Without warning, the door to Leafos' suite opened, revealing Gretchen, her hair mussed and a troubled expression on her citygoing mask. Gretchen's cheeks were flushed and her clothes were in disarray, as if she had hastily put them on. Leafos raised both of her eyebrows at that one. It wasn't like Gretchen to go out looking like this…something must really be bothering her!
"Gretchen!" Leafos rose from the bed, tossing the book she had been reading aside. "What's wrong? You're a mess…did something bad happen?"
"No, I'm okay…mostly, but…" Gretchen took a deep breath, as if she really didn't want to say what she was about to say. "I need advice!" she exclaimed, a bit too suddenly and loudly, her face coloring red. She obviously wasn't happy with losing her cool; she covered her mouth with a slender hand, her green eyes downcast.
"Fuh-from m-me?" Leafos spluttered, doing her best Doc Patchingo impression. "Why me? I…I didn't even know you thought…"
"Thought what?" Gretchen raised an eyebrow, her usual cool tone back.
Leafos sighed. "Never mind."
Truth be told, she was shocked that Gretchen would come to her for guidance. She was always under the impression that Gretchen barely knew she existed and frowned upon her gossiping ways. Gretchen must really be desperate…Leafos would have to try really hard to keep some confidentiality in this exchange, no matter what she might learn. Man, she could already feel herself ready to burst at the thought of that. Sorry, Gretchen…
While Leafos was lost in her thoughts, Gretchen had migrated to the suite's gold and purple patterned sofa. She patted the cushion next to her. Leafos took her invitation, walking as steadily as she could towards the couch. She didn't know what it was about Gretchen that made her legs turn to jelly. Might be her intimidating height, or her steely gaze, or her unapproachable air of coldness. The latter didn't seem to be around today, though…Gretchen clenched the fabric of her skirt in her fists, and looked truly troubled. Whatever was bothering her, Leafos really hoped she could help.
"I wasn't sure who to come to…" Gretchen admitted, once Leafos finally sat down. "I…don't exactly have too many female friends. Judging from what I've heard about you, you seem like you'd be the most understanding." Gretchen looked up and actually smiled at Leafos. Leafos finally felt herself relax. That was a real smile. Gretchen's usual smile was…sort of concerning, like she couldn't wait to pounce on some poor unsuspecting piñata.
Leafos didn't like to think about Gretchen's occupation. Sure, the piñatas got happy homes, but Leafos shuddered to think of what means Gretchen had to go through to subdue piñatas like Elephanillas or Jelis.
"Sorry…" Gretchen shut her eyes and slouched down the couch a little bit. "It's just…so hard to spit this out…okay, here goes…" Gretchen cleared her throat, rising back to her usual flawless posture. "Sometimes, when I'm hunting, piñatas get away. It bothers me for a long time, I always think of what I could have done correctly and beat myself up over the failure…I'm having a problem like that, but…" Gretchen made eye contact with Leafos, her expression dead serious. "With a man."
"A MAN?!" Leafos didn't even bother trying to disguise her excitement. She quickly jammed her gloved fingers into her mouth, her cheeks turning pink. Gretchen huffed and rolled her eyes. She hadn't expected Leafos to react quite so…enthusiastically. Maybe she shouldn't have come here…
"Sowwy…" Leafos mumbled around her mouthful of fingers before removing them. "Go on!" She was excited now, it was taking everything in her power not to grin or bounce in anticipation. Gretchen! In love with someone! Leafos couldn't deny it; Gretchen was stunningly beautiful, even when she was in a state of disarray like this. She was surprised this didn't happen sooner…she figured Gretchen would have suitors knocking down her door!
"Men and I…" Gretchen shifted in her seat. "We never really had a good track record. Heh…" Gretchen chuckled, shaking her head. "…it's really pathetic now that I think about it, but I'm thirty now, Leafos, and my entire life I could never seem to do well with men. I think it's because they know very well that I could kill them with my bare hands, but…" Gretchen cracked her knuckles for emphasis. "This guy…I really don't want to let him get away."
"Have you tried just telling him?" Leafos offered, her mind burning with possibilities as to who this guy could possibly be.
"Pffft, that hasn't worked too well in the past…" Gretchen flapped a hand at Leafos. "I sunk to a new low. We had a date set up, but he came up with some lame excuse and cancelled on me. I figured I'd take a…not so subtle approach…uh, how old are you?" Gretchen asked Leafos. "This part of the story might need to be a little censored."
