Elle's Bachelorette Challenge - Day 4


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Elle's Bachelorette Challenge - Day 4

  1. 1. Smoothie Sims, Inc. proudly presents… Elle’s Bachelorette Challenge - Day 4
  2. 2. Elle expressed the desi re to have a li ttle ti me alone to calm dow n, so w hi le the four at the si de house w ai ted for her to be ready to conti nue, they deci ded to play a li ttle game. “Come on, Rhys! We’ re on a streak, don’ t drop i t now !”
  3. 3. “HA! You’ re goi ng dow n, Azula!” “In your dreams, maybe!”
  4. 4. “Oh, ni ce try!” “Uh…am I ever goi ng to get the ki cky bag?” Dom asked. “You’ re playi ng w i th Fi tzhughs, honey,” Mari na sai d, amused. “That answ er should be obvi ous.” Catchi ng a blob of yellow movi ng on her screen, she conti nued. “Okay, she’ s goi ng up to the tea set.”
  5. 5. “YAY!” The other three qui ckly scampered over to the couch and got si tuated.
  6. 6. “Okay, you guys, before they start I just w ant to make one thi ng clear. There w i ll be no commentary, especi ally from you, Rhys, from today on. We don’ t w ant to make Elle more nervous than she already i s and she’ s goi ng to start to get i nto the more personal terri tory soon. So shut up. Am I clear?”
  7. 7. Non-commi ttal noi ses w afted from the di recti on of the couch. “I sai d AM I CLEAR?” “Okay, you’ re clear,” Rhys grumbled. “Fun-ki ller.” Mari na rolled her eyes and gave her attenti on to the bachelorette house. ***
  8. 8. The last thi ng Elle really w anted to do just then w as si t dow n and have tea w i th three guys as i f nothi ng w as w rong, but because she had to do i t, that w as w hat she di d. She could w allow later, i n the pri vacy of her ow n room, i f she had to. She had an obli gati on to the men w ho w ere sti ll left to see the w hole thi ng through.
  9. 9. Stuart, Akor, and Li am w ere the lucky three to make i t to the table that day. Elle couldn’ t help bei ng pleased that Stuart had fi nally made i t there, and surpri sed that Ham had not. “Hey guys,” she sai d. Akor pi cked up hi s cup and w as surpri sed to fi nd nothi ng i n i t. “We di dn’ t gi ve you enough ti me to fi ni sh, di d w e?” “Oh, no, i t’ s done,” Elle sai d hurri edly, putti ng her ow n cup dow n and reachi ng for the pot. “I forgot to fi ni sh pouri ng. My mi nd w as a mi lli on mi les aw ay. I’ ll do i t ri ght now , I’ m so sorry.” “It i s perfectly all ri ght,” Stuart sai d, w i th a calm smi le, and the other tw o agreed.
  10. 10. “So, w hat’ s today’ s questi on?” Li am asked, as she got to w ork pouri ng the tea. “And please, nothi ng too crazy li ke yesterday’ s.” He shuddered at the memory. Elle, amused, gave hi m a qui ck gri n as she fi lled hi s cup. “You’ re i mpossi ble to please.” “And proud of i t,” he countered. “Okay, how’ s thi s: If you could vi si t any place i n the w orld, w here w ould you go and w hy?” He gave her a blank stare. “Oh come on.” “No, no, that’ s fi ne,” he sai d qui ckly. “I just need a mi nute to thi nk about i t.” “Fi ne. I’ ll start, and w e’ ll go counter-clockw i se. Um, I’ ve alw ays w anted to go to Veronavi lle. The stori es I’ ve heard about i t are w onderful and I alw ays thought i t’ d be neat. Stuart?”
  11. 11. Stuart laughed at the questi on. “I can choose only the one place?” Reali zi ng w hat he had sai d, he added qui ckly, “I apologi ze, that came out far ruder than I had i ntended.” “Oh no, you’ re fi ne,” Elle sai d. “But yeah, i f you had to narrow i t dow n to just one, w here?” “Well, i t i s di ffi cult for me to choose, but I thi nk I have to say the Indi an subconti nent.” “That’ s cheati ng,” Akor sai d, gri nni ng. “I do not see how as w e di d not speci fy the exact defi ni ti on of a ‘ place’ i n thi s context. And there are so many aw e-i nspi ri ng si ghts to be seen there, from the elegant palaces of the Majarajas, to the beauty of the Taj-Mahal, to the natural w onders that are the Ganges, the Hi malayas, and the Thar desert. I thi nk one w ould never ti re of explori ng the country.”
  12. 12. “Sounds fai r to me. Li am?” Li am’ s brow furrow ed a li ttle. “To be honest, my w orld w as The Hellmouth for such a long ti me that I don’ t have enough know ledge of anyw here else to have an opi ni on,” he sai d. “So I w ould have to say that I’ d really just w ant to go anyw here else.” “You’ ve done that by comi ng here,” Elle poi nted out. “Okay, w ell, I w ant to travel anyw here I can, then. Except to somew here that’ s as bad off as The Hellmouth w as. I don’ t w ant to go back and I don’ t w ant to go anyw here si mi lar, ei ther.” Elle’ s fi rst i nsti nct w as to defend her home, but she bi t i t back. Tea ti me w as not for arguments, and she di dn’ t w ant to get so caught up w i th Li am’ s answ er that Akor never had a chance to gi ve hi s. She merely nodded. “Okay. What about you, Akor?”
