What Was that About the Ho Train, Again?
tet•ra•gon: n., a geometric figure with four sides and four angles
While out that night, Gretchen discovered that she had been tricked.
“I thought Sam and Mel were going to be with us!” she exclaimed. Chris had some other previous engagement, but Gretchen didn’t want to know what it was.
Orlando shrugged and took a drag on his cigarette, blowing out smoke in a cool cloud. He’d obviously bought a new pack. “I think Mel had a date tonight, but Sam said she she’d be here.”
“Hmm.” Gretchen stared into her drink, a frothy beer courtesy of Orlando, who was nearly three years older than she was and the legal age to drink in America. She decided she’d start off light that night and see where it took her. On that thought, she tilted her head up at him. “So how was your day?”
Orlando shrugged. “Just another day at work. Nothing special.” For the moment, he was working in a cubicle at Merrell Enterprises and taking drama classes at Kaminari University. He planned to do more with his life than waste away in some small space where he could barely move his feet. His aspiration was film, and Gretchen thought he’d be well suited for it, especially with his good looks and British accent. Most girls were suckers for accents.
“So did the jerk come begging on your knees for forgiveness?” Orlando asked, breaking through her thoughts.
Gretchen shook her head. “Quatre is extremely systemic. For diplomatic purposes, I might not hear from him until early next week. He knows how my temper is.”
Orlando winced, thinking of the time he’d walked in on Gretchen while she was stepping out of the shower and she threw a bar of soap at him right dead at his chest. His chest tightened at the memory. But he got over it and continued with the conversation.
“Alright, so he’s a bloody diplomat when it comes to everything. Probably picks out his toilet paper like a UN Ambassador.” Gretchen snorted with laughter at that one. The edge was slowly wearing off, thanks to the beer. “What in the world drew you to him? I mean, really? The guy doesn’t seem like your type.”
“And just what is my type anyway?” Gretchen inquired. “Some greasy-haired punk rocker whose hair is longer than mine?”
“Well…” Gretchen shoved him and he nearly fell out of the booth. “Geez! Alright, I’m sorry. No filthy punk rocker.” He snubbed his cigarette out in the ashtray, his hunger for one dissipating. “Well, maybe you’re attracted to the artsy type. You know, the type that hangs out in the squalor of dim coffeehouses.”
Gretchen rolled her eyes. “I don’t have a type, alright? Look, let’s face it. I’m probably going to be like this for a very, very long time. I’m fine with the fact that I have less romantic appeal than someone’s flat-chested younger sister.”
“Believe me, love—you are not—” Gretchen shoved him again. “What? I didn’t bloody say anything!”
“You were about to.” She gulped down another mouthful of beer. “You’re probably wondering what made me fall in love with him, aren’t you?”
Orlando met Gretchen’s gaze. She didn’t seem sad this time, just resigned. “I was wondering, but I was going to be a gentleman and not ask.”
Gretchen smiled gently, and then downed the rest of beer. She sighed, and all the din and clamor seemed to quiet as she turned to him and spoke.
“Well,” Gretchen began, “I was walking out at the park one day after class when I saw him. He was by himself. It would be the only time I would see him on his own without bodyguards once we had started going out.” She paused for a moment as the waitress came up and took her beer mug and promised to bring them some chicken wings. “Anyway, I was kind of tense that day and I was letting off some steam by kind of wildly dancing in the park.” Her eyes cloudy, she recalled the moment that he sheepishly had come up to her. “While I was dancing, he came up and told me that I looked like a wood nymph or something. And after that…” She stared into Orlando’s eyes. “The rest is history.”
Orlando chewed on that for a long moment. The waitress reappeared with fresh beer and wings. Neither of them touched the wings, as they were still steaming with heat. Gretchen picked up her mug and steadily drank until the glass was a third full. Afterwards, she nibbled on a spicy wing as Orlando got a few for himself.
“I’m guessing that you have to make a decision at this point,” Orlando pointed out.
Gretchen shrugged. “Decision? Look, I’ve decided that me and Quatre are not going to be together, okay? I mean, he’s like purple silk and I’m just ratty old lime-green cotton. We wouldn’t mesh, Bloom.” She stared at him. “What—do you WANT us to get back together?”
“Eh, well…” Gretchen raised an eyebrow. “I think that you should do whatever you feel is right, you know? If it doesn’t feel right with him, then break it off.”
Gretchen nodded absently, agreeing, and didn’t say anything else afterwards. She watched as Orlando stuck a toothpick in his mouth, his brown eyes scanning the room. Amid her troubles, Gretchen couldn’t help noticing that he checked out his share of girls. Suddenly, she grinned.
