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"Just to be clear," Faye said, as soon as she saw Jimbo, "I want my whiskey in advance."

She sat down in a worn leather chair in the waiting area of Montage Photography Studio. To his credit, Jimbo immediately pulled a bottle out of a brown paper bag.

"Whoa, Knob Creek," Faye said appreciatively. "You pulled out the big ponies. Nice work."

"No problem." Jimbo winked. "Hope you don't mind that I helped myself to a little bit already." He took a drag from a flask he pulled out of his back pocket.

"Nope, since you left me plenty to work with." Faye screwed the cap off and took a swig straight from the bottle. "That should help. Now -- where is this costume you were telling me about?"

"It's in the back room -- Jessica here will show you where everything's at so you can get changed. She'll help you with the petticoats."

"Petticoats?"

Fifteen minutes later, Faye emerged from the studio changing room, with Jessica the photographer following behind her. "Seriously, I need to see a mirror already, this thing feels --"

"Whoa," an all-too-familiar voice said from across the room.

Faye felt her stomach drop in a not-so-pleasant manner as she glanced over. "Oh ... no. Hell no."

Sven made his way across the room way faster than she expected. "Is that any way to talk to someone you were once intimate with?"

Faye felt the tension immediately building up inside her. "Hmm… intimate is an interesting choice of words, coming from someone who has been 'intimate' with most of Northhampton's lady-population."

"Just so you know," he said, his eyes flitting toward Jimbo with a stiff jaw, "I had no idea you were going to be here."

"Ditto," Faye said. "In fact, if I'd known you were coming, I probably wouldn't have accepted Jimbo's offer."

"Not even if I'd brought two bottles of whiskey?" Jimbo asked.

"Not even for twenty --- OK, maybe twenty, but, you know, that's -- wait, no -- I'm not doin' this," she said, frowning. Faye stalked back to the dressing room, grabbing at whatever hooks she could reach on the dress. "Help me get this damn thing off, or I'm walking out in it!"

Jessica ran after Jimbo into the room.

"Faye, c'mon!" Jimbo said. "I'm tryin' to get this new book genre goin' and I really need your help since I'm self-publishin' this novel, and ..."

Faye sighed loudly. "Jimbo, you're OK. And while I wasn't crazy about bein' the cover model for your steampunk vampire novel thing -- whatever it is you're doing, I'm here. But, seriously, why, out of all the people in this town, did you have to pick Sven-fucking-Bianchi for my partner?"

"I take it you two have some kinda history, or somethin'?"

"That's like saying that World War II was just a slight skirmish," she growled as she continued to pull at the hooks on the dress.

"Careful!" Jessica said. "The bar we borrowed this from said we have to return it in perfect condition or they'll charge us for the dress -- it's worth, like five hundred bucks, or something like that."

"Fine," Faye sighed, and leaned against the wall.

"Faye," Sven called from outside the curtain. "Are you still dressed?"

"Yeah," she sighed again.

He poked his head through. "Listen, I know you're still mad at me, and you'll always probably be mad at me, but, you know, this isn't for me, this is for Jimbo."

Faye glared at him.

"It won't take long, and I promise not to say anything else to you unless you ask me to."

"Can I kick you in the balls afterwards?"

"What?" Sven asked. "No!"

Well, can I punch you in the face?"

"Does everything revolve around physical violence?"

"Pretty much," Faye said.

"No."

"Just a little slap?"

Sven looked over at Jimbo. "This so isn't worth it."

Jimbo winked at him. "I promise, you'll get your payment later. It'll be good."

Faye's eyes narrowed. "Payment?" she asked. "Fuck that, I want a good flogging now."

"What?" Sven asked.

"I'm not doin' this unless I can slug him," Faye said to Jimbo.

"C'mon!" Sven said.

Jimbo looked at Sven, and then back at Faye. "Just promise you don't hit him 'til we're done doin' the photos."

Faye let out a breath. "I promise. But after everything's done, all bets are off." She waved her hand around in circles as if warming it up.

"You better make this worth my while," Sven muttered to Jimbo as they headed back into the studio.

===

"Dude. I think I'm getting blisters on my gums from these fake vampire teeth." Faye licked her tender gums, frowning.

"I think they look amazing," Sven said, leaning in towards her. "You'd make a great vampire."

"I will so bite you right now."

"Really," Sven said, wagging his eyebrows.

"There's definitely something wrong with you," Faye sighed, leaning back on the chaise lounge they had set up for the shoot. They were in-between shots; Jessica was adjusting the lighting.

"I think you secretly like that about me," Sven grinned.

"Like what? That you're a woman-hating sexaholic who can't commit to anyone, even when you say you have feelings for them?"

"Ouch."

Faye turned to look at him, a deep frown settling into her face. "Actually, yeah. That's how I felt after you slept with that other chick."

"I already told you, I made a mistake. I don't know how many times I have to say that."

"And what about your 'payment,' huh? Did you think I forgot about that? You're never going to change. It's like tellin' a lion he can't eat meat anymore."

