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Slime Story: Saying Yes

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This is the first chapter of the Slime Story novel I'm doing for NaNoWriMo. As such, it is very much a rough draft. It takes place a few months after Graduation. I was originally planning to write a short story about Doug having a crush on Kelly, a girl who works at the local Monster Mart, and it wound up being a launching point for the novel. For the record, Kelly isn't based on anyone in particular, though she gets some fashion tips from queenofdorks and porku.

Chapter 1: Saying Yes
It had been a good run, and Doug came back to the mall weighed down by a backpack full of monster parts. It wasn’t hard to spot the other monster hunters. Most of them carried weapons, wore utility belts and such for holding potions and other supplies, and smelled faintly of slime and smoke. It was one of those things that you either got or you didn’t, and before long you could spot other monster geeks from a mile away.

Aside from its convenient location, monster hunters came to this mall because it had the only Monster Mart in the area, and that’s where Doug was headed. His jeans and T-shirt were grimy, though he’d had much worse. As he came around the corner, his heart started beating faster.

Was she there today? Was Kelly working today? The person behind the counter was definitely female. Jessica maybe? But Jessica had black hair.

Kelly was talking to a customer. It was her. It was her. Doug’s heart kicked into a higher gear, which sent so much blood coursing through his body that his legs started to feel weak. Did that even make sense? The important this was, he was worried he’d trip over his own feet before he even got into the store. Of course, then she might help him up, but then she might think he was an uncoordinated dork.

He had spent most of the summer monster hunting with Rita, the cutest and most popular hunter in the whole of Los Banos, and with many online fans too. (He’d never told her about the hate mail he’d received on occasion). But, that was different. She was a friend, and the first time he’d really talked to her, it was about how she was graduating and moving away in the Fall. Kelly was very different.

Kelly did not have Rita’s dress sense for one thing. On the very rare occasions when he’d seen her out of a Monster Mart polo shirt, she dressed like a lazy guy. Jeans (or occasionally overalls) and a T-shirt, often with boots. And her hair was wavy and an unremarkable brown color, and usually at least a little unkempt. But she was one of those girls who looked kind of plain, but when she smiled it just lit up her face. And she smiled a lot. Plus, even when she was forced to wear the standard Monster Mart employee garb, she would wear little handmade earrings in the shapes of different monsters she liked, or tie a ribbon around her neck, or put different colored clips in her hair.

She smiled at him when he came in. He smiled back. She was wearing her “squishy family” earrings today. Each ear had four miniature slime creatures rendered in sculpey hanging from tiny chains.

“Hi there,” she said.

“Uh, hi.” He set his bag on the counter, opened it up, and started pulling out plastic bags with monster parts in them.

Kelly looked over his haul and started getting the store’s little plastic boxes ready. “Looks like you had a good run today.”

“P-Pretty good,” he managed. He was supposed to say something more here, he was sure of it, but instead a yawning chasm of silence sprung up between them.

“Okay... Two stumpy leaves, three slime cores, a hog-tail, and... oh, wow. A salamander crystal.” She put each item into a separate container. The last had to go in a special padded box. “You’re trading everything in?”

He nodded. “Yeah.”

She worked the register, humming to herself. He wondered what song it was. Maybe he could talk to her about music. Would she be sick of hearing about monster hunting? Or would she want to hear everything she could about it?

“Okay, That gets you $155 in store credit. Do you need anything while you’re here?”

“Um... No. Uh... Oh, wait. I’d better pick up another healing potion.”

She rang up the healing potion, and put it into a little Monster Mart bag with the receipt inside, and handed him a store credit card.

Once Doug was around the corner and out of Kelly’s view, he went up to a wall, and started banging his head against it. It didn’t really help. He headed home, defeated.

It was about a mile walk back to his house. Just the the hiking involved getting between the wilderness, Monster Mart, and his house kept him fit when otherwise he’d be content to sit at home and play video games, but it also gave him time to think. He thought about Kelly. He thought about her smile.

