Chapter 7.7: Try and Stop Me Now

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Chapter 7.7 of The Absolutely Crazy Matriarchy.

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Chapter 7.7: Try and Stop Me Now

  1. 1. Previously, in The Absolutely Crazy Matriarchy: So much for life without walls. Rissa scowled at the huge iron gates in front of the Greek House. Obviously, college was not meant to be the four years or so of freedom she’d anticipated…
  2. 2. …“You’re not surprised to see me?” asked the woman. Blood ran from a small wound on her abdomen and dripped onto the spotless upholstery of the couch. The denim on her overalls was already deep red, suggesting the injury had been bleeding for some time. “Dreams don’t generally adhere to my idea of normal,” explained Rissa. “You might want to get that checked,” she added, gesturing at the woman’s stomach…
  3. 3. …A few hours later, Rissa strolled into the lounge and was greeted by a happy squee from Rishell. “Rissa! Guys, this is Rissa. Rissa, these are the guys.” Rishell pointed them all out in turn. “Lora Collin’s the one with the red hair, William Williamson’s the scruffy one next to me, and Matthew Hart’s the one next to Lora.” Everyone murmured their greetings to Rissa. William snickered. “Nice hair,” he said…
  4. 4. …“You are an interesting woman.” “Ain’t this a private beach?” asked Rissa lazily. She turned to look at the speaker. “Even if you are a local. Didn’t think you’d lower yourself to slummin’ with the tourists.” He chuckled. “It’s a complicated story, but I’m staying here.” “Even though you’re in the palm frond brigade?” She stood up and faced him. “And why the hell would you call me interestin’ anyways?”…
  5. 5. …Surprising herself, Rissa leaned in and kissed him. He chuckled and wrapped his arms around her, muttering something like ‘it’s about bloody time’ before returning the kiss warmly…
  6. 6. “Ladies, I think we need to stage an intervention.”
  7. 7. Lora and Rishell looked at each other, and nodded. “Can’t argue with you there,” said Rishell. “Matt and Rissa have been moping ever since we got back from Twikkii.” “Matt’s been moping since before then,” Lora pointed out. “Since that night Rissa stumbled home drunk, then disappeared at three in the morning with Island Boy the Nameless.” “You think she and that guy had something going on?” asked Rishell.
  8. 8. Will glanced out the window. “I’m pretty sure they did. Our dear Rissa’s not one to share her romantic endeavors with her friends, but there’s something definitely off about her.”
  9. 9. “I didn’t notice anything,” said Rishell. “She seems about the same to me. Studying hard, and all.” “She hasn’t pulled a single prank with me since we got back. Not even when I got ahold of the dean’s underwear.” Lora rolled her eyes. “Oh em gee. Poor Rissa. She’s in deep depression. We must help her.”
  10. 10. Rishell and Will both glared at Lora. “What? So she’s trying to be the youngest person to graduate from this university ever. Doesn’t mean she’s mooning over some local she got drunk with one night.” Will sighed. “Whether she’s depressed or not, we need to get Matt’s issues with her sorted out, pronto. He was all ready to confess his love when she went out with Mister Palm Frond. I can probably get him worked up enough to do it again.” “And?” prompted Lora. “We lock them in a room together until Rissa kills Matt or they start making out.”
  11. 11. Rishell frowned. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. She’s gonna break his heart, and she’ll feel bad about it even though she won’t say she does, and then he’ll be all mopey and she’ll just get even crankier and probably break the punching bag.” Lora sighed. “Yeah. But it needs to be done. Like ripping off a band-aid. Until then, we’d just have Matt going even loopier.” “And this way, he might even realise that he has a very attainable redhead standing right in front of him,” commented Will. Lora blushed. “Ah, shut up.”
  12. 12. Will rubbed his hands together. “So, are we agreed? I’ll send Matt in, you two deal with Rissa.” “Yeah. Okay. Quicker is best.” “I’ll have to leave the clean-up to you two, though. I have a date in a few hours and I need to beautify myself.” “No fair.” Rishell pouted. “It was your idea, you should help us pick up the… hang on. Date?”
  13. 13. Will glanced at his nails nonchalantly. “Yup. Date. Unlike our wonderful housemates, I haven’t spent the last few months sulking.”
  14. 14. Lora smirked. “You can’t drop that kind of bombshell on us without explanation, Will. You’re one of the girls, remember – we share everything. Who’s the unlucky guy?”
  15. 15. Ever melodramatic, Will pretended to swoon. “His name is Robbie. He’s from Simland. He has an adorable accent. He’s blond, he’s got this little cleft in his chin, and he’s preeeeeeetty.” Had the statement been made by a female, it would have been called a squeal. Lora grinned. “Ah well. Who are we to stand in the path of true love, Rish? Let’s get this plan started so lover-boy here can go meet his Prince Charming.”
