He needed it. He'd been hiding in his house for eight months, occasionally stepping out for get-togethers with friends for all night cards and game sessions. This was a night out with those same friends. He would be helping to foot the bill for everyone, nice guy that he was, and they would be his ride.
A night at the movies. Some new and thrilling King flick, nothing impressive and not nearly as good as the last one he'd seen, or so he'd heard. He wasn't really a King fan in the first place, but this was time out, and he needed it.
Turned out, one of his friends that was going, invited a girl. Not just any girl, one that, up to that point, he hadn't been allowed to talk to much. The sweet little girl had surrounded herself with other sweet little girls that knew him, and didn't trust him for a moment. They thought they knew him. He was the broody, dark and nasty tempered variety. Something that wasn't to be spoken to, or even acknowledged except in the purely academic sense. She was a Christian, and he was the bad sort, and that was all that was needed to be known.
He hadn't exactly moved to stop the reputation he had gained. It had its base in reality, his last relationship had ended badly, and he was generally acid to anyone that brought it up. He had his friends, but around school, he generally kept to himself, preferring to spend his time tucked away wherever he wasn't going to be harassed.
Tonight, he knew, he would have to be "normal." No brooding, pretend to be having fun like the rest of the group, watching a movie he never would have seen if circumstances were different. But, they wanted to go, and for some reason, he had to be there, so he went. First mistake.
The Mustang was a bit on the small side in the back seat in the first place, but when he sat down and stretched out, it was quite lost. He would be riding in the back, until they picked up the girl, then the date would move to his place, to sit next to the girl.
The wheelman and the date both made him aware of the rules. He had to be pleasant to her. Talk to her, but don't be overly... anything. Talk about her friends with her, but don't bring up any personal interests. This wasn't his date.
"I get it, I'm just along for the ride, leave me the hell alone already, and I'll play nice," he growled at them.
They arrived at her place at the scheduled time. The date got out and pulled the seat forward for him to extract himself from the back. He stood beside the open door, wishing he had something to do with his hands. A soda would be nice, but would have to wait until they'd made it to the theater.
The date came back, holding the girl's hand, and they slid into the back together, speaking in hushed tones about school, people and the movie they were headed to see. He gave them a quick glance, making sure they were settled in, and plopped into his new space next to the wheelman. "We've got a good hour still, let's head over and get some walk-in munchies," he suggested.
"Sounds good," the wheelman answered. "Down there or up here?"
"No matter, let's just go. They're gonna be yakking, and probably staying in the car no matter where we go until the movie."
The wheelman nodded, adjusted his mirror, and they started on their way.
The nightlife in the college town was in full swing when they arrived at the theater parking lot. They would be walking by a multitude of bars and clubs to get to the store where they were picking up snacks. He had been through this crowd before, and could even pass for one of them, as long as they didn't ask him to speak. Age, he had learned, was something that was going to be revealed one way or the other based on what one said. He just picked his way through the crowd, occasionally glancing back to be sure the others were still there, not stopped at a store window.
There was a crowd in the lot at the convenience store where the quartet stopped to get their movie munchies. They all appeared to be grabbing up all the liquor that was available there for a fraternity party that was being held that evening. He just shrugged, and held the door open for the other three. She stopped to give him a quick up and down glance, offering him a brilliant smile. She obviously approved. That would be trouble.
Following her into the store, he took mental notes on her. Red hair, down to the middle of her back, no roots, so it was natural, tiny waisted and nicely shaped behind, the kind you can only find in a teenager, but feel guilty about looking at if you aren't a teen yourself. She was short... probably just barely five feet tall, but well proportioned.
He realized he had been staring and looked away quickly, locating a cooler stocked with his favorite soda. "One very large one of these," he thought, grabbing the familiar blue and red bottle, "and a couple of these," he continued, grabbing a pair of candy bars wrapped in silver, with a familiar trio of men drawn on. The others made their selections, and stepped into line with him.
She stared at him intently for a moment, not demurring at all when he caught her gaze. "What?" he asked.
"Well, it's you," she replied. "You're that guy. The bad guy. The one all of my friends warn me about. You look harmless enough."
This caused a few heads to turn toward him in line, but he took it in stride. "Ask my ex how harmless I am," he replied evenly.
"Well, you don't scare me," she said, with some defiance in her eyes.
This girl was all kinds of trouble, he decided. He leaned close to her and whispered, "I'm not gonna play your game."
"That would be your mistake," she whispered back.
