Pearl had shown her this game on her phone, where she had to maneuver this little inkling around a bunch of obstacles in a construction site, and it was incredibly frustrating. Why couldn't this stupid, dumb, idiot inkling not just stop running for, like, two seconds? Maybe then she could actually see all these obstacles, and not have to rely on Eight to tell her when she needed to jump, or super jump, or swim through ink in order to avoid them.
But no. She just kept running. Forever. Straight into I-beams and wrecking balls, like an idiot.
Inklings were so stupid sometimes.
Suddenly, her phone began vibrating wildly and emitting a chirping melodic tone, causing Eight to jump and almost fall off the couch. Right! This was a call! How exciting!
She pressed the little green button and held the phone up to her ear. "Hello!"
"Hey, Eight, it's Three. How are you, uh. Doing?"
"Hey, Three!" Eight said. At first, Eight had been absolutely terrified of the other agent; her standoffish demeanor paired with the fact that she had singlehandedly wiped out the entire Octarian military was pretty intimidating. But it turned out she was actually pretty nice, if a bit grumpy. "I'm just sitting at my house. Pearl and Marina are out doing their routine propaganda videos."
"It's called the news. Up here it's not actually propaganda." Three paused, then quickly added, "Debatably. Anyway, I, um, was actually calling to see if, maybe you, see, wanted to, uh—"
"Are you okay?" Eight asked. "You seem on guard. Are you in danger?"
"No, nothing like that. I just—look, I wanna go on a date with you maybe?" She'd pushed the words out at a frantic speed, almost too quickly for Eight to catch. "To like the mall? We could like go to the arcade and eat lunch or something. Have you been to the arcade yet?"
No, she hadn't. "What's that? It sounds fun."
"Oh, it totally is. Well, mostly. Sometimes it's full of a bunch of fucking kids who don't understand how to take turns and scream all the time, but that's usually only on weekends so we should be good."
Hmm. Interesting. Eight added 'fucking kids' to her very long mental list of Things Three Didn't Like, right next to 'Agent 4,' 'goddamn E-Liter campers,' and 'everything.' She was beginning to suspect Three just liked expressing contempt for the sheer principle of it.
"Well I'd love to go!"
"Oh, r-really? Great!"
Eight nodded before realizing that a nod was not audible. "Yeah!" she said instead. "It'll be nice to see more of Inkling culture. And it's been a while since I last saw you."
"Yeah, it has. Well, I'm super glad I didn't, like, freak you out or anything. I'll come by and pick you up tomorrow at 10, is that okay?"
"Mmhmm! Should I bring some of that money stuff?"
"Uh, yeah, if you could just ask Pearl for some that'd be great. God knows she's got bank to spare. See you tomorrow!"
"Bye!" The line went dead. Hooray! She had a 'date' with Three!
She should probably ask Marina what a date was.
Eh, later. For now, she had to help this fool of an Inkling on her phone navigate this stupid construction site. Why was she even running through a construction site? Who knows! But she couldn't stop playing!
Eight walked next to Three in comfortable silence, licking something called 'ice cream' that was both preposterously delicious, yet also painful to eat. Truly, Inklings were a strange species, sabotaging their desserts in such a manner. But, to be fair, she couldn't remember the Octarians having any desserts, so. Still a point to Inklings she guessed.
Today had been great! The arcade Three had mentioned over the phone had turned out to be a place full of computers, but for the purpose of entertainment rather than research or communications or other, productive functions. Eight had been fascinated by the variety of games that were available, especially one called 'Squid Beatz.' Three had pretty much annihilated her at every game except for 'Squid Beatz,' because, as it turned out, Three had a horrendous sense of rhythm. It was rather amusing.
Then they had eaten lunch, which, as with all Inkling food, was overwhelmingly tasty compared to literally everything she had ever tasted before arriving at the Surface. And then they had stopped for the paradoxical ice cream, which Eight couldn't help but keep licking, even though she was pretty sure her tongue was numb by now.
As they reached the entrance to the mall, Three stopped. She was looking at Eight with a fond expression, a light smile gracing her face. "I have to admit, I was kind of nervous asking you out on a date, but today has been… really great. Thanks for agreeing to come, Eight."
Eight snapped her fingers. "Oh, Three, that reminds me! I have a question."
"What's a date?"
Three looked at her in confusion for a second, then started blushing, hard. She awkwardly touched her face. "Well, uh, I, uh. Shit. Fuck. I'm an idiot. I hate myself. I hate myself so much."
Ooh! Another thing to add to the things-Three-hates list! Wait, no, hating yourself was bad. Also, Three wasn't an idiot, she was actually quite intelligent, especially on the battlefield. Eight was about to tell her this when she realized Three had just run off into the depths of the mall.
Did. Did she do something wrong? She didn't understand. But it didn't look like Three was gonna come back.
Slowly, she pulled her phone out of her pocket and called Pearl.
"Hey, kid! What's up?"
Eight made one last glance around her for any hint of the familiar orange tentacles, but came up empty. "I think I'm going to need a ride home."
