Note: You may feel the need to youtube during this one-shot. Things you may need to youtube include: cheesy 90s pop, Canadian geek-rock bands, swing music, the scene where Eowyn rips off her helm and KILLS THAT MOFO, and Hank Green's song DFTBA.
Sandra Brown was sitting in the campus Timmie's, enjoying her afternoon coffee and maple-dip along with a side of trashy romance novel, when he plopped down across from her and changed her life forever.
He was a guy maybe a few years older than her, with big black plastic-framed glasses and blue hair and an earring in one ear and a t-shirt which read "DFTBA". Sandra had never seen him before in her life, so when he sat himself down at her table with a "Hey, whatcha reading?" she sent him a frosty glare and went back to her book.
There were three men at the corner-drunk, from the sounds of it. Magdalena pulled the scarf closer around her head and quickened her steps, hoping to avoid their notice.
"Well, look here!"
No such luck.
The largest man advanced towards her, his meaty fist grabbing her skirts and effectively stopping her escape.
"Tryin' to run from us, are ya. gypsy girl?" His whiskey breath almost caused Magdalena to gag.
The other two men advanced behind her, each grabbing one of her arms. Magdalena screamed and tried to break out of their hold.
"Not so fast, gypsy," said one, laughing coldly. "You think we would let you get away without… sampling your wares?"
As the full knowledge of what they planned to do struck her, Magdalena felt her should fill with fear. She screamed again, this time more desperately.
The large man pulled deliberately at her skirt, and it ripped at the seam.
"No! Please!" They laughed again at her struggles. One of them snatched the scarf from her hair and looped it around her throat.
"I wouldn't scream like that anymore, if I were you," he murmured into her ear. Magdalena shuddered.
Another one tore open the front of her bodice, and Magdalena couldn't hold back an anguished cry as he leered at her shift, his hands reacher closer-closer-
"And what, may I ask, is going on here?"
A new voice, in an authoritarian tone. All three men unceremoniously let go of Magdalena, and she tumbled to the ground, sobbing.
"We were… we were, ah…"
"Just having a bit of sport!"
The new one-Sir Justinian-spoke again. "Really." Various noises of assent from the three attackers. "The lady does not seem to find your sport particularly to her taste."
"But she's not a lady, sir, she's a gypsy!"
Magdalena felt something recoil within her.
"Gypsy or not," stated Sir Justinian, "I will not have the women in this village attacked on the street! If I hear of any of you trying to take any woman's virtue unwillingly from her, I'll have you set in the stocks for a month! Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes-yes, sir-of course, Sir Justinian-"
"Go," he barked, and Magdalena heard them scurry away.
She expected him to follow, his chivalric duty done, but after a moment she felt a large, warm hand on her shoulder.
"Did they harm you?"
His voice was gentler now, but still backed with steel. Magdalena drew her arms tightly about her, ashamed to be lying on the street in nothing but her shift and the tattered remains of her skirt and bodice. Wondering if Sir Justinian would think, as her three attackers had, that a gypsy girl-lying nearly naked on the street, no less-had little virtue to forsake.
"Come, girl." His voice was gentler still. "I mean you no harm, but if they have injured you in any way I swear I will see them hang. You do not wish to attract further attention tonight. I shall escort you to your home, if it is your will."
The kindness behind his words surprised her, and she turned her head to look at him.
She took in the strength in his arms and his impossibly broad shoulders, the kindly smile on his wide, red mouth, the gentle curve of his nose, and finally, looked all the way up and was caught by the twinkle in his silver eyes.
Silver eyes! Sandra snorted in disgust and put the book down. That was the thing about fantasy, it tended to induce derision with its improbable physical descriptions. The next thing you know, the guy's going to have blue hair, just like-
Just like the guy who was still sitting across from her, his head tilted sideways as he tried to read the title of her book.
"Is that a romance novel?"
"Do I know you?" Sandra asked, tucking the book into her bag before he could ask any more embarrassing questions.
"Not yet," he said. "I'm Matt. Are you a student here?"
"Same. Working on my PhD in theoretical mathematics."
"Fancy." Sandra stood and brushed the crumbs off her skirt.
"What about you?"
"I'm getting my MA in classical studies. Good-bye."
"Hey, wait!" he called out as she walked toward the exit. "Do you have a name?"
"No. I actually go by my serial number." She reached for the door.
"Great! I'll get it tomorrow! DFTBA!"
As the door slammed behind her, Sandra decided that she had better avoid Tim Horton's for a while.
Hopefully that would stop him.
