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September 30, 2013

I Hraet You (96)

Beat 96: The Capper

With its shift on the wane, the sun began its usual commute into Porbeagle’s horizon.  The day’s heat subsided bit by bit, but the hint of salt in the air still wafted regularly past the townsfolk.  As always, the sky welcomed and displayed streaks of gold and orange, with the sun’s rays peeking through thick, slate-hued clouds.  The town might have known no shortage of frenzy -- in the past, present, or future -- but as it citizens shuffled off for their homes, a sense of tranquility pervaded throughout.

Lloyd smiled.  He was exactly where he wanted to be -- outside a supermarket holding a girl’s hair as she puked repeatedly into a trash can.

“MRFRAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!” Sheila’s body quivered and buckled for the thirty-second time that day, and the splatter of liquefied lunches echoed out of the can.  When she finished, she pushed herself up from the rim and gasped for air.  “Okay…okay…I think that’s the last of it.”

“You’re sure this time?” Lloyd asked.

Sheila stood a few inches higher and sniffled.  “…Nope.  Still more.” 

Her ear wiggled, but Deirdre didn’t get the chance to say a word; she just bent back down and fired off another sickening salvo.  “MRFRAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!”

“Is that the last of it?” Lloyd asked.

Deirdre stood up slowly.  “Yeah.  Yeah.  Yeah, I think…I think that’s it.”  She stepped away from Lloyd and patted a hand against her stomach.  “So I guess I learned something new today: I REALLY hate puking.”

“I suspect there’s not a man alive that does.”  Lloyd stroked his cheek and laughed.  “Though I suppose you’re rather fortunate in that regard; as far as I know, not many people can switch back and forth between personas to alleviate the stress.  That’s a blessing in its own right, yes?”

“I guess.”

Her ear wiggled.  “That’s not the only lesson you learned, right?” Sheila asked.  “Just because there are free samples doesn’t mean you have to eat everything in sight.  And you REALLY shouldn’t start pigging out on everything in arm’s reach just because it’s there.”

“She has a point,” said Lloyd.  “Moderation is a virtue.”

Her ear wiggled once more, and Deirdre crossed her arms in a huff.  “You two don’t have to treat me like some kind of child.  I’m a grown woman, in case you haven’t noticed.”

“Not to get chained down by semantics, but aren’t you technically only eight at the most?  And again, given that I’m seventeen and you’re sixteen, aren’t I the senior in this case?  And in more ways than one.”

Deirdre waved a hand through the air (doing her best to ignore the gastric debris on her face).  “You may technically be older, but you still compose yourself like a boy.  Whereas I, in every sense of the word, am a woman.  Consider that a free and valuable lesson from yours truly.”

Lloyd pointed at her head.  “Your hair is starting to get a bit frizzy.”

That cut Deirdre’s gloating short.  She felt around her crown and ears -- and sure enough, her locks had grown unruly, and ready to strangle the next passerby.  “Damn, it’s even worse than I thought,” she growled, all too aware of the juices clinging to the lower half of her hairdo.  She tuned quickly to Lloyd.  “You got the thing I asked for, right?”

Lloyd held up a plastic bag, and Deirdre seized it at light speed.  “Aha!  This should do the trick!”  She pulled a pair of scissors out of the bag, and went to work furiously; her hands became a blur of flesh and steel, with clouds of hair doing their best to head south for the winter.  When she finished cutting, she dropped the scissors and ran her hands over her head at the same speed; for a moment Lloyd thought she might catch fire.

“Almost…almost…a little more, and…done!”  Deirdre gave herself a good look in the nearby window, and then glided toward Lloyd with a sinuous sashay.  “Well?  What do you think?”

Lloyd stroked his chin.  Deirdre hadn’t just taken a little off the top; she’d cut off the majority of it, leaving her with a hairdo barely longer than his.  She’d arranged it into an almost boyish form -- unruly, but with a certain order in the now-wavy locks.  “It’s a good look for you,” he said with a smile.  “Granted I’m not the sort of person who’s too keen on hairstyles, but for what it’s worth I like it.  And I’m impressed you could make it look so professional so quickly.”

