Author's note: This is a post Dino Thunder story, set in Angel Grove the summer after Mesogog is defeated. I've been trying to write something as a distraction from exams, and after a few false starts, this emerged, let me know what you think!
I am disturbed from my peaceful afternoon of doing nothing by a frantic hammering at the door. This is not a welcome interruption – the only person I know in this neighbourhood is Jason and Trini's demented neighbour Mrs Waters, who has a tendency to forget I'm housesitting for a month, and keeps coming over to inspect the premises for burglars. However, Mrs Waters usually waits for me to come to the door, so I decide to ignore her, and try to block the pounding at the door out of my ears. Unfortunately, whoever is at the door tries the handle, finds it open, and bursts into the living room, looking like she's just ran a marathon and has been told she's only halfway through.
"Help me! Seriously, in big trouble here and need your help!" Kim practically screams at me. Well, I'm sure she would be screaming, if only she didn't look as though she were about to collapse from lack of oxygen.
"Did you run all the way here from your place?" I ask, putting down my paleontology journal and squinting at her. Kim's apartment is at least twenty minutes from Jason and Trini's house, which is where I'm spending two weeks during summer vacation, so it must have been serious if she'd foregone her car in order to… what, to get here quicker?
"No, you idiot, my car's outside. I'm just hyperventilating, and you have to help me!" Kim slumps into the seat opposite the couch where I'm currently sprawled, and takes a few deep breaths.
"Are you in trouble?" I ask dubiously. Sure, Kim can be incredibly gullible at times, but over the years she's honed skills to take care of herself. Like taking self-defence classes. And carrying pepper spray.
"Yes. Well, sort of." She sighs, and looks at me with pleading eyes. "Do you remember Andrew?"
I grimace. "Your ex? The skinny one?"
Even though they've been apart for six months, Kim still apparently feels the need to jump to his defence. "He's not skinny! He's just… well, small-boned," she concedes, and kicks off her shoes before tucking her feet underneath her. "And a jerk. An evil, conniving jerk. It's all his fault, if you think about it."
"What's his fault?" I ask, starting to feel a knot of worry form in my stomach. "He's not got you into debt, or something like that, has he?"
Kim laughs, and I relax a little. "No. In fact, I still owe him fifty bucks for the coffee machine… so don't mention being in debt while we're at dinner with him and his new girlfriend, will you?"
"Of course I – Hang on. What did you just say? Are you trying to get me to agree to something by saying it really quickly at the end of the sentence and hoping I won't react? Kim, I was there when you invented the technique and convinced your mom to let you have her car for a week."
"Damn. I forgot." Kim bites her bottom lip, and seems to be deep in thought. After a few seconds of silence, I recognise the second part of her, unfortunately for me, foolproof plan. Not saying anything until the victim gives in and asks exactly what she wants. Much as I would like to spend the rest of my peaceable evening sitting in silence, Kim on the other hand appears to have ingested some kind of Mexican jumping bean, and is fidgeting like nobody's business. Suddenly she springs up, and says, "It's fine. I'll just have to get someone from work to go with me. Maybe Brian, Andrew wouldn't recognise him…"
"Kim, sit down," I say wearily, knowing exactly how this conversation will probably end, but not wanting to give in without a fight. "How did you manage to invite yourself to a dinner with Andrew and his new girlfriend?"
"I didn't," she grumbled, and sat back down, refusing to meet my eye. "He was sitting on his own in Starbucks when I went in for a coffee at lunch, and asked me to join him. I asked how he was, and he told me he was dating someone new."
I nod slowly, starting to see how this would all fit together. "And you didn't want him to think you were pining, so you made up a boyfriend?"
Kim pulled a face, and shifted uncomfortably in her seat. "I'm not pining for him," she said slowly. "We broke up, mutual decision and all that, and everything's fine. And I'm okay with being single. I'm even thinking of getting a cat. But… I don't know. I guess I just didn't like the idea of him moving on before me, you know? And he trapped me into it," she added quickly, and straightened her posture somewhat. "He told me all about Sophia, and I was making all the right noises about being happy for him, and I am! I really wasn't lying. But then we started talking about something else, and then suddenly he asked me whether I was seeing someone, and out of nowhere I said yes."