  13. 13. “I w ould really li ke to go to Italy,” Akor sai d thoughtfully. “It’ s a completely di fferent cli mate from Strangetow n, fi rst of all, w i th all that w ater surroundi ng i t. Veni ce, especi ally. It w ould be ni ce to take a ri de on a gondola.” “Ooh, that does sound ni ce.” He nodded, smi li ng. “Plus, I’ ve alw ays been i nterested i n mechani cs and I’ d li ke to have a look at some of Leonardo da Vi nci ’ s i nventi ons.” “I thought he w as famous for artw ork,” Li am sai d. “He w as, but he w as also a w ell-know n thi nker and i nventor. He di d all sorts of thi ngs.”
  14. 14. “Would you li ke some more tea, Li am?” Elle asked, w hen she saw that hi s cup w as empty. “Nah, I w as about to head to the restroom anyw ay.” “I should li ke to do the same once I am fi ni shed w i th thi s cup,” Stuart added. “Okay, cool. I guess w e’ re about done anyw ay. I’ m goi ng to go around and talk to everyone for a bi t agai n, and then w e can have di nner, unless you guys w ant di nner fi rst.” “Whatever you’ d li ke, Elle,” Akor sai d. “Okay. Well…that’ s the plan, then. Do w hat you need to and I’ ll see you i n a bi t.”
  15. 15. Li am promptly headed off and a short w hi le later, Stuart also excused hi mself, gi vi ng Elle a mi nute alone w i th Akor. He glanced dow n at hi s cup. “Do you w ant to clean up, or…” “No, I’ m okay. Take your ti me. No poi nt i n w asti ng a perfectly good cup of tea. Besi des, I sti ll have to fi ni sh mi ne too.” “Okay. It’ s very good today, by the w ay.” “Aw w, thank you. I’ m glad you li ke i t.” “I do. Normally I don’ t dri nk a lot of tea, but thi s mi ght change my mi nd.” Flattered, Elle could do li ttle more than si p her tea and make short, deli ghted noi ses i n response.
  16. 16. She deci ded, afterw ard, to talk w i th Ham fi rst si nce he hadn’ t made i t to tea, and knew she had done the ri ght thi ng w hen hi s eyes li t up. It grati fi ed her that he seemed alw ays eager to spend some ti me w i th her. “What can I do for you, Mi ss Elli e?” “Well, I w anted to ask about your i nterests,” she sai d. Not the smoothest approach, but she fi gured that as she had li mi ted ti me w i th each of the men, getti ng ri ght to the poi nt w as best. “What are your hobbi es? What do you li ke to do w i th your ti me?” An earnest gri n spread across hi s face. “I have been exposed to a great many acti vi ti es at home, but I must confess that I love readi ng best of all of them. My mother i s a great reader herself. I come by my love of books through her.” “Really? So do I! Well, I don’ t know your mother obvi ously, but I love books.”
  17. 17. “I supposed as much,” he sai d, looki ng deli ghted. “You seemed to be someone w ho w ould.” “Ah, good to know . What genres have you read?” “Oh, all di fferent genres, I i magi ne. My father, Si r Henry, has an enormous li brary at our estate and I could get lost i n i t easi ly. I have not read all of them and may never accompli sh i t, but I suppose attempti ng i t may quali fy as my li fe’ s w ork.” Elle laughed. “Gi ve me some of your favori tes.” “I do enjoy a good sati re. Have you read Jonathan Sw i ft?” “Gulli ver’ s Travels, ri ght? That w as bri lli ant.” “Indeed i t w as. Ah, I have also read numerous w orks by Voltai re--”
  18. 18. Elle made a face. “I read Candi de. It w as di sgusti ng.” “You ought to look at the rest, though. He w as a gi fted w ri ter w i th many bri lli ant i deas about the poli ti cal i ssues faci ng hi s w orld.” “Okay, anyone else?” “Lord Byron?” “Haven’ t read hi m, but I’ ve heard he’ s good.” “All ri ght, w hat about Shakespeare? You must have pi cked up a volume or tw o of hi s.” “A Mi dsummer Ni ght’ s Dream i s my favori te. ” “It i s qui te deli ghtful. I also enjoyed Juli us Caesar and Ki ng Lear. ” He ti lted hi s head a bi t. “What about you? Whi ch authors do you enjoy?”
  19. 19. “Um…” Elle thought for a mi nute about someone she had read that Ham mi ght have heard of. “Jane Austen?” Ham’ s expressi on turned to a form of amusement. “My si ster loves her w ork, how ever, I feel her books are too femi ni ne for my tastes.” “Oh, come on,” Elle protested, “have you even read them?” “I confess I have not, though I had planned to try readi ng Emma.” “That one’ s good, but you’ ve got to make sure to try Pri de and Prejudi ce as w ell. And Sense and Sensi bi li ty, i f you make i t that far. They’ re not just for w omen. They say a lot about soci ety and relati onshi ps betw een people i n general.” “Well, si nce you gi ve them such a hi gh recommendati on, I shall have to.” “If you do that, I’ ll read Byron.”
  20. 20. She and Ham shook on i t, and then she w ent to fi nd Akor to spend a few mi nutes chatti ng w i th hi m. “Well, I told you I love fi shi ng,” he sai d, w hen she asked hi m about hi s i nterests, “and that my brother and I go often. I’ m also a sports guy.” “Okay, w hat’ s your favori te sport to play?” “Football, or baseball.” “Really? I w ould have pegged you more as a soccer guy.” Akor li fted a shoulder, smi li ng. “Close, I suppose. It doesn’ t matter that much, I just li ke bei ng acti ve and playi ng w i th other people.” “Exerci se i s good,” Elle agreed. “I’ m more of a yoga person myself, but i t’ s i mportant to be i n shape, w here I’ m from, so w e all w ork on i t one w ay or another. Anythi ng else you especi ally li ke?”
