Wednesday, March 28, 2007

+2 Tabard of Dating

(This term, we had a project than ran over several weeks, were we created our characters and detailed our plot. The theme was "dating" and this is my effort. Thanks to everyone who's critiqued it!)

Harry glanced at his watch again. Only two minutes until she was due to arrive! He swallowed, his nerves fraught. His hands were sweating, but then again, it felt like every part of him was sweating. He shifted his grip on the bunch of softly scented flowers he held in his right hand, the cellophane crackling as he moved his fingers. She'd be here soon. He still didn't know if he could do this. What if they had nothing to talk about? What if he bored her? What if, and at this, Harry's stomach turned, she found out he was a geek?

He looked around to see if he could see her, trying to spot the likeliest candidate. The street cafe he stood in front of was quiet on this late afternoon of a particularly warm, summer Saturday. Most people were in the park across the street, walking or reading or cuddling. He blinked, realising he had been staring at the wrought iron railings, their blue paint bleached by the sun, thinking about the things couples did in parks and how he longed to try them. Above the railings, the branches of the tall oaks waved graciously in the same slow, lazy breeze that played with Harry's hair and caressed his cheek. A red balloon rose swiftly from behind the line of trees, towards the clouds, and he could faintly hear the inevitable wail of the child who had just lost their grip on the string.

A car droned by, the engine purring, washing Harry and the other occupants of the cafe with a wave of hot air, the unpleasant, acrid tang of fumes passing quickly, the strong, powerful smell of coffee reasserting its dominance over the noses of the customers. Harry looked down, brushing a hand over his blue, casual, button-down shirt and tugging up his jeans by the belt. He fervently hoped he looked ... normal.

A waiter drifted around Harry, a tray carefully balanced on an outstretched, upturned palm. A single cup of cappuccino sat square in the centre of the round tray, steam trailing behind the waiter as he moved to a nearby table. Harry turned to see who was waiting for the coffee.

"Harry?", a sweet, soft, woman's voice asked. Harry jumped and spun round, setting his eyes on a vision of beauty, the likes of which he'd never seen before. Her dress swayed on the breeze, white with red flowers dotted haphazardly over the fabric. Strappy red sandals matched the colour of her toenails. Long, chestnut brown hair tumbled around her face and stroked her neck, a crimson, fabric flower tucked into the locks to the side of her face. She was slightly tanned, the red of her lipstick contrasting against the white of her teeth, her lips parted in a genuinely happy smile.

Harry started, realising he had been staring. It felt like he'd been simply looking at her for hours, trying to figure out if she was here to meet another Harry. She couldn't be here for him, she simply couldn't be. It didn't work like that. He tried to speak, but his lips were dry.

"Uh... umm... oh, yes, I'm Harry...", he stammered, his nerves shaking him like a leaf on the breeze. She smiled coquettishly at him.

"I like you, you're sweet", she said and Harry felt his entire body go crimson from embarrassment. She held out a delicate hand and he looked at it, trying to remember what someone was meant to do in this situation. His brain finally freed itself from the net of his nerves and kicked his body into gear. He took the hand, feeling the soft, warm skin and shook it, surprised at the strength in her grip.

"I'm Amanda. I hope you haven't been waiting long?", she asked. Harry shook his head.

"Oh.. oh no, not too long at all. Bang on time", he said, the confidence building. "Oh, these are for you!"

He presented her with the flowers and her hand shot to her nose instinctively.

"Oh, thank you, but I've got a bit of hay fever going on at the moment", she said, brushing her nose with the back of her hand, the secret sign of the hay fever sufferer who knows there's too much stress worrying about carrying a hanky. Harry's confidence took a hit and he sagged a little. He had fallen at the first hurdle!

"Lucky for you I'm all up to date with my pills", she said, smiling, and took the flowers. "Shall we sit?"

She stepped over to an empty table with two chairs and set the flowers down like some kind of marker. Harry breathed a sigh of relief and quickly stepped over to pull back her chair for her. She flashed him a smile and straightening her dress. She sat and crossed her legs.

Harry moved to the opposite side of the table and pulled back the other chair, grimacing as the legs squealed loudly over the paving stones. He could feel all of the eyes around him focusing on him and the embarrassment began to cover his skin again.

"Sorry", he mumbled and sat, bumping the chair closer to the table. Amanda sat with a grin on her face, a menu pointed at him. Harry smiled, making brief eye contact... god, such deep, azure blue eyes... and took the offered menu.

"It's a lovely day, isn't it?", Amanda asked. Harry nodded.

"Oh yes, it is. I don't get out much so it's a real treat...", he stopped. "I mean, what with being so busy at work and all."

He glanced up, seeing if she'd spotted his mistake. He knew he couldn't tell her the truth, that his weekends were spent online, hours logged into World of Warcraft, meeting up with his guild and running rampant through the Ravenscroft server, that the only sun he saw on a regular basis was the one that bathed that particular instance of Azeroth. But she was smiling, still smiling that amazing smile at him.

"What do you do?", she asked. Harry had rehearsed this a thousand times in his mind.

