|The Dating Game III: Literary Skirmish
Author: Guede Mazaka
“I’m done.” Mariette shuffled her papers together to form one perfect razor-sliced stack and primly laid it down on the table. At first she tried to push it across with only one finger, but the papers began to disarrange. Sighing, she used her whole hand and then hastily snatched it back, as if she were feeding a crocodile.
For a moment, Galahad didn’t want to disappoint her. But he reminded himself that disappointing her was exactly what he’d been plotting to do ever since Arthur had popped in and dropped off the assignment, and since Gawain had shoved it over because he had to go carry shit for his boyfriend while they went shopping. It was so disgusting Galahad hadn’t even had the words. Which had given Gawain the time to sneak out, damn him. “I need another minute,” Galahad said, tone sweet and unperturbed by any of his irritation. “I like to be careful with my first proofing. Saves time later.”
“Oh. Well. All right.” Each word clicked out of Mariette’s mouth. She looked as if she wanted to throw another book at Galahad, but Dagonet was checking some shelves nearby, and everyone knew he was religiously protective of the volumes under his guard.
Galahad slouched in his seat. Across the table—which was the widest one in the g-brary and which had been Mariette’s pick—the bristling was audible. He grinned behind the shield of his paper and slouched some more, hmm-ing as he read the proposal draft. She let out a flat little sigh and sat up straight as a ruler. After a moment of awkward staring over Galahad’s head, she picked up a newspaper someone had left and started reading with much snapping of the paper.
Goddamn prissy bitch. He had been perfectly willing to just act as if the whole thing hadn’t happened, but no, she had to start off their whole collaboration with: “I’d rather work with Gawain, but let’s just get this over with. Oh, and I’m never sleeping with you, so don’t worry about that.”
Well, he damned well wasn’t worrying. He had been snuggling up to a brunette with much more shapely breasts than hers last night, and he wasn’t feeling any lack just because of her.
“Are you done?” Mariette suddenly asked.
“No. Jesus, stop interrupting. It’ll just take longer that way.” And for that, Galahad deliberately counted to fifty before he even started reading again. He bet she hadn’t even had more than a couple words with Gawain, and she was already assuming that Gawain would be better.
That jackass. Sure, Tristan probably was fun in bed, but he couldn’t be that good. Not to mention the frozen rats in the fridge, and the overall creepy way he could pop out of the scenery any time and anywhere. And his sense of humor just sucked.
On the other hand, Gawain was a lot happier. When they’d first showed up at Avalon, he’d mostly stayed in, studied a lot and been cranky all the time. The few times Galahad had dragged him out hadn’t worked too well, so eventually he’d had just let Gawain be, even though it bugged him to stagger home at three in the morning and still see Gawain hunched over a book. Honestly, they were a little behind because of shit that had damned well hadn’t been their fault, but not that much.
Mariette slapped the newspaper down and exhaled as if her breath was a throwing dagger. “I don’t have all day. I have a very important meeting later that I cannot miss.”
“It’s Saturday,” Galahad snorted, sitting up. “Arthur’s off at some museum, and Cobham’s up in Canada till Wednesday. Who the hell’d you be seeing?”
“None of your business,” Mariette sniffed. Her chin was up and her nose was stabbing holes in the air, but her shoulders were crouched forward as if she were expecting an attack.
She was so very obviously lying. She probably didn’t have a damn thing to do—it’d been what, six days since she’d arrived, and her advisor was gone and there wasn’t anyone else around that Galahad thought knew her. If she was hurrying somewhere, it was home so she could curl up on the couch and work really hard and…goddamn it, Gawain never stopped nagging even when he wasn’t around. Galahad resigned himself to being nice.
“Sorry, but we’re closing up early today.” Dagonet emerged from the stacks with two three-inch-thick books dangling light as feathers from his arm. He pointed to the little plastic flyer-holder sitting on the table. “Museum Studies is holding a workshop and they changed the location to here at the last minute.”
“We still have to go over the corrections. Kitty is expecting this done when she comes back.” The crack in Mariette’s composure wasn’t there for too long, but it was deep enough to show a little bit of hysteria edging her protest. Man, she was uptight.