"Faye ... you know I really do -- um, like you. As a person, I mean."

"I do know that. You told me the other day, outside the shop."

"Then why do you hate me so much?"

"I don't hate you, Sven. I just don't really want to pretend that we're friends, OK? Like I told you the other day, I won't spit in your drinks if you come into the coffee shop, but that's about the best I can do for you."

Sven sighed. "OK, then."

"Ready!" Jessica said, stepping between them. "Here -- Faye, I need you to stand up here, behind the couch. Then Sven needs to lay here, and you're going to bend over him like you're ready to bite his neck, all right?"

"Yo," Faye said, moving around.

"I don't think a steampunk vampire would say 'yo,'" Sven chuckled.

"You don't know that. 'Yo' could be to steampunk vampires what 'like' is to tweeners."

"I gotta jot that down for my next book," Jimbo said.

"How do you want me to go?" Faye asked Jessica.

"Like this," Jessica said, positioning her just above Sven's neck. "Make like you're going to bite him." Jessica stepped back to get behind the camera.

Sven was so close that when she breathed, she could detect a hint of his aftershave. She had always liked that about him -- waking up next to him, his scent seeping through her senses...

Shit, she thought. This was how it always started with him. That damn physical attraction. She was not giving into this asshole. Not ever again.

She knew it had been a mistake hooking up with him to begin with, but it had been so long since she'd been with anyone, and he was just so handsome -- his long limbs, smooth neck, strong jaw, the way he'd move inside her and it felt just right ...

Goddamn it.

"Faye?"

The sound of Sven's voice took her out of her thoughts.

"Uh?" she said. Fuck. Why, why did she have to sleep with him? And why did it have to be so damn good?

Of course, she knew why. Anyone who slept with that many women had to be good at it by now. But, still.

"Jessica said she's done with the pictures."

"Oh," Faye said, straightening up quickly. "Yeah. Sorry."

"Are you ... OK?"

"Yeah. No, I was, uh, thinking about something."

"Hm," Sven said, eyeing her carefully. She wondered what he was thinking.

"OK, well, I'm gonna change. I'll ... uh, see you around."

When she was back in her regular clothes again, she came out to see that Sven was still waiting for her.

"I thought we were finished," she said. "I have nothing else to say to you."

"You said you were going to hit me," he said.

"I forgot about that. But if you really want it, I'd be happy to slug you, weirdo."

"No, I really don't, but I still feel like, you know, there's something we didn't settle between us, and, uh..."

"Sven, what's it gonna take for you? I don't want to sleep with you." Liar, she thought. "I don't want to be friends with you. If you want me to hit you, I'd be glad to, but that's all you're gonna get out of me."

"OK," Sven said with a sigh. "You're right, I don't deserve anything more than that."

"Glad you see it my way," she said. She was about to walk away, but at the last second, thought about Sven snuggling up with some blonde chick from the bar, or whoever it was that Jimbo was going to hook him up with, and something welled up inside her. She spun around and laid a heavy slap across his cheek.

"Ow! What the -- FUCK?"

Immediately, she felt a rush of satisfaction, but it was quickly followed by guilt, especially when she saw the huge red mark appear on his pale cheek. She waited a second for him to stop rubbing it.

"You really weren't kidding, were you?" he asked, frowning.

"I hate to renege on promises," she smirked.

He touched it again, gingerly. "You're really fuckin' crazy, you know that?"

"That's what my therapist says. Anyway, I'm done with you, now. Have a nice life."

"Yeah, whatever," Sven said, glaring after her.

"What happened?" Jessica asked, rushing in from the front lobby. "We heard a noise!"

"Nothing that some good whiskey won't fix," Faye said. She stopped at the doorway and took a long swig from the bottle. "Thanks, Jimbo. And do me a favor, will you?"

"Yeah?" Jimbo asked, glancing between Faye and Sven.

"Don't ask for any more favors."

"Still the ladies man, huh?" she heard Jimbo say to Sven as she walked out.

===

"Fuck. Fuck. Fuck."

"Good evening to you, too, Faye," Marten said, as he plopped down on the other side of the couch. He nodded to the nearly half-empty bottle of Knob Creek she was drinking from. "Tough day?"

"You could say that," she muttered.

"I never knew the coffee business was so stressful 'til I met you," Marten chuckled.

"It's not Coffee Of Doom," Faye said, shaking her head. She took another chug of whiskey, changing channels on the TV. "Fuck. Why is nothing good on?"

"Because the alcohol cartels paid off the networks so there'd be no good television on Fridays, in an effort to make people want to drink more."

"Does that mean the pharmaceutical companies had something to do with the Twilight novels, then?" Faye asked, shutting the TV off.

"Yep. Because after you're done reading them, you need massive amounts of drugs," Marten grinned.

"Exactly. What about Radio Disney, then?" Faye asked.

"It's a plot by the record companies to indoctrinate young people into listening to shitty music."

"Of course! Which explains why Nickelback is still making records," Faye said.