  21. 21. At thi s he smi led, a li ttle shyly. “Cars. Classi c cars, especi ally. Ti nkeri ng i s a speci al hobby of mi ne and fi xi ng up old cars i s w hat I do, mostly.” “Oh, cool. Does i t take a long ti me to fi x up a car?” “It depends on how many parts are mi ssi ng and w hat shape the car’ s i n w hen I get to i t. Some parts are harder to fi nd than others, some cars are more rare than others, etc. It can also be pretty expensi ve to fi nd replacement parts.” He gri nned. “It’ s almost cheaper to buy a new car, really, but for me that takes the fun out of i t. I’ d rather have somethi ng I put a li ttle personal i nvestment i nto.” “I could see that,” Elle agreed. “It’ s more speci al that w ay.” “Yeah, i t i s. What about you? You sai d you do yoga but I somehow doubt that’ s your favori te thi ng i n the w orld.”
  22. 22. Elle chuckled a li ttle, shi fti ng her feet. “Yeah, I’ m not a very acti ve person at all really. Mostly I li ke readi ng, unless my si ster deci des I’ m not havi ng enough fun and drags me off to do somethi ng w i th her.” “That’ s not a bad thi ng. What’ s your favori te book?” “I couldn’ t possi bly pi ck. I love so many of them.” “Okay…how about the book you read most recently, then?” She flushed. “Tw i li ght. ” He laughed i ncredulously. “The vampi re book? Seri ously?” “Hey, someti mes you need a li ttle li ght, fluffy vampi re love book. Don’ t knock i t ti l you try i t.”
  23. 23. “I very much enjoy studyi ng the mechani cs of thi ngs, di scoveri ng how they w ork,” Stuart sai d, ri ght aw ay, w hen i t w as hi s turn. “We have already talked a li ttle about the trai n set I have at home. I could have w atched i t runni ng on the tracks for hours w hen I w as small, and i t w as great fun to add cars, w i nd the tracks di fferently, and see w hat w ould happen. I had just as much fun taki ng them apart to see w hat w as i nsi de w hen I w as older.” “I bet you follow ed your dad around all the ti me aski ng hi m questi ons about w hat made thi ngs go,” Elle sai d, unable to help smi li ng at hi s enthusi asm. “My grandfather as w ell. The three of us and my brother Berti e w orked on the trai ns together. It w as our speci al hobby--that w as part of the reason I li ked i t as w ell. And i t i nsti gated my general i nterest i n the i nner w orki ngs of machi nes. I am thi nki ng about maki ng a career of i t--becomi ng an engi neer.”
  24. 24. “I could defi ni tely see that.” Elle regarded hi m thoughtfully. Stuart’ s comment about lovi ng the trai ns because i t w as somethi ng he could do w i th hi s fami ly sparked a thought i n her head, and on i mpulse she w ent w i th i t. “Is there anythi ng else you li ke to do just because i t’ s somethi ng you can do w i th your fami ly?” He smi led. “My father i s a profi ci ent vi oli n player and he encouraged my brother and me to take up an i nstrument as w ell. It i s somethi ng I am good at, but I enjoy i t more for the sake of havi ng somethi ng i n common w i th Father than for i ts ow n meri t.” “There’ s nothi ng w rong w i th that,” Elle sai d, thi nki ng of her si ster’ s affi ni ty for parti es and her mother’ s dedi cati on to the busi nesses. “I’ ve been i nvolved i n plenty of thi ngs I don’ t care much about because my fami ly does.”
  25. 25. “Surely you must have an acti vi ty that i s just for you, though.” “I li ke readi ng,” she sai d, for the thi rd ti me that day, “and I guess just learni ng about thi ngs i n general. There are loads of thi ngs I’ d li ke to at least try, but haven’ t had the chance to yet.” “Gi ve me an example.” She li fted a shoulder. “Somethi ng dari ng I’ ve read about i n a book, li ke parasai li ng maybe. I don’ t know .” “If you are i nterested i n parasai li ng, you mi ght li ke a ri de i n a hot ai r balloon.” He smi led, as i f reli shi ng a memory. “That i s one of the mai n attracti ons at Si mmouth, w here my fami ly often travels on holi day.”
  26. 26. “I could very w ell li ke somethi ng li ke that,” Elle agreed, “but that’ s not the poi nt. I don’ t know and I’ m not i n a posi ti on ri ght now to fi nd out.” “Ah, I see,” Stuart sai d, understandi ng. “Well, one thi ng I mi ght suggest i s to travel somew here on holi day at your earli est conveni ence. Wi th your avi d curi osi ty, I am posi ti ve you w ould enjoy i t very much and learn many new thi ngs.” “I hope I can. It all depends, really.” “Is that because of your mother’ s busi ness enterpri se?” “Parti ally. Also because that’ s just the w ay i t i s.” She caught herself. “Oh goodness, I am so sorry. I di dn’ t mean to go on li ke that--”
  27. 27. Stuart caught her arm. “Mi ss Elli e, please do not w orry yourself. These are thi ngs that I greatly desi re to know and I am honored you w ould talk so freely about them w i th me.” “But thi s ti me w as for me to get to know you and I turned i t around to talki ng about me--” “And I am not allow ed to get to know you, I suppose,” he i nterrupted, laughi ng. Elle fi nally cracked a smi le. “Good poi nt. Okay.”