But what did he know about her? Did she even like monster hunting? Granted, she worked at Monster Mart, but that also meant she wouldn’t have much time to actually go hunting. Jessica actively disliked monster hunters, but worked there because it paid well. Kelly had her handmade earrings (did she make those herself or order them from somewhere?), so she must like monsters somewhat... But if she really liked monsters, why work in a place where people were bringing in bits of dead ones every day? And if she didn’t like monster hunting... Doug was a total monster geek. He knew it, and it was pointless to deny it. He had a Nike Cortana on his belt. He had a bookshelf full of books on monster hunting, including a signed copy of the current Monster Encyclopedia that he’d bought at MonsterCon. He had a hard time holding a proper conversation about other topics. Talking to Rita about the best strategies for killing salamanders was one thing, but if Kelly wanted to talk about music or poetry or something he’d be useless.

*

Doug scarcely even noticed that he went to school. His brain kept recycling the same thoughts over and over, with only small variations each time. He went from class to class barely even looking up from his feet. He knew his way around the school as much in his soles as his brain.

He had his usual lunch, which is to say a small pile of junk food from the vending machines. Jose sat across from him on one of the colored picnic tables, and took a big bite out of his tuna fish sandwich.

“Hey. What’re you all spaced out for?”

Without really thinking, Doug stiffly opened his soda and replied, “Nothing.”

Jose carefully set the sandwich down, grabbed the soda out of his hand, and took a sip. “That was for lying to me. What’s got you so messed up?”

Sometimes Doug wasn’t sure why they were friends, or even if they were friends. It seemed to be something Jose had decided on his own.

Doug stood up, bought another soda (Cherry Coke, because he knew Jose hated it), and sat down again. He took a deep breath. “Have you seen Kelly, that girl who works at Monster Mart?”

Jose nodded sagely. “Okay. I get it now.”

“I just... For some reason I can’t get myself to say stuff when I see her. Yesterday I was there, she was working by herself, and the store was empty otherwise. But I didn’t say a damn thing.”

“So? It’s not the end of the world.”

“Do you have to talk in clichés?” Doug opened his new soda and took a sip.

“The reason people use clichés is because they keep living them. You’re doing Boy Meets Girl. Yeah, that’s original. Can you tell I’m being sarcastic?”

“It’s not a cliché when it’s happening to you.”

“Yes it is. It’s just that it doesn’t feel like it from the inside. But seriously, just go talk to her.”

“You make it sound so easy.”

“Do you realize how absurd this sounds? Our local dragonslayer is afraid to talk to a girl.”

Doug turned red and couldn’t form any words.

“Of course, the worst the dragon could’ve done was kill you. Kelly on the other hand could do something much scarier.”

“Yeah, yeah, she could say no.”

“Or she could say yes.” Jose paused to take a sip. “Oh, and the phrase ‘It’s not a cliche when it happens to you’? That’s a cliche right there. It’s like, a recursive cliche. Or maybe a cliche paradox.”

Doug sighed. “Okay, I get the point.”

“Which one?”

“I’m not sure anymore.”

“Good. Doing anything on Friday afternoon?”

“I was thinking of going hunting, probably the Eastern Flat.” That’s what they called the big area of flat, dry ground to the east of Los Banos. There were lots of monsters, and no real risk of getting chased off by farm workers.

“Right on. I’m coming with.”

*

On Friday they stopped off at Jose’s place and then Doug’s, and then went hunting. Jose was a casual hunter, and he preferred to use an aluminum baseball bat, which he contended was “just as good.” Doug had given up on trying to educate him. Instead they just went at it, and talked about Monster Squad and My Life as a Teenage Monster Hunter, and ranted about how the networks were putting together these shows based on third-hand reports. Of course, anything was better than that crap TV movie The Day of the Gates. And there was the monster hunter episode of Law & Order, to say nothing of the whole salamander crystal thing in 24.

They had been fighting a Jupiter Flytrap—Doug had managed to cut off most of its vines, so became a matter of bashing it until it was dead—when Jose announced that they should call it a day.

“And now,” he said, “to Monster Mart.”

“It’s barely six o’clock though.”

“That means you’re running late. If you want to talk to Kelly. Which you do.”

Doug didn’t share Jose’s confidence. About a lot of things. But they packed up, got on their bikes, and headed to the mall, stopping to fight a zapcat they stumbled across along the way. The mall, or what they called a mall, was more like a collection of rectangular buildings with an obligatory parking lot. When they got inside, Jose handed his accumulated parts to Doug and headed for the food court.

Doug struggled to keep from dropping the dozen or so ziploc bags. “Where are you going?”