"No, they're still in existence because the world needs to be reminded of that which is pure evil."

Faye snorted. "Hey, want some whiskey?"

"Sure," Marten said. "I'll -- uh, grab a glass."

"Put on some music while you're at it. I'm too lazy to move."

Marten chuckled again, switching on the CD player on the way to the kitchen. "Have you heard this album yet?" he asked as he pulled a glass out of the cabinet.

"Yes -- because you play it all the time in the morning after Dora leaves for work."

"She doesn't like a lot of my music. She says ... it depresses her."

"Hah! Hilarious coming from a girl who listens to death metal and goth, the genre that introduced the emo movement, a.k.a., God's punishment to the world."

"I thought that was Creed. Anyway, isn't punk the true precursor to emo?" Marten asked. He held his glass out while Faye poured a shot for him.

"Well, I guess -- but goth, in my opinion, is the real origin of emo. Who's more emo than a bunch of dorks dressing up all in black, wearing eyeliner, and whining about how depressed they are?"

"That's my girlfriend you're insulting."

Faye grinned. "And my boss. Anyway, we know Dora's not really goth -- not anymore."

"I guess," Marten said. He sighed. "I don't know, sometimes it sucks not being able to talk about music I like with her. She listens when I talk about it, but -- I don't know."

"Huh," Faye said, taking another sip. "I dunno. I think Dora wants to like what you do, you just can't make someone like something they don't like."

"Deep words from a deep thinker," Marten grinned.

"That's the best you're gonna get after a half-bottle of whiskey," Faye said, her words slurring a bit.

"Tsh," Marten said. "Anyway, what do you think?"

"Think what?"

"About this album?"

"Oh," Faye said. "What's this, again?"

"The new Royksopp album? Junior."

"Ah, yeah, yeah. I 'member what I was going to say. It's like, it should be Karin-sopp, or something."

"Eh?"

"I dunno, I think they used too much of Karin Dreijer Andersson in this album; her voice seems to permeate everything, it feels like. She has a strong voice that works great for her solo stuff, but I feel like these guys do good music on their own without needing to make her the voice of their music. You know?"

"I dunno, I think she's awesome. Maybe that's why I like this album so much."

"Well, her music videos give me nightmares."

"That's hilarious," Marten said. "I can't believe they freak you out." He held his glass out for a refill. Faye poured him another shot.

"What?" she said. "They're creepy as fuck."

"Yeah, but that's why they're so awesome," Marten said.

"You've been spending too much time around Dora if you think that."

"Nah, I just saw a lot of weird stuff growing up, so not much freaks me out anymore."

"S'true," Faye said, sliding further down into the couch.

"So ... do you want me to change it? The CD?"

"No," Faye said. "It's all right."

"OK," Marten said. After a long moment, he said, "Do you think music is a dumb thing to feel weird about?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean the fact that Dora and I don't have the same music tastes. Sometimes it's frustrating for me, 'cause music is so important to me."

"I get ya, but, I dunno. It's not something to break up over." She smiled. "Unless, of course, that person likes Nickelback. That's a dealbreaker."

Marten laughed. "For sure. But, I mean -- sometimes I just wish we were on the same page. It's just a big part of my life, you know? Especially now that I have the band, and all."

"Trust me," Faye said. "When you find someone you love, you shouldn't let that go. You might regret it later."

Marten took a long sip of his drink, then held his empty glass out to Faye for another refill. He waited for another few seconds before responding.

"Do ... you regret anything you've done?"

"Yeah," Faye said. "Sven, for one. And, well..." She glanced over at Marten quickly, then turned back, gripping the bottleneck tightly. "I mean. Listen. If I hadn't been so, you know, messed up, I, well, I -- I dunno."

"What?" Marten asked, turning in her direction.

"Ah. S'nothing," Faye said, standing up and shaking her head.

"What?" Marten asked again, standing up to face her.

"I just mean," Faye said, looking at the floor, "if I hadn't been so fucked up, I totally would have dated you, because, well, you're worthy of any girl, and especially Dora, so..." She slowly turned to look at Marten.

"Faye..." Marten said.

"Just..." Faye frowned, walking away towards the kitchen. "I'm sorry," she muttered. "I didn't mean to -- I shouldn't have said anything."

Marten followed her closely. "I'm sorry, too, Faye, I mean ... I didn't mean to hurt your feelings by dating Dora, you know."

She turned on her heel, almost hitting Marten in the face while doing so. "That's not what I'm sayin', Marty."

He frowned, studying her face.

"I'm saying, don't fuck up a good thing while you have it over something stupid!"

"Yeah," Marten said.

"Dora loves you and you two are great together. Don't ... over-think it."

"Yeah," Marten said.

"'Cause you over-think everything," Faye said, smiling. She leaned up against the countertop to hold herself up.

"I do, don't I?"

"Here," Faye said, pouring the rest of the whiskey into Marten's glass. "Have some more of this. I think you need it."

"Twist my arm." Marten smiled.

