Lori normally eschewed the girly stereotypes: the female sensitive to romantic subtext, the meddling girl, the matchmaker, the perceptive woman with her oh so clueless and very gay best friends. Once Lori had realized that her interest in seeing Tommy wolf out was positively innocent compared to Merton's, Lori had kinda figured that the guys would realize that they had subtext to spare and move along from innuendo to the groping they so obviously wanted. However, seeing as Tommy and Merton seemed determined to take cluelessness to all new heights, Lori had finally come to the conclusion that it was up to her to set them on the right track. They'd thank her later, she was sure.
No one could accuse Lori of being unwilling to act the part of a cliche for a good cause. However, Lori had found, much to her annoyance, that being a girly cliche was harder than anticipated. She blamed her difficulties on the unusual denseness of her subjects.
Lori slid up next to Tommy. She lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper: "My friend thinks that Merton is really hot. I'm thinking about setting them up."
Tommy stiffened briefly. Cleared the growl from his throat. "Really?" Tommy said with a look so blandly innocent that Lori knew it had to be some sort of defense mechanism.
"Really," Lori replied. She nodded in firm agreement with herself. "They'd be perfect for each other--just think, Merton would spend all his nights out with Mel instead of finding new and entertaining ways to make you suffer." Lori watched Tommy's jaw twitch. She smirked and leaned in closer. "She's particularly fond of his ass. Merton does have a nice butt, don't you think?"
Tommy's eyes went wide. His face flushed. His face paled. Lori fondly thought that Tommy was cute when he was flustered. "I'm sure that I've never noticed," he said uncomfortably. "Lori--"
"Never?" Lori pressed incredulously. "All that time hanging out and you've never once thought: hey, nice ass? All those nights you guys have slept over, the manly hugs, the hours spent locked up together in the lair--and you're telling me that not once have you noticed how Merton's pants cling to his butt? How he squirms so cutely when he's excited. How--"
Tommy swallowed. Shifted. Tugged at the hem of his jacket. "Maybe I should leave you and your imagination to yourselves," Tommy said faintly. And ran like the repressed dork in love with his best friend that he was. Lori glowered after him. How she wondered, did the girls in the movies do it?
Merton wasn't any better. Consider:
Lori sighed gustily and set down the magazine she had been flipping through. Merton didn't look away from his book. Lori glared at him and let loose with a second, gustier sigh. "I only hope," she said loudly, "that I'll find something like you and Tommy have one of these days."
Merton blinked quizzically. "Hmmm?" he asked in confusion. Merton's expression cleared a moment later. He answered his own question before Lori could launch into Part Two of Operation: Oblivious Dorks: "Would you be referring to a certain cool level-headedness in the face of danger?" Merton mused, "an enviable panache, maybe? That indefinable sense of--"
Knowing that Merton could go on for hours if she let him, Lori quickly cut across Merton's self-satisfied rambling. "I was talking about your relationship," she said. "The closeness. The intimacy."
"Oh," Merton said. He looked at Lori with dawning comprehension. "Is this about the team jerseys?" he asked. "I swear that I ordered them before you joined me and Tommy in our valiant fight against Pleasantville's supernatural denizens. You don't have to feel left out, though, Lori," Merton said kindly, "you are an invaluable part of the team." He reached across his desk to pat comfortingly at Lori's hand. "I can order a jersey for you, too."
"You have team jerseys?" Lori demanded. She shook her head a moment later and swatted at Merton's hand. "I was talking about falling in love," she snapped.
"And you've come to me for advice," Merton nodded his understanding. He blinked. Pursed his lips. "Is it--that is, you want to get back together with Tommy?" Not quite the reaction Lori had been hoping for, but she took some satisfaction in the unhappy crispness in Merton's voice.
"No," Lori said vehemently. "I--"
Merton's eyebrows flew upwards. "You want to get together with me?" Merton's voice was full of sympathy when he reached for Lori's hand again. She jerked it back before could start in on the soothing hand-pats again. "I'm flattered, Lori, really--"
"No!" Lori snapped. "I'm talking about you and Tommy."