Sandra picked her way around the broken glass and litter scattered across the sidewalk. The price of living a ten-minute walk from campus was living in the student ghetto, which meant undergrads, parties, and a certain level of disrespect for public property. She was sure she'd passed at lease three houses on her way home that had stolen roadwork signs displayed in their windows.
But today was too lovely for her to mind over-much that a good portion of undergrads lived like inconsiderate slobs. The sky was just overcast enough to cut the heat of the sun without making the light gloomy, and a healthy breeze sailed up from the lake to swirl the hem of her skirt around her knees. One street over, the cathedral bells rang Vespers, while another block up someone had propped open the back door to a dingy nightclub and the sound check for that night's live band floated out. From another couple of blocks away came the unmistakable bustle of cars and people.
Sandra felt a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. It was nice to live in a comfortable old town, right next to the downtown core.
A sharp whistle broke her out of her musings. "Hey! Hey you!"
"What is this, an Avril Lavigne song?" she asked as she turned.
And then wished she hadn't.
A certain blue-haired boy was sitting on a porch, waving frantically at her.
"Where are you off to?"
"Aaaand where's that?"
"Athena help me," muttered Sandra.
"You said you'd give me your name next time," he reminded her. "I'm Matt."
"No, YOU said you'd get my name next time. I never said I'd give it."
"Oh, yeah. Serial number, right?"
She favoured him with a disgusted glance.
"Serial number is kind of like a bar code," he reflected. "That could be hot."
"Unfortunately for you, I don't exactly plan my life around what you might find hot." Sandra began to stalk away, and then thought of something and turned around. "Why blue?"
"Oh, Ravenclaw house colour," he answered quickly. "DFTBA!"
"Oh, dear Lord," Sandra grumbled, and left.
Damn him to hell.
She should be relaxed. She had a glass of wine and a good book in front of her. The rumble of traffic in the distance and the sound of her neighbour singing along, off-key, to his Korean pop music were her only soundtrack. Outside her window, the bright summer sunset painted the sky a blotchy pink-gold.
And whenever Sandra tried to pick up her book, all she could think of was a certain blue-haired boy.
Tossing down the book in frustration, she crossed to her laptop. Maybe conversation with another human would distract her. The only person signed into Skype was her baby brother, but she supposed he was better than nothing. With a sigh, she dialed.
"What do you WANT?" His newly deepened voice burst out of her laptop seconds before his disgruntled face. Ricky was newly sixteen. He'd been eleven when Sandra has moved away from home to attend university, and the changes in him made her feel suddenly ancient.
"That's not a very polite way to greet your sister," Sandra frowned.
"Yeah, well I'm busy."
"You shouldn't list yourself as online on Skype if you don't want to talk to anyone," Sandra pointed out, and Ricky grunted.
"I didn't expect anyone would actually talk to me. They're all on their way here. It's D&D night."
Sandra blinked. "D&D?"
"What the fuck are you doing with the Department of National Defense?"
Ricky rolled his eyes as only sixteen-year-olds can. "D and D, not DND. Dungeons and Dragons."
"You play that game?" Sandra asked, horrified, but before Ricky could answer, the door behind him opened and Steven Parker stepped inside.
"Hey, man, are you-"
Steve stopped abruptly.
"Steve, what the hell are you doing in my little brother's room?" Sandra demanded in what she felt was a reasonably calm tone for addressing jerk ex-boyfriends.
"I'm here for D&D night," said Steve, taking a step back from Ricky's computer.
Sandra was, if possible, even more horrified. "My God Steve, what is WRONG with you? You're a teacher! Teachers can't come over to their students' houses to play... to play... games!"
"God, it's just an RPG, he's not feeding us cocaine or something," Ricky grumbled. "You sound like Mom."
"Student teacher," Steve pointed out. "Not actual teacher. And not likely to be in the near future. I don't know if you've been paying attention, but you pretty much have to sacrifice a kidney just to get on a supply list these days fresh out of teacher's college."
"You're still the most awesome English teacher we've ever had," Ricky told him. "And the best DM, too. Can we go set up now?"
"When you finish talking to Sandy."
"It's Sandra," she ground out. "No one calls me Sandy anymore except Grandma."
Ricky rolled his eyes again. "What did you want, anyway, elder one?"
Come to think of it, Ricky was just weird enough to think a guy who had dyed his hair blue for Ravenclaw house was cool. No harm in trying.
"So I keep running into this guy, and he says... well, he says a lot of weird things really, but twice now he said something... a bunch of letters.. I think it maybe started with DF?"
"DFTBA?" asked Ricky, perking up.
"Yeah, that's it. What the hell does it mean?"
To her surprise, Ricky pushed his desk chair back and belted out, "I don't know what you mean when you sayy, please explain what is DFTBA!"