  16. 16. Fifteen minutes later… Rissa wandered back inside after finishing her workout. Getting that punching bag had been the best idea she’d had in ages. Might be a good idea to do a bit of exam revision, she decided. Can’t hurt, really, and if I want to graduate I kinda need to pass the exams.
  17. 17. Her plans were foiled, however, when Lora made a beeline for her as soon as she got in the door. “Rissa! I need to speak to Matt about my term paper, but I can’t find him anywhere. Can you help me look for him?” “It’s not that big a house, Lora,” Rissa complained. “I’m all sweaty! Can’t you look for him your own self?”
  18. 18. “Pleeeeease?” Lora begged. “You can take a shower first if you like, but I really need his help.” Rissa eyed Lora skeptically. “And since when did the mighty ‘I-can-do-it-myself- thank-you-very-much-Lora ever need help from any of us? Much less someone who’s doin’ a totally diff’rent major to you?” “He’s my case study,” Lora said innocently.
  19. 19. “Psh. Yeah. Is this a big scheme to get into his pants? Because, if it is… well, good luck to ya. He’s as hopeless as… a really, really hopeless thing.” Lora blushed a little. “It’s not. Less talk, more showering, kay? I need his butt on my psychiatrist’s couch yesterday.”
  20. 20. After a quick shower, Rissa reluctantly started searching around upstairs for Matt. She’d covered the balcony and the bathroom before running into Rishell. “Hey, Rishell. Seen Haz-Matt? Lora’s got some bee in her bonnet about findin’ him for some psychobabble shit.” Rishell looked down before speaking. “I think he’s in the bedroom.”
  21. 21. “Oh… kay. You all right in there, Rish? You ain’t your usual annoyin’ happy-happy self.” “Oh, no, nothing. I’m fine. Just, y’know, getting close to exams and all, getting a bit nervous,” Rishell bluffed in a rush. “Sure. Okay, then. I’ll check the bedroom. If you see him, tell him to get his skinny ass downstairs.”
  22. 22. “All right. See ya.” Rishell wandered off in the vague direction of the chess board. Rissa shook her head. “Why’d all my roomies have to pick today to go all nuts? Why’d they have to pick any day?” She sighed, and opened the bedroom door.
  23. 23. “Oh, hey, there you are.” Matt was sitting casually on one of the beds. He looked up eagerly when Rissa walked in. “Hey, Rissa! Will said you’d be here soon. I need to speak with you about something.”
  24. 24. Rissa frowned slightly. “How’d Will know anythin’ about this? Ain’t he off datin’ someone who likes pink as much as he does? I was just lookin’ for you for Lora.” Matt shrugged. “Dunno. He just told me to wait here for you.” “Ohhhh, I betcha this is some kinda prank he’s roped Lora and Rishell into playin’ on me on account of how nerdy I’ve been the last few months.”
  25. 25. “Well, if it is, it’s pretty awesome timing for me. Like I said, I do need to talk with you. I have a… problem.” Rissa snorted. “Matt, hon, if it’s an itch down there, you gotta remember I’m doin’ chemistry and not medicine. Weeping sores ain’t my area of expertise.” Matt blushed a little. “No, nothing like that.” “Thank the gods,” Rissa muttered. “So, spill. What’s buggin’ you?”
  26. 26. “I’m in love with you.”
  27. 27. “Oh.” “I was kind of hoping for something a little less monosyllabic?” Normally Rissa would have made a crack about Matt using big words. When she didn’t, his palms began to sweat. Maybe Will’s big idea hadn’t been so great after all.
  28. 28. Rissa sat down on the bed opposite Matt. “So, Will set me up so you could spill your guts. I’m gonna murder him.” “Again, not the reply I was aiming for.” “Matt. Matt, Matt, Matt. You’re a great guy, don’t get me wrong. You’re gonna make some girl real happy one day.” Matt blinked and continued to stare at Rissa like a puppy begging for a treat. “Some girl, Matt. Not me. We’d be totally bad and wrong and not good for each other.”
  29. 29. Matt’s lower lip trembled a little. “Why not?” “Well, there’s that for starters. You’re too much of a pushover, Matt. You put up with my shit way too easily. You need someone who’s not gonna walk all over you, and I can’t promise that I ain’t gonna do that. And…” She looked down. “There’s someone else.”
  30. 30. Matt put his head in his hand. “That guy on Twikkii Island. I knew it.” “Yeah. And I’d bet my collection of hair dyes that Will and the others knew it too, and were still happy to put you in this situation of amazing suck.” “I’m so stupid.”
