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June 27, 2013

I Hraet You (69)

Beat 69: The Best Plan

If the circumstances were a little better (or if he even had control over his legs), Lloyd might have jumped up and done a little dance.  But he’d have to stay content with laying there on the ground.  So he listened in, hoping that Arjuna would give him just the info he needed…and that Sheila would stay asleep.

“You don’t know her story at all, do you?” Arjuna asked.  “Well, I do.  She may have those crazy proportions, but Sheila’s a year younger than us.  She transferred in to L. Bernstein right around winter of last year.  And from what I’ve heard, she hasn’t exactly made a lot of friends since.”

Lloyd didn’t want to believe it, but he could confirm it.  Her contact list was surprisingly bare.

“I guess it was sometime in February in the spring semester when she came to me.  She’d heard about me, I guess -- that I was some kind of whiz kid that could build anything.  And even if I wasn’t, I was still one of the top-ranked guys in school.  So she wanted me to help her -- build lots of junk that’d help her for some ‘secret mission’.  I didn’t know exactly what she was up to, but it sounded like trouble.  And yeah, I guess a lot of it had to do with you.”

“You built weapons for her?”

“Built weapons, and gear, and pointed her toward places where she could learn some training.  If she wanted to be some kind of super commando, I wasn’t about to get in her way.  I didn’t want her using her moves -- any of them, learned or not -- on me.”

Lloyd’s brow tightened.  “So you helped her?  Why?”

“…That’s not really important right now, is it?”

“I suppose not.”

“Thought so.  Anyway, I spent a lot of time with her, so I know a few things about her -- and her mom, too.  They’ve really got it out for each other, though I’m guessing you’ve found that out for yourself.”

“I have.  Is there a reason why?”

“I can think of one, Lloyd.  Jealousy.”

“Jealousy?”

“The green-eyed monster.  Something about it’s got a big wedge between the two of them.  I didn’t pry too deeply into why, but if you spend enough time with the two of them in the same room, the claws will come out.  But even with that in mind, I don’t think it’s Jane that’s causing so many problems for Sheila.  Some of them, maybe, but not all of them.”

Lloyd’s heartbeat quickened.  “Then who?”

“Someone really close to her, I think.  Someone who’s always nearby, but hasn’t been seen in person -- not by me, at least.  Someone…”  He shuffled around on his end.  “Someone she can’t help but talk to…a friend who isn’t a friend.”

“A friend who isn’t a…”  Suddenly, Lloyd gasped sharply.  “Arjuna.  I think I might know who it is.  Today at the student council meeting -- do you remember seeing a strange girl in the back of the room?  Standing up -- er, leaning against the back wall, maybe?”

“Strange girl?  Can you describe her for me?”

“Describe…?”  Lloyd shook his head.  “She was a tall girl -- about my height, I’d say.  Quite a bit busty, as well, with a proper build to match.  I suppose she was some sort of Asian; she was quite pale, with garnet-brown hair, and very dark eyes -- oh, and her clothes were ragged.  She looked as if she’d lost a skirmish or two.”

Arjuna didn’t give him a quick answer.  He just kept humming.

“You know her, don’t you?  She was in the room with all of you -- and it looked as if you even spotted her a few times during the --”

“Lloyd?  I know everyone in the student council -- there’s no girl in it like that.”

“What?  But I saw her -- she and I made eye contact, and she -- she waved and smiled at me.”  Lloyd jerked out a nod.  “Yes, that’s right!  She and I looked at each other, and she looked surprised, and she ran out of the room.  You must have noticed that, at least!”

No answer.

“A-Arjuna?  Tell me you noticed that, at least.  How could you not?  From where you were standing, you must have gotten at least a glimpse of her.  Granted you had your back turned as I recall, but the sound of the door should have -- you couldn’t possibly have --”

“Lloyd.  I know you’re kind of…iffy on reality, but I’m gonna say it again.  Slowly.  All right?  Listen to me.  There’s no girl in the student council like that.  I’m the one that took a head count, and I’m the one that started when we were all present.  All of us.”

