Red Dragon

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Pre-date Jitters (And Everyone Involved)

By the end, Francis wondered if he even needed to be there. It started out so simple, so innocent, almost cute. Desiree would make a soft, humming noise, a sound that would later become like a dental drill grinding STRAIGHT INTO HIS BRAIN. She would point a move he made, and either comment that if he was sure and try to guide him to play another way... or commend him for seeing, “such an obvious play.” It didn’t take long into the second deck pulled out for her to “nudge” the cards out of his hand, and, for the most part, it was her trash-talking Beatrice.

“Wow. You won. Quite handily,” Beatrice said, scooping her board.

Desiree giggled, covering her mouth with her right hand –which its top was quite red. One too many times she reached for the cards on the table... yet Francis was the one getting dirty looks, as if HE was the bad guy for, you know, wanting to play with his own deck! Even now, he could see how her arm fought to stay tensed, shaking as he scooped out those vampiric fools on his side. He was conflicted with that deck; he loved black, but it also relied upon white. If he could get away with only running black, he would, but there were far too many good cards from white and- why did the company have to be like this? Why did it have to pay any attention to white? Nobody likes white; nobody!

“What can we say?” Desiree finally said, squeezing Francis’ side. It managed to find its way up from his knee, leg, and crotch, but, more than anything, Francis wished it stayed down there. At least then it wasn’t in fear of being ripped off. “Francis here is a genius when it comes to deck building.”

“You mean I am. I helped him with each one.”

“That’s well and good, but building a deck and piloting it are two different things. Give five people the same deck and they will all different cards are bad or need nerfed.” She tittered- and actually ripped the deck out of his hands, shuffling it! “Francis here didn’t have a single hiccup; it has his... personal touch.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to play?” Francis exclaimed, gesturing to his open case. “I have other decks to run; you seem to understand it quite well after the last THIRTY-SEVEN HANDS.”

“Oh. No. I am still quite new. I need to watch more to understand... and you are such a good teacher.”

Francis groaned- and finally realized what he said.

“Oh shit. It has been thirty-seven hands. What time is it?”

“Time for you to buy a phone,” Wesley said, sitting to his left. “It’s, also, 4 A.M.”

“Really! I need to get home, then. I need to get some sleep.”

“Why?” Desiree said, tittering... and squeezing him tighter. “Who cares about that harpy? We’re having fun, aren’t we?”

“Yes, but I did set up a date with her-”

“You have a date?” Beatrice blurted, dropping her cards. She cursed, and collected them up, shuffling them once again. “Des, did you say it was a harpy?”

“I did. Cassidy. One of the more brainless birdbrains I ever met. No offense.”

“None taken... This time.” She cooed, and set her deck down, drawing a fresh seven. “Oh, Francis... I thought better of you.”

“Why?” He said, drawing it out.

“I thought you would value a woman for her brains, her... personality. Do you even have any common ground outside of carnal desires? Does she like anything you do? Does she like to play card games?”

“No, and, right now, that’s a fucking plus.” He growled, and snatched his deck out of the lamia’s hands. “I kind of need that to play... I do! One more hand.”

“In that case, I would like to join in,” Desiree said, and pulled out the one deck Francis loathed, the one he despised from its inception but wanted it “just in case” any interesting cards came with the next few sets.

“Really? Really... that’s going to make draw out for hours.”

“What’s the matter, Francis?” Beatrice said, biting her lip. “Going soft on me? I thought you had... endurance.”

“Oh, I do. I do... especially with two sexy women involved-”

“So would it be a bad time for me to join?” Wesley said, pulling out a deckbox of his own. It was... different than the ones Francis saw. His were simple flip tops, but his... there wasn’t a single lip on it. Instead, it was all, one solid piece of plastic, with a diagonal crease. He cracked it open like an egg, and pulled out soft blue sleeves –which Francis only realized they were the color of the box, the entirety transparent. He shot a dirty look at Beatrice, snorting. “You don’t mind. Do you, boss?”

“You took out the trash, correct,” she asked.

“I did, as well as tore down the cash register. All the money’s in the safe. The top floor has been swept, mopped, and dusted. The sound system was closed for the day, and the sign was swapped to Closed.”

“Then I suppose I can forgive you for relaxing during your last hour... If that’s okay with you, Francis.”

