One Shot – Alessandra, Protector of Man
"Just don't be weird, yeah?"
I dabbed lip balm onto my lips and smacked them together before flipping Will's passenger seat visor with the mirror back up and rolling my eyes.
"You know, it was kind of amusing the first three times you said that, but we're heading swiftly towards just plain insulting now."
"I'm not trying to insult you," Will protested, tapping his hands nervously against the steering wheel. "I'm just asking you not to be weird."
Aw, bless him, he was stretched as tight as a fully extended rubber band.
Searching for a way to get him to relax, I impulsively leant over and pressed my glossed lips hard against my uptight friend's cheek. I really tried not to relish in the feel of his warm, slightly stubbly skin, but failed miserably.
"Cut it out." Will, cautious driver that he was, refused to take his hands off the wheel to push me away, so had to content himself with jerking his face aside. "What are you doing?"
I pulled back and admired my lip print with pride, and just a touch of longing.
"Giving you something else to think about?" I suggested in an attempt at whimsy.
"No." He rubbed the sticky imprint against his shoulder, apparently unmoved by my attempt at endearing quirkiness. "You're being weird."
"Yeah?" I shrugged. "Well you're being boring and annoying and this Phyllis girl hasn't dumped you yet so one fun, slightly magical friend is hardly likely to tip her over the edge, is it?"
"Aly, I'm serious…"
"Yes, alright." I slumped back into my chair and crossed my arms sulkily. "You know usually sidekicks are all gung-ho about their superhero's powers. They're pleased just to be allowed to ride shot-gun on their many adventures."
Will cruised to a stop at a red light and then glanced over at me, his expression a mix of exasperation and amusement. "We've been over this," he said slowly. "It doesn't matter how many times you say it, I'm not your sidekick. And your adventures," he emphasised the word sarcastically, "mostly consist of stopping people catching their fingers in drawers."
"Which, anecdotal evidence suggests, really hurts," I pointed out, but he ignored me, his attention firmly fixed back on the road.
I sighed heavily.
What was the point of being mildly magical if no-one, not even your deliciously handsome best friend, appreciated it?
I'd known for years that I could sense, a split second before it happened, that someone was about to get minimally injured. Unfortunately, it didn't come across well when, in the ensuing 'ouch, that really stings' moment, I popped up and mentioned that I'd known it was going to happen.
Rarely did I get sufficient time to warn someone that a minor malady was about to befall them. If only I got just a little bit more notice I'd be lauded as a hero, a saviour from small annoying bumps and bruises for people everywhere. But, no, all I got was a reputation for saying 'I told you so' when someone got a paper cut, and a much-adored buddy who thought I was weird.
"I'm glad you're coming today." Will's murmur cut across my thoughts, and I laughed when I realised what he'd said.
"Really?" I asked disbelievingly.
"No, seriously," he continued earnestly. "I like Phyllis, but, I don't know, there's something..." he trailed off and I shifted round to look at him keenly.
"Something...?" I prompted, trying not to appear too eager for him to voice his uncertainty.
"Nothing," he shook his head, sending his dark curls bouncing, "I'm just glad you're meeting her."
I'd been hoping that the elusive 'something' he'd referred to would be something meaty that I could really build on. Like, 'yes, I know Phyllis runs an orphanage in her spare time, but remember how you told me she sacrifices puggles to keep her skin looking young?' Or, 'it's truly admirable that she's working on a cure for cancer, but does that cancel out the way she picks her nose at the tea table?'
But, no, Will wasn't the sort to bitch like that even if those things were true. More's the pity.
And why should I be so desperate to hear negative things about my friend's girlfriend you might ask? Well, you know the story, it's the oldest one in the book. Girl and boy become friends in primary school, girl and boy remain besties all through the trials and tribulations of high school, girl and boy go to uni together, girl falls in love with boy, boy hooks up with some random called Phyllis.
I mean Phyllis, what the hell? Where had he found her? The late 1800's?
Great, and now I was ashamed of myself. Phyllis was probably lovely, Will wouldn't be into anyone who wasn't, and I was going to be the one who ended up being the bad guy if I didn't watch myself.
Bad and weird, definitely not a combination Will would ever find attractive.
"Okay, we're here."
