of a promotion next semester as truth or as a means to keep him in line.
She popped her head back inside the studio and said, “Also, get out of my radio station.”
He openly laughed because the way she said it was playful but the way she meant it was serious, “I will, just let me finish adding the song to the digital library and put away these albums.”
She raised a quizzical brow, “How long will that take?”
“Like five more minutes, tops.”
She held out her hand with all of her fingers extended and said pointedly, “Five. Minutes.”
“I promise,” Cypress assured. He quickly woke the studio’s main computer up, and then transferred Orion’s song from the sound board’s recording storage. He still didn’t know what Orion had meant to call it so typed in:
In Love with a Raging Jackass
By Orion Loche
He applied it to the library, then quickly maneuvered to the other side of the room to finish filing the albums. What would he even do the rest of the day if he wasn’t finishing his project here? He thought he remembered Orion saying he was running errands, if so then Orion wouldn’t be home. Nick was all over the place lately, ever since he got that email from the finance office.
Something Gabriella had said struck Cypress about her brother being too busy to spend time with her. He had been waiting around for Cedar to call him and reach out but maybe Cedar was the one waiting for him to be available.
He placed the last album of the pile into the crate and pushed it under the table with the rest. He locked up the studio and waved goodbye to Gabriella so she would he had left.
While he was walking back to his place, he decided to call Cedar and see what he was up to. Cypress assumed he had plans, after all his brother was a social, teenage boy and had a three-day weekend.
“Hey bro,” he heard Cedar greet him after a few rings.
“Hey kid, what are you doing?”
“Just sitting around and binge-watching TV shows, why?” Cedar responded, his voice sounded strangely far away.
“Do you have me on speaker phone?”
"This is the cool way to answer phones now. Jeez, get with the times old man,” Cedar taunted.
“Anyway, you don’t have any plans then?”
“I plan to finish season 5 of Fashionista Fury,” Cedar sounded determined, and his answer made Cypress laugh. “I’m serious, they made a bomb-ass dress out of literal trash.”
“You mind if I come over?”
“Not at all. I mean, it’s kind of your home too, right? Mom and Dad are working though, so it’s just us.”
“I figured. Okay cool, I’ll be there in like a half hour.”
“You should stay over too since there’s no school tomorrow.”
Cypress agreed and smiled after he hung up because unlike poor Gabriella, his little brother actually still wanted to hang out with him.
It was even more evident that Cedar had missed having his older brother around because before Cypress even walked through the front door to his parents’ house, Cedar busted out and grabbed Cypress into a tight hug which momentarily startled him.
“Hey there, miss me much?” Cypress chuckled in question and patted Cedar’s shoulder.
“You need to come around more often, it gets pretty lonely,” Cedar told him before letting go.
“Don’t you ever have friends over?” Cypress wondered. He remembered Cedar to have quite a social circle–enough that Cypress couldn’t keep their names straight when Cedar came home from school and told him about his day as a child.
“Yeah but that’s not the same—they come and go. We’re bros for life,” Cedar said and Cypress felt uncommonly emotional at hearing that. He’d made countless bowls of Mac and Cheese to satisfy Cedar’s hunger, spent countless hours playing drums for Cedar’s entertainment, had told Cedar a countless number of times to go to bed by 9:00 and had their parents come home a countless number of times to the sight of both boys jumping on the sofa because Cypress figured that was the quickest way to expend his little brother’s energy.
Cypress followed Cedar into the living room, and Cedar picked up a controller to the video game system, “I got this new game. Watch me play and then you can try to challenge me when you see what it’s all about!”
“What about Fashionista Fury?”
“That can wait,” Cedar began to flip through the screen options, choose a character and begin the game.
Cypress was decent at video games—that was always more of his cousin’s hobby but Cypress had learned a lot from watching Nick as they grew up. He was actually glad now that the director had told him to leave the radio station—because hanging out with Cedar was long overdue. As he watched the character on screen jump around and fight a wave of nostalgia hit him and he found himself grinning because he realized he had missed his brother too.
|24th Oct 2017, 2:01 AM||Dysfunctional Twins #71|
Chapter 33: Dysfunctional Twins
Franz lifted up the doormat and found the spare house key that had always been there. The lights were off in the house and it was a silent, somber Sunday evening. He wasn't here to have dinner with his family like usual.
He picked up the key and shoved it into the lock, twisted it and then the evening wasn't so silent anymore as a chorus of meowing rose up on the other side of the door. He was greeted by three hungry kitties as he stepped over the threshold. Old Lemoncake even rose up on his hind legs and pawed at Franz's knee to make it clear that feeding was long overdue.
Franz moved quickly toward the kitchen, turned on the light, and saw that the two bowls that were usually full had long since been emptied. The cats hadn't had any company for over a day, and it was just now he had remembered they were here alone. It had been such an exhausting 24 hours for Franz, he was working on only about four hours of sleep because, in all honesty he couldn't sleep with all that had happened.
He picked up the bowl and the cats gathered around him eagerly. Dolce even grew so bold as to hop up onto the counter and rub her whiskers against his arm before head-bunting it. Franz noticed the bowl was dirty—his mother had never been good about cleaning them, so he wet a sponge and started clearing it of the old food crumbs before setting it back down and refilling it. He did the same with the second bowl and at last cats were satisfied as they crowded around their dinner.
The run to the hospital went by slowly though Franz probably had made it in record time. His lungs were on fire, his breathing strained, and his face and sides were still stinging from the beating at the warehouse. But it didn't matter—he pushed himself to get there and ran straight into the emergency room. The desk personnel were startled, seeming to think he was the one who needed medical attention as he nearly collapsed in front of them, because it took him a few seconds as he caught his breath to finally say "Where is Yvette Schoulsburg?"
Franz was staring off into space, he realized and blinked a few times to see he was actually looking at the counter top. It would be where food was being made about this time, if this was a normal Sunday evening. He suddenly picked up Lemoncake, despite his meowling protest and hugged the yellow cat tightly—just like when he was a boy and upset about something. His mother and Fauna never really did hug him, and he felt too awkward to ask for an embrace. Lemoncake was younger then, and could easily wriggle out of Franz's arms but not this time. Franz pushed his face into Lemoncake's fur and relished the softness of the cat, it was like a pillow and reminded Franz he needed to sleep.
But he just couldn't.
He heard the front door knob rattle and looked up, startled. He hadn't expected anyone else to be here tonight.
He watched as the door opened and his sister walked in with the usual hop in her gait. She saw him and smiled in that way she did when she was about to tease him for something. He had no idea why she looked as if it were just a normal Sunday evening.
"You say we don't have twin-stinct but here we are wearing the same color again. What happened to your eye? Jeez. Have you been fighting again?"
