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RisanF

So I have this story called Different and Cool (D&C), which is my attempt at a boy-meets-geek kind of story. We have our hero Andrew Champion and his awkward classmate Tarah Reichardt involved in a class project and bumbling into a shaky friendship. Things come to a head quickly, and Andy is unable to defend her honor in front of his friends, and her trust in him crumbles. Grieving over this for a spell, he eventually happens upon Maru Mari in a karaoke bar, who gives him a quick pick-me-up in regards to Andy's free-will in determining who he wants to be friends with.

However, that's part of the problem. I like Mari's role in the story, but she seems like too much of a deus ex machina to me. I don't think a deus ex machina belongs in a story about free-will; Andy can't exercise his willpower if the solutions are handed to him on a silver platter. So I've altered the karakone bar scene to give Andy a more active role in determining his destiny, while still allowing Mari to dispense some sage wisdom.

Here is the original scene:

Andy leaned against the wood paneling, his arms crossed against his chest and his eyes half closed. Somewhat lethargically, he turned his head towards the stage, squinting slightly from the multicolored lights hanging overhead. Mary and Noah were singing a duet, an old timey song that only the previous generation really appreciated. The crowd seemed to enjoy this as much as his own song, though.

He had done really well on the stage, he considered. The crowd had apparently enjoyed the energy and enthusiasm he had poured into his singing, and he had won them over two-fold. A lot of the folks had given him a bit of congratulations or a slap on the back, to which he politely accepted with a smile. It did feel good knowing that something he did had such a positive effect on his surroundings.

He sighed lightly, leaning his head down and closing his eyes. Ultimately, it really didn't matter what the crowd thought of his song. It was just something he had to get out, like a soap-box speech at an assembly. You hoped it would have the desired effect, but it wouldn't change the situation even if it was hated.

Andy finished this thought with a small smile, then lowered his head and closed his eyes, letting the music take him away to a different place. The melodies and chords drifted like fish down a winding river, caught and filleted by his ears for his enjoyment.

A moment later, a voice broke through the clouds that had settled over his mind. "Hey, didn't expect to see you here!" it chirped, strong yet feminine. "Andy, right?"

The boy's arm hairs stood on end as is subconscious recalled the voice. Quickly, he woke up to the world and took a look at his present company. "Maru Mari!" he exclaimed, his eyes widening like saucers at a five-star restaurant.

The forest-maned girl giggled slightly, folding her arms. "That's me!" she said cheerfully, smiling The noises of the crowd moved around them like water around a rock. "W-what are you doing here?" Andy tried, feeling a slight sense of unworthiness overtake him.

"I started going here about two years ago, when I first moved here from Aviania," she explained, making a small gesture with her hands for emphasis. "I actually want to sing for a living, so I like to get in some practice in front of a live audience whenever I can."

"Oh," Andy said dumbly, his facial expression something in-between entranced and embalmed. The two stood silently for a moment more, the train of conversation reaching a twist in the rails. Determined to keep the stacks puffing, he racked his mind for something to say. "Um, I just sing for my own sake," he tried, smiling nervously and trying not to choke.

"Probably the best reason to sing there is," Mari responded, her face beaming. Andy smiled back, and suddenly, he felt a lot more comfortable with his crush than ever before.

"So, what made you come out tonight?" she asked causally. "The announcer dude said Andrew Champion hadn't been here in three years."

At that, the boy turned his gaze towards the floor, his smile waning slightly. "I had some things I wanted to get off my chest." he said quietly, somber as an old man. "Singing seemed to be the best way to do it."

Mari's face suddenly grew serious, and she moved closer to Andy. "This is about Tarah, isn't it," she stated softly, her eyes narrowing.

He jerked up like he had been shot through the chest with an arrow. "W-what?" he stammered, feeling a hot rush flowing to his cheeks. "Who told you that?" he demanded, his voice cracking weakly.

"Easy, Champ," she said, putting her hands up to signal Andy to 'cool it'. "Tarah tutors me sometimes in biology. She was really depressed today, and didn't even talk my ear off about the joy of the different types of chlorophyll."