I snapped once more out of my musings and confirmed for myself that, yep, we'd arrived. It was game time, or, rather, 'behave like you're totally normal so as not to upset your friend' time.
The setting for Phyllis's and my first date (as Will had repeatedly asked me to stop calling it) was a local cafe, all organic produce and ever so slightly judgemental wait staff with dreadlocks. In other words, the place was the dictionary definition of pretentious. I mean, I was all for the pig having had a grand old time of it before his untimely death and appearance as bacon on my plate, but did I really need so much of his back-story? The menu in the cafe seemed to offer a full length biography on every last morsel you intended to consume, down to the type of music the beetroot listened to whilst it was growing.
I briefly wondered whether knowing if a specific beetroot was a new wave punk or old school classical fan was someone else's mildly magical power, but stopped quickly as I realised I was being weird again.
"Okay, there she is." Will spied his girlfriend of the past couple of weeks over by the window and turned to point her out to me. Unfortunately, he caught me just in the moment that I'd started to take deep, cleansing breaths; ones that I hoped would expel some of my idiosyncrasies. This theory was apparently unclear to Will, however, who asked in bewilderment, "What are you doing?"
"Concentrating," I replied, my cheeks puffing out like a chipmunk's as I drew in more oxygen.
"Not being weird." It was slightly annoying having to explain this to him after his very specific instructions on this very topic the whole way over.
It looked for a second like Will, my dear, serious Will, was going to laugh, but then he quickly reined the impulse in. With a quick pat on my back he muttered, "I appreciate the effort, if not the execution," and then steered me over to the window where Phyllis, the supposed paragon of woman, sat waiting for us.
Oh and she was pretty, of course she was. All glowing red hair and flaw-free porcelain skin, a celtic beauty that made my own staunchly olive toned complexion look positively sallow. I made an educated guess that she'd never endured a lecture from her best friend on not being weird. On the contrary, people probably didn't even dare speak around her in case they missed a second of her wisdom, the sort undoubtedly bestowed in a charmingly mellifluous voice...
I watched mournfully as Will bent down and pressed a light kiss against his girlfriend's mouth before taking a seat beside her.
Although every part of me wanted to bolt back to Will's car to crouch in the passenger footwell humming loudly and pretending Phyllis didn't exist, I did the grown up thing and slouched into the other spare seat.
"This is Alessandra," Will introduced me, either not noticing or, more likely, ignoring my lack of enthusiasm. "Alessandra, this is Phyllis."
"Well, here's hoping, otherwise you totally just cheated on your girlfriend," I pointed out and Phyllis laughed. It was, naturally, a delightful sound.
"Alessandra, that's a beautiful name," she said as we all pulled the 100% recycled menus towards ourselves.
"Thanks," I responded politely as I buried my nose into what appeared to be a haunch of lamb's family tree. And, yes, in case you were wondering I was feeling even worse for having mocked her name. Honestly, couldn't she be just a little bit rubbish?
"Protector of man."
It took me a second to figure out what Phyllis had said, but, even when I did, I wasn't quite sure what she was on about. I flicked a quick look at Will, who was looking as bemused as me, and then said, "Pardon?"
"Sorry," she flapped her hands adorably. "I'm into the meaning behind names. Alessandra, it means 'protector of man'."
"Oh, yeah, and the occasional woman," I agreed. "Mind your head."
Phyllis looked round in surprise and then ducked sharply as a tray carried by a careless waiter whisked through the space her skull had recently been occupying.
"Wow," she said. "That was amazing, thanks."
I looked smugly over at Will, a look that said 'check it out, your girlfriend is totally impressed by my mildly magical powers'. The corners of his mouth lifted slightly, but the waiter who had nearly decapitated Phyllis appeared by his side before he could fully share his endearing smile with me.
"Would you like me to explain the menu?" The snooty hippy asked, looking disdainfully down at us as if daring us to admit we had no idea what half the items on the menu actually were. For myself, I desperately wanted to enquire what exactly made 'wild' fennel any different from normal fennel. I briefly enjoyed imagining wild fennel smoking, talking back to its parents and riding a little fennel motorcycle whilst normal fennel looked on in horror. Looking across at Will I saw that he was politely shaking his head. The glint in his eye, however, told me that he was just as amused by the wanky menu as I was, and knew all too well where my head would have gone with it.