  31. 31. “Nuh-uh. I’m the stupid one, for not seein’ this one comin’ and pre-emptin’ it or somethin’. I never thought you liked me that way. I thought we were just friends.” “We are friends. I just wanted to be more than that.” “There’s plenty of girls out there who’ll do that for you, Matt. One of ‘em’s not that far from home, s’matter of fact. But I just can’t see us workin’, what with me with a guy in the wings who I’m hopin’ will call me.”
  32. 32. Matt didn’t look up. “’Kay.” “Matt? You okay?” “I think… I need to get my head straight. Could you… could you please leave?”
  33. 33. “Sure. I gotta go kill Will anyways. Nobody oughta get put in this kind of situation, Matt.” Matt didn’t reply. He made a kind of wistful sighing noise and flopped back on the bed to stare at the ceiling. Rissa stalked out of the bedroom, her thoughts full of painful retribution for Will.
  34. 34. Some time later, Will was leading his date back to his place. “And here’s where I call home sweet home. Come on in out of the cold. I want you to meet the gang, anyway.” “But does the, ah, ‘gang’ wish to meet me?” asked Robbie. “Sure they do.”
  35. 35. One they’d discarded their overcoats, Will turned and grinned at Robbie. “Come on, it’ll be fine. They don’t bite. Well,” he hedged, “Rissa does, but I’m pretty sure she’s not rabid. If she gets too nasty, just smack her on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper.” “Your words are hardly inspiring enthusiasm in me, William,” said Robbie drily. “Aw, where’s your sense of adventure? Look, you’re already in the door and nothing horrible happened. Let’s try going into the lounge, hmm?”
  36. 36. Robbie smiled reluctantly. “Very well, if you insist.”
  37. 37. But before Will could turn around, the door into the lounge flew open and Rissa stomped through. “YOU.” She threw him the most ferocious glare he’d ever seen on a human being. “Matt tells me that this… this fuckin’ DISASTER was your bright idea. YOURS.”
  38. 38. “Hello to you too, Rissa,” said Will mildly. “Have you met my date? This is Robert Austen. Robbie, Rissa.”
  39. 39. Still furious, Rissa turned her attention towards Robbie. “Robbie, huh? Hey, blondie-boy, the sixties called. They want their hippy-ass sweater back.” Robbie stared at her for a moment, realised that he was being insulted, then sniffed snobbishly. Uh-oh, thought Will.
  40. 40. “I would not presume to offer fashion advice, madam, considering that your hair is not a shade that even comes close to being a natural red, and that you appear to be garbed in a grey sack.” Bad move, bad move, Will’s brain screeched. “Er, Robbie, you really ought to meet the…” he started, but was cut off by Rissa. “Dude, what frickin’ century are you from? Do I look like a ‘madam’ to you?”
  41. 41. Robbie coughed delicately. “Evidently I was mistaken. Would you prefer ‘harlot’, or perhaps ‘harpy’?” Rissa actually growled. “Ohh, you’re askin’ for it, Pink Sweater. I have had a fuckin’ awful day, and you are the big, gay, maraschino cherry topper. Bring it.”
  42. 42. “Hmpf,” said Robbie. “I do not think I care for your ‘friend’ at all, William. No indeed.” He eyed the staircase in the corner of the kitchen. “I am not sure what is upstairs, but I am willing to wager that it is better than being down here.” He turned and stalked towards the stairs, leaving Rissa fuming in his wake.
  43. 43. “Well done, Rissa. Thanks ever so. Now I have damage control to do.” “I’ll say you have damage control to do, you ass.” Rissa was not in the least repentant. “Your check-the-stereotype-boxes date is the least of your fuckin’ problems.”
  44. 44. Rishell and Lora both stepped cautiously into the kitchen. Rishell looked close to tears. “You’re all really goddamn stupid,” said Rissa coldly.
  45. 45. “Matt’s stupid for not realisin’ that I wasn’t into him and for frickin’ moonin’ over me for so long. Lora, you’re stupid for not smackin’ him upside the head and tellin’ him you like him. Pink Sweater’s stupid for pickin’ a fight with a crazy lady with neon hair. And Will, you’re stupid for pullin’ the pin on this freakin’ grenade, and for dragging Rishell into it. Congratulations, leaders of the future. You’ve fucked up.”
  46. 46. With that, she stomped out of the kitchen into the garden, by now covered in a light dusting of snow.
  47. 47. “She’s right,” said Rishell mournfully. “We fucked up.” Will watched Rissa go. “Rish, dear, I think you’re the only blameless one in this shemozzle,” he sighed. “Right, then. I’ll go find Robbie. Lora, you think you can coax Matt out of wherever he’s undoubtedly ensconced himself?”
