One shot - This One Last Chance
This was written after I appealed on LJ for some inspiration for ideas to help me get over writer's block. Lillianagrace and pearl_t came through beautifully so thanks go to them for the challenge as it ended up being below (plus part of lalaith7's idea about the character hating his name).
Challenge: One-shot from a male perspective, set in a lawyer's office, somehow involving a priest, triplets, a red balloon, a character with a nervous habit (chewing nails, biting lip, etc), peas, a college (uni for me!) campus, and a cheesy pick-up line.
I drummed my fingers nervously against the desk, the frantic rhythm adding to, not reducing, my stress levels.
Did I call her? That hadn't gone down too well last time I'd tried. So, did I wait for her to call? But, again, considering how that last call had ended, I could be waiting a long time. What to do? What to do?
"Higginbotham!" I froze, my shoulders hunching automatically at the patronising use of my dreaded last name.
"Sir?" I leant back and craned my head round my boss's door, almost toppling out of my chair as I did so.
"If you don't stop that infernal tapping I'm going to come out there and chop your fingers off, are we clear?"
Quickly whipping my fingers off the tabletop I smiled sheepishly and nodded. "Right you are." I said cheerily, sketching a quick salute before retreating back to my desk.
He was only joking... I think. The problem was that you never really could tell with Mr Coulson. One minute it was all 'Good job with those settlement papers, Higginbotham', the next it was all threats of amputation. Still, kept things interesting I suppose.
I gave my computer mouse a little shake to bring the screen back to life, realising with a little stab of guilt that I'd been debating internally about whether to call the girl of my dreams for so long that the monitor had gone to sleep. Really, though, when it came down to it, which was more important? The love of my life, or my job as a Law Clerk in Coulson, Peters and Thirgood?
Well, as it stands, a treacherous little voice in my head muttered, you still have your job; the love of your life not so much.
"I'm going to lunch, Higginbotham." I looked up quickly to see Mr Coulson standing over me, his habitual frown folding the skin on his forehead like a half open fan.
"Cool." I said disinterestedly, before remembering that he was my boss and I should at least look like I cared what he did and adding, "When will you be back, sir?"
"Shortly." He replied, well, shortly. "I have an appointment that I will endeavour to be back in time for. If, however, I'm delayed, please get them to take a seat and offer them the customary refreshments."
"Customary refreshments, right." I nodded to show I understood, "So no vodka jelly shots then, sir."
Humour didn't exactly abound in law offices, this I had noted fairly quickly after joining this one. Mr Coulson gave me one, long, piercing look of disapproval then, when I bowed my head in a sufficiently cowed way, he swept out of the office imperiously.
As soon as the door shut behind him, I exhaled a long breath and slumped down in my chair.
Almost unconsciously my fingers took up their drumbeat on the desktop once more. Now Mr Coulson had left I could properly focus on the romantic disaster I had on my hands. I loved my girlfriend, whole-heartedly, completely, totally, entirely, wholly, absolutely and all the other synonyms I couldn't bring to mind just then.
I'd messed up though, and now she wasn't talking to me.
The tapping of my fingers on the desk sped up. I couldn't stand it, I needed to fix this, I needed to see her and touch her hair and kiss her lips and-
With a startled squawk I slid down the smooth leather of my desk chair and onto the, thankfully, plush red carpet in one awkward, ungainly movement.
"Are you alright?" The concerned face of the person who had literally surprised me out of my chair appeared above me as I went as crimson as the carpet.
"Fine, thanks." Grabbing the edge of the desk, I hauled myself up to my feet and then took stock of the person standing before me.
Sombre black clothes, white rectangle showing at the collar…
"A priest!" I exclaimed, "Awesome!"
"Not the reaction I'm used to, but very flattering all the same." His weathered old face folded into a smile and I beamed back, impressed with his wrinkled hands and white hair. I mean, this was a proper priest. None of your funky, new age, 'I'm cool, let's be friends' priests, this looked like the real deal.
"I'm here to see Mr Coulson, I have an appointment." His voice was all deep and soothing and so I got why people would want to sit in a small box and tell him stuff; he had that good old fashioned 'trust me' voice. Then again…
"Why, what've you done?" I demanded, suspicious that my newfound genuine priest was, in fact, a baddie.
His smile didn't falter, which said a lot about his presence of mind if you think about it, as he answered calmly, "I'm here to seek legal counsel with regards to preventing a planned demolition of a local youth centre in my parish."