"Okay," Merton said in the same tone he might use when faced with a wild animal. He shot a cautious look in the direction of Lori's tense fists. "No need to get so worked up, Lori." He smiled nervously. "What were you saying about me and Tommy again?"
The mere memory of that conversation was enough to make Lori grit her teeth in irritation. Obviously, Lori had decided shortly after storming out of the lair, subtlety wasn't the way to go. Hints and gentle prodding didn't seem to do anything more than leave Lori with a headache born of jaw-tensing, head-slapping frustration.
It was well past time for Plan B.
Lori shot a glance over her shoulder. The guys were still parked in front of Merton's computer, Tommy all but draped across Merton's upper back and shoulders. Their faces were so close that Lori was amazed that they had yet to collide into a kiss ("oops--sorry, I tripped and fell right into your mouth").
Now was as good a time as any, Lori decided and crumpled to the floor with a cry of: "oh, ow!" She clung to her ankle and furiously blinked back tears. "My ankle!" she cried, "I think that I twisted it!" Lori sniffled piteously and--now!
Tommy lifted his hand from the nape of Merton's neck. His brow was furrowed in concern. Boys were such idiots, Lori thought--since when did she cry and whine for help over anything? As much as her friends' predictably, unnecessarily gallant actions might sometimes annoy Lori, she was counting on them rushing to her rescue now. They didn't disappoint her. Merton and Tommy hurried towards her (walking so close that their arms and shoulders and hips bumped every other step) before Lori had to summon forth another watery whimper (it's for a good cause, Lori reminded herself, it's for a good cause--and they had better appreciate the waterworks).
Tommy squatted beside Lori. "Lemme see," he said.
"Ow," Lori groaned and with a move the envy of any Hong Kong action film star, swiped out her foot and sent Tommy tumbling into the conveniently located and opened closet behind them (beat that Jackie Chan! Lori thought with a thrill of satisfaction). Merton barely had time to yelp before Lori sent him reeling into the closet after Tommy. Fortunately for Plan B and Lori's continued health, Merton's closet had evidently been built to house a national treasure: the door was thick and boasted a well-cared for lock--which Lori proceeded to click into place.
"She's gone mad," Merton groaned. "I warned you, Tommy--the danger signs were right there, but no--" Lori rolled her eyes at the closed and locked door and slapped at the wood where she imagined Merton's face to be. He gave a muffled squawk and Lori grinned in satisfaction: violence and matchmaking--hooray!
"Oops," Lori said with teeth-rotting sweetness.
She could hear the guys shuffling around in the closet. "Lori," Tommy said, pounding on the inside of the door. "Lori, this isn't funny. Let us out. Now." A pause, and then quieter: "you have a silk bathrobe?"
"I have delicate skin," Merton said defensively.
"Uh huh. . . and the rose petals?"
"Tommy, please: focus. Lori has finally gone insane and is holding us hostage in my closet. We can discuss my bathing habits later, if you don't mind," Merton sniffed. "Oh, Lori? Let us out and we can sit down and talk about your problems in a calm and rational manner that in no way involves tranquilizer darts."
"I appreciate the offer, Merton, really, but--no," Lori said. A bout of urgent whispering erupted behind the closet door. "No, I'm not possessed by a demon," Lori said firmly, "and no, it's not PM--hey!" She smacked at the door with the back of her hand. "Keep that up and I'm never letting you guys out."
"I'm going to smother to death in the luxuriously stylish folds of my own wardrobe," Merton moaned tragically. "This is all your fault, Tommy--remember, you were the one who wanted to bring Lori into the team. I thought our dashing duo was perfectly suited--"
"We aren't going to suffocate in your closet," Tommy said. He paused thoughtfully. "And you were plenty enthusiastic about Lori, too."