“Hm…I think we’ve had enough talking about me.” Gretchen turned to her friend. “So what about you?”
The toothpick paused. “Huh?”
“Aw, don’t be shy, OB. I saw you eying that redhead over there.”
Orlando looked nonplussed. “And your point would be?”
“Oh, you know what I’m talking about.” Her grin turned mischievous. “Looks like someone’s a little lonely after all.”
Orlando snorted. “That redhead looks like she has the IQ of a Planters’ peanut.”
Gretchen clapped her hands together in delight. “Just your type!”
The only thing she got from Orlando was a glare.
“Okay, okay. That was low,” she amended. “But you can’t blame me for wondering why a good-looking guy like you has been dateless for the past several weeks.”
Orlando shrugged, trying to hide his discomfort. “I just…haven’t found the right girl yet.”
Gretchen raised an eyebrow. “Hm. Are you actually telling me that you are looking for a meaningful relationship?” When Orlando started to answer, she barreled on. “Look, Bloom, I know you’re my friend and all, but I’ve got to be honest with you. Your type…your type…”
Orlando’s eyebrows cocked. “Oh, so you think that busty redhead with the helium balloon for a head is my type?”
Orlando sighed, realizing that Gretchen was right. She had met most of the girls that Orlando had dated upon arriving in America, and most of them fit that mold. So what if he wanted an uncomplicated relationship with an…uncomplicated young woman? It was no one’s business but his own. Besides, what he really wanted was staring at him half-sheepishly, half-amusedly and in love with another man…
“You know,” Orlando began, “I think you’re right. I might go talk to her. She seems interesting.”
“That or her bra strap,” Gretchen teased.
Orlando’s face drew up in a malicious smirk as he grabbed the back of her neck again.
“God, you masochist! Stop it!”
Orlando chuckled and strode away, leaving Gretchen to watch him. She winced and rubbed the back of her neck. She was relieved to see Orlando having some fun rather than listen to her complain about her luck with men.
But as she spied him sitting down next to the woman, something inside her shifted. She didn’t know why.
And when Samantha walked in, she saw it in her cousin’s face, but didn’t say a word about it as she slid into the booth beside her.
“Well, it’s about time,” Gretchen greeted her. “What was the hold-up, Miss Dunne?”
Samantha grinned, forgetting the expression Gretchen had on her face when she walked in. “I’ve got some good news. So where’s Orlando?” Gretchen pointed and Samantha’s gaze followed her finger. She raised an eyebrow. “Well, back up the Ho Train.”
Squelching laughter, Gretchen shook her head. “Sam, that’s not nice. He just wanted an uncomplicated relationship. Or something.”
“Yeah, he’s going to have relations alright. The ‘ship’ will come later–or never come.”
“‘Lando’s gonna have relations! ‘Lando’s gonna have relations!” Gretchen said in a sing-song voice in her best imitation of Mama Klump. Samantha couldn’t help laughing hysterically as Orlando came up to their table, frowning at them. Gretchen paused and folded her hands in her lap.
“Ahem. You rang?” Gretchen inquired.
Orlando shook his head, already used to Gretchen and her craziness. “Nice to see you, Sam.”
“Likewise. Mind telling me what’s going on?”
“Nothing really,” Orlando replied. “I wish I could accompany you ladies, but Johanna would like to go to my apartment.”
Gretchen shook her head. Samantha spoke instead. “Just keep the noise to a minimum,” she said. “Gretch has to get up for work and we have a gig tomorrow night, not to mention you have class and work. Maybe if you’re feeling up to it, you can come to SLL and watch us. And bring…Johanna.”
“Yes, Mum,” Orlando responded with a roll of his brown eyes. With that, he strode away again. The duo watched as their friend took Johanna’s hand and led the tittering girl out the door.
“He’s gonna have relations,” Gretchen murmured idly.
“All night long,” Samantha added grimly.
* * *
A few mornings later, Gretchen piled her dance equipment into her bag, nursing a mug of herbal tea. She decided not to go for the coffee this morning, but she knew a certain person with the initials OB would be in eventually to snag a cup so she made some anyway.
Samantha was already gone. She had a day job at her little sister’s office, taking messages and aiding her whenever she could. Chris also worked at Merrell Enterprises and was probably getting ready for work himself—that is, if he got a good night sleep.
And sure enough, five seconds after she’d had the thought, there was a knock on the door. Throwing her duffel bag onto the couch, she headed for the door and opened it.
“Morning, Christopher, Orlando,” she greeted them.
