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Book 1 – Chapter 4 – Still Receive Your Kiss – Part 2

I hadn’t been to a gamers’ night in a year, since Della didn’t jell with the people on the one night I brought her. Kristen invites a weird mix over, including the boys and girls she’s trying to sleep with. She was good at spotting people who stayed cool even when the alcohol came out. Fortunately, Simon never drank. That’s why he brought the car. Boys are good that way.

My back had a serious crick by the time Simon parked across from the house. Whenever people sit, if we sit comfortably, we leave a little space between our butt and the seat. I had to slouch to accommodate the bending radius of my tail. I never hurt, but I had to choose which chair I’d sit on.

I stretched back to pop my spine into shape when I left the car. “Prepping for Dance Dance Revolution?” Simon said.

“No,” I said. “Cars are just shaped for humans.”

“I’m putting that quote on-line,” Trisha said, falling for my bait.

Kristen lived in a converted farmhouse where the lip of the front door stuck out too far. Her hair was tied in a Japanese bun, and her new set of frames, thick enough to be bulletproof, made her geekier than ever. We hugged her and waved to Heidi and Bess in the living room. The two of them nuzzled in the sleepy-kitten way old dykes do. Heidi played Super Smash Brothers with a boy I didn’t recognize, while Bess led a round of “Jabberwocky” to the tune of “Greensleeves.” We all said hi while watching the game. Heidi had taken the least damage and rocked out with Princess Peach. The new boy had chosen Fox McCloud, so he must have been all right.

The dining room was packed with the card games, with a long table in the center and TV trays around the walls. At the far end a girl covered half her face, which was beet red. She had a hand of Chrononauts cards, and the other players were comforting her. I hurried over to see if I could help. Simon delivered our soda to the kitchen.

“On the radio, you know the program,” the girl spat. “This guy called in, a cargo pilot, and he had only been to high school. He said the problem with college is that he couldn’t find a college graduate who would work nights, or make other compromises on the job. And I got to thinking, I don’t want to work nights if I can help it. Maybe he has something?”

“I work nights,” one guy said. “Everyone in I.T. does.”

“A lot of that’s macho pride,” another guy said while massaging her hand. “Maybe he feels about his job the way you do about your pottery. Except his happens to pay the bills.”

“You heard about that study that showed hardship doesn’t build character?” another girl said near her. “It makes you more gullible. You’re more likely to believe that everything is your fault. People who grow up in stress-free homes are more rational and see things as they are. I wouldn’t worry about your job, okay?”

The troubled girl picked up her cards and cooled herself off. It was sweet. Della would have just hugged me and taken me dancing.

I filled a bowl of corn chips and joined a game of Star Munchkin at the other end of the table. I picked a chair with slats in the back. Tails weren’t uncommon at these parties.

My new gang wasn’t all business, fortunately. An upbeat guy from a local videogame studio asked the red-headed girl next to me where she’d been the other night. She said she had been out consoling a friend who had been dumped. I’d seen this other blonde girl as a model for a chainmail dealer, and she began rattling off three names of other breakups she’d heard about last week. It was a contagion. Maybe it’s the snow that drives us crazy, and we all snap at once.

The red-headed girl jerked towards me. “Did your tail just move?” she said.

Yes. Yes it did.

If I was smarter, I would have kept my tail under wraps until I needed a diversion. Perhaps before another player tried to chuck a monster at me. Instead, I slid out of the chair and twirled. They all leapt up for a closer look. Kristin spotted me and ran into the living room. “Heidi! Guys! You’ve got to see this!” When a geek raises her voice in excitement, it’s the warning call of a prairie dog – everybody comes running.

I didn’t mind milking my honeymoon period with my tail. I answered questions as delicately as I could while I let people touch. Yes, it was from a friend. No, you may not try it on. No, I don’t know where you can get one. It lifted itself up, proud of the attention.

Trisha peeked at her neighbor’s cards while he was away. Simon was the last to come from the living room since it had been emptied out.

In the midst of this the doorbell chimed, and Kristen ran off to answer it.

The new harness didn’t bite as the ropes had, so I could focus on my tail. I was pretty amazed that I could raise it a few inches by thinking about it. Bess broke through the crowd to help me concentrate. She put her big hands on my shoulders and dug into my muscles. She had me inhale deep. She said to empty my body and fill it with helium. I wanted to, but I noticed Heidi turn and say, “Spiderweb. Hello. I haven’t seen you in forever.”

