I'm a Ken Doll, in a Barbie World
It had been a lifetime since Francis had good Chinese food... Alas, it seemed it would be another before he would. The meals were serviceable... at best... but one can always tell when the skill is from the homeland and not imitated. No matter how close one got, there were subtle, key differences to keep it from being authentic.
Francis feared it would be the case, since it was a big-box global chain, but he had hope seeing an actual Chinese-blooded person in the store. As always, though, Hope was a lying bitch. He was still hungry and it tasted close enough to real Chinese food, so he didn’t complain too much. That was Lola’s job, and, though he desperately needed one, he knew how tough the job market was. Besides, she wouldn’t last.
“You can tell it’s ‘fake’ chicken,” she grumbled, poking at her orange chicken. “More processed bullshit than actual meat... Sauce is too fucking sweet. Completely drowns out the sesame- ah! That noodle wasn’t even cooked right! Why do we even come this place?”
“Today was an exception,” Tanya said, slurping up her chow mein. Out of all of them, she was the most honest... and frugal. Compared to their heaps of food and specialties, all she had was that one, lone box of chow mein. With a fortune cookie. “Besides, you hate orange chicken.”
“I know, but I keep hoping they’ll improve it so I will. That is never the case... Should have just ordered some General Tso’s. It looked mighty fine on this man meat’s plate-”
“His name is Francis,” Bridget clarified. Already done with hers. She was on her phone, watching videos, news and other things to keep her mind off the nightmares beside her. She shot a look up at the drachen, then leered at his plates. Mostly still filled. “Are you not hungry tonight? Usually you have that paltry sum devoured by now.”
“Normally yes, but it’s date night. Why not... savor it?” He said, and slowly raised a piece of chicken to his lips, enjoying her squirming, her twitching eye, her gritting teeth a bit too much. Far more delightful and delicious than the rancid “sweet heat” that they pasted on the poor breaded morsel. The general it was named after would be rolling in his grave for how many cannot get the balance of spice and sweet, but he probably already hit warp speed from the many times they tried to “bottle” the mix. There was simply not way to mass produce that flavor. Case and point on the plate before him- which he could only handle one more bite. He tossed his fork down, wipe off his face, and sighed, patting his belly. “I sort of filled up on wontons and bread.”
“‘Sort of’?” Lola exclaimed. “You ate ten servings of both.”
“It was the best part of the night –aside our waitress here, of course.”
“You are too kind,” she said, and handed each of them a bill.
But Bridget took Francis’s.
“I told you we were together,” the witch stated, and her hair flashed. One of the lights above, a “paper lantern”, crackled, and from those reddish-orange folds a bolt of lightning sprung, forking right into the top of the waitress’s head. Bridget said, pulling out her credit card, and stood from the table. She circled around it, “offered” Francis her arm, and lead him to the front of the store, running it through the machine, herself. “You just can’t get good help these days... And... there we are. Now, let us hurry to the mall-”
“Whoa whoa! Wait up!” Lola said, bringing her check up, as well. Bridget, though, did not and was already halfway out the door. “Slow down, speedy.”
“You two arrived on your own. You can meet us there.” She opened Francis’s door, waited for him to be neatly in- then slammed it. The car rocked, jiggling him like a bobble-head, evened out as her own door received the same treatment. “Or don’t. I don’t really care... I’m so sorry for how tonight is turning out, Francis.”
“Why? It’s been entertaining.”
“But I didn’t want entertaining. I wanted relaxing, intimate.
“Which, also, sounds great... Really, I would have been fine with just going back home and watching movies instead of doing all th-”
“That is not a date!” She shoved her keys into the ignition, roaring to life, and her tires squeaked -twice- as she reversed then hit the highway again. Going well over forty above the speed limit. The closest mall was in Stubenville... Ohio... Even at the speed they were going, he felt... slower as they passed into its territory. He was no fool, though. People might joke about Ohio, but know this: If you are not three states away, you are in grave danger of becoming Ohio. If you are already Ohio, it is too late.
There might have been surface streets, a few hills, the occasional stop sign and red light, all forgotten in a blur as the car shrieked around corners until, at last, spun in the Fort Stuben Mall parking lot. It did three twirls, smoke rising, clouding the windows... but, at last, it came to a halt. The engine grumbled as she removed the keys... and smiled at Francis.