She was referring to the bruise around his eye from last night--it had darkened a bit. She was also referring to the black thermal shirt he was wearing that could be considered to match her black top with white trim. She joined him in the kitchen and he let down Lemoncake but he didn't respond to anything that she had said—growing frustrated at her nonchalance—and instead asked, "What are you doing here?"
She leaned against the counter and pet Dolce who had finished eating and jumped on top of it again, "What do you mean? I'm here for dinner. It's Sunday right?"
"Yeah, where is mom? She usually is first to greet me and only because you are a big grump-o-saurus," Fauna looked up and smiled, still with that teasing grin but for once—her brother's face was not fixed into that forever-bored expression...it was crestfallen.
She didn't know.
"Mom is in the hospital."
Fauna looked doubtful and then arched a brow, "That's not a funny joke."
He leveled a frown at her. Since when did he ever make jokes?
Her eyes widened in concern as she realized he was being perfectly serious like usual, "Well is she okay? Why is she in the hospital?"
"The VBT has spread to her pelvis. We've scheduled immediate surgery, otherwise she could lose her ability to walk permanently."
The doctor was explaining to him how they had found her, collapsed in the bakery. She'd hit her head on something and now there was a thick gauzy bandage over the wound. Seeing his mother so pale and weak laying in that hospital bed made him feel afraid—because he was helpless to anything to make her better. Sheer strength wasn't enough. He couldn't fight her sickness away, he couldn't bake it away, and he couldn't ignore it like she had tried to—because refusing to acknowledge the issue was what made it worse in the first place.
"She's been sick for awhile now. She has a VBT."
Fauna looked struck with even more disbelief until she realized Franz never lied and always had been annoyingly blunt. Tears welled up into her eyes at the truth. He still wondered how she had been so unaware of what was going on?
Franz awkwardly stepped forward to try and hug his sister. It wasn't a thing they normally did, but he knew that any kind of comfort could help in this situation. She let him and he began to tell her everything he knew about the current condition she was in, which room she was in at which hospital, and when they could see her. Fauna cried even harder and then rubbed at her eyes and choked out, "Why didn't I know in the first place?"
"Sorry, I thought Mom would have told you."
Fauna looked up sharply with a scowl and pushed out of his attempt of an embrace, "Are you kidding? What makes you think she'd tell me anything? She won't even tell us who our own father is!"
Franz made a step back to give Fauna room. She was now emotional and explosive—sending waves of despair outward and he didn't know how to handle it. Tears were still running down her face, smearing her eye make-up and she sniffled before she saw him staring and snapped, "What? Just because you and mom don't ever feel anything doesn't mean I have to too."
She turned her back on him.
He didn't take offense to her insult but she was dead wrong.
Franz did feel, a whole lot. His mother did too but they just didn't make it a point to broadcast it to everyone around him. It wasn't anyone’s business.
After they had wheeled his mother out of the room to surgery, he collapsed onto a chair in the corner of the room and let out a heavy sob. He wanted her to be okay again. The salt of his tears stung the scrape on his face from the fight and he felt an ember of hope left within him--he could still help her—by fighting to get that prize money and continue to get it so she wouldn't have to worry if her insurance would get stingy on the billing, and she wouldn't have to worry about selling her livelihood.
He promised himself then he'd do whatever it took--fight a hundred fights for her if he had to. He ended up falling asleep in the same chair, all his muscles cramped from the hunched position. It wasn't until a nurse came in and gently shook him awake did he realize he had.
His mother was in recovery but wasn't awake yet. He waited and waited but eventually his body betrayed him and he had to find some kind of rest. He wrote a note for his mother and left it with a nurse to give to her, and it told her to call him as soon as she was able. With that, he stumbled out of the hospital and took a taxi back to the community college. He didn't even shower, though he was bloody, sweaty, and smelly from the long night—he just crumpled into his bed and tried to sleep. His mind and body were not on the same page however and he kept waking up, wondering if he was still in a dream of sorts and if anything that had happened were really real.
At 5:30 am, when he decided sleep was futile and got out of bed, he nearly called Alanna because he needed to talk, for once in his life he just needed it but his fingers stopped after dialing the first three numbers because he didn't want to bring that sort of solemnity upon their friendship and she was probably asleep anyhow. She knew of the situation, and updating her would just cause her to worry incessantly. She'd already gone to all the trouble of organizing a bake sale for him and his mother, and he couldn't ask more of her—to burden her with this colossal sadness that was encompassing him at the moment.
Finally, around 6:00 am he showered, and then made a bowl of cereal in the community college kitchen where he ate alone. It was a chore to eat, and a struggle to maintain a coherent train of thought.
"So what did she tell you last time you were here?" Franz asked, remembering that his mother had called Fauna away to talk to her about something. He supposed it was about her sickness.
"Last week, you left your boy toy here in the kitchen because Mom called you into the other room. What did she talk to you about?"
Fauna frowned and narrowed her eyes as she tried to remember and then said, "Oh, she was just interrogating me about Adam. Making sure he wasn't some homeless guy or serial killer. You know how paranoid she gets about my boyfriends."
"So, he's your boyfriend now?" he asked, but it didn't surprise him in any capacity.
"You sound as judgy as mom," Fauna glared at him for the sarcastic tone.
His sister's history with men was spotty and full of mistakes—it was just logical to be suspicious of any new developments.
"Is that where the necklace came from?"
She plucked at the intricate chain with jewels around her neck. He'd never seen her wear it before. It looked expensive, too much that she could bother to afford. "Yes, okay? Adam gave it to me, he said it's an expensive family heirloom that belonged to his grandmother. He really loves me."
Franz held in a scoff only because she was sensitive and he didn't want to make her cry even more than she already had that night. She was naïve if she thought expensive gifts equated to love. He knew that much from the books he read—ones that happened to have a romantic plot involved anyhow.
Lemoncake was done eating and rubbing against Franz's ankles with some deep purrs of satisfaction. Franz must have been standing too long without speaking so Fauna moved the conversation forward. She was always good at doing that.
"I can make dinner if you clear off the table," she said as she opened the refrigerator door and scanned for ingredients.
"I'm not hungry," Franz replied even though his stomach was twisting in painful knots in want of sustenance. His mind didn't feel like eating, he had no appetite. Did he even have time to eat? He still planned on going to Armscor to fight again and he needed to catch a bus downtown. He couldn't leave her here by herself though.
"Well, I am and your stomach is making grumbly noises so I'm making dinner," she said with a bit of force and it meant he could argue but he wouldn't dissuade her from making food. She had a carton of milk in one hand and as soon as she fished out a block of cheddar cheese, he knew what she intended to make. Good, mac and cheese was a quick dish.
