Thank you kindly for all your reviews! ^^
Someone asked a pretty good question that never occurred to me, about the whole Doug and Karen knowing each other since Doug is in MT and MM. Well. Ooops? I haven't really played these games but I didn't want to leave a big plot hole lying around. Hopefully I cleared it up in this chapter? (Thanks for pointing it out!)
"University, huh?" Gwen mused. "School doesn't start up for a while, there's still a week or two left until the new semester." She chewed her thumbnail thoughtfully and muttered, "Shit, I'd better ask Kurt to be on the safe side. Is it next week or the week after?" She looked up and back at Karen. "What program are you in? Please tell me you're not an Arts kid. Not there's anything wrong with being an Arts kid. I'm just one of the few sciency ones in my gang of friends."
While listening to Gwen fret over school dates, Karen had been absentmindedly whisking away at a bowl of chocolate batter—she was uncertain if Gwen was making a cake or muffins—feeling a knot grow in her stomach. Talking about school made her uneasy. "I'm um… I'm not actually enrolled. I… I didn't finish high school, actually. I didn't take two exams that I needed to. That's what this coming fall was for, taking those last two exams and all and enrolling for the winter semester. Hopefully." Karen didn't want to look at Gwen and see the judgement on her face; she could feel it all the way from where she was sitting. The judging and the disappointment; that look of disgust she had come to know all too well.
She felt Gwen's hand on her shoulder and jumped. She hadn't heard her come from behind. "Goddess, don't scare me like that," she breathed.
"Sorry," Gwen giggled. She kept her hand on Karen's shoulder. "So you messed up a little bit and that's clearly something you regret. At least you're trying to fix it now. A lot of people would just keep going down a bad life lane instead of trying to get better. If you need help studying, I can offer a hand. As long as it isn't math or physics. Or history."
Gwen's words warmed Karen's heart. She certainly wasn't expecting encouragement. She felt happy. She felt good. She felt a renewed sense of determination, even! She felt as though she really wanted last night to happen all over again! Wait no. No no no. Don't want that. Don't particularly… -Karen couldn't help but steal a glance at Gwen's soft lips- want…that.
"Uh, well, I wasn't expecting words of encouragement to be honest," she said after a moment, managing from taking her eyes off of Gwen's lips. "I actually passed by another city on the way here. I don't remember what it was called, but it also had a university in it. I had a few hours to kill between bus transfers, so I decided to call them up and see what I'd have to do to get in. I told the lady my situation and she just hung up the phone on me, laughing," she confessed.
Gwen sighed and squeezed Karen's shoulder lightly, giving her a weak smile. "Yes. Well. I mean… I don't know what you did exactly to be in your position but… I guess a lot of people would think you deserve it? Maybe? I don't know."
Karen knew it was too good to be true. "Aha! You do disapprove!"
"Well, if you were expecting me to congratulate you on not passing high school do to Goddess know what you were doing instead, I do apologize," came the wry reply.
"Fair enough. Fair enough. I just. Stuff happened. Stuff happened and I should have handled that shit way better than I did, but I didn't and here I am practically two years later trying to make it better. Not perfect, but better."
"You're not going to tell me what happened, are you?"
"Sorry," Karen smiled apologetically. "I'm not… I'm not ready to talk about that just yet."
The knock on the door made both girls jump. "Are you all settled in?" Doug's muffled voice asked. "Is Gwen in there? May I come in? I have the papers." Karen was already at the door, ready to open it after the first question.
"Hey Uncle," Gwen waved from the small table. "Is everything alright?"
"Oh yes, I just wanted to see if our new tenant was all settled in."
Gwen arched an eyebrow. "Tenant? But this is a hotel."
"Well. I asked your uncle if I could have a lease for a month or something while I get everything in order. I need to figure out all that school jazz I was telling you about and I guess become familiar with the city too. This hotel is in the best location and I'm already comfortable and everything here. Besides, renting the room comes cheaper than paying every day in the long run."
"But. But you don't usually do this," Gwen said in amazement. She couldn't remember the last time her uncle had any tenants.
Doug shrugged. "Summer's almost over and now I'm losing a lot of guest. It's not like there's a great demand for rooms or anything and this way I still make a profit. Ah, here are the papers. I just need you to sign here and here." He handed Karen a pen and put the papers on the small bedroom table.
Karen scrawled her name and handed the papers back to Doug. "Sweet. Thanks Doug! I'll see you around."
