A/N: Sorry for the slow update. Plot troubles. I'd say what's on my mind but then I'd be telling you all the spoilers, so I'll keep my trap shut for now. I don't really like this chapter but I got sick of procrastinating and waiting for ideas to come to me… and it's more than a filler but less than an important chapter, whatever that's called. A… spiller? Right, so… hope you like it.
When Karen, Elli, and Popuri arrived at the inn and seated themselves in their favourite three spinny chairs, they were having more than a little trouble getting straight down to business. Barren of ideas, and paper of suggestions empty, the silence filled only with the creaking of the chairs as Karen spun around and around in circles.
Popuri looked from girl to girl, seeming worried. Elli, however, was far from worried; the chair creaks and moans were etching a permanent hole into her brain. She could merely watch as her pink-haired friend's fingers fidgeted with each other, and abruptly shot out, clutching onto a carton. She speed-read the label and giddily inquired, "Yep, soo… chocolate milk?"
Karen stopped revolving once she realized Popuri had broken the silence, taking a second to look at the chocolate milk carton, which had materialized in her friend's hands.
Popuri shook the carton for effect and then brought it back, nursing it. Ever so innocent, she looked from face to face, puzzled when she came across a sighing Elli and a glaring Karen. "Um… what?"
"What do you mean, what?" Karen snapped, looking like she'd just held something explosive in and was on the verge of spitting it out. Her chair whimpered from beneath her.
"Guys…" Elli tried to soothe them, hearing a storm brew.
"What do you mean what do you mean what?" Popuri challenged back, Elli's voice fading in the background. .
"What do you mean what do you mean when I mean what?"
"Hah! You got it wrong!"
"Oh, whatever!" Karen exasperated. "Aren't we supposed to be working?"
"Yeah. And we are."
"Um, HAH, no we're not."
Elli tried to cut things short before it could get any worse. Her headache was developing already. "If we could just make up…" she began.
Popuri huffed. "All I'm saying is, do you want chocolate milk! What's there to 'make up' over? It's Karen's fault for making such a big deal out of everything! I mean, sheesh! It's a yes or no answer! You don't have to get all… nyeh-nyeh over it!"
A retort sprang from the other side of Elli like an elastic. "Nyeh-nyeh? Popuri, that's not even a word! We're supposed to be planning and…" She made a sound that closely resembled a frustrated and pregnant cow giving birth to a crocodile with seven heads.
"And what? Finish your sentence, Karen!"
"Please… guys… if you could just—"
They cut out Elli's voice like someone tuning out of a radio station.
Karen shot an I-was-just-about-to-do-that look right through an invisible nurse and to Popuri. . "…And all you can think of is food?"
"It's brain food," Popuri explained airily. "It's good for the heart and soul. Besides, we need nutrients and blah to think. Where do you think we get energy for our minds? Through our ears? Yeah, I'm pretty sure all that chair-screeching is doing us so much good." At least seven words were mockingly emphasized.
"Guyyyys…" Elli droned helplessly.
Karen blockaded her voice, not to her surprise. "What mind? If you had a mind, you'd be so out of it now."
Popuri scowled. "Oh yeah, you're so immature, Karen."
"Popuri! Excuse me!" Karen's eyes flashed red. "I'm immature? You are so immature! You—"
The storm had hit, deluxe with lightning, thunder, and cannonballs. Elli smacked her head to the table, not catching the slightest bit of attention.
"—And you drag Elli and I out just to plan a party for your little boyfriend, with a two-day deadline no less, and now you expect us to do all the work! Who do you think we are? We have lives too! What do you think we do for a living… plan parties!? And to top that off, all you seem to be doing is playing around! What's the big deal?" Steam could've been animatedly billowing out of Karen's ears and no one would be surprised. It was a good thing the inn was empty or she would be stirring up a lot more commotion.
"Look!" Popuri shrieked, glass windows cringing at her pitch. "All I wanted to know was if you wanted chocolate milk or not!!!"
There was a tiny silence, which Elli savoured. But she knew it couldn't last. Karen seemed to confirm this, much to Elli's distress.
Completely dismissing Popuri's latest input, she scolded darkly, "Just face it. You're not a natural leader. Do you even realize that this is for your boyfriend's benefit, Popuri, and not ours? I mean, not mine, seeing as Elli doesn't…" Her words ended quickly, leaving Elli hovering self-consciously to the side, not knowing if she should react or not.
