Member Challenge - Funky Phobias
1) MC or romantic interest (or both) must have an obscure phobia (i.e., fear of balloons, flowers, etc. No fear of needles or heights, unless it's a REALLY amusing situation.)
2) said phobia must cause some humorous ruckus.
3) and said ruckus must either bring together or tear apart romantic interest and MC - you choose
4) either romantic interest or MC must beat up/chew out a group of people for making fun or taking advantage of either romantic interest or MC's phobia
5) must include line "You couldn't just have been afraid of dentists, could you?" and/or "Careful, people with obscure phobias are often neurotic, as well." (Or something along those lines.)
6) must be a oneshot under 10,000 words
- sudden cures of phobias. They can't just disappear when convenient, and the romantic interest can't make it go away with their healing kisses, or whatever.
- tearjerkers. There can be serious moments, but most of it should be funny and fun.
(NOTE: An in-depth knowledge of how phobias work is not required. Don't worry.)
- x - x - x -
It was afternoon, but I let it slide. "Morning, Shane," I replied, refolding a particularly hideous yellow shirt and tucking it back onto the shelf. "How's life?"
"Ask me again when I'm awake." Behind me, I could hear him setting his daily chocolate milkshake by the cash register. Setting aside the fact that it was almost two in the afternoon, and most normal human beings were awake hours ago, I wondered how Shane never got fat when all he did was eat total crap and sleep—except for when he worked to get money to pay for the food and filling up his car. Unlike me, a perpetual (and perpetually disgruntled) employee of our vomit-inducing trend-whore of a fashion outlet, Shane was pretty new to the job. All I really knew about him was that he was always late, shaved his head every week or so, and was a fun person to talk to. And he was sort of breathtakingly attractive, if you care about that sort of thing.
Trying to pretend that I was not the sort of person who did (care, that is) I turned around. "That is not your uniform," I pointed out.
I know, it seems like stating the obvious, but Shane's surprise when he looked down was totally real. It wasn't even the first time this had happened. He dashed—ambled—into the storage room and put on the spare uniform he kept on top of the forever-unsold box of Hannah Montana flip-flops. Meanwhile, I was occupied with the only customers in the store, two girls who looked about fourteen years old.
"Sammy! Sammy! Do you think this would match my dress?"
The other girl—Sammy, I assumed—was in full freak-out mode, scrunchy-faced but dry-eyed to preserve her makeup. "Oh my god! How can you ask me that right now! I can't believe he broke up with me! Over the phone! Before homecoming!" As she started wailing, kind of like a mixture of a police siren and an angry llama, I slowly backed away.
The first girl sighed loudly and flipped her badly bleached hair. "God, could you not make a scene? Hey, you," she called out, looking straight at me.
I suddenly remembered that her name was Britney (Brit-Brit, to her friends) and every time she came to the store, she addressed me with Hey, you. We had a system worked out by now, so I just stood in front of her and stared, waiting for her to dredge up some manners. A period of silence fell, during which Shane emerged from the storage room, now properly attired in a black button-down shirt, black pants and a purple tie. Britney followed him with her mascara-caked eyes. She was a bitch, but she wasn't stupid.
While she ogled my co-worker, I cocked my head and waited for the magic word. Finally, Britney looked at me again, sighed loudly, and said, "Okay, Katie?"
"That's me," I confirmed, stretching the corners of my mouth into something I hoped was smile-ish.
"Do you think this necklace would look okay with a dress that's . . ."
Details poured out of her glossed mouth like an unstoppable flood. Cut, neckline, brand names, fabric, sleeves, accessories, brand names, shoes, hairstyle . . . I picked the words "light blue" out of the deluge and decided that was enough to work with. The rest I tuned out, choosing instead to tap my foot along to the unrecognizable pop song playing on the speakers.
"No gold," I finally interrupted, unable to take anymore of her babbling. Wasn't it my turn to ogle my coworker? "Especially if you're going to keep tanning yourself orange."