"Gretchen, please, I'm twenty," Leafos giggled nervously. "I can handle it."
"Twenty, huh?" Gretchen laughed. "You should stop wearing your hair in pigtails. It doesn't suit a woman of your age."
Leafos, blushing, absent-mindedly fiddled with her tight pigtails. She had this hairstyle since she was a kid…did it really look bad? Why didn't anyone tell her until now?
Ah, now isn't the time to worry about that! Gretchen is still talking!
"Anyway, I figured I'd make a special little surprise for him for when he came back to his hotel room…forgive me for admitting this, but I went lingerie shopping with Petula as my advisor-"
Leafos interrupted Gretchen with a bout of tiny giggles. Gretchen narrowed her eyes and Leafos' laughter ceased very quickly.
"Yeah, I know, it…wasn't the best morning of my life. But I went to his hotel room, changed up, and laid on his bed. Figured I'd go for the most unsubtle approach possible…" Gretchen folded her arms and groaned a bit at the memory. "…but he never showed up. I was there for four hours before I got fed up and left." Gretchen gave Leafos a bleak look. "He's avoiding me. I know it. Ugh, I sound like a hopeless teenage girl, I'm sorry-"
"No, no!" Leafos shook her head. "You have every right to be cross! Who is this guy, anyway? What kind of jerk would walk all over a woman's heart like that?"
"Th-that…" Gretchen spluttered again for a moment, before adopting her usual steely expression. "That's a secret."
"I think you should tell me…" Leafos, smirking, scooted a bit closer to Gretchen, a mischievous flash in her eyes. "I might be able to arrange a chance meeting for the two of you…it would be so romantic!" Leafos' eyes began to sparkle and Gretchen groaned.
The sparkles in Leafos' eyes disappeared as quickly as they had come, and she slumped her shoulders. "Or you can give him a proper piece of your mind. Whichever works."
"Okay, fine…" Gretchen slammed a palm over her eyes, her cheeks rapidly turning red. Leafos couldn't help grinning while Gretchen wasn't looking at her; it was really interesting seeing the vulnerable side of this usually intimidating woman. "It's…"
"Bartholomew Cunningham, you've done it now…"
Bart laid his head on the bar counter and snaked his skinny arms around it like Syrupents. He had only one beer, but that was enough to bring his sorrows to the brim of his brain. Ugh, he had come here to forget his problems…but even when he looked at the dancers here, he could only think of Gretchen. Her beauty made these dancers look like hairy old men in comparison…
"Hey, don't worry about it, buddy!" Bart felt Arfur's enormous hand smack him on the back, just a bit too hard.
"Yeah," Willy's gruff voice came from Bart's left. "Women are way too much trouble. You're lucky you're single!" Bart heard Willy take a huge gulp of his drink. "You can actually come to a place like this without feeling guilty!"
"You feel guilty?" Arfur chuckled.
Willy huffed. "I'm trying not to, guv, but I just keep imagining the old ball and chain's reaction when she learns about this…" Willy burst into a grating falsetto. "WILLY! I can't BELIEVE you went to a STRIP CLUB! Am I not attractive to you anymore?!"
"Never impersonate your missus again," Bart rose from the arm cave for a few moments to glare at Willy.
"You don't get it, Bart," Willy shook his head. "I'm just sayin', it could be worse! How old are you, again? Forty? Fifty? You've been blessed with a life of bachelorhood! Why start now?"
"I don't even remember how many years I've been on this godforsaken planet," Bart finally straightened up, leaning the cheek of his mask on a fist, still wearing a big frown that looked immensely comical on his mask. "I do know that Gretchen makes me feel young again, though…young and confused as a fumbling teenager!" Bart fought the urge to pull at his hat. "What is it about that woman..?!"
"Hey, if you're not going for her, I'll take her!" Arfur said with an earnest shrug.
Bart's head whipped towards Arfur like something out of a horror movie. Arfur saw unbridled, pure rage and hatred in Bart's mask that was too terrifying to even begin to describe in prose.
Arfur pointedly moved down three barstools. "I-I was joking, my friend! I'll make it up to you. How about I buy you a lap-"
"No!" Bart stood up and slammed some chocolate coins down on the bar. "I'm done with you ruffians. I don't know why I thought this outing was a good idea!"
