The Babe Magnet
by D.C. Logan
On an overcast day in midsummer, on a Thursday afternoon in the back of a local coffee house, two young men sat together at a counter, sharing quiet conversation and the best Starbucks had to offer. A young vet with two cats and a pet store worker with tropical fish. Both young, gay, available, attractive, and potentially interested in each other.
It was a prearranged meeting, set up the week before while one had been busy purchasing cat food in the small pet supply store across the street and the other had been busy covering the store for his uncle for the day.
So why were the two of them sitting there and stirring their coffees and saying nothing?
Why couldn't Duo wait to get back to work?
Why did this feel like such a mistake?
A half hour later, Duo slumped back into the store, slid a grande mocha latte across the counter near his uncle, and propped himself dejectedly on the Formica slab near the cash register.
When his usually more forthcoming nephew remained silent, Howard gave him a gentle push to get him started. "So, how did the much-anticipated date with vet-guy go?"
"It wasn't really a date, more like two guys with mutual interests talking over a couple of cups of coffee, and it was a bit of a bust, really." Duo reached over and aligned a point of purchase display situated next to the register and then looked up at his uncle. "Okay, truth was, it sucked rocks."
Howard paused midway in peeling back the lid of his coffee. "Sucked rocks? Is that the highly technical term that young gay men are using to describe the dating process these days?"
Genetically immune to Howard's sense of humor, Duo ignored him and persisted. "He's a cat person, and I'm more of a fish or maybe even a dog person. Or at least that's what we decided mid-way though the danish." Duo poked vengefully at another display until Howard lifted the box of specialty cat treats from his hands and set it safely out of his reach.
"So your date only lasted through coffee and a danish? That bad?"
"Yes, that bad, and I had real hopes for this one; he seemed perfect at the start. I mean, who better for a guy who works in a pet store than an attractive young vet, right?"
"Partial owner of pet store," Howard corrected upwards.
"Fine, fine. You just keep saying that because I lived in your attic up until six months ago and because I keep bringing you your Starbucks on a regular basis."
Howard winked. "No, I say that because you're my favorite nephew and because you deserve it."
Duo sighed and rubbed his fingers across a faded patch of countertop. "I'm your only nephew. Anyway, he sounded like he'd be great, but..." He waved his hand in the air, and Howard tried and failed to follow the huge gaps in the conversation.
Duo shrugged, temporarily at a loss for words. "Just... no spark I guess. He didn't do anything special for me."
Howard chuckled and dared to reach out and ruffle his nephew's bangs, a gentle token of affection reserved for a much younger man than the one before him. It said a great deal about Duo's troubled state of mind that he tolerated it now. "Try not to worry about it too much. The right person for you will turn up sooner or later."
Duo sprawled across the counter, pressing his face to the cool surface. "It's the 'later' part that I'm worried about at the moment. I finally got my own apartment so I could feel comfortable dating, and now I can't even seem to find someone I like enough to bring home." He let out a frustrated moan. "It's hopeless."
Howard had the temerity to laugh out loud. "The hell it is. Mister Perfect just hasn't walked through the door of the Safari yet." He laid a comforting hand on Duo's shoulder to soften the pain of the moment. "Give him time. He'll show up."
Duo poked at the pattern inlaid in the counter, stabbing at it to emphasize each of his words. "Yeah. Sure. Fine. Whatever."
"Heero? I think your car's exploding."
"No, that's not my car alarm; trust me, I'd know." He shot Trowa a dirty look, but his confident words didn't stop him from leaning over to the side in order to catch a glimpse of his car through the blinds. Heero could just spy the polished sheen of a late model Mustang Cobra fender resting comfortingly intact near the curb of his co-worker's apartment building where he'd parked it. He slouched back against the arm of the sofa and idly traced his thumb around the lip of his bottle of Weyerbacher's HefeWeizen, mentally toasting Wufei's taste in alcohol at least.