The scoffing sound she made sounded deeply unhealthy. "I'm so sure. Like I need advice from you." I waited for an insult, hoping she'd cover some new territory. Her most common complaint was that I refused to put ugly yellow stripes—sorry, highlights—in what I considered to be perfectly acceptable long brown hair. Sometimes, though, she tried to get creative, with fascinating results. This time, her attention was diverted by Sammy, who was still semi-hysterical. Ah, to be young and stupid.
"Would you shut up?!" Britney groaned. She put the necklace back, grabbed the same thing in silver, and dragged her friend to the cash register. It was really a priceless moment: Britney was completely flippy, giggling and squirming like a puppy in her attempts to get Shane's attention. He was still practically a zombie and barely seemed able to ring up her purchase, much less notice her attempts at flirting. Meanwhile, Sammy was hiccupping and checking her cell phone, looking more than a little scary since her tears had finally spilled over and melted her eye makeup.
On their way out, Britney shot one last look back at the milkshake-guzzling Shane Ferguson. I couldn't help reaching over to run my hand across his smooth scalp, just to see her turn a little green beneath the orange. Yeah, that's right, bitch. Pale brunettes, 1; overbaked bleach-heads, 0. Of course, as far as Shane knew, I was just fascinated by his shaved head, so he just smiled a tiny smile. "How would you feel if I was always playing with your hair?" he asked. The last few words were marred by a huge yawn.
Um . . . ecstatic and turned on? "Sorry," I said meekly, knowing how he would respond. And sure enough—
"Ah, it's okay. I don't really mind."
Nothing beats the passive-aggressive method of getting permission. I highly recommend it.
"So why were you up so late this time?"
"On the internet. My sister was watching Dreamgirls again and she beat me at Go Fish, so I had to watch it with her."
Here's another thing I knew about Shane: no matter how exasperated his tone might get, he totally doted on his ten-year-old sister, Ayana.
"I swear she's seen that thing about a million times," he continued. "She wants to grow up and be . . . uh, what's her name . . . Effie, I think? She was kinda—"
"Say 'fat' and I'll castrate you. Jennifer Hudson is gorgeous and I would sell my soul to sing like her."
"Whoa, now. You can't threaten to cut off my penis before I even finish my milkshake."
"I will throw down, boy." It was probably good that there was a counter between us. I tend to get right up in the face of the person I'm talking to, and the amount of space between me and Shane is directly proportional to how many coherent thoughts my brain can produce.
"Jessica Biel," he commented, apropos of nothing.
"What?" I hoped he wasn't having some sort of weird daydream that I'd have to wake him up from, possibly by making out with him. On second thought . . .
"I was trying to think of a celebrity you look like. You kinda look like Jessica Biel, but with darker hair."
I tried not to laugh. I failed. "You've got to be kidding me. I look nothing like her."
"All right, fine. Who would you pick?"
To be honest, I hadn't really thought about it before, so it took me a while. "Hate to say it, because I can't stand her," I finally told him, "but I guess my choice would be Ashlee Simpson, back when her hair was black and she had her real nose and wasn't so anorexic-y."
Shane made a totally cute Thoughtful Face, mulling this over. "Huh. Ashlee Simpson?"
"I don't know. That one's not that good, either. Maybe we'll come up with something while we wait for some actual customers to show up."
"Pick one for me," he suggested. As I pondered this, he slurped up the last remnants of the milkshake. Normally, I would have felt a little shy about picking a hot actor, but since Shane had been nice enough to think of me in the same remote category as freaking Jessica Biel, I felt justified in saying whatever I felt like.
"Ha! Got it!" I exclaimed, slapping the counter and startling the couple entering the store. After giving them a wide smile and a (fake) warm welcome, I returned to our conversation.
"A younger Taye Diggs," I told him triumphantly.
Shane nodded slowly, looking pretty flattered. "Nice."
As the couple wandered back out into the mall at large, I decided it was time to tell a tiny lie. "Your, uh, your tie's crooked," I said and took the excuse to come around the counter. While I adjusted the imaginary flaw and soaked in his body heat and the faint scent of cologne, I caught movement near the entrance at the corner of my eye.
I looked up, false smile at the ready, and gasped. Before Shane could ask me what was wrong, I dove for cover, but since there wasn't much space provided for cowering in terror, I accidentally took him down with me. I barely moved my knee in time to avoid causing extreme pain to my coworker, though I was still awkwardly and undeniably sprawled on top of him. It would have been a moment to savor had I not been absolutely terrified.