Sandra was unimpressed. "Yeah, that's the general idea."
"Duel for the best acronym."
"Ooh, that's a good one," came Steve's voice from somewhere in the background. "My favourite is Damn Facebook, too bloody addicting."
"Darling, fetch the battle axe," said Ricky.
"Damn fine to be alive," Steve countered, and then they were shooting them back and forth at each other.
"Dandelions fly through blue air!"
"Dead frogs teach bored anatomists!"
"OKAY," Sandra exclaimed finally. "What the fuck is this? Just some kind of acronym that means whatever you want it to mean?"
"It's an initialism," Ricky said petulantly. "And anyway, it does mean something. It means Don't Forget To Be Awesome. The others are just things people made up for fun."
"Is this one of your weird nerd things that other people can't understand?"
"Pretty much," said Ricky. "But it's not like I'm the only nerd in the family, you're just in denial about it. Now go away, the guys are here."
And Sandra's screen went unceremoniously blank.
Arriving in the departmental office early one bright and sunny Thursday, Sandra was somehow drafted into folding pamphlets for the upcoming Orientation Week Information Fair. In the hopes of convincing naive youngsters to take a major or minor concentration in Classical Studies, the department had splurged and printed thousands of pamphlets on brightly-coloured paper. Sandra was assigned 200 yellow, 200 green, and 200 of a horrible shade of orange.
"Why couldn't I get the pink and purple ones?" she grumbled to herself, slumping over her desk.
Folding pamphlets as a task was far too dull, and after a few minutes Sandra gave up and deserted her dark and stuffy office. The atrium was nearly empty, with streams of bright sunshine coming through the skylight and large windows, so she set herself down and began to fold again. The atmosphere was warm and the soundtrack in her head was S Club 7, so her mood was greatly improved.
Within a few minutes she had reduced the folding to a few efficient hand movements-flipping the paper over, folding along the first crease and pressing it down, folding along the second crease and pressing it down, adding the pamphlet to her growing pile. Flip, fold, press, fold, press. Flip, fold, press, fold press. Reach for the stars, climb every mountain higher, flip-fold-press-fold-press. Reach for the stars, follow your heart's desire, reach! Flip-fold-pre-
"Hey hey! It's barcode girl."
Sandra's hands didn't even pause in her folding and pressing. "Oh, it's you."
"I do have a name. Unlike you," the blue-haired guy said, sitting down across from her. "Matt, remember?"
Actually, she did. But that didn't mean she wanted to. Flip-fold-press-fold-press.
Flip-fold-press-fold-press. "What does it look like I'm doing?"
"Planning my murder."
"Fair assessment." Flip-fold-press-fold-press. "What are you doing in the Humanities building?"
"What, just because I'm in math, I'm not allowed to have non-math friends?"
Flip-fold-press-fold-press. "You have friends?"
He placed a hand over his heart in a dramatic fashion. "Mademoiselle Bar Code, you wound me."
Sandra chose not to respond to that. Flip-fold-press-fold-press. Flip-fold-press-fold-press. Flip-fold-press-
"So what's your research on?"
God. Was he really still here?
"It's a really in-depth analysis of literary and archaeological sources. You wouldn't understand it."
"You're not even going to try explaining it to me?" Matt shook his head. "And here is the first time the old 'ask an academic about their research' conversation starter has failed. In the history of humanity."
"I'm pretty sure in order for a conversation starter to work, both parties have to be interested in conversation." Flip-fold-press-fold-press.
"So what are you going to do with a Master's in classics?"
Seriously, could this guy not take a hint?
"What are you going to do with a PhD in math?"
"Stay in academia for the rest of my life, obviously. What else is there?"
Sandra chose not to respond.
Flip-fold-press-fold-press. Flip-fold-press-fold-press. Flip-fold-press-fold-press. Flip-fold-press-fo-
A hand came down over hers and stilled it. "You never answered my question."
Sandra shook off his hand, which was just a little too warm and rough against her own, and slowly finished folding the pamphlet she was working on, pressing the creases severely. Then she deliberately straightened the stack of pamphlets she had so far.
"I'm planning on getting a Master's in museum studies after. Curating."
"Really? That's awesome!"
"Mmm-hmm." She stood. "I have a meeting."
"See you around!" he called out, undaunted, as she walked away.
Not if I see you first, she thought.
It was really freaking hot on Friday, so Sandra retreated to the climate-controlled sanctuary of the Humanities library. There was also the added benefit that the upper levels of the library were almost completely deserted in the summer, so Sandra easily found herself a comfy chair in a patch of sunlight.