Doug turned to leave. He had one foot out the door when he stopped and looked over his shoulder, asking Gwen, "So where were you last night? You told me you weren't going back to your dorm and that you would stay the night at your grandfather's instead. He called me up in a panic this morning saying you never dropped by. Were you with Bob?"
Karen's heart contracted with a loud, painful thud, and had somehow managed to find its way back to her throat. She heard Gwen clear hers nervously.
Despite her reddened cheeks, she managed to give her uncle a clear, nonchalant answer. Karen noticed that she didn't keep eye contact the entire time, and cursed herself. It was her fault, putting Gwen in this uncomfortable position. She shouldn't have, she shouldn't have, and this was not supposed to happen again.
"Karen and I had a few celebratory drinks," Gwen said. "I might have had one glass of wine too many and Karen offered to let me stay the night so I wouldn't have to bus and walk all the way to Grandpa Woody's house." She saw her uncle giving the bowl of chocolate batter in Karen's lap a suspicious glance. "And then I decided since I was here, I'd just make a cake. For you. Clearly. To thank you for letting me use your endless stores of ingredients. And for being the best uncle in the world."
A cake! So that's what it is!
Doug groaned, feeling himself being backed in a corner. He didn't want to scold Gwen again in front of Karen for wasting his ingredients and certainly not if she was making him a chocolate cake. Cake was his weakness, and even he had to grudgingly admit that Gwen made the best cakes around this area of the city.
"Very well," he sighed. "Just call him up and let him know you're alive, for heaven's sake. You near gave the man a heart attack. And let's curb that drinking, shall we? I know there's a minibar in the fridge and everything but that does not mean I tolerate drunken escapades in my establishment. Understand?" He gave them both a reproachful look as a warning before closing the door behind him.
"Damn, I was hoping to get a bite of that," Karen admitted, sadly staring at the cake batter.
"It's better this way," Gwen assured her. "At least I won't have my dearest uncle breathing down my neck about using his ingredients. Think of it as a peace offering." She sneakily poured in some borrowed chocolate chips into the batter.
"You know, he looks awfully familiar… I feel like I've seen him back home, in Mineral Town," Karen pondered, stroking her chin thoughtfully.
"You probably did," Gwen answered her. "He used to live there maybe… ten years ago or so? He had a kid, Ann. Maybe you know her?"
"I used to see him in the bar!" When she saw Gwen's horrified expression she quickly added, "My dad used to bring me there for hamburgers. Jeez, I didn't drink that young… But that explains why he looks so familiar. It's been a while so I guess he wouldn't remember me."
"Well you probably changed a lot," Gwen laughed. "Plus the poor guy sees so many customers and families with his job that I'm surprised he can even remember who I am. Don't take it too personally."
"No, no. It's all good. But wait. He has a daughter. Ann. I went to high school with her. He just…uh…left?"
Gwen hesitated. "To be honest, I'm not sure. It was a complicating family thing. I'm his niece and all but even I don't know the full story. Anyway, now I just have to bring this to the oven in the hotel's kitchen. It shouldn't take too long."
She left, leaving Karen to her thoughts.
Since the very early morning when Gwen deemed it a great idea to give her that kiss – which she could still feel if she thought about it for too long – things weren't awkward, but there was definitely a baby elephant in the room. After Doug's visit, the elephant doubled in size.
What was worse was that Karen wanted to bring it up. At the same time, she really, really did not want it to be brought up. It was best if it would be forgotten. But if it was addressed, well then. Maybe things wouldn't be quite so… whatever they were with Gwen. It definitely wasn't awkward though.
Not awkward in the slightest.
And who is Bob anyway? Oh Goddess don't tell me she has a—
"I'm back!" Gwen called out cheerfully, the door wide open. "I set a timer for roughly thirty minutes. My watch should beep but just in case it doesn't, can you remind me?"
"Yeah, no problem."
"So…" Karen began, "How come you hang out at Perch Inn all the time, anyway? Don't you have friends to hang out with or studies to complete?" she teased.
"Earlier this week there was a mob of guests here celebrating a bar mitzvah or something and they rented the dining hall's space from my uncle. They wanted someone to cater for them, so my uncle asked me if I was interested. I work for him during the summer anyway but since this was something extra, and a bigger job, I was always in the kitchen so my uncle let me have a room here. It's just that since I'm already here, I figured I may as well take advantage of dear uncle Doug's almost endless supplies to test out recipes I've always wanted to make, but don't have the money to buy the ingredients for. The student life, my friend. It makes a penny pincher out of you," she sighed. She sat opposite of Karen at the table and rested her chin in her hand. "Most of my friends went back home for the summer or found jobs elsewhere. You're the first friendly face I see that isn't paying me for food." She smiled.