  48. 48. Lora nodded. “One of the bedrooms, I think. I’ll go and lure him out with that bottle of bourbon under the sink.” Will nodded. “Good idea. I think we’ll all need a good stiff drink after all this. So. Rishell…” “I’m not going after Rissa,” she said, unusually firmly.
  49. 49. “Let her vent for a bit. We can deal with her once she gets back. Until then, she’ll just be all shouty and possibly stabby if she gets ahold of any of the kitchen knives.” Startled, Will nodded.
  50. 50. “Right then,” Rishell continued. “You go get Robbie. I’ll get us all a pizza. Everyone likes pizza.” She sighed deeply. “Maybe it’ll help make things right again.”
  51. 51. But things weren’t right again. When Rissa got back to the house that night, she refused to speak to anyone but Rishell; and even to Rishell, her communication was terse. In the weeks that followed, she only spoke to the others in monosyllabic grunts and sarcastic jabs.
  52. 52. Part of it was down to her workload. Rissa was so far ahead in her studies that her next round of exams would be her last, should she pass. She was determined to do so, so she buried herself in books and assignments.
  53. 53. Eventually, everyone got used to her silence and moved on with their own lives. Matt got over his initial heartbreak, and after some prompting from Will and Rishell, began dating a delighted Lora. The pair were soon inseparable, leaving Will and Rishell to wonder if they’d made the right decision after all.
  54. 54. Will had the lounge redecorated, and continued to see Robbie. Robbie was so close to Will that he was willing to endure Rissa’s constant stream of insults about his clothes, nationality, and hair.
  55. 55. Besides, he wasn’t above slinging a few barbs of his own.
  56. 56. Rishell was all but glued to the phone and the computer as she continued a long- distance relationship with Carla, the woman she’d met on Twikkii Island.
  57. 57. No calls ever came for Rissa, though. Her mother even stopped trying to call, but that didn’t seem to be the call she was looking for. With every day that passed, Rissa slid deeper into her funk.
  58. 58. Exams rolled around for everyone. Everybody passed. Rishell, Lora, Will, Matt and Robbie were now all second-semester juniors; Rissa graduated summa cum laude, becoming the youngest to do so in SSU’s history.
  59. 59. So she sent off a few job applications, and was mildly surprised by the number of institutes willing to hire an early graduate. VIS, nice. The National Science Centre, even better. TropiCorp? Psh, what a stupid name. Where the hell is… hm. Plunder Island? Sounds familiar. Welp, looks like I’ve made my decision. Her future was secure, but her personal life was a mess.
  60. 60. So, tired of being angry with her friends, she set about rebuilding the bridges that had come crashing down.
  61. 61. “Hey, y’know what I just figured?” Rissa said casually to Will and Robbie shortly after exams. “Robbie. William. Robbie Williams. If you two start singin’ I might have to put you down humanely.”
  62. 62. Robbie eyed Rissa suspiciously. “Is she insulting me again, William? I suspect she is.”
  63. 63. Will’s face lit up with a hopeful grin. “She might be. Do you happen to like Robbie Williams?” “Who is that?” “Then no, she’s not insulting you.” “Yet. Even think about startin’ a band and I will hunt you down and lock you in a room with death metal playin’ 24/7. S’bad enough that we got one mad Simlander singin’ about drugs and Elvis.”
  64. 64. Will’s grin broadened. “Now I’m considering doing it just to piss you off.” “You manage that just fine without the bad music.” “We cool again?” asked Will “Yeah. You ass.” Rissa punched him playfully on the shoulder, then left, humming. Will snickered when he recognized the tune. “Bodies. You hypocrite.”
  65. 65. “I get the feeling that I just missed something rather meaningful,” said Robbie thoughtfully. “Buried as it was under layers of snark and threat.” Will chuckled. “She loves me again.”
  66. 66. “I do hope it’s not mutual,” said Robbie, in what he probably thought was a warning tone. Will snorted. “Platonic only. Rissa’s not really my type, you know.” “And I am, I hope?”
  67. 67. “Definitely,” Will said, kissing Robbie lightly on the cheek.
  68. 68. Satisfied that she and Will were friends again, Rissa ventured into the lounge to find Lora and Matt. “Mother of plumbbob, my EYES,” she yelped upon seeing them making out on the couch. “We just bought that couch, dammit.”
  69. 69. They broke apart. “Well, we had to break it in, didn’t we?” said Lora innocently as Matt blushed scarlet. “Are you speaking to those of us who are profoundly stupid again?” “Yeah. Figured my graduation party’d be kinda crappy without actual people bein’ at it. And can I say, I told you so? You shoulda jumped him afore now.” Lora grinned. “Party! Yay!”