She managed to spend a few hours in Ancient Greece, but the warm sunshine and the sheer fact that it was Friday afternoon played havoc with her concentration, so eventually she gave in and opened her trashy romance novel.
She had just gotten to the climax (of the book, not a sex scene, get your mind out of the gutter!) when a nasally voice came over the loudspeaker to announce that the library was closing. Sandra frowned as she picked up her bag-she'd forgotten that the library closed at five on Fridays. And at such a good place in the book, too! She caught herself wondering what was going to happen to Magdalena and Sir Justinian as she descended the stairs.
Was she really going to make it the whole ten minute walk home without finishing the book, when there were only twenty pages left? Or at least the chapter, since she'd left it at such an exciting and suspenseful moment.
Coming to a decision, Sandra plopped herself down on a bench across the street from the library and pulled out the book. Spending even ten minutes alone with her thoughts when she'd left the book at its emotional climax wasn't even an option. It would be sheer torture.
Justinian turned away, staring out the window. His fingers gripped the sill so tightly that they began to turn white.
Finally, he ground out, "If it is what you truly desire, I shall take you back to your people."
"Thank you," Magdalena started to say, but he had already left the room.
Alone, Magdalena dropped her head into her hands. What was she doing? Of course returning to her people wasn't what she truly desired. What she desired above all else was Justinian's love. She could not doubt that he cared for her. Had he not saved her on many occasions? He had even fought a dragon to defend her honour. And then there were all the pleasures he had brought her in bed-
But he was an honourable and a kind man, a generous lover. None of that meant that he had given her his heart, as she had given him hers-on a silver platter.
Better to live out her life alone among the gypsies than to continue by his side, loving him and knowing that he would never love her.
Sandra lowered the book for a second to shake her head. Really, she understood it as a plot device, but why did characters in romance novels have such incredible difficulty believing that the other person might actually be as into them as they hoped?
Of course, Sandra wasn't exactly one to speak. There had been her disastrous high school relationship with Steve Parker, which had ended soon after she told him she loved him and he turned and ran away. That had hurt. Then a few disastrous hookups in her first couple years of undergrad, before she'd realized that no, she couldn't get naked with a stranger without freaking the fuck out before anything actually happened.
After that she'd given up on relationships entirely, deciding to dedicate her energy to being successful academically and having a good circle of friends.
While she felt content about these choices and how they played out in her life, sometimes she felt a bit concerned that she was one of the few straight female twenty-three-year-olds she knew who had never had a P all up in their V.
Sandra's introspection about Ps and Vs was interrupted by a brash, "Hey, look who it is!"
Matt bounced over and sat himself down beside her before she had a chance to instigate evasive manoeuvres.
"Heyy," he said. "Reading something interesting? On a bench near a busy intersection?"
"The library closed," she countered defensively. "I was at a really good part. It was suspenseful. I couldn't walk the rest of the way home without knowing what was going to happen."
He blinked at her. "Wow. So secretly you are a nerd."
"I'm not a nerd!"
"Hey!" He held up his hands as if to proclaim innocence. Ha. "It's a compliment, not an insult. Although, I'm guessing that if you think nerd is an insult, you are not, in fact, a made-of-awesome nerdfighter like myself."
"Made-of-awesome nerdfighter," he repeated.
"Made of what?"
"Awesome," he responded calmly. "I am made of awesome."
"Well that's just ridiculous," Sandra said faintly, wondering if she'd accidentally fallen down a rabbit hole. "You can't be made of awesome. In the first place, awesome is an adjective, and the object of a preposition is always a noun. It would be more correct to say you were made of awesomeness."
Matt stared at her for a second, and then a big grin spread across his face. "You are such a nerd!"
"Shut up. I'm not. Go away."
When he showed no signs of moving and opened his mouth to say something else, Sandra decided she would accomplish both the shutting up and the going away for him, and got up and left.
"You should never forget to be awesome!" he called out after her.
Sandra didn't bother to knock on Gavin's door. He never locked it unless he was sleeping or from home, and she took the old-friend privilege of walking in on him when he wasn't expecting it as much as possible.
So it is entirely possible that she only got what was coming to her when she barged into his living room to find a group of people sitting on the floor around the coffee table surrounded by junk food and many-sided dice.
"Oh, sorry," she said, stopping short. "I didn't mean to interrupt."
Gavin raised one eyebrow. "That is a lie."
On the other side of the coffee table, a guy put down the cup he was holding and pointed at her. "YOU!"
Blue hair, big glasses… "Oh my God, you have got to be fucking kidding me. What are YOU doing here?"
"Sandy, you know Matt?" Gavin asked, looking between them curiously.