Karen could only smile back, all the while thinking about the elephant that was still wandering in the room.
"All your friends? Really? That's no fun. I heard your uncle mention this Bob guy though," Karen trailed off, trying to sound as nonchalant as humanly possible. "I'm sure you must hang out with him some."
Gwen shrugged. "Yes well… I'm currently miffed at him for something. It's about time he comes to me to apologize, instead of my going over there to demand an apology." She paused.
It was a long pause. Gwen's expression slowly morphed into an awkward one.
Oh good, she sees the elephant too. Here it comes.
"He's my boyfriend."
Karen raised an eyebrow. "You don't say. How would he feel if he knew his girlfriend was going around macking on another girl?" She twisted her mouth in a wry smile, feeling somewhat relieved that it was being brought up. At the same time, she couldn't help but feel a bit hurt. Used, even. But that wasn't for Gwen to know. She certainly wasn't going to let Gwen find out that she actually enjoyed the kiss.
Gwen rolled her eyes and groaned. "That stupid jerk would probably goad me on," she muttered crossly. "He's a good guy but sometimes he can be such a pig." She crossed her arms on the table and put her head down. "Mmm srrmthat."
"I'm sorry about that," Gwen said a bit louder, raising her head so that Karen could see her face. "About last night, I mean. I'm a cuddly drunk. Sometimes that happens," she admitted sheepishly. "I didn't mean to make you feel uncomfortable."
Karen forced a cheerful smile. "S'all good. I'd just… I'd rather it didn't happen again. I mean. It's not a big deal or anything. But I'd rather not have an angry boyfriend knocking on my door, just in case, you know? I'm more of the boy-loving type anyway," she winked at Gwen, laughing, secretly wanting to punch something so hard into the next dimension out of frustration.
Gwen just smiled at this and nodded.
"You should probably check on that cake of yours. It's been almost half and hour," Karen said, getting up from her chair. She stretched her arms upwards and yawned. Maybe tonight she would get a proper rest. Sleeping on the bus and last night's sleep, or lack thereof, was starting to put a toll on her.
But after the day's events she didn't feel much like snuggling in a bed, alone with her thoughts, waiting for sleep to come.
She needed a drink.
"Oh hey, before you go out for the cake…"
"Where's a good place to grab a drink around here?"
Gwen eyes flashed anger, but it passed as quickly as it came. "Last night wasn't enough for you, eh?" she chuckled. "I hope you don't drink this much when you're studying." Karen glared at her. She stopped teasing. "Er. Anyway. The Moonlight Café is your closest bet. It's about a ten minute walk from here, just a few streets over. Here's the address." She took a pad of paper and pen from the nightstand drawer and scribbled down the location.
"Sweet, thanks! Want to keep me some company?"
Gwen looked as if she had eaten something most foul. She scowled and curled her mouth in what almost looked like a sneer. "I'd rather eat dirt."
Karen widened her eyes in concern and raised her arms as a signal of peace. "Easy there, I didn't mean to offend you. It was just a friendly invitation… Jeez."
"Ah, sorry. Sorry. That wasn't directed at you. Let's just say that I'm on really bad terms with the bartender right now. Just thinking about that stupid place gets me so angry." She folded her arms and leaned against the door, sighing hard enough to make a few wisps of her blonde hair fly.
Karen smiled wryly. "Is this bartender's name Bob?"
Gwen shook her head. "No. No, no, her name is Eve. You can't miss her. She's super friendly. With all the boys." She closed her eyes and sighed again. "Alright I'm gonna go check on that cake and probably make a few other desserts while I'm at it. Have fun at the bar," she tried to smile, but it ended up looking more like an angry grimace. Then she noticed Karen's way look. "Aaaah, I'm sorry. I really I am. I'm not mad at you, I swear. Anyway. Yes. Have fun at the bar. I'll see you around!"
Karen looked to where she had lovingly stashed her bottles of booze and thought about maybe staying home for the night, instead. After tackling with the idea for a few seconds she decided that perhaps it was best to go spend some time away from the small room and make different friends, that hopefully weren't inclined to kiss her when drunk. Besides, she wanted to save her alcohol for special occasions. Or at least, occasions where a drink would be most welcome.
She put on a jacket and grabbed her wallet, the address Gwen gave her and her keys before heading out.
Alrighty Moonlight Café, you can't be that hard to find…