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May 27, 2012

I Hraet You (9)

Beat 9: Planning Ahead is for Yellowbellies

“What the hell just happened?!”
               
Trixie ripped her hand from Lloyd’s grasp and clutched it close to her body.  “Seriously, are ya some kinda sorcerer or somethin’?” she demanded, stepping backward as if he’d turned into some horrid man-spider.
               
Lloyd shook his head, and left his hand hovering in the air.  “Last I checked I wasn’t.”  He stroked his chin and turned aside.  “Though it IS possible that, since the accident, I’ve become an esper.”
               
 “Would ya stop sayin’ weird stuff for one second and explain what’s going on?”
               
“Right.  I suppose I should give you a quick rundown,” said Lloyd as he shuffled a foot through the water. 

“Well, this is just conjecture for now, but I’m assuming that thanks to my ability I entered your subconscious and positively affected your innermost thoughts and desires, thereby allowing you to know real happiness and actively move toward pursuing your dream, no matter what obstacle you need to surmount.”  He sniffled a bit.  “Hmmm.  I think there’s still a little sea water in my lungs.”

“Wait a damn minute.  So you've been in my head, tryin’ to screw with me so I’ll join in your little sick fantasies?”
               
“Well…”  Lloyd furrowed his brow -- come to think of it, just what had he accomplished in the audition room?  He hadn’t exactly tried to make her his devoted harem girl; if anything, he gave her an impetus to go about her business and bail out of Porbeagle once finished.  Arguably, he’d made his situation worse.  “I suppose I wanted to see if I could make you feel better before I did anything else.  On that note, DO you feel better?”
               
Trixie -- still treating Lloyd like some diseased witch doctor -- looked to the boardwalk’s underside with a slight frown.  “I wasn’t exactly feeling too bad in the first place, pal.”
               
So in the end, my efforts led to failure?  Lloyd pressed a hand to his forehead.  Damn it all.  And I was so certain that I’d succeeded.  With the display that a four-star level had wrought, I assumed I’d done my duty.  He glanced at Trixie, studying her form with a sharp eye (and lingering for a moment on her chest); she’d gone back to her standard posture, neither overly cautious nor bursting with brazen pride. 

The four-star level should have helped her reach her emotional zenith, and -- if my guess was correct -- stabilized her without any more intervention from me.  That was why, when I entered the room the second time, she’d fallen to a half-star.  Her mood must have plummeted in my absence…because I let myself leave without finishing the job.
               
Was my theory wrong?  Was I able to correct my mistake?  Was everything I did just a process of ineffectuality?  No, I refuse to believe it.  What I did could never be for naught; if boosting her star count to one and a half made her slightly happier, then a full four stars must have her in a state of pure elation!
               
Lloyd nodded; postulating would only do so much good.  If he wanted the truth, he had to find it for himself.  “Miss Walters!  A word, if you’d be so --“
               
He looked around.  Trixie was nowhere in sight.
               
“By the wine god, Dionysius!” he exclaimed, leaning forward and adjusting his glasses.  “Could it be that she’s discovered the art of illusion?  To think she could obscure herself with such magicks!”
               
“I’m behind ya, ya weirdo!” Trixie called out.
               
“Oh.  Well, I suppose that makes sense, too.”  He swiveled around to find Trixie sifting her hands through the water, with a face much calmer than before.  Hopefully, she’d given up on her designs to bash his face into the back of his skull.  “You’re really devoted to this, aren’t you?” he asked.
               
“I guess so.”
               
“Fair enough.  We all have our priorities.”
               
Trixie nodded in agreement, but a moment later her hands stopped moving; she just held them in place, letting the water speed between her fingers.  “Ya know…it’s the craziest thing.”
               
“What is?”
               
“You.  How can one guy be so stupid and crazy one minute, and then all smart and nice the next?  I don’t get ya at all.”  Her eyes drifted across the surface -- not for the sake of finding some lost item, but rather absentmindedly.  Almost as if she wanted an excuse not to look at Lloyd.  “I never woulda guessed ya could look so…serious.”
               
Lloyd pointed to himself, eyes wide.  He just figured he was playing around, as per his standard.  Did she see him differently?
               
Trixie sighed and rubbed her hair, unfazed by the now-dampened locks on her crown.  “I may not know what ya might be, or what ya can do, but…I know you’re not a bad guy.  It almost feels like…like…”
               
Like you can trust me? Lloyd thought.  Or could it be that it goes a step beyond?  He shook his head.  If ever there was a time to try his luck, this was it.  “How would you like to stay with my family, Miss Walters?”
               
“…Okay, so how many drugs are ya on, pal?”
               