  70. 70. “It’s not gonna be a big one,” Rissa warned. “Wanna keep things on the down-low. But I gotta celebrate getting’ clear of this joint two years early, huh?” “Why are you keeping it quiet?” Matt asked. “Eh, don’t want my mama knowin’ I’ve graduated. She thinks I’m still here, I get two years of freedom to do whatever the hell I like. Backpack or somethin’.” “Didn’t you get accepted by VIS?” asked Lora.
  71. 71. “What’s a VIS?” asked Matt. “The Veronaville Institute of Science, dumbass,” said Lora patiently. “I’ve only been busting my butt so I can get a job there one day for the last two and a half years.” “Oh, I got in,” said Rissa casually. “I just don’t wanna go home to Veronaville yet. I got me some livin’ to do.” Lora grumbled. “Bitch. All casual about it.”
  72. 72. “Lora, dear, I apologise that the VIS offered me a job and wish to express my hope that you’ll get given a place there in due time. Now, c’n you use your mojo to help me score a couple of kegs for the party?” “Fine. You owe me.” “I think you owe me for not sayin’ ‘I told you so’ sooner.” “Let’s call it even, shall we? Come on, we have a party to set up.”
  73. 73. The party was… well, it was a bit of a blur to Rissa, to be honest, but the bits she could remember were awesome. Drunken smustling. Strip poker. Long conversations in the hot tub until Matt was dared to get in naked, when hilarity ensued.
  74. 74. She woke up on the floor in the lounge, a big grin on her face despite the hangover. Look out world, she thought. Try and stop me now. That cheerful notion was interrupted by a loud rapping on the front door, which was at the precise volume needed to irritate Rissa’s pounding head.
  75. 75. “All right, all right,” she mumbled, dragging herself to the door. “Some people like to sleep in of a mornin’. ‘Specially if they’ve done a couple keg stands the night before.” It was Fire, of course. Only that particular Simself had a talent for turning up either too late or precisely when she was not wanted.
  76. 76. “And what do you want?” asked Rissa, not particularly politely. Well, to offer my congratulations, for one thing. Youngest ever Sim State graduate and all. That’s quite an achievement. Rissa sighed. “Does the whole world know?” Nope, just me. Hasn’t even made the papers yet. Fire smiled wolfishly. I do control the media, after all. Rissa eyed Fire. “Y’know, if y’all weren’t on my side, you’d be really freakin’ scary motherfuckers.”
  77. 77. And don’t you forget it. Fire was in an unusually jovial mood. Rissa was instantly suspicious. “So what else did you want? I know you had an ulterior motive. You always do.”
  78. 78. Well, I intended to escort you back to Veronaville, but I can give you a hand to clean up here a bit first, if you like. Fire gestured around at the decidedly messy room.
  79. 79. Rissa frowned. “Oh, were you just? Well, screw you. I got offered a job outside of Veronaville, and I’m takin’ it.” Fire raised an eyebrow. Really. And how are things on planet Kidding Yourself? “Fuck it, Fire. I’ve been stuck behind walls for the last nineteen years. I wanna get out there and live life for a bit before I voluntarily stick myself back behind ‘em again. Give me that much, at least.”
  80. 80. Didn’t you even think about your own safety for one minute? Rissa, I didn’t think you were that irresponsible. Rissa scowled. “I did, actually. Did I tell you exactly where I was goin’?” Er. No. “I haven’t told you, or my roommates, or anyone. As far as they know, I’m goin’ off backpacking or somethin’. And the rest of the world doesn’t even know I graduated yet.”
  81. 81. Fire smiled slowly as she cottoned on. So… your plan is, nobody is going to know exactly where you’ll be for the next two years. “’Zactly. Not you, not my mother, and sure not any crazy assassins.” I actually like this plan. Little bit risky, but brilliant. Rissa, you’re a genius. “Damn skippy I am. Did you see my test scores?” Fire laughed. Not at all modest, are you?
  82. 82. “Nope.” Fire chuckled again. Right, then. Oh, did you want to know how your mother was going? Rissa sighed. “Guess so. I feel a bit guilty for not askin’ myself. Let’s sit down. I don’t think I can handle anythin’ concernin’ my dear mother standin’ up.” Fire eyed the table apprehensively. It’s a bit… full, she remarked.
  83. 83. “Aw, a bit of spoiled takeout ain’t gonna hurt you. Stop makin’ that face,” said Rissa impatiently as she threw out an old container of Chinese food that had been on the table.