“Well, that’s what happens when I don’t have any interference.”  She brushed at a few bangs.  “This style should work wonders for bringing on the boys.  Not only does it look good -- and makes us look better -- but it’s got some nice little benefits.  They say short hair makes women look taller, for one.”

Her ear wiggled.  “Th-then why did you cut it so short?” Sheila asked.  “We’re already five ten; think of how awkward things are gonna get!”

“Easy there, girl.  Consider it a bonus -- now that our face isn’t as much of a train wreck, you can bet there’ll be more guys that’ll look at your face.  Of course, I guess that depends on how low-cut of a top we end up wearing when we’re out and about.”

“Don’t make me buy a whole bunch of turtlenecks from now on!”

“Just try it!  I’ll slice and dice them into tanktops and bikinis!”

“Being a woman must truly be arduous,” Lloyd said to himself.  He held up a hand.  “Sheila.  Deirdre.  It’s getting late.  Shall we be going?”

Deirdre cut the argument short and stared blankly at Lloyd.  “What, you wanna go home?  But we can’t go back.  Jane kicked us out.”

“Well, that’s true, but I’d like to think that in the time since she’s cooled down enough to listen to reason.  Perhaps now the two…er, three of you can work things out.”  He rubbed the back of his head and smiled sheepishly.  “Or barring that, you could just sneak into your room and spend the night.  There IS a rather large hole in the wall, as I recall.”

“And what if she catches me sneaking back in?  What if she’s waiting there for me?”

“Hmmm.”  Lloyd clapped his hands.  “Ah, I know.  You can stay with me.”

“Is that okay with your family?”

“Considering that I’m already playing host to a southern belle and a bounty hunter, I don’t see why my father would have any problems.  But let’s just see what happens when we try the O’Leary house first, shall we?”

Deirdre chuckled.  “What, you want to see us fight again?  Well, I’m sure we can handle whatever the old lady throws our way.”  She strode past Lloyd, hands clasped coquettishly behind her back.  “So, let’s get moving.  I’ll gladly put on a show if I have to…or hell, maybe even if I don’t.”

“I’d prefer avoiding another fight if at all possible.”  Lloyd started after her, nodding to himself.  But a few steps quickly put him past Deirdre -- mostly because she’d come to a halt.  “Is something wrong, ma’am?”

Deirdre stared calmly at Lloyd.  “Slowly.”

“Beg your pardon?”

“Let’s go slowly.  I mean, come on.  There’s no rush to go back, right?  So let’s take our sweet time -- you know, do a little sightseeing.  Shoot the breeze.  Just…”


Deidre shook her head, but kept a smile on nonetheless.  “I gotta say, this whole ‘living in the real world’ thing is pretty fun.  Well, I could do without the puking and that burning nasal spray, but it’s been fun so far.  Although…maybe…”  She shrugged.  “Who knows?  Maybe I’m having so much fun because I’m not alone.”

“But you can never be alone, can you?  Sheila’s always going to be inside you.”

“Heh.  Just as I thought, you completely missed the point.  That’s why I’m a woman, and you’re just a boy.”  She sighed and threw up her hands.  “Anyway, let’s get a move on.  But like I said, let’s take it slow, all right?  The night hasn’t even gotten started yet.”  And once more, she started off -- but she moved at a pace that would make the average turtle laugh. 

“I suppose you’re right.  We have plenty of time, don’t we?”  For a moment Lloyd thought about correcting her -- about telling her that she’d been wrong about a certain point -- but he decided against it.  He was having plenty of fun, too.  And with a smile sliding across his face, he followed Deirdre.



“...So you see, that’s exactly the point when the quality of The Cuddle Czars started to drop -- because the relationship between the two creators got so strained that everything to come out of it was just an attempt at one-upmanship.”