Elory hovered in the doorway, with two boxes of pies in one arm and a plastic bag with ice cream on the other. Heidi had stiffened, cordial but surprised.

Elory seemed on edge. “Hello to you, too,” she said.

Kristen sent her to the kitchen with a comment about keeping the ice cream from melting. I don’t think anyone else noticed. My tail went straight up when I saw her and a few gamers had to clear out of its way.

I returned to breathing, and Bess congratulated me. The pie attracted the gamers near the kitchen, and the group dissolved to their games. My group debated whose turn we had stopped at. Three people, including the red-headed girl, swore it was mine.

Elory appeared near me in an empty seat. She had turned it around with her head leaning over the back. She returned a smile when I waved to her. Our deckmaster started to deal her in, but she said, “I’m just watching, thanks. There’s still pie in the kitchen if anyone wants it.”

“Excuse me, everyone,” I said. “This is Elory. She made my tail’s harness.”

We went around with introductions, and Trisha was sure to compliment her on her design skills. “Honestly, I didn’t know how to improve on Cheryl’s ropes,” she said. Elory nodded with grace and focused on our character, weapon and armor cards.

Immediately after, I realized I hadn’t asked Elory if she wanted to be called “Spiderweb.” Some people do. Sometimes their chosen name fits better than their birth name. Most of the time it doesn’t, but I won’t throw stones. Frankly, I didn’t see Elory as a “Spiderweb.” It was odd that she and Heidi hadn’t spoken since she had come in.

Elory dipped into the peanut bowl and popped nuts until my group had killed each other off. Trisha and I started a round of “Give Me The Brain” while Elory joined a game of “Before I Kill You, Mr. Bond.” In a few minutes, though, she had everyone’s names memorized, and was getting laughter from her impression of Honor Blackman’s sultry voice, adding a long pause between “Pussy” and “Galore.”

Heidi clearly wasn’t comfortable with Elory’s presence, and almost pressed herself against the wall to avoid Elory on the way to the bathroom. Elory made a pie run with Kristen after she heard the toilet flush.

My group switched to a round of Lunch Money by trading our game with another foursome. Elory’s team finished up a few minutes after us. I heard her ask, “Is this the usual selection? Does anyone come with their own games?”

“I’m not through testing mine yet,” one cute guy said.

“Yeah,” another chimed in, “it needs a lot of work.”

The model girl leaned in. “Did you have something in mind?”

Elory glanced over at the games on the end table. “I didn’t bring anything,” she said, and reached for a regular deck of cards. “Ever heard of ‘Sneaky River’?”

“No,” the first guy said. “Is that some type of poker?”

“Nope, blackjack,” Elory said. “It’s Texas Two-Card Hold ‘Em, except the players are all dealers. The dealer gets only two cards, and players pair up to make their own Rivers. Each member of the pair gets four cards, but you can’t show them to your partner. You need to figure out a signal beforehand – rapping the table, wiggling your eyes or Pig Latin. The limit is 31, so you have some room to play around in. The pair that builds a River close enough with the dealer’s cards wins. It goes by fast, half a minute to a round. Suits won’t count the first round.”

“Does it involve alcohol?” another guy asked.

“It can,” Elory said, and he shot up for the kitchen.

Our game was going nowhere, so we turned our chairs slightly to the right to join their group. I teamed with Trisha, of course, and swapped my seat with the guy across from her.

Elory shot off cards around the table. “We can start after you’ve decided on a code with your partner,” she said. “We’ll do one card per team face up until someone goes bust.”

I ducked under the table as the other players jammed the table ends to get to their partners. I peeked out next to Trisha. “Any ideas?” she said.

I didn’t have a clue. “I’ll flash my lowest card on both my hands,” I said, “except the scale of one to ten will really mean ten to one. So if I have a four, I’ll show you seven. Or for a five, I’ll show you a five.”

“Okay,” Trisha rippled her cards, and I backed out to my seat. It didn’t click until later that I could have seen her cards.

Elory slapped down a seven and a facedown card. My lowest was a five, and I flashed it on one palm. Trisha stuck up eight fingers, so I pointed to her, shotgun style.