"How Hallmark movie of you." I said merrily. My faith in the visitor restored, I gestured towards a couch on the other side of the room. "Take a seat, Mr Coulson is out of the office at the moment, but he'll be back soon." This was not strictly true, Mr Coulson was known for his long lunches and if all he had to get back to was some, probably pro bono, consultation with a priest I doubted he'd be hurrying back.
Still, this suited me just fine. A priest could be just what I needed.
"You sort out people's problems, yeah?" I asked as I walked with him over to the waiting area.
"I help where I can." He corrected me gently.
"Excellent. Could I talk to you about something, then?" I sat down in the stiff leather chair next to the couch he'd slowly sunk down onto and leant forward eagerly, before adding apologetically, "Or, are you off-duty?"
"You don't really go 'off-duty' in my kind of work." The old man assured me and I pulled a face.
"Geez, that must suck. The best bit about this job is that everyday it hits five pm and I get to go home." Suddenly remembering my manners and, to be honest, Mr Coulson's instructions, I got back to my feet. "Would you like a vodka jelly shot?" I asked politely, before realising what I'd said and letting out a sort of spluttered gasp.
Surely there was some divine punishment kept especially for morons who offered priests the kind of refreshment best suited for sucking out of people's belly buttons on a crazy night out?
"Sorry, I meant a drink, you know, the customary stuff. Tea, coffee, although I'm sure I could get you some vodka jelly shots if you wanted…" I trailed off and was thankfully saved as he informed me calmly that a glass of water would be fine.
"Now don't you go turning that to wine when my back's turned." I joked when I returned from the kitchen a few seconds later having dug the nicest glass I could find out of the communal kitchen cupboard and giving it a quick clean with my shirt.
"I'll do my very best." He murmured good-naturedly as he accepted the glass I handed him and took a sip of the contents.
Throwing myself back down onto the chair I'd just left I clasped my hands together earnestly and asked,
"Asking for your advice is okay, isn't it? I mean I'm not religious or anything."
"You don't say?" He replied faintly and I shot him an odd look. Was he being sarcastic? Was that even allowed?
"Yes, well," I coughed, "I just don't want to get you smote or anything."
"I'm sure He'll hold the smiting just this once. What was it that you wanted to talk to me about?" He put a hand up on the arm rest of the couch and looked at me with such a genuine 'listening' expression that all my fears about talking to a lawyer office visiting, sarcastic priest disappeared.
"My girlfriend isn't talking to me." I sighed, "I really messed up this time."
"This time?" He probed and I felt instantly ashamed.
"I'm not, ah, the best boyfriend." I admitted sheepishly. "As a priest who was offered a vodka jelly shot by me I'm sure this'll come as no surprise to you, but I do and say stupid stuff without thinking." I thought about this statement for a moment and then added, "Pretty much all the time."
"But she presumably agreed to be your girlfriend knowing this?" He prompted me.
"Oh, yeah." I nodded enthusiastically, "She definitely knew. I mean, the very first thing I ever said to her was a major stuff up." As he looked at me interestedly, I scratched my neck embarrassedly and explained. "Okay, so I saw her first on Christmas Eve at the bar and she was stunning, I mean the full deal."
Warming to my theme, I went on, "She has this hair, right, that sits in this way that is just so cool. I mean it's all shiny and wavey and it bounces and stuff. And she was wearing these cute jean shorts like everyone else, but she didn't look slutty or anything, she just looked fun and her top had a picture of a red strawberry on it. She likes red." I was so lost in remembering the moment I didn't even think about the inappropriateness of explaining to a priest what about Susie had first made me fall in love with her.
"So, I told my best mate and he fed me this pick up line that was supposed to make her laugh. One of those really over the top cheesy ones so that she'd instantly know I was funny and didn't take myself too seriously or anything. I was supposed to go over and say: 'Don't worry if a fat man in a red suit tries to put you in a sack tonight and drop you down my chimney. I asked for you for Christmas.'"
"That was how you wanted to first greet the girl you liked?" His grey eyebrows rose in disbelief and I found myself replying, defensively,
"It was supposed to be funny."
He looked unconvinced, but gestured for me to go on.