Faye felt a knot form in her stomach. The fact of the matter was, while she was glad things had worked out for Marten, she still had feelings of guilt about rejecting his advances, especially when it came up every now and then. She felt like she hadn't said enough, or the right thing. She took a deep breath. "Look," she said. "I also want you to know that, you know, I'm really sorry for making things hard on you for so long. I mean, I know it couldn't have been easy for 'ya, and--"

Marten shook his head, touching her arm lightly. She flinched, unconsciously. "I know I joke about it sometimes, but, you know, I am happy with Dora. And, you know, I'm glad we're still friends."

"Heh, me too," Faye said warmly. An image of Sven and his smarmy smile flashed into her head. She held back the urge to blanch.

It just -- sucks, she wanted to say. Why did she always figure out shit too damn late? On the other hand, she was glad that Dora and Marty were happy together. At least something good had come out of it all.

"And, well, for what it's worth, you'll always be important to me." Marten flashed her a crooked smile. "Even if you do kinda suck."

"Yeah. I know," Faye said. "That, um, means a lot to me, though."

Marten shrugged. He finished off the glass of whiskey and put it in the sink. "OK, then. What happened today that was so awful, anyway?"

Faye snorted. "You -- really don't want to know. Let's just say it involved steampunk vampire romance, a camera, and yours truly."

"Buh?"

She shook her head. "I'm going to bed," she said, and turned towards her bedroom.

"All right," Marten said, leaning against the refrigerator.

"Hey!" Pintsize bound into the room, bouncing up and down on the linoleum. "Guess what?"

Marten sighed. "What?"

"I found anthroPC / Refrigerator porn online!"

Marten stepped back off the fridge. "Ugh. Good night, Pintsize."

"Wait -- you have to see the part with the crisper drawer!"

"Good *night,* Pintsize," Marten said, quickly retreating to his room and closing the door behind him.

===

"So, how'd the photo shoot go?" Dora asked Faye as she walked into work the next day.

"I would have been better off inserting hot coals directly into my eyes," Faye said.

"That bad, huh?"

"Let's just say that no amount of whiskey will ever be enough for me to do Jimbo a favor again."

Dora chuckled. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"That's what I pay my therapist for," Faye said, scooping up beans into the coffee grinder.

"Did you have to wear fangs?" Dora asked, a gleam in her eyes.

Lord, Faye thought. Dora was probably getting turned on thinking about it. "I told you, I am not talking about this with you, pervert."

"Suit yourself," Dora said with a smirk. "I'll just wait till the book comes out so I can have a copy for myself."

"With any luck, it'll tank, and no one will have to look at my ugly vampire-steampunk mug."

Dora winked. "I wouldn't count on it. I already preordered a few copies for the coffee shop."

"A few--?"

"Like, maybe, a few hundred?"

"I hate you so much."

===

Dora came back from her lunch and made a beeline for Faye.

"You did not tell me that Sven was at that photo shoot yesterday. You guys aren't sleeping together again, are you?"

"God, no," Faye said, making a face. "I had no idea he was going to be there. How did you hear about that?"

"I went to lunch with him." Dora shrugged. "He didn't want to meet me here -- something about being afraid that you'd hit him again?"

"He asked for it," Faye said.

Dora rolled her eyes.

"Well, technically, he did," Faye said, "even though he whined like a baby afterwards. Typical."

"How did he get involved in that?"

"You didn't ask?" Faye said. Dora shook her head. "Your guess is as good as mine -- I guess he probably met Jimbo at the bar, or somethin', like we did."

"Hm," Dora said. "I guess that wouldn't surprise me."

"Anyway, don't be tellin' anyone else about this steampunk vampire thing. It'll be bad enough when this book comes out, no thanks to you."

"I just want to promote the varied talents of my employees. Raven was my barista-slash-astrophysicist, Penny's our barista-slash-bibliophile, and you're my barista-slash-steampunk vampire model."

"What about my advanced degree in sassology?"

"A triple-threat. I'll make sure to include that on your business cards."

"I'm getting business cards? Finally I'm moving up in the world!"

A male voice said, "What's this I hear about you being a steampunk vampire model?"

Ugh. Angus. Yet another person she didn't need to see right now. Why was it that all the wrong men showed up in her life all at the same time?

"What do you know about that?" Faye snarled. "Are you friends with Sven, or something?"

"Sven? That dude you were sleeping with? What?"

"You better watch it, or your latte's going to come with a free kick in the nads," Faye warned.

"No, I mean, I just heard you guys talking about it when I came in."

"Oh," Faye said. She turned back to the espresso machine. "Your usual?"

He nodded.

"In the cup, or on your head?"

"While the latter sounds intriguing, I'll go with the former, since I washed my hair already."

"Coulda fooled me," Faye smirked as she poured the milk foam into the cup. "Have you heard of that new-fangled invention -- what was it called again? Oh, yeah -- the comb."

"Tsh," Dora said. "Why don't you two just sleep together and get it over with already?"