“*I* am going to get a corn dog. You’re going somewhere I can’t follow.”

“I’m going to Monster Mart.” Jose had been there dozens of times before.

“You’re going to the Magical Land of Kelly, and that is a journey you must undertake alone.”

Arguing with Jose was generally futile, especially when he went all Elrond. “Alright, I’m going.”

“Just remember: She’s a person, not unlike yourself. Talk to her already.”

Doug plodded through the mall, his heart beating a little faster with each step, until he arrived.

“Oh, wow,” said Kelly. “More trade-ins?”

He hadn’t quite looked up from his shoes, so her voice caught him off guard.”Yeah.” He put Jose’s take on the counter, then opened his bag and added his own. She pulled out the usual plastic containers and started sorting.

Talk to her already. “I went out to the Eastern Flat with a friend of mine today,” he began, “and he dumped all the monster parts on me so he could go and get a corn dog.”

Kelly laughed. “Maybe he just likes their hats.”

Doug laughed too. He wasn’t sure if she was being serious. “So... I was wonder--”

“Good afternoon thank you for calling Monster Mart this is Kelly how can I help you?” She had answered the phone. “Yes we do. Right now they’re on sale for $44.99. Hm? Oh, we’re open until 8, just like the rest of the mall. You’re welcome. Goodbye.”

“Uh...”

“Sorry. What?”

“I was wondering... Um...” Say it. Say it, god damn it. “Do you... D-Do you hunt... monsters?”

She idly took hold of a lock of her hair and stuck the end into her mouth before replying, “Not really. Well, not like most people do.”

“Wha?” What was that supposed to mean? Seriously?

“Good afternoon thank you for calling Monster Mart this is Kelly how can I help you? ... We keep normal mall hours, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays, until 7 on Saturdays, and 6 on Sundays. You’re welcome.” She turned back to him and said, “Sorry! It’s not usually this busy!”

The store was empty, but he didn’t feel any need to point that out. “Anyway, I was thinking...” His face felt hot. “I was wondering if you’d like to hang out some time?”

She looked at him, blinked, and said, “Um, sure. Sounds like fun!” She resumed putting his monster parts in containers. “Tell you what, why don’t you come over to my house on Sunday, around lunch time?”

“Sure. That sounds great.”

She gave him her address, phone number, and LiveJournal username (monstergirly) before they parted.

So, Kelly said yes to spending more time together, but the jury was still... But he hadn’t even tried to get her response to the more significant question. He really had no idea what he would do if she said yes to that one. It meant going into a world where he’d never treaded before. “Yes” was a starting point, not a finishing line. Every teenager was supposed to want that stuff—and he was no exception—but the world that presented that notion so forcefully was a bit short on the specifics.

When he got back to the food court, Jose handed him a corn dog.

“How’d it go?”

Doug held up the Monster Mart business card with the relevant information scribbled on the back in Kelly’s stereotypically girly handwriting.

“That’s encouraging,” said Jose. “Though the conventional wisdom is that a phone number is sufficient.”

Doug sat down, and handed Jose a Monster Mart store credit card for his share. “We’re not exactly talking about a conventional girl. And she wants me to come to her house on Sunday.”

“Hmm.” Jose put some mustard on the exposed hot dog inside his corn dog, and took a sip of his lemonade. “That has potential, but she might be thinking in terms of something platonic.”

“That’s reassuring.”

“Hey, just being realistic.” Just then Jose looked past him, and sighed. “Hey Kenny. What’s happening?”

Kenny, put his big rectangular bag of alchemy supplies down on the table next to them a little harder than Doug would’ve liked, and sat down next to him. “Oh, nothing much.” He leaned a little too much into Doug’s personal space, and spoke in a high-pitched, nasal voice. “Just picking up some supplies at Monster Mart. I think I’ve figured out a way to mix slime cores with ice stabber crystals.”

“What does that do?” asked Doug.

“I’m not sure yet. So, uh, Doug, you…”

“Hm?” He and Kenny weren’t exactly friends per se. This was odd.

“You’re going to Kelly’s place?”

Jose let his forehead hit the table, keeping half of his corn dog sticking straight into the air. Kenny didn’t or couldn’t react to that.

“Uh, yeah,” said Doug, and took a bite out of his own corn dog.