Fauna moved throughout the kitchen putting a pot of water on the stove to boil and started shredding the cheese. She must have been using their grandmother's recipe because she also had taken out a bottle of sriracha from the cabinet which gave the dish a kick.
Franz went into the dining room to see a familiar sight of bills and papers his mother must have been going through before she left for work the day before. He starting picking them up, wondering where he should put all of it. He didn't want to mess any of it up, because it looked important.
He began looking through the bills, just to make sure none were due immediately while his mother was incapacitated. Medical bills, medical bills, medical bills 90 days past due—plumbobs why was it so expensive?
He stuck the past due one on top and then started looking through the papers. Payroll for the bakers, there was even a stub with his cut which he would probably just refuse so his mother could use the extra money as needed. Then...he came across something different. A regular sized sheet of paper that carried the Cosgrove Collective's logo across the top.
He scanned the text, feeling his brow getting lower and lower as he read down the page where finally it displayed:
'Seller hereby transfers to the Buyer, all rights of Seller in the property outlined above.
Signature of Buyer
Signature of Seller
So, Shelly Barnett had pulled herself together after all, and given his mother the last piece of paperwork that finalized the sale. He could tell his mother didn't want to sign it because of the way she kept putting her pen down and removing it off the signature line, leaving little dots of ink before her name. Her hand was forced, the cost of living too expensive to keep her precious bakery.
Franz grit his teeth together and without a second thought crumpled the paper up in his one hand.
He glanced at Fauna who was adding noodles to her boiling water with her back turned on him; she wasn't paying attention to anything he was doing at the moment. As far as she knew he was cleaning the table and in a sense he still was. He walked through the kitchen and put the piled of bills and papers onto one of counters, out of the way of where food was made and kept walking until he stood in front of the trash bin.
He looked at the piece of crumpled paper in his palm with disdain before stepping on the bin release, causing the top to open and dropped it inside.
|24th Oct 2017, 5:38 AM||#72|
Awww, Franz. This was such a great (and sad) chapter. I want to pull a Franz and hug all of the cats at once. That always helps. Make good choices, Franz! Think of the kitties!
"Passion makes no accommodation for self-preservation."
|24th Oct 2017, 9:13 AM||#73|
Aww, Franz! *Hugs*
Aww, kitties! *Hugs*
Your pictures are absolutely stunning as always, @Charmful !
|1st Nov 2017, 7:22 AM||Cigarette Smoke & Sunlight #74|
Chapter 34: Cigarette Smoke & Sunlight
Illyana usually entertained Alarie's ideas but as they pulled up in front of the Hoh Fruhm fraternity at Sim State University, she was having second thoughts. It had been a long day to say the least. Their fight with Leona that morning had seemed like it occurred days ago, and after driving six hours back across the desert all Illyana wanted to do was move around or just lay down since she had been sitting on her rear most of the day.
Alarie was touching up her make up. Illyana still had some on from the night before since she hadn't showered that morning. However she was sure her lipstick had rubbed all the way off after they ate some fast food around lunch time.
"Why are we here again?" Illyana cringed, looking out toward the modern multi-story house, there were whole rooms with nothing but clear windows. She could just imagine how untidy the place was after a party.
“I promised Rafael I’d go get drinks with him when I came back from Pandora.”
“You had drinks last night,” Illyana stated, though not wanting to remember the night before. She didn’t get the big deal people made about alcohol. It didn’t even taste good straight. She needed a good mixer if she was going to enjoy it anyway, to cover up the strong sting of it as it went down. Tomato juice was her preferred flavor.
Alarie pulled out her cell phone and typed in a few lines of text and exited out of the Jeep. Illyana followed suit, thankful for the movement. She hoisted herself to sit on the small hub of the jeep that jutted out over the front wheel. She pushed her leg against the hubcap and flexed it, her muscles felt lazy—she’d need to hit the campus gym again tomorrow and throw some weights around or something to get them feeling useful again.
A young man exited the front doors of the fraternity at that moment. Illyana looked up to see Alarie give a delighted squeal, run at him full throttle and leap into his arms.
“Hey there, stranger,” he smiled and they promptly kissed.
Rafael was a year older but on his fifth semester because he was a dual major in biology and chemistry, which took quite a bit longer to finish than soft majors. She didn’t understand why someone as smart as Rafael would even want to be in a fraternity.
Illyana always had unfavorable views on the Greek Society. She thought it attracted shallow, immature people only concerned with parties, status, and the number of friends one had. Someone she used to consider a friend had joined, but looking back it wasn’t all that unexpected that he would. She didn’t know why she even still thought about him every so often—she doubted he still ever thought about her.
Illyana shook those thoughts away and yawned, figuring she’d be driving Alarie and Rafael to whatever bar they wanted to go to, but was caught off guard at Alarie suddenly waving her into the building. Illyana shook her head, indicating she didn’t want to go inside but Alarie only beckoned her more fiercely and called, “It’ll just be a moment!”
Illyana made a grunt of dissent but shoved off from where she was leaning and trudged forward.
“Hello Illyana,” Rafael greeted her while holding the door to the entrance open for them.
“Hey Raf,” she replied cordially as she passed him.
Into the den of lions she went but upon entering it wasn’t anything like she had imagined. The foyer wasn’t littered with empty red solo cups from a wild weekend party—instead it was rather clean and even pleasant smelling—like cologne. To her immediate left was a common room where some of the residents were watching a movie.
Rafael and Alarie began to discuss where they should go and Illyana rolled her eyes. They were so bad at planning things together, always waiting until the last minute. It wasn’t like Alarie had six hours to call him and decide something on the way. She ignored their banter and glanced at what was on the TV. It was some type of fantasy show and she saw a typical royal-esque woman on the screen giving eyes to the generic royal-esque male.
“I hate it when the princess falls in love with the guy, like within two days of meeting him,” Illyana frowned, seeing the image of the woe-is-me princess fainting into her lover-to-be’s arms.
“You don’t believe in love at first sight?” a blonde guy watching the show asked. He had been stretching his arms behind his head, but relaxed them, before glancing up at her with an assured smile.
Illyana didn’t even realize she’d spoken aloud. Plumbobs, it had been such a long day. Her brain was tired.
She felt her cheeks go slightly red, becoming embarrassed that she had voiced her opinion and therefore had drawn attention to herself–and perhaps also because the guy who was looking up at her was undeniably handsome. But even with his good looks, she still didn’t think love at first sight was a viable phenomenon.
“It’s all just a fairy tale,” she insisted in reply since he was waiting for her answer.
“So you don’t believe in Prince Charming either?” He turned toward her, twisting his torso around to one side from where he sat on the sofa, now completely ignoring what was on the television with his full attention on her. His frat brother tried shushing him for talking during the program, but he didn’t choose to acknowledge the gesture.