His beer was warm, but he tipped back another swallow of liquid before reaching for a slice of the cold pizza and settling back and wondering once again why Wufei hadn't arranged for delivery service for his new sofa instead of bribing his friends. Well, wondering about that, and doing his best to ignore the conversation between the two other people in the room. Conversation that, in this case, involved him as the primary subject matter. The latest round of which seemed to involve his dating prowess, or in this case, the distinct lack thereof.
"Now, hang on, back to the subject at hand, why, exactly, do you think Heero here has been scaring off his dates?" Trowa gave him another one of those looks, the ones that plainly said that Heero was hopeless and should give up all hope of dating and just live as a bachelor forever, but that, as his best friend, Trowa felt honor-bound to intercede on his behalf and perhaps offer advice.
Wufei was wearing a matching expression that did little to encourage this line of questioning and looked Heero over again carefully. "Do you think you could wear something a bit more casual on your dates? Not that you've managed to make one last for what? More than two hours at best."
Heero held up a hand with three fingers raised in mute protest, and Wufei shook hishead in wonder. "I stand corrected; one brave soul endured your company for three excruciating hours." Wufei leaned back on his recent acquisition, stroking the new leather finish and trying for a different perspective on the situation. "You know Heero, how about you leave the khakis and oxfords for the office and pick up some jeans, or, god-forbid, borrow some of Trowa's sweatpants or medical scrubs or something? Try to look," he waved his hand in the air at Heero, as if, lacking magical powers or a Gap card, he could produce something more fitting to his line of reasoning, "scruffy?"
"It's more efficient to do it that way."
"Just because you always date people who work at our office doesn't mean you have to start your dates the minute the time clock clicks over."
"I assumed that people at work would share the same interests, common educational and financial backgrounds, and have similar schedules." Heero shrugged and looked unimpressed with Wufei's logic. "Most of them dress more or less as I do."
Wufei muttered something that sounded suspiciously like, "Try less," under his breath.
"Not the women, I'm betting," added Trowa, trying his best to sound helpful.
"No, not the women," said Heero. "Still, I don't see any point in making the process any more difficult than it has to be."
Wufei raised his hands in surrender and claimed the last slice of mushroom and onion, handing the empty box to Heero as his dubious reward for having the last word. Heero disregarded his prize and nursed his beer along instead of responding, as Trowa slid one of the pizza boxes aside and crossed his ankles on the crowded coffee table, ignoring Wufei's discouraging glare. "So, what did the last one say when you called her and asked her for a second date?"
"The one from over in the interface design department? Relena?" Heero gave him a thoughtful look for a moment and then set his empty bottle aside in disgust. "She said that she was busy neutering her plants."
Trowa stifled a snicker. "That's... inspired." She sounds more intelligent than your average fare.
Wufei smiled. "Does this mean I may actually have a chance of her giving me more than the time of day if I ask her out to that new Italian place?"
Trowa snickered. "Do you think you have a chance because she's intelligent, because she's into neutered plants, or because she doesn't think our friend Heero here is worth a second round at the dating game?"
That comment earned Trowa a second glare as Wufei waited patiently for a reply.
Heero shrugged. "Go ahead and ask, it's a free country."
"I think I will. Thanks. So... It's the weekend, Heero." Wufei shifted Trowa's pizza box over and slid a slice of pepper and onion from the box underneath. "How is your wage-slave drone cube life treating you? Still enjoying it with the unmitigated relish of a geek for all things microprocessor-driven?"
Heero granted him a disdainful snort. "Not all of my pursuits are powered by A/C current, and since I'm driving a new Mustang while you're driving to that identical wage-slave drone cube life in a four-banger with an atrociously bad paint job that nine-tenths of the human race would be embarrassed to be seen as a passenger in, nevertheless admit actual ownership of..." he paused, considered, and nodded. "Yes, yes I am."
"You mean, since you'll be making a huge interest-loaded payment on a front-loaded, depreciating item for the next five years that you are forced to insure heavily, while I get to invest my marginally less-than-stellar income on a economical model that gets twice the mileage in half..." he caught the doubtful frown, "okay, one-sixteenth the style."