  28. 28. They w ere i nterrupted by a soft throat-cleari ng behi nd them, and Elle turned to see Ham w ai ti ng nearby. “Forgi ve me,” he sai d shyly, “but Mr. Whedon asked me to i nform you that he w ould be here shortly so that you w ould not have to go looki ng for hi m.” “Thanks, Ham,” Elle sai d. “That’ s ni ce of you, to pass i t on for hi m.” “You are most w elcome. Ah, mi ght I i nterest you i n a game of red hands w hi le you are w ai ti ng?” “Sure, I’ d be happy to.”
  29. 29. Elle had begun to expect the unexpected w here Li am w as concerned. Ti me spent w i th hi m usually never w ent the w ay she i magi ned i t, and i f she w ere honest, she ki nd of li ked i t that w ay. All the same, that di dn’ t prepare her for the curveballs he sent her duri ng thi s conversati on. “My hobbi es?” he asked, w i th a sardoni c laugh. “Oh, I’ ve got several. They i nclude taki ng care of babi es, bei ng angry w i th my si ster for reproduci ng w i th her dead tw i n’ s w i dow er, ki ssi ng my teen gi rlfri end, and tryi ng not to get ki lled by my dead father’ s angry ghost.” She bli nked. “That’ s qui te a li st,” she sai d, out of lack of anythi ng more w i tty to say. “Isn’ t i t just. Really, there w asn’ t much else TO do. Almost everythi ng else a person could thi nk of w as i llegal i n some w ay.” Fortunately, that last part gave her an out. “Okay, then, w hat w ould you have w anted to do i f thi ngs had been di fferent?”
  30. 30. Li am stopped hi s ti rade i n i ts tracks and thought about i t. “Well, I mi ssed school,” he sai d. “I couldn’ t go after I w as ten. I w as goi ng to do somethi ng about that.” “Why di dn’ t you?” “I’ m not really sure. That part of my memory’ s fuzzy for some reason. Then I somehow ended up here i nstead, not that I’ m complai ni ng.” He allow ed her a bri ef smi le. “My great-grandmother Nari ssa w as the one w ho fi xed the school system for us,” Elle sai d. “Dad told us she had a breakdow n w hen she couldn’ t go to college and w orked hard after that to make sure ki ds could get a full educati on.” Somethi ng i n w hat she sai d seemed to stri ke a chord w i th Li am. “Good for her,” he fi nally sai d. “No one should have to go through that.”
  31. 31. “No, they shouldn’ t.” She smi led, hopi ng to steer the conversati on to li ghter topi cs. “Anythi ng else you really w anted to do?” Hi s expressi on became even more thoughtful. “I w ant to have a fami ly,” he sai d. “I w asn’ t sure I’ d get to. My si sters w ere the ones w ho carri ed on the fami ly li ne, and I w ould have had to w ai t unti l I moved out, and I w asn’ t able to, back then. But now that I’ m out, i t’ s defi ni tely possi ble.” And i t mi ght even be w i th me, Elle thought, allow i ng her trai n of thought to take i t that far for the fi rst ti me si nce her fi rst day i n the house. Could she see herself w i th hi m? Yes, she could. Was that i dea appeali ng? Yes, i t certai nly w as. But from there, her mi nd dri fted to the other three men, and she found that she could also see herself w i th them as w ell, and that each of those possi bi li ti es w ere equally appeali ng i f not more so.
  32. 32. She qui ckly excused herself before her brai n could take her to a place she w asn’ t ready to go and w ent dow nstai rs to have somethi ng to eat, w here she w as joi ned by Ham, w ho w as just ready to si t dow n hi mself. “If I may ask,” he sai d, hesi tantly. “how di d tea go today?” “It w as fi ne,” she sai d mi ldly, “but…i t w asn’ t the same w i thout you.” He looked pleased to hear thi s. “I w as exceedi ngly sorry to mi ss i t. What di d you ask everyone?” Elle w asn’ t sure about the fai rness of letti ng hi m i n on the proceedi ngs after the fact, but she really w as sad that he had had to mi ss i t, touched that he had obvi ously w anted to be there, and sympatheti c to the fact that he had been the only one i n the house unable to go. “I asked w here they w ould go i f they could vi si t any place i n the w orld, and w hy.”
  33. 33. “Oh, and w here w ould you go?” She smi led. “I sai d Veronavi lle. It sounds li ke a fun and i ntri gui ng place to vi si t. What about you?” “I should very much li ke to vi si t Indi a. The exoti c w orld i s absolutely enthralli ng, and I have alw ays w i shed to encounter an elephant.” “I mi ght have to rethi nk the Veronavi lle thi ng then. Indi a must be pretty aw esome i f i t got tw o votes. Stuart chose Indi a too.” “Indeed there are many extraordi nary si ghts to see there, or so I am told. Many books have been w ri tten about that country as w ell. When I w as smaller I could spend hours pori ng over the maps and pi ctures i n my father’ s books. Besi des, much of our trade comes from Indi a.”
  34. 34. “Well, I’ m defi ni tely not agai nst goi ng there someday. It does sound li ke a cultural hotspot--oh, Stuart! You don’ t have to do that!” Stuart smi led as he took her plate out of her reach. “Please allow me. I am headed tow ard the si nk anyw ay and am perfectly happy to take thi s for you.” “Oh, okay then, thank you.”