“None that I know of.”  Lloyd held out a hand -- but, noticing that Trixie seemed wary of any more handshake-mind-melding, he pulled it back.  “To paraphrase what I said earlier, I can’t allow myself to leave a woman in a sorry state of affairs.  I know that such applies to you --”
               
“How the hell did ya figure that out?”
               
“I’ll explain everything once we’ve returned to solid ground,” Lloyd answered.  “For now, I hope you’re willing to put your faith in me, Miss Walters -- as I’m willing to have faith in you.”
               
“Ya sure know how to sweet-talk a lady, don’t ya?”
               
“Given my track record, I would disagree,” Lloyd said with a smile.
               
Trixie groaned and looked back to Porbeagle’s shore.  Those construction workers could get to work at any moment in the next few days, and bring down High Tide Park atop her head.  Even beyond that, they -- and likely plenty of townsfolk -- would notice the woman routinely spending her time shifting through the water under the boardwalk.  In the worst case scenario, they might force her to stop, even if it meant getting the authorities involved.  All things considered, she probably didn’t want that.  “I guess I should at least call it a day,” she said at last.
               
“So you’ll come with me?”
               
“Whoa there.  I didn’t say that.  I don’t think you’re a bad guy or anything -- just really, REALLY stupid -- but don’t ya think it’d cause some problems if I started hangin’ out with a kid?”
               
Lloyd pouted.  “I’m almost eighteen, if that helps.”
               
“When do ya turn?”
               
“About nine months from now.”
               
“Lloyd, I appreciate the offer, and all the help ya been tryin’ to give me.  Really, I do.  But I’m a grown woman.  I can take care of myself.”
               
“Can I at least come visit you from time to time?  Where are you staying?  It would be a pleasure to learn more about you over the course of your visit.”
               
“Eh…uh…well…”  Trixie, reddening once more, turned aside and stroked her cheek.  “I got this motel room a few blocks over that way.”
               
“Which way?”
               
She raised a wobbly finger, and pointed towards some point in the distance -- one that, if Lloyd didn’t know any better, looked like it was lodged a few dozen yards from the shore.
               
“You…you DO have some place to stay, don’t you?”
               
“Y-yeah, of course I do!  What, ya think I’m some kinda damsel in distress?  Huh?  Do ya?!” Trixie snapped, leaning forward, and her voice booming with enough force to send Lloyd tumbling.  With a quick sigh, she leaned back and regained her cool, and looked to Porbeagle’s streets.  “Jeez.  It’s not like I’ve been livin’ in a dumpster or anything.”
               
Lloyd stared blankly at her.  “Have you?”
               
“No.”
               
“Have you?”
               
“No.”
               
“Have you?”
               
“I found a nice, comfy box to use.  Plus I got some construction paper to use as sheets.”
               
Lloyd stared blankly at her.
               
“…All right, let’s go.”

*

The lightbulb let out a buzzing hum as it swayed above the table.  If not for its cone of light, the kitchen would have stayed shrouded in darkness -- save for the street lamps in the distance prodding their way through the night and the windows.  Trixie sat at the edge of her seat,  legs shoved together and hands gripping her knees; she couldn’t bring herself to look through the cramped room and toward the table, so she just ran her eyes over the magnets on the fridge.  She counted their number over and over, hoping that she wouldn’t reveal her reddened face.

All three Hoigleheimers sat at the table, refusing to say a word.  JP leaned back in his chair, hands tucked behind his head and eyes closed as if trying to doze off.  Patton rested his meaty elbows on the table, resting his chin behind steepled hands.  Lloyd sat in place with his arms folded, and one leg crossed over the other.  Trixie could only see him from behind, but she managed to catch a glimpse of his right hand -- every so often, tightening around his left bicep.  For a minute she thought about dashing out of the room, if only for the chance to take in some lighter air.

And then, finally, JP leaned his chair forward.  “Your Kentucky-fried guest has got to go,” he declared, sliding his hands into his jacket’s pocket.  

Lloyd slammed a hand on the table.  “Unacceptable!  You would have me throw a sweet, innocent, svelte, undeniably sexual young woman out on the streets?!”

Trixie opened her mouth to object, but decided against it.

“That’s exactly what I’m saying,” said JP, almost with a tone of boredom.  He scratched idly at the side of his head.  “Well, not exactly.  Dad could probably throw her out better than you could.”

“S-such cold-heartedness!  Dad, tell me you wouldn’t --!”

Patton shifted like a glacier, and turned his head a bit toward one of the windows.  “Mmmmmmm…I wonder what your mother would say if she were here.  Probably wouldn’t want you boys getting mixed up by having another woman in the house.”  He sighed wistfully.  “Ah, the good old days…she made me go through all these old family rituals to make sure we had sons only.  If we had a daughter, I don’t even wanna think about how fast she’d send you floating down a river.  Or…maybe the ocean?”

Trixie’s throat clamped shut.