Since my life seems to be an endless display of bad timing, Shane took this opportunity to kiss me. Normally, I would have reveled in this. I would have torn myself away only to hang up a "gone fishing" sign and close up the store. I would have acted just like the lust-dazed heroine of a trashy bodice-ripping Harlequin romance.
Unfortunately, I was on the verge of a panic attack, so what I actually did was jerk backwards with a little more force than was absolutely necessary. "What are you doing?" I choked out, wincing as I lost my balance and fell again, this time on my butt. I must have looked like a banshee, wide-eyed and hyperventilating with my hair in disarray and my face pale as Twinkie filling.
"What are you doing?" he shot back. He looked upset, which was understandable. Girls who practically wrestle boys to the floor don't usually mind being kissed.
"Is she still there?" I demanded, my voice shaky.
"The girl in the doorway! Is she still there?"
Shane frowned, stood up and looked around. "There's nobody here but us. Why are you freakin' out?"
I stood up slowly, cautiously. "I, um . . . well, it's kind of . . . all right, this is going to sound stupid, okay, but just . . . emfrdfstkrs."
He knew that I knew he hadn't heard me, so he just raised his eyebrows and waited.
After a long sigh, I just told him, loud and clear.
"I'm afraid of stickers."
"Come on, Katie, I mean it. Don't jerk me around."
"I'm not! It's a phobia, okay? It's not supposed to make sense. I just can't stand the sight of stickers."
He stared at me for what felt like a long time. After the first few seconds, I started blushing, and it didn't have anything to do with my stupid phobia. I fidgeted with my bracelet, adjusted my short black skirt, shifted from one foot to the other. Finally, he stopped staring, or at least started doing it less intensely. "Hot damn," he muttered, looking shocked. "You're serious!"
"Yes, I'm serious! I hate stickers! They freak me out!"
Shane blinked, and then an odd look came over his face. "Uh, you might wanna . . . go home early today, maybe."
"Why?" The note of panic in my voice was blatant and pathetic.
"Well, the toy store is trying not to go out of business, so they're, um . . ." He glanced down at me, and I suddenly realized how close to him I had stepped. Taking a moment to wonder why my perceptions of personal space evaporated whenever I talked to anyone, I scooted back again. ". . . they're passing out free stickers to everybody that goes by."
Definitive Proof: God hates me. "Oh no! No, no, no! I can't stay here. Can Erica come in and cover for me?" I asked desperately.
"Hey, Mommy! I wanna get this! How much is it?"
I didn't want to look. I didn't mean to. But training is a powerful thing, and my head swung toward the source of the sound. A little girl was standing just inside the store, examining a gaudy scarf on the 'For Sale' rack. A big pink Barbie sticker covered up one whole sleeve of her shirt.
Oh my god. I whirled in the opposite direction, heart racing and eyes shut tight. If I can't see it, it doesn't exist. If I can't see it, it doesn't exist.
For the second time in five minutes, Shane kissed me. This time, I wasn't stupid enough to jump away like a startled gazelle. I grabbed his wrists with my trembling hands and did my best to reciprocate, but just as things were getting good I had to pull away once again. "Sorry," I panted. "It's hard to kiss you when I'm hyperventilating. Nothing personal."
He just shrugged, accepting my explanation but not looking too thrilled about it. "Thought I'd try to distract you."
If any other girl was freaking out over adhesive decorations, would you kiss them, too? It wasn't a fair question, so I let it be. "Phobias don't work like that, I'm afraid. You can't just make it go away with your healing kisses. Much as I might enjoy the effort," I admitted, blushing once again.
A smile tugged at his lovely, lovely lips. "She's gone, by the way. The little girl."
"Okay, good," I said, trying to take deep breaths. "Now please, please, please call Erica."
"Yeah, I'll . . . oh, shit. Do you know her phone number? My cell phone's dead."
"I have no idea. Is there anybody else?" I will not panic. I will not panic.
"Not really . . . Chelsea's visiting her family this week and Megan's doing summer school . . . Janie's working at her other job, I think . . ."