"I provide cutting edge technical solutions to the newsroom of a major national newspaper", he said, trying not to go too fast. Her eyebrow shot up and Harry detected a hint of disbelief. "Well, me and the team I'm in", he added.

"Sounds cool", she said and then, "You're into computers?"

"Oh, take them or leave them", he said, making a dismissive gesture with his hand and almost slapping the waiter on the bottom. A shiver ran down his spine and his spirit deflated, almost as if a million geek's voices had cried out at once in his mind and then were suddenly silenced.

"Yeah, I'd prefer to leave them, if I had the choice", she said, giggling. "Take my work one, please!"

Harry laughed and smiled at her. He hadn't felt like this before, talking to a beautiful woman and being relaxed, all at the same time. It was usually fumbling for words and giving up and retreating in humiliation to the other side of the bar.

"I know what you mean", he said. "Some of the things I get asked to look at, you wouldn't believe!"

It was Amanda's turn to laugh.

"Oh, I would, I would. What are you going to have?"

Harry realised he hadn't even looked at the menu yet, he was so captivated by her beauty. He ran an uninterested eye over the coffees and went for his usual.

"Double espresso, I think. How about you?"

Amanda glanced up at him.

"You have something against sleeping?", she asked, teasingly. Harry blushed.

"No, no, just my usual, that's all", he said, nerves trying to take control again.

"Well, I....", she held the vowel and it sounded like an angel singing in Harry's mind, "I am going to have the cappuccino and I am going to have extra cream and chocolate sprinkles, no matter what you say or think!"

Harry shook his head.

"If someone as pretty as you wants sprinkles, then you shall have sprinkles...", his brain caught up with what was coming out of his mouth and put the brakes on. It was Amanda's turn to blush and she looked down at her feet, rather than catch Harry's gaze.

"Sorry, that was... not right", he said, stammering. Amanda shook her head.

"No, no, it's not that... you're very nice for saying that", she said. "It's just that I was hoping to finally meet someone who would like me for my personality, not how I look."

Harry nodded, the irony of the situation seeping down onto his shoulders.

"I can understand that", he said, simply. Amanda looked up and smiled softly.

"Shall we order?", she asked, and Harry nodded gratefully, relieved that he'd get to enjoy her company for at least the time it took to finish the coffees.

The waiter scribbled their order on his notebook and wandered away, hopefully with the intention of actually getting their coffees. Harry smiled and sat, an awkward moment settling between them. His brain kicked and screamed to be allowed to fill the silence.

"I... I... it's just that I don't meet many people. In the real world", he added, and screamed inside. Please don't ask, please don't ask, he prayed.

"The real world? What do you mean, the real world?", she asked and Harry's confidence sank out through his shoes and into the pavement. Well, he'd already messed it all up, he might as well be honest. It wasn't like he'd ever see her again. He sighed, looking down at the table.

"I'm a level 42 Night Elf Mage in World of Warcraft; it's an online game. I'm in a guild; a group of players who play together. That's where I spend all of my time."

He looked up. Amanda was sat back in her chair, arms folded, a serious look on her face. Oh god, Harry thought, what's she going to say? She's going to humiliate me in front of these people, isn't she? I've seen that look a dozen times. Embarrassment flooded over him and he could feel the heat radiating off him. Oh no, here it comes...

"All of your time?", she asked, slowly and Harry nodded, silently, hoping it wouldn't be too painful. "And you're only at level 42??

The tone of incredulity in her voice confused Harry. This wasn't how it usually went. About now, it should be "god, what a nerd", not "only at level 42". He stared at her, dumbfounded, and tried to think of something to say.

"Well, I'm a level 54 Night Elf Hunter and that's solo", she said. Harry blinked. This definitely wasn't going like it usually did. She didn't just say that, did she?

"Yes, I'm a girl and I'm a higher level than you, deal with it", she said, taking Harry's confused muteness for the hurt ego typical male gamer. He shook his head rapidly, trying to get his brain restarted, now he knew that embarrassment and humiliation weren't in his future.

"No... no... I'm still stuck on the bit where you actually play WoW", he said, the words coming all at once. Amanda grinned.

"Well, you'd better believe it", she said. She glanced up and Harry followed her eye line, to where the waiter was hovering off to one side. He dove in and set the coffee cups down on the gingham table cloth, Amanda's frothy, chocolaty cappuccino towering over Harry's diminutive espresso cup. She lifted the cup and took a sip, the froth drawing a puffy white line across her top lip, leaving her with a two-tone lipstick until she licked it off with the tip of her tongue.

Harry looked down at his espresso, happiness and sadness rolling around in his brain. She was a gamer and he'd messed it up. It served him right for even trying to meet people out here. At least online you knew who you were dealing with, even if they did appear with horns and tusks and other oddities. Well, perhaps he could at least ask which server she was on and what her character name was and then perhaps they could meet up and...

He blinked and focused on his hand. Except he couldn't see it properly, because it was covered with Amanda's soft, warm hand, holding his, gently, yet with her firm grip. He looked up, mouth opening to babble. She was gazing at him and the look in her eyes grabbed his heart and made it pound.