Phyllis, however, smiled prettily at the waiter and proceeded to ask in-depth questions about the organic certification the café boasted. It was the most extraordinarily grown-up thing I think I'd ever seen anyone do and I sat, transfixed, watching her reduce the previously aloof waiter to putty in her hands.
"Sorry about that," she said once she'd finished and the waiter had wandered off, presumably to construct a shrine in Phyllis's honour. "Sometimes places say they're organic, but it's not until you know the origin of their certification that you can be sure."
On a scale of 1 to 10 I was ashamed to admit I was probably about a 2 when it came to caring whether a café was lying about its organic certification or not, but I was nevertheless impressed with her knowledge. Impressed and just a teensy bit concerned she had the potential to be a bit of a bore.
And a bore was the last thing Will needed in a girlfriend.
As much as I loved him dearly, I was not blind to the fact that Will had the tendency to over-think things and generally work himself into a dull lather about stuff that really didn't warrant too much bothering about. I liked to think that's where I came in; the person most able and willing to rap him over the head with my knuckles and remind him that he sounded like a curmudgeonly old man.
Conversely, Will had always been the one holding onto my mooring tether, allowing me to float about freely, but ensuring I still had a tangible link back to reality. He was the one to remind me about homework, or loved ones' birthdays; the sorts of bits and pieces that made me a functioning member of society.
It was this partnership we had, partnership and deep affection, that made me drag together every last ounce of social nicety that I possessed and ask his girlfriend graciously what she was studying at uni. As she began to tell me about her combined sociology and philosophy majors, I felt Will's appreciation, as surely as if he was looking at me and smiling fondly.
Although, hang on, I glanced at Will and saw that he was looking at me and smiling fondly. In fact, even his shoulders were turned slightly in my direction. It was like he was blanking Phyllis completely, but that couldn't be right. Will wouldn't ever be that rude.
Giving him a gentle kick under the table I nodded slightly in his girlfriend's direction and he sat up straighter and instantly directed his gaze where I'd guided it. Still able to see him out of the corner of my eye while I, to all intents and purposes, focused on Phyllis, I saw that a dull flush was creeping up his neck.
How very odd.
I didn't get very much time to dwell on Will's sudden colour change, though, as Phyllis finished her monologue on her course and asked, "So, what are you doing?"
"Nothing!" I replied quickly, thinking she'd caught me eying off her man. "Just sitting here, listening to you."
When she looked at me strangely, and Will directed his gaze to the tabletop with the hint of a smirk, I re-evaluated her question and realised my mistake.
"Oh, at uni?" I asked with an awkward little laugh. "I'm studying Art History, you know, old paintings and stuff…" I trailed off, a little bit embarrassed that I'd felt the need to simplify 'art history' to someone who obviously would've been able to grasp it in the first explanation.
Phyllis didn't seem to take offence (well, she wasn't the type, was she?) and said courteously, "That must be interesting."
"No, not really," I replied honestly. "But I get to essentially sit around looking through picture books day after day so you'll hear no complaints from me."
It was as she laughed sweetly, flicking her flaming hair over her shoulder, that it happened.
One moment I had a vague sort of unease about the success of her and Will's relationship and then – BAM! – in the next I knew it was absolutely doomed to failure. Why? Because Will, the most steadfast and loyal of men, was going to dump her. For me.
It came to me in the same way that I sensed all other hurts. It wasn't a feeling, or a vision or anything like that, it was just knowledge. I knew Will was about to dump Phyllis for me, just as I knew the woman behind me was about to burn her tongue on the soup she'd ordered.
Will's voice brought me back to reality and I saw that, as the truth had hit me, I'd jerked to my feet and was now standing there, staring wildly anywhere other than at my best friend and his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend. Will, for his part, was looking up at me in concern, his hand hovering by my wrist, perhaps ready to make a grab for me if I made a break for it.
"Um...ah," I said awkwardly as there was a small noise of pain and a female voice said,
"Wow, that soup was hotter than I expected."
"Are you okay?" Will rose as well, his face and voice full of concern. "Hey, you look awful. Sit down, I'll get you some water."