Andy regarded Mari's words with an increasingly saddened expression, and he lowered his head. "So she's not okay," he said quietly, more to himself that to the girl before him.

"Doesn’t seem like it," she answered honestly, her own face starting to mirror that of her companions. "What happened between you two?" she asked finally.

The boy hesitated for a moment, wondering if he should be telling her things he was only recently able to admit to himself. But he didn't have such a high opinion of Mari for nothing, and he found himself wanting to trust her. "It was just one night," he begun, closing his eyes with a mix of embarrassment at having such fun with a nerd, and embarrassment for his failure. "We were doing that free-will exercise, and it ended up with us..having a lot of fun." He peeked at her through the corner of her eyes. "I don't know what to do."

"What do you want to do?" Mari asked him, pressing him on.

Andy said the first thing that came to mind. "Be her friend," he blurted out, the words tumbling out like barrels down a slope. As the words left his lips, he quickly looked away and touched them, as if he couldn't believe what came out.

Mari was smiling gently at him, her eyes twinkling with some sort of pride. "That's real cool," she said, shaking her head in awe. "So, what's stopping you?"

"You..." The boy jolted a bit, the inclination of her words hitting him like a caffeinated drink poured over his head. "You mean you actually think I can do it?" he asked her, wide-eyed and almost disbelieving.

"You've got free-will, Andy," she stated. "But that doesn’t mean every decision made is equally easy. You've got to apply yourself in this world if you want something in it. That's what I believe."

The long-tressed girl leaned against the same wall Andy was stationed at, looking up at the twinkling lights above. "Every day is a new opportunity for me to express myself," she said, a slow smile flowing to her lips. "I think about all that I can accomplish before the sun goes down, and it gives me energy that way. Life's never boring that way." She turned towards the boy with a smile. "Right?"

Andy stared at the girl, transfixed by more than her outer beauty. The words were striking a special place in his heart, the part that desperately needed the nourishment of advice that neither his aunt nor uncle was able to give him. Suddenly, he felt a tremendous strength developing from within, along with a certain almost giddy feeling. "Yeah, that's sounds real good," he said slowly, as if the idea was still dawning within him.

He suddenly straightened up. "Yeah!" he cried out, clenching a fist dramatically. "I'll just try a little harder!" Andy turned towards Mari and grabbed her hands. "Thanks a lot!" he told her, shaking them enthusiastically.

"Uh, yeah!" she stammered, a bead of sweat rolling down the side of her face.

Their hands remained tied together for a moment more. Then, upon realizing what he was doing, the boy suddenly let go of her hands with a chuckle. "Uh, sorry," he said nervously, putting his hands behind his back.

"It's alright," Mari responded, looking a little bit embarrassed herself.

"Andy, it's time to go," a soft voice spoke out from the other end of the karaoke bar.

Andy turned to see his aunt and uncle at the front door, looking like they were about to step outside. "Uh, looks like my ride is about to go," he said with a chuckle. "Sorry..."

"Well, I'm probably going to get called soon anyway," she said, looking over to the empty stage. "See you later!"

The boy nodded briefly, then started to walk on over to his family, leaving her behind. Then, he stopped and whirled around. "Mari!" he suddenly called out, struggling to keep his voice clear.

Mari blinked. "What is it?" she asked, her face clueless and innocent.

"...Alright if we have...talks like this more often?" he asked her, ignoring the blush that came to his face.

The girl stood with a blank expression on her face, and for an agonizing moment, Andy thought he had ruined it all. But soon, she broke out into an honest smile once again. "Sure," she answered cheerfully, nodding her head.

Andy's grin was like a Cheshire cat. With a smile once again on his face, he strolled on through the crowd, who were already cheering for the next performer. Meeting up with Mary and Noah, he walked with them to the door, swinging it open and letting a blast of cold air into the establishment. "Hey Uncle Noah, can we stop by one more place before we go home...?" he asked while leaving the karaoke bar for the twilight town outside.

And here is the edited scene:

Andy leaned against the wood paneling, his arms crossed against his chest and his eyes half closed. Somewhat lethargically, he turned his head towards the stage, squinting slightly from the multicolored lights hanging overhead. Mary and Noah were singing a duet, an old timey song that only the previous generation really appreciated. The crowd seemed to enjoy this as much as his own song, though.