"Sandra," she ground out, at the same time as Matt exclaimed, "YUP!" "My name is Sandra, not Sandy, not you. SANDRA. Got it? And by the way, I don't know you. You're stalking me."
"Oh, Matt," the girl next to him sighed. "Really? Stalking? That's so beneath you."
"Well, since you are obviously aware of Matt's existence," Mina, Gavin's girlfriend, said carefully, "this is Kelsey, and the smug-looking DM over there is Tim."
"It's Dungeons and Dragons night," Gavin explained. "You can join us if you want. Always room for some more!"
"Yeah! Come on, if you roll an even number you can be an elf maiden and if you roll an odd one you can be a warrior princess. Although I'm rooting for elf maiden, personally." Matt threw a D12 at her and she caught it, bemused.
"Yeah… definitely warrior princess," said Gavin. "I've already had this conversation."
Sandra dropped the die. "Seriously?"
Gavin rolled his eyes. "Stop dating guys I play D&D with and this will stop happening."
"What? Okay, first of all, I am NOT dating… him, and second, I'm pretty sure no one I've actually dated played D&D with you."
This time Sandra really did feel shock run up her body, and resisted the urge to facepalm. "Really? Steve? Oh my God, Steve…" She gave in and smacked herself in the face.
"So I'm guessing you didn't know that Steve, Kevin, Krista, Spring and I had a standing D&D thing every other Friday night all through high school, including the year and a half you and Steve dated," Gavin deadpanned.
Sandra made a face. "Obviously not. I thought this was a new thing for him, something he was doing so that his students would like him."
"He plays D&D with his students?" the one called Tim asked. "Ballin'!"
"Can you add this to the running tally of reasons I should never have dated him?" Sandra pleaded.
"No," said Gavin. "Okay, well maybe the fraternizing with the students thing is a bit sketch. But D&D is never a strike against on the dating column. Right, Mina?"
"Exactly," Matt cut in. "This actually increases my eligibility ratings!"
"Besides," Gavin reminded her, "while you were never an RPG kind of girl you played more than your share of Catan rounds in your day. So. You are still a little bit of a nerd."
Sandra shook this off. "Whatever. Anyway, I came by because I got this in the mail today and I wanted to know if yours came yet." She waved a white card in the air, and all the D&D players on the floor stared at it in confusion.
"What… is… it?" Gavin asked cautiously.
"It's a Save the Date!"
If anything, they looked even more confused.
"Oh my God. Am I the only person here who isn't socially backwards?"
"Yes," Mina stated firmly. "Now stop being a socially-secure freak and tell us what it is."
Sandra rolled her eyes and turned back to Gavin. "It's like a pre-invitation for a wedding. So you don't have to RSVP yet, but just so you know when it will be so you don't plan anything else for that weekend. See? 'Elaine Marie Christensen and Kevin Philip Jones will be married on January 12th, please save the date.'"
"They finally set a date?" Gavin jumped up to examine the card. "They've been engaged for like a million years!"
"Not a million. Just, like two."
"Come on, is a guy not allowed some hyperbole around here anymore?"
Matt opened his mouth again, and Sandra decided to beat a hasty retreat. "Anyway, now that you're all enlightened and everything, I am headed. Just wanted to see if you'd gotten yours, Gav."
"Where are you going?" asked Matt and Gavin at the same time, but she'd already left and closed the door behind her.
There was absolutely nothing in the apartment that Sandra wanted to eat. Fruits, vegetables, fresh bakery bread-pah! At the moment she was feeling grumpy and unreasonable and hungry and achey and restless. Not to mention the fact that there seemed to be a metal vice clamped around her uterus, squeezing it until it bled.
Sighing, she picked up her phone to text Loretta. I am hungry and grumpy and in pain.
Loretta's reply was almost instant. I'm PMSing too.
Are you thinking what I'm thinking?
When Loretta's reply came through, she grinned. Hell, yeah. I'm bringing the car around as we speak. Mickey D's, here we come.
The nice thing about making a PMS McDonald's run, Sandra reflected as she ran down to Loretta's car, was that she never cared what she looked like. She might be in baggy sweats and crocs, with stringy, oily hair and a bad breakout, and McDonald's always made her feel better and never judged. Well, pigging out on several thousand calories probably helped with that.
Because it was summer, she was in an old pair of soccer shorts, a t-shirt she'd gotten for free at some volunteer event a few years ago, and falling-apart flip-flops. But as she got into Loretta's car, already blaring cheesy feel-good 90's pop, she didn't think or care about how she looked. That lasted the whole car ride over, as she and Loretta danced in their seats like the crazy women they were, all the way through the parking lot, and right up to the counter.