"Okay, so I walked right over to her, in front of her friends and everything and I went to deliver the line. The problem was, though, that she smelt really good and she was even prettier close up and I got all tongue tied." The memory was still painful, even though it had all worked out for the best and I shifted uncomfortably at the re-telling. "So what I ended up saying was that if a big man tried to stuff her in a sack later that night, not to struggle because I'd asked him to."
The priest winced and I took a moment to appreciate that when a priest is wincing at your pick up line you've done something seriously wrong.
"It didn't get much better from there, I'm afraid." I scuffed the toe of my shoe against the carpet, "I tried to explain and ended up telling her that I didn't mean it in a creepy, kidnapping way, I just wanted her stuck down my chimney because she was hot."
There was an echoing silence after this admission, which I miserably filled by saying, "As you can probably guess, that just made me seem like a kidnapper and vaguely perverted."
"But she consented to go on a date with you?" My audience asked, sounding rather incredulous.
"Well, not right away." I admitted. "She has these evil friends, triplets would you believe? They just about had me arrested there and then. I just stood there apologising over and over while those three stood in front of her like I was going to produce a sack and try and force her into it at any second." Finally past the worst bit of the story, a beatific smile crossed my face as I continued, "But then she pushed the triplets out of the way and asked if I'd like to try the first impression again. She's great like that," I explained, "she gives everyone a second chance."
"And so I am to suppose that your second chance went better than your first?" The priest asked and I nodded.
"Well, it would've been hard pressed to be much worse, wouldn't it?" I laughed, "But, yeah, I just looked her straight in the eye and told her that I thought she was beautiful and wanted to take her out. She said yes and we've been together for almost five months now."
"So what specifically has happened to cause you your current distress?" He put his glass of water down on the table next to us and I could tell by the way he had shifted position that he was moving into proper problem-solving mode. This reassured me that asking for his help was the best idea I'd had in a long time, then again, when it came to me that didn't really mean a whole lot.
"Susie's an artist, she paints these totally amazing pictures, she's incredibly talented." As always happened when I talked about my girlfriend's ability, I felt a powerful surge of pride at how good she was.
"And she had this exhibit on Sunday night; a local gallery was showing her stuff along with some other work from her art course at uni. She was really excited, but nervous as well as she has this hang up about showing people her work. It must be one of those 'sensitive artistic soul' things that I totally don't get as if I was that talented I'd be showing it off all over the place. She asked me to be there to help get her through the night and," I gulped as I felt the shame block my throat, "I wasn't there." The last bit was a whisper, but from the condemning look on my listener's face, I knew he'd heard me.
"Why weren't you there?" He asked and I gave a sort of hopeless little shrug.
"Because I'm me." I helplessly explained, "Because nothing in my life ever goes to plan." When it was obvious that that wasn't a good enough explanation I continued, "I was down at the bus stop in plenty of time, but then an Express came along and I thought that'd be great because it would get me at the gallery even earlier than I'd told Susie I'd be there and be able to show her just how supportive I was being. But the Express didn't stop in the district where the gallery was and it took me out to this place I'd never been before. I got off as early as I could, but it was too late, I was already totally lost."
"Surely you could just have crossed the road and taken a bus back along the same route?" My priest asked and I sighed as I thought how easy life must be for people who have the advantage of logic.
"I didn't think of that." I admitted, "I was just frantic to get to Susie so I started running back the way I thought the Express had come."
"Running?" He asked sceptically and I nodded shame-facedly.
"Running." I confirmed, "But then I got even more lost and couldn't find a bus stop and, to cut a long and painful story short, by the time I got to the gallery it was all over and Susie wasn't talking to me."
"This was two nights ago, yes?"
"Yeah," I nodded miserably, "I've been calling her non-stop, but she only answered once to tell me to stop calling."
"It hasn't been very long. Maybe she just needs some time." He suggested, but I shook my head vehemently.
"No, if she has time she'll just sit there thinking of all the other stupid stuff I've done to let her down and those evil friends of hers will be there encouraging her until by the time she sees me next I'll have been turned into public enemy number 1."
There was a long pause as I sunk, once more, into the depths of depression, but the silence was broken as the older man made a decisive click with his tongue and laid a gentle hand upon my knee.
"If that's the case, then it seems to me that maybe you need to be with her." As I looked up he smiled kindly, "If not showing up was your mistake, maybe that's what you should be working on rectifying.
He was right! He was totally right!