"Your loss!" Willy shrugged. "Hey, Arfur, I'll take that if Bart doesn't want it." He opened and closed a palm at his barrel-headed friend while laughing heartily.
Bart scoffed and stormed out of the strip club, feeling his face burning up beneath his mask. Was there no one of mature mind that he could speak to?! Sometimes he felt like the only normal person in town…
Bart slowed to a walk, feeling too numb to even appreciate the maskless posters of beautiful woman that were plastered all over the wall of a nearby club. He shoved his hands into his pockets, slumping with his hat covering his face.
"God damn it, Gretchen…" he grumbled. Sure, in his younger days, he had gone through many, many woman. All fluffy, girly dreamers or sultry swinger types who he barely spent more than a few months with. His record relationship lasted a year, but that's only because he was afraid that the woman's father would murder him if he left her. All that went away when he adopted Yen and Yoto after his sister's mysterious disappearance…he had forgotten how to be smooth. Gretchen didn't seem like the type of woman who would appreciate those romantic tinkering tricks he had taught himself waaaaaaaay back when, nor any sort of gift any ordinary woman would enjoy. She hadn't called him to reschedule their date; she must be getting sick of his fumbling advances. Feh.
Bart was yanked out of his clouded thoughts when he felt something close around his leg. It felt like a flabby Fizzlybear trap!
Bart cried out in surprise and looked down to see the saddest, sorriest sight he had ever seen in all of his years.
It was Professor Pester, in a colorful zoot suit that was stained with things Bart didn't even want to think about. Pester's mask was cracked and it wore a pathetic expression, as if he was begging for sympathy.
"You!" Despite his decrepit state, Professor Pester's voice was as loud as ever. Bart fought the urge to cover his ears. "I know you! Help me!"
"Whatever you need help with, I want no part of it!" Bart attempted to shake Pester off, but his efforts were in vain. Professor Pester must have weighed over two hundred pounds more than Bart, Pester felt like a fat, fat anchor. Bart wasn't going anywhere.
"I just need money!" Professor Pester blubbered, pulling Bart's skinny leg in a way too affectionate hug. "And a shoulder to cry on…you can't even offer me that? You're an awful man!"
"That's quite hypocritical of you…" Bart narrowed his eyes at the villain. "What on Earth did you do to get yourself in such a state?"
Professor Pester staggered to his feet and almost fell back down again. Bart caught him on reflex, and reluctantly let himself be used as a support.
"Take me to that bench, please…" Professor Pester gasped. "I need to sit down…"
Bart grudgingly obeyed, leading the obese villain to a bench covered in peeling paint. On the way, Professor Pester spun a tale of woe.
He had been banned from pretty much every gentleman's club in the red light district, due to his blatant disregard of the "HANDS OFF WOMEN WORKING" signs. He had been kicked out of multiple bars due to being drunk off his ass, and he had even gotten his ass whooped by a woman he had gotten just a little too fresh with.
"She jammed a stiletto right into my eye!" Pester sobbed, burying his face in his hands. "I never got in trouble for blatantly disregarding rules back in the Village! What makes here different?!"
Bart scooted away from the villain, eyeing him critically beneath the brim of his hat.
"I've actually had women of the night refuse me!" Pester smacked himself in the chest. "ME! Am I unattractive? Do they not know I used to be a male model?!"
"I'm not answering either of those questions," Bart grumbled. Pester continued on his tirade.
"Ugh, I need to find a bar that I haven't been banned from yet…" Professor Pester wobbled to his feet. "All of this venting sobered me up…care to join me?" He looked over his shoulder at Bart.
"No," Bart raised his head to glare at Pester. "No. I'm done with you. Never speak to me again!"
"Wow, harsh!" Professor Pester jumped back, as if Bart had just struck him. "All I did was unload some worries onto you! What kind of jerk are-"
It was too late. Bart was already halfway down the street, fists clenched and walking with a purpose.
He wasn't going to be like Pester. He wasn't going to end up fat, drunk, and alone, without a single thread of happiness to cling to. He had some business to take care of, and by George, he was going to do it!
Professor Pester watched Bart leave, completely stunned.
"Hmph…" He pouted, folding his meaty arms. "Buzzkill. Where on Earth am I going to get the money for booze now…?"
Leafos knocked fervently on the biggest, most ornate suite door in the hotel. If she was going to do this, she was going to need help, and she knew only one man who was as enthusiastic about love as she was!