“There. I feel much better,” she said, tittering. “Now, let us continue. I am planning a few ensembles tonight, and we aren’t leaving until you have eight sets of clothes.”
“Eight? Sets! People keep that many?” He shook his head. “That sounds like crazy talk, Bridget. Not gonna lie... and you shouldn’t be spending so much on me. I can afford it –as I could, also, afford my own dinner-”
“But not for long... Don’t worry about it, darling. I don’t mind, and I doubt you would have bought clothes willingly.”
You’re not wrong, he thought, but groaned all the same as the got out of the car. He managed to get a few steps towards the mall before she “leashed” him, holding him hostage by his arm and guiding him towards his own torture chamber. Though she told him, he couldn’t help but feel that the doors would be locked once they got to them... Was it a feeling, or hope?
He reached for the glass double doors –and, wouldn’t you know, they WERE locked. No matter how much he pushed they simply would not open. Curse his illiteracy and his bad luck. Looks like they will have to turn around and head elsewh-
“It says ‘pull’, Francis,” Bridget said... but, oh no, even when pulled it wouldn’t open. Now they really did have no choice but to l- “The handle. Not the glass beside the doors.”
“Castrate me too why don’t you!” He barked, and grumbled as he finally grabbed hold of the door handle... which did open. Francis let her in first, hoped the door would sever his arm as it closed, but it turned out to not have a vacuum-sealing edge so guess he’ll follow through! The second set of doors were like the first so he didn’t even bother to try to cut his arm off, stepping through into the soft, dim light of the “mall”. The gall it had to dare call itself one; it gave strip malls a run for their money. Maybe it was because it was the dead of night, but it literally didn’t have much in ways of actual shopping. Plenty of clothes stores, the expected edgy/trendy shops, and even a hobby store (which Bridget pulled him away from), but, other than that-
He thought too soon.
“Mini golf?” He uttered, looking at that bright neon-colored sign. Because lights and LEDs were too much for a putt-putt plot in an urban mall. “Bitchin’.”
“You like golf?”
“Fuck no, but I love mini golf.”
“W... what’s the difference?”
“Have you never mini golfed!”
“No- what’s that sound for? Is it that unheard of?”
“Yes! I thought everyone before they’re eighteen at least had one birthday or a friend’s birthday that was at a shitty little ‘party’ place that had a mini golf course. Even I did, and that... is sadly saying something.”
“Well, I didn’t. Most of my friends were the preppy type growing up-”
“You poor soul... and you never went after? I have a hard time believing that with Lola if you guys ever came here. She seems the type to be all over that-”
“Tell you what: After we get your clothes, we’ll get in a round. If it’ll make you happy.”
She muttered the last statement in sotto, and finally forced him to walk away from the entry to that small piece of heaven. As she had done for the hobby store. Which both of them would have made him very happy, but no. Unless he was her Ken doll, she wasn’t going to be... At least he had something to look forward to at the end. Even if she refused to admit she liked it, he was going to have a ball. Pun very much intended.
So he followed with gusto to one of the many... many clothing stores. Again, he knew it was the dead of night, but he was still shocked the place could be considered open at all. Maybe it was because it was a school night for those that usually peruse –but, with that school and the current schedule for many of them, when wasn’t a school night? Then again, nothing is stopping the speedier ones from making quick trips –which would explain why the food court was still open. Even though he already ate, the smell of old, stale, mall pizza still got his stomach growling and mouth watering, forgotten, forsaken as they delved into those labyrinths of cloth.
As expected, the hardest part of the shopping wasn’t finding clothes. They were everywhere... it was finding clothes that fit. She must have been lucky with the polo shirt, because in the first two stores not a single one carried anything over a medium? Have the store owners been to the area? Most wouldn’t even fit a large, and, though Francis wasn’t exactly a landwhale, his shoulders demanded at least a 4X.
The third store they checked started to show signs of awareness, but they still had a nasty habit of only making the ugliest designs in that color, as if ridiculing those that wore the fabric long before they ever put it on, treating them like the eyesores that they want them to be. That being said, it wasn’t only masses of fat that wore those clothes. Francis knew many men in his line of work that couldn’t wear anything under 2X because of their muscles. They would put a shirt on, what many would consider “baggy”, only for it to look like a sports bra. The sleeves would tear within one flex of their arms, and it was always the worst colors and patterns. After finding out himan, Francis could only think that margin got significantly wider.