“I’ve never met such a guy,” Illyana grumbled, thinking of Adam. She had once considered him to be the best man in the world and look how wrong she turned out to be. Maybe she was just an awful judge of character.
The blonde guy rose up on his knees, leaned forward against the back support of the sofa and stuck out his hand with grin, “Hi, I’m Marshall, president of this fine fraternity.”
Illyana hesitantly took it and gave it a light shake, “Illyana.”
She glanced over her shoulder to see if Rafael and Alarie had decided on where to go yet. They seemed to be disagreeing on each other’s choices. Typical.
“Want to watch the rest?” Marshall invited her to sit by patting the seat across from him on the perpendicular sofa.
“Can’t, I’m going out,” Illyana nodded toward the couple behind her, “But thanks for the offer.”
Marshall’s eyes narrowed at the sight of Rafael. Illyana didn’t know why but there was a distinct sense of disapproval in the way Marshall looked at him. It was only for a moment before his face relaxed and he smiled at her again, “If you want, I could tag along and save you from being a third wheel.”
Illyana couldn’t help but to laugh which came out as a half-scoff and sounded more like an ineloquent snort. This guy tried too hard, and it was so obvious he was looking for some kind of chance with her. He took her laugh as something he meant to cause as if he had a great sense of humor and chuckled along with her. She found herself nodding, non-verbally giving him permission to join her because she was interested in seeing how much energy he would expend trying to win her over. She wasn’t interested in Marshall, at least not in this moment, but he sure was handsome and he hadn’t proven himself to be just another degenerate jerk…yet. It was true she didn’t want to be a third wheel either.
“Find a place yet?” Illyana turned to Alarie and Rafael and asked sharply.
“Yeah, we’re going to the Endless Blue Lounge,” Alarie said, “It’s in walking distance so you won’t have to drive us.”
“Good, I don’t have enough gas anyway,” Illyana said sharply. Leona had been the one to pay for it when they went to Pandora, and now that she was gone, Illyana had to dig into her meager account to afford to get home.
“Who’s your friend?” Alarie raised a finely plucked brow and indicated toward behind Illyana where Marshall stood with his hands in his pockets, still smiling keenly.
“Marshall,” Rafael said, his voice wasn’t indicative of fondness but sounded rather steely at saying the name.
Marshall inclined his head in a slight nod, “I thought I’d tag along. You don’t have a problem with that, do you, Riff-Raf?”
Rafael looked like he was about to tell the fraternity president off but Alarie broke the tension with her laughter and gave a light smack to Rafael’s arm, “Riff-Raf? I wish I would have thought of that—it’s too cute!”
Her hand then wrapped around Rafael’s upper arm and she led him out the front door. Marshall and Illyana followed.
Alarie began to tell Rafael about their trip and her voice became cold and full of judgement when she began to explain what Leona had done. Illyana reminded Alarie that Leona said she didn’t do anything but Alarie argued that no woman would spent the night with Eric King and not do anything with him.
“Oh really, including you?” Rafael teased while sliding his hand behind her back.
“He’s a pop star,” Alarie replied, which was evasive and telling at the same time and made Rafael frown with a hint of jealousy.
“So, do you go here too?” Marshall asked. He was keeping pace next to Illyana on the sidewalk. He was trying to come in for a small talk angle and get her to open up. She’d already done that the previous night and wasn’t in the mood to talk about herself.
“No. How long have you been president of the frat?” She answered quickly and turned a question on him.
“Oh, about two years,” he shrugged.
“I bet you have a lot of parties,” she said.
He smiled, “Well yeah, of course.”
He seemed to stop and think before replying, “We’ve had seven this semester so far. They are only open to members of the Greek Society but I could get you in if you wanted.”
He sounded so smug. She held in a laugh and barely rolled her eyes. She didn’t find him particularly funny but his demeanor was just hilariously pompous to her. He just presumed she wanted to attend one of those parties but she had no desire to.
“What?” He asked, her restraint not going unnoticed.
She turned him and put on a low tone—a mock male voice that had the heavy inflection of a stereotypical bro, “My party is so exclusive but I could let you in if you let me in your pants.”
He seemed momentarily struck by her words before continuing forward, “That’s not what I said.”
“I just want to hang out with you. You seem interesting.”
Everything from his saccharine smile to his smooth vocal inflection indicated a specific hidden intention and Illyana gave him a hard stare to show him she wasn’t fooled.
He finally threw his head back in a sort of ‘you-caught-me’ laugh and added, “But…if we happen to go from that to something else then I wouldn’t object.”
“Ha! I knew it. Fine, we can hang out but I promise you now it won’t go anywhere from there.”
She figured her honesty would have deterred him and he would have headed back instead of wasting his time, but Marshall kept his pace and gave an equally amused chuckle at her response, “You sound so sure.”
It was about four blocks before they entered the small lounge that was drenched in blue décor–swimming blue and green lights that flashed and swirled around the dance floor, even the bar was illuminated with an electric blue under-lighting. Illyana had never been to this place before but she liked it.
The music was a low paced synth, cut with old tracks that faded into different ones by the DJ. To her surprise, Alarie and Rafael didn’t even go to the bar to get drinks but straight to the dance floor where they started to move in sync with each other.
Illyana often wondered why they tolerated each other for all their disagreements but seeing them dance together, she was reminded why they were like a pair of boomerangs always coming back to each other after an argument. They moved as one. She and Marshall had been staring at them dancing for a few minutes before they realized they were just standing there on the dance floor and looking kind of lame.
“Want to dance?’ she heard Marshall ask to which her head swiveled back to him with wide eyes.
"I don’t really dan–”
Too late. He had started moving back and forth in rhythm with the current song, then gestured to himself and then to her to indicate she should join. She felt a little put on the spot but started shuffling in the same manner, though concentrated on her feet more than the guy in front of her.
She glanced to Alarie to see how it was done. Alarie was the best dancer she’d ever seen. Alarie had been tearing up dances with her skills since junior high. It wasn’t fair that Alarie had all that natural rhythm. Rafael was just as smooth. Even Marshall seemed like a seasoned dancer. He reached out and lightly touched her hips to guide her movement while simultaneously pulling her a bit closer. She realized then, it was his cologne that dominated the fraternity common room. She found herself moving even nearer, to get more of that pleasant scent—it reminded her of being outside after a spring rain and yet a note of mint underlined it.
He didn’t object when she nearly buried her face into his shoulder and took a deep inhale, “You smell nice.”
She was so tied too, she could probably just fall alseep there wrapped up in that calming and nearly intoxicating smell.
“I try,” he replied and though it seemed like something humble one would say his tone was more self-satisfying than anything. She chortled in amusement because she could clearly tell that he tried. Then she realized that she must have smelled awful. She’d been in a car all day and hadn’t even showered after being in that smoky casino last night!