She had even changed her clothes before she dropped by this suite. For some reason, she felt like Eddie would agree to help a "maiden in need" more if she wasn't dressed in her usual patched-up clothes. She had even let her hair down, and whoo, Gretchen was right. Leafos did look her age with her long hair let loose. Maybe she should do this more often…
Leafos broke out of her fog as soon as the door opened. She then practically pounced on the room's occupant, her hands gripping their shirt. "Eddie! I need your-"
Halfway through her sentence, Leafos realized she had the wrong person. This silly-looking pale blue and white sweater vest wasn't anything Eddie would be caught dead in…Leafos looked up to see the familiar monkey mask of Doc Patchingo, and his baffled, flushed expression.
"Oh, sorry!" Leafos broke away from him as quickly as she had leapt on him. "I didn't know you were in here, Doctor. Is Eddie around?"
"Another guh-girl looking for Eddie…" Patch sighed and rolled his eyes. He was really getting quite sick of this. "No, he's out. With Puh-Petula."
"Petula?!" Leafos wrinkled up her nose with disgust. "Well, there's no accounting for taste, I suppose!"
"Duh-did you want to ask him out on a duh-date as well?" Patch folded his arms and frowned, the eyes of his monkey mask narrowing into an annoyed scowl. "There's a waiting list…"
"No, no!" Leafos shook her head, laughing at the very thought. Sure, Eddie was cute, but he was way out of her league. She didn't really like guys that playfully flirted with every girl under the sun, either, even if Eddie hid it under the guise of being courteous. Leafos was secretly the jealous type… "I just need some help with a little…project I'm working on. I'll take what I can get." Leafos gave Patch what she hoped was a charming smile. "Will you help me, Doctor? I really need a partner for this."
"Thuh-that depends on whuh-what it is!" Patch gestured for Leafos to come inside. Leafos took that as a good sign, despite the fact that Patch was sweating bullets. The stains appearing underneath his arms weren't very becoming on him.
Do I make him nervous? Leafos resisted the urge to chew on the tip of her finger. Man, I can only imagine what rumors Petula has spread about me…no wonder.
Leafos sat down on one of the room's easy chairs in front of the television, and Patch perched on the couch right next to it. Patch's butt was right at the edge of the cushion, as if he was ready to get up and run away at any time.
"Why are you so jumpy?" Leafos chuckled, fiddling with her hair. "I promise this is no big deal!"
"Maybe not for yuh-you…" Patch wiped at his bangs, wearing a frown that looked like it would belong better on a six year old who just scraped his knee. "Buh-but I'm not one to guh-guh-get involved in suh-silly schemes!" Patch looked down and began to absent-mindedly pinch the fabric of his pants.
"It's nothing evil! I'm not going to humiliate anyone, I wouldn't dream of that!" Leafos threw up her hands defensively. "I'm not that kind of person! Oh, no, no, you and I are going to help get Gretchen and Bart together!"
Patch's head snapped back up. "Bart still likes Gretchen…?" He gave Leafos a serious look. "Wow…it's been about six months since I huh-heard him mention her…that's buh-big…"
"No kidding, right?!" Leafos was getting excited now, bouncing in her chair. "Bart's had a reputation for being quite the ladies' man in the past…but I heard from Fannie that Yoto once caught Bart crying over Gretchen with frustration!"
"Bart…crying?" Patch's brow furrowed. "I have a hard time imagining that…"
Leafos ignored that comment and continued on her tirade. "He's been flighty around Gretchen lately; even though I'm sure he wants her with every fiber of his being!" Leafos held up a fist for emphasis, her eyes flashing with passion. "So, you and I are going to arrange a chance meeting. I'm sure sparks will fly!"
"How exactly are we going to do that…?" Patch tilted his head.
"Oh, don't worry, Doctor, it's nothing drastic," Leafos would have patted Patch on the arm if he was within reach. "Gretchen's in on this too. She and I are going to go for a walk in the city and stop to chat in front of one of the city's most romantic restaurants! Meanwhile, you meet up with Bart and lead him to that same place. Soon as the two of them make eye contact, you and I suddenly decide we need to be elsewhere and run off!" Leafos clapped her hands together and beamed. "Simple as catching a Whirlm! You can do what you want, but I'm going to retreat into a nearby alley and listen in for a while…" Leafos rested her hands on her cheeks, her eyes sparkling. "Oh, they're perfect for each other! There's no way I can miss all of their passion coming to a head, at last!"