Heero shrugged, it was a long-standing argument, one they'd been picking at the relative merits of since they'd met at college all those years ago. "I still fail to see the logical sense in maintaining two separate wardrobes, and my car has always served as the bulk of my entertainment budget." Heero picked at the stitching of the sofa and grew quiet for a moment before continuing, "I don't seem to have problems getting first dates, it's the second ones that are always the problem. They either make excuses or don't show up for them. The last girl flat out told me that I had the soul of a machine and the heart of a calculator." He looked around the room. "You guys don't seem to have any problems with me. I mean, I seem normal to you, right?"
Trowa rolled his eyes. "Heero, I'm a vet. I don't have time to blink, never mind date anyone. I haven't been out on a serious date since college." He assumed the universal male sign for absolution of guilt or blame, shrugging and slouching across the arm of the sofa. "You've always seemed normal enough to me." He narrowed his eyes. "Bit weird around the edges though."
"Trowa, I'm trying to be serious here."
Trowa pointed over at Wufei. "Ask Mister Casanova over there. He's the one with endless weekend plans."
Wufei snickered evilly. "Do you really want to ask me that question and get a truthful answer?" He looked thoughtful for a moment before standing, stretching, and walking slowly over to stand in front of Heero and evaluating the package: medium-tall, clean Asian features like his own, but with the mixed parentage that granted him those deep blue eyes; Heero worked out at the gym to balance the rigors of his desk job, so physical looks weren't a problem. He ticked off the rest of his attributes out loud on his fingers: "You're educated, smart, a senior programmer at the firm, you can't tell a joke right to save your soul, you insist on picking up the check, you drive a helluva nice car... women should be crawling all over themselves to adore you." He paused. "You're not gay, are you? I mean, not for nothing, but they can usually tell."
Heero looked at Trowa, who did his not-quite-as-innocent-as-he-looks, who-me? shrug. "No... Not that I'm aware of."
"Okay, so that's not the problem then. How about sex? You do know how to have sex, right? I have plenty of instructional material if you're been licking the windows on the short bus and require some learning assistance..." The last was mentioned with a vaguely suggestive leer and an eyebrow wiggle that earned him a wadded up napkin as a reward. Wufei's porn collection was legendary among the staff of Epyon. Given his predilection for cruising internet porn sites for new and inventive material of, to use his own words, "wondrous and glorious variety," it was probably approaching truly world-famous proportions.
Heero shook his head and settled deeper into the cushions of the new couch, the same one the three of them had just moved into the apartment, for which they'd earned the dubious reward of the pizza, the suggestion of takeout Chinese being summarily vetoed by Wufei. Heero had never quite mustered the courage to peruse Wufei's infamous collection. "I'm quite sure that you do. And while I have a basic understanding of the working essentials of the process, if I ever need to calculate the complex mechanics behind sex with four women and three men in a swimming pool filled with artificial tropical fish and lime Jell-O, I'll be certain to pay you a consulting fee."
Trowa handed him another beer, this one cold, checked the third box for any remaining slices of pepperoni, then reclined back on Wufei's ex-favorite chair and offered his wisdom in pontificating tones, augmented by tilting the bottle of Weyerbacher's Blanche that Wufei stocked expressly for him. "What you need, Heero, is a babe magnet."
Heero gave each of them a doubtful look in turn. They seemed to be completely serious about this, whatever it was. "A babe magnet?"
Wufei nodded. "A babe magnet. A hook. Something women find irresistible. You know, something like carrying a baby around." At Heero's look of abject panic, he raised his hands quickly and explained. "It doesn't have to be yours! You just have to borrow one."
Heero looked over at Trowa for clarification. Trowa raised his hands as well. "Fresh out."
Heero shook his head and sipped his beer. "Oh, well, so much for that idea then."
Wufei plugged onward as the idea gained momentum in his mind. "Or it can be giving flowers, having a cute animal to wave around, or being exceptionally useful, or perhaps acting unusually helpless..." He shrugged and looked to Trowa for additional advice. "Quote unquote, chicks dig that sort of thing, or so I've been informed."
Heero looked at Trowa. "Well?"