"I already tried that, and it's not an effective method for defusing annoyance," Faye frowned.

"Wait -- what? We never slept together!" Angus protested.

"Not with you, dumbass. Sven. The reason I don't randomly sleep with other people," Faye said, glaring at him.

"I'm not just a random person, you know." Angus leaned up against the counter.

God, he actually looked kind of hopeful. Stupid Dora. The last thing Faye needed to do was to hook up with him, especially right now. Besides, she'd probably spend half the time thinking about Sven, anyway. She suddenly felt sick to her stomach.

"Hey, Dora, can you, uh -- man the espresso machine for a few minutes? I need to take a break."

"Bran muffins finally kicking in?" Dora grinned.

"Nice," Angus said, pretending to sip on his coffee.

"You guys suck," Faye said, and turned around.

===

Thankfully, when she came back out, Angus was gone, and Dora was looking at something on her laptop. Faye sighed loudly, trying to sound upset. It wasn't much of a stretch, honestly.

"Hey," she said. "I hate to ask you, but is there any chance I could take off? I'm not feeling so hot."

"Oh," Dora said, looking up. "You think you're getting sick?"

"Maybe, I dunno. My stomach's feeling kind of weird, or something."

"Yeah, sure," Dora said, dismissively. She went back to looking at the laptop. "Penny should be here any minute, anyway. I think I can handle it."

"Thanks," Faye said. She breathed a sigh of relief, stepping outside into a rush of cold air. It felt good. She just needed to get home and --

"Oof!"

She fell backwards, landing on her bottom. What the fuck? Didn't people watch where they were going these days? She looked up to see a hand reaching out.

"Aw, you're not hurt, are you?"

She looked up to see Sven standing over her. Goddamn it. Could she go anywhere without running into his dumb ass?

She waved his hand away, brushing off her butt as she stood up. "I'm OK. We Whittakers have well-cushioned bottoms."

"I'm well aware of that," Sven said, grinning.

"You're the worst. What are you doing here, anyway?"

"I was just coming to get a cup of coffee, if you don't mind. You're leaving?"

"Yeah, actually. Feel free to drink your coffee without fear of getting slapped."

"Why do you always --" Sven stopped himself midsentence, shaking his head. "Never mind."

"What? I'm sure whatever you have to say will make this day so much better for me." She put her hand on her hip.

"Forget about it," Sven said. "It's not worth it."

"You're right, it's not worth it," Faye said, turning on her heel and walking away.

===

She immediately poured herself a glass of bourbon after coming into the apartment. Looks like it's going to be another drunk night, she thought, turning on the CD player. She made a face when she realized Marten's CD was still in the player.

She went to grab an Iron and Wine album, but decided that feeling depressed wasn't in the cards, so instead she put in Junior Senior.

Faye sat on the couch, determined to not to be annoyed. After all, she had done it to herself. She was the one who had let Sven seduce her. She had made the choice to sleep with him, a number of times. She had gone back to him, even against her better judgment.

"Fuck!" she growled, slamming the cup down onto the table.

"Yes, please!" Pintsize said, bounding out of Marten's room much more quickly than she realized an AnthroPC could move.

"Pintsize, I swear to God, if you don't go right back into Marten's room, I will take you apart, piece by piece and hide it all so you can't be put back together again."

He smiled at her, the little shit. "You're really sexy when you're angry!" he called out, running back into Marten's room and locking the door. She still couldn't figure out how he did that, considering he didn't really have fingers. Not since he'd gotten his thumb-hands fixed, anyway.

Faye sighed. She wanted to talk to someone about this. But who? She couldn't really afford another session with her therapist until next week.

Penelope? No, Penny would just make fun of her and tell her how stupid she was.

Hannelore? Maybe... she would likely listen without judgment, even if she couldn't understand the concept of really, really good sex.

Her thoughts were interrupted with a loud pounding on the door. "Faye! Marten!"

Faye opened the door to a frantic Hannelore, who practically ran inside.

"Have you seen Winslow? I just came back from the coffee shop, and he's gone! He never goes anywhere without leaving a note!"

"I don't know," Faye said. "I haven't seen him lately, so--"

"I know where he is," Pintsize said, poking his head out of Marten's door.

"Of course you do," Faye said, rolling her eyes. If he knew where Winslow was, it couldn't be good.

"Where is he?" Hannelore asked, running over to him. She threw Marten's bedroom door open. "Is he in here?"

Pintsize shook his head. "He's with his new *girlfriend.* I don't get why she refused my advances, but what can I say?"

"'Girlfriend?'" Faye and Hannelore said at the same time.

"AnthroPC's can have girlfriends?" Faye asked.

"Who, er -- what is it?" Hannelore asked.

"Momo," Pintsize said, rolling his eyes. "He's at her place." He went back into Marten's room, shutting the door.

"Momo?" Faye asked.

"Marigold's AnthroPC," Hannelore said, looking relieved, then worried again. "I wonder why he didn't tell me he has a girlfriend! How did Pintsize know it, and I didn't?"