I will not panic. "Erica's boyfriend is working in the Chick-Fil-A," I yelped. "You can ask him!"
"Okay. I'll be right back. Just wait here, all right? It'll only take a second." He didn't look very sanguine about leaving me, but with a quick brush of his fingers on my cheek, he was gone.
All right. I leaned forward, resting my elbows on the counter and my head in my hands. Just a little longer, maybe fifteen minutes, and that was all. I could escape.
"Excuse me . . ."
The girl was short, dark-haired, about twelve years old. These were things I noticed after seeing the big Spongebob sticker on her chest.
I lunged back like I was being graded on my reaction time. "What?!"
"Are you okay?" It was a decent question, but her tone informed me I was being an idiot, and I didn't appreciate that. There was a little too much condescension in her voice for my taste.
"Fine. This isn't a good time. Can you come back later?" I asked tersely, desperately hoping she would just leave.
"No," she shot back in her brattiest tone. "Do you have nail polish here?"
"Over there." I pointed to the far wall. She walked back to the entrance instead, which brought me immense relief until she called out and waved to someone. Almost instantly, her friends started pouring in. There were less than ten, but it felt like a hundred. All with at least one sticker, of course.
"Help me reach this!" one of them yelled to me from the center of the mob of preteen girls. Stickered girls. There was just no way.
"Hey! Are you deaf? Will you get over here already?" That had to be the first girl.
Feeling like a robot about to self-destruct, I forced myself to shuffle over to the crowd. My throat was closing up a little more with every step. I was going to die at the age of nineteen surrounded by bitchy middle school girls, and what did I have to show for my life? Not even a decent kiss with Shane.
There are probably eighty-year-old chain smokers who have fewer problems with breathing than I was having at that moment. My lungs felt like cement.
"Everybody just back away, please. Give me some room." Luckily, I didn't sound as terrified as I felt. I wiped my hands on my skirt, tucked my hair back with one shaking hand . . .
"Get on with it," snapped a girl with frizzy hair and three heart-shaped stickers. She pushed closer to me until—
My back slammed against the wall, and I cringed as display hooks jammed into my spine. "Get those things away from me!" I squeaked breathlessly.
"What are you talking about?" Ahh, the Girl #1. I'd know that bitchy tone anywhere.
I swallowed hard and decided, for some reason, to tell the truth. "The stickers. Step back or get rid of them, okay?"
Derisive laughter ensued. "What, are you afraid of them or something?"
This was getting really ugly really fast, and I was about ready to make a run for it. But it was my job, and I couldn't bail. Not over this. "I just—"
Someone slapped my arm. I looked down instinctively and couldn't even see the design—I just knew it was a sticker, and it was on my arm.
On. My. Arm.
Most people know someone who's afraid of spiders. Well, imagine setting a tarantula on that person's arm, then sitting around to watch the show. Their reaction isn't going to be that hard to predict, and it would probably be exactly the same as mine. I flung the sticker to the ground and screamed like the world was ending.
I could hear the girls laughing all around me, but it didn't quite register in my mind. I was too full of adrenaline to notice much except the stickers. The stupid fucking stickers.
More of them were reaching out, stickers at the ready, eager to join the fun. I was seriously about to climb the wall, even if it killed me. I was surrounded.
Here's something I didn't know about Shane: He can be really, really loud. Those girls jumped like gun-shy horses.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" His voice was full of rage, dark and . . . sexy, really. Though it probably helped not to be on the receiving end of his wrath. "Do you think this is funny? Her fears are not a toy for you to play with. You're all fuckin' pathetic! Imagine how you'd feel if somebody dropped a rattlesnake on you!" The girls were frozen, transfixed with fear and, perhaps, just a little bit of shame. "Get the fuck outta here," he growled. "I don't wanna see any of you set foot in this place again."
I think they may have broken the sound barrier in their rush to escape.
Then the store was silent, except for my uneven, heavy breathing. It sounded almost like I was crying. I reached up and found tears streaming down my face. Shit, shit, shit. My whole body was shaking now. I tried to thank Shane for his intervention, but instead I just gasped harder for breath, making those little whimpering noises girls tend to make when we cry so much or so hard our lungs can't keep up. Of course this had to happen in front of Shane. Of course.
