Written by IllaRouge
As Lady sat in her hotel room, All-Star Week 2021 just around the corner, she put the finishing touches on her latest and trolliest gif for Lauren. She was excited. Of the cities she played in, Seattle was the one she looked forward to exploring, and with Lauren? Hell yeah. She wasn't playing, but she still liked the festivities. And she definitely liked supporting those voted in, teammates or not.
She spent a few minutes unpacking. She'd gotten a king size. Without consulting with Lauren, Lady figured Doreen would be along, so she'd called down to the front desk to make sure she'd be accommodated. It was a spur of the moment decision, and as such, the only available room near the stadium was a suite. But they could have a slumber party!
Her phone buzzed.
It was a brief exchange. Nothing dramatic, but Lauren had stayed in Huntsville. The corgi had miscalculated. Lauren's usual coldness came through in the texts, but one made Lady pause.
"How did you not realize this"
It was an innocuous question. Lady treated it like that. But she still responded, "...sorry."
The corgi set her phone down. She stood and gave a big stretch. She brought her hands down to her chest in fists, determination in her eyes. There were still plenty of ways to enjoy her time! She had other friends, for sure!
Lady traveled downtown to the Pop Culture Museum. It was going to be the first place she took Lauren. The exhibits were perfect. The museum regularly changed out their exhibits to match various themes. This time, there were many combinations, with the museum's overall theme to be "Connections Across Boundaries." Lady paid for her ticket. She made her way into the first feature: Mecha.
Just inside the double doors, a large Gundam stood with a fiber optic sword of energy, all flashing and spectacle. The corgi took out her phone and snapped a picture. It was the main mech from one of Lauren's shows. Lady couldn't claim great knowledge of this side of anime, but she'd absorbed what she could in her free time to give Lauren someone to fangirl off.
The exhibit was filled with all sorts of giant robots across media. Many of the large pieces were accompanied with placards, each containing "facts" about the series lore and real facts about the production of the shows and the physical figures. Lady was more familiar with the robots from games in her youth. It was cute, she felt, though she knew it would have been more enjoyable with someone that shared the fandom. She snapped more photos to send to Lauren later.
The other themed exhibits were equally interesting. Lady observed museum etiquette and gave them their due time, lingering and meandering enough so that she'd taken in what they had to offer. But her mission was clear. She descended a curved hallway. The pictures from the previous exhibit transitioned into Lady's selfish hobby.
"Drums Across Time." The corgi zoomed into the room and nearly slipped on the carpet. Drums, drums, as far as the eye could see. Wall to wall, there were many glass cases filled with historical artifacts, drums from many cultures and traditions, many old and some very relevant to the rock scene. But most importantly, there were replica drums by many of the displays so that visitors could interact with and experience the instruments firsthand. Lady cracked her knuckles and took a sip from her backpack water skin, which may or may not have been contaminated with a few cans of RedMule. For flavor.
The museum was decently populated with people, so she waited in line for a try with various drums. Each display was monitored by a museum official, to make sure no one put too much effort into the drums. Lady's first stop was a large taiko drum set on its side. It was easily bigger than she was. Once it was her turn, she reached up and pulled her recently purpled head fluff into a ponytail; she needed a haircut. She stepped up to the drum, and the official handed her two large sticks. The woman explained to Lady how the rhythm should go, the corgi nodding along. Now with free reign to play, she counted the beats in her head before beginning. Her strikes were measured by hard, producing a booming sound that echoed across the nearby area. She continued making regular strikes until she felt she'd gotten what she wanted out of the experience. She turned to the woman and thanked her. She moved out of the way for the next patron.
This continued for several minutes as she bounced around the various drums. She tried out each of the experiences, but she gravitated toward the American kits, each of the displays containing items from famous drummers in rock and roll. She found the pieces from jazz particularly interesting. The simple but iconic pieces were fascinating. At her home setup, she loved emulating jazz rhythms, later working them into her own compositions and experimenting with the form in general. She noticed several iconic names usually next to single items like drumsticks or single drums.
But the rock and roll area featured more complete sets, like those of Def Panther and Leoptera, and even other obscure heavy metal groups with huge, complicated kits. What she would give to play a set with one of these. So much history, as if the spirits of these drummers were still in their equipment. She was already constructing playlists of who she wanted to listen to once she got back to the hotel room.
Lady padded over to the kit on display. The attendant handed her some sticks and gave her a few pointers, which Lady nodded politely at. She bopped up the stairs; the experience kit was on a small stage. The seat was lowered. Seemed that the main attractants to these were kids. Not that Lady mattered. She clicked the sticks together. They were okay quality; probably needed lots of backups for the ones that broke. She tested out the base pedal and high-hat.
And with that, she was off. The kit was simple, only the essentials, but it sounded nice. She kept a relaxed pace. She thought about those jazz sets, all those players and the ways that they changed music. Jazz wasn't on her radar much, but just hearing it in speakers around the museum, she wanted to listen to more, incorporate it into her playing. One of the speakers near her was playing the blues. Something upbeat but hopeful, innovative but restrained. She tried to emulate that. Her playing didn't draw much of a crowd, not that she wanted it to. She was playing for herself. But her heart sank.
She felt off.
Desi was somewhere in the mosh pit. But everything was loud, and the crowd was crushing. It was okay. Lady was lucky that the fish was in Seattle as well. She'd bebopped around, seeing the sites and enjoying ASW's events. But Desi wanted to hang out with her. That helped keep her brain in check.