  35. 35. Shortly after thi s, Akor accosted her, smi li ng. “Hey Elle, w ant to hear a joke?” “Oh sure, I love jokes.” “Okay. What ani mal can jump hi gher than the Empi re State Bui ldi ng?” Li am, si tti ng behi nd her, arched an eyebrow i n confusi on. “How tall i s the Empi re State Bui ldi ng anyw ay?” “Many, many stori es, but I can’ t remember offhand. Gi ve up?” “I thi nk I do,” she sai d, “unless i t’ s a kangaroo?” He shook hi s head. “Any ani mal, because the Empi re State Bui ldi ng can’ t jump.” It took her a second to get i t, and then she laughed. “Ni ce one. It’ s all i n the w ordi ng. I li ke i t.”
  36. 36. As much fun as she w as havi ng w i th the guys, all the soci ali zi ng that eveni ng on top of the emoti onal sendoff for Abe had w orn her out, and shortly after that she excused herself to go to bed. Please let tomorrow go w ell, she si lently w i shed once more. I don’ t thi nk I could take one more day of all thi s aw kw ardness. ***
  37. 37. The next morni ng, she w as back to her old habi t of getti ng up before the sun di d. “Morni ng, Mari na,” she greeted her earpi ece. “You are a freak of nature, you know that?” the w oman on the other end grumbled. “It i s not natural to be able to get up thi s early and li ke i t. ” “I’ m…very sorry.” “Yeah, w hatever. You ready for your i nstructi ons?” “Fli rti ng agai n, I assume?” “Yep. And try to move on from compli ments thi s ti me around. I know you’ re new to the w hole thi ng but these guys are your fri ends and you li ke them, ri ght? So you shouldn’ t have to thi nk very hard for somethi ng to say. ” “I guess so.”
  38. 38. “Just try. You’ ll get better at i t. ” “I do already feel better about the w hole thi ng. Practi ci ng does help. It sti ll doesn’ t really feel li ke my thi ng though.” “Well, after all thi s i s over you’ ll only be fli rti ng w i th one of them, hopefully,” “If I get that far. What else?” “Oh, eli mi nati on at noon as usual, tea after, and one-on-one ti me after that. ” “Anythi ng i n parti cular I should do w i th the one-on-ones?” “…let me get back to you about that. ” “Sure. I’ m goi ng to go dow nstai rs.”
  39. 39. Thi nki ng that no one else w as up yet, Elle w ent dow nstai rs to the baby grand and began softly pressi ng the keys, enchanted by the sound yet havi ng no real know ledge of how to play. She became so absorbed i n thi s that the arri val of the guys completely passed her by, and she w as startled to fi nd them all standi ng around i n thei r pajamas, li steni ng to her. After a moment, she sai d, “Okay. If you w ere w eari ng pajamas duri ng one-on-one ti me yesterday and I told you that w as okay, forget everythi ng I sai d and go put clothes on before w e start today. If you w ere w eari ng clothes, please do so agai n. That i s all.” The guys laughed and w ent upstai rs to put thei r clothes on, leavi ng her attempti ng not to blush. ***
  40. 40. Mari na had deli berately avoi ded telli ng Elle about the ki ssi ng dates, know i ng that i f she had been i nformed about them a w hole day i n advance, i t w ould affect her performance duri ng the fli rti ng just w hen she w as begi nni ng to get comfortable. Furthermore, w i th that much advance noti ce she w ould probably adamantly refuse, and Mari na di d not w ant her to have enough ti me to freak out and run aw ay. So she held off gi vi ng that i nformati on and hoped i t w ouldn’ t backfi re horri bly. Whi le she w as setti ng up the dow nstai rs computer for the day, a knock on the door sounded. “Rhys, can you get that?” “Cleani ng di shes here!” he yelled from the ki tchen. “Soapy hands not good for door- openi ng!” “Fi ne, Azula? Dom? Could one of you get i t?”
  41. 41. “Oh, are more of those fri ends you menti oned comi ng today?” Azula asked, as she and Dom got up to get the door. “They’ re already here, I i magi ne. One of them’ s a fri end of yours, as w ell. And Dom, you get to Meet Someone New si nce I don’ t thi nk you’ ve met ei ther of them before.” “Sounds good to me,” he sai d eagerly.
  42. 42. How ever, they had barely taken a couple of steps before the door opened to admi t De Fi reflow er, w hose i mpati ence to see everyone had w on out even though she had only been w ai ti ng about fi fteen seconds. She beamed. “Azula! Domi ni c! Hi !” “Uh, do I know you?” Azula asked, li fti ng an eyebrow . “No, but I know you! Or of you, I guess.” A masculi ne chuckle sounded behi nd De. “And that di dn’ t sound creepy at all,” Spencer Fi tzhugh commented as he w alked i n. “Shut up, you,” De sai d good-naturedly. Azula’ s eyes li t up. “Grampa Spencer!”