“A-Awesome.” Kenny unzipped his bag, and poked at some of the vials and such inside with shaking hands. “What’re you guys going to do there?”

“You know, I’m not sure. She didn’t really say.”

“And that’s Sunday?” Kenny took out a flask of something that was a vile green color, probably his homemade healing potion. He held the flask at different angles, avoiding eye contact.

“Yeah.”

“And, um, what’re you doing tomorrow?”

“Probably some more hunting,” said Doug. “We had kind of a short run today.”

Jose’s corn dog twitched slightly as he clenched his fist.

“Oh, cool,” said Kenny. “So, um… I was wondering…”

“If you want to come along,” said Jose flatly, “just ask.”

*

On Saturday, they formed a party of three—Doug, Jose, and Kenny—and went hunting. It wasn’t like Jose to go hunting two days in a row, but from the way he was swinging his bat around, he was probably working out some frustration.

Doug had only occasionally teamed with Kenny, and although Kenny seemed decent at making things with monster parts, at least when he wasn’t trying strange experiments with them, he wasn’t especially skilled at actually fighting the monsters. His main tactic seemed to be to use his halberd’s reach to avoid letting the monsters get too close, and take little sips of healing potion the whole time. Doug tried to be patient and give him pointers, but he wasn’t coming even close to pulling his weight. Kenny’s insistence on lugging his alchemy case didn’t help either.

After four hours, they went back to the mall, had a late lunch, and went to trade stuff in. Kenny didn’t normally go to Monster Mart too often, much less two days in a row, since he had other uses for the monster parts he collected, but today he tagged along.

Jessica was at the counter.

“No Kelly today?” asked Jose.

Jessica sighed. “She’s just coming in for a few hours to close, since Brent is on vacation. Anyway, what can I do for you?”

Jose elbowed Doug in the ribs. Doug rubbed his side and set his backpack on the counter. “The usual trade-ins. Nothing big.”

They began the usual trade-in routine, while Kenny looked at pretty much everything in the store. Jessica was nearly done when a guy with spiky blonde hair strode into the store. “Hey babe. Hey losers.”

Jose arched one eyebrow. “Hey there… guy who doesn’t know us.”

“Richard,” said Jessica, “I told you to wait until I get off.”

Richard ran his fingertips along his temples to make sure his hair was in place. “Why should I?” He hopped over the counter, knocking down a couple plastic containers along the way, and put an arm around her waist so he could pull her close to him. “I thought we were going to be seeing a lot of each other tonight anyway.”

She shoved him away and bent down to pick up the containers. “Yeah, that’s great. I still have work to do. I do want to keep this job.”

He leaned in close and clamped his hand on her chin. “Why do you want to hang around here all day putting up with these losers?”

Doug looked at Jose. Jose shook his head.

“Cut it out, Richard,” Jessica growled through clenched teeth. “I’m working, and I don’t have time for this bullshit.”

“Don’t be like that.”

She shoved him away again, this time forcing him out from behind the counter area. “No. You stop being like this. I get off in another hour. You can wait.”

He strode over to the door and turned back. “You’d better be ready then. Or maybe I should give your cousin a call.”

Jessica’s jaw clenched, and her head lowered. The store was quiet for a few seconds. Then she screamed, “You asshole! Get out of my life!”

She grabbed something from the counter and hurled it at Richard’s feet. It must’ve been the firethorn from the flame hog, because it burst into a puff of flame when it hit the floor.

He yelled, “You crazy bitch!” as he patted out the fire on his jeans, and ran off. His obscenities echoed down the hallway.

Doug was a bit out of his depth here.

Jessica caught her breath, and got behind the counter again. “Um, sorry about that. I’ll pay you for the firethorn.

“Are…” Doug caught his breath. “Are you okay?” He really needed to stop saying that. There had to be something better.

Jessica looked up at him. “Uh… Yeah. Don’t worry about me.”

She gave him a $20 bill to make up for the firethorn, about three dollars more than the trade-in value, and wouldn’t take any change.

When they were out of earshot, Kenny asked, “Why is she with a jerk like that?”

“It’s a cliché, but it’s true. Girls go for the assholes.”

“But why?”

Jose put his arm around Kenny’s shoulders. “Because, what really pulls them in is confidence, and the assholes have that in abundance.”

Kenny looked at the floor. “That’s not fair.”

