Lori Baxter had come to a conclusion.
Sure, she may have gotten a chuckle or two out of some of Merton's less life-threatening dating disasters in the past, but really, enough was enough. Lori nodded in firm agreement with herself on that point. Someone had to protect Merton from himself, and Tommy--Lori huffed irritably--Tommy was too busy with his. . . guy-like congratulations: "Way to go, Merton!"
Phoebe Lacroix was a pretty little redhead with big blue eyes and a pouty mouth--and damn it, Lori thought, Merton should have learned his lesson by now. Maybe Phoebe looked normal (if one counted the Pop Princess look as being normal, which Lori most assuredly did not), but past experience was a pretty good indicator that the girl would end up being some sort of vampire or witch or, or a--man-eating snake creature!
"Lori," Merton yelped when Lori strode into the lair. He straightened his shirt one last time before turning away from his mirror and towards Lori. "Not that I'm not delighted to see you this fine evening," Merton said grandly, neatly recovered from his surprise, "but--I have a date with the lovely Miss Lacroix."
And Lori and Tommy would probably have to save him from being eaten, or skewered, or--transformed into a yappy little black terrier that Phoebe could carry around in her purse. Whatever. The point was: this date was a disaster waiting to happen, and as Merton's friend, it was Lori's duty to look out for his best interests.
Merton cringed when Lori swept down on him, the instinctive reaction of someone well-used to being beaten on. Lori grabbed Merton's head with both hands and dragged him forward. He gave a muffled squawk against her lips and flailed in confusion before relaxing into the kiss. Lori pulled back long seconds later but kept her steady grip on Merton--she didn't want him wriggling away. . . not that he looked like he was in any condition to move at the moment.
"You even look at another girl and I'll kick your ass. Got it, Dingle?"
Merton blinked owlishly. "Um. No." He cleared his throat uncertainly. "And not that I didn't appreciate the kiss--very much, even--but, what the huh?"
Lori had learned a thing or two about melodrama during the time she had been hanging out with Merton. She heaved a long-suffering sigh now and rolled her eyes. "I've changed my mind, Merton. Yes, I want to go out with you."
Merton yelped as he pinched himself. He looked at Lori's determined expression and gave himself another pinch--just to make sure. "Alternate dimension? Possession? Alien clone?" Merton muttered, face scrunching thoughtfully between Lori's hands.
She let go of him so abruptly that Merton stumbled. "It's me, Merton: Lori. Really," she spoke with the same exaggerated patience that Merton practiced so often.
"Okay," Merton drew out. "Saying that I believe that you really are Lori--" he looked at her suspiciously from beneath his lashes: which I don't, his expression clearly stated. "What happened to all those other 'fish in the sea'" his voice lifted sharply at the expression as he hooked his fingers into air-quotes, "you told me to go after? Hmm?"
"You keep on drawing in all the piranhas out there," Lori said. She set one hand on her hip and held up the other. "A gorgon, a witch, a vampire, an alien, a cursed 900 year old Japanese girl--I could go on. And on. And on."
"Oh, please don't," Merton said with a defensive wave of his hands.
"I'm leaning towards Phoebe being a man-eating snake woman," Lori said, nodding decisively.
Merton perked up. "A man-eating snake woman? Really? Cool!" He shook his head a moment later. "Wait just a second--a man-eating snake woman? Not so cool." Merton slunk towards the nearest chair and dropped into it dejectedly. "So what? Is this a pity thing then, Lori? Not--" he added quickly, "that I'm necessarily opposed to pity."
Lori took the cushy chair next to Merton's. "Haven't you been paying any attention at all? You know that I don't do pity, Merton--I wouldn't have kissed you if I didn't mean it." She shrugged and sank deeper into the cushions. This had seemed like a much better idea when she was at home: damn Merton and his insecurities. "Phoebe's clothes--and voice--and laugh--aren't the only reasons why I want to kick her butt into next week."
Merton's eyebrows flew upwards. "You're jealous!"
Lori glowered at Merton. "I wouldn't go that far."