"Priest-man, you're a genius!" I clapped him on the back and jumped to my feet. "Come on," I grabbed my jacket and looked back at him expectantly, "She'll be at her room on campus, it's only a couple of minutes away on the bus, you know, if you catch the right one."
When he just looked at me blankly, I threw myself back over to his side and landed on my knees at his feet.
"Please come with me," I begged, "I'm not sure she'll believe how sorry I am on my own, but you've got awesome believability credentials. Please, surely, no matter what your religious affiliation, true love is a sacred and blessed thing?"
"Well," he hesitated and I upped the pleading look on my face, "alright then." He succumbed and I let out a whoop of triumph and ushered him up off the couch and towards the exit.
As I opened the door, however, I came face to face with a returning Mr Coulson and froze.
"Higginbotham, where are you going and why are you taking my one o clock appointment with you?" He asked icily and I licked my lips and tried a winning smile.
"I'm taking my lunch break, sir," I explained, "And I'm only borrowing your one o clock appointment for a little while, half an hour tops."
As he opened his mouth to protest, I slipped past him and was glad to see that my entourage of one only issued a short apology to my boss before following me.
Stepping off the bus some 10 minutes later I spotted the little corner store opposite Susie's residential building and ducked inside. Remerging with two purchases I stuck the frozen peas I'd bought under my left arm as I ripped open the packet of balloons I'd also purchased, digging around inside until I found a red one.
Throwing the rest of the packet out in a nearby bin, I hastily blew the balloon up into a cheery, big, red bubble and tied it off before thankfully removing the frozen peas out from under my arm where the skin had begun to go numb.
"Let's go!" I gestured towards the building Susie's room was in, like a General encouraging his troops into battle. With this image in mind, I chose to imagine that the looks we were receiving from the other students as we charged forwards into the lift were ones of awe rather than bemusement.
Coming out onto the fourth floor I eyed Susie's door apprehensively and then squared my shoulders. I had good and a priest on my side, this could only go well.
Knocking boldly on the thin door I posted a suitably lovable and apologetic look on my face, only for it to fall away as, not Susie, but her evil triplet friends answered.
"Oh, hello Cerberus." I said disappointedly, "Is Susie in?"
The three girls looked between each other, doing the creepy non-verbal communication thing, and then all three shook their heads at once.
"She's at class," Evil Triplet Number One said.
"And she doesn't want to see you anyway," Evil Triplet Number Two said.
"You really messed up this time," Evil Triplet Number Three said.
I looked back at the priest despairingly wondering whether he had the power to exorcise them or something, but then I heard Susie's voice coming from inside the flat saying,
"Guys, who's at the door?"
Not even bothering to send the triplets a well deserved contemptuous look I jumped up onto my toes to try and see past them into the room beyond.
"Susie!" I called out desperately, "It's me!"
"Danny?" Her sweet voice called out and, the next second, the friends were parted to reveal my darling girl. "What are you doing here?" She asked quietly and my heart broke a little bit as I saw that her eyes were red from crying. "I told you I needed some time."
"I know," I gabbled, over-eagerly, "But I needed to see you and prove to you how much I love you. Look," I thrust the frozen peas at her, "Peas, because you love peas." I explained when she looked down at the present uncomprehendingly, "More than any other vegetable, more than chips and junk food and everything, you just like to eat peas and I love that about you."
Seeing that she was still unimpressed I waggled the balloon in her face. "And a red balloon," I explained unnecessarily, "because you love the colour and because when I think of you I think of you as red; all warm and hot and fun and beautiful."
She took the balloon wordlessly, then looked up at my face and shook her head. I knew she was about to say something about how my stupid gifts didn't make up for what I'd done and I panicked.
Grabbing the priest by his arm I dragged him over from out of sight by my side and presented him to Susie.
"And I brought a priest!" I said, desperately, "I brought a priest to tell you how much I care about you and how sorry I am."
This turn of events seemed to completely blow her mind and her eyes were wide as she surveyed my final proof of affection.
"Hello." She said politely after a couple of seconds of stunned silence.
"Hello, Susie." My priest said kindly, "I'm really very sorry that this has all been sprung on you and that your young gentleman has hurt you." I liked being referred to as her young gentleman, but not so keen on the reminder that I'd hurt her.
"But, I believe he's genuine when he says he's sorry. He's been telling me about how he let you down and he really wants to make it up to you."