Galahad ignored her frantic look and shoved his stuff into his bookbag. He prepared himself for an unexpected free afternoon—and at the last time, Gawain’s stupid voice took over. “Okay, we’ll get out of your way. Come on; we can just finish at my place. Two minutes’ walk from here.”
Mariette stood up, books hugged to her chest like they were armor, and reluctantly walked away. She turned around and started to slow, but Dagonet was already starting to move chairs, which left her with no option. The exchange students got put up in a dorm over twenty minutes’ walk away, and she and Galahad had a shitload of books to carry.
They were on the sidewalk outside the building when Galahad finally couldn’t take it anymore. Stupid girl had stayed on the other side of the table as long as she could, and when she’d run out of table, she’d just kept going as if there was an invisible one in between them. “For fuck’s sake, I’m seeing other people. I don’t want to have sex with you, all right? I don’t get it up for girls who throw shit at me. That make you feel better?”
“Of course it doesn’t,” she snapped, marching up the steps. Her admittedly nice ass was shaking right in Galahad’s face, but for once he was wishing he could look at something else. She yanked at the door handle so hard that she nearly fell over when it didn’t open. Duh. New York. “Do you have to be so offensive?”
“I could pretty it up for you, but we’d both still know it was nasty shit, so I don’t see the point.” Galahad elbowed her aside and shoved his key into the lock till he heard the old tumblers clicking, then turned it. He opened the door and swung himself in. “Normally I’d hold the door, but I understand that’s supposed to be insulting to women.”
The door glance-banged off Mariette’s bag, but she made it in without any trauma except for the murder in her eyes. “You’re just exploiting a stereotype. I expected better from a grad student.”
“Yeah, I’m a grad student. I’m not a fucking butler.” Down the hall, Galahad could hear doors softly creaking open and at least one wolf-whistle. His neighbors probably thought he was having a goddamned tiff with his girlfriend, and later they’d be all fake sympathy. Fuckers. “Look, not everyone gets to be born with a dictionary in their mouths. Fuck, I was lucky if I got three meals a day.”
Oops. Here he was, thinking about how much condescending compassion pissed him off, and now he’d just given Mariette her cue to be exactly that. She started to say something and he slammed his heels into the floor as he walked off to cover it up—didn’t work too well, since he had on sneakers, but he was pretty good at ignoring pity-speeches. Only way he ever managed to watch his mother work her sugar-daddies without heaving. Well, that and the fact that he could always hit the fire-escape, slide two floors down to Gawain’s window and not be missed for at least a week.
“Don’t even, okay?” he muttered, fighting with the lock on his and Gawain’s apartment. The original one had been royally fucked, so they’d replaced it with one so good the shitty wood door didn’t deserve it and acted like it. “All I want to do is get this proposal fixed so the goddamn dean will approve it for both departments and—”
--not walk in on Gawain’s bare ass. Galahad loved Gawain, really—he had actually killed people and hidden the bodies for Gawain’s sake—but no. Just…especially when it was bobbing like that, and accompanied by moaning in two voices.
“Oh.” Mariette had somehow squeezed in beside Galahad and was now staring raptly at Gawain’s suddenly frozen ass. “Oh, he’s…”
“Out, out, out.” Taking her by the arm, Galahad hauled them back into the hall and yanked the door after them. Then he let go, just in case she was going throw a fit about a touch, and went halfway down the staircase so he could sit on a step that didn’t look dirty. “Oh, you fucking bastard. And you complain about me…”
Hesitant feet followed him, edging daintily around the handful of cigarette butts that littered the steps. They stopped just behind him. “He’s…he’s…”
“Yeah. What, gonna start off on another speech?” Galahad put his head in his hands and tried to massage away his impending headache. The package Avalon gave its grad students, plus Arthur’s personal amendments, was pretty damn good, but it didn’t come close to covering shit like this.
Man, he wanted a cigarette.