Trowa looked suspiciously as if he was stifling laughter, probably at the idea of Heero trying to lure a woman into his life by wandering around in a park with someone else's baby and waving it around. "Don't look at me. All fresh out of kiddies and kittens. Besides, I always sort of thought you were gay."
The other napkin sailed in his direction. "Thanks, Wufei. Trowa? Don't you have any other great ideas to contribute towards the great humanitarian mission of finding me a female that can stand me for more than three hours?"
"Heero?" Trowa seemed to have recovered some minor control over his laughter, stifled or no.
"I'm gay, remember?"
That only got him off the hook for a few minutes.
"So? Doesn't your 'hook' idea work for either sex?"
Trowa shrugged. "Beats the hell out of me. Remember what I said before? I haven't seen any action since, what... freshman year? Besides, given your preferences, you'd be better off asking Wufei to share some of his techniques." Trowa channel surfed through a commercial break and returned to the game before continuing the thought. "If you want to know the best way to de-flea dog or remove testicles from a tomcat, I'm your man. Besides, I'm not allowed to go out on a date until after my name appears out on the front placard under Merquise and Merquise. I think that may even be a stipulation in my hire contract somewhere--career before lust or some such nonsense. At least that used to be my motto before my student loans crushed my brain and libido along with my budget."
Wufei nodded along in understanding at the limited budget. "Still doing the macaroni and cheese and fruit cocktail, thing?"
"Pretty damn close."
Heero was still wincing from the earlier comment. "Can we please leave the neutering terminology out of our conversations, Trowa?"
Wufei nodded and raised his bottle in agreement. "Amen to that suggestion." He gave a fond pat to the leather arm on his new sofa. "Face it, Yuy. This couch will see action before two you ever do."
Trowa shook his head and turned up the volume on the television. "That's a charming thought, Wufei. Remind me never to sit on it again without sterilizing the cushions first."
That same conversation was still replaying in his mind during his daily commute the next morning. Thankfully, Wufei was there via cell phone connection to continue to offer his advice. Heero adjusted the connection of his hands-free device and continued, "I am not obsessed with my car, honest."
As he said this during his morning commute and while running his left hand along the edge of the steering wheel, and while resting his right lightly on the comforting vibration of the shift knob, he had to admit the statement was a hair less than truthful.
"Heero?" Wufei's voice was not only growing vaguely patronizing; it was getting annoying.
"Trowa said that he drove by on an emergency call just last week and saw you standing out in public and buffing it with a diaper."
Ah, yes, that. Heero changed lanes and sighed in resignation. "It's a micro fiber polishing cloth specifically designed for cleaning clear-coat finishes."
Wufei sounded smug. "And how many people on the planet could state that fact with absolute confidence besides you?"
Time to try for misdirection and haul out the diversionary tactics then. "He's just as obsessed with his career as I am with other things, but you don't tease him nearly as much."
"He doesn't react nearly as well as you do." A dry chuckle drifted over the cellular connection. "And stop trying to change the subject." There was a polite pause before Wufei asked, "So, how's your dating mission coming along?"
"Slowly. As in single nights in endless sequence." Heero shook his head, even though Wufei couldn't see the motion through the headset. "Not a repeat in the set so far this month, and only one made it past the two-hour mark."
"And where have you been taking these endless women of yours?" Heero noted that Wufei sounded amused, which was usually a bad thing.
"So far this month?" Heero paused for a moment to consider why Wufei wouldn't have known. "That's right, you haven't been on the same shift schedule at Epyon as the people who have been doing the real work, have you? Let me see." There was an additional hesitation as he checked his mirrors and changed lanes again before resuming. "That restored art theater downtown with Lisa from reception, then Lorna from accounting and the fireworks display on the riverfront..." He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel and continued, "the opening of that Russian Icons exhibit..."
"Hang on, Heero."
"That almost sounds more like event planning than an opportunity for someone to sit down with you and get to know who you are, don't you think?"
"Well you may have a..." The unexpected sound of a car horn drew his attention to his automatic safety checks.