The other three teams thumped and sang their cues aloud. The girl beside me shook her body to the tune of Kanye West’s “Gold Digger”, crooning, “I ain’t sayin’ that she’s got a two. But it could be she has a four.” Her partner lost most of her melody, but I think she was attempting the chorus of “Hot Stuff.”

The drinking guys tapped a rhythm on the oak table which fit somewhere between a merengue and a marching band. They left a long silence between a single whump, followed by two repetitions of eleven. I would have bet money that one had a six and the other had an ace.

The last pair waved their arms across their chests while whistling “Bridge Over the River Kwai.”

Of everyone at the table, Elory had the best poker face. She was collected, with a wistfulness that took everyone in at once. She barely registered a piece of hair which fell over her forehead before she swept it away. “First cards down,” she said.

Trisha dropped her three, along the other teams’ six, ace and four. She made a sour face at the rest of her hand.

“Next ones,” Elory said, and I lay my five beside Trisha’s.

The next round was so raucous, Kristen came in to ask us to keep it down. In the middle of this chaos, Elory was loving every minute of it; in on every joke, but none of them satisfied her. She gathered the cards when we were done. I couldn’t imagine how she would play with a partner.

Simon tempted me with some Super Smash in the living room, and Trisha declined to come. “I’ve had enough TV this week,” she said. However, she inched her chair beside the cuter of the two Duet girls. Trisha typically had a bad track record for making the first move. The minute I thought about touching a girl in the same room, I was struck dumb, in all senses of that word.

I nestled myself on the floor against Simon’s pant leg, cheering him on against Heidi, with his Pikachu against her Donkey Kong, when Kristen announced she needed help for a beer run. I said I’d go. Simon volunteered, but she said only two people would be quicker. She wanted us pleasantly drunk, not a danger to her paintings and furniture.

If Elory’s car was spacious and Simon’s was cramped, Kristen’s was the size of an economy flight, great until I’d settled in. She slid a Scottish CD into the stereo and we had a merrie olde adventure to the liquor store.

“Are you enjoying the party?” she said. “You’ve been pretty quiet. Did all the fawning people upset you?”

The fawning never disturbed me. It’s the drop afterwards. “No, I’m used to it,” I said. “I have a lot going on.”

“Are you still together with that girl Darla?” she said.

“That’s Della.”

“Omigod, I’m sorry.”

“And no.”

She caught herself, and pulled us around a turn too fast for my stomach, with both hands on the wheel. “Can I get you something at the store?” she said. “Smirnoff? Beck’s?”

“No thanks. I’m being good,” I said.

The music changed to a very depressing ballad, almost the soul of a guilt trip set to pipes. I had to interrupt it. “Did you see how Heidi was looking at Elory?” I said. “Seriously, do you know what’s up with them?”

“I have no idea,” she said. “Heidi hasn’t mentioned anything to me. They’ve stayed separate, so it’s their business. She was asking about you in the kitchen; Elory was.”

My phantom ears perked up. “What about?”

“I really shouldn’t say anything.”

I held up three fingers. “Scout’s honor, it stays in the car.”

She scrunched her nose. “She asked me if you were in any Pagan groups.”

“And you told her?”

“I didn’t know. Probably not. I’ve never seen you at the Unitarian services.”

“But you’ve seen her, right? At church?”

“Not in a long time. I don’t know if she ever was at service, but she did attend some fellowship events five, maybe six years ago. How do you know each other?”

I patted my waist. “She sold me the harness for my tail.”

Kristen slapped the steering wheel. “That’s right, I heard you mention it before. I knew it! I’d seen her at Man-Ray and the Black Bonds club when it was still open. She had a big white tail then. She draped it on people, whoever she was with.”

“Did you know any of them?”

“No, if they weren’t going to Simmons College, I didn’t know anybody. Isn’t that wild? A blast from the past. So why does she want to know about you?”

“She thinks I’m some kind of mystic hoobly-joobly because weird things are attracted to me.”

“Like Della?”

I threw myself against the headrest. “Oh, God, don’t tell her about Della. She’ll start asking Della about me.”

“Is Elory stalking you?”

“I guess.”

“Well, I won’t invite her back, especially if Heidi has a problem with her.”

Categories: Book 1 - How Cheryl Got Her Tail, Chapter 4 - Still Receive Your Kiss.

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