“B-but the door --!”

“I didn’t hear a thing.  And you know what happens when someone opens a classroom door -- everyone turns to look at it.  If no one else moved, no one else noticed, either.”         

“But how…how?  How in the hell is that even possible?”  Of course, the moment Lloyd had asked the question, he felt remarkably stupid.  Of course it was possible; in the past few days, his world had become one that included a southern mafia princess, a shotgun-toting grandmother, snake-faced thugs running rampant, and most recently an improbably buxom secret admirer whose idea of playing hostess involved stripping down and offering something very near torture -- accidental or otherwise. 

And all that flew in the face of the real issue -- those that wielded powers beyond anything he’d ever thought possible.  Some of them belonged to a masked man, one who could not only act as a master of illusion, but temporarily turn innocents into mind-controlled slaves.  One of them belonged to Lloyd himself, letting him dive into people’s hearts and try to improve their lot.

At this stage, could he really say a girl only he could see was impossible?  Could he really?

“Arjuna?  Let’s leave aside the matter of that girl for now,” Lloyd said at last.  “I’ll have to find her on my own one of these days.  I’ve already got my hands full with Miss O’Leary; if I were to start chasing after another girl before I’d finished with her, I doubt my body could take it.”

“Yeah, I guess that’s…”  Arjuna trailed off -- and what few words that followed came in a panicked whimper.  Frankly, Lloyd was surprised that it took him that long to produce it.  “Wait a minute.  Lloyd?  Where did you say you were?”

“In Miss O’Leary’s room.”

“A-and where is she right now?”

“Right beside me.  I’m calling from a space right next to her bed.  Why do you ask?”

Arjuna’s whimpers reached a fever pitch.  “Lloyd…Lloyd, are you an idiot?  Don’t use a girl’s phone and start talking about another girl -- especially when the first girl is right next to you!”

“That seems like an oddly specific rule of etiquette.”

“You moron!  Everything you’ve said just now…what if Sheila heard it?”

“Well, even if she did, I doubt there’s any harm…”  Lloyd couldn’t bring himself to finish; he’d only just noticed that the area around him had darkened.  Curious, his eyes shifted upward, following the shadow to its source.  Higher, and higher, and higher they traveled, running up the bed.  Up a pair of legs.  Up a slew of absurd curves.  Higher, and higher, and higher, until they had no more reason to.

He could have made eye contact with Sheila.  But he didn’t.  He had better things to notice.

Like the machete she’d started stroking.

“Lloyd,” she growled, her voice belonging to a rabid wolverine rather than her.  “Why were you thinking about another girl?”

“I…I was just…you see, it was a tangent of a conversa-”

Why were you thinking about another girl?” she asked again.  “WHY WERE YOU THINKING ABOUT ANOTHER GIRL?!”

Lloyd stared at her for a good half-minute.  “Arjuna?  I’m going to have to call you back.”

Ka-SWOOSH!

Lloyd jerked his body out of the way just as Sheila brought the machete down -- and turned one phone into two.  Even with his body bound, Lloyd scrambled away in triple-time, hoping to put as much space as he could between the two of them.  Not the easiest task, considering the surroundings.

“You’re not allowed,” Sheila muttered as she pulled the machete out of both phone and floor.  “You’re not allowed to think about anyone but me.  If you do, then…then I…”

“N-now just hold on there, Miss O’Leary.  There’s no need for such rashness; if you just lay the machete down for a moment, I can explain --”

“Explain how you were gonna cheat on me?  I’m the only one you should care about.  Me.  Me.  Me, me, me, me, ME, ME, ME!”  She snapped toward Lloyd, wearing some horrific mix of a smile and a scowl, and letting fly a noise like a dying hyena’s laughter.  “I love youuuuuuuuuu…you love meeeeeeeeee…you think that I’M SO PRETTY!”

Lloyd started to plead with her again, but stopped himself in mid-word.  He had the advantage; Sheila hadn’t put her glasses back on yet, which meant she’d never be able to find him and slice him.  If he just stayed quiet, she’d have no way of tracking his voice -- and with that, he’d live to see tomorrow.