The fourth store, though, actually showed humility. “Normal” clothes were available across the spectrum, and that spectrum got wide. As one would expect from a tall and wide store. Funny enough, they still ran the lower sizes but also accommodated those like him –at far better prices.
“Explain to me,” Francis said, putting on a sleek, black dress shirt. It was a very fine material, the sleeves given enough room for his arms to breath while still hugging where it mattered, accentuating his shoulders- while, also, not clinging to his back. The neck was a bit tight, but that was the fit... all for- “Again. Explain to me how something like this can cost TWENTY DOLLARS while other stores were asking for eighty? Explain! Because, you would think with this much extra fabric, it would cost MORE.”
He huffed, and turned his head to the clerk there with him and Bridget.
“Well?” He barked at that cyclops.
“I don’t really know, sir,” she said, straightening her orange-colored hair. “I’m just here to sell it and help you.”
“And I appreciate that... Still. Do I really need ‘dress’ clothes, Bridget? I wanted simpler attire... blue jeans and such.”
“We carry those, too,” the cyclops interjected, pointing to another aisle. Off in the distance.
“And we’ll get to them. In time,” Bridget said, and straightened his collar. “There we are... I’m only getting you two suits. The rest will be casual attire.”
“But why do I need the suits? I don’t go anywhere super fancy, and if you think I’ll wear one to school you are out of your mind.”
“Even with the Saturnalia Ball coming up?” The cyclops once again interjected.
“The what now?”
“Ah. It must be your first year at Vereor Nox. There’s an event every year on the twenty-first out in the courtyard behind the castle. Long tables are set up, filled with food and drink -yes, even alcoholic- and sweets. They, also, hire bands to play for the venue. My last year there, five years ago, they managed to bring back the Black Roses.”
“Never heard of ’em.”
“Not surprising. They are an all-himan band. They can’t exactly go mainstream but they are loved on Youtube and such. The comments say their outfits are ‘top notch’.”
“Again, never heard of ’em.”
“Well, hold on.” She pulled out her phone, and the music inside the door shifted, from soft, almost pleasant but most definitely boring... to thrash rock. “There we go. This is one of their singles. Clandestine.”
“Huh... They have a playlist?” He pulled out his phone, unlocking then tapping the red play button before passing it to her.
“They do... They, also, have other himan bands in there. Tendrils of Agony, the Griffons, Warwick -named after the guitarist’s home town- the Nightingales, Mercy’s Black Wings, Rotten Lizard, Sirens, Wilder Ones-”
“Damn! Didn’t know there were so many.”
“She missed Serpent of Sin,” Bridget added. “They, Warwick, and the Nightingales are all coming in for the Saturnalia Ball.”
“I didn’t forget them,” the cyclops grumbled. “They were the next one to be listed off, along with Raziel, Abel’s Sons, Dragonlance, and, my favorite, Romero’s Juliet.”
“Are they all like, well, this?”
“For the most part. No reason for himan to try ‘pop’ since it’ll never reach mainstream. Besides, most himan are drawn to rock, anyways. It’s... primal, rebellious. We are closer to animals, so it makes sense.”
“Never thought about it like that before. Just thought of the beat and it isn’t mumble-shit... So I guess I’ll take this black shirt and black pants with black suit. Black-on-black-on-black- you sure I couldn’t just get away with a black t-shirt and black sweatpants?”
“Very,” Bridget said, and handed him the worst item possible: A tie. It was white as white could be- and he could already see the joke on both women’s faces. It was a race to whom would say it f-
“Ah, hell no! You’re making him into a cookie?” Lola exclaimed, appearing at the end of the aisle. At last. Tanya was following behind her, munching on a pretzel from the food court. “Have you no shame?”
“It does look good on him, though,” Tanya mentioned, mumbled as she bit into that large, twirled bit of bread.
“I’m not arguing that! You couldn’t have at least gave him a blue shirt?”
“White wouldn’t go well with the tie,” Bridget stated.
“No shit!” Lola boomed. “Get him a different tie. A blue tie or a red tie-”
“Not red,” Tanya said. “Black, blue, or even a neon green.”
“What do you want, Francis,” Bridget asked. “This is for you, after all.”
“I’d rather not have a tie at all,” he said.