"Tell you what, Harry", she said, softly. "When we've finished this coffee, let's see if we can get you to a respectable level, shall we?"

---

They lay together on the pallet, cuddling close together, feeling the warmth of each other's skins even through their clothes. He had his hand entwined in her hair, feeling the long, soft, silky locks slide between his fingers. She had her hand resting on his chest, feeling the well-defined muscles under his shirt, the rise and fall of his breathing and the beat of his heart. He leaned in and buried his face in her hair, breathing in the scent of it. She ran her fingers along his ear, stroking tenderly. Behind them, in the stable, her gryphon snorted and flexed its wings, restless in the stall. He glanced over at it, smiled and then looked back at her.

"Time to log off?", he whispered. She smiled at him and placed a soft kiss on his lips.

"I thought you'd never ask."

Studio Time

(This story was the result of our last homework assignment. The brief was simple, write a story based on the word "help". After thinking about a lifeboat in a storm and a mountaineer on the side of a glacier, I decided on a different tack. That word reminds me of a song ;-) )

"Help! I need somebody! Help! Not just anybody! Help! You know I need someone..."

"No, no, no, that's not right!"

Talia threw her arms up in the air and tore the headphones from her head, throwing them to the floor, locks of her straw-blond tangle of hair flicking up.

"What the hell's wrong now, Eric?", she yelled at the booth, her words bouncing around the studio, syllables coated with her northern accent. Daggers flew from her piercing, emerald blue eyes and a harsh pout formed on her cherry-red lips. She glowered at the reflection of herself in the mirrored sound booth window.

His voice came over the intercom again, calmer this time.

"Look, I'm sorry, it's just that this was the fifth time we've tried this and you're still not getting it", his disembodied voice said. Talia turned her back on the window and parked her hands on her hips, glaring at the backing singers and session players, daring them to agree with Eric. Wisely, no one made a sound. She turned back and stalked up to the window, pushing her face close to the glass.

"And what exactly do you think I'm not getting?", she said, her voice raised, hands waving in the air. "I can sing a damn song, you know."

The door clicked and swung open and Eric walked in, arms raised defensively. Talia moved towards him and he backed up quickly, banging into the door and gasping at the sudden pain. A hand rose to grip his shoulder, but found no further pain there. He shook his mop of dark, brown hair and straightened up. He ran a hand over his soul patch and raised the hand to emphasis his point.

"I'm not saying you can't, Talia, it's just that when you sing the Beatles, people expect a little... something... extra? You know, something to show them that you're worthy... to... sing... it."

His words slowed as Talia's eyes darkened and the daggers turned to very sharp, very pointy swords. She stepped towards him, each fall of her boot accentuating her words.

“What. Do. You. Mean. Worthy?”

Her face was right up to his; he could smell the cigarette smoke on her breath and a trace of an ineffective breath mint. Eric gulped and looked past her, but everyone else in the studio had suddenly found the little holes all over the sound-proofing to be the most fascinating things they had ever seen.

“I won that show, I beat them all, they chose ME, so don't you dare suggest for a moment that I'm not ALLOWED to sing this damn song”, she said, jabbing a finger as she spoke, poking him in the shoulder, a sharp stabbing pain from her crimson fingernail accompanying each jab.

Eric held up his hands in surrender, his shoulder throbbing.

“Look, I'm just trying to warn you. People love the Beatles, people love Lennon, you need to be able to show you're respecting their legacy”, he said. Talia shook her head.

“The Beatles? Lennon? Legacy? I don't know what you're going on about, Eric, this is a McFly song, don't you know anything?”, she retorted, prompting stifled laughs from several places around the studio. She swung round, glowering at the singers and musicians.

“What's so damn funny?”, she demanded, fixing each of them with her venom-filled stare. No-one took the bait. She turned back to Eric, who had his hand over his mouth and was trying desperately not to laugh.

“WHAT??”, she yelled, her words rattling the window. Eric grinned at her.

“Nothing, nothing, we're just seeing things clearly now, that's all. Yes, very clearly. I'm sorry I said anything. I'm sorry. Please forgive me.”

Talia nodded at him, her anger fading.

“That's better. I guess I won't need to have you fired now”, she said. Eric drew the back of his hand over his forehead, faking a relieved look.

“Oh, thank you, Talia, most appreciated. Now, shall we get back to recording this... McFly... song?”

Talia smiled at him and skipped back to the microphone, bending to pick up her headphones. Eric watched, then flashed a grin at the backing singers, nodding at the pretty brunette on the end of the line-up. She looked quickly at Talia and returned the nod. He turned and stepped through the door, closing it behind him and double checking to make sure it was closed properly. He sat down next to the sound engineer at the mixing panel and leaned over to checked that the intercom was off, then rocked back in his chair and laughed until his sides hurt.

The sound engineer shook his head.

“Another one who'll be forgotten this time next year, hey?”, he said. Eric sat forward and grinned at him.

“No doubt there, Sam. Anyway, let's get this thing wrapped up, shall we? Just cut out her microphone and pick up on that girl on the right, she'll be doing the vocals.”

He rested his chin on folded hands and watched the girl preparing.

“Like she does every time.”