He had done really well on the stage, he considered. The crowd had apparently enjoyed the energy and enthusiasm he had poured into his singing, and he had won them over two-fold. A lot of the folks had given him a bit of congratulations or a slap on the back, to which he politely accepted with a smile. It did feel good knowing that something he did had such a positive effect on his surroundings.

He sighed lightly, leaning his head down and closing his eyes. Ultimately, it really didn't matter what the crowd thought of his song. It was just something he had to get out, like a soap-box speech at an assembly. You hoped it would have the desired effect, but it wouldn't change the situation even if it was hated.

Andy finished this thought with a small smile, then lowered his head and closed his eyes, letting the music take him away to a different place. The melodies and chords drifted like fish down a winding river, caught and filleted by his ears for his enjoyment.

A moment later, a voice broke through the clouds that had settled over his mind. "Hey, didn't expect to see you here!" it chirped, strong yet feminine. "Andy, right?"

The boy's arm hairs stood on end as his subconscious recalled the voice. Quickly, he woke up to the world and took a look at his present company. "Maru Mari!" he exclaimed, his eyes widening like saucers at a five-star restaurant.

The forest-maned girl giggled slightly, folding her arms. "That's me!" she said cheerfully, smiling

The noises of the crowd moved around them like water around a rock. "W-what are you doing here?" Andy tried, feeling a slight sense of unworthiness overtake him.

"I started going here about two years ago, when I first moved here from Aviania," she explained, making a small gesture with her hands for emphasis. "I actually want to sing for a living, so I like to get in some practice in front of a live audience whenever I can."

"Oh," Andy said dumbly, his facial expression something in-between entranced and embalmed. The two stood silently for a moment more, the train of conversation reaching a twist in the rails. Determined to keep the stacks puffing, he racked his mind for something to say. "Um, I just sing for my own sake," he tried, smiling nervously and trying not to choke.

(significant changes start here) "Probably the best reason to sing there is," Mari responded, her face beaming, and Andy smiled back. Her easy going attitude was infectous; Andy felt more comfortable with his crush than ever before, and a sliver of an idea was starting to scrape against the inside of his chest.

"So, what made you come out tonight?" she asked causally. "The announcer dude said Andrew Champion hadn't been here in three years."

At that, the boy turned his gaze towards the floor, his smile waning slightly. "I had some things I wanted to get off my chest." he said quietly, somber as an old man. "Singing seemed to be the best way to do it."

The idea he was grappling with rose into his gullet and gnawed at the back of his throat like a sparking spitfire. Mari was his most important crush, and was proving to be both nice and smart. Maybe she would..."You...you know Tarah Reichardt right?" Andy asked tentativrely, his eyes widening reflexively with the emotionally dangerous conversation he was beginning.

"Tarah?" Mari's face knotted up for a brief moment. "Yeah, she actually tutors me sometimes in biology. I sort of suck at it." She put a hand to her chin thoughfully, frowning. "She was actually really depressed today, and didn't even talk my ear off about the joy of the different types of chlorophyll."

Andy regarded Mari's words with a saddened expression, the melencholoy of the situation taking some of the nervous edge off of him. "So she's not okay, huh...?" he said quietly, more to himself than to the girl before him.

"Doesn't seem like it," she affirmed, grimacing slightly. Suddenly, her eyes filled with acute realization. "Wait a sec, Champ, all this is about Tarah?" Mari questioned him, looking like she just fit a jigsaw puzzle piece into place. "Did something happen between you two?"

The boy hesitated for a moment, wondering whether he should back out of this conversation. And yet, he was in over his head no matter what; he clung to his hope in Mari like a life perserver. "It was Professor Clark's free-will exercise," he admitted finally, closing his eyes with a mix of slight embarrassment at having such fun with a nerd, and heavy embarrassment for his failure. "We were at my house, and it ended up with us..having a lot of fun." He peered at her through half-slitted eyes. "What should I do?"