“Why would I do that?” It was another two seconds before Mariette swallowed her pride enough to put down her backpack and lean against the rail. Her hair was starting to come out of her prissy bun and it almost softened her annoyed look. “You’re the one with problems about women.”
“I really hope you didn’t just call Gawain a woman. And I seem to get along fine with most girls, so maybe it’s just you.” No, the headache wasn’t leaving.
Her sputtering didn’t help, either. Especially since she snapped French for the first couple of minutes, and Galahad knew English, Spanish, Cantonese and as much Latin as he needed to understand law terms, but not French.
“I—I did not mean he was a—and if those women were self-respecting--women--they wouldn’t—” Mariette snarled and threw up her hands. “Why the—the hell do you have to be the—the straight one?”
“Um. I’m not interrupting, am I? Oh, Mariette. Hi.” When Galahad turned around, there was a sheepish Gawain in jeans and nothing else staring back at him. Gawain frowned. “What are you doing here, anyway? I thought you said—”
Galahad pinched the bridge of his nose and reminded himself that this was still better than L. A. “We got kicked out. Some workshop needed the space. So—yeah. I think maybe the coffee shop down the street…”
“We were going, so you can come in.” Tristan walked out, looking completely unconcerned with the whole situation. He paused by Gawain to hold a short whispered conversation—the bits Galahad heard might have been apologies for hearing but not warning Gawain in time, but Tristan didn’t exactly look sorry—and moved on.
Mariette gave him a funny look and muttered something in French, to which Tristan answered. In French. She promptly threw on an insulted face, which raised Tristan a few pegs in Galahad’s view.
“Yeah, you can…I need to get dressed…” Gawain ducked back inside long enough to get a shirt, then jogged after Tristan. He stopped by Galahad and bent down to whisper, looking both embarrassed and defensive. “Um. I’m going to—and you know, you can’t really complain about—oh, fuck, the couch--”
“Just go play with the stupid squirrels, or whatever you two are off to do. I’ll clean the damned couch. But you’re cooking dinner.” Galahad sighed, standing up. He grabbed his bag and headed for the apartment while Gawain took off, still blushing.
Good thing the furniture was fake leather. It was hell on bare skin—stuck if you sweated the tiniest bit and then hurt like a bastard to peel away from—but it was easy to wipe off. Galahad dropped his bag just inside by the door, then got a rag from the kitchenette. He flipped up the faucet handle and started getting it wet. “Mariette? You coming in, or are you still laughing?”
“I am not laughing. What would be funny?” she shot back. Though she was careful not to look in the couch’s direction as she shut the door.
Well, that was true. She had a lousy sense of humor. Which reminded Galahad of someone. “So you and Tristan…know each other, or what?”
“That—that—my parents are full professors at the Sorbonne, and good friends of Arthur’s. He taught a semester there as a guest professor, and he brought that—frogs! I wanted to know what Tristan was holding and he opened his hands and a frog jumped at me! It got tangled in my hair and—you’re laughing at me.” Mariette pouted, remembered she was supposed to be more mature than that, and switched to scowling.
“Uh, yeah. If it had been me and him, and I was telling you the same story, you’d laugh your head off at me.” Galahad wrung out the rag before unfolding it. He thought about waving Mariette into the next room, but then decided that hey, if they were going to be adults, she could deal with watching him do a little housekeeping. So he just went ahead and took care of the mess Gawain and Tristan had made of the couch.
She opened her mouth to deny that, but then closed it. After a moment, Mariette got a look on her face that pretty much embodied what Galahad’s headache felt like. She sat down on a stool and covered her eyes with her hand. “You’re honest, at least.”
“Great. Now, let’s be brutally honest and fix the stupid proposal so I can pump you for details about Tristan.” Of course she shot him a curious glance, which Galahad returned with a shrug. “What? You think you’re the only person he’s ever annoyed?”
“Which is not necessarily a good quality,” she muttered, digging in her bookbag. Mariette found her list…which was depressingly long. “Point one: I don’t think the wording in the first paragraph properly reflects the aim of the project. It should be…”
Somewhere along the line, Galahad had asked for this. He was such a fucking idiot.