"Pintsize knows a lot of stuff he shouldn't know," Faye said, smirking. "Anyway, I'm sure it's not a big deal."

"I guess," Hannelore said, sitting down on the couch. She sighed. "I don't know -- I just feel a little betrayed, not knowing about this. Why didn't he leave a note?"

"Maybe he was scared to tell you about it," Faye said.

"But why?"

"Sometimes ... I mean -- he was probably afraid of how you'd react."

"I don't care that he has a girlfriend!" Hannelore said. "I mean, it's kind of weird -- and gross, thinking about him touching someone else. I'll really have to make sure I clean him off before I use him, now, and..."

"Yeah, well, don't forget, it could always be worse." Faye nodded back towards Marten's room where Pintsize was, and then motioned to the bottle on the coffee table. "Want some?"

"Eh, I'll wait. Are you coming out tonight?"

"Where?"

"I'm meeting Marten and Dora and Marigold at The Revelation. I bought my own fancy dress, too, so I don't have to wear one that's borrowed and icky!"

"Hm, that's great."

"So -- are you coming?"

"Is Angus coming?"

"I don't know... maybe. Are you going to go?"

"No, I, uh -- I think I'm just going to hang out here tonight."

"By yourself?"

"What's wrong with that? You used to hang out by yourself a lot, too." Faye said, frowning.

"Y-yeah, I guess," Hannelore said, standing up. "I'm going to, um, go now."

"Wait," Faye said, standing up as well. "I -- I'm just upset about something that happened; it has nothin' to do with you."

"What happened?"

"It's kind of a long story, but I ran into Sven yesterday, and today, and, I don't know..." She trailed off.

"You're not sleeping with him again, are you?"

"No! No..." Faye said. "Why does everyone keep asking me that? Do I have 'whore' written across my forehead?"

Hannelore looked at her for a second. "No, I just asked because you guys were together before, and I thought maybe..."

Faye shook her head. "No, it's -- a valid question, I guess."

"Do you miss him?"

"Yeah, I mean... sort of. I don't know. I miss his body, more than anything."

"He's attractive and you enjoyed the way it felt when you were with him, but at the same time, you dislike his personality and are still feeling hurt about him sleeping with that other girl while you were together."

"Yeah, pretty much," Faye said. "I guess, it just sucks because if I wasn't so messed up, I could have just as easily ended up dating Marty, who is, like, the anti-Sven, you know, and that's, I dunno, kinda weird -- but, still."

"But if you hadn't turned Marten down, he wouldn't have dated Dora, and then she'd be unhappy."

"I know," Faye said. "And they're both happy now, and I'm glad. And, it's not even like I'm attracted to Marty anymore, it's more that, I guess, I wish I could find someone nice, like he is."

"I don't know that you'd really like someone that nice," Hannelore said, sitting on the arm of the couch. When Faye gave her an odd look, she added, "I just mean that you'd find someone like that boring. You need someone interesting -- with a good sense of humor."

"Hm," Faye said. "I suppose you're right."

"What about Marigold's roommate, Angus? Do you like him?"

"He's OK, I guess, except that he's kind of a weirdo. And I feel like he's a bit obsessed with me. And he never seems to comb his hair."

Hannelore nodded. "Yeah, he does have hair issues, I've noticed that. But, still, he'd be good for you. You should at least give him a chance."

"Eh," Faye said. "I know. I guess I just need a little more time to think about it. After all, I jumped into things with Sven, and look where that got me."

"I understand," Hannelore said, setting her hand on the top of the couch as she stood up. Immediately, she started hyperventilating. "Oh -- no, no, oh -- what is that -- it's sticky, sticky, oh!"

"What?" Faye asked, turning around. "What happened?"

"I ... put my hand ... in something ... sticky," she said between breaths. "Oh, no ... no, no!"

"What?" Faye asked, leaning closer to take a better look at it. "What is that?"

"Ah, sorry," Pintsize said, coming out of Marten's room. "That was probably me. I've been experimenting with prototype genitals, complete with working parts! It must have ... leaked."

"Leaked?" both girls said at the same time.

Faye had never seen Hannelore look so horrified.

"Shit, Hanners, let me get some hydrogen peroxide." Faye jumped up.

"No, I have a sanitizing decontamination chamber in my apartment. I have to go..." she trailed off, running so fast that she didn't even bother to use tissue on the door handle like she usually did.

It wasn't until several moments later that Faye realized Pintsize was still standing behind the couch.

"Dude. What the hell is wrong with you? Fake jizz? That's too far, even for you."

"Actually, it's authentic, I negotiated a good price from the local sperm bank."

"Ew!" Faye said, shaking her hand out. "I don't know if I touched it, but I will be washing my hands for the next five minutes. And listen," she said, as she grabbed him by the head, leaving his arms and legs swinging wildly below as he struggled to get away. "If you do not clean that up immediately, I will take you apart and burn all the pieces this time. Got it?"

"Yep," Pintsize said, still struggling.