She abruptly pulled away with embarrassment. Concern and dubiousness showed in Marshall’s face at her sudden action.
“Sorry I—um–,” she looked around trying to find and excuse but figured she should probably just be honest again, “I probably smell pretty bad in comparison, sorry.”
He cracked a grin and closed the space between them, and then she could feel his hair tickling her cheek as he leaning forward and returned the motion, then she heard him say in husky tone, “It’s not so bad—cigarette smoke and sunlight.”
She pushed his head away playfully, and barked out a laugh while trying to maintain her dismal dancing rhythm, “Yeah right, like sunlight even has a scent.”
“I’m just being honest.”
He didn’t look like a forthcoming sort. He seemed a little too cocky and a little too calculating to match his claim of 'just being honest.’ Just as he wanted to ‘hang out.’
“You try too hard, you know that?”
“Then why did you let me come along with you tonight?”
Illyana shrugged, “Purely for my entertainment, after all who wants to be a third wheel?”
“Most women wouldn’t be that honest with me,” he seemed impressed.
She had to restrain herself from rolling her eyes again, this guy was so damn conceited. She would usually find it annoying but she was trying to forget all the sadness and sorrow in her life. Entertaining herself would keep her thoughts from going down the dark roads of her mind, and Marshall was a good enough distraction.
“Why? What makes you so special?” she asked and made an off-beat spin to the music. She caught sight of Alarie and Rafael still grooving out together. When were they going to get those drinks they wanted? The DJ manning the stand was mixing the songs into each other so it wasn’t like there was a defining end where they could stop and just go.
Marshall caught her hand and spun her again before resting the small of her back in his other hand as he lowered her into a dip. She wasn’t prepared for it and wobbled a bit as she looked up at him as he leaned over her with the blue glow lighting him from behind.
“I’m a Cosgrove.”
She wasn’t prepared for that either.
She opened her mouth but no words came out. He pulled her back up to a solid stand, and even then she still felt off-balance. It took her a moment before she moved her hips again, although not in time with the beats of the music. Her face was twisted up with minor shock and then faded deep into thought while ignoring that self-assured smile he was giving her.
Plumbobs, she was dancing with a member of the Cosgrove family?! She’d heard of them, well everyone knew of the Cosgroves—they were nearly as prominent as the Orbinsons if not more so—even wealthier and more prestigious. She’d never met a Cosgrove in person, on account of them sending their children to the preparatory school; not the sort to be caught mingling with children of Kashmire’s mere plebeians.
No wonder Marshall smelled so good, he was probably wearing cologne that was worth a hundred simoleons or more. It also perfectly explained his haughty demeanor.
She abruptly stopped dancing and turned her back on him. They had no business dancing or flirting or even talking together. They were from completely different worlds.
“Hey! Where are you going?” Marshall called out as Illyana made her way through the crowd of dancers and off the floor.
“Home,” Illyana said. Alarie could get a ride home tomorrow from Rafael. She was probably crashing at the frat anyway so there was no reason for Illyana to stick around. Marshall caught her hand and halted her. She looked at it with a mix of disdain and disappointment.
She stared into his dark eyes and didn’t understand why he was trying so hard with her. If he really was a Cosgrove then there were a million other girls he could be with at this moment. Why was he wasting his time on her when she already made it clear she wasn’t going to be just another notch in his belt he could brag about to his friends?
“This. What’s in it for you?” She asked, suddenly very suspicious. Before she thought he was just some average frat boy but now that she knew he was a Cosgrove, it was a different game.
He flashed a smile, “A good time.”
“I already told you, we’re not hooking up tonight,” she reminded him, though her voice wavered and wasn’t as convincing as it had been before.
He raised both his eyebrows with faux surprise, “Really? Even after I told you I’m a Cosgrove?”
She scowled, and turned her back on him again. His grip tightened ever so slightly, “Relax, I’m just teasing. Dancing, hanging out, drinking—that’s a good time to me.” He nodded toward the bar, “Speaking of which, what do you want?”
“I don’t want anything,” she mumbled, ripping her hand out of his grasp and then noticed Rafael and Alarie were at the bar now. She didn’t even see them leave the dance floor. Illyana couldn’t even afford to drink tonight, not if she needed to get more gas and make it back to Isla Del Kashmire.
She approached Alarie, “I think I’m going to leave.”
Alarie set down the beer she was drinking with an incredulous look, “The night is just getting started!”
“I’m tired, Al. I’ve been driving all day…”
“So now it’s time to relax,” Marshall interrupted and advised from behind her, leading her down to the other side of the bar and proclaimed he was buying. Alarie gave a nod of approval. Alarie always approved of free drinks, and seemed to approve of yet another strange guy taking an interest in Illyana. Apparently, Alarie hadn’t given up on the idea that a rebound would do her friend some good. If Illyana weren’t so tired she might have put up more of a fight because she hated being told what to do by people she didn’t know.
Rafael seemed to eye Marshall warily as they passed and Illyana yet again got the impression that they weren’t very fond of each other.
“So what do you want?”
“I told you, I’m not–” Illyana started but then caught sight of Alarie nodding with encouragement out of the corner of her eye. Opposingly, Rafael was pursing his lips and frowning with concern as though Marshall was a bad life decision.
Marshall noticed her considering the disparaging look and he called out, “Hey Riff-Raf!”
“Don’t you have somewhere to be? With your girlfriend? Alone.”
Rafael wasn’t taking the hint but Alarie heard it loud and clear, “Come on, babe.” She took a last swig from her beer and grabbed at Rafael’s arm to guide him away.
“But–” he seemed to protest.
Her expression was withering and he nodded with acquiescence, but not before turning his gaze to Illyana with a look of apology. He didn’t have to worry though, Illyana could take care of herself. If Marshall made her angry enough, she wouldn’t hesitate to punch him in the face too.
“Do you want a martini?” Marshall guessed.
“No.” Illyana said.
“You must like something, though, right?”
“If you can guess my favorite drink. I’ll let you order it,” Illyana smirked.
“Come on, that’s too general,” he seemed to groan and hope for more clues.
She bit at her lower lip and thought before adding, “Breakfast.”
He seemed confused and then thought about it while looking her over to see if anything about her gave any further insights to her favorite drink. Illyana didn’t really drink at breakfast but since the main mixer in it was used as a breakfast juice she thought that was an adequate clue.
“Bloody. Mary.” Marshall finally said with an assured grin and pointed at her.
Her eyes widened and she felt something like a shiver run up her arms—though not ominous like it had been with Tony—it felt like something different, “How did you–?”