The moment seemed surreal at first. Seen in reverse in the frame of his rearview mirror, the limp and boneless body of the dog drifted across the roadway as if it were skimming across a sheet of ice. The logical portion of his mind broke down the motion and discounted it as unlikely and therefore impossible. He couldn't have just seen that happen. The sound of braking cars and the dull impact of flesh against concrete barely registered. He shifted to the right lane, and then to the shoulder while still checking his rearview mirror for traffic, then slowed to a stop while his brain caught up and processed what he'd just seen. "Hang on a second, will you, Wufei? There's been an accident."
There was stunned silence while Wufei absorbed that news. "You okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine." Followed by the expected follow-up to the unasked question. "And so is the Mustang."
"Is anyone hurt?"
Heero checked his other mirrors and windows, looking around hopefully for the vehicle that had struck the animal. Which was when he realized that he was the only person that had taken the time to pull over and stop.
"I really don't need this." He edged his car as far over onto the shoulder as he dared before turning off the ignition and cursed softly. "I really, really, don't fucking need this. Not today with all of the Motorola stuff going on, not now."
"Heero? What's going on? You okay?"
"Um, hang on a sec." He looked around, trying to judge the traffic and see if there were any obvious breaks in the pattern of moving cars. "I'm pretty sure that I saw an animal get hit, I want to go check and see if it's alive or dead." He switched from the hands-free device back to the hand-held cell connection and left his car behind, angling carefully across the lanes of traffic and jogging across the grassy median. "I don't see anything though. Maybe it was only stunned."
Wufei's voice was dry, with a twist of his trademark black humor behind it. "Number one, your luck just hasn't been that good lately. Number two, the accident's usually farther back than you expect it to be, since you're driving away from the point of..."
Heero approached with caution and crouched down next to the large, mostly black animal. "It was a big dog."
Heero held his hand against its ribcage, felt the steady rise and fall of breathing. "It's still alive."
He checked as best as he dared with one hand, edging his body closer to get a better view of the damage. "It's bleeding pretty badly."
"There's no one else stopping."
He sighed deeply as he looked around at the rest of the people who were busily going about their morning commute. "Guess it's my day to be fucked."
Wufei gave a commiserating groan over the connection. "Just don't get bitten. 'Cause with the way your luck has been running, I mean with the sucky dating thing and all..."
Heero looked objectively at the dog. It remained unconscious, and seemed to be wedged partially under a car parked along the street, forced there from the impact of its skid across the lanes of traffic. "Thanks for the advice, Wufei. Do me a favor and tell Treize that I'll be late, then call Trowa and warn him that I'll be on my way to his clinic as soon as I can figure out a way to get this dog into the Mustang."
"Will do. And Heero?"
He could practically see the commiserating smirk on Wufei's face. "Thanks."
He looked left, right, and all around, but none of the houses were close enough to seem likely candidates for help or possible ownership of the victim, and the manufacturing business that was supplying the cars parked along the road didn't seem like a good bet either.
Heero tucked his phone in his pocket and mentally wrote off his new pair of khakis as he knelt in the street dirt and grime and pool of blood leaking out from under the dog, trying to figure out the best angle to approach the problem of working the animal loose from where it was pinned. He reached under and gave a tentative tug of a leg and felt bones grind shockingly loose. He let go immediately, fearing that the dog would wake, but it was both unresponsive and remained disturbingly limp. The blood seemed to be coming from the broken leg and the animal's nose, and short of something to wrap the dog in, there was nothing to do but talk his way through the situation and make the best of it.
"Don't wake up and bite me. Please don't wake up and bite me. C'mon. I like dogs. Really I do. Always wanted one as a kid. Hell. Don't wake up." He kept up a quiet muttering and rambling banter to comfort himself as he continued to carefully work the dog out from under the car and into his arms until he had a warm, breathing, bleeding presence resting solidly against his chest. "You. Are going to bleed. All over. My new car." He hefted her--he thought the dog might actually be a her under all that fur--in his arms once again for balance before taking off at an ungainly half-walk--half-jog for his car.