"Hey," the date grunted at him, causing him to turn and stare at the smaller man. "Back the hell off."
He turned away, raised his full hands and stepped to the counter to pay for his drink and candy. "See you down there," he said, going through the door and shoving his purchases into the deep pockets of his coat.
He stepped quickly; the long, purposeful stride carried him to his destination the way that it always did when he was irritated. He still looked irritated when he gave the ticket taker his money, and shoved his way through the door.
The theater was an aging part of the city's past. It was beautifully decorated on the inside, including plush burgundy carpet throughout the ground floor, and a similar style leading the way up the spiral staircase. The movie they had come to see was playing in one of the rooms on the second floor. He pondered going up the stairs and finding a seat, but thought better of it. He should at least sit with the wheelman, so that they would leave together.
The trio finally arrived, each looking annoyed at him, and for his part, he was annoyed at them, for being so slow. They had missed not just the trailers, but at least five minutes of the movie itself. To keep things simple in the dark, they decided to sit together, her between him and the date, the wheelman at the aisle. He was resistant to the idea, but there was not any more time to argue. They needed to sit, and quietly so as not to attract attention.
The movie did little to hold his interest. Something about cat-like people that were afraid of real cats. She wasn't terribly interested, either. The date was giving his full attention to the action on the screen, as was the wheelman.
So it started. She stared at him again, waiting for him to notice. When he finally looked down, there were her green eyes just a few feet away. "Now what?" he whispered.
"This movie sucks, can we go?" she asked, also whispering.
He glanced at the date, completely unaware. "I'm thinking 'no,'" he replied
"Well, then, let's go get some popcorn."
"I'll go, you stay. Or, you go with him. We aren't going together."
"Shut the hell up," the wheelman hissed at them. She rolled her eyes, and turned back toward the screen. He sighed and did the same.
The film finally ended, much the way he expected. The bad people lost, but took a few policemen with them. They all trudged out with him pondering the next big waste of money he was going to be dragged into.
They all walked back to the car, him leading the way, making sure not to even spare her a backward glance. He waited at the door, as the date brought himself and her around to the passenger's side. He held the door for the two of them, watching them debate who would get in first, mostly about weather or not they were going to allow enough legroom for the person in the front. As is often the case in matters like this, the wheelman won out, telling her to get in behind him.
Upon starting the engine, the wheelman checked his fuel gauge. "Need gas," he grunted.
"Let's head up the hill," he replied. "I'll get it on the card," he added, pulling the grey and green gas station credit card out of his wallet.
The wheelman grunted his approval, and got them on their way. The station they were headed to was several miles away, so music was involved. He dug through the wheelman's collection of tapes to find something good for driving with, and popped the fairly new copy of Use Your Illusion II into the tape deck, letting it just play from where it was. It would be a safe enough bit to hear, barring a couple songs, but he wasn't terribly worried, even as Axl Rose's voice screeched out the last notes of You Could Be Mine.
But as the next song began, and he realized what was coming, and moved to switch it for something else. Her voice from the back cooing about how much she loved Don't Cry stopped him cold. He looked to the wheelman for help, but got none. "You put it on, man, don't change it now. Suck it up."
He sighed and sat back in his chair, hoping for some bit of distraction. She offered it to him. "Why don't my friends like you?" she asked.
He chuckled lightly before turning around to answer. "Female solidarity."
She looked at him quizzically, hoping for further explanation.
"They're friends with my ex. Some of your friends know me, but of course nothing I've done could convince them that I've got any redeeming value, because they're friends with my ex."
"They're not that petty," she retorted.
"The breakup was ugly," the date offered.
"And they took her side?"
"Female solidarity," he repeated.
"Huh. I guess I'll have to figure you out on my own."
"Don't bother," the date answered for him. "He's not all that hard to figure. Brood, brood, brood, bitch, complain, brood, brood, write bad poetry..."
"Hey," he said defensively, "my poetry has won awards, you know."
"Yeah, that proves that lots of people have no taste."
"You write poetry?" she asked.
"Yes," he answered quickly, and turned his attention back to the date. "And those are the same people that love the stuff that you draw."
"I love poetry," she said quietly, attracting the stares of both men.
"You wouldn't like his," the date stated. "It's all depressive, and lovey, and obsessing about the same girl."
She stared at him for a moment, expecting confirmation. He simply shrugged. She brought her hands together and laughed. "You're a romantic."
"Yeah," he replied, "well... Don't let word get out."
"Oh my God, you really are. I bet my friends don't know that about you."