“I read people very, very well,” he said in all his smugness before grabbing the bartender’s attention and had a glass ordered for her. The way he looked her when he smiled made her stomach twist into knots—not necessarily uncomfortable but a mix of unsure thrill. That was what did unnerve her.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” she blurted unceremoniously and bolted in the opposite direction. Luckily, none of the stalls were occupied and she hurriedly opened the door to one and then closed it, locking it. She sat on the toilet without removing her pants—she didn’t really have to go but she needed a quiet place to think. She hated that she felt intimidated yet excited by him to some degree. Marshall had all the privilege one could ever hope to obtain in Kashmire–wealth, popularity, prestige—and she was just a girl who could barely afford gas money at the moment. Yet, she felt special to have caught his attention now that she reflected on it. It shouldn’t matter who he was but there was definitely something different in how she felt now versus how she had felt before she knew who he was.
She left the stall and turned toward the sink and pumped a small amount of soap in her palm and then added it to a dampened a paper towel, wiping it over her neck and shoulders—making an attempt to smell better than just cigarette smoke and sunlight—which she still doubted contained a real fragrance.
She crumpled and tossed the paper towel into the trash bin and looked at her reflection in the mirror above the sink. Her hair was sort of messy and she un-braided it and re-braided it so it wasn’t limp and unkempt from that hurried braid she’d done it in that morning.
Something…something in her mind had changed and suddenly Alarie’s suggestion and constant encouragement of a rebound didn’t seem too awful. Illyana felt a weight lift off her chest that she had been feeling ever since the night Adam had broken her heart. She wasn’t expecting love—she wasn’t a naive princess and he was far from a prince charming—yet she smiled slightly at herself, now sure she wouldn’t mind if hanging out with Marshall Cosgrove did lead to something else.
|8th Nov 2017, 9:01 PM||Nest of Vipers #75|
Chapter 35: Nest of Vipers
Nick didn't understand why his cousin loathed Cain so much. If it wasn't for Cain, Nick would have found himself out of money, out of luck, and out of college.
"Took toll," Cain had said showing a large wad of real money that was meant to be the event cover charge as he joined Nick in the back warehouse where the counterfeiting machine was. Nick had been churning out simoleon notes for the past half an hour that were meant to be used to pay the winner for that night and the next. "Also, we have a total of eight contestants tonight."
So it had started.
There were more people hoping to win this money, though unbeknownst to them it was worthless. Nick felt mildly bad on some level that he was essentially cheating people, but they were violent and that gave him some resolve that they probably didn't deserve it if they were willing to resort to brutality to get it.
He'd learned his lesson long ago that fighting wasn't worth it.
Nick gathered up a stack of the fake money and handed it to Cain, exchanging hands with the real stuff to use as the payout. Cain also met with the fighters, and drew for the matches, along with doing something akin to refereeing. Cain was the face of this operation and Nick had no problem with that.
"Are they still going along with those snake names?"
"Black Mamba, Copperhead, Asp, Cottonmouth, and Boa," Cain rattled off the new fighter's aliases.
"Nice, but that's five new fighters," Nick noted "We need an even amount for the matches to line up."
"We have eight because King Cobra didn't come back—I think he had a broken arm from last night. It'd be a mistake to fight while injured like that."
Nick nodded in agreement and they exited through the fire escape and made their way back to the front warehouse where the fighting floor was now established on the second story. Nick loved these old warehouses—they had a sense of mystery and history. He wanted to look though more of the old boxes and desks just to see what kind of stuff the syndicate could have left behind.
The evening grew even darker as they walked across the unmaintained, weedy pavement between the warehouses and Cain broke off to go to the first floor where the fighters were as Nick hauled himself up and climbed the front warehouse’s fire escape. After doing some light climbing, he emerged onto the third floor that overlooked the one below it which was where the fighters would do their thing.
Along with the increase of willing fighters came double the amount of spectators. It wasn't just college-aged kids this time. There were adults from around the city and Nick was in some kind of awe that Cain had predicted this little venture would spread like wildfire.
He scanned the room to see if anyone he knew was in attendance. He recognized some students from the Greek Society. He'd seen them in passing at functions or parties during his time at Hoh Fruhm; Nick briefly tensed, wondering if Marshall Cosgrove was in the vicinity but relaxed when he couldn't find that blond nightmare among the crowd.
Someone blonde did catch his eye though. It was Tara who was sitting on one of the dingy couches with a few of her sorority sisters. He didn't think she would have been interested in seeing this kind of rough-and-tumble violence. She looked great though in her long blue shirt-dress thing—Nick didn't know which it was but it made her bronze legs look extra long. He internally debated whether or not to say something to her, after all, she had seemed offended at him the last time she saw him on the account that refused to make out with her. He would have loved to, if she hadn’t been under the influence of Torporia.
Nick waited on the upper level for Cain to return while ogling his most recent one night stand and wondering what could have been. After another couple of minutes, the doors to the lift opened below and two masked fighters exited. He recognized one from the previous night—Boomslang. He was up against one of the new fighters. A moment later the lift squealed opened from behind him and Cain sauntered out.
"This is the night to be here," Cain flashed a smile and approached the bars that prevented one from simply walking off the overlook. He sucked in a breath and then shouted the aliases of the fighters below to more excited cheering and applause from the crowd, even Tara and her friends. Cain followed it up with a sharp, loud, whistle that he produced by putting his fingers in his mouth. The match had started.
Boomslang was fighting a guy about his own height but who had distinctive red hair. Not a deep red like Nick's father or brother but more of an orange-red. Fittingly, he was the one who had picked 'Copperhead' as a fighting alias.
Nick didn't actually like watching fights so he sat back into the musty sofa that had been left behind next to the lift shaft. He took out his phone and scrolled through old texts, not looking for anything in particular but something for his eyes to focus on while he thought.
If they pulled in as many people tonight that they did for tomorrow's fight night then he'd be clear to pay back legit tuition. The counterfeit money would be in the hands of the most violent of the fighters and so they'd be implicated when banks started to notice the discrepancies. When he had been using the machine, he saw that the note plates were very finely detailed and it was hard to tell a regular simoleon from a fake one—the syndicates must have flooded millions into the economy in their heyday with a machine like that—and who knew if all of it had even been retrieved by the SIRS even three decades later?
Cain whistled again and declared Copperhead as winner for the first match. Boomslang didn't win anything last night either, maybe it was in his best interest to stop trying.
The next match was the Python and the Cottonmouth with the Python taking yet another win. Then there was the Asp and The Anaconda. Nick noticed the crowd cheered louder for The Anaconda in that match. Luck was more on his side this time—for he was called as winner of the third match. The last fighters for the first round were Black Mamba and Boa.
Cain waved Nick over after the last match in round 1 started. Nick lifted himself off of the sofa and joined Cain's side, leaning over the rail to observe what Cain was keen for him to see. His eyes widened immediately.
