When I got in line Megan was already sitting down – at a booth this time – and Hans was ordering what I suspected was going to be his usual. I got mine and Fumiko got the chicken sandwich. She also got to the booth before I did and sat next to Megan – which left me in uncomfortable proximity to Hans. But at least as long as he was next to me he wouldn’t be able to lewdly stare while I drank my soda.
“So, you must be Fumiko,” Hans was saying as I sat down. He offered Fumiko his hand across the table and they shook. “I’m Hans. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Likewise,” Fumiko agreed easily. “So, Megan said you’re hot to sit with everyone and find out how they do business. I work from home, so I’ll expect fair warning before you show up. Or I could just tell you about it sometime.”
“Oh!” said Megan. “We should drag him to the convention. He could see you network and meet some of the American artists who publish with us.”
“Hmmm.” Fumiko murmured. “But who would he go as?”
“Convention?” Hans asked at a loss.
I buried my attention in my food while they explained to Hans about the importance – nay, obligation – to cosplay at anime conventions. Although he obviously had no idea what he was in for he good naturedly took them at their word. Soon he found himself out of his depth and inadvertently excluded from their conversation as Megan and Fumiko discussed the pros and cons of different hunky bishounen.
Hans kept giving me sidelong looks when he realized Megan and Fumiko were lost in their own little hobby world, but I resolutely refused to meet his gaze or engage him in conversation. I didn’t know if he was really just wingman-ing it for Mr.Salvitore or if I was being paranoid (well, I knew I was paranoid – but was I just being paranoid?) but I didn’t want to give him a chance to weasel concessions out of me before I knew Mr. Salvatore was gone and Megan was safe. Especially since it wouldn’t take much weaseling. I was so wound up from trying to act normal despite being dirtily deep in reminiscences about this morning that I was about ready to blurt out anything.
Besides, for all I knew that wasn’t really Hans. It could be a doppelganger.
When lunch was over I got back in Megan’s car while Fumiko got a refill on her drink. I was buckling up while she and Megan were still saying goodbye to Hans. Even so, I didn’t breathe easily until Megan and Fumiko rejoined me.
“Well, he seems nice,” Fumiko opined as she buckled up.
“Yes,” Megan agreed. “And he’ll make a splendid Prince Tanaka.”
“Mhmm,” Fumiko agreed with an enthusiasm I’ve only seen in her when it comes to dressing someone up. “But we’ll see,” she added. “It might not work out.” Fumiko glanced at me over the back seat. “I mean, Abby didn’t seem that into him.”
I flushed since I knew who Fumiko did think I was into.
“Hm,” Megan said noncommittal. “But you saw him looking at her, right? I don’t know all the details of how things went last night, but from what I do know… there’s something there.”
I flushed harder and turned to look out the window. I was pretty sure all that was ‘there’ on Hans’ part was a keen nose for lusting pheromones. Fortunately, Megan and Fumiko’s conversation turned before I could get too mortified. Unfortunately, it turned to the topic of which of Prince Tanaka’s harem of love interests I could best portray.
I was intensely grateful when we reached work. Despite my firm protest that her armor was too impractical, Megan seemed convinced I should go as Hilda, the barely clad amazon princess. I’m pretty sure Megan was teasing – but if Fumiko got it in her head to agree, then I was going to spend the entire convention too mortified to leave my room.
When we got back to the office, Fumiko followed us back in. “I have to pick up some printouts,” she explained as we wandered back toward my office. I didn’t say anything: The door to Mr. Salvatore’s office was open, giving him a clear view down the hallway to Megan’s desk. I tried not to stare – I didn’t want to tip him off that I was on to him – but just a glance was enough to see that his gaze had completely skipped past Fumiko and myself. Turning my back on him to head to my office was the second hardest thing I’d done all day. Not running was the first.
Megan and Fumiko didn’t notice, of course. But why would they? They were laughing about something I didn’t catch, safe in a world that was free of werewolves, goblins, and stalker vampires.