  43. 43. “Hey, ki d,” Spencer greeted her, gi vi ng her a w arm hug. Mari na, meanw hi le, moved to greet De. “Do you have to scar my Si ms for li fe?” “Yes, i t’ s fun,” De sai d cheerfully. “How are you? Has Elle dri ven you all crazy yet?” “Actually, she’ s doi ng pretty good. I’ m not sure how long that’ s goi ng to last gi ven she’ s got to start w i th the ki ssi ng toni ght, but so far, not bad. How are you? How w as the tri p?” De gri nned. “Spencer and I got crazy drunk at the hotel w e stayed at last ni ght w hi le I explai ned exactly how thi ngs happened w i th Rhys. Di d you know he’ s a gi rl-dri nk ki nd of guy?” “That…doesn’ t surpri se me, no…”
  44. 44. “Domi ni c, come over here and meet Grampa Spencer,” Azula called over, and Dom hurri ed over, exci ted to be i ntroduced. “Grampa Spencer, thi s i s my boyfri end, Domi ni c Doran.” “It’ s very ni ce to meet you, si r,” Dom sai d poli tely. Spencer had already heard many good thi ngs about Domi ni c from both Azula and Mari na, and w as pleased to have the chance to fi nally meet hi m. “It’ s ni ce to meet you as w ell, Dom. You can just call me Spencer.” “Sure, i f that’ s w hat you prefer.”
  45. 45. “You’ re goi ng to have to tell me all about how that conversati on w ent dow n later, and remi nd me to ki ll you for havi ng i t w hen I w asn’ t there to poi nt and laugh,” Mari na w ent on, “but speaki ng of Rhys, he’ s here--” De’ s eyes w ent w i de. “He i s? I di dn’ t thi nk you w ere bri ngi ng hi m--” “I w asn’ t goi ng to, but you know hi m, he’ s got a mi nd of hi s ow n, and he’ s i n the ki tchen ri ght now and doesn’ t know you w ere comi ng and he’ s goi ng to fli p w hen he sees you--”
  46. 46. “I’ m goi ng to w hat now ? Who’ s here?”
  47. 47. Rhys stopped dead i n hi s tracks w hen he saw De, and Mari na qui ckly moved out of the w ay, not enjoyi ng the thought of a premature Death By Fauxhaw k. Fortunately, nei ther Rhys nor De w as payi ng her any further attenti on. Rhys stood w here he w as i n total shock w hi le a slow gri n came to De’ s face.
  48. 48. “Imi ssedyousomuch!” In an i nstant, De pounced on hi m and gave hi m the most thorough reuni on ki ss he had ever had i n hi s li fe.
  49. 49. “Whoa.” Rhys stumbled back, throw i ng hi s arms out for balance, w hen she fi nally let hi m up for ai r. De took thi s reacti on the w rong w ay. “Oh my God, you’ re mad.” “What? No!” He stared at her, unable to fi gure out w hy she w ould thi nk such a thi ng. “Why w ould I be mad at you?” “Because I knew ! I knew w hat w as goi ng to happen to you and I di dn’ t w arn you and I stayed aw ay so I w ouldn’ t have to w atch--”
  50. 50. “Oh, the Apocalypse. Ri ght. Yeah, okay, I admi t I w as pi ssed off w hen I reali zed you had to have know n, but i t’ s been a long ti me, De. Much too long si nce I last saw you. Ri ght now I could care less.” She bli nked. “Really?” “Well, w e’ ll probably fi ght about i t later,” he conceded, reachi ng up to brush a strand of hai r out of her face, “but I’ d li ke to at least make out fi rst.”
  51. 51. De laughed. “Pervert. You haven’ t changed.” “You di dn’ t w ant me to, admi t i t.” “I di d w ant you to be happi er, though. Are you?” He thought about i t. “I mi ght be. Want to help me out w i th that?” “Alw ays.”
  52. 52. Now assured that everythi ng w as goi ng to be okay, Mari na couldn’ t help smi li ng as she w atched them. It w as true she had been agai nst that pai ri ng i n the very begi nni ng, but as long as they w ere happy, she w as happy too. Later, she w ould probably have to medi ate an argument or fi ve, but for now thi ngs w ere good.
  53. 53. She turned aw ay and caught the eye of Azula, w ho w as standi ng by i dly w hi le Spencer and Dom got to know each other. Smi li ng, she i ndi cated the computer w i th her head. “Let’ s leave them to i t,” she mouthed, and Azula nodded i n reply. ***
  54. 54. After gi vi ng i t some thought, Elle deci ded that she w ould begi n each fli rti ng sessi on by sayi ng somethi ng she li ked about each of the bachelors as a person and try to steer that i nto a somew hat casual di alogue. Ham w as fi rst, and i t w as easy to deci de w hat she w anted to say to hi m. “I really love that you’ re alw ays so happy to see me,” she sai d. “You’ re a real joy to be around.” “Do you really thi nk so?” he asked deli ghtedly.
  55. 55. Impulsi vely, she gave hi m a qui ck peck on the cheek. “I w ouldn’ t say i t i f I di dn’ t mean i t.” “I thank you then. That i s very ki nd of you to say.” He took her hand. “I do not beli eve I have thanked you yet for allow i ng me to stay here. It means a great deal to me that I w as able to stay even though w e hardly talked on our fi rst day here.”
  56. 56. “Aw w w w , Ham.” Elle felt i ndescri bably touched by thi s senti ment. “I’ m just happy you w anted to stay. You’ re really sw eet, and I’ m glad I had the chance to get to know you. I w ould have been an i di ot to send you home then.” “I feel the same w ay about you,” he sai d happi ly. “Erm, not that you are an i di ot, because I w ould obvi ously never thi nk that--”
  57. 57. She laughed, taki ng hi s other hand. “I knew w hat you meant, Ham. It’ s okay.” He looked reli eved. “Oh, good.”
  58. 58. Akor proved a li ttle harder than Ham, but there w ere plenty of thi ngs she li ked about hi m as w ell, so she merely took a moment to deci de on the ri ght one. “You’ re a really fun guy, Akor,” she sai d. “I love that you’ re i nterested i n a lot of thi ngs and that you get along so easi ly w i th other people.” “Thanks, Elle,” he sai d, pleased. “I try my hardest.”