I watched in horror as her beautiful brown eyes filled with tears, and reached forward automatically to grab one of her hands.
"Don't cry, sweetheart, I'm so sorry, please don't cry."
Her eyes reluctantly left the calm, understanding face of the priest, and landed on my panicked one instead.
"It's not that I don't believe you're sorry, Danny." She said haltingly, her voice choked, "It's just that-" She broke off and stared down at our interlinked hands for a moment before continuing. "It's just that I told you that this was important to me. I wasn't playing games, I wasn't expecting you to guess or do anything except show up for me. I wanted, I needed you to be there and you didn't come through for me."
By this point I'd totally forgotten about the evil triplets and the priest, I was totally focused with a kind of horrified fixation on what Susie was going to say next.
"I love you, Danny." She said quietly, "And I get that the random stuff you do and say is part of how wonderful you are, but how can I be with someone who I can't trust to be there for me?"
"You can trust me." I gripped her hand more tightly in desperation, "I messed you about in the worst way, but that is the last time I do that to you, I promise." When she didn't look convinced I felt my own eyes fill up with tears.
"I can't say that I won't ever do stupid stuff again, that's just kind of in my genetic make up." I admitted haltingly, "But if something is ever important to you, there will be no funny stuff. I will be there, I will be on time, I will be whatever you need, and, if I'm not, then that's it. Get rid of me because, honestly, you deserve someone better. I just want this one last chance."
There was a long few seconds of dead silence during which I held my breath and searched her face for any indication of what her eventual decision would be. She was giving nothing away, however, and so my lungs began to scream at the lack of oxygen.
Finally her mask slipped along with one tear that slid in a shiny trail down her cheek.
"One last chance." She whispered and I nodded solemnly as if signing a pact with her.
"You can't be serious!"
Background noise suddenly came rushing back in from all sides and we both looked in surprise to the side at the triplet who had spoken, having totally forgotten the others' existence.
"I'm totally serious." Susie smiled warmly at her friends and I resisted the urge to stick my tongue out at them. "Do you all mind if we caught up later? I want to talk to Danny a bit more. Alone." She bit her lip adorably and it seemed that even wickedness cubed were softened by her sweetness.
"Fine," one of them grumbled, "we'll call you later though." They stomped past me out of the flat, sending venomous glares my way, but I couldn't have cared less. Susie had forgiven me, that was all that mattered.
Releasing her though, I grabbed the priest, who was hovering slightly uncomfortably to one side nodding politely as the triplets stormed past him, into a big bear hug.
"You are a legend!" I informed him gleefully as I pulled away. "We'll name our first child Priest, after you." Leaning forward I gave him a big smacking kiss on the cheek and then released him with a grin.
"All in a day's work." He said faintly, looking slightly disconcerted by my exuberant thanks, "I'll head back to Mr Coulson's office now if everything's cleared up, I might be able to catch him before he has another client."
"Hey, if he says he can't fit you in, I'll sort him out." I promised, "I'll sweet talk his secretary into rearranging his schedule and get you as much time as you need. Anything you want, just sing out, I owe you."
"There's no need for that." He waved away my offer, but smiled all the same, "You owe me nothing. Good luck." I could've sworn this last bit was directed specifically towards Susie.
We thanked him again and then he set off down the corridor towards the lift and Susie drew me inside her room. I wrapped my arms tightly around her waist once we were inside with the door closed, and nuzzled my face against her neck, breathing her in deeply and dropping little kisses on her shoulder.
"Hey," She drew my head away for a moment and looked at me, "Was that seriously a real priest you brought along?"
"What, you think I'd bring you a fake priest?" I asked, a little bit offended at her doubt.
She laughed and shook her head, "Frankly, Danny, some days I don't know what you'd do."
I acknowledged that there was some truth in this.
"I guess all you really need to know, sweetheart," I paused briefly to graze my lips against hers and then finished, "Is that, when it comes to you, there's nothing I wouldn't do."
Her answering smile to this was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen, but I didn't get to see too much of it as, in the next second, she'd pulled my mouth down against hers and there it stayed for a goodly length of time.
As last chances went, this was pretty damn good.
I wrote this in an hour flat, and, yeah, I think it pretty much shows. Still, as an exercise in clearing writer's block it worked really well. Thanks so much again to the people who gave me the prompts. I had so much fun writing this and so I hope it's a bit of fun to read as well!