Fumiko rolled Megan’s chair into my office and Megan followed her. I closed the door behind us, blocking out Mr. Salvatore’s gaze. My skin still crawled.
Fumiko sat in Megan’s chair and Megan sat in her usual spot on my desk. After a quick glance to make sure all the blinds were open, I went to join them. Megan and Fumiko didn’t believe in goblins, so it was probably safe. Besides, I didn’t see one when I surreptitiously glanced under my desk. I sat in my chair and tried to just get a grip.
Fumiko, of all people, ruined that plan.
“Hey,” she said. “What’s wrong, Abby? You seem a little more twitchy than usual.”
Megan gave my hand an encouraging squeeze. I’m not even sure when she’d taken it, but casual physical contact is one of Megan’s things. “I think she’s still flustered over lunch with Hans,” she said when I didn’t manage to say anything myself. “He seems to do that to her – I still don’t have all the details about last night, even though she promised to call me last night after her date.”
Fumiko looked skeptical, but covered it up by sipping her soda. Megan gave my hand another squeeze, but it just made me feel miserably guilty. I had promised.
“I told you I couldn’t,” I tried to remind her. “I forgot my phone in the booth at the restaurant, and he would’ve overheard if I’d tried at my place.” I laughed giddily. “Hans has ears like a wolf,” I explained for Fumiko’s sake.
Megan sniffed dismissively. “Well, you know you still could have called after he went home. I am a night owl, you know.”
Fumiko glanced between us, silently sipping her soda. I just knew she was adding subtext that wasn’t there. It wasn’t! I started to blush.
Megan looked at me with growing intensity. “Abby,” she asked slowly, “when did Hans go home last night?”
There were so many ways I could have replied. Hell, I could have lied. But I was all flustered from Fumiko’s knowing grin and couldn’t sort through my options. So I just swallowed and squeaked: “After breakfast.”
Then Fumiko spat soda out her nose, which saved me from having to respond to Megan’s dropped jaw.
“Oh, ow ow ow ow, oh God ow,” Fumiko gasped while cupping a hand over her nose. Megan passed her my box of tissues, and Fumiko used them to wipe her face and hands. She took another to dab at her eyes. “Seriously?” she asked when she’d regained her composure.
“Well, nothing happened,” I said defensively. “I fell asleep.”
Fumiko started laughing.
“While we were talking!” I yelled at her. “We stayed up late talking and I fell asleep, and when I woke up he made me breakfast. That’s it!”
Fumiko covered her mouth with the back of her hand to smother her giggles. She handed the tissue box back to Megan. “Really?” Fumiko asked.
My cheeks flared. “Well… we may have made out,” I mumbled. “A couple of times… but that’s it! Can we please stop talking about this?” If they made me keep going all I had left was the part where Hans turned into a wolf.
“Okay,” Fumiko said, holding her hands up in surrender. She was smiling like she wasn’t going to stop thinking about it, though.
“Alright then,” I said. I was still flustered. This morning I’d been upset that I’d failed to have a one night stand – why was I so adamant about not letting Fumiko and Megan think I had, now? I couldn’t make sense of it except to conclude that I didn’t know what I wanted, and it really didn’t help that I wasn’t sure I could even trust doppel-Hans.
Fortunately, they really did let the topic drop. I retreated into the safety of antisocial silence, and after a few minutes Fumiko and Megan were back to chatting lightly about books. Then Jimmy showed up with Fumiko’s printouts, and she left. Shortly after, Megan wheeled her chair back out to her desk. I let her go – how could I stop her? – but I did check to see that Mr. Salvatore’s door was shut, first.
Then I closed my office door and sat back down on the floor next to it. I leaned against the wall and stared at the sunny sky outside my window. I desperately wanted this year to be done, but I couldn’t deny – even to myself – that it would get worse before it was over. Tonight was still coming, and it filled me with dread.
Parties and crowds and strangers aside, I had never before in my life been this afraid of the dark.