"A momentary lapse in judgment," Merton countered, "from which I recovered far more readily than you. She's a hellion, Tommy, and always was--"
Lori rolled her eyes. "Um, guys?" No wonder they didn't seem to be getting onto the groping without outside intervention--they couldn't carry on a conversation for more than a minute without getting sidetracked. "Hello? I'm right here."
"Oh," Tommy said. He cleared his throat. "So. Lori. What are your--demands?"
"That's you opening gambit?" Merton protested mournfully.
"Do you have a better one?" Tommy shot back. "No? Then stop being a backseat negotiator. I can handle Lori just fine without your input."
"We're doomed to a cramped and sweaty death enfolded in the finest fabrics my allowance allows me to procure." Merton sighed heavily. "I knew I should have had that secret tunnel installed."
Lori shook her head in near despair: men! "I'm not letting you out until someone has an orgasm," Lori muttered, flopping down into the nearest cushy chair. And wow, she should have thought about that freaky wolf hearing before saying that because a surprised yelp--not Merton's--could be heard from the closet before Lori had finished squirming into a comfortable position. Someone obviously liked the orgasm idea, Lori thought with a smirk.
Liked the idea enough to get the wolf frisky, Lori amended as something cracked in the closet. Merton squawked in alarm. "Woah!" Merton said shrilly, "careful with the claws, Tommy! Do you have any idea how much an authentic Dark Magician's frock costs? . . . Obviously not, or you wouldn't be shredding my wardrobe to pieces," he concluded in an irritated mutter. "When we get out of here--it's house training time for you, buddy."
"What did you say?" Tommy rasped, as strangled as Lori had ever heard him. Lori was almost embarrassed that it had taken her as long to figure Tommy out as it actually had--because she had never heard that tone of voice from Tommy, not even when she'd had her fingers wriggling up the back of his shirt (he seemed to have a marked preference for paler and cooler fingers than Lori's).
"I said--" Merton began patiently.
"Not you, Merton!" Tommy said sharply. He began pounding on the door again. "Lori!" Tommy shouted, "answer me, Lori!"
"Calm down, already," Lori said. "I'm right here; I can hear you just fine." She grinned fiercely at the door--this was definitely starting to make up for the stress she had gone through over the guys up to this point. "I said that I'm not letting you out until we get a few things cleared up."
"Oh," Tommy said.
Lori smirked as she twirled a strand of hair around her finger. "Why?" she asked with as much innocence as she could muster, "what did you think that I said?"
"Forget it," Tommy muttered.
Merton cleared his throat. "Tommy--"
"I said forget it!"
"Urk. Squeeze any harder and I'll be wearing finger-shaped bruises for the next several weeks," Merton squeaked. "And I'm really rather fond of that appendage, if you don't mind."
The sound of rattling hangers and shuffling feet met that pronouncement. "Sorry, buddy," Tommy said guiltily. Lori could practically see his wide-eyed expression of remorse. "It's a tight fit in here," Tommy grunted and collided into the wall.
"What are tight quarters and a couple of bruises between friends?" Merton wheezed.
"You could always kiss and make it better," Lori offered helpfully. The shuffling and grunting from the closet came to an abrupt stop. There was another bout of whispering--crazy, she's crazy!--before the guys evidentially decided to ignore any and all suggestions Lori chose to make. "Your loss," Lori shrugged.
"The solution to our problem--the more immediate one, at least--is a relatively straightforward one," Merton pronounced. "All I have to do is put my hand. . . there, and your foot goes here and your put your hands--yeah, that's it, Tommy, and I twist like this and--okay, okay! No twisting--geez, Tommy!"
Lori's eyebrows flew upwards in amusement. "Finally noticed the excited squirming, have you, Tommy?" Lori said brightly--and who'd have thought this matchmaking gig could be so entertaining?
"Beg pardon?" Merton asked.
"Lori," Tommy said (in the same voice little kids used to tattle on their friends), "has a thing for your butt." Lori sniffed back at him disdainfully: if Tommy thought he could even begin to embarrass her, he didn't know her very well at all.