"When did we get the Hulk up in here?" Nick wondered. To be fair the man he was looking at, was not green but he was probably one of the largest men Nick had ever seen in person. He was definitely a muscle builder of some sort. He wore jeans torn at the knees and a grey beater. His shoes were bright blue.
"That's Black Mamba, and if I was a betting man I'd put all my money on him," Cain replied.
Black Mamba easily beat the Boa—a smaller man who mostly ran around the floor in evasive moves instead of putting up any offense until Black Mamba punched him. Boa fell down for well over the five counts that made his opponent victorious.
The matches didn't last long, they averaged about 10 to 15 minutes before one of the snakes bested the other.
The Anaconda and Python took the floor in the first round 2 match. The fight took a bit longer, and it seemed the Python was losing energy in the way he moved compared to the night before. Ultimately though, the Python came out on top after making a vicious blow with his elbow into the Anaconda’s face which felled him for the five counts needed to win.
When it was time fro Black Mamba to go against Copperhead, Nick only watched a few minutes of it before he laid back into the couch, bored-like. He’d had his fill of watching the violence.
"What's wrong? Don't you want to watch the fights?" Cain asked, turning back to observe Nick scrolling through his phone again.
Nick replied with an absent shrug, "It's not really my thing."
Cain let out a sardonic laugh, and joined him on the couch, "You ever been in a fight before?"
"Yeah, kind of," Nick replied, though he hardly had any memory of it. He touched his forehead and could recall the pain though.
"You lost didn’t you?" Cain smirked and Nick flashed a look of annoyance at him.
"I was in third grade. I was mouthing off and a kid slammed me into the wall so hard that I blacked out," Nick said and Cain's smirk mellowed.
"He gave me a concussion and I had to go to the hospital."
"Oh, sorry man—that sucks."
I probably deserved it, Nick thought.
It was from a time in his life that he'd rather forget because was ashamed of himself when he thought back on it.
He had been a bully—but not the run-of-the-mill tough kid that threatened to get physical; the abuse he had inflicted was always that of a verbal nature. He emulated his father back then, using sharp, cutting words to cause discomfort or embarrassment in those he targeted and often times it would render others laughing at the poor kid caught in Nick's cross-hairs. Nick was often the subject of his father's underhanded, humiliating words at home and it made him feel powerless, so at school he had tried to take that back somehow and unfortunately, he had hurt feelings in the process.
Nick couldn't remember what he had said, or what happened directly after the incident. All he could recall was that he had picked out one of the younger kids that the other schoolyard bullies usually targeted to make fun of during a slow recess and then he woke up in the hospital.
Later, his Grams took him aside and told him that the boy who had hurt him had been punished but she was disappointed to learn that Nick had been saying undeserved, awful things about his classmates. Nothing was as effective as a grandmother's crushing disappointment in causing a guilt so heavy that it changed one's behavior. So he stopped using his words as a means to cause pain and instead turned them into something sweet. His grams often said that honey attracted more flies than vinegar and it took Nick another year or two to turn himself around but found out that it was absolutely true—in the form of compliments, funny jokes, and some minor boasting—his words transformed him from a reviled bully to a top of the class charmer.
"Thanks, but it's in the past now," Nick found himself saying in reply.
The crowd collectively made an ‘oooh’ sound and Cain jumped up. Nick couldn’t help but to as well, now curious to see what had happened.
The Copperhead had received a nasty blow into the head, staggered backward into a box and Nick winced. He knew that pain and hoped the guy would be all right. The Copperhead went down and rolled across the floor, gathering dust and probable splinters in his arms and over his clothes.
Nick could see Cain start to silently count to see if Copperhead would stay down.
Though, Copperhead by some miracle, gained his footing and delivered a one-two punch at Black Mamba but the blows didn't seem to be doing anything even if they did land. Copperhead was winded and dazed, he wouldn't last much longer.
Cain declared Black Mamba as the winner not less than two minutes later as the Copperhead laid on the flat of his back, blinking back involuntary tears.
"Plumbobs, that was brutal," Nick said in a tone that was close to revealing he couldn't stomach watching people fight like this.
"I can’t wait to see how last night's champion deals with this new guy."
Cain meant Python. Python had surprised them all the night before with his win. It was unexpected considering the mass difference between them. Python was looking a little haggard in his first two matches, even with that mask covering his face his mannerisms seemed a bit sluggish and unfocused.
"You think Black Mamba will get knocked down?"
"No, look at him—he's a wall! Also this is personal for Mamba. He told me he was fighting for vengeance."
"Say what?" Nick’s curiosity was piqued.
"Yeah, he's not even interested in the money. Apparently, King Cobra is his brother and told him to come take his place and avenge him."
"Damn," Nick said and made a low whistle.
They watched Copperhead trudge to the lift and a few minutes later, Python took his place and readied his fists.
"This is going to be quite the match. I bet that even more people will end up coming tomorrow,” Cain noted before shouting out the final competitors and whistled for their fight to start.
Nick wondered if he would have to start explaining his nightly absences to his roommates. "Hey man, do you think we should tell Orion and Cypress what we're doing?"
Cain considered but then shook his head, "It's probably best we didn't. Orion can get really anxious about shit, and considering this is illegal, he'll probably flip out. Cypress would probably narc on us."
"Cypress is cool. He wouldn't turn us in."
"He hates me."
Nick raised his brows; he didn't expect Cain to be perceptive of that. Then again, Cypress kind of made it obvious. He barely spoke a word when Cain was in the vicinity and often ended up just going to his room instead of hanging out with them.
“Maybe you just need to find something in common to talk about,” Nick suggested, “He likes music, watching soccer, and he hates the cow mascot.”
“Everyone hates the cow mascot,” Cain laughed but then it faded and he seemed to consider Nick’s suggestion. However that thought was interrupted by the crowd below; they had started to make some very loud noises in reaction to what Black Mamba and Python were up to.
Python was a tall guy, but he seemed so much smaller in comparison to Black Mamba. As soon as Cain made that sharp whistle indicating the match to begin, Mamba charged forward and then it was a few minutes of Python using evasive maneuvers to avoid being thrown across the room.
Just now, Black Mamba pushed his meaty leg out and Python fell over it onto his back. He made an audible 'oomph' that the entire crowd could hear. Mamba snatched Python up by his t-shirt and then punched him straight in the chest, sending him backward with a reckoning force. The crowd went silent.
Python was breathless and tried to stand. Mamba lurched forward and caught his opponent’s face in a right hook. Nick grit his teeth and inhaled a hiss of sympathy pain.
"By the Great Green Diamond," Cain said under his breath, obviously impressed at the sight of Python crumpling.