“It is... or... I could let you three duke it out and hit the dusty trail-”

“Don’t be like that,” Desiree said- and realized she wasn’t only saying but commanding him. Her arm was tight around his waist, even though her hand was so gentle, rubbing, tracing his abs. Since he didn’t really have a choice, he settled in for a long... long... long hand. Then round two- three- four! Even then, why was he even there? Desiree might as well have been playing both decks, herself. She whistled as “Francis” landed the final hit on Wes, and her hand left his side at last, resting in his crotch. “Well done. You really know how to rock your deck.”

“Please don’t say that with your hand under the table,” Wesley grumbled, yawning. He pulled out his phone, his book closed off to the side long before, and sighed. “It’s a good thing I’m off tomorrow. I would have been a zombie.”

“Why?” Francis blurted. “What time is it?”

“What time is your ‘date’?”

“Some point today. Why?”

“Well, it depends. If she’s there bright and early, you’ll have about an hour of rest. If she’s expecting a fun evening and going to class right after... you should be fine.”

“I would hope it’s the former,” Beatrice said. “This is the first day, after all. Only the loosest women want it then.”

“If you met her, that wouldn’t be a surprise,” Desiree said, still rubbing his lap.

“Pot calling the kettle black?” Francis muttered. Which made Desiree scoff.

“I’m nothing like her.”

“Oh really?”

“What are you doing now?” Wesley said.

“I paid good money for the right to this,” she stated... Wesley blinked, and leaned on the table, looking at her.

“You paid for something free?”

“Exactly!” Francis boomed.

“How much?” Beatrice said.

“Five grand.”

“That’s... sad,” Wesley said.

“But I’m impressed with you, Francis,” Beatrice said, tittering and waggling a finger at him. “You have one heck of a poker face, to act so innocent when talking about profiteering then pulling something like that-”

“He didn’t!” Desiree shrieked, and Francis could have sworn he saw the lamia’s face... crack. It was faint, but there was a thick, jagged line that ran from jaw to jaw, showing pale, pink scale under, gone again as she scoffed. “It was a fucking pixie. Ali.”

“Ali... Ali... I think I remember her,” Wesley remarked.

“Oh?” Francis said.

“Yeah. She was a freshman when I graduated. Ali Rivers.”

“Yep. That’s her.”

“And she auctioned his dick?”

“It’s why I ended up in detention –the second time. She was flaunting that she saw his dick, that we would never get such a close-up as she did, that he wasn’t interested in any of us-”

“So she created a market with very high demand and ludicrously low supply-” Beatrice cut in.

“And plenty of people snapping for the premium,” Francis finished, making Beatrice coo, her feathers ruffle.

“That absolute genius! Are you and Ali friends, Francis? Can you invite her over? I would love to talk shop-”

“I don’t think she would step foot in this place,” Wesley, of all of them, stated. “She bullied the shit out of me when my friends and I would whip out our decks at the cafeteria table.”

“Wow. That’s sad,” Desiree said. “What a real bitch.”

“That she was. That she was... Sounds like she mellowed in the years I’ve been gone. She should be, what, a junior now?”

“She was in the same class as-”

“As you can hear, Francis, you should be careful around Ali,” Desiree chided in, gripping his chode harder. “She’s a usurer. A manipulator. A grade-A liar-”

“And a resource I will most likely never get my hands on,” Beatrice whined, glowering at the stack of cards to her right. “I’m still not sure which ones to upcharge-”

“Just do what you always do,” Wesley grumbled, clasping his pretty little gem of a box shut. “I’m heading home. If you need me... don’t.”

“Take care, Wes.”

“Why?”

“Because I need your business.”

“I buy from the web.”

“Ooh. You hurt me.” Beatrice giggled as he slammed the door shut... then sighed. “Well, I guess this will be the last I see you this weekend, Francis... I won’t lie: I let the games run on a bit longer than they needed. I wanted... milk as much time as I could out of you.”

“And I’m thankful,” Desiree said, nuzzling his face. “I finally got to spend some time with him.”

“And in the store. Tell me, is your father-”

“And we must be off. Francis has a day with a literal harpy –again, no offense.”

Beatrice raised two fingers, about an inch apart, but was smirking.

“A bit that time.”

