Winter's Tale

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Taking a Break

After simply sitting and pouting for a while, Kyle realized that feeling sorry for himself wasn’t getting him anywhere. “Nothing to it, but to do it, I guess,” he thought to himself. It’s a shame that the dagger the old woman had used to slice her throat wasn’t here, Kyle could really use a weapon – any weapon – right about now. Unfortunately, the old lady – She called herself “nan”, didn’t she? – had dropped it back in the bedroom and it hadn’t been brought with them to the forest.

Glancing about, the forest was getting dark, and Kyle was having a harder time as night fell on making out things around him… err, herself. Elves normally had a night vision and saw well in the dark and at nights, but for some reason it wasn’t an ability which his character seemed to share. Making his race an “Alter-Elf”, apparently meant that he basically started a blank slate and had to buy each of the abilities and advantages which he wanted – it seemed to be the “customize from scratch” option, and he hadn’t added anything more than healing and quick mana regeneration to his character!

“Log out.” He was disgusted with the way his first character in the game had started. Talk about sucky! When he got to the black and blue OS screen, he immediately told it to “Power Off”. As soon as he was completely out of the virtual environment, he tossed the V-RIG helmet across the room in a fit of petty anger.

Feeling almost sick to his stomach, he rolled out of bed, stomped downstairs and started rummaging around in the fridge to see what might be handy to eat. Crap! Crap! And, of course, more crap! His mother kept the fridge stocked with all sorts of fruit, salad, and vegetables, but he wasn’t in the mood for anything like that. Slamming the door to the fridge, he tossed open the door on the freezer section so hard that it banged against the wall with a loud crash and then immediately reverberated back closed!

“DAMMIT! Nothing’s going right today!” Thoroughly disgusted, he stomped out of the kitchen and stormed outside. Going around the side of the house, he grabbed up his bike and hopped on it and began to peddle down the sidewalks. “Franklin’s” was just a few blocks down the street, and it was his current destination. After a few moments of furious pedaling, he wheeled his bicycle into the parking lot and over to the bike stands and locked it in place before going inside.

Franklin’s was one of those ‘you have to see it to believe it’ type restaurants, and the old fellow who ran it didn’t seem to care if he had any customers stop by and order from him or not. The floor was covered in sawdust. The tables were made of solid blocks sawed out of some massive tree trunk about four feet in diameter; and instead of chairs, people sat on upturned blocks of wood which looked like someone needed to split before using in a stove. The counter where customers went to place an order was made of roughly hewn timber, and If you weren’t careful you could get splinters leaning against it.

The place didn’t have any cash registers, soda fountain, or even ketchup dispensers like just about every other modern restaurant in the world. All Franklin’s had was Franklin – but that was enough to make it one of the most popular spots for the locals to stop at. Franklin was a middle aged giant of a man, standing over seven feet tall, and was as wide and massive as he was tall. Sometimes you hear the expression, “mountain of a man.” Then, you meet someone like Franklin and you truly know what that expression means! Massive, unmovable, gruff – and the best cook in the world to hear him tell it!

“Whatcha want runt?” Franklin half growled as Kyle walked up towards the counter. His massive muscles rippled as he rubbed his hands on a dirty washcloth.

“A new damn character,” was the first thing out of Kyle’s mouth.

BLAM!! Immediately Franklin slammed his large fist against the wooden counter so hard that it vibrated and the few people sitting in the dining area all looked up while half jumping. “WE DON’T USE THAT TYPE OF DAMN LANGUAGE IN HERE!! GOT IT, MAGGOT?!”

“Well you just used it!” Kyle shot back at him, unhesitantly.

“See the sign out front? It says Franklin’s. That means Franklin can say whatever the hell he wants to say in here, dammit! You’re not Franklin, now are ya? Boy!” Franklin was bunching up the washcloth in his hands and making a massive fist, as if he was getting ready to smash something into tiny little pieces.

“Well,” Kyle stood up on his tiptoes to try and look the massive giant in the eyes and failed, “I might just take that pansy sign down and replace it with ‘Kyle’s’. Then what you going to do, old man?”

Reaching out one hand, Franklin took a grip of Kyle’s shirt and hefted him up almost three feet off the ground to stare him in the eyes. “Then, I reckon I’d just have to find the Kyle who put his sign in front of my place and beat him to death. Don’t ya think?” Kyle continued to stare undaunted into the large man’s eyes, and an eerie silence settled over the restaurant.

WHUNK! The sound of wood striking flesh reverberated through the silence and Kyle was suddenly tossed to the ground with a resounding crash. “WAAHHH!” Kyle and Franklin both half yelled at the same time.