I grin, very widely. Very widely indeed. "So he actually used your own tactic against you? I've never met the man, but I feel as though I should congratulate him for outwitting your shock tactics by using it against you. He succeeded where I never could."
"That's not true!" Kim protested, and jabbed a finger at me. "You managed to get me to agree to a whole weekend of martial arts videos that time. God, I really don't think I've ever been that bored in my entire life. Even the endless lectures at work about professional negligence don't make me as comatose."
"Insulting my taste in videos is not the way to persuade me to pretend to be your boyfriend tonight, Kim," I remind her. "And I had to suffer through 3 years of carrying your shopping bags at the mall, remember. One weekend of martial arts is hardly fair penance."
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," she gabbles, and thinks hard for a moment. "Please? I really don't want to have to rely on Brian – he's got an awful memory, and if I mentioned fictional dates, he seriously wouldn't remember to play along. It's a wonder that he manages to remember to come to work every morning. And all the other guys I know have already met Andrew, and I told him he didn't know the guy I was seeing. Please?"
"Oh, I don't know… House sitting for Jason and Trini while they see the sights of Rome is a pretty much full time job," I say airily, picking up my paleontology journal once again and pretending to be absorbed in the editorial. "What if they're burgled while I'm out? Neither of them would ever forgive me."
"So you're trying to tell me that, during your 2 weeks here so far, you've never stepped out of the front door, for fear of leaving their house unprotected?" Kim says and annoyingly, she's right. "You met me for lunch three days ago! Tonight would be just like that, except with more people to talk to."
Hmm… how to tell her that, actually, she's the only one I'd want to talk to. Best left till later. A lot later, and preferably never. I let it go, and lower my journal to stare at her admonishingly. "Burglar alarms aren't always foolproof, you know. Security in the home is nothing to laugh at."
Kim rolls her eyes. "They have a burglar alarm! And neighbours all over the place – and it's even a safe neighbourhood!"
"What am I going to talk to this mysterious ex of yours and his new girlfriend? I've never even met them!"
This much is true. Kim and Andrew had dated for close to five years before splitting last February, but I'd never actually met the man. The few gatherings I'd managed to make it to, Kim had either not been there, or attended alone. I'd seen a few pictures of him, which is how I knew of his puny bone structure, but that was it. I'd settled myself in for a night of relaxation, and was loathe to give it up for a dinner with two strangers.
"You can talk to them about… going to college in California. The weather. How you like Angel Grove, how it's changed since you went to school there. The cinema. Please?"
"Is the restaurant nice?" I ask dejectedly, and Kim grins annoyingly.
"Bon Appetit. A couple of blocks away from work. You can leave your car at my place and we could walk there in five minutes." I groan, making indeterminate sounds as I throw the journal to the floor and swing my legs off the couch. "You can spend the walk there thinking how I'm going to have to repay you for this, don't worry. I owe you big time," she said, and jumped up to leave. "You remember how to get to my apartment?"
"Just about," I say, knowing full well that I'll have to leave ten minutes early to make sure I get there on time. "What time did you say we'd meet them at the restaurant?"
"Eight. Get to mine for seven forty-five, and we'll be early." She turns to leave, but then swings back. "Thank you so much for this, Tommy. I really wouldn't have asked if I didn't have to."
"Don't sweat it. I'd only have stayed in and watched American Idol, anyway," I say self-deprecatingly. "At least this way, I get a better dinner than frozen pizza."
She smiles gratefully. "See you in two hours," and actually makes it through the door this time.
As I pull out of Jason and Trini's driveway, the tyres of my car make a horrible screeching noise. Ooops- maybe it's time to slow down, and actually breathe, now that the immediate emergency has been dodged.
