"Okay, now try turning the computer on again," Chuck instructed from the other end of the phone.
I took a deep breath. "I really hope this works," I mumbled, pressing the power button. After a few moments, I sighed. "Nothing happened."
"I'm sorry, but there's nothing else we can try," Chuck said. "Your computer has had a good, long life, but it's dead."
"I was afraid you'd end up saying that," I said. "It's a good thing I backed everything up yesterday. Hey, you still going to be there in thirty minutes?"
"Uh, yeah. Why?"
I picked up my purse and grabbed my keys. "Because I'm heading over. I need to get a new laptop as soon as possible, and I would love it if you could help me pick out a new one."
"Sure! Come on down to the Buy More. I'll be here!" Chuck promised.
"Thanks, Chuck. See you soon." I snapped my phone shut. I was so happy that Chuck worked at the Buy More right now. I could not imagine having to buy a computer if he didn't. All of the Nerd Herd male employees at the Burbank Buy More seemed to have nothing better to do than try to pick up girls. Most of the green-shirts too. The only two who didn't leer at me when I went to the Buy More were Chuck and Morgan. Chuck didn't because, well, he's Chuck. Morgan didn't because I was his best friend, next to Chuck. The three of us had been known as the Three Musketeers from the day that Chuck and Ellie had moved into the same apartment complex where I was living. Morgan was helping the two of them move.
Morgan had been carrying a box when he tripped over a stone in the courtyard as I was passing by. His panicked cry of "No!" had caught my attention, and I had somehow managed to snag the edge of the box that he had dropped and slow its plummet to the ground. It turns out the box contained all of Chuck's computer/gaming equipment, and I had saved it from being damaged beyond repair, as Morgan had put it. This action had earned me the instant like, respect, and practical worship (in Morgan's case) from the two best friends. Ellie had baked me a plate of cookies to thank me for saving her from having to listen to Chuck and Morgan grieve over broken consoles for who knows how long. At that point, things just clicked between the Bartowski's and I.
As I walked into the store half an hour later, I started looking around for Chuck. To my confusion and dismay, he was nowhere in sight. I knew it was Morgan's day off, so he couldn't help me. I really wanted to find Chuck before Lester or Jeff saw that I was there alone.
I groaned. I knew that leering tone. "Hey, Lester," I said, hoping that for some unknown reason he would be completely civil today.
"Chuck had to step out suddenly. Is there anything that I could help you with?"
If anyone else in the world said those words, it would be fine. But Lester seemed to have a way of turning everything he said into some type of proposition. I took a step back. "No thanks, Lester. I'm just here to look around. But thank you for the offer." I tried to be civil, but it was difficult.
"Chuck said you were on the lookout for some new merchandise," Jeff said. "You could take me home if you really wanted to." This statement was accompanied by a wink.
I took a deep breath and tried to calm down.
"Hey, morons," a voice said from behind me. "There are some customers at the Nerd Herd desk. Go bother them."
Jeff and Lester took one look at the person behind me and, to my surprise, left. I turned around and found myself staring into someone's chest. I took a step back and looked up. It took everything I had to not let my jaw drop. The man who had rescued me was downright hot. He had amazing blue eyes, and I suddenly understood what people were talking about when they said someone had a chiseled jaw. I quickly composed myself. "Thanks for rescuing me," I said with a smile. "My name is Alison Hudson, but my friends call me Allie."
"John Casey," the man grunted. "Chuck said to tell you that he's sorry he's not here. He had a Nerd Herd emergency. What can I help you with?"
"I need a new laptop. Toshiba would be preferable, but I'm open to other brands. What would you recommend?"
"What do you need the computer for?" John wanted to know.
"Writing stories and surfing the internet," I said.
"That's it?" John asked, surprised. I nodded.
"Yep. Well, a few games, but nothing really fancy like Call of Duty or anything like that."
"What's the price range?" John asked.
"Definitely the less expensive ones," I said.
"Well, let's go take a look at the laptops," John said, already starting to walk away.
"I really appreciate this," I said as we walked. "I know that computers aren't your usual department." John simply shrugged, but didn't say anything. I quickly came to the conclusion that he didn't talk much. Not that I minded. I wasn't much of a talker when it came to people I didn't know. Once someone became a friend, however, the floodgates opened, and it was difficult to get me to stay quiet for long.
Right as we were finishing up, Chuck walked up to us. "Hey you two. How's it going?" he asked with a nervous smile.