"You broke my brother's arm, let's see what I can break in return," they heard Black Mamba's low grumble as he grabbed Python by his leg, but Python gave an angry shout and twisted around before Mamba got enough momentum to drag him and kicked Mamba in the shoulder with his free leg. It was with enough force that he ripped out Mamba's grasp and it startled the large man but it wasn't long until he was charging again.
Nick should have looked away, he wanted to but now was so transfixed like every other person in the warehouse who was watching.
"Is he limping?" Nick whispered at seeing Python evade the charge and begin to circle with his fists raised. His steps were unbalanced, almost as if he had pulled a muscle in the leg Mamba had grabbed. The crowd was much too interested in seeing what would happen next that they had even stopped cheering—the only sounds heard were the labored breathing of both fighters, the creaking of the floorboards under their weight, and then muffled noises of the city from outside the warehouse walls.
"Yeah, looks like it," Cain confirmed quietly.
Time seemed to drag on as Python considered his options and Mamba waited for him to make a move, wearing down his energy even further.
They watched as in a sudden movement, Python made a step to the right and Black Mamba lurched forward to meet him, but in a deft change of direction, the Python darted left. Before Mamba could turn and track Python’s movement, the leaner fighter ran completely past his giant opponent, leapt up onto a box and pivoted mid-air to land onto Black Mamba's back and wrap his arm around the larger man in a headlock while he delivered a few hard blows to the side of Mamba’s head. Python shouted and held on for dear life as the Black Mamba thrashed about trying to throw him off. It was no use, Python was grasping tightly with his last bit of strength—which was powerful considering who he was using it on.
"Shit," Cain swore after a few moments when they saw Python was not letting go; he ran down the stairs toward the fighting floor.
The Mamba had fallen to his knees and looked to be turning purple.
"Hey stop! Stop before you kill him!" Cain shouted as he ran up to them and the Python eased his hold, allowing Black Mamba to suck in a sharp breath of air.
Cain knelt down to make sure Black Mamba wasn't too damaged from that choke hold. Mamba was breathing heavily and had red marks across his throat where Python had been squeezing.
"You crazy bastard," Cain said, shaking his head while looking up at Python.
Nick noticed something hard and dangerous flash through Python's eyes and for a moment there, he thought Python would make a strike at Cain but instead he coiled his fists into tight balls, barely showing restraint.
"Fights over!" Cain shouted to everyone who was standing around and staring at the spectacle. Cain stood and held out a hand to Mamba who grabbed it and nearly pulled Cain down before he himself was up, still breathing and wincing and generally showing that he was in pain. He slumped off toward the elevator to go down and clean himself up. Nick wondered why Mamba didn’t confront his opponent but then it struck him that Mamba actually feared Python after that move he pulled.
"I won," the Python said.
"You didn't win, you played dirty and almost choked a guy to death," Cain said as he turned away. True, there were no rules against choke holding but making your opponent nearly pass out from lack of air was definitely frowned upon.
That time, the Python did lash out; his hand grabbed the back of Cain's neck in a vice-like grip with his index finger and thumb set on sensitive pressure points. Cain seemed to freeze in place. Nick started forward, moving quickly down the stairs to meet them and deescalate the situation.
"I won," the Python stated again, chillingly calm but with an underlying threat aimed at Cain if he should not deliver the promised cash winnings.
"Hey, hey, hey, ” Nick found himself saying as he approached carefully as he would a wild animal. He was always of the opinion words or money could solve problems—no one needed to resort to violence. He took out a wad of simoleons from his pocket—they were the real Simoleans. He saw Cain's eyes widen but Cain didn't dare shake his head and give Python cause to squeeze even harder.
"I can pay you," Nick insisted, fingering through the amount. There was enough to get the job done. He pulled most of the stack apart and rolled it up before handing it toward the guy. For a moment, Nick considered taking him on; Python wasn't much taller and was obviously tired but Nick realized it would have been in vain. He hadn't fought since he was in grade school and he’d be breaking his promise to his Grams, the Diamond above rest her soul, if he raised his fists.
The Python shoved Cain forward and grabbed the cash out of Nick’s hand before stuffing it in his pocket, "So when's the next fight?"
"You aren't welcome anymore!" Cain said scathingly, pointing toward the exit "And if you come back you won't be let in."
The Python's eyes roamed around the room to see everyone staring at him in horror and then the intense blue eyes focused back on the two men in front of him, "Very well, goodnight."
They watched the Python walk away with enough dignity that they could barely tell he was limping. The crowd parted for him, respecting and fearing his raw skill at inflicting harm. These fights weren’t supposed to be pleasant but they weren’t supposed to result in death either.
"Are you okay?" Nick asked, reaching out to put a reassuring hand on Cain's shoulder.
Cain shrugged it off, "I'm fine."
Though Cain didn't seem fine in the least. He looked hassled beyond belief but Nick couldn't fault him as he'd potentially been in a situation where he could have been injured. Cain was going to tell the fighters when the next fight was. They planned for an early one tomorrow night at dusk since there was no classes, then after that one for next Saturday as it was easier to have late night fights on the weekend. Nick was looking after Cain as he called for the lift, rubbing the back of his neck where the Python had grabbed it.
"Nick?" He heard a lilting voice from behind and turned to see Tara and her friends.
"Hey there, gorgeous," Nick smiled, he had momentarily forgot she was there too, and immediately turned up the charm, "Didn't think I'd see you in a place like this."
"Yeah well, we heard about this Nest of Vipers fight thing and decided to check it out. Some of the guys from Urele Oresha said they were here last night and it was a fun time. I can't say we were disappointed."
Nest of Vipers. Is that what people were calling it now? He smirked, liking the sound of it.
"I'm glad to hear to hear it," he said and swept a glance around the room. He should probably start telling people about the next one. Some were waiting around for that informational tidbit and it was vital to keep the crowd coming back.
"So, the next one is tomorrow at five o’ clock, you should come check it out."
Tara eyed him while her friends made some giggling noises he didn't pay full attention to, "So, are you some kind of manager for this thing?"
He shrugged, "I'm not confirming or denying that."
Tara's brows rose in astonishment, "So, you dump the Greek Society and now you're organizing fights in shady warehouses—what happened to you?"
Nick's smile broadened, "Meet me for drinks later and you'll see if I can be persuaded to tell you."
Tara's friends seemed to roll their eyes and groan, half prodding her to leave his sights. They weren't taking his bait but Tara and he had a history...sort of. A brief history. But at least he remembered her name.
"Endless Blue Lounge!" he called after her, "Nine-thirty!"
He thought she'd be curious enough to take him up on it but she showed no signs of agreeing to meet him as she was pulled along by her sorority sisters toward the exit. His suspicion panned out to be correct though, when she turned her head back and gave him a knowing wink.
It was a date.