“You really don’t need one-” The cyclops tried to say, cut off by Bridget.
“Well, if you needed to pick one... white, blue, or green?”
“We do have swirled ties,” The cyclops did add. “We do have a white-blue, green-blue, white-green, and even a tri-swirl of the-”
“Solid color only.”
“Well, that’s no fun,” Francis said. “After all, a green-white tie would make me a mint-chocolate sandwich cookie.”
“He has a point,” Lola said, Tawna muttering her agreement. But Bridget didn’t look as pleased.
“Francis. Darling... Pick one.”
“Why? You said I needed another suit, so wouldn’t I want two-”
“One for THIS SUIT, darling.”
“I mean does it matter? Does it really? Who’s going to pay attention if I use the same tie twice? Because I wouldn’t c- white. White, okay?”
“I mean, if that’s what you want... Now strip and prepare for this next one.”
He would have argued why he was doing so in the middle of the store, but, aside the four of them, there was nobody else. And, even out of those four, only one really cared if he was seen naked and, spoilers, it wasn’t him. The next suit was gray with a deep red shirt, complemented by a gray-and-white swirled tie. Casual wear was far easier, though needlessly complicated. He could wear a pair of blue jeans three days in a row without issue or smell (and, even then, he had fairies), so what was he going to do with seven similar but different enough (in Bridget’s eyes) pairs? He was now the proud owner of five polo shirts and three vibrant t-shirts... as well as two new packs of socks and a pair of leather loafers.
However, at long last, the time was at hand. He put up with being the doll for hours. The sun was starting to warm the horizon, but he didn’t care. It was time... for mini g-
“I’m sorry, darling,” she said, patting his arm. “That took longer than I anticipated... Can we call it a rain check on mini golf?”
“What?” Lola exclaimed, pushing him from behind. “You were going to play mini golf? That’s my shit!”
“Mini golf is awesome,” Tanya remarked... sighing. “Too bad we don’t do it anymore.”
“Yeah. Ever since Bridget threw her episode-”
“Shut up!” Bridget shrieked. It was too late, though. Francis heard, and he chortled.
“I knew it was impossible! I knew it!” He said, and stuck out his tongue at her. “So you HAVE played.”
“What? Did she lie to you?” Lola said, tittering as she poked the back of Bridget’s head. “For shame, Bridget. For shame.”
“Lying to your ‘darling’,” Tanya said, mulling it- and that was the breaking point.
“We’re going home! Fuck this.” Bridget demanded, and her hair flashed as the doors ahead... and the frames they were in flew out towards the parking lot. Rather, beyond it. It landed in the grass before the surface streets, shattering mid-flight, a diamond storm caught by dawn’s early light. “We’ll play the next time we go out, Francis. I promise you, but I cannot take anymore.”
“Wouldn’t that depend on a next t-” Lola began- and was flung back into the mall with another flash, crashing into one of those carousels meant to entertain little kids, where one pops in a quarter and the little tyke goes ariding.
“I need to go home,” Bridget said. Repeating it as the argument formed on Francis’s lips. “Again, I promise you the next time. Since we’ll have the full time allotted instead of starting three hours late.”
He hated to admit it, but she was right on that... At least it hadn’t been a boring night... Next time, though. He will mini golf. Even if he had to use her as the ball. They were quiet along the ride home, and Bridget didn’t even give him a choice when they arrived at the door of his apartment. She trotted in, stripped down along the way, and flung herself into his bed, leaving him to carry the bags. He dropped them on the sofa, then followed suit, snuggling up behind her.
“I’m sorry, darling,” she mumbled, yawning again. “This wasn’t how I saw the date to turn out.”
“It’s fine... Well, it was all fine save for one thing.”
She looked over her shoulder. “And what’s that?”
“You- and before you explode on me... You are trying WAY too hard. You are expecting perfection when, hello, have you met me? The perfect plan doesn’t exist when I’m around, so it’s what comes out of it... And what did, well, it was fun. I had a lot of fun... Even during the dress-up... Didn’t you?”
“... Yeah. Yes, I did.” She giggled, and turned around, throwing a leg over his middle. She pulled him tight, snuffling at his chest- losing to another yawn. “Oh my. My apologies, darling... It’s been a long night. A long night, but a good one.”
It really has, he thought, rubbing her back as he echoed that yawn, drifting off with her.