She stared ahead blankly, feeling embarrassed and hurt as her friends turned to ash in her mind. Am I really the only one left? She enumerated all the spouses in the village. Karen already has Jack, as shallow as their relationship is; Popuri's with Kai, though I don't know how long that's going to last; Mary's going to have Gray, because it's obvious they're interested in each other; Ann's going to get with Cliff even if they aren't on great terms right now but it's no doubt adorable. Even with their faults, everyone has a boyfriend… a relationship… She gulped. Everyone…but me.
She tore a little inside. Wait, Claire and Rick are still alone, aren't they? They understand. But…but Claire's so cheerful. She doesn't even care she's single. So why do I?
There was a lull in the atmosphere, in which no one dared to even blink as Elli grew rigid and teary-eyed.
Karen knew she had said the wrong thing… again… and pretended not to acknowledge Elli. She leapt out of her seat, marched up to Popuri, and let off the rest of her steam. "Arrghh! Respond to me already! I have utterly no experience with this sort of party-planning-thing! Why'd you have to ask me? Anyone else could've come, but you picked me! Do you have something against me? Are you mocking me? Just because I'm not so good at cooking you think I'm good at this? Are you? Huh? Huh!?"
Popuri grinned. "Yep."
A groan left her and at long last, Karen gave in, crossing her arms. "If this party ends up sucking, I'm blaming you."
"Okey dokey," Popuri bubbled out in cheery reply. The argument seemed to have died quickly. "Wait one second though."
She brought out a carton and filled her cup with a browny liquid. "Chocolate milk?" she actually acknowledged Elli.
But the young nurse was distracted. "Um, sure," she muttered. She stared into her cup as it swelled with the dark milk, seeing the reflections of all the happy couples in Mineral Town.
All the reflections except mine…
She was such… a disappointment.
That was the verdict Elli had come up with as she dragged her body limply to her house, the ends of her dress collecting dust and litter from the ground as she edged through the threshold. Her eyes swept from sight to sight, taking in a window with lingering sunlight streaming through it, and an empty room where Stu commonly played. But he was probably out playing with May because he commonly did that too; so what did it matter?
Though she felt dishonest and a bit cruel for taking advantage of her grandmother's ailments, Elli tiptoed, unseen and unheard, through the hall. The door shut nearly soundlessly behind her and when she finally made way to the couch, she collapsed onto it.
The instant she, Karen and Popuri had actually tried to get their brains ticking and working, havoc ensued. What followed was chatter, commotion, noise!…three things she wasn't hearing much of as of late, seeing as she spent most of her day behind a desk. To make matters worse, she couldn't help thinking of Karen's words as they replayed in her head over and over again.
"Do you even realize that this is for your boyfriend's benefit, Popuri, and not ours? I mean, not mine, seeing as Elli doesn't…"
"Have a boyfriend," she filled in the blanks hollowly. "And never will."
An awful headache had etched through her skull and clawed at her that entire afternoon, starting with her friends' argument and still resuming. Not to mention she was absolutely zapped of ideas— and the other girls weren't helping.
"Elli? Elli? What do you think, Elli?"
She wanted to shout in frustration. But before she could even reply politely, more requests and demands snuffed through her ears.
"Red streamers or blue streamers, Elli? Are balloons too tacky? Can you make the banner, Elli?"
Her mind was still buzzing with Popuri's high, dreamy voice and Karen's rough, demanding one. It appeared that every little detail of the party, from colour of cups to location, was imperative. It appeared she was obligated to understand everything; expected to know the answer to every single component down to the last milidegree of perfection; plan out and solve what everyone else couldn't! Maybe she hadn't experienced and traveled to all the places other people had, but it didn't mean she should be taken for granted. Her presence was taken for granted— because somehow, she just knew she'd be getting back to work at the crack of dawn next morning.
Plus she still didn't have a boyfriend.
She gave off an uncharacteristic yawn, stretching like a cat and resting her head on the sofa. When was the last time she'd relaxed like this?
I should rest, she thought to herself. You have the rest of the day off… you deserve a break.
She sank into the couch, trying to think of how long it had been since she'd been able to just lie there like a dead animal. But inevitably, she could not stay at peace; she was getting the feeling she forgot something…
Her wrist inclined and sent a slip of paper fluttering to the ground. It caught her eye, and upon scanning it, she gasped. It was one of the document files for Lillia's prescription, which would be mailed that night. If they didn't send it in time…
She sat up, holding her head, which seemed to weigh ten tons. Off to work again… she mused to herself. She toyed with the paper for a few moments, folding and unfolding the crisp edges. No wonder no one wants to date you. No one even knows you. You're at the clinic all the time.
Then, when she was done stalling and muttering to herself, she realized she'd end up going anyway and stood up. With the single sheet of paper clutched in her hand, she left, not even looking back when she heard Ellen call her name through the door.