But just as Loretta leaned forward to place their usual PMS order, someone called out "Hey, Sandra!" and Sandy felt her heart sink down to her chipped-pink toenails.
She turned slowly. Matt was sitting at a table not far from the counter, waving both arms at her in such a way that he kind of resembled a stranded octopus. Without letting herself think, she marched over to him and slapped her palms on the table.
"Why," she ground out, "are you always everywhere? Why can't I turn around without running into you? No matter what I do, it's like I can't get away! And you know what? It. Is. Fucking. ANNOYING. That you keep turning up. So next time you see me? Please don't talk."
And she turned around and marched back outside.
By the time Loretta joined her five minutes later with their takeout, Sandra had already buried her face in her hands in embarrassment. "I'm going to blame that on the hormones," Loretta said, passing her the takeout bag and sticking her key into the ignition.
"Will you hate me if I start now? Because I NEED salty deep-fried potatoes right now."
"Go right on ahead." Loretta waved a hand magnanimously. "You'll do the same for me next time I have a public breakdown."
"You never have public breakdowns," Sandra muttered into her fries.
Loretta just patted her on the head.
Sandra shook off her umbrella as she stepped inside the campus Starbucks. Ordinarily it was beyond her price range, but the coffee counter in the humanities building was closed for the rest of the summer, and she didn't want to walk all the way to Tim Horton's in the pouring rain.
She turned toward the counter, glancing over the prices - and stopped when she caught a flash of blue out of the corner of her eye.
It was Matt. He sat facing away from her, headphones in his ears and laptop open in front of him. He didn't seem to have noticed her.
Ever since the McDonald's incident, she'd had a constant, low-level feeling of shittiness following her around. She knew she'd been a major bitch to him, and that she should probably apologize. But she'd never had to seriously consider it until now, when the possibility was at hand.
Well, there was nothing for it. Girding her loins (what a strange expression, she thought, where on earth did it come from?), Sandra walked over to him and tapped his shoulder.
Matt jumped, startled, and pulled his headphones out of his ears. He had a friendly smile on his face, but as soon as he turned his head and saw her it froze in place.
"Hey," said Sandra, lamely.
"Hi." He spoke shortly, warily.
"Um. Can I sit?"
"Sure, I guess."
Sandra exhaled in a quick burst. "Look, I'm sorry, okay? I just... well, I'm sorry I yelled at you like that, and... I was just having a really bad day that day, and I felt crappy, and you were just there for me to take it out on."
That wasn't all, of course. She'd spent the last few days thinking, turning things over in her mind, and she'd come to the conclusion that she was unused to over male attention of the kind he was giving her, and that made her uncomfortable. Like one of those insecure girls who was unable to accept a compliment graciously.
For a minute she thought Matt was going to tune her out, go back to his laptop and stick his headphones in his ears. But instead he sighed and raked a hand through his hair. "Did you really hate it that much? I swear, I wasn't following you around or anything. Just when I happened to see you I came over to talk."
"No, I... well, I mean, I'm not really used to people I don't know randomly sitting down next to me and trying to start a conversation. That caught me off guard, and I guess I was kind of rude to you, and then... the pattern stuck?"
Matt didn't say anything, so after a minute Sandra sighed and continued. "I couldn't figure out why you chose to sit next to me, and to keep talking to me. Of all people! It's not like my life is particularly interesting or anything. For all I knew it was some kind of practical joke." Flirt with the unlovable little smart girl and then publicly humiliate her. Now that she thought the words, they sounded pathetic.
They were both quiet for another few minutes, and then Matt asked, "So how do you know Gavin, anyway?"
"We went to high school together, and we had the same kind of group of friends-"
"Whoa. You and Gavin were friends? In high school? So you were a nerd."
"I was not," Sandra said adamantly. "I went to a high school for gifted kids. We didn't really do the clique thing. Anyway, Gavin and I weren't particularly close until we both got our hearts broken, and then we started hanging out and commiserating."
"You went to a high school for gifted kids?"
"Yes. But it's doesn't mean I'm a nerd!"
Matt laughed. "Too bad, because that's a compliment of the highest order. You are such a nerd - such an awesome nerd - you're just afraid to admit it."
"We'll agree to disagree," Sandra said, barely holding in a laugh.
They were silent for a few moments, and then she asked, "So what are you doing there, anyway?"
"Oh. Um, watching the Lord of the Rings in the background while fixing the formatting on this article I want to publish?"
"Which Lord of the Rings?"
Matt laughed. "Okay, so now you're into Lord of the Rings and you're still going to tell me you're not a nerd?"
