Manny smiled nervously at Roweena as she brushed past him to unlock her front door.
"Would you... like to come in for a drink?" She blushed, her tiny, pixie-like face flushing the colour of an Easter bunny's nappy rash. She looked adorable when she blushed, so much so that Manny blushed back, mumbled a scared "yes please" and almost dropped his coat.
Roweena smiled, and floated past him towards the kitchen. Manny, left alone in his girlfr... his... um... in Roweena's house, for the first time, looked around. Where should he go? The door to his left was the downstairs toilet which, while useful, was not helpful at the present moment. The door to his right, however, led into the living room. Ahah.
When he'd flipped the lights on, he could see that the walls were a pinkie-creamy sort of colour, and the floors were shiny hard wood. Paisley sofas, pine cabinets, it was all very... cute. Fittingly cute, in fact, for Roweena.
"Tea or coffee?" she called from the kitchen.
"Oh, um, tea, thank you." Manny called back, examining the bookcase. Lots of books. Mainly that sort of women's' literature one finds in charity shops; pastel coloured paperbacks, the author's name in scrolling ribbon text, and an art deco-ish willowy looking illustration of a woman with shopping bags on the front. Chick Lit.
"Ooh!" Smiled Manny, picking up the latest Sophie Kinsella, bound in a delightful lavender-russet. "I haven't read this one..." He scanned the blurb on the back cover of the book, before returning it to it's' gaggle of oestrogen-inducing pals, and moving on to the bigger, hardback books at the end of the shelf.
"Tea!" Roweena trilled as she entered, carrying two mugs of tea on a tray.
"Oh, lovely, thank you!" Manny turned away from the bookcase, smiled at her, and picked up his mug, smiling again. After a while, he realised she'd frozen stiff, and was looking rather pale and rather flushed at the same time. "Roweena?"
"What..." Roweena mumbled, looking very embarrassed. "Oh god, you weren't looking at my books, were you? Oh, I'm so embarrassed..."
"What, why?" Manny smiled, finding her fret even more adorable.
"Well you know... there's such a stigma attached to it..."
"Don't be silly! I read those books all the time!"
"Really?" Roweena gasped, her face brightening. She sat down on the sofa, relieved. "Wow! I had no idea you were into it!"
"Well, Tolkien is nice, but you need something a bit more realistic every now and then, don't you, eh?" he chuckled, sitting next to her.
"Oh, you're so right!" Roweena smiled, grabbing his hands. "Do you like a particular edition?"
Odd question, thought Manny. He never normally paid attention to the edition numbers.
"Well... I suppose I've only ever gotten hold of the newer ones..."
"Ah... so you're not that... "hardcore" about it then?" She chuckled, sipping from her tea.
"Oh, I'm so glad! I..." She looked down, and then glanced back up at him, her big, round eyes sparkling. "I was actually quite worried you might... laugh at me! Could you imagine?" She giggled. Manny giggled too.
"I'd never!" Ah, silly, innocent, dainty Roweena. So worried that he wouldn't take her seriously. So what if she read chick lit every now and then? There's nothing wrong with that!
"And it turns out I was worried about nothing! Because you're an Orker too!"
Manny continued to laugh, although a little confused. What was an Orker? Was that a name for a fan of a particular author? Or character? He couldn't remember anyone by that name...
"This is going to be so much fun, Manny!"Roweena smiled, ecstatic. "I'm running a campaign next Thursday! Oh, you can help me plan the quests! Come on!" She leapt to her feet and crossed to the bookcase, pulling down some of the hardback books Manny hadn't seen. She handed three to him and kept three for herself. He looked down at the overly elaborate drawing of a snarling purple elf embedded in a circle of gold text that graced the front cover. This was not Carolina Sumersby's "Pills and Pinafores; The Country Girl grows up". This was a seventh edition sourcebook for "Orcs and Obsidian", a popular tabletop roleplaying game. Manny's laughter trailed away, as he hoped Roweena's excitement meant she wouldn't pick up on the blind, excruciating fear that was creeping into his eyes.
"And so that's why I need your help." Manny summed up, in the grotty kitchen of Black Books, looking from Fran, who was biting back laughter, to Bernard, who had only come in here in the first place to get away from customers.
"That's... that's the nickname for people who... who play the game." Manny shrugged, awkward. "It's what they call them."
"Who calls them that?" Fran grinned, barely holding back her laughter.