Doc Patchingo shook his head. Never, no matter how hard he tried, would he be able to understand girls. Thinking a couple was cute was one thing, but spying on them…? Leafos certainly was an odd one…
Still, he couldn't say no to her. That look in her eyes was honest; Patch could tell this meant a lot to her. Shooting her down would just be rude!
"Oh-okay!" Patch nodded firmly, doing his best to look brave. "I'll help you, Leafos."
"Yay!" Leafos leapt up from her chair and made her way over to Patch, leaning down to give him the quickest of hugs. "I owe you a favor, okay?" After whirling towards the door, she smiled over her shoulder at Patch. "I'll Alert you when it's go time!" She gave him a thumbs up and he quickly returned it. "See you later, Doc!"
"Wait!" Patch leapt up from the couch and held out an arm desperately. "What do I do if-"
It was too late. Lost in her own world of romantic triumph, Leafos hadn't heard a word of what he said and was already out the door.
Patch let out the biggest sigh of his life and flopped back down on the couch. "…if Bart doesn't want to hang out with me…"
Oh, Patch… He tossed his mask aside so he could tear at his hair. This is going to be a real strain on your anxiety…where on Earth are my pills?
"Gretchen, are you ready yet?" Leafos asked as she impatiently walked around the room, waiting for the huntress to exit the bathroom. "Come on; we don't wanna be late! If Bart and Patch beat us there, it'll ruin everything!"
"Leafos, please…" Gretchen's husky voice came from behind the door. "Beauty takes time. Besides, we still have an hour before we have to leave…"
"Oh, please don't tell me you're going to take an hour…!" Leafos slumped, pouting at the closed door.
"Just a few more minutes, hon," Gretchen sounded dismissive. "Sit down. I can hear you pacing and it's distracting me."
"Yes, ma'am," Leafos nodded at the door and dropped herself into a cushioned chair. She adjusted herself around fifty times, her brain rushing with possible outcomes for tonight. She wished Gretchen would wear her arm-scarf…her picking up Bart with that as she confessed her unwavering, fiery passion for him would be the most romantic thing in the world…!
Leafos had to cover her mouth to prevent a squeal from coming out. Damn, she was turning into Fannie…
Could be worse… Leafos thought with a giggle. At least I'm not writing corny romance stories about these two! That would just be creepy. Fannie really needs a new hobby…
Leafos didn't feel like thinking about Fannie right now, though, she wasn't important! Leafos was about to let her mind go crazy with Gretchen/Bart scenarios again when the door to the bathroom creaked open, breaking Leafos out of her thoughts.
Leafos instantly sat up in proper posture, her jaw dropping to the floor when she got a load of Gretchen. The huntress was dressed in a lace-up dress in several shades of royal purple and her long hair was woven into an elegant French braid. She had put on purple lipstick to match her dress, and her painted lips were curled into a confident smile.
"I take it that unflattering expression means I look good?" she teased Leafos, resting a slender hand on a hip.
Leafos nodded vigorously. "WOW, you're gonna knock Bart's socks off! Or you would if he wore socks…" Leafos giggled nervously, fumbling through her purse. "I'm going to tell Patch that it's go time! Man, hope he doesn't see you. He'll want you for himself, I'm sure…"
"As if," Gretchen actually chuckled at Leafos' joke.
Patch picked up on the first ring. "Luh-Luh…" Patch cleared his throat and spoke again, his voice much deeper. "Leafos? Are you girls ready?"
"Sure are!" Leafos nodded with a grin. "Go find Bart and meet us in front of Le Nuit ASAP!"
"Guh-guh-gotcha!" Patch's voice shook. "Uh-are you absolutely sure he'll agree to hanging out with me…?"
"Oh please, it will be no problem!"
"I have every faith in you, Doctor!" Leafos giggled. "See you in an hour!"
With that, Leafos shut off her Alert System and flashed Gretchen a thumbs-up.
"Let's roll!" Leafos beamed as bright as the sun before heading for the door.
"I hope this works…" Gretchen sighed, absent-mindedly adjusting the straps of her dress. "Patch isn't the most reliable guy out there…"
"You need to be more optimistic," Leafos tsk-tsked, waggling a finger at Gretchen.
Gretchen wordlessly glided to the younger girl's side, her thoughts betraying her confident demeanor.
Oh, I hope Bart doesn't run…