"Well," Merton said modestly, "she wouldn't be the first person to find it rather alluring. Good genes, you know. That, and a well-balanced regiment of diet and exercise keep this body the fine specimen of manhood you see before you."
Tommy snorted. "Yoo Hoos and fleeing in terror don't make up a diet and exercise plan," Tommy said with firm jock-ish superiority.
"To each their own, Tommy," Merton sniffed haughtily, "--and I do not flee in terror. I--assess the scene and contribute in a manner best suited to my talents." He shifted from defensive to gloat mode before continuing: "and it's not your rear that Lori finds so engaging."
"Tommy, Tommy," Lori tsked, shaking her head in disappointment. "Enough with the denial, already. No need to be offended, Merton," Lori said kindly, "Tommy is rather fond of your ass, too." She paused, and remembering the dismal failure of anything approaching subtlety, added: "and I don't mean that in a platonic, aesthetic way, either."
"Lori!" Tommy gasped in stunned horror. "The whole tranquilizer plan is sounding better and better," he grumbled, just loud enough for Lori to hear. "You were right, Merton; I'm sorry that I didn't believe you before--Lori really has gone batty."
"I'd stop insulting the woman with the keys, if I were you," Lori said, patting at her pocket meaningfully. She stilled in sudden alarm. "Oops," Lori breathed, "hold that thought for just a sec." Lori stood up, quickly searching her jeans and her jacket for the keys she was sure she had snagged before setting off on this latest stage of Operation: Oblivious Dorks. "Maybe Plan B wasn't as well thought-out as I'd believed."
"What was that?" Tommy demanded.
"Nothing," Lori said quickly. "We were just discussing how you and Merton are so totally into each other."
"That's it. No more watching HBO at my house, hear that, Lori!" Merton said. "I thought she seemed a little too interested in that episode of Oz," he told Tommy. "Isn't that one of the hottest things you've ever seen?" Merton mimicked Lori in a voice shriller than she had ever used herself, "have you ever considered--you know. . ."
"Huh," Tommy said. "She's been asking a lot of odd questions about what goes on in the locker room, too."
Lori kicked at the closet door hard enough to make both boys fumble in surprise. "I'm not imagining things," Lori said. "You two are so obviously in denial--good God, I've never seen two people touch like you two, and the amount of innuendo you toss around is staggering."
"What's she talking about?" Tommy murmured (probably clinging onto Merton as he said it, their faces inches apart, Lori thought with fond annoyance).
Merton's voice was in Academic Lecturing mode as he addressed Lori. "I can see how you might mistake the nature of our relationship, Lori. Tommy and I have been through a lot together, and our shared experiences have drawn us closer together. We share a certain sense of comfort with each other that might be mistaken as--"
"Merton," Lori said, "there are good friends, and then there are you and Tommy. And I'm not letting you guys out until you admit it."
"You can just forget that," Tommy said, "we can find our own way out. Right, Merton? Right?"
Lori bit back a sigh of relief. Thank goodness for stubborn heterosexual freakouts--at least she'd be able to sneak away to search for the closet's keys without the boys realizing that she'd lost them in the first place. "Fine, be like that," Lori said airily. "I can wait as long as I need to." She slipped from the lair while Merton and Tommy's voice climbed all over each other arguing with her.
The lair was suspiciously quiet when Lori returned almost an hour later (she had finally found the key in a pile of dirty workout clothes). Could it be? she wondered and proceeded to tip-toe towards the closet. She pressed her ear against the door and--hoo yeah, she grinned: was she good at this matchmaker business or what?
"I can always come back later, if you're busy," Lori said cheerily.
A startled squeal and thump sounded from the closest. "No, no, that's quite all right," Merton said quickly. "And no closet jokes, please," he added as Lori slid the key into place. Merton and Tommy blinked into the sudden brightness, their faces flushed.
"I wouldn't even dream of it," Lori said solemnly, fingers crossed behind her back.