"What do you want to do?" Mari asked him, pressing a bit further.

Andy's resolve was quickly tumbling forward as if running downhill, and the admission fell out of his mouth before he could stop it. "Well, be her friend." As the words left his lips, he quickly looked away and touched them, as if he couldn't believe that he was actually saying all this, how reckless he had become.

Mari was smiling gently at him, her eyes twinkling with a strange mixture of pride and mirth. "I think I gotcha." she said, gripping her waist confidently. "You really want to make it up to the kid, but you don't know if you can do it if nobody approves of that. So you're talking to me, hoping that I'll give you reassurance and tell you what you want to hear. I gotta tell ya; I like an opportunist."

"Opportunist..." The boy jolted a bit, the inclination of her words hitting him like a caffeinated drink poured over his head. (How did I get so transparent?)

She laughed gaily, a much kinder chuckle than the jeers of Justin and Slick. "You don't need it, Andy," she said, shaking her head. "You don't need anybody's permission to do what you know is right. Just go do it, go get that nerd girl of yours. That's what free-will is about."

Andy sighed, feeling slightly unravelled by Mari's acute perception. "I guess it's just a little hard or something," he admitted with a slight blush, peering off to the side.

"Free-will doesn’t make every decision easy," she stated matter-of-factly. "It's not supposed to be easy, anyway. You've got to apply yourself in this world if you want something in it. That's what I believe."

The long-tressed girl leaned against the same wall Andy was stationed at, looking up at the twinkling lights above. "What I do is to take every day as a new opportunity for me to express myself," she said, a slow smile flowing to her lips. "I think about all that I can accomplish before the sun goes down, and it gives me energy that way. I mean, life's never boring that way." She turned towards the boy with a smile. "Right?"

Andy stared at the girl, transfixed by more than her outer beauty. The words were striking a special place in his heart; it was simple common sense he always knew deep down inside, but now he could finally spell it out to himself. Suddenly, he felt a tremendous strength developing from within, along with a certain almost giddy feeling. "Yeah, that's sounds real good," he said slowly, as if the idea was still dawning within him.

He suddenly straightened up. "Yeah!" he cried out, clenching a fist dramatically. "I'll just try a little harder!" Andy turned towards Mari and grabbed her hands. "Thanks a lot!" he told her, shaking them enthusiastically.

"Uh, yeah!" she stammered, a bead of sweat rolling down the side of her face.

Their hands remained tied together for a moment more. Then, upon realizing what he was doing, the boy suddenly let go of her hands with a chuckle. "Uh, sorry," he said nervously, putting his hands behind his back.

"It's alright," Mari responded, looking a little bit embarrassed herself.

"Andy, it's time to go," a soft voice spoke out from the other end of the karaoke bar.

Andy turned to see his aunt and uncle at the front door, looking like they were about to step outside. "Uh, looks like my ride is about to go," he said with a chuckle. "Sorry..."

"Well, I'm probably going to get called soon anyway," she said, looking over to the empty stage. "See you later!"

The boy nodded briefly, then started to walk on over to his family, leaving her behind. Then, he stopped and whirled around. "Mari!" he suddenly called out, struggling to keep his voice clear.

Mari blinked. "What is it?" she asked, her face clueless and innocent.

"...Alright if we have...talks like this more often?" he asked her, ignoring the blush that came to his face.

The girl stood with a blank expression on her face, and for an agonizing moment, Andy thought he had ruined it all. But soon, she broke out into an honest smile once again. "Sure," she answered cheerfully, nodding her head.

Andy's grin was like a Cheshire cat. With a smile once again on his face, he strolled on through the crowd, who were already cheering for the next performer. Meeting up with Mary and Noah, he walked with them to the door, swinging it open and letting a blast of cold air into the establishment. "Hey Uncle Noah, can we stop by one more place before we go home...?" he asked while leaving the karaoke bar for the twilight town outside.

He had been crawling through the gutters just a scant few hours ago, and somehow he had bounced out of it like a pinball into the high score zone. He was on a roll, and the only thing to do was to keep on rolling.

What do you think? Better? Worse?

7/5/2008 #1
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