They said nothing but filed into the kitchen one after the other. Gretchen leaned on the arm of the couch and watched as Chris came out first, expression tense, and plopped down on the couch. He was still silent even after his first sip.
“Let me guess,” Gretchen began in a low tone. “Orlando and his fresh main squeeze had the headboard banging on the wall all night and you didn’t get any sleep.”
Chris grunted. “The bloody bastard was at it all night. It’s been like that for the past couple of nights. And that Johanna giggles like Mr. Ed. I thought my head was going to split open.”
“Where is she now?”
Chris gulped down more coffee, then spoke. “She’s still in bed. Supposedly she’s a struggling actor like our dear virile friend and needs her beauty sleep.”
“Ouch. That’s not good.”
Gretchen cut herself off when Orlando emerged from the kitchen, nursing his own cup of coffee. She noticed he looked slightly more ready for the morning than his roommate, which infuriated Gretchen in ways she couldn’t understand. She turned to him after putting her own mug on the end table, arms crossed.
“Did you get some last night, Bloom?” she demanded, trying to keep the anger out of her voice.
Orlando looked at her warily. “I did, if that’s any of your business.”
“Well, I’m glad someone got some enjoyment out of the night because, apparently, there are some of us that didn’t.”
“I already apologized to Chris,” Orlando told her tersely. “He understands, unlike some people.”
“And what the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“It means that you are just envious of the fact that my relationship with Johanna is going well and yours with the prince of Forbes is going down the tubes.”
Gretchen couldn’t think of a moment when she wanted to slap Orlando so badly. Well, there was the time he walked in on her while she was stepping out of the shower in her birthday suit, but that was a long time ago. Luckily, Chris stood between them, knowing that Gretchen would either start shouting or start punching in a minute. With a snort of anger, Gretchen headed to the door and opened it in preparation for a hasty exit.
Instead, she found herself face to face with her boyfriend.
“Quatre,” she said, breathless. –
The young man in the pressed suit looked sheepish and did nothing to cover it. Both Orlando and Chris sobered and looked up, seeing even more trouble ahead.
“I decided it was time to come see you,” Quatre said. “We need to talk.”
Gretchen nodded. “You’re right, but this isn’t a good time. I’m already late for work as it is.”
“I can give you a lift,” Quatre offered.
Pride took over in a knee-jerk reaction. “That won’t be necessary.”
Quatre would not be refused. “But I insist.”
Figuring it would be easy and less time-consuming if she just took him up on his offer, Gretchen sighed and turned back to Chris and Orlando. “You guys don’t mind locking up, do you?”
“No,” Chris answered evenly, wanting to kill Quatre for hurting his friend in the first place. Orlando just stared on, eyes dark with anger and another emotion Chris couldn’t read. Chris noticed this but filed it away for later. “Go on. We’ll be just fine here.”
With that, Gretchen closed the door behind her and left.
Chris let out a short, abrupt sigh. “I hope things work out for her.” He looked up at Orlando standing over him. “And you, mister, better watch it. I don’t quite appreciate that comment you made to her earlier. The prince of Forbes, mate?”
“Well…she made me angry,” Orlando protested meekly in his defense.
“She’s not jealous of you, mate,” Chris commented. “But I’ve got the feeling that we might have to have a little talk on the way to work.”
Pause. Orlando paled a bit. “You’re not serious, Chris. You actually think—?”
“No, I don’t think, my dear friend. I know so. You’ve been eyeing Gretchen ever since you met her but you became her friend instead. And just because you’ve been out of the town, dating most of the eligible women, doesn’t mean that I’m going to believe that a part of you doesn’t want her.” Chris hesitated to examine his friend’s expression. “And you do want her. This Johanna character is just a replacement.”
“Distraction,” Orlando corrected. “But I’m not—”
“Which ever way you dub it, it’s still bad,” Chris scolded, rushing on before Orlando could protest. “Now, I don’t believe it’ll do you any good to have your feelings splattered all over for Gretchen to see, but I do believe that some day you’ll have your chance.”
Orlando chuckled, trying to fight off a blush. “Are you rooting for me instead of the Golden Prince over there? Because these feelings that you’re talking about just do not exist so it’s a waste of time. We’re good friends. That’s all.”
Chris shrugged. “Call it whatever you want.” He stood, coming eye to eye with his fellow Englishman. “But I know one thing. If you hurt Gretchen, I’m going to twist off your balls and stuff them down your throat.”
“Thanks,” Orlando said dryly. “Glad to know you’re loyal to your friends.”
Chris grinned impishly. “Anytime, mate.”