“Enough of that, Papa!” A small, slender red-haired young lady stood off to the side of the giant man with a flat wooden bat – probably a cricket bat – in her hands. “You two are disturbing the rest of the customers, and I’m not going to let y’all keep that up. If’n I gots to, I’ll bust both y’all up good. Hear me?”

A slight clapping sound came from the dining area and someone yelled, “You tell them, Cutie!”

The young lady pointed the bat out at the dining area and glared. “And I’ll bust ya too, if’n I needs ta! Ya hear me?”

There was a slight chuckle from the dining area as Kyle was getting up. “Don’t bust us, Little Flame. We’re going. We’re going!” A few people shuffled out the door, leaving the dining area empty.

“And just what do ya want, Kyle?” The girl was pointing the bat back at him once again, and Kyle couldn’t help but grin slightly to himself. If he were to be honest with himself, he’d have to admit that seeing Seraphine get riled was just as much a pleasure when eating at Franklin’s, as Franklin’s cooking was.

“Sorry, Sera.” Kyle tried not to blush while staring at her, but it was always something which he found difficult to do. Franklin and his daughter, Seraphine, lived in the house right beside his, and they had grown up next door neighbors. As children, they’d played together all the time, but over the last few years things had changed as Sera started to bloom into a very beautiful young woman. She wasn’t as perfect as his character in Winter’s Tale, but she was definitely a ten on the scale of real girls that Kyle had seen. Fiery red hair, which was currently tied up in a bun and hairnet, normally dangled loose and freely halfway down her back. Her skin was naturally pale, and she spotted hundreds of tiny red freckles across her body, which seemed to accent it. And, most embarrassingly to Kyle who always found himself staring at them, she’d developed a full, large, round set of breasts which really stood out against her tiny waist and hips.

At one time they’d been the closest of friends as children, but things had changed ever since they’d entered high school. Seraphine had changed from just the girl next door into one of the most beautiful women in their class. She’d grown out of his league, and Kyle knew it. It didn’t mean that he didn’t fantasize about things being different sometimes, but he knew the difference in reality and his fantasies. Sera would end up marrying some handsome quarterback, or businessman, or someone important; not someone like him. If things went his way, he might be able to become a professional gamer sometime – but Kyle knew things wouldn’t ever go his way. Just look at his start in Winter’s Tale, for goodness’ sake!

“Well don’t sorry me.” Sera bent to place the bat back behind the counter and Kyle got a nice glance down the front of her shirt for a moment. No bra! He was grinning like an idiot when she leaned back up and focused on him again. “And don’t ya antagonize Papa like’n that, or else’n it might be ya ass I beat next time.”

“Ok! OK!” Kyle held both his hands up to show he was defeated. “I won’t harass Franklin anymore.” Turning to look at the big man, he half bowed and said, “Sorry, Frankie. I’ve just had a bad day.”

“Well bad day ya ass elsewhar!” Franklin growled back at him, and Sera stomped on his massive foot as hard as she could. He just snorted, tossed the bundled up rag in his hands down on the counter, and stomped into the back. “I fix ya a Slop Burger an’ Eiffel Tower. Red ’ll have ta fix ya drink.” It was the closest to an apology which Franklin would ever come to giving, and Kyle just nodded in acceptance.

“How about a shake?” Kyle asked, and Sera half shrugged as she went into the back to get the ice cream, without even bothering to ask what kind he wanted. Half shaking his head and laughing, Kyle grabbed up the washcloth and went over to clean and empty the rough tables where the last people had just cleared out from. Somehow, he was feeling a little better already – but that wasn’t anything new. Just about every time he came to Franklin’s, he ended up feeling better for some reason. It might simply be because it was so much different than the endlessly clean and sanitized house which him and his mother lived in. Or, it might be because in some ways, he almost thought of Franklin as a substitute father figure since his own had left after divorcing his mother. (Or, if he was completely honest with himself, it might also be because he enjoyed seeing Sera here alone from the rest of the people at school.)

Once he’d bused and cleared the tables, Kyle walked around the back of the counter and went ahead and got his own napkins, plastic fork, and packets of ketchup. Franklin didn’t allow customers around the back of the counter, but Kyle never paid any attention to that. Heck, he’d even taken a few orders from behind the counter in the past when he was there and Franklin was swamped cooking and Sera wasn’t around to help out for whatever reason. Usually he got grumbled or cussed at for his trouble, and he never got paid no matter how much he worked or helped out; but, then again, he never got charged for what he ate either, so it all worked out in the end.

Finally, he walked back around the counter and sat down at one of the corner tables. A few moments later, Sera walked over and sat two large drinks – and a pitcher – down on the table beside him. Without even asking if he wanted any company, she flopped down on one of the wooden blocks across from him.