Merton crowed, rising to his feet and pumping his fist in the air. "You are! That old Dingle charm strikes again!" He buffed his fingernails against his shirtfront, the very picture of smug self-satisfaction.
Lori couldn't help but huff with amusement. Sure, Merton was annoying as hell, but Lori had developed a pretty high tolerance level for Merton's specific brand of obnoxiousness. He was even kind of cute in gloat-mode, though Lori would rather dress up in the fluffy pink Barbie-style dress her mom had her eye on than admit that out loud.
"I'm trying to have a moment here, Merton," Lori said.
Merton blinked and focused on Lori. "This is a moment; a momentous moment, really: I do believe I have achieved all new heights of self-congratulatory satisfaction." He settled back into his chair and pursed his lips thoughtfully: "you don't mind if I arrange for a tasteful ad in the paper? Perhaps you'd be willing to sign an affidavit? Or--"
"Merton!" Lori said firmly, "no flaunting."
He turned huge, pleading eyes towards Lori. Merton Dingle: pout artiste, Lori thought fondly. "Not even a little? A teensy bit of well-deserved flaunting? How about bragging? Boasting? A little manly one-upmanship?"
"Keep that up, and I may just leave you to the man-eating snake woman after all," Lori said, smiling to show that, no, she didn't mean it and yes, that whole ass-kicking promise still applied.
"Man-eating snake woman?" Merton mouthed before his eyes rounded in alarm. He shot from his chair, stumbled over his own feet and righted himself before colliding with the television. "Phoebe!" Merton said shrilly, "Lori! Phoebe! Urk! Damn my wit, charm and undeniable good looks!" Merton ran a nervous hand through his hair, sending his carefully gelled spikes shooting out in all directions. He rounded on Lori a second later: "are you serious about this? You? And me? Because Phoebe is really, really--" his hands drew vaguely worshipful shapes in the air.
Sardonic applauses sounded in Lori's mind: good going, girl! "Ah," Lori said tightly, "she's really really."
"Really really," Merton agreed emphatically. He bit his lip at the expression Lori wore: "and I mean that in the most respectful and non-sexist way imaginable. Phoebe is a bright young lady with many admirable qualities which are in no way related to her--considerable," Merton snickered appreciatively "--charms."
"There goes the moment," Lori sighed. "Merton, no one has that good of an imagination."
Merton looked at Lori worriedly. He took a few shuffling steps backwards. "I don't suppose you could try just a titch harder? Or, barring that--please don't hit me."
Lori straightened, arms crossed disapprovingly before her. "I don't solve all of my problems with physical violence, Merton," she said.
Merton's eyebrow hiked into a position of utmost disbelief: uh huh, sure you don't. "Most of them, then," he countered. He rocked backward when Lori's frown intensified. "Ah, ah! None of that, or you'll invalidate your argument before it has time to gain even the slightest hint of plausibility."
"Merton," Lori said, "you make sound like some sort of psychopath."
Merton blinked, lips parting in surprise. "Wasn't that the general impression you were aiming for?" He set a snarl in place: "what with the umph and pamff, heeyah! and whatnot," he added, striking at the air in front of him with loosely curled fists.
"No!" Lori cried. Well, not a psychopath certainly. "I was thinking of something more along the lines of a self-sufficient, take-charge woman vibe."
"Yes," Merton said delicately, "I suppose I can see that, too. Although, all considered, I may not be the best person to ask. Not that I'm scared of you," Merton snickered nervously, hands still curled before his chest, "but I must say that I've learned that it is in my best interest to be exceedingly cautious around you, Lori."
"My God," Lori muttered: how had they gone from Lori offering to make at least one of Merton's dreams come true to him questioning her mental stability? It was no wonder Merton couldn't keep a girlfriend for more than a week, Lori thought. "If I'm so crazy," Lori demanded, "why did you want to go out with me in the first place? And you're still ogling me."
"I don't ogle, surely," Merton protested defensively, "gaze, I'll admit to. Look admiringly, certainly. But ogle?" He faltered under Lori's unblinking stare. Merton cleared his throat and slid his gaze away from Lori briefly before rallying: "Phoebe may be really, really--but you're exquisite, Lori."