I wasn't expecting to see Andrew today – we've spoken on the phone a couple of times since we broke up, and of course, there was an ubiquitous exchange of the other's
personal goods a few days after we split. But I'd gotten used to not meeting him for lunch a few times a week, and going home to an empty apartment.
Then he waved at me across a crowded Starbucks, and …
After I got over feeling startled, the main feeling was apprehension, I guess. And I was right to feel that way – not only was he the one to put the knife in first and break up with me, but he's also the one who's moved on quickest, and is now dating someone called Sophia.
I am over Andrew. I know I am. The relationship had come to a natural end – he'd started leaving dirty socks on the bedroom floor, yelled at me for nagging when I asked him to move them, yet called me out on my stuff being left all over the bathroom. That, and a million other little things, all added to a huge incentive to split. I'm fine with it, except I really wish I'd found someone new first. I've been on three dates since I emerged from the post-breakup fug, and they've all been damp squibs. Whereas Andrew, on the other hand, has managed to find a girlfriend who he's comfortable enough with to go out to dinner with, accompanied by his ex-girlfriend and her new guy.
I bet she's taller than me. And skinnier.
What would you have done? Of course I had to say I was seeing someone. And I wasn't lying when I told Tommy that no-one at work would have done. I work as a nurse at Angel Grove's only hospital, and apart from the aforementioned Brian, the only other potential candidate for date night is my work buddy Miles. Who has met Andrew about twelve million times, and he would therefore know that there is about as much chance of Miles and I becoming an item as there is of hell freezing over.
And yes, I am completely and embarrassingly aware that I have enlisted the ex-boyfriend that I broke up with over a decade ago, to keep my reputation intact in front of the most recent ex-boyfriend. What goes around, comes around, and none more so than in this case.
I suppose I should have told Tommy to act possessive. And, just, boyfriend-like. But then again, he was always good at those bits. Hopefully it will all come flooding back to him.
It's been highly odd having him in such close proximity again; it's been the first time we've lived in the same town since I moved to Florida. Even though we've kept in friendly contact for years, we've only seen each other at the occasional birthday or holiday celebration. It's been odd being able to go for lunch together. Odd, and definitely nice. Like high school without the monster attacks. And, you know, the constant fear that I'd say something highly embarrassing in front of him. The all-encompassing crush probably didn't help matters, either.
Not that Tommy's not just as gorgeous now as he was in high school, however. If it's possible, the man has transcended himself to new levels of handsomeness. Combine that
with intelligence and general pleasantness, and you have pretty much the perfect man.
Unfortunately, if I start thinking about that now, I will start acting like my high school self through this meal, and giggle constantly, begin all my sentences with the word 'like', and flick my hair behind my shoulder. Andrew will wonder what happened to the woman he dated for five years, Tommy will think I'm an oddity escaped from the local zoo, and Sophia will start to seriously question Andrew's judgement when it comes to girlfriends.
Besides, it's not as though I can't be friends with Tommy. I've done it for ten years without thinking of him as my ex-boyfriend. I think I should be more worried about what kind of revenge he's going to exact on me for making him attend this dinner, than any potential feelings towards him.
I finally reach the parking lot of my apartment, after getting caught in the remnants of rush hour traffic, and as I exit my car and walk to the building, I realise I'll have to concoct some sort of back story to explain how we met. Tommy and I are so at ease with each other these days, and one of us is likely to bring up some memory of school, or an incident at Zack's 25th birthday party, that I can't just lie and say I met him at the gym. I'll have to fashion a plausible story out of the truth, and hope that Andrew or Sophia don't catch us out. I don't really want to be exposed as a desperate 29 year old who was so anxious to make her recent ex believe she had moved on that she enlisted an ex from times past to pose as her new boyfriend.
That could, very easily, be the lead story on a daytime talk show. How my fortunes have changed…
Oh, God. What to wear?
Maybe some things don't change as much as we think they do.