“Cookies ‘n Cream,” she said while half nodding her head towards the drinks and the pitcher. Kyle just nodded slightly, picked up the closest one, and tilted it to his mouth to sip on. Franklin didn’t bother buying straws, so he ended up with a light milky mustache when he put the cup back down. As he was wiping the milk from his face with the bottom of his shirt, Sera tugged her own shirt up and used it to wipe the sweat from her face. Kyle’s eyes popped as he had a clear view of the bottom of her round breasts as she wiped herself. “It’s hotter ‘ell back thar,” she declared as she finally let go of the shirt and it slowly fell back into place.

“You don’t have to tell me.” Kyle said while trying not to blush. “I’ve been back there. I know how hot it gets in that kitchen. And you don’t have to keep trying to sound like some dumb hick, either,” he told her.

“Sorry.” She half laughed and then shamelessly wiped her face once more with the bottom of her shirt. “People see papa and they think he’s some sort of wild mountain man who’s half grizzly or something. They expect us to sound backwoods, and it helps with the atmosphere of the place here. When I’m here, I find myself using it without even thinking anymore.”

“No worries,” Kyle reassured her. “I’m used to it. I was just reminding you that it’s not anything to worry over when it’s just us out here.

“Or should ah say I wuz jist ‘minding ya, ya not gots ta be ah hick wiffin me.”

They both laughed lightly for a few moments before Sera picked up her shake a took a slight drink from it. She ended up with a milky mustache as well, which she once again promptly wiped with the bottom of her shirt much to Kyle’s delight. Finally, she asked, “So what’s bothering you this evening? You don’t usually walk right in and pick a fight with papa like that, unless you’re just trying to blow off some steam or something.

Kyle let out a slight sigh and slowly shook his head back and forth. “No hiding anything from you, is there?” It amazed him at how well she could still read him, when he didn’t have a clue what she was thinking half the time anymore.

“Nope. I even know where you hide your porn stash, so just spit it out already, why don’t you.” Sera stuck her tongue out at him and Kyle slowly felt his tension fading even more than before.

“Well, to be honest, it’s all because of a stupid ass game.” He told her matter-of-factly. “Have you heard about that new VR game, Winter’s Tale?”

“Somewhat.” Sera frowned slightly making her freckles wrinkle into a smile across her cheek. “I don’t have one of those V-RIGs, and I help out here a lot anymore in the evenings so I don’t have much time for games. I really haven’t paid the most attention to what people’s been saying about it, since I didn’t think I’d be playing it.”

“Yeah… Well,” Kyle snorted slightly to himself, “I’m playing it now. Grandfather offered me a job to be one of the people who plays the game and then gives report to his company for them.” Picking up his cup, he took a large drink before continuing. “And, I can tell you, I think I’m screwed even from the start!”

“Why’s that?” Sera asked as Franklin came over and sat a large tray down on the table in front of them.

Kyle’s smile grew from ear to ear looking down at his supper. A ‘Slop Burger’ was Franklin’s special burger made with the top bun, chili, grilled onions, tomato, lettuce, sour cream, American cheese, a beef patty, another layer of chili, another beef patty, Swiss cheese, mushrooms, another layer of chili, and then the bottom bun. The ‘Eiffel Tower’ was a layer of fries, covered with chili, with a deep fried whole onion placed on top of that, with chili poured over the whole thing, and then a final layer of melted cheese covering it.

Picking up his fork, Sera speared one of the fries and rubbed it around in the chili and cheese before eating it. “You know,” she told him mischievously, “you’re not supposed to eat these here. Your mother says you shouldn’t have them unless you’re in the bathroom with them.”

“Not bathroom!” Kyle corrected her. “That makes it sound like I need to eat them while on the shitter or something. In the bath tub!” He placed special emphasis on the word ‘tub’. “Mom says no one should eat a Slop Burger unless they’re already in the tub and ready for the bath they need afterwards.” Sera just laughed lightly, and Franklin snorted as he walked away, leaving the two alone.

For the next half hour or so, Kyle and Sera sat and ate while he told her all about his experience with starting out in Winter’s Tale so far. She laughed until milkshake snorted out her nose hearing that he was playing a female character, and then laughed even harder when she found out how helpless he’d made his character by accident. She was still laughing when Kyle left the restaurant to head back home while grumbling under his breath.

Once he was gone, and she’d cleaned the table, she went into the back to where Franklin was cleaning the grill. “Papa,” she told him firmly, “you’re going to get me a V-RIG. I’m going to start playing Winter’s Tale. Kyle needs my help, and he doesn’t even know it yet.”

Franklin just grunted, but Sera smiled knowing that she’d have her way soon. She was her papa’s little angel and he never could refuse her when she actually wanted sometime. If Kyle could just hold on for another day or so, she’d hunt him down and help him reclaim his kingdom and clear that death contract!

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