“What can I say? They can smell fear, and they’re repelled by it. Women are one of life’s great mysteries.” Jose turned to Doug and chuckled. “Speaking of which, are you ready for tomorrow?”

“As ready as I can get, considering I have no idea what I’m getting into.”

“It’s Kelly,” said Kenny. “…That came out wrong.”

Doug sighed. “I think I’ll be okay. But I could be wrong.”

“Good luck, man.”

*

The front of Kelly’s house was covered with potted plants, enough to obscure the windows. Doug wasn’t completely sure it was actually her house, but there weren’t any others within three blocks. The house sort of perched on the road, with scrubland stretching out behind it.

He got his confirmation when Kelly opened the door before he’d even reached the porch.

She bounced up and down in place. “There you are!” The pendant she was wearing, in the shape of a stumpy, bounced with her.

“Here I am.”

“Come on in!”

The interior of her house was just as cluttered as the outside, with pottery, books, plants, statues, candles, and so on. Everything was a mass of different earth tones, and it smelled of wood, leaves, and yellowing paper, with a touch of old coffee.

A middle-aged woman in a simple brown dress waved from the kitchen.

“Hey mom!” called Kelly. “This is Doug!”

“Hey Doug!” She was every bit as cheery as her daughter. Her brown hair was straighter than Kelly’s, and it reached almost to her waist. She was beautiful, in an all-natural, pot-smoking kind of way.

“Hi, Mrs. Horn,” he managed.

“I’m starting on lunch, so you two go play for a while.”

Kelly grabbed his hand. “Come on! Let me show you my monsters!” Her hand was actually rougher than his.

She pulled him out the back door, to the back yard proper. In the shade of half a dozen trees was what looked like a small civilization of pottery, but they went past all that, and an herb garden, until they came to Kelly’s pride and joy.

Cages. There were sturdy metal cages, arranged in rows. Inside them were squishies, shrooms, stumpies, an evil eye, a jello cube, a zapcat...

“How?” he sputtered. “And why?”

Kelly picked up a large net. It was like a butterfly net, but much larger, and the netting was a wire mesh. “You know how they say monster hunters have different ‘classes’? Like you’d be a fighter?”

“You mean you’re a... monster tamer?” The monster hunting scene in Los Banos was predominantly fighters, but there were some of just about every “class,” including alchemists like Kenny and Zeb (who was also rumored to make pipe bombs). Still, monster tamers were rare. The conventional wisdom was that monsters couldn’t be tamed, but some people tried anyway.

Kelly opened one of the cages, and a squishy bounced out. She picked it up, and cradled it in her arms. Reddish slime rubbed off onto her clothes and her cheek. “This is Francois.”

Doug faked a smile. “Cute.” He looked away from the totally gross thing Kelly was doing, and he spotted something that made his jaw drop.

“Um, Kelly?”

“Yeah?”

“Am I seeing things?”

She came up behind him, close enough that he could feel her breath on his face. “What do you mean?”

“I think I’m looking at a black squishy, but I didn’t know there was such a thing.” There were red, blue, orange, and green squishies. Not black.

“Oh, I call him Alucard. I found him over on the west side of town.”

Doug crouched to get a better look. Alucard was a glossy black color, as though made of gelatinous crude oil rather than the usual fruity jell-o colors. Up close it smelled like a normal squishy, a faintly pungent, watery smell, and it bounced around just like any of its relatives.

He glanced back at Kelly. “Is there anything else different besides the color?”

She tilted her head to one side and looked skyward. “No, I don’t think so. Well, the other squishies don’t seem to like him.”

To demonstrate, she held Francois closer to Alucard’s cage. Francois wriggled out of her hands and started to flee from his mutant brother before she picked him up again and put him back into his cage.

Doug pulled out his cell phone and took a picture of Alucard, then stuck the phone back into his pocket before she noticed.

“Anyway, let me show you my pride and joy.”

She led him to a larger cage at the far end. The chain link that formed its walls was coated with green plastic, and it didn’t take look for him to see why. It was the zapcat. It looked like a midpoint between a housecat and a panther, but its tail ended in a metal bulb that crackled with electricity. When she opened the cage, it walked out and rubbed its head against Kelly’s legs like it was a housecat. Kelly bent down and stroked its back.

“Her name is Selina. It took a lot of time and effort, but she’s pretty much tame.”