Sure enough, Sheila’s head whipped back and forth in search of Lloyd.  She didn’t find anything; he figured she was lucky to even see a blob.  “Lloyd, where are you, sweetheart?” she asked, dropping off the bed and slinking about.  She swept the machete about.  “It’s okay…it’s okay…I just wanna make sure you never think about anyone else but me.”

It was then that Lloyd had a horrible thought.  Sheila couldn’t see him, but that didn’t stop her from swinging around her machete.  And if she couldn’t see, then she couldn’t stop herself from laying into something on accident. 

If she had any intention of bluffing, that bluff had just turned lethal.

All right, Lloyd old boy.  You can turn this situation around.  Just keep your movements under control.  Stay quiet.  Stay low.  If you do, then hopefully she’ll just stumble around in the dark for the next eight hours or so.  Sheila planted a leg into Lloyd’s body, knocking him onto his chin and knees -- and sending her flying into a wall with the loudest swear he’d ever heard from a lady.  Oh dear.  She might end up hurting herself first -- if she hasn’t already.

Lloyd tried to keep inching across the ground -- but as he did, he spotted something under Sheila’s bed.  What in the…?  More bombs?  Just how many does one young woman need? 

“You…you…you did that on purpose, didn’t you?”

Lloyd caught a glimpse of Sheila standing up, rubbing her face with one hand and clutching the machete tighter than ever in the other.  “Y-you’re so mean, Lloyd.  All I wanna do is be your wife…why won’t you let me close to you?  WHY?!”  Her swipes resumed, each one packing enough force to chop a sequoia.  “What am I going to have to do to make you only think about me?”

I’m only thinking about you right now, Miss O’Leary!  He didn’t dare say it aloud, of course; he just kept wobble-crawling his way out of range, hoping for some miracle, or at least a sufficiently-thick wall between them.  But in his haste, he happened to catch a whiff of something before him.  What, he could immediately tell: the ice-cold remains of an omelet cooked with love.  And presumably, no shortage of sugar-coated asphalt.

Hmmm.  That’s quite the aroma, Lloyd thought.  He shifted his head to the right, and spewed a fountain of puke.

Ka-DANNY TREJO!

Sheila brought the machete down -- down against the steel chair.  The recoil of her attack sent her stumbling backwards, and with her weight -- her obvious, undeniable weight -- shifting her balance, she toppled over and banged her head against the far wall.

But at last, Lloyd had his miracle.  Sheila’s attack had struck more than just a steel chair; she’d slashed at the rope binding Lloyd’s wrists, and with a forceful tug he pulled them both free.  Huzzah!  That’s one of about eight dozen problems solved!

“Son of a bitch!  GET OVER HERE AND LOVE ME!”

Make that nine dozen.  At that point, Lloyd didn’t bother thinking anymore.  He just threw his hands forward and pulled out a bomb, and tugged the pin clean out.  Oh Ares, I beseech you; let this instrument of destruction and mayhem serve as the salvation I would very much like to have right about now as I --

“LOVE ME, DAMN IT!  LOVE MEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”

Aghrabadbadah!  One, two, three, four -- I want out, please!  Por favor!  And he chucked the bomb at Sheila’s window.

Ka-MILITARIZED POP ROCKS!

The blast bore its fruit.  Sheila went flying back into the far wall.  The window -- planks, nails, plaster, glass, and all -- practically vaporized, along with hefty chunks of the wall it once lived in.  The edges of it smoldered and smoked, along with the upper third of Sheila’s bed; it looked like someone had taken a bite out of her heart.

Not that Lloyd noticed.  Something about staring death in the face made him more than a little antsy -- more than enough to pull himself up the bed and tumble across it.  But he didn’t stop there.  Because with a few quick bounces and a final roll, he fell out of Sheila’s room and into the night.

With a chair still strapped to him.  And his ankles bound. And his shorts thoroughly saturated.

TO BE HEARTINUED…

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