"No, uh, no I don't want to sit down, thanks," I shifted back and forth awkwardly on the balls of my feet, trying not to look at Phyllis; sweet, lovely Phyllis whose boyfriend I was apparently about to steal. "I'd much prefer to go...over there."
"Over there?" Will followed my gaze to an empty corner just out of Phyllis's eye-line and then looked back at me, nonplussed.
"Yep, over there," I confirmed, catching my reflection in the window and seeing that my eyes looked very dark and deep in my suddenly pale face. "And I think you should come too." I plucked desperately at his sleeve and, thankfully, he didn't argue.
Will placed a hand at the small of my back as we retreated from the table, and the stunned looking Phyllis, as if worried I was about to keel over. It was a very real possibility, now I thought about it, so it was with relief that I made it to the corner without my knees buckling.
"Okay, what's going on?" He asked once we had turned our backs to the rest of the café. For a moment I didn't have the words and, ducking his head down to see my face more clearly, he added, "You're freaking me out here, that back there was seriously-"
"Weird," I finished for him heavily. "Yeah, I know and I'm trying to be normal, but-"
"No, Aly, Jesus." Will rested a finger under my chin, guiding my face back up so I could see the sincerity in his eyes. "Not weird, scary. Ignore what I said about you being weird, I was being a dick. Just tell me what's going on."
I leant into him for a moment, savouring the warmth and security he offered, but then remembered what I knew and batted him away as I said accusingly, "You break her heart."
"What?" He asked.
"You do," I insisted. "It hurts her so that's how I know."
"What are you talking about?"
"For me!" My voice rose shrilly. "You break Phyllis's heart for me, Will!"
"What?" He repeated, drawing me still further into the corner as a few people looked over at us interestedly.
"I know it sounds completely stupid," I babbled, pulling anxiously at the ends of my messy bob, "but I don't make this stuff up."
"No, I know you don't." He reached up to still the hand that was practically shredding my hair and then laced his fingers through mine. "You don't make this stuff up," he repeated. "And it doesn't sound completely stupid."
There was a heavy understanding in his voice and I jerked my head up from where I'd been staring at our linked hands, to look at him in surprise. "You mean…you…?"
"Yeah," he said gruffly.
"You know I have a massive crush on you?" I howled, feeling a wave of mortification burn my face. "Why didn't you say anything?"
Will froze, his mouth falling open as he stared at me. "Hang on," he said slowly as he recovered himself, "back up. You have a crush on me? No, I meant…"
He broke off and I widened my eyes at him encouragingly. "You meant what?" I asked when he didn't take the hint.
"Look," he bent his head closer still to mine and the intensity leapt up several notches. "Phyllis is great, we get along fine, but the reason I was so stupid about you being weird today was that I knew that once you got going she was just going to look cardboard next to you. I knew it because, well, everybody looks cardboard next to you."
"In a good way?" I asked hesitantly and he took a deep breath before replying seriously,
"Honestly? In a 'you trump everybody else I've ever known… and I think I'm massively into you' way."
It was the kind of thing I'd longed for him to say for years, but, now his protestation of affection, or at least being 'into me' was here, all I could manage was a quiet, "Oh."
"And I'm sorry if that changes things and I'm really sorry it came out while I was introducing you to my girlfriend," Will added wryly, "but there it is. I damn near drove us off the road getting here when you kissed me and I was just sitting there realising I couldn't stay with Phyllis when you-"
"- used my superpower to know you'd dump her," I finished for him, my heart hammering uncontrollably away against my ribcage.
"Yeah," he agreed quietly.
We were still holding hands, I realised, a warm link that seemed to be the only thing holding me up.
"Why didn't you say any of this earlier?" I wondered out loud. "Preferably three weeks ago when you didn't have a girlfriend?"
We were so close that, when he sighed again, I felt his breath warm upon my cheek. "Come on, Aly," he said softly, "be fair. You're Alessandra, protector of man. I'm Will, that bloke that can help you complete your tax return. I'm hardly going to be your type, am I?"
"Will!" Overcome with a conflicting bundle of emotions ranging from delirious joy to utmost frustration, I gave his foot a little stamp. "You idiot! Of course you're my type, my type is you!"
"Really?" A slow smile spread across his face. "So why didn't you say anything earlier?"
