Authors' Note: Happy (belated) Valentine's Day! And yes, rumors of our demise are unfounded. The Botosphere is alive and well, even if our time for writing has been limited lately. :) Hope you enjoy!
It's a sad fact of life that friends grow apart. I never thought the kitten calendar crew would break up like some lame boy band, but we let the roommate requests for sophomore year slide, thinking that the gods of the Housing Administration would never break up the dream team that had kept Alienboy from getting expelled. Plus, there was another Marvel movie out that weekend, Sharsky had an epic raid and I got called in for overtime at Langstraad's. By the time I got the letter telling me that I'd be in Atherton Hall and Sharksy would be in Sallinger, I had forgotten about the whole housing thing. Sam and Leo took that as a sign that they should strike out for parts unknown (Elm Avenue or 3rd Street, probably, where I heard the Mu Mu Omegas went for tanning and lattes) and that meant we were doomed to go our separate ways.
That didn't mean we had to give up the ghost on the most awesome conspiracy-theory team since Mulder and Scully. Leo had given me the big-screen TV as a kind of MVP award, like the guys who get Chevys for winning the World Series, and that meant that I was in charge of the bro nights. Well, "in charge" was a loose term. Leo appointed himself supreme ruler for life as the uncontested biggest bro out there and I just sort of swiped beanbag chairs from the common room for our personal use.
It was at one of these juntas that I had my first real panic attack in years. It wasn't the movie-we went old-school and got Mortal Kombat. It wasn't the food-the pepperoni was burnt around the edges just the way I like it, even. It was the dumb thing Sam had to go and say as we were chucking paper plates in the general direction of the trash can.
"So," he said casually, "first V-Day with Lisbeth. You excited?"
I shrugged and missed the can by six inches. "She's a low-maintenance girl, I like that about her. I anticipate V-day being pretty chill."
Sam nodded approvingly. "Good. Chill is usually good."
"And it's not like she's a drama queen or anything," Sharsky added, nailing a three-point shot from the couch area. "Well, she is, but she makes brioche."
If Sharsky ever remembered anything but her baking lessons, I'd be stunned.
"Plus, you've hit some pretty major holidays already," Leo added. "Dia de los reyes…"
"Us gringos don't celebrate that," I pointed out.
"You got some sweet lip action on New Year's," he added.
"She was in Milwaukee with her grandparents," I corrected. "We skyped for the ball drop."
"And Christmas," Leo concluded. "What did lover lady get you for Christmas again?"
That came from Sharsky and Leo and Sam paused in mid-throw, looking like a Greek sculpture of Ultimate Frisbee or something.
"She didn't?" Sharsky blurted out.
He was looking like LOST had been cancelled. Leo looked like I had just slapped a chihuauha. Sam looked like he wanted to cry, but that was pretty normal for him.
"Mijo, are you saying that all you got for Christmas was your two front teeth?"
"It was my idea," I protested, lest I look like someone who didn't care about swag. "It was our first big holiday and I didn't want her hyperventilating over it, so I told her we wouldn't sweat it and save the big stuff for Valentine's Day."
"Wait," Sam interrupted. "You're saying you didn't get her anything either?"
"I wouldn't say that," I protested. "I had pizza delivered to her all-night study session when she said she was too freaked out to eat."
"I'm sorry," he said. "I'm still not getting this. You didn't give her anything else for the holidays."
"And you weren't there for New Year's," Leo added.
"Not my fault," I defended.
"And you say V-day's going to be pretty chill?"
"Yup." I wadded up the plate that had been holding my breadsticks and sunk it on the first try. "She likes it like that."
"Oh, no she doesn't," Leo said. "It's a frigging rom-com holiday."
"The kind they make crappy chick flicks about," Sam translated. "She doesn't like it chill."
"No, no," Sharsky agreed. "She really doesn't."
"How do you know?" I shot back. "It's not like you guys are making fudge together anymore."
"She's a woman," he insisted. "With needs."
Which I hoped was not a direct quote.
"She likes chill! Last Valentine's Day, she showed up with a turtleneck and a salad. If that's not chill, I don't know what is!"
"SHE THOUGHT YOU WERE GAY!" Sam shouted, apparently deciding that I needed a very loud intervention.