"Good," she said, dropping him to the ground.

"You do realize that computercide is considered a felony, punishable up to ten years in prison."

"Only if you get caught," Faye said, grinning evilly.

"You scare me so much," Pintsize said.

"I need to go scrub my arms now. I don't even want to see so much as a mark on that couch."

"Yes ma'am."

===

Faye woke up suddenly, her lips sticking together and mouth parched. "Ugh," she muttered to herself, getting up and walking to the kitchen. As she opened the refrigerator to grab the water pitcher, she glanced at the clock. 2:34 a.m. Yuck.

She had just finished off the glass of water when she heard the door open.

Damn. Marten. She was hoping he'd stay at Dora's that night and leave her alone in the apartment. She stood still against the counter, hoping he wouldn't come into the kitchen, but she had turned the light on, and sure enough, he strolled in, smirking when he saw her leaning awkwardly next to the sink.

"You still up?" he asked.

"I wasn't until about five minutes ago."

"Oh," Marten said.

"Yeah, so... I guess I'll head back to bed now," she said, forcing a smile at him.

"Wait," Marten said, just before she passed him in the kitchen. He stopped her with his hand. She felt his skin of his fingers burning through the thin material of her t-shirt.

"What?" she asked, annoyed. She didn't really want to talk to him right then. Looking at him just made her feel dysfunctional and pathetic. Still half-drunk, awake at two in the morning, and alone. This was her life.

"What's wrong, Faye?"

"Marty, I don't ... I'm supposed to open again tomorrow. I can't stay up any longer."

He just looked at her, those damn blue eyes piercing into her, pleading ... damn it, where was her tenacity when she actually needed it?

"Fuck. Fine," she said, gesturing towards the couch. "I'll talk. Let me at least get some more water first."

Marten looked relieved to hear that. "OK," he said, heading into the living room.

She sat down on the other side of the couch, and after a moment, decided to hide her hands under her legs, because, for whatever reason, they were shaking.

"So. What's up?" he asked.

Faye shook her head. "I don't know. I couldn't sleep. I can't stop thinking about what I'm doing -- what I should be doing. I mean, I look at you and Dora and you have such a great relationship..."

"Yeah..." Marten said. "And?"

"Well, I mean, first I turn you down, then I sleep with Sven, which was, admittedly, not in my best judgment, and now Angus is, um..."

"Wait. Are you sleeping with Angus?" Marten asked, his eyes wide.

"Angus? No -- no." Faye covered a smile. She suddenly got a mental flash of Angus's floppy hair, falling over her naked breasts as his mouth moved down toward her nipple ...

She felt her face get warm. "I actually hadn't even thought about it," she lied. "It's just that... well, everyone says he's interested in me, but, you know, he's kinda weird, and -- I don't know."

"Do you like him?"

Faye shrugged. "We get along OK. I just think he's ... weird. I don't know. I guess I haven't really spent a ton of time getting to know him."

"You're afraid to give it a shot 'cause you don't want to screw it up?"

"Yeah, basically. I mean, I feel like I screwed you over, even though you started dating Dora right away. And then Sven, well..."

"I think things worked out for the best, y'know?" Marten said, smiling. "I mean, I am happy with Dora. Even though we don't agree on everything, I enjoy spendin' time with her and the sex is pretty awesome--"

"Gah, I so do not want to know about you and Dora having sex. I already have to listen to you guys every now and then, which is bad enough."

"You can hear us?"

"Dora, mostly. Every time she screeches, 'oh, Master!' I get nightmares."

Marten immediately turned red. "Yeah," he said with a grimace. "That's not, um, Dora."

"Who, then..." She slapped her hand over her mouth. "Oh my God, that's you?"

Marten didn't respond.

"Oh, wow. Wow. I just learned way more in the last two seconds than I needed to ever know in my entire life."

Marten frowned, biting his lip. "What people do in the bedroom is their own business."

"Unless your roommate can hear you," Faye said. "Wow. That explains a lot, then."

"I thought we were talking about you," Marten frowned.

Despite herself, Faye started smiling. Before long, a full grin had taken over her face. "So -- that bondage gear that Pintsize was wearing a while ago ... that wasn't his, was it?"

"I don't want to talk about this anymore."

"And the subscription to 'Submissive Anonymous' wasn't Pintsize's, either?"

"My mom runs an advice column in it!"

Faye stood up, chuckling. "You know what? I'm really glad we had this conversation. I do feel a lot better now."

Marten's face clouded over. "I'm so glad I could help."

She glanced over at his arm, which was sprawled out across the back of the couch. "Oh, and you're going to want to disinfect that arm of yours. Pintsize jizzed all over that area of the couch."

"What?"

===

"Good morning, Faye. Penelope," Angus said, grinning. The cold had made his cheeks and nose red, and his glasses were fogged up. Faye glanced over at him, smiling slightly. He looked cute, if she could admit that to herself.

"You're here early today. Your usual?" Faye asked.

"Early debate. Actually, can I try the special instead?"