I scoffed, something that proved kind of difficult because I too had started to grin. "Have you taken stock of yourself recently? You're kind and funny and clever and seriously hot. I thought you were waaaaay out of my league."
We gazed at each other in mutual surprise and pleasure at finding ourselves experiencing the exact same thrill of requited romance.
"Well, thank God for your superpowers then," Will breathed after a moment. "I'll never mock them again."
His words brought home the reality of how we'd ended up exposing our mutual interest in each other, and I threw a quick, guilty look over in Phyllis's direction. Obviously following the same train of thought, Will took the smallest of steps back.
"If you're sensing it, she can't end up that hurt, right?" He said clearly wanting me to convince him that it was true. "You only pick up on minor pain."
"Are you kidding me, Will?" I shook my head. "It's you! As if losing you isn't going to hurt like hell. Oh my God!" I clapped my free hand to my mouth and then mumbled past my fingers, "My superpowers must be growing."
He rolled his eyes and, for a split second, it was just like old times. Old times, however, hadn't included a shocked looking girlfriend bearing down on us and, as I looked up and saw Phyllis approaching our corner, I saw that now did.
Realising how we must look, heads bent together, fingers entwined, I released Will and tried to turn my body away from his into a less intimate posture. It became quickly apparent, however, that it was too little too late. I was sure my expression, as I turned to look at her, was the same as Will's; guilt spread thinly like a facemask over an undeniable glow.
"What's going on?" She asked, looking between the two of us.
"Uh," Will said, the most unintelligent syllable I'd ever heard pass his lips.
"Are you...? Are you two...?" Phyllis's eyes widened. "Will, did you bring me here just to introduce me to another one of your girlfriends?"
"No," I defended him quickly. "We weren't...I mean...we..."
I stared at her helplessly and she crossed her arms across her chest.
"I think you should go," she said finally, when neither Will nor I seemed able to explain what had just taken place between us.
"Go?" I repeated blankly.
"Yes. I was the one who wanted to come to this cafe, and I've already ordered, so I think you two should be the ones to leave." Phyllis rose yet more in my estimation as she drew on clearly extensive depths of self-assurance and inclined her head towards the door, obviously not wanting us to hang around in her sight any longer than absolutely necessary.
I didn't need telling twice and scarpered. Will wasn't such a coward, however, and I heard him murmur, "I'll meet you at the car," as I slid past him.
And so he did, five minutes later. I knew without asking that he'd offered Phyllis a heartfelt apology in my absence, and I sincerely hoped it had gone some way in making up for the unintentionally terrible thing we'd done.
"Is she okay?" I asked as Will leant back against his car next to me.
"I think so," he replied. "She said she was and that waiter guy was eying her up as I left so..." he shrugged and then looked round at me. "Wow."
"Yeah," I agreed. "Wow."
I looked up into his familiar eyes, the crinkles around them as familiar to me as the lines on my own palms, and felt a giggle rising up in my chest.
"You're about to kiss me," I informed him and he laughed.
"What? Are you psychic now?" He asked, reaching up with one hand and twining some of my hair around his fingers. "Surely it can't be fair if you end up with two superpowers."
"I guess I'm just special," I said, feeling my heart leap into my throat as he moved closer.
"You really are." He rested a hand lightly on my waist and I pressed into him, yearning unembarrassedly for his touch. There was a moment of silence during which I just enjoyed his close proximity and then he said quietly, "Hey, Aly?"
"Yeah?" My eyes fluttered closed as Will's mouth moved down close to mine
"You'll let me know if I'm going to get hurt, yeah?"
"You're not going to get hurt," I said, my lips lightly brushing his, "I promise."
And then he was kissing me and even if there'd been a thousand toes around me about to get stubbed on a table leg, or a million hangnails about to catch on clothing, I was in another world and wouldn't have noticed.
Agggggggges ago I promised someone that I would name a character for her in thanks for her brilliant support. The name she chose was Alessandra (a freaking awesome name!).
I looked up the meaning of the name for inspiration and, together with David O'Doherty's song Very Mild Superpowers (youtube it, it'll make you giggle), came up with this one shot. I had the idea months ago, but didn't get round to writing it until today when I felt a need for a light, whimsical character (as Lara from The Do-Gooder is nothing of the sort!).
Hope you enjoyed it!