"Exquisite," Lori echoed faintly. Well, now--that was unexpected, Lori thought. She might have expected Merton to launch into his overdone macho mode and spout something about Lori being a hottie, a babe, one fine looking chick. Instead, Merton had been almost--poetic. If she'd been the kind of girl to blush and giggle, Lori might have considered doing so right about now. Seeing as Lori wasn't that kind of girl, she simply hiked her eyebrows into an expression of startled (if flattered) disbelief.
Merton nodded enthusiastically. His hands danced about his body as he replied: "a Goddess among women," he elaborated floridly, hands raising palm-up towards the heavens, "a being of beauty and strength and spirit." He paused long enough to flash a quick grin at Lori and lift his eyebrows: "even when you are threatening me with grievous bodily harm."
That was rather sweet, if overwrought, Lori thought, at least up until the return of the Lori-as-psycho theme. She rolled her eyes at Merton and said: "I haven't done that in months."
"I know--I thought you didn't care any more," Merton said mournfully.
Lori ducked her head, pressing her smile into her palm. Merton could be absolutely impossible, but--"yes," Lori said, "yes--I'm serious about this, Merton."
"Lori," Merton whined before he stopped, head whipping back in a manner more suited to a Saturday morning cartoon than to a living person. "Beg pardon?" Merton wheezed, "I was caught up in our oh so witty banter, but for a moment there, I thought I heard you say--"
"Yes," Lori said.
"Yes," Merton repeated. He dropped back down into his chair. "To recap: you, Lori, are not an alien clone, currently possessed, from an alternate dimension or operating under a sense of noble self-sacrifice."
"We covered this part already," Lori sighed. Merton shot her a "just humour me!" glare. Lori shrugged and stated: "no, no, no, and no."
"And you want to go out with me? Engage in couple-like activities?" Merton wriggled his eyebrows: "smooch?"
Now that was definitely ogling, Lori decided with a grin. "Yes," Lori said, "yes, and yes." She stretched out over the arm of her chair and took Merton's chin in her hand, dragging him forward. She set her mouth against his--and it took a few seconds, but Lori could almost feel it the moment Merton's rational mind was firmly escorted elsewhere. Lori pulled back slowly, and wow, the look on Merton's face was enough to inflate just about any girl's ego. "Are we on the same page now, or do you want to go back to the chit chat?"
"Gah," Merton said. He looked at Lori, licked his lips and said: "gahk."
"Well, good then," Lori said. This might not have been what Lori had expected of her life even a few months ago, but right now, the thought that this wildly intelligent, insanely melodramatic boy was hers was just--neat. Lori swallowed a laugh and reached for Merton again. "Maybe just a little bit of boasting," Lori allowed, "if you're good."
Merton's stunned expression shifted into a smirk. He crossed the remaining space between them and opened his mouth against Lori's--and week-long relationships or not, Merton had certainly picked up a few tricks on his dates; that or he'd found a much better sex manual than the one Lori's mom had left on her bed when she turned thirteen--because this was really, really--
"Good?" Merton said.
Lori licked her lower lip. "It'll do."
"It'll do?" Merton echoed, affronted. His shoulders loosened when Lori grinned at him and rolled her eyes: joking, just joking! He rocked back, hand to the base of his throat. "You wound me, Lori," Merton huffed dramatically.
"Yeah, yeah," Lori said distractedly. "C'mere."
"Hold that thought," Merton said as he rose. "I had better call Phoebe first--I wouldn't want to be subjected to the ass-kicking you promised should she show up on my doorstep." It took Lori a moment to realize what Merton was referring to. He noticed her flushed face and suddenly guilty expression. Merton smiled almost shyly and dipped towards Lori, running his thumb against the curve of her lower lip. "Don't worry," he said and his grin widened: "you're kinda sexy when you're psycho."
Lori's eyebrows flew upwards. "You think?" she said.
"I think," Merton agreed.
Lori's smile stretched to match Merton's. She wrapped her hands around Merton's wrists--"Good," she said--and pulled down to her. This was going to be fun.
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