Lloyd could only nod and follow behind Sheila.  He would have thought that with her rapid-fire speech she would have lost focus and stranded them in the night, but if anything she seemed more certain and confident than ever.  Just listening left him winded -- but clearly, Sheila had enough lung capacity for the both of them.

“There’s no doubt that The Fuzzmeisters has kept its quality high, even after all these years,” said Sheila, talking to the stars more than Lloyd.  “But you know what?  If you ask me, I think The Cuddle Czars could get a lot better if it just moved to a half-hour format.  It seems like every time they air an episode, they prove that they just don’t have the material to fill up an hour, so everything just comes off as padding.  Then again, a change of staff might help, too; Agata has been doing a pretty good job, but they REALLY need to drop Stark.  The only thing he’s been adding over the past half-decade is…”

Sheila glanced over her shoulder -- and saw Lloyd using a telephone post as an impromptu third leg.  “Lloyd?!  A-are you all right?”

Lloyd looked up at her and jerked out a nod.  “Fine, fine.  Just a bit exhausted is all.”  He managed a smile.  “Pardon my weak constitution.  It seems that it’ll be a while yet before I recover from our basketball game earlier.”

“Oh, right.  You were really doing your best out there, weren’t you?  You got all sweaty and tired, and…well, at least you tried to score a point.”

“Contests of skill -- or more specifically, getting balls to go in nets -- are not my forte,” said Lloyd.  Of course, he could have easily mentioned that playing with Sheila had left him more than a little distracted, but he decided against it.  “You beat me fair and square.  A simple task, admittedly, but even so you showed a surprising level of physical prowess.”

“I-it wasn’t that surprising.”  Sheila turned aside and pressed her fingers together.  “It’s just that I look a lot better at sports compared to you.  I mean, aren’t boys supposed to be good at that kind of thing?  If you’re not, then you’re the type of person that always gets picked last for teams, aren’t you?”

I don’t know what’s sadder -- that she’s insulting me, or that she’s absolutely right, Lloyd thought as he fought back tears.  But suddenly, a new thought leapt into his head.  “Ah.  That reminds me, Sheila.  There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you.”

“What is it?”

“How did you know who I was?  Or more specifically, why did I become the object of your desire?  Not to be rude, but I would think that I would have a stronger memory of you if we’d met in the past.”

“Oh, that…”  Sheila started walking once more, and Lloyd followed behind as they rounded a corner.  “It’s kinda silly, but…do you remember Valentine’s Day?  The one earlier this year?”

“How could I forget?  That’s when I make sure I give everyone in the school Valentine’s treats.  Cards, candy, the occasional impromptu sonnet amidst a collection of my peers -- it’s practically tradition.”  His eyebrows shot up.  “Ah, so you actually responded to my gift?  From what I can gather, most people throw my gifts away.”

“Throw your gifts awa…”  Sheila shook her head quickly.  “A-anyway, that’s right.  You were nice to me -- even if it wasn’t in person -- and that really meant a lot to me.  And, you know, one thing led to another, and…”

“And that act of kindness -- along with my purported handsomeness -- led to me becoming someone you wanted to bear your children?”

Sheila hung her head.  “Wow.  When you say it out loud, it sounds really stupid.”

“True enough.”

“You’re not supposed to agree with me!”

Lloyd dashed in front of her, and took a step backward for every step she took forward.  “But if not for me going through such lengths for you these past few days, I would be expendable, wouldn’t I?  Someone you could replace on a whim, or someone to be traded for a truly dashing fellow?  Even beyond that, can you honestly say that my kindness hasn’t been delivered to you beforehand?  Or could be surpassed by someone far greater than I could ever be?”

Sheila refused to meet Lloyd’s gaze.  “Are you…are you mad because you’re not the first guy I’ve gone after?”