Doug crouched and held out his hand. Selina leaned closer to sniff it, then jumped back when there was a static spark. But rather than fleeing into the brush like a normal zapcat, she hid behind Kelly’s legs.

“That really is something,” he said, and meant it. Of all the monsters to try to tame, a zapcat.

Kelly beamed and, with some effort, picked Selina up. “She even protects me from other monsters. It’s really amazing!”

Just then, Kelly’s mom called their names. Lunch was falafels, which Doug had only tried once before when visiting his cousins in San Jose, and fruit juice. The two things didn’t quite go together.

“So,” said Kelly’s mom, “Kelly tells me you’re a monster murderer.”

Juice shot up Doug’s nose, searing his sinuses.

Kelly groaned. “Mooooom!”

“What? It’s true, isn’t it? It’s bad enough you put them in cages rather than letting them roam free like they should be.”

“We’re here to have fun, not to debate stuff!”

Mrs. Horn put her hands on her hips. “Well, what do you have to say for yourself, Doug? Do you enjoy slaughtering innocent monsters?”

Doug had read rants like these online before. The guy who ran the “Monster Hunting Central” blog was one of the worst. Doug didn’t think of it in terms of “murder” or the usual PETM nonsense, but he did enjoy it. A lot.

“I… I think of it more as population control. With fringe benefits.” The squishy horde incident in Atwater had convinced most of the people in the area that monsters had to be kept in check, but apparently Kelly’s mom was an exception.

Kelly banged her fist on the table. “Please, just drop it. Talk about books you’ve read or something.”

The last four books Doug had read were all about different aspects of monster hunting, so he didn’t say anything. Mrs. Horn was quiet too, and he suspected she’d been reading plenty of anti-monster hunting books. With no reasonable conversation forthcoming, Kelly growled, grabbed Doug’s hand, and led him out to the back yard again.

“I’m really sorry about that. She’s really nice most of the time, but monster hunting just sets her off.”

Doug shrugged. “Well, I kind of get where she’s coming from, but…”

“But that’s no excuse for being so rude about it. Sorry. I should’ve had you come over when she was out or something.”

So far, this was not going well. Doug took a deep breath, and looked at her again. She looked at him, blinked, and smiled.

“Anyway, what now?” he asked.

“You still want to hang out?”

“Look, I’ve been seeing stuff like what your mom was saying on the net and on TV for years. It’s kind of awkward to have it right in my face, but I’m not going to get worked up over it.”

She fidgeted, and started towards one of her cages. “Well, I need to take Bebop out for a walk. Why don’t we do that?”

“Bebop” was a flamehog, which somehow didn’t surprise him. It was like a warthog covered in spiked and fire. Kelly put on heavily gloves that went up to her elbows in order to put a leash on the thing. Bebop took off at a run, and Kelly was yanked along. Dough chuckled, and started after them.

Fortunately, the plants around here were mostly green at the moment, so Bebop wasn’t starting any fires, and Kelly was starting to get him under control.

He jogged up along side her. “I bet you get a lot of exercise too this way.”

“Huh?” Kelly tilted her head to one side, then said, “Oh! Hahah! Right!” She held up one of her arms. “I’ve gotten pretty buff trying to keep this guy under control!” Just then, Bebop lunged forward. Since she only had one hand on the leash, Bebop’s sudden flight yanked her forward, face-first onto the ground, and the leash slipped out of her hands.

Doug was helping her up when he realized that Bebop had come around in a circle and was coming towards them. He pulled Kelly to her feet and out of the flamehog’s path. It ran past them, then turned around and snorted. He looked into Bebop’s eyes. The thing was after him. Doug took off at a run, and sure enough it followed.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Kelly swaying and coughing. He had to at least keep this stupid thing occupied until she recovered.

Doug circled around a tree, and came to a stop. They faced each other, and Bebop snorted again. This was where some kind of weapon would’ve come in handy, but this was not the house for such a thing.

The flamehog lowered its head, and charged again. This time it jumped, and Doug stuck his foot out. Its snout collided with the heel of his boot. Doug staggered back, but stayed standing. Bebop flopped sideways to the ground, dazed.

Kelly rushed over, and checked on her pet. “Bebop! Are you okay?!” She turned around to look at Doug, and cried, “What did you do?!”