I grinned. "Great! John was a really big help. This computer is perfect!" I said, picking up the box. I looked at John. "I really can't thank you enough. Both for the computer and for rescuing me from Jeff and Lester."
John grunted, which either meant "No trouble at all," or "That was one of the worst hours of my life." I chose to believe the first interpretation.
"Need any help checking out?" Lester asked as he and Jeff walked up.
I groaned. You have got to be kidding me! "Nope, I'm all set. Thanks anyways." I tried to walk away, but Jeff and Lester blocked my path.
"We need a woman's opinion on something," Lester said. I shifted the box slightly and tried to think of a way out of this conversation. I was willing to bet a week's pay that it wasn't going to lead anywhere good. "Do you think that John is attracted to women?"
"What? Why wouldn't he be?" I asked, still trying to come up with a way to leave.
"I'm beginning to believe that John may, ah, swing the other way," Lester said.
My eyes widened and I almost dropped the box holding my brand new laptop. Did Lester realize what he had said? What he had possibly unleashed? I had only known John for a little over an hour, but he did not seem like someone who's bad side you should ever be on. Thankfully, John only glowered at him, his arms crossed over his chest.
"I'm into women, morons."
"You see, I don't think you are, John. If you were, you would have gone on some dates by now. But I know that you haven't. You go home and just sit in your little chair and watch movies every night." John growled and I raised an eyebrow at Chuck, who looked like he was starting to panic.
"Come on, guys," he said. "Casey has been on lots of dates."
Jeff and Lester did not looked convinced. "When?" Lester challenged.
I was having a hard time deciding if I should get involved in this or not when Chuck sent me a look that clearly said, Help me! "Last Saturday," I spoke up. All eyes turned toward me. "John went out last Saturday."
"With who?" Jeff asked.
"With me," I said without missing a beat. I desperately wanted to look at John to see his reaction, but that might give it away.
"I see," Lester said, nodding. "And, what did you two do on this date?" he asked, putting air quotes around the word date.
"Nothing too fancy," I said with a shrug, finally putting the laptop on the Nerd Herd desk. "Just dinner at Olive Garden and then John took me out dancing. And that is all the information you two are getting out of me!" I said, pointing a finger at Jeff and Lester. "The whole thing is absolutely none of your business."
Lester turned to John. "And when are the two of you going out again?" he asked.
"Not that it's any of your business, but tomorrow night," John said. Now I did turn to look at John.
"What are you two love birds going to do?" Jeff asked, clearly not buying our story.
"Order Chinese take-out and watch a movie," John said.
"That doesn't sound like much of a date," Lester scoffed.
"It's my fault," I jumped in. "I work in a daycare center, so I'm going to be exhausted by the time I get home from work. It'll take everything I have to stay awake during the movie. And as much as I love discussing my personal life with you people, I have to go. I have a library book that I need to return before the library closes. I'll see you guys later." With that, I once again picked up my laptop, and beat a hasty retreat. I had just reached the entrance when someone called my name. I bit back a sigh and turned around. It was a relief to realize that it was John walking towards me.
"Look, as much as I appreciate what you did back there…" John started, but I cut him off.
"I know that it wasn't any of my business, and I'm sorry for stepping in," I told him. "It's just, when Chuck begs for my help like he did, I can't help stepping in. I'm really sorry if I've caused you any problems with telling Jeff and Lester that we went out on a date last weekend."
John just stared at me for a few moments before shaking his head. "You don't need to apologize for anything," he said. "What I was going to say was that I had a favor to ask you."
Now I felt foolish, but I pushed the feeling aside. "Oh. Sure, anything you need," I said.
"Would you come over to my apartment for a few hours tomorrow? I've caught those two trying to spy on me before, and I don't want to take any chances of them finding out that we lied."
"On one condition," I said, fighting back a grin. John grunted, and I took it as a sign to continue. "Can we really order Chinese food?"
"That's what we said we were doing," John shrugged.
Now I did grin. "Great! I'll see you on Friday. Oh, I'm going to ask Chuck for your cell phone number so if I'm running late, then I can call you."
John nodded, almost in approval. "Because if we've already been on a date, then you would already have my number."
I grinned. "Exactly!" I glanced at my watch. "Okay, I really do have to get to the library before it closes. Have a good day!"
John simply grunted and walked away. I raised an eyebrow, but shrugged. I could only hope that tomorrow he would be a little bit more talkative.