  59. 59. “A lot of the ti me i t doesn’ t look li ke you even need to try. That’ s somethi ng I’ ve never been able to do, soci ali ze w i th people and make i t look effortless. I have a healthy amount of respect for people w ho can.” Akor put a hand on her shoulder. “I really don’ t thi nk you’ re doi ng as badly as you thi nk you are,” he sai d. “Even on the fi rst day. Yeah, lunch w ent ki nd of badly, but after that…”
  60. 60. “Oh yeah, remember the poker game? I asked i f I could play and you just started teasi ng me li ke w e w ere already fri ends and i t w as normal.” “And you could gi ve as good as you got, i f I remember ri ght.”
  61. 61. “Maybe I pi cked up part of that Fi tzhugh Smartaleck Gene after all.” “Maybe you di d.” Elle regarded hi m thoughtfully, reali zi ng w i th sudden sadness that they seemed to have lost some of that easi ness i n thei r relati onshi p si nce then. “Thank you,” she sai d suddenly. “That made me feel accepted. It w as ni ce.” “You’ re w elcome,” he sai d, squeezi ng her hand a li ttle. “It w as a very good game.”
  62. 62. Fli rti ng w as certai nly comi ng easi er to Elle w i th practi ce, but there w ere certai n people i t seemed less of a chore to do i t w i th even then, and Stuart w as one of them. When i t w as hi s turn, she couldn’ t help a li ttle exci tement. “Hi , Stuart.” “Good morni ng, Mi ss Elli e,” he sai d, w i th a nod and a smi le. “I am completely dressed as you requested.” “I appreci ate that,” she repli ed, brow furrow i ng. What she had prepared beforehand suddenly flew out of her head. “You know …you really can just call me ‘ Elli e.’ ” Stuart frow ned. “Does i t make you uncomfortable w hen I do not?” “Not…exactly,” she sai d slow ly. “But i t does make me feel a bi t li ke there’ s a w all of formali ty betw een us, and I don’ t know about you, but I w ant i t gone.”
  63. 63. “I di d not i ntend to gi ve you that i mpressi on, and I am very sorry i f I have,” he sai d earnestly. “I am merely tryi ng to show you the same respect I w ould to any other w oman of my acquai ntance.” Elle di d not li ke the w ord ‘ acquai ntance.’ “But w e are fri ends, though, aren’ t w e?” “Of course w e are,” he sai d i mmedi ately. “Then I don’ t see the i ssue.” “Where I am from,” he sai d, “such ti tles are used betw een fri ends, generally unless they are related or the fri endshi p i s of an i nti mate nature. So yes, w e are fri ends, but I am not courti ng you exclusi vely and w e have not made a seri ous commi tment to each other. That i s w hy I am sti ll usi ng formali ti es w i th you.”
  64. 64. It w as a perfectly good explanati on, but i t di dn’ t sati sfy her. Whi le i t w as not a rejecti on, i t w asn’ t an admi ssi on of hi s feeli ngs ei ther. She reached for hi s hands absently, w onderi ng how she could at least get a clue w i thout promi si ng anythi ng. She had commi tted to a full w eek and there w as sti ll almost half of i t to go. Fi nally, she asked, “Do you w ant to?” “Want to w hat?” “Court me.” She had been hopi ng he w ould get her meani ng w i thout actually havi ng to say the w ords, and couldn’ t do i t w i thout blushi ng, but she managed to mai ntai n eye contact. A smi le came to hi s face. “I w ould li ke that very much, yes.”
  65. 65. Tentati vely, she reached up a hand to hi s cheek. “Then call me ‘ Elli e.’ ” “All ri ght,” he agreed, layi ng a hand on her arm.
  66. 66. The name debate had taken so much of Stuart’ s allotted ti me that afterw ard, he had to vacate the room and allow Li am i n for hi s turn. But even though she hadn’ t gotten around to the conversati on topi c she’ d planned, she sti ll felt li ke she had made an i mportant i nroad w i th hi m, and that w as a good feeli ng. She w as sti ll reveli ng i n her vi ctory w hen Li am arri ved. “Hey, Elle.” “Oh, hey,” she sai d, getti ng up from the couch. “I hope you di dn’ t mi nd havi ng to w ai t.” “I knew I w as goi ng to get my turn eventually,” he sai d, smi li ng. “What have you got for me?”
  67. 67. She regarded hi m thoughtfully. “You know , I never really know w hat to expect w i th you.” “That’ s a good thi ng, I hope,” he sai d, archi ng an eyebrow . “Yeah, i t i s,” she sai d qui ckly. “I li ke that conversati ons w i th you don’ t go qui te the w ay I thi nk they mi ght. It spi ces thi ngs up, makes all thi s a li ttle less formulai c.”
  68. 68. “Vari ety i s good,” he agreed. “How ever, w hat you’ re too ni ce to say i s that someti mes I throw you for a loop and you have no i dea w hat to say i n response, w hi ch I thi nk ki nd of upsets you, even though I don’ t mean to.” “Li ke just now ?” she teased. “…yeah, I probably just uni ntenti onally di d i t agai n, sorry.”