He handed me the box of tissues from under the counter. All things considered, it didn't take too long for me to dry my face and start breathing semi-normally again.
"Thanks," I muttered, tossing out the damp tissues and avoiding eye contact. He hugged me from behind anyway, so I turned around and buried my face in his shoulder, inhaling deeply and feeling more calm with every breath. His hand was rubbing my back, warm and solid and comforting.
"Erica and Christine are coming in to cover for us. Erica should be here soon, and Christine told me we can leave as soon as one person's here to take over."
"You called the manager to cover our shift?" I turned toward his neck so my words wouldn't be hopelessly muffled, then moved back. His collarbone was beneath my lips.
"Yeah. I told her you needed somebody to take you home. Try to sit down and look pathetic, okay?"
"No problem," I agreed with a weak smile, sinking down to the floor with his help. It was good timing. Just a few minutes later, Erica bustled in.
"Sorry I'm late—oh my god, Katie, you look awful! Are you taking her home? She doesn't look like she should be driving. I can take care of things here, you guys go ahead and leave." Always the helpful ball of energy, Erica gathered up my things and gave them to Shane to carry. She even dug up two Hostess cupcakes from the depths of her massive purse and handed them to me, saying I looked like I could use the extra sugar in my system, as long as I wasn't feeling sick to my stomach.
The cupcakes didn't even survive the walk to Shane's car. Once I had polished them off, he reached over and took my hand. I was nervous again, but this was normal. This, I could deal with.
"Thanks for—for everything," I told him. The only reason I stammered was that just as I began to speak, his thumb started stroking the palm of my hand, and for a split second I had no idea what I had been about to say. That may be the only explanation for what I said next: "You look really hot in that shirt and tie."
His eyes widened, and then he smiled at me, a smile more real than any he'd given me before.
First, he had kissed me because of a misunderstanding. Then he had kissed me to distract me from my panic attack. This time, I wanted it to be real.
As we stood outside his car, I put my arms around his neck slowly, to make sure he knew exactly what I was doing. I couldn't resist running a hand across the smooth skin on his scalp. Before I could make the first move, as I had planned, he ducked his head and kissed me once again. I could feel the muscles in his shoulders move through his shirt as he put his hands on small of my back. Shane pulled away first, and smirked at me as he ran his hands through my hair. "So, how does it feel?" he asked.
"It feels great," was my honest reply. He smiled again, then shook his head and laughed outright.
"You couldn't just be afraid of dentists, could you?"
"Ugh," I groaned and dropped my head against his chest. "Shut up."
"Or spiders, or blood, or needles, or heights . . ."
I grabbed his tie, wrapped it around my wrist, and pulled. "If you don't shut up," I threatened, "I am totally never kissing you again."
He just looked at me, and the breezy spring day suddenly seemed quite a bit warmer. His eyes were warm, dark and inviting. Had I not been a young woman of principle, the temptation would have been too much. I tried to stare right back at him instead of focusing on how very close his lips were to mine. "Should I take you home now?" he asked quietly.
"Well, there's always the option of taking me home with you and ravishing me. But my advice is to drive me home, say good-bye, see me some other time."
"Oh, really? And why is that?"
"Well, it's just my advice. It's what a gentleman would do, I think." I leaned in to kiss his neck and smiled when he shivered beneath my hands. "It's up to you."
His eyes appeared to gleam as he understood what I was saying. Whoever initiated the kiss, it escalated more quickly than any of the others, and as his hands tangled themselves in my hair once again, I tried to remember that we were in a public place. There were more things to consider than just how long I'd wanted this. Shane's hips were pressed against mine, inadvertently pinning me against his car. A few scandalized old women walked by, complaining loudly, and we broke apart for the sake of their blood pressure.
After catching our collective breath, he raised an eyebrow at me. "Your advice is to just drive you home and say good-bye?"
"Mmmhm," I said, still a little too dazed for a real answer. I met his gaze more confidently this time, waiting for a verdict.
"Whatever," Shane finally drawled, moving around the car to the driver's side. "Like I need advice from a girl who doesn't even highlight her hair."