"Other... people who... play the game..." Manny trailed off, burying his head in his hands as Fran burst into laughter.
"Oh... My... God!" she inhaled, between great honking gales of laughter. "Your... girl... your... girl..."
"I know..." Manny mumbled, trying to sink into the table.
"She's a gee...ee...ee...eee..hee..hee..." Fran was on the kitchen floor at this point, clutching her sides and rolling over onto her back.
"I wouldn't sit down there, if I were you." Bernard spoke, after taking a long drag on his cigarette. "There's something living under the cooker. We're not sure if it has tails or tentacles, but it's a hungry little sod."
Fran leapt back to her feet, shot Bernard an angry glare, as he smirked back at her, and then sat down opposite Manny.
"So what are you going to do?"
"He's going to make an arse of himself." Bernard contributed, walking over to the breadbin and taking out a bottle of wine. "As usual. And then she'll dump him and shack up with a Modern Fantasy writer on Park Lane."
"You're not helping, Bernard." Manny wailed, throwing his arms in the air and staring up at the ceiling. He then realised that the ceiling was, frankly, utterly disgusting and no fit place for him to be looking if he didn't want to lose his appetite. He looked out the window. "I agreed to help her with her campaign thing on Thursday. I need to practice playing the game!"
"Well..." Fran drummed her fingers on the table, trying to compose herself. The look of abject pity on Manny's face suggested she should really be helping him, especially if she wanted to worm her way out of the £12.99 she owed him. "My teacher at the college says that the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else, so you could..."
"Hold on... hold on..." Bernard plonked a glass of wine down in front of her, sipping at his own. "Teacher? At the college? Have you gone and gotten amnesia again?"
"No, I'm taking an adult learning course at the local college. It's only two hours a week, and if I can keep it up for another month, I can get a degree. Plus the teacher is amazingly yummy!" She licked her lips and smiled wryly, before frowning up at Bernard. "I told you about it."
"Oh yes. I must have forgotten. What with all the fascinating stuff that little interlude was crammed with, I probably couldn't fit it all in my head, for fear my brain would explode." He looked at Manny, his trademark sneer etched into his features like a statue carved by a blind, arthritic carpenter who had been haunted for several years by post traumatic stress. "Who would this... this... overgrown dust-bunny of a human being be able to teach? No one in their right minds would spend their evening with this ever-so-slightly balding orang-utan, learning how to roll dice and pretend that they have lives!" Bernard drained his wine glass, and slammed it down on the table. "How intensely, lifelessly sad and dull must you be to agree to that?"
"Please, Bernard?" Manny turned his puppyish, cowering eyes towards both Bernard and Fran. There was a long, silent pause. Fran caved first, moaning and sobbing, but eventually looking up at Bernard, who growled at her.
"Don't come pleading to me, push over."
"Come on, Bernard!" Fran whimpered, clutching his sleeves. She then recoiled, wondering what sticky substance was ingrained into his slightly festering jacket, but continued vigilantly and clutched at his lapels. "Please? It won't be any fun without you! You never know, it might be amazing!"
"Don't you whine and wheedle with me, you conniving harpy!" Bernard brushed her hands off, and swept towards the stairs. "I'll play no part in this."
"I can have everything set up to start at six!" Manny called. "We'll close the shop... I'll buy the wine?"
There was a long pause, before a growling snarl of a response, composed mainly of vowels, echoed back down the stairs.
"Was that a "yes", do you think?" Fran looked over at Manny, eyebrows raised.
"Harrreeeee-ooo-uuu-aaahhh..." Manny mimicked, holding the last syllable. "Well, it ended on a major note, but was in E flat, so I think... yes, I think that means he'll be here but he'll want more than one bottle." Manny clapped his hands together. "I better get organising everything."
"How long do you think it'll take?"
"Um..." Manny was a bit startled, and began shifting from foot to foot. "Why?"
"I have a date later... Manny, what have I just agreed to?"
"Well, if I get the wine now... tidy the shop, set up the table..." Manny muttered, heading towards the door, not quite making Fran's eye contact. "Of course, we'll have to wait 'til we can close the shop... say about three..."
"Well, Roweena said the average play-through takes about five hours."
"What?" Fran barked, lunging towards Manny, her hands grasping nothing but thin air and split ends as he wrenched open the door to the shop and bolted down the street, yelling back "But it might take longer for beginners!"
Fran glared at the empty doorway, wondering how heavy these sourcebooks were, and what kind of bruises embossed text would give a person.