"Probably not, and that isn't going to change now, is it?" He felt something bump the back of his chair, and knew it was the date letting him know he was crossing a line. He simply shook his head and turned back around to face the front.
Thankfully, the gas station was just ahead, and they were turning in as she thought to ask something else of him. He got out of the car, along with everyone else, the attendant staring at them as he approached the window. He held up the little piece of plastic, indicating that he was there to fill up, and dropped it on the counter. The attendant nodded, and went back to reading his newspaper.
He turned around, finding a pair of bright green eyes staring at him again. "Walk with me," she demanded.
He stared down at her. Pouty, petulant and demanding, but cute nonetheless. He knew this was a bad idea. Everything about her screamed at him to stay away, not the least of which the fact that the date was one of his best friends. "Where would we be walking to?"
"Station across the street. This one doesn't have a bathroom."
That seemed safe enough. It was kind of late at night, and dark, in spite of the efforts of the full moon. He turned back to the attendant and announced his intention. The man behind the glass simply waved them on. Catching the wheelman's attention, he pointed to the other station and to let him know what was going on. The date spotted the potential of the situation and got out of the car to join them.
The three walked to the corner, crossed the street and went to the doors where the bathrooms were, him waiting outside for the other two. She came out first, grabbed his arm, and whispered "let's ditch him."
He took a deep breath and slowly blew the air out. "You know, I'm beginning to think that your friends weren't really trying to keep you from meeting me for what we thought."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"I'm not the bad here, you are."
"Maybe. Their problem, not mine. Let's go."
"No, I don't think so."
She frowned at him, obviously not accustomed to being told no. It turned out, she was still cute when she was frowning. Moonlight reflecting in her pale, round face, her eyes alight with something other than trouble. He extracted himself from her grip, just as the date came out, still shaking his hands dry.
"Damn thing was out of towels," he muttered, looking at them.
"Your choice in dates leaves a bit to be desired," he told his friend, drawing a nasty stare from her. "She could give my ex lessons in how to piss me off."
"Well, you sure know how to sweet talk a girl," she fumed.
"I'm not here to sweet talk you, that's his job," he responded, pointing at the date.
"Could you pretend you aren't an asshole for five minutes?" she asked him.
"Can you remember that I'm not here for you for that long?" he replied, walking away and heading back to where the car was finished filling.
He signed the receipt, and tucked away his copy and the card back into his wallet. Turning around, he found her there again. "You don't listen, do you?"
"Not really," she replied with a giggle.
He stormed past her to the car and dropped himself into the seat. It was at that point that the date announced that he needed to get home. Early things the next day. He agreed to the sentiment, but asked to be dropped off first, as he was the furthest away. The wheelman, knowing he had all the power, opted to take the date home first.
Mercifully, she kept quiet on the ride up to the date's house. It created an uncomfortable silence that even Axl Rose wasn't keeping away efficiently. Once they made it to the driveway, he stepped out of the door, letting the date pass by him. He ignored the eyes that stared at him, daring him to sit next to her. He shook his head and apologized under his breath. "I tried..." he offered.
The date shrugged his shoulders and trudged into his home. Tomorrow would be another opportunity. He turned around and pushed the seat back into position, only to have her push it over again.
"Oh, hell no," he told her, leaning his head in. "I've got some class, and that's just asking for trouble."
"Well, I am trouble, so sit down here next to me, and stop asking for it."
He sighed, making sure he couldn't be seen from the window and sat down next to her, ignoring the reproachful stare by the wheelman. He glanced at her. "Happy now?"
"I'll get there," she replied.
He looked back at the wheelman. "Just get me the hell home, would you?"
They backed down the driveway and drove off into the night. "So, how much longer do I have to talk to you?"
"About five minutes, but I thought we were done talking."
"Well," she replied, "if we're done talking, then it must be time for my kiss goodnight."
It was the moon. Always the damn moon that did this to him. A full moon out tonight, and a pale little red-head next to him. He was going to say no, if only to quiet his conscience, but was becoming more and more aware that it was a loosing battle. He wanted her.
He continued to contemplate her words, all the way up to his driveway. Finally, what he though would be a convincing enough argument struck him as he unbuckled. "You can't kiss me goodnight, I'm not your date."
He stared at her waiting for her response. She unbuckled herself and slid closer to him reaching for his face with both hands. He didn't even try to pull away. When their faces were inches apart he heard her whisper "my mistake." He lost and she won as their lips met and parted.