With that, they both arose and headed for the door. And, the moment he could, Francis broke away from the lamia, running up the stairs ahead of her. He even passed Wesley- and threw him back as he griped about the drachen stepping on his tail, slowing the lamia down that much more. He jumped back up to his walkway, and the door was shut before he heard the bell jingle shut below, heaving a hard... cathartic s-

“There ye be, laddie!” Nicole boomed, laughing as he yelped. She stood in front of him, wearing a soft, white slip. How such an image be such a lie; so innocent, so pure... so clashing with the person it was on. “That was a cute little sound. Didn’t realize ye lost yer baws in that shop.”

“You would be surprised,” he mumbled, yawning again. “Anyways, I’m tired. I’m gonna go crash for a touch-”

“Not before ye eat you aren’t. Ah made Italian last night expecting ye home, so ya better not complain since ah had to reheat on the stoove.”

“Italian?”

“Aye. Ah made ravioli.”

That’s the word Francis assumed she said. It did not agree with her accent at all and sounded akin to what a cat did before it hurled. He was right thankfully (on it being ravioli and not cat sick), and welcomed a hearty bowl of the little pillows. Each one was about the right size to be one, too, filled with seasoned beef and ground sausage, given only the lightest touch of pesto to bring out the cheese baked into it all.

He couldn’t have scarfed them down faster. Literally. He was plowing them in ass-over-tea kettle, with no end in sight. Not even to chew or to swallow. It was too good to mangle, to allow them to cool another moment... and the goblin in his lap didn’t help. She tittered as she rocked on him, feeling him twitch under.

“You are always so stiff when ye get home,” she said, biting her lip as he felt something wet seep through his slacks. “The lassies must always be after yer chode.”

“They are,” he grumbled, standing and going to fill another bowl. Much to the goblin’s displeasure. She scoffed as she tapped down onto the ground, but stayed by the table, knowing all too well he would return. “The crazy snake lady followed-”

“Agh! She just doesn’t get it, does she? Ye hold on too hard, yer prey will slip away. Even if it means tearing itself to shreds.”

“In this case, she was doing it right, though. She was back to her coy, though still hella thirsty, self... and was not pleased to hear I have a date today.”

“Ye have a date? With who?”

“I could have sworn I told you... but it was with a harpy. Cassidy- who I am praying to God isn’t the one knocking right now.”

But of course! Of course it was. Because the Right Bastard knew exactly where to hit. Francis was the one to open it, much again to the goblin’s displeasure, and a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (quite literally this time) harpy was waiting on the other side. She was in a baby blue dress, reaching just to the lower portions of her thighs, while her feet were capped with silver. Her feathers ruffled as Francis looked her over, and he could see quite well she wasn’t wearing a bra underneath, her bright orange points jutting against the white fabric, almost piercing it.

“H-hi,” she said, and sniffed. “Ooh! What smells so delightful?”

“Ravioli,” Francis said, and picked one up out of the porcelain bowl on his fork and held it out to her. She accepted it, and practically orgasmed. Her eyes rolled back, the sounds she made tawdry, nigh primal, as he heard her talons scrape against the concrete of the pathway. “Good?”

“Heavenly,” she said, wistfully, and sighed. “It’s been forever since I had ravioli... and, even then, it was from a can.”

“Hey, don’t knock ’em! They saved my ass more times than I’d like to count when I was growing up.”

“Oh, I’m not, but these put those to shame. Almost dog food in comparison.”

“Okay. That I can agree with, though I think dog food had more nutrition... You’re here early.”

“Y-yes. I-i-is that bad? I can always come by later-”

“No. It’s fine. We were simply going to chill and watch TV, right?”

“T-that was the p-plan-”

“That’s no plan for a date!” Nicole shrilled.

Cassidy jumped, and looked down at Francis’s pint-sized keeper.

“O-o-oh! I d-d-didn’t realize you h-had other c-c-c-”

“Relax, ya right ditty! Ahm but Francis’s nan. Ye have nothing to worry aboot from little old me.” She held out her hand. “Name’s Nicole, and if ye want more of the ravioli, there’s an entire pot. That’ll get some grub stuck to yer ribs before ya head out.”

“‘Head out’ where?” Francis said. “I don’t have a car, remember?”

“Is that what ye are worried about? Let me give Eve a call; she’ll work something. Ye have money for your date, right?”

“Money’s not an issue.”

“Then finding a ride shouldn’t be too hard... Well? Come in and eat, lassie.”