  84. 84. “So, how is she?” Okay. She flipped out a bit when you left, but we managed to talk her off the ceiling. Parker helped a lot, but… well, I’m not exaggerating when I say your mother gave him grey hair. “Pff. Really? Huh. Dad with grey hair. That’ll be somethin’ to see.” All in good time, if you’re sneaking off. You know, you could call them sometime…
  85. 85. “Oh, no. I ain’t ready to handle that shit yet. Haven’t done nearly enough growin’ up yet.” All right. I think it’s pretty mature of you to admit that, but you handle it in your own time. Fire smiled. I think that’s about it. Did you still want a hand to tidy up?
  86. 86. “Would be pretty handy, ‘scuse the pun,” said Rissa. Fire smiled. I love doing this.
  87. 87. She stood up, pulled a wand out of her pocket, and began waving it around and muttering. “You’ll have someone’s eye out that way,” Rissa said cheerfully. Shut up. Witch at work here.
  88. 88. An empty robe appeared in the kitchen and hung in the air as though it was being worn. Immediately it picked up a squashed punch cup with its invisible hand and put it in the trash. “That’s all kinds of creepy. You’re such a show-off.” Rissa poked a hand through the empty gaps in the robe. “Yep, creepy.”
  89. 89. Jealous much? asked Fire, lightly teasing. “Not in the slightest. You got a hangover cure up your sleeve? Yep!
  90. 90. Instead of whipping out her wand again, though, Fire vanished in a curtain of golden light. Rissa growled low in her throat.
  91. 91. “I hate you so much,” she snapped at the empty air. Her head pounded.
  92. 92. She sighed. “Oh well. We might have some aspirin around somewhere.”
  93. 93. One week later… Well, yay. First day on the job. Rissa had been accepted into TropiCorp Laboratories after an impromptu interview the day before. It had been planned to be held here, but a plane delay had kept her in Veronaville until well after the lab shut. The head technician had been happy enough to hold the interview at Rissa’s hotel, though, and she’d ended up liking him.
  94. 94. “Clarissa Chandler?” “That’d be me. Call me Rissa.” “I’m Rhys Fitzhugh, head technician at TropiCorp Labs. Welcome to Plunder Island.” “Cheers.” “So. Interview time.” They sat down.
  95. 95. Rhys leaned back in his chair and grinned lazily. “So, what makes you think you’d be a good underling?” Rissa laughed in spite of herself. Rhys’ smile widened. “Good reaction.”
  96. 96. “This your usual manner? ‘Cause, I get annoyed when people get too uppity with me.” “I’d be worried if you didn’t. I don’t make a habit of hiring sheep for top research positions. Sheep are better as equipment scrubbers.” “Can’t argue with that. Right. So. Time for my Why You Should Hire Me for a Really Big Salary speech.” Rissa took a deep breath. Though Rhys’ manner was casual, she suspected he was shrewder than he appeared, which made her nervous.
  97. 97. “I’m nineteen. Nineteen years old, and I’ve already graduated summa cum laude with a degree in biochemistry. The lowest my IQ has ever been scored at is 157. So it’s pretty damn safe to say I’m smart.” This made Rhys chuckle. “Your IQ score. That’s a trick that hasn’t been pulled on mt yet. Go on.” “I’ve had lab experience, so I know how research labs function. I can work most scientific apparatus, and fix about ninety percent of what I do know how to use. I make neat, understandable notes because it pisses me off when other people don’t. I don’t have a criminal record. I’m polite when people don’t patronize me, and extremely rude when they do.”
  98. 98. Rhys smiled. “I think I like you, Rissa. Do you have any other skills?” Rissa snorted. “The truth, the whole truth, or nothin’ but the truth?”
  99. 99. “Will Option C traumatize me?” “No more’n my hair will.”
  100. 100. Rissa sighed. “I’m a decent hacker. I can pick locks, cheat at cards, hotwire cars. I can disable most alarm systems. I can safely handle dangerous chemicals and explosives, mostly ‘cause I’ve been using them to cause chaos since I was in grade school. And I make a damn good chocolate pudding.”
  101. 101. Rhys stared, then laughed. “I’m right. I do like you. You’re honest, and I like that. Your résumé, while a bit thin, is impressive, to the point where you’re almost over- qualified for the job here.” He smiled and stood up. Rissa followed suit.
  102. 102. “Welcome to the team, Rissa.” “I like the sound of that,” Rissa said cheerfully.
  103. 103. So now here she was, in the badly-decorated foyer of the TropiCorp building. A petite blonde woman with pale green skin was seated at the desk, typing away at something on her computer. She didn’t look up at Rissa as she walked in.