  69. 69. “You’ re fi ne, Li am,” she sai d, smi li ng a li ttle. “You w ouldn’ t be you i f you di dn’ t do i t. And I am getti ng used to i t. If anythi ng upsets me at all, i t’ s that you seem so angry someti mes. Not at me, just i n general.” He shrugged. “I have a lot of pent-up emoti on. I’ ll admi t i t. I guess you’ re getti ng the brunt of i t now that I don’ t have the real target anymore.” “Let i t out,” she sai d urgently. “It doesn’ t help anythi ng to just hang on to i t. Trust me, I know . I don’ t w ant you to do somethi ng stupi d and maybe rui n your li fe just because you’ re sti ll angry about thi ngs that happened w hen you w ere younger.” “We’ re talki ng bi tterness on a deep-seated, li felong level here, Elle.” “It doesn’ t matter. I li ke you a lot, Li am. I don’ t w ant to see you hurt yourself by hangi ng onto i t forever.”
  70. 70. A smi le tugged at the corner of hi s mouth. “Well, si nce you’ re so clearly i nvested i n my w ellbei ng, I can’ t really i gnore that request, can I?” “No, you can’ t,” she agreed fi rmly. He nodded. “I have to admi t, i t’ s ni ce to have someone care thi s much. Not sure anyone has before.” “I’ m sure your fami ly di d,” Elle sai d. “If they di d, i t w as hard to tell. It doesn’ t matter anymore, anyw ay.” But i t does, she thought, but di dn’ t say i t. Fli rti ng ti me w as not for arguments, ei ther.
  71. 71. The talk w i th Li am left her i n a somber mood, w hi ch show ed w hen she sat dow n to have lunch w i th the other guys after. Lost i n thought, she di dn’ t volunteer any conversati on, and for a w hi le nei ther di d they.
  72. 72. “How i s your turkey, Mi ss Elli e?” Ham asked after a w hi le. Elle bli nked. “Oh, i t’ s fi ne…” She bi t her li p. “Ham, I’ d really li ke i t i f you just called me ‘ Elli e.’ I just asked Stuart to do that and i t w ould be great i f you w ould, too.” The request took hi m by surpri se, but seei ng the look on her face, he nodded w i thout protesti ng. “Certai nly, i f that i s w hat you w ould li ke.” “Thanks. ‘ preci ate i t.”
  73. 73. “Are you qui te w ell?” he asked, concerned. “Oh, fi ne, just thi nki ng about a few thi ngs, that’ s all.” Akor smi led a li ttle. “That’ s ri ght, i t’ s almost noon, i sn’ t i t? About ti me to go to the li vi ng room.”
  74. 74. Noon already? She hadn’ t been payi ng attenti on to the clock, focusi ng i nstead on getti ng through all the fli rti ng dates. It w as almost ti me to send someone home and she had barely even thought about i t. “Yeah,” she sai d, not w anti ng to let the guys know thi s. “We’ ll go i n there w hen w e’ re done eati ng. No rush.”
  75. 75. She w ent to w ash her plate and then w alked i nto the li vi ng room to fi nd that all the men had gathered there to w ai t for her. “See, clearly I’ m goi ng to stay because I am so very pretty,” Li am w as joki ng as she w alked i n. “Take note of my fi ne, chi seled jaw . Don’ t you agree, Elle?” He tossed her a w i nk, and she laughed. Strangely, i t made her feel better. “Pay hi m no mi nd,” sai d Stuart, smi li ng at her. “Mr. Whedon i s obvi ously delusi onal. Have you made your deci si on?”
  76. 76. “Yes, I have,” she sai d. “Beli eve me, i t w asn’ t easy. I really li ke all of you and count you as my fri ends, and i t’ s not fun to say goodbye to anyone. But…I’ ve been fi ndi ng i t harder to relax around one of you than the others. It’ s a shame because w e w ere getti ng along so w ell, but some thi ngs happened, and now you’ re afrai d to offend me. I don’ t w ant you to feel li ke you need to ti ptoe around me, and I don’ t thi nk you w ant to do that ei ther. “So…I’ m sorry, Akor. I’ m really very sorry.”
  77. 77. Akor got up, noddi ng. He seemed hurt, but she could also see that he had been expecti ng thi s. “You’ re absolutely ri ght,” he sai d. “There’ s a balance betw een respecti ng each other’ s di fferences and tryi ng to avoi d clashi ng because of them, and w e never found i t, di d w e?” “Maybe not,” she sai d sadly. “I’ ll mi ss you, though. I meant w hat I sai d. I really do thi nk you’ re a great guy.”
  78. 78. He gave her a hug. “And I really do thi nk you’ re a great gi rl, too. Keep i n touch, okay?” “I defi ni tely w i ll. Come on, I’ ll call you a cab.” *** And that ends Day 4. I apologi ze for the delay i n posti ng, but I hope you enjoyed i t and I hope to have Day 5 ready for you i n a few days. Thanks once agai n to Cai t for the gorgeous cover, and to all the w ri ters of the guys I’ ve borrow ed for thei r loan and conti nued help i n w ri ti ng them. I really couldn’ t do i t w i thout you and you’ re all so lovely and helpful, i t makes me happy ^_^ Turn the page for the scores -->
  79. 79. “It has just occurred to me that thi s pool cue w ould probably be a very effecti ve w eapon.” Scores Stuart - 100/44 = 144 (fri ends, mutual crush) Li am - 96/37 = 133 (fri ends, mutual crush) Ham - 88/34 = 122 (fri ends, mutual crush) Akor - 80/31 = 111 (fri ends, mutual crush) --- Yes, these are the real scores. <3 Ti l next ti me, Happy Si mmi ng! ^_^