"Yeah, right. I bet you lie awake at night imagining you're an elf-"
"An elf?" Sandra sounded disgusted. "Are you kidding me?"
"Okay, fine." Matt crossed his arms on the table. "If you could be any character from Lord of the Rings, which would it be?"
"Eowyn of mother-effing Rohan," said Sandra. "Obviously. She is clearly the most awesome character in that trilogy. The thing that puzzles me most about the Return of the King movie is that they cut out a whole bunch of her awesome plotline and add in some bullcrap about Arwen angsting over immortality."
Matt shook his head and laughed. "Well, you're unpredictable, I'll give you that."
They talked for a long time - hours, probably, although it didn't seem that long when the conversation was so interesting. Eventually, the barista gave them a pointed glare to let them know they were taking up a table that could be used by paying customers, so they stood to leave.
The rain had eased up some by this point, so it was actually quite pleasant to walk up the street with only one umbrella shared between them. There was a jazz ensemble practicing in one of the back rooms of the music building, and the sounds drifted out over the parking lot they were cutting across.
Sandra laughed. "I could almost dance to this. Like in 'Singing in the Rain'." She moved her feet to demonstrate.
Matt looked down at her steps with interest.
"You can swing dance?"
Embarrassed, she stopped. "Oh, my cousin's wedding a few years ago, she had everyone in the bridal party learn."
"Is that - 8-count Lindy?"
Matt laughed. "Your basic step, what is it? Rock step, triple step, step step, triple step?"
"I... think so?" Suspicious, she moved backward a step. "What are you thinking?"
"Put down your umbrella, and let's dance in the rain!"
His enthusiasm, though not quite catching, was moving. Sandra laughed. "Okay, fine. But if I catch a cold you are so paying for this!"
He caught her up in his arms, and before she could do much more than squirm into what she hoped was dance position, he called out, "Five, six, five-six-seven-eight," and then he was swinging her around in the rain.
Sandra found she remembered the basic step well enough to keep up with Matt, and kept her head well enough to keep count of her steps when he spun her. This was fun - being spun around, swung in and out, in an empty parking lot, getting completely drenched - Sandra laughed as the music came to an end and Matt dipped her.
"That was awesome!" she exclaimed.
Then she realized that Matt's face was really close to hers, and there was a look in his eye she didn't recognize. Hastily she stepped backward and laughed again. "I'm soaking wet! This was so much fun, but now I need to go home and change into dry clothes before I catch pneumonia!"
Matt grinned back at her, but there was still something odd to it. He didn't move as she gathered her umbrella and her purse and dashed off. She waved before she turned the corner of the music building, but he didn't wave back.
Sandra made it all the way home and into a hot shower before she succumbed to the butterflies in her stomach. "Oh goodness." She sat down heavily in the bottom of the tub, water still raining down on her.
If nothing else, today had confirmed her niggling suspicion that she kind of sort of had a little bit of a crush on Matt. And she had no effing clue what to do about it. She'd barely so much as touched a boy since her last disastrous attempt at hooking up three years ago. There was some art to getting oneself together with the guy one liked, she suspected, but she had no idea how.
"Oh goodness," she said again, and resolved to put it out of her mind.
It was one of those relentlessly hot July days when Sandra cursed herself for not shelling out for air conditioning. She was lying spread-eagle on the sofa in her underwear, trying to move as little as possible while still sipping from her can of iced tea, when suddenly the TV and the fan cut out at the same time.
"Wonderful," she muttered, forcing herself off the sofa. Chances were, too many people were running their AC too cold, all at the same time, and the grid had overloaded. Or maybe the hydro station just caught fire, like it had a couple of years ago. At any rate, with the power out she had no TV or internet to check what was going on, so she hunted down her little battery-operated radio and plunked it on the coffee table.
Unfortunately, all the signals were really fuzzy except for a country station and a weird AM thing that seemed to be all Barenaked Ladies, all the time. Deciding to take her chances with the AM frequency (anything was better than an extended period of country music), Sandra flopped back down on the sofa and tried to concentrate on her memories of -40 wind chills and three-metre snow banks.
She was just starting to fall into a fitful doze when a knock sounded on her door. "Just a minute," she called, disoriented.
It was either Loretta, wanting to bitch, or the superintendent to give her an update on the power outage. If it was Loretta she could open the door in her undewear, but if it was the super, that would be a really, really, really bad idea.
Spotting her floral-patterned sundress lying crumpled on the floor, Sandra quickly stepped into it and ran to the door.
It wasn't Loretta. It wasn't the super, either. Sandra stared, wondering if her drowsy, sleep-fogged brain was playing tricks on her.