"What happened?" Pearl asked as Eight climbed into the car. "I thought you were with Three."
Eight shuffled uncomfortably. "Well, I was."
"And, what, she just left you there alone?"
When Eight didn't answer, Pearl's face changed from concerned to violent. "Aw, shit, she did, didn't she! That jerk! Urg, I don't care how much training she has, I'm gonna fuck her up big time! She should know better. Oh, just wait until Marina hears about this, she'll rip out that fucker's ink sac!"
Pearl continued in a similar manner all the way back to their house, Eight not saying a word.
"Bitch thinks just 'cause she saved your life and shit she can do whatever the fuck she wants," Pearl mumbled as she fiddled with the lock on the front door. "Thinks she can just fucking leave you on your own in the middle of the fucking mall, I mean, shit, man!" Once the lock clicked, Pearl slammed a boot into the door, sending it clattering open. "MARINA!"
"Pearl?" came Marina's voice from elsewhere in the house. She rounded the corner, and as soon as she spotted Pearl's red face, she rushed over. "Woah, Pearl, calm down! What happened?"
"Three just left Eight at the mall! She was her ride and she left!"
Marina's brow furrowed. "What? No, that can't be right, Three wouldn't—I mean, it's only been a couple weeks, she knows that Eight's still adjusting and everything. She wouldn't leave her alone."
Pearl scoffed. "Well, Eight was there, and Three wasn't, so you tell me."
Marina turned to face Eight. "Hey, what happened? Why couldn't Three take you home?"
Eight shifted uncomfortably. She may as well try this again—hopefully, they wouldn't run away too. "Um, guys, what's a date?"
The room froze. The flush of anger drained from Pearl's cheeks, and Marina's eyes went wide. Nobody said anything for a good while, until Pearl slapped herself on the forehead. "Aw, shit! We totally forgot to give you the romance talk!"
The what now?
"Alright, buckle up," Pearl said, "because there's a lot of shit we need to go over before we can get to what a date is."
"Um, Pearlie?" Marina grabbed onto her shoulder. "Maybe I should handle this one?"
Pearl looked at Marina, looked at Eight, and then looked away with a huff. "Fine, alright. I'll be in the kitchen if you need some proper Inkling insight, though."
Marina giggled. "Right. If we need any of that, we'll be sure to get you."
As Pearl left, Marina guided Eight over to the couch and sat her down. "I'll answer your question in a bit, but first, do you mind telling me what exactly happened with Three?"
Eight nodded. She really wanted answers, but she supposed Marina deserved to know the whole story. Even if Eight didn't really understand the whole story. "Yesterday, when Three called me and invited me out to the mall, she called it a 'date.' I didn't know what that was, but she seemed really nervous, so I didn't want to ask her right then. And then you two were out, so I couldn't ask you, and then I forgot about it."
Marina nodded; Eight was having trouble reading her face. So she just went on. "Anyway. She picked me up today, and we went to the arcade, and it was a lot of fun. And then we went to this restaurant, Maritime…" Ugh, she couldn't remember the name. She hated not remembering things, especially names. "Maritime something."
"Maritime Bliss, probably," Marina supplied. "It's a pretty fancy restaurant on the mall."
"Right, yeah, that," Eight said. "The food was delicious. The whole, uh, 'date,' I guess, was really nice. And Three seemed to think so too, because she told me so. And that reminded me that I didn't know what a date was, so I asked her. And then she said she hated herself and then she ran away."
Marina sighed and rubbed at her temples. "And you called Pearl after that?"
Eight nodded. "Is something wrong?"
"No, it's just… I'm frustrated with Three. She should've known you wouldn't know what a date was."
"I still don't!" Eight grumbled in frustration. "Can you please tell me?
"You know what love is, right?" Marina asked, her face returning to her more typical, gentle expression.
"It's the emotional bond people form when they're close to each other. It enhances combat effort but can cause rash decision making."
Marina rolled her eyes. "Well, yeah, that's the definition they give us in the military. The emotional closeness is the important part though. So, for example, I feel a certain love for you. I care about you, I enjoy spending time with you, and I don't want anything bad to happen to you."
Eight nodded slowly. She understood that. She felt the same way towards Marina.
"I also love Pearl, but I love her in a different kind of way. The connection I share with her is much deeper. Have you noticed that?"
"Yeah, you two always know how the other's feeling and stuff. And you do that weird thing where you smash your beaks together when you think I'm not looking."
Marina blushed. "Yes. Well. Pearl and I share romantic love for each other. It's like platonic or familial love, but it's much more intimate, and typically you only really feel it for one other person. And if you can foster a good relationship based on romantic love, sometimes people will get married, which is basically a promise to spend the rest of their lives together."
"Wow," Eight said, because, like, this was definitely not anything she'd learned in the Domes. Or maybe it was, and she'd just forgotten. But she doubted it. "Are you and Pearl married, then?"
"No," Marina said. She sounded almost bitter. "We're still just dating."