"And that's the only reason it took us that long to hook up," I said reasonably.
And then, there was a knock on the door. A five-knock run that got louder as it went. It was definitely Lisbeth and I hoped to whatever god was out there that she hadn't heard the whole conversation.
"Hello, gentlemen," she said ironically.
"Hey," I responded. I gave her the kind of quick, cutesie kiss that wouldn't embarrass her too much in front of the man-children. "Gentlemen, may we have the room?"
"Can we take that?" Sharsky negotiated, pointing at the three slices that were left in the top box.
If it would get him the hell out of my love life, he could take everything but the TV.
"Go for it," I encouraged.
They evacuated, taking the drinks with them and not saying a word to Lisbeth. They were probably worried that they'd make asses of themselves if they opened their mouth. From previous experience, that was pretty much guaranteed. Sharsky did give Lisbeth a hug as he passed, patting her consolingly on the back of the head while she looked very confused.
"Good to see you, too?"
Sharsky just shuddered and handed her a Red Bull in a kind of "you-need-this-more-than-me" way. She held it at length probably because she knew Sharsky's hygiene habits and watched them leave quizzically.
"Who died?" Lisbeth asked quietly as soon as the door closed, dropping the red bull in the trash.
"Chivalry, apparently," I answered. "Come here."
I re-asserted my heterosexuality for a good minute, then pulled her towards the couch. She sat willingly, but kicked off her shoes and propped her feet up in my lap.
"I'll skip the how-was-work question and assume you don't want to stand up for the next week," I observed.
"Yeah," she sighed. "I know it's an unwritten rule of acting that you have to have waitressed at least once, but I think I can live with a boring desk job next semester."
"I could take you on as my IT Padawan," I offered. "Teach you the ways of the Force and all that."
"Sorry, already a Slayer. There are rules about multi-classing," she said, convincingly disappointed.
She wiggled her toes, but I didn't take the bait. Our relationship thrived when I didn't have to pay attention to her sore feet.
"So," she said after a moment of flexing and pointing, "Valentine's Day."
"Low-key, right?" I blurted out. "We're all about the low-key. Low-key and low-pressure and…"
"Low-key," she confirmed, looking amused by my babbling. "I talked to Maison Suzette and they can take reservations starting on Friday."
Crap. Crapcrapcrapcrap and maybe other four-letter words. Maison Suzette wasn't low-key. It was the kind of place Sam would take Mikaela for an anniversary. I could pronounce one word on their menu and I'd probably screw up the vowels and Lisbeth had taken French in high school.
Crap. This wasn't low-key at all. She had said low-key and meant intimate and because I didn't have my girlspeak Babelfish, I had heard it as low-key. I was screwed big-time.
"I was thinking somewhere else," I fibbed horribly. Practically anywhere else.
She arched an eyebrow and rubbed her right arch. "You have reservations somewhere else?"
No, I suddenly had reservations about this whole thing and it was all Sharsky's fault. The guy hadn't even been on a date all year and he was getting in my head.
"Not reservations, exactly," I said, "but I had other plans."
She opened her mouth, but shut it before she could say something brutally honest that I might actually deserve.
"Really," I dissembled. "You'll see."
"I'm sure I will," she said, sounding both wary and pleased. "I'll leave it in your capable hands. Should I know about a dress code?"
I was picturing the tank top and flannel pants that she sometimes wore for Saturday morning cartoons. They made her look comfortable and cute and showed parts of skin that I wouldn't get slapped for noticing. She probably expected me to require her to wear something with nylons, though.
"Something nice," I replied as vaguely as possible.
"Narrow it down, Fassbinder," she teased. "You say I look nice in everything."
It was true. I wasn't good at adjectives.
"I won't be wearing jeans," I clarified.
"Yeah." I chortled. "It's kind of a first for me."
"Well, it's our first Valentine's Day," she pointed out. "I didn't realize you were taking it this seriously."
"Give me a couple of days for me to finalize a few things and I'll get back to you with details."
"Cool." She stretched, audibly popping something. "And for the record, I only thought Sharsky was gay. I figured you were at least bi."