  104. 104. “Welcome to TropiCorp Laboratories, the pharmaceutical company of tomorrow,” she said in a bored voice that had a faint Belladonian accent. “Tours don’t start until midday.” “I ain’t here for a tour. I’m Rissa Chandler, the new research scientist.”
  105. 105. The receptionist looked up. “Ooh! Sorry about the spiel, it’s gotten to be a habit. Hi. I’m Barbara Doran. Call me Barbie only if you want to die a painful death. I handle all the paperwork that Mr. Fitzhugh can’t handle by himself.”
  106. 106. “Hey,” said Rhys from the doorway. “I could handle it. I just choose not to, so that I have an excuse to come and see your pretty face when I have accounting to do.” Barbara closed her eyes in irritation. “Quit trying to flirt with me in front of the newbie.”
  107. 107. “Oh, that wasn’t flirting. Did you want me to flirt with you?” Rhys grinned as Barbara made a show of ignoring him. “She’s really in love with me; she just doesn’t know it yet. Are you ready to be shown the ropes?” he asked Rissa.
  108. 108. “Yeah, sure,” said Rissa, smirking a little. “Gotta get myself all familiar-like with the equipment.” Rhys laughed. “There’s a line there, I’m sure. Okay, then. Time for your tour, I guess.”
  109. 109. “…and this is the lab you’ll be working in. Yo, Teddy,” he called to the technician who was seated at one of the benches with his head bent over his work. “Are you going to say ‘hi’ to your new cellmate?”
  110. 110. The tech turned to face Rhys, saw Rissa, and froze. “Rissa?”
  111. 111. “THEO?” “Oh. You’ve met. Well, that makes things easier.” Rissa was across the room and in Theo’s face in seconds.
  112. 112. “Why the HELL didn’t you call me?” she yelled. I spent months waiting for a call! Months!” “You never gave me your number!” Theo snapped.
  113. 113. “Besides, how the hell was I supposed to know a call would be welcome? You spent the spring being so damn unpredictable I had no idea if you even liked me!” “I kissed you! That generally means yes, I like you! You’re such an idiot!”
  114. 114. “Didn’t you have an accent before?” Rhys asked. Both Theo and Rissa ignored him.
  115. 115. “Hello, I’m male. I need things spelled out for me!” “Oh, I’m sorry that I never told you explicitly that yes, I would like to get a phone call from the guy I was snogging all spring. Damn it, grow a pair already!”
  116. 116. “Okay, that’s it,” Rhys snapped. “Are we going to have a problem here?” Theo scowled at Rissa. “No, Rhys. I think I can handle one unruly, childish, goth wannabe.”
  117. 117. Rissa folded her arms. “And I can handle working with a floppy-haired pain in the ass,” she shot back. Rhys eyed them both, then nodded curtly. “Good. Theo, get her a coat and get her started. We need a re-analysis of the stuff Zsa Zsa screwed up yesterday. Make sure the HPLC machine is set up.”
  118. 118. He glanced from one to the other, sighed, then walked back out of the door.
  119. 119. Theo continued to glare at Rissa, eyes glittering. “Right. So, what we need to do is…”
  120. 120.
  121. 121. Rissa grabbed fistfuls of Theo’s lab coat and kissed him fiercely, teeth colliding, tongues tangling. Theo fumbled at the back of Rissa’s kimono, trying to find a zip or buttons. Finding neither, he gave up and reached for the hem of the dress.
  122. 122. His cool hands on the skin of her thighs brought her to her senses. “Whoa. What the fuck.” Theo looked slightly cross-eyed. “I will do anything for you, absolutely anything, if you start kissing me again.”
  123. 123. “Wrong time, wrong place,” said Rissa tartly. “I don’t think my new boss would take too kindly to me fornicating with you in the lab.” Theo burst out laughing. “Clearly you don’t know Rhys that well.” “Well, duh. I just met him.”
  124. 124. “Can we get back to the kissing now?” Rissa scowled. “It can wait. Right now would be… unwise.” “Your place or mine!” “Men and your distractions!” Rissa snapped, frustrated in more ways than one.
  125. 125. “You can stay with me. I have an apartment. I wouldn’t mind, even if you wandered around naked.” He considered this. “Actually, the deal’s definitely on if you do wander around naked.” “Stop drooling, Theo. Focus. We can figure this shit out after work. Right now I need a lab coat and to do some HPLC runs.” “Right. Coat. There’ll be some spares in the locker room. I’ll show you.”
  126. 126. “Okay, but you’re staying outside the locker room when I go in. Locker rooms are naked places, and me plus you plus a naked place is an equation for getting me fired.” Theo sighed. “Fine, but it’s your fault if I die from frustration between now and five o’clock.”