"How's it going?" Matt asked, stepping into her apartment.
"How did you get up here? I know I didn't buzz you in."
Matt rolled his eyes. "The hydro's down, and the door to your building is electric. The building manager is down there letting people in. I just told her that I was visiting you and you were expecting me."
"Oh." Something still didn't add up. "How did you know where I live?"
"I asked Gavin. Want a sandwich?"
"You brought me sandwiches?" Okay, now she was feeling dizzy. "Why are you here, anyway?"
"To bring you sandwiches. Because you don't have to heat them up. The hydro won't be back up in a while, word is the entire county's out. You want peanut butter or ham and cheese?"
"Peanut butter." Sandra reached out to take the sandwich automatically. Matt was already sitting at her kitchen table, making himself at home.
Matt pulled a couple cans of ginger ale and a tupperware container of carrot sticks out of his backpack. "Supper is served, my lady."
Sandra sighed. "Why do I feel like I've totally lost control of my life?"
"Hey, power outages happen. Better summer than winter, right? You wanna talk about the ice storm?"
"Okay. Well, you know, I always get bored when the power's out for more than five minutes or so. I mean, no internet, no TV, your laptop runs out of battery... really, what is there to do?"
"You could read," Sandra suggested drily. "And don't you have a battery-operated radio? It's part of the suggested household emergency kit."
Matt blinked at her. "You have a household emergency kit?"
"See!" He threw an arm around her. "Things like this are why I love you!"
Sandra was too busy trying to avoid physical contact to pay too much attention to what he was saying. "Uh-huh."
"Is that where the music's coming from?" Matt wanted to know.
"Yep. I seem to have found a Barenaked Ladies greatest hits station."
Suddenly his gaze sharpened. "You like BNL?"
"Obviously." Sandra shrugged and took another bite of her sandwich.
Something about his speculative tone made her nervous.
"Okay, what are you thinking now?"
He smiled innocently. "I was just wondering if you've ever heard of the Arrogant Worms."
"Obviously," she said again. "Did I or did I not tell you I went to a high school for gifted kids? I know all those bands. We played Moxy Fruvous at all our school dances."
"Wonderful." Matt leaned back and drained his can of ginger ale. "So, if I told you that the Arrogant Worms are going to be in town next week, and I have two tickets, would you go with me?"
"Seriously?" Sandra dropped her sandwich. "Oh my God."
"You're going to have to be more explicit than that. I can't tell if your reaction right now is positive or negative."
"Of course I want to go see the Worms live!" She smacked him on the back of the head. Gently. "Dumbass."
"I'm going to ignore that," he said, and then all of a sudden he was kissing her.
It had been so long since she'd been kissed that Sandra froze for a moment in shock, and a little bit of fear.
Ohmygod he's kissing me ohmygod ohmygod how the fuck do you kiss anyway I can't remember this fucking shit oh my fucking god oh my god this is AWESOME how have I not done this in three years oh ok this is what you do ok I've got it now I hope just don't screw up and mmmmmm...
She felt her thoughts drift off into incoherence just as Matt pulled away.
"What," she said in the flattest voice she could manage, "the fuck."
It came out breathy and a little bit needy and Matt smiled hopefully. "Seemed like the opportune moment?"
Since she couldn't think of any rebuttal to that, she settled with rolling her eyes, smacking him affectionately across the back of the head, and kissing him again.
Author's Note: Hey! I'm alive! After working all summer, moving to a new city, and starting a master's program, I am finally, FINALLY posting the thing I started writing in May. I know, I know, terrible person and all that. Tumblr distracted me, okay? This isn't as polished as I would like it to be but at a certain point I just gave up and decided that if I wasn't going to post it now I was never going to post it.
So, Gavin and Mina (and some of the minor characters) are from my one-shot Single Hottest Thing. You might also recognize the novel Sandra reads from another one-shot, Unexpected. As for Sandra, Loretta, Steve and Gavin, they're all from my longer story, Of Love and Animal Crackers, which I am ALMOST DONE REVAMPING so like in about a week it should be ready for human consumption again. Before then, I warn you, I wrote most of it when I was 16 and it is therefore definitionally terrible.
ALSO I have a new poll on my profile, please check it out! I'm thinking of starting a blog where I talk about my writing, give updates, extra character info, "deleted scenes", previews of new projects, that kind of thing. But I'm not going to put in the effort if no one's going to read it, so you should go tell me what you think in my poll! Comments in reviews also welcome :)
Okay, now I'm going to rock out to BNL, Fruvous, and the Worms. Their short forms all sound so much more badass than their real names :)