“Sorry! He tried to pounce, and… and…”

“There’s some healing potions in the brown shed by the oak tree. Hurry!”

It would not have occurred to Doug to find out whether healing potions worked on monsters. They did work on animals, though it wasn’t easy to get an injured cat to drink one, to say the least. When he reached the shed, he found a mass of gardening tools. It took much too long for him to find the shelf full of little bottled—right by the door—and pick out the familiar green liquid from among them.

Kelly ripped the bottle from his hands as soon as he got close enough, and carefully poured it into Bebop’s mouth. A moment later, the flamehog jerked awake, and looked around. Doug had to jump back, and Kelly had to hold onto the leash with both hands to keep the stupid thing from taking another shot.

“Anyway!” called Kelly over the frantic snorting, “Just wait here while I get him back to his cage!”

She had to practically drag Bebop the entire way. When she came back, she slumped her shoulders.

“Sorry,” they both said at the same time.

Kelly took a deep breath. “This hasn’t been going that well…”

Doug ran a hand through his hair. “Don’t sweat it. First date and all.”

It took them both a moment to realize what he’d just said.

“Sorry, I meant—”

“No! It’s my fault!” said Kelly, holding up her hands. “I guess I gave you the wrong impression or something. I mean, I wanted to be friends, but—”

“No, I shouldn’t have been jumping to conclusions.” He sighed. Now it was Awkward. “And besides, I can always use more friends.”

“Okay then.”

They spent another hour or two going for a walk and talking about monster stuff. Kelly was actually really knowledgeable, though she didn’t hunt per se. Some monster tamers would actually train monsters to fight other monsters, but for her part she thought that was terrible.

When they finally parted ways, Doug started biking home, and the whole way he wanted to look for something to bang his head against.

*

He didn’t go hunting again until Sunday, when the itch finally got to him, and then he decided to solo. Swinging his sword at stuff made him feel a little better, in an animalistic, aggressive sort of way, but his depression still weighed him down.

He couldn’t stop going to Monster Mart if he wanted to continue monster hunting. So, when the time came he went like usual, only with much more plodding and hesitation. He had assumed his hobby had decided the issue, but once he was actually at the mall he fell back into old habits. It didn’t help when a small earthquake hit just as he started down the hall that led to the store.

When he got there, Jessica was behind the counter. She didn’t look up from the computer. “In case you’re wondering, Kelly called in sick. For the whole week. So I get to stay until closing every damn day until she comes back.”

“Jessica, you work with her a lot, right? Do you know what’s with her?”

She typed something. “Socially, Kelly’s a retard. She doesn’t really understand how personal space works, much less stuff like relationships.”

“Her mom’s pretty weird too.”

“I—I know. She calls here sometimes.” More typing. “And you have a thing for Kelly?”

Doug leaned against the counter. “I thought I did.” Except she wasn’t like what he’d been imagining. “I was wrong.”

Jessica took a deep breath, and then slowly let it out. “It happens.”

“Listen...”

“To what?”

“Want to get some coffee or something?”

She looked up. “What?”

Wait, did he really just say that? He did. Why did he say that? “Let’s go get some coffee or whatever at Starbucks. You’re getting off work soon, right?”

“What, am I a consolation prize or something?”

“Not only are you not insane, but you’re confident and beautiful. That would be first prize.” Was he really saying that?

Jessica stared at him for a moment. “Um... I...” She stopped, closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and said, “You know what? Sure. Meet me there at six. But just coffee. I’m not promising anything.”

“Good. No pressure. For either of us.”
See the blurb at the top (where the Artist's Comments belong, dangit!).
Published:
© 2008 - 2021 nekoewen
Comments3
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Kairu-Hakubi's avatar
You're quite right, artist comments should be.. optionally top or bottom.. :O

This is excellent XD not only do you really write these teen characters realistically, I'm totally buying the setting even more than last time.. the pop-culture references were a nice touch.
...
Tuna is junk food? XD
nekoewen's avatar
Thank you!

And you're right. A bit of a brain fart on the tuna, though if you have to watch your cholesterol like I do tuna salad is best avoided.
Kairu-Hakubi's avatar
Well yeah but that's the mayonnaise not the tuna XD and not so much avoided as.. not.. eaten every single day.. :p meh.

DIET STUFF! Everyone's an expert, right? XD