But Lloyd shook his head.  “If anything, I’m impressed.  I can’t say your aims were exactly noble, or even remotely wise -- but if nothing else, it shows a level of passion embedded in your being.  If you could repurpose it, who knows what you could accomplish?  You’ve certainly shown off more than a few sides of yourself today, along with some true knowledge and skill.”

“Lloyd…”  Sheila giggled softly.  “You’re still trying to help me out, aren’t you?”

“Why would I ever stop?”

Sheila came to a halt, and Lloyd followed suit.  “There’s my house,” she said, pointing to the perimeter of the cul-de-sac.  “I guess that means the date is over.”

“Seems that way.” 

Sheila nodded, and started for her room -- but she stopped cold a half-second later.  “Lloyd.  Someday…someday, I’m going to be -- I WANT to be a person that doesn’t need your help every second of the day.  I don’t know what I’m going to do, or how I’ll do it, but I -- I’m gonna do my best from now on.  So…thank you.  For this date.  For this day.  For everything you’ve done…thank you so much.”

Lloyd scratched at his temple.  “Funny.  It’s not very often that I receive anything resembling praise or thanks.  I’m not exactly sure how one responds to it.”  But he shook his head, and smiled warmly at Sheila.  “So allow me to say thank you in turn.  Thank you for tolerating me and my silliness.  But make no mistake: I’ll be there for you whenever, wherever, and however you need me.”

“Okay.”  Sheila’s eyes began to brighten, and an excited smile crept across her face.  “Th-then can we…can we go out again tomorrow?  You know -- just to hang out?  We had so much fun today, a-a-and it’s not like I’ve got anything else planned.”

“I seem to have taken on the role of the town guardian -- frightening as that may be -- but it’s more than likely that I’ll be able to leave room in my schedule for you.”

“Town guardian…”  Sheila pumped her fists.  “Then can I help too?  I mean, I don’t know what I can do, but…if it’ll help you out -- and help me out -- then I wanna at least give it a shot.  Th-that is, if you’ll let me.”

“Let you?  Sheila, my dear, I would gladly welcome you aboard!”  Lloyd held out a hand and started beaming.  “There’s more than enough room for you in my harem!”

Sheila looked down at Lloyd’s hand, her confusion as clear as the street lamps humming in the background.  But after a moment’s hesitation, she nodded to herself, and seized his hand in hers.  “Then I’ll…I’ll do it!” she declared, turning Lloyd about as she headed for her house.  “Just you wait, Lloyd.  Starting tomorrow, I’m gonna be the one to help you!”

She let go of his hand and ran for her house.  But before she could even set foot on her lawn, she stopped.  She turned around, and ran back to Lloyd -- and she threw her arms around him, seizing him in a tight hug.

“Sheila?”  Lloyd asked, his arms frozen in the air.  “What are you --?”

Sheila met his gaze -- and gave him the warmest, brightest smile she could muster.  “Thank you, Lloyd.  Thank you for giving me a tomorrow.”  And before Lloyd could say a word -- before he could register her intent or her warmth -- she darted off at top speed, and disappeared inside her room.

“Sheila…”  For a minute, Lloyd thought he might fall to his knees right then and there.  A wave of exhaustion had slammed into him, and for seconds at a time he’d nearly forgotten how to breathe.  But he stayed on his feet.  For how long, he couldn’t be sure.  He just stood there, staring at the house, trying, and failing, and trying, and failing, to process just what had happened.  What those words meant.  What he had done.

As it turned out, he couldn’t.  He couldn’t think of a single way to sort those thoughts, or categorize them, or understand even a quarter of their meaning.  He just knew one thing.

Those words had made him happier than he’d been in years.  And for the moment, that was enough.

Lloyd laughed to himself.  Well.  Looks like I finally managed to do something right.  If ever I needed proof that what I’m doing has an effect, I’ve got it in excess now.  He smiled wistfully.  I’ll see you tomorrow, Sheila.  I’m looking forward to it.

And then the house exploded.


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