“So you’re against me as well?  For shame, father!”  Lloyd slapped his palm on the table again.  “For shame!  You, the family patriarch, still haunted by a ghost from the past?  Unable to think for yourself, and act on virtue rather than outmoded orders?”

“You’re missing the point,” said JP, peeking at Lloyd from the corner of one eye.  “Where are we going to keep her?  How are we going to keep her fed?  And…”  He shot a look at her, forcing her to shift her eyes away as fast as she could.  “If she’s in some kind of trouble with the law, do you really want to get involved in that?”

“If it’s to help the fairer sex, I would gladly gallivant through Pandaemonium itself!  All I need is a map and a flashlight and a fair amount of snacks for the trip, and I’d return with the head of the fallen one himself!”

Patton raised an eyebrow.  “Beef jerky?”

“I was thinking more along the lines of a few fruit pies.”

Trixie tilted her head, and her mouth hung open and askew.

Patton ran a hand through his hair.  “Well…dang.  I guess I did say if you could prove yourself, we’d help out.  Can’t back outta that now.”  He shifted an eye toward Trixie, then back to Lloyd.  “You’re gonna take responsibility for her, right?”

“Of course!”

“And no funny business while she stays here?”

“I wouldn’t dream of it!”

JP leaned forward.  “Hey!  Hey!  Isn’t anyone here going to use any common sense here?  I know that’s in short supply around here, but still!  Don’t let her stay here!”

“I’m afraid you’ve failed to take a certain factor into consideration, little brother.”  Lloyd brushed at his bangs and smiled triumphantly.  “Another member of this household -- however temporary -- means another potential set of hands.  Given her fortitude, I’d wager she’d make an excellent contributor to our society’s well being…and I’m sure they’ll pay her handsomely as tribute.”

JP opened his mouth wide to yell more, but froze in place.  He crammed a hand into his pocket and whipped out his calculator.  “Son of a…you’re right!  Taking into account the average pay rates around Porbeagle…factoring in the number of jobs available as of last Tuesday…subtracting the time needed for her applications to be accepted -- no, even better.  She can just help out with Dad’s work, and instantly increase production rates by…two, maybe three times!  Yes, this just might…!”  He stashed the calculator and glared at Trixie, and then glared twice as fiercely at Lloyd.  “All right.  I’ll allow it.”

Lloyd nodded.  Trixie bowed her head, and let loose a sigh she’d been holding in for hours. 

“But let’s get one thing straight: I’m gonna put her ass to work.   If she’s not willing to pull her weight…” He shook his head.  “One point two eight times her weight, I’m mailing her back to old MacDonald’s farm myself.”

“Hey.  Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves,” said Patton.  “There’s still one thing we need to know about her.”

“Yeah, that’s true.”  JP pressed a hand to his chin.  “Where she came from, who’s after her, and this talk about treasure…among other things, right?”

“Actually, I just wanted to know if she liked steaks.  ‘Cause if she’s one of those weird people that likes…”  He let loose a snort.  “Artichokes…then I’d kick her to the curb myself.”  He turned to Trixie, popping his knuckles in preparation for the deed.  “You like steaks, right?  Steaks are good for you.  Good for the soul.  If you don’t like ‘em, I just might have to get a little rough with you -- like this one time when I met this tuba player --”

Trixie jerked out a nod.

“All right, big guy, cool your jets,” said JP, getting up and pressing his hands against the big guy’s shoulder.  “The last thing we need is another bloodstain in the kitchen.  It’s not exactly homely to begin with, and I doubt the police will enjoy starting another investigation in this cramped old place.”

Trixie looked down at the floor.  For a minute, she thought she caught a glimpse of the remains of a white outline.

Lloyd leapt out of his chair and tugged Trixie out of the room.  “Fantastic, then!  Miss Walters, you can stay with me in my room!  Oh, the fun we’ll have, trading beauty secrets and talking about nail polish and forming the foundation of our island-sprawling heaven and the cute boys we like…”  As Trixie stumbled behind him, he raised his eyebrows.  “Oh wait.  Pretend you didn’t hear that one part -- the one about the nail polish.  As I understand it, that’s a topic most women prefer not to discuss so liberally.”  He let go of her to clap his hands rapidly, and raised a leg like a schoolgirl about to have her sweet sixteen.  “Oooooh, we’re gonna have so much fun tonight!  I doubt I’ll even be able to get to sleep!”

“You’d better,” Patton called out from the kitchen.  “You got school tomorrow.  You gotta show how manly you are, now that you’re a senior.”

“True enough, dear father,” Lloyd sang back.  “And once I discover what shampoo Miss Walters uses, doubtless I’ll be the most popular, most dapper gent in the history of high school!”

Trixie frowned.  Maybe I should’ve stayed on the streets…

TO BE HEARTINUED…



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