There! That word again! Wait. "So, wait, if you two are 'dating' because you romantically love each other, and Agent 3 asked me to go on a date, then—"
"It's because she's beginning to have feelings for you," Marina said.
Eight could feel her face heating up. "Oh my gosh. Wait, like, she-wants-to-spend-the-rest-of-her-life-with-me feelings?"
Marina laughed. "Don't get ahead of yourself. When two people first start dating, it's to see if they actually like each other enough to pursue that kind of relationship. A lot of the time, things don't work out, and those two people decide that they actually just platonically love each other, or maybe they don't actually love each other at all. But you don't know unless you try, and so that's what dating's for."
"Okay. But… wait." Eight frowned. "If she, um, likes me, or whatever, then why did she run?"
Marina sighed. "Well, I'm not Three, but I'd imagine she felt guilty."
"Yeah. She probably felt like she was taking advantage of you. Since you didn't know what a date was, you didn't really know what it meant to go on one. Someone could've used that to get you to agree to something you didn't actually want to do, and even though it was likely unintentional in this case, Three probably felt like she'd tricked you. And because she's profoundly horrible at dealing with her emotions, she ran away."
"Oh." Eight looked down and poked at the couch. "I… don't want her to feel that way. I had a really good time! She didn't push me into anything I didn't want to do."
"Yes, but do you think you like her romantically? Because if you don't, then you shouldn't go on any more dates with her. That will just give her false hope."
"I… I don't know how I feel." She groaned, and thrust her head into her hands. This was so weird, and foreign, and she didn't like it! Too many confusing emotions! "How do you know if you like someone in that way?"
Marina looked thoughtful. "That's not a very easy question to answer. There are a lot of ways you might know if you like someone, and it's a conclusion you can really only come to by yourself."
"Oh, bullshit!" Pearl yelled from the next room. Suddenly, she dashed into the living room, grinning like a lunatic. "I've got a surefire way to tell you if you like her!"
"Pearl!" Marina scolded. "Were you eavesdropping on us this whole time?"
"You can tell me?" Eight asked in wonder. Like, sure, she understood where Marina was coming from with the whole 'you have to look inside yourself' thing, but also it'd be great if Pearl could just tell her. That would make things so much simpler.
Pearl flashed a thumbs-up. "Probably. Here, watch this."
She walked up to Marina and cupped her cheek in one glove.
Marina raised an eyebrow. "Pearlie? What are you—mmph!" She was interrupted by Pearl smashing their faces together. Their lips locked like some sort of puzzle, and Eight watched in fascination as they kept doing… whatever this was. She saw Marina's body language change from surprised to comfortable, and she started running her hands down Pearl's back. After a short while, Pearl extricated herself from Marina's grip, panting slightly and wiping her mouth.
"What was that?" Eight asked.
"That's called kissing," Pearl explained. "Now, quick, imagine that you're doing that with Three!"
"Imagine it! You're kissing her! You can feel her tentacles brushing your cheek! Your lips on hers!"
Eight started imagining it. Pressing her face up to Three's, feeling her hands running through her tentacles, Three's breath on her face. She wondered what would happen if she pushed her tongue—Oh my god.
She could imagine Three's arms wrapping strongly around her, pulling her in tight as their kissed deepend. Then imaginary Three's imaginary hand slid down her back and grabbed her imaginary—
Oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my—
She snapped back to reality. Marina was looking at her with concern, and Pearl was smiling smugly. She could feel her face burning up, and her breath was coming a bit short. "What is this? What's happening?"
"That's love, baby!" Pearl exclaimed, throwing up her hands. "Told you I could do it!"
Marina rolled her eyes. "I can't believe you."
Eight had finally managed to somewhat wrestle her mind away from thoughts about kissing Three. "So… you're saying that if I successfully date her… that could be real?"
"Well, I don't think 'successfully date her' is the right way to phrase that, but I guess so," Marina said. "And there's more down the line, too."
"Really? Like what?"
"I'll, uh, tell you that if your relationship actually gets that far."
"Oh, c'mon, Marina, they're both at least eighteen."
Marina gave Pearl a look. "Pearl."
Pearl raised her hands in surrender. "Okay! Okay. Later."
"So… what do I do now, then?" Eight asked.
"You should probably try to find Three," Marina suggested. "She's probably still freaking over you not knowing it was a date."
"And now she's probably freaking out over running away like that," Pearl said.
Eight set her gaze. "Right. Find Three, and talk about love with her."
Marina bit her bottom lip. "Maybe, uh, don't be so blunt with her?"
"Find Three, and tell her I want to kiss her."
"No, Eight, that's—"
"Yeah! Go get 'er, Eight!" Pearl shouted. "Take the world by storm! I'll drive you, c'mon!"
Marina scrambled to get off the couch. "Pearl! No! Bad Pearl!"
Pearl grabbed Eight arm, laughing wildly, and dragged her out the door, ignoring Marina's protests.
"Let's go get you a girlfriend!" Pearl shouted.