I contemplated responses, and then decided that discretion was the better part of valor and kept my mouth shut. And decided that I would let Sam know how well his voice apparently carried.
We headed for the door not long after, since she'd obviously had a long day and there was no point in making the boys speculate about what was taking us so long. I did pin her to the doorjamb and kissed her in a very rom-com-ending way just because I could and because it would make the others jealous.
"So, still chill?" Leo practically taunted.
I waited until I could be sure that Lisbeth was out of earshot before speaking, but I waved them back into the room long before then.
"I have the feeling that chill is a relative term," Sam observed.
"I have a feeling loverboy just got schooled," Sharsky agreed.
"You gonna cry?" Leo asked a little too eagerly. "You gonna puke?"
He sounded like he was about to pants me and steal my milk money. Sometimes, Leo could just be a jerk and that applied double to romantic situations.
"So," Sam said a little more gently, "now that you know what she's expecting, what's your game plan?"
"I was thinking Argentina," I confessed. "Maybe Calcutta."
"How about we keep you in the states and do some damage control?" he suggested.
"I hear West Virginia's nice," Sharsky contributed.
Sam gave him another of those 'you're crazy and shut up' look he patented last year. "No. It's not."
"She wants French food," I said. "I'm not eating snails!"
"No one's asking you to, bro," Leo interrupted. "Or did she?"
"She said that Maison Suzette was taking reservations."
"Oh." Sam grinned unexpectedly. "That's a good sign."
"It is?" we all said in near-unison.
"She doesn't want French food," he said. "She wants you to impress her."
My tone was apparently not very convincing. Sam gave me a withering/pitying look and went on. "You cheated her out of some mushy Christmas gift," he elaborated. "She wants you to go big or go home."
"Yeah, she does," Sharsky drawled, smirking.
"Shut up," I snapped. "You have no credentials."
"I've been on dates," he protested.
"Installing her new video card before a date with someone else doesn't count," Sam said.
"Besides," Leo said. "It has to be the three p's: Planned, Paired off and Paid for."
"Where'd you hear that crap?" I challenged. "There's nothing wrong with spontaneous."
"That nun in my psych class," he said.
"Not everyone who turns you down is a nun," Sam pointed out. "I think she was Mormon."
"We're getting off-subject," I said. "If she doesn't want French food, what the frack does she want?"
"To be dazzled," Sharsky said.
The others sounded surprised, but Leo pointed emphatically like he'd just revealed an eleventh commandment.
"I don't have the money to dazzle," I protested. "I don't have the car to dazzle."
"That…" Sam sighed heavily and I could tell he was going to eventually regret this conversation. "That can be negotiated, but you'd have to take it up with my driver."
"Really?" The thought of our first alien contact as my wingman lifted my spirits a little. Assuming we didn't end up in the middle of an ambush by the bad guys or one of Cam Romero's unofficial girlfriends, that is.
"Yeah," Sam sighed. "He just might get carried away with the radio."
As long as he didn't start blasting "I Wanna Sex You Up," I could put up with some Led Zeppelin.
"She's a drama queen," I brainstormed. "What would dazzle a drama queen?"
"A flash mob?" Leo suggested.
"She's a drama queen, not a Gleek," I corrected. "If I take her anywhere near a chorus line, she'll kill me."
Sharsky jumped to his feet and ran for my computer. I was too surprised to care when he typed in the password that I had never given him and pulled up Google maps.
"Da hell?" Leo called.
"Gimme a sec," he shouted back. "I've got dazzle written all over this idea!"
It was rare for him to get excited about something that wasn't self-serving, so I waited for the other shoe to drop. A minute and a half later, he hit print and triumphantly carried over a few sheets of paper.
"75 minutes to the Big freaking Apple," he announced.
"She's not going to travel an hour without asking questions," I said.
"She won't ask questions," Sam replied. "This is Valentine's Day and going big might mean going the distance. Besides, 'Bee can make it in 45."
"And when we get to the busiest place on earth, we go to…"
He shoved the second half of his stack at me and I processed the words Much Ado About Nothing in the middle of the details. "Think she likes Shakespeare?"
For once, I felt like naming my firstborn after Sharsky. It was made easier knowing Lisbeth would veto it. Well, any girl who knew him.