“O-oh. Right,” Cassidy blurted, and scuttled in, following Francis into the kitchen. He pulled down a bowl... and prepared it for her, along with a fork. Even then, it rattled away as she joined him at the table, fumbling with the fluffy pasta pillows. She managed to wrangle one on her fork- but lost it as Nicole skipped back into the room.

“It’s all taken care of, laddie,” she said. “You’re chaperone will be here-”

Right then, apparently. They didn’t close the door, so Penny didn’t need to burn down anything... but she did anyways. Her staff smoked and hissed and even roared as she stomped through and into the kitchen, her gaze, her gait locked towards the drachen.

“Really? Really!” She repeated, again and again, trying so hard to hide the dark circles under her eyes... and the stench of cheap wine on her breath. “You called Eve to help with your booty call!”

“No. That was me,” Nicole stated. And the flames were gone, her ire, her annoyance gone as she spun to the goblin.

“Oh hi Nicky!” She said. “I didn’t see you there. How are you?”

“Ah, could be better. I’m in right need of me hole needing filled, but the wee barra is due with another woman today. Did ye know they only planned to watch the dummy box all day? For a first date!”

“No! That’s... horrible. What kind of loser can’t even take a girl out to eat?” She cackled... then remembered who she was talking about. Which only made her laugh harder. “Oh. Right. This sad sack.”

“Aye, but he says he can pay for the date, so he simply needs a ride-”

“And some idea of where we are going. I don’t think going to the Golden Arches would be considered ‘romantic’-”

“Then why not the diner?” Plank said.

“I like the sound of that. It’s close, so Cassidy and I can simply walk-”

Nicole scoffed, shaking her head.

“No no no! Lad, if ye really want to woo this lassie and get in her bed, ya must put yer money where ye mouth is. Take her someplace outta town, someplace a bit more exotic.”

“I’ve never actually been to the diner-” Cassidy tried to say, but was cut off by Penny.

“There’s a Chinese place in the Robinson Town Centre,” she said.

“Is it open right now?” Nicole said.

“No, sadly. For that, we are better off heading a bit west, into Ohio. There’s a small district just north of the tri-state that is another haven for himankind. I think they have a couple restaurants there-”

“We just ate, though,” Francis said. “Why would we go someplace to eat right now?”

“Well, I haven’t ate-” Penny started, cut off as Nicole clanked the ravioli pot.

“Then get something to eat, ya ninny!” She said. “While ye do, ahll talk to the laddie about where to take the lassie.”

“Can’t we just stay in and cuddle on the-” Cassidy began, cut off by Nicole hissing.

“No no! It has to be more special. Something memorable.”

At this point, mundane is memorable, Francis thought, and groaned as Nicole lead him into the bedroom –a boon in its own right. He shut the door behind and fished out a couple hundred from his box as Nicole continued to prattle on. She had her phone out, scouting the area, listing off what possibilities there were.

“Lookit this,” she exclaimed. “The ice skating park is open to a small crood. Ye could easily take her there- oh, wait. They close in an hour. Blimey, why couldn’t she arrive a bit later –for instance! There’s a meeting here at dawn for the annual- no. That was canceled, as well... You younguns have it so roof these days. Back in my day, all ah had to do to wow Gaston was take him to see the cattle. We had so much fun tumbling down the hills together, but now ye need so much more. It’s not enough to roll through cow dung-”

“Or, you know, we could stay inside and watch movies,” he said.

“Ah! You are impossible... How about this: Dear Penny can take you guys wherever you decide. Even if it just to drive around, see things; something should spark yer want.”

“That... sounds perfectly fine. Yeah.” He sighed as he got off the bed. “Am I allowed to go now?”

“Of course of course... but first.” She hopped up on him, and wrapped her hands around his neck, pulling him in for a kiss. She moaned against his lips, tongue ravishing his, pulling it out while at the same time biting his lip, letting both go with two, small pops. “Wow her, wee barra.”

He rolled his eyes, making her titter, and she hopped off onto the bed- then onto her heels, following him out. She saw the three of them off... and, after twenty turns in the ignition, the car finally felt pity, letting them go on their date at last.

It’s going to be a long day, Francis thought... but smiled as Cassidy shivered beside him in the backseat of the little car. Should be interesting, though... for better or worse.

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