"Used babies?" Faye asked.

"Wasn't that last week's?"

"It was," Faye said. "It's just that we have a little bit of inventory left, and I was trying to shill it onto you."

"How about a pinch of baby toe, then? I've heard they've got a sweet flavor."

"Yeah, sweet but kind of funky, too. Like eating bleu cheese. Now what you really need to try is baby tongue! It's to die for."

"You two are so macabre, I can't stand it," Penelope said. "I'm going to restock the pastry case.

"Wimp," Faye said as she headed back into the storeroom. She turned back to Angus, leaning over the counter. "So... you really want a bacon latte?" she asked, glancing back at the chalkboard.

Angus smiled. "Yes, I really want one. If anyone can make a good latte with bacon, it would be you."

"It's true, though. If you undercook the bacon, it gets all soggy in the coffee, but if you overcook it, it crumbles too easily. The key is finding the balance between crispiness and bodily integrity."

She poured the espresso into the cup, adding the steamed milk and foam to the top. She then dropped several slices of bacon in, and handed it over to Angus. "Use the bacon as a stirrer to better incorporate the smoky flavor into the drink. It's got a little bite, because I used peppered bacon."

"Hm, interesting," Angus said, as he took a sip. "So you've had this before?"

"Ugh, no. It's disgusting. Who wants bacon in their coffee?"

"Me, obviously, since I ordered it. If it's so gross, why is it a special?"

"Because no one usually orders the specials. They're just there to enhance the ambiance of the shop." Faye thought for a second. "Except during finals week, when people will use any distraction to get out of finals. The cayenne latte was a popular one. But my personal favorite is the prune cappuccino with shredded bran!"

"Gross," Angus said.

"We don't offer it anymore since Raven stopped working here. She's the only one we could get to clean the bathrooms on the days we ran that special."

"I think I just lost my appetite," Angus frowned, setting his drink down.

"So quickly? I'm just getting started," Faye grinned.

Angus shook his head. "You are the only girl I know who can gross me out more than all the guys I'm friends with."

"If you think that's gross, you should ask Dora about her Diva Cup sometime..."

"Diva Cup --?" Angus looked at her. "You know what -- never mind. I don't want to know, do I?"

Faye smirked. "Probably not. Anyway, uh, you know, since I was too tired the last time you asked about it, and all, and uh, well..."

Angus perked up immediately. "Wait. Are you asking me out?"

"Not really," she said, but when his face immediately fell, she added: "I mean, I guess it's sort of a date, you know -- dinner and a movie. That's a date, right?"

"When was the last time you went out on an actual date?"

Faye's expression became serious. "A long, long time ago. I dunno - maybe five years? I can't remember now."

"Wow," Angus said. "So ... sleeping with people doesn't count as a date?"

"Person, you jackass, singular. And you realize I can revoke my request, don't you?"

"Yeesh, sorry," he said. He held his hand out. "I duly apologize, and I accept your proposal for a dinner-and-movie tonight, with future potential to be re-categorized as a date."

She took his hand and shook it. "Agreed," she said, smiling as he held her hand just a second too long.

"OK, then," he said, turning to go.

"OK." She watched him walk out the door, already feeling the pinch in her cheeks as the massive grin threatened to escape. She'd asked out a boy! For real! And it hadn't gone badly. What a great day, she thought.

"Hey, wait," he said, coming back into the door.

"What?" she asked, suddenly worried. Had she said something wrong? Had he changed his mind?

"You never said what time."

"Oh," Faye said. "I told you I haven't done this in a while! Just ... meet me here at five. Can you do that?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I can. I will see you, then."

"All right," Faye said, half-waving at him as he left. She let out a huge breath that she hadn't even realized she'd been holding.

"What's up with you?" Penelope asked, carrying a large tray of muffins and pastries. She set them down on the countertop. "You look kind of weird... like you're ... glowing, or something."

"Penny. Penny," she said, grabbing her arms. "I ASKED ANGUS OUT AND HE SAID OK. HE SAID OK. I FINALLY DID IT, OH MY GOD. I DID IT."

Penelope carefully peeled Faye's hands off her arms. "That's great. You're not going to shake me like you did before, are you? I had a headache for the rest of the day last time."

"No, I just," she sighed. "I finally feel like I'm becoming the person I've wanted to be."

"All right..." Penelope said.

"I mean, I'm not Crazy Faye, or Faye-with-issues, I'm just Faye, who has a date with a boy tonight. This calls for a celebration!"

"Champagne?" Penelope asked, confused.

"No -- strong coffee, a double chocolate muffin, and a fifteen minute break. Man the register, Penny. I gotta call Dora and tell her the good news."

"You are definitely the worst co-worker ever."

"Yeah, yeah. Oh -- and if anyone asks for the special, we're out of bacon, so -- I dunno, substitute that ham that's in the fridge."

"That's my lunch!"

"Figure something else out, then. I'm on break," she grinned, humming to herself as she stepped into the back room.

===

the end