  127. 127. It was a long day at the lab, made even longer by the fact that Theo’s presence in the cramped room made her hormones go berserk. There were only so many times that she could escape by going into the other lab to check on her apparatus.
  128. 128. Eventually, it did end, and when he looked over her work, Rhys slung a casual arm around her shoulders and announced that they’d make a scientist of her yet. Rissa had noticed that Rhys was like this with all the females in the lab – it was like there was a switch in his head that flipped straight to ‘charm’ when a woman was in the room. That didn’t stop her from elbowing him in the ribs, though.
  129. 129. He was magnetically attracted to Barbara, however, who was having none of it. When they locked up, Rissa noticed him saying something particularly charming to Barbara, who promptly stomped on his foot.
  130. 130. Weary, Rissa headed towards her hotel, looking forward to a bit of Theo-free rest. It was not, however, to be. “You’re going the wrong way.”
  131. 131. Rissa paused. “My hotel’s this way, genius.” “I didn’t say that was the wrong way to your hotel. I said you were going the wrong way. My place is back that way.”
  132. 132. He grabbed her hand and dragged her around to face him. “You can’t possibly be thinking of leaving me hanging on like this all night.” “The idea was entertaining,” said Rissa cheerfully. Theo groaned. “Why did I have to fall for a crazy woman?” “I dunno. You’re a masochist?”
  133. 133. Theo sighed. “Rissa. Stay at my place tonight. Please. No teasing. Just… Please.” Rissa looked down. “You’re too damn pretty for your own good.” “Rissa…”
  134. 134. “Shut up.” She leaned over and kissed him. “Where’s your apartment?” she mumbled against his lips. Theo almost groaned in relief. “This way.”
  135. 135. If you could only see the beast you've made of me I held it in but now it seems you've set it running free Screaming in the dark, I howl when we're apart Drag my teeth across your chest to taste your beating heart
  136. 136. My fingers claw your skin, try to tear my way in You are the moon that breaks the night for which I have to howl My fingers claw your skin, try to tear my way in You are the moon that breaks the night for which I have to Howl, howl Howl, howl
  137. 137. Now there's no holding back, I'm making to attack My blood is singing with your voice, I want to pour it out The saints can't help me now, the ropes have been unbound I hunt for you with bloodied feet across the hallowed ground
  138. 138. Like some child possessed, the beast howls in my veins I want to find you, tear out all your tenderness And howl, howl Howl, howl
  139. 139. Be careful of the curse that falls on young lovers Starts so soft and sweet and turns them to hunters Hunters, hunters, hunters Hunters, hunters, hunters
  140. 140. The fabric of your flesh, pure as a wedding dress Until I wrap myself inside your arms I cannot rest The saints can't help me now, the ropes have been unbound I hunt for you with bloodied feet across the hallowed ground And howl
  141. 141. Be careful of the curse that falls on young lovers Starts so soft and sweet and turns them to hunters A man who's pure of heart and says his prayers by night May still become a wolf when the autumn moon is bright
  142. 142. If you could only see the beast you've made of me I held it in but now it seems you've set it running free The saints can't help me now, the ropes have been unbound I hunt for you with bloodied feet across the hallowed ground (Florence and the Machine – Howl)
  143. 143. When the alarm on Theo’s bedside table went off, Rissa groaned and stuck a pillow over her head. “S’not morning yet,” she mumbled. Theo squinted at the alarm. “Yes it is. It’s six in the morning.”
  144. 144. Eyes still shut, Rissa let Theo cradle her to his chest. “Why th’hell d’you have an alarm going off at six?” “I usually go jogging, but somehow I’m just too tired to today.” Rissa chuckled sleepily. “Wonder why. If we ignore it, will it shut up?”
  145. 145. Theo sighed and pulled away. “No, I have to shut it off.” Rissa growled and let her head hit the pillow again. “I was comfy.” Theo laughed. “So was I. But the buzzing noise is going to get a bit annoying sooner or later.”
  146. 146. “Fine then.” Rissa squeezed her eyes shut. “I’m going back to sleep. Hell with you and your clock.” “Hm. That’s not what you said last night,” said Theo mildly.
  147. 147. “Gah, fine. I’m all awake and stuff now. Hope you’re happy.” Rissa extricated herself from the covers. “You better hope you have a coffee machine, or I’ll have to do you an injury.”
  148. 148. Theo crossed the room, reached past Rissa to shut off the alarm, then kissed her. “As a matter of fact, I do have a coffee machine. With very nice coffee.” Rissa gave him a catlike smile. “Now there’s a few words that could make me love you.”

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