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September 26, 2013

I Hraet You (94)

Beat 94: Consider Disconnections, Consider Connections

“More than friends,” Lloyd repeated.  “Oh.  You mean lovers, right?”

Sheila pulled away from Lloyd, as if his denseness had pried them apart.  “W-well, what else is there?” she asked.  She lowered her head and pressed her fingers together, her face reddening yet again.  “I mean…you know…if you want to…I-I-I wouldn’t mind.”  But she jerked her head back up, and held her hands out in defense.  “Oh, but only when you’re ready!  I don’t mind waiting -- we really should take things slowly, shouldn’t we?  I am pretty new at this, after all.”

“You want to be my lover, huh…?”  Lloyd folded his arms and stared absentmindedly at the sky.  For once in his life he went silent, with the only noise coming from him -- and indeed, the only noise in the plaza’s alley -- being the shuffling of feet across oil-splattered concrete.  And when he’d done that a few dozen times, he glanced to the east, mouth covered and gaze airy.

“Um, Lloyd?  Do you -- are you --?”  Sheila shuffled in turn, but not nearly as long.  “We can be more than friends, can’t we?”

Lloyd turned back to her.  “Why?”

For a moment Sheila looked about ready to collapse; Lloyd even reached out to her, but she stood up straight after a barely-evaded tumble to the ground.  “Why?  What kind of question is…?”  She shook her head clumsily.  “N-no, I’m sorry, you’re right, I shouldn’t have asked you point-blank like that.  I didn’t mean to put that kind of pressure on you.  Forget I said --”

“Don’t misunderstand me, Miss O’Lea- Sheila.”  Lloyd pressed a hand to his chin and looked downward, as if genuinely trying to solve some convoluted case.  “I’m just having a hard time understanding your…well, your everything, I suppose.”

“What’s there to understand?”

“To begin with, why me?  All things considered, I’m the least viable candidate for love that one could imagine.  I would think that you could -- and should -- do much better than trying to pine for my affection.  Granted you already have it in excess, but if it’s love you want, you’d do well to look elsewhere.”

The mere thought forced Sheila to recoil.  “You’re serious?  Who else is there?”

“Arjuna, for one.”  Lloyd counted off on his fingers.  “He’s intelligent, he’s reasonable, he’s likely to meet with success in his life far sooner than I will, he’s reliable, he’s skilled…really, the list goes on for quite a while, and that’s ignoring the fact that the two of you already have a connection.  I don’t think I would be able to live with myself if I refused to point you in his direction; he truly is a better match for you than I could ever be.”

“But you’re so nice, and brave!  And you’ve helped me out so much!”  She bit her lip.  “Am I…am I not good enough for you?”

“That’s a question I could ask you in turn.” 
Lloyd and Sheila’s eyes met.  As expected, Sheila kept up her usual look -- bashful, a bit red, and struggling to keep up her eye contact.  But unexpectedly, Lloyd met her nervousness point-for-point with calmness.  A steady gaze; a smooth face; a slight smile.  He had a peacefulness about him that might have been more unnerving than anything else.

“I would gladly accept you as my lover,” said Lloyd.  “But what makes you think I’m worthy of being yours?”

Sheila tried to stammer out a response, but couldn’t.  She could get her mouth to move, but not a single sound came from it; she just resorted to fidgeting, and let her eyes dart randomly through the alley. 

And Lloyd just kept staring at her.  He didn’t expect an answer, not with Sheila in her current state.  And sure enough, he didn’t get one.

“Um, aren’t we supposed to be on a date?” Sheila asked, finding the courage to look up at Lloyd -- and the energy to plaster a smile atop her face.  “We should keep going.  Th-there’s lots of fun to be had in this town!  Well, probably.  But anyway, let’s keep moving.  It’s such a nice day out, and I’m having a really good time with you so far!”

“Sheila --”

But Sheila broke into a quick skip before Lloyd could get out another word.  She moved past him, and -- when she saw she hadn’t moved in tandem -- she held out a hand.  “Come on.  I want my first date to be full of smiles.  So let’s just forget all the nasty stuff and keep on going, okay?”

Lloyd looked at Sheila’s hand, then her face, then her hand, and then finally her face.  “Hmmm.  Usually I’m the one that’s offering a hand,” he said with a smile.  “But I’m more than willing to try something new every once in the while.  If you would lead the way, I would gladly follow.  And of course, I’ll be certain to make your first date a remarkable one.”

Sheila nodded, and took hold of Lloyd’s arm -- and without another word, she dragged him out of the alley as fast as she could.

She’s quite the runner when she wants to be, Lloyd thought.  He stared at the sky once again.  It’s just a shame that there are some things you can’t run away from.

*

“That’s what you get for trying to run,” said JP.

Arjuna rubbed the back of his head furiously, his crunched-up face still damp with sweat and tears.  “How could you do this to me?  This is kidnapping!  This is a felony!  This is punishable by law!  What did I ever do to the two of you to deserve getting treated like this?”  He shook his head rapidly, sending his seaweed-style locks slapping against his face.  “Don’t tell me you’re out to ruin my record for perfect attendance!  Or worse yet, you want to make sure my GPA drops!  I’ll have you know that my scores are --”

Mrs. Overdose glanced at the backseat.  “So is every kid in this town insane, or…?”

JP shrugged and crammed his hands in his jacket pockets.  His grumbles ended up muted thanks to the rumble of Mrs. Overdose’s car, steering the three of them through the streets on the way to their destination.  But muted or not, nothing could keep JP from massaging his blooming headache out of existence -- and Arjuna’s wailing hadn’t helped matters.  “Be thankful I didn’t try to raid your wallet.”

“Oh, yeah, sure, I’m really thankful the only thing you did was try and give me a concussion!”  Arjuna poked at his head.  “I seriously need to see a doctor!  Somebody hold up some fingers!  Or ask me what my birthday is!  What did I have for breakfast eight years ago today?  Oh crap, I can’t even remember that!  My brain must be about to leak out of my ear!”

“Enough is enough.”  JP’s foot bumped against a slender duffle bag on the car floor.  “Or do you want me to give you another taste of --”

“No, no, no!  I’ll be good!  I’ll cooperate!  I’ll help you do whatever you want!  Just please, don’t hurt me!  I’ve got thin skin!”

“At least he’s makin’ it easy for us,” said Mrs. Overdose.  “Well, easy enough.”

JP nodded slowly, and turned back to Arjuna.  “You know, we wouldn’t have had to get so rough with you if you’d just cooperated in the first place.  Okay, sure, I don’t blame you for wanting to bail at the sound of my brother’s name, but when you give such a shaky response over the phone…well, it’s only natural for us to come investigate.”

“And by ‘investigate’ you mean ‘kidnap’, right?” Arjuna asked.

“You brought this on yourself.  How am I supposed to react when I see you trying to run for the hills?  Granted this little kidnapping thing was more the idea of grandma over here, but in all fairness it was a good idea.  Grab you, take you in, and give you a little heads-up on what’s going to go down.  And it didn’t even cost you a dime.  Be thankful.”

Arjuna slumped in his seat.  “I guess I’m just lucky you took me in later instead of earlier.  My free periods technically make me free to go after lunch -- but now my student council duties are going to suffer…”

“You’ve got worse things to be worrying about than the student council.”

“Such as?”

JP gave him a cold stare.  “Sixty percent of our core group is a mix of stupidity, insanity, and barely-contained bloodlust.  If we’re going to have a shot at keeping our normal lives -- or just our lives in general -- we’re going to need someone who’s smart.  Someone who’s in the know, and can help us out with whatever we ask for.  So from now on, we’re going to use you for information -- AND since I hear you’re some kind of genius inventor, you’re also going to start outfitting us with the tools we need.  Of course, keeping quiet about all this is probably in your best interests…you know, for obvious reasons.”

“You want me to be your servant?”

“We can use the word ‘outfitter’ if you like.”

“So basically, you want me to be your information broker and blacksmith -- and I’m guessing you want me on call for anything else you could ever want.  Just out of curiosity, you know that the stuff I make costs money to build, right?  I’m gonna need some kind of compensation if you want me to be your personal assistant.”

JP’s stare turned arctic.  “Grandma.  Can I borrow your gun for a second?”

“You know you’ll blow your arms right off your shoulders if you try that, right?”

“Worth it.  So totally worth it.”

Arjuna held up his hands.  “Okay, okay, I’ll do whatever you want!  Just don’t shoot me! I like my guts right where they are, thank you very much.”  He shook his head.  “I can’t believe I’m getting kidnapped and forced into slavery by a middle school kid and a…a…”  He tilted his head as he examined the front seat.  “For…fif…sixt…seven…an old lady?”

“Bit of advice, kid: if I have to pull over, you won’t be makin’ it back to school.”

Arjuna flopped against the back seat, and stared at the ceiling as a delirious smile crept across his face.  “Hitmen,” he muttered.  “I’m being kidnapped and employed by hitmen.  It’s like every deity in the universe hates me -- and I’m pretty sure that Hinduism has a good three hundred thirty million of them.  I probably should have converted a long time ago.”

“Hey.  Chatter time is over.  Informing time starts now.”  JP grimaced at Arjuna.  “Start talking.  Where were you during the big school brawl this past Monday?”

“I…wasn’t around, to be honest.  The principal sent me out on an errand, so I ended up missing it.  By the time I got back, I saw everyone rushing in to the auditorium.  Though why is beyond me.”

“That’s because there’s a masked man on the loose with mind control powers -- but as far as we know, his powers work best when his targets are indoors.  Same goes for his illusion powers, too.”

“Powers?  Are you serious?”

“I wish I wasn’t.  Hard to believe, I know, but the concept of normalcy seems to crumble more and more by the day.  But the important thing is that we have to figure out what this guy can do, what it has to do with this town, why these things are happening, and most of all, how we stop it.”  JP’s brow tightened.  “My brother’s got a power of his own, but right now I’m having a hard time believing that boosting someone’s self-esteem is going to stop a man who’s already shown how he can brainwash an entire school.  And on top of that, there’s still --”

“Powers, huh?”  Arjuna nodded, and hummed to himself.  “That’s…interesting.”

“That’s some nice word choice there,” said Mrs. Overdose.  “Got somethin’ on your mind?”

“Well, yes and no.  I mean, it’d just be too big of a coincidence, all things considered.  It’d be too easy.  To silly.  Too unreal.  But if there really is evidence…”

“Evidence of what?” JP asked.

“Maybe evidence of everything you need.  Because the way things are looking now, that masked man isn’t the problem here.  Porbeagle is.”

TO BE HEARTINUED…

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