Lady's eyes were open, but she felt like they were shut. She barely remembered the bill for the performers tonight. She was too short. Trying to find Desi wasn't going to happen. The fish hadn't abandoned the corgi. Pushed along by the crowds, Lady managed small movements here and there as she attempted to head to the bathroom. This place wasn't quite as underground as Anchorage. Hell, they even had a liquor license. Lucky.
After a few choice elbows, Lady made it. It was a small bathroom, but people were more focused on the music. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror all decked out a black band shirt, black cargo shorts, and black eyeshadow and lipstick. Pretty standard fair. But she looked odd to herself.
She wasn't smiling.
She turned her head away. There was one open stall, the door made of a piece of graffitied plywood. She headed in. She sat on the toilet seat. The sound of the band outside was muffled but still hit like a dull thud against her temples. It was too noisy. Why was it too noisy?
Lady took out her phone. She couldn't find Desi, but that would have to remain. She texted the Bangor player: a rogue headache, she wasn't feeling well, but thanks for coming out.
Lady paid the cab driver in the cash she'd intended to use for drinks. She was plenty buzzed but not to the degree she had anticipated. Her way back up to the hotel felt foggy. She thought she greeted the hotel attendant; she couldn't be sure.
She fumbled with her card to get into the room. It beeped. Inside, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror, all caked with black makeup from the show. She normally felt natural, but this felt gross. She went to the bathroom and stuck her head under the shower. She didn't even wait for it to get warm as she turned the water on.
After the shower, she pawed through her pockets to find her phone. The room was too quiet. Without thinking, she hit the speed dial for Lauren, and she put it on speaker.
The phone rang a few times before it picked up. When the other end clicked on, there were some muffled noises, and finally a very strained, yawning voice came through. "Lady? What's..." The normally sharp and direct skink's voice was confused with sleep. "What time is it?"
"3? 4? I'm sorry." Her voice was flat. She didn't sound like her normal self. "I can call in the morning."
There was a yawn on the other end. Lady could hear the skink moving around, probably sitting up in bed. "No, no, it's fine. Uh. What's going on?" There was a moment of hesitation before she went on. "You don't sound normal."
The words felt like they bounced right off her. Lady didn't say anything for a moment. She felt clouded by alcohol, but she was stuck on one thought. "Is there something wrong with me?"
Everything went very quiet on the other end. When Lauren at last spoke again, her voice was certain, but there was still confusion there. "No. I mean- no. Why do you think that?"
Lady had never asked a question like this, nor had she been anything but perky. She paused again. The thought was a rare one, but it wouldn't leave. "What did you feel when you met Doreen?" It sounded like it was from left field, but she was specific.
"I, uh." Lauren's voice was losing some of its tiredness. She still sounded like she was thinking through each word as she said it. "I don't know. When I first met her? Suspicious. When she started actually showing interest in me? Scared."
"No, I mean, the good parts. What did that feel like?"
"Scared." It was a matter-of-fact answer. After a moment she went on. "Good. Like somebody's actually pushing me where I need to go. She expects things of me, and I think I need that. But I'm always scared whenever it feels like..." On the other end, Lauren probably made some sort of hand gesture but let her voice trail off. "What's this about?"
The corgi sniffed. She took a deep breath to steady herself. "That sounds relatable." She caught her breath in an attempt to sound normal. "So, like, what am I missing? Like, you know you're in love, right?"
"I." That was all that Lauren got out in that sentence. She tried again. "My, um." She went quiet again. Then she sighed. "Do you feel like you're missing something? I mean, we talked about this at Thanksgiving, and I thought--that is you said you were fine. Happy even. Did something change?"
"I am, most of the time. I just..." It was difficult to describe. She was proud of herself, even showed that in public. She hadn't previously told people around being aromantic. She felt good about that. "But...it's not normal, right? Everyone else knows how they feel, and they love people, and it's fine, and they fall in love and go home together and love together and--"
"Lady." Lauren's voice was firm. "Come on, Lady. I... hell, I don't know if I love Doreen. I don't. I really don't know if anybody ever knows that they love somebody. Right now, I think Doreen's good for me and she's making me happy. I don't know what happens if I sign a contract somewhere far away this summer. I don't know if she'll stick around or if I'll want her to stick around if people start making my life hell again." The skink let silence hang over the line for a moment. When she spoke again, her voice was softer. "So, is it that you want to feel what everybody else is feeling?"
"Lauren, you know Doreen will follow you, goddamn it." This was the first time Lauren had heard Lady sound angry, or whatever her version of angry was. She sniffled again, and again. She paused to try and keep herself in check, but it wasn't working. She sounded like she was choking up. "I'm just alone."
"But I don't know that! I-" The skink caught herself. She considered for a few moments and then spoke quietly into the phone. "Okay. Um. I know you say you don't know what you want. I get that. But what does the 'alone' part mean to you? Like, what's the thing you don't want?"
"I don't know," her voice more insistent but borderline upset. "I know that I don't want to be alone. But what people want from me, I don't feel it. And I want to feel it, but every time it comes up, it's like I'm missing something that everyone else seems to understand."
Lauren went quiet. When she spoke again, her voice held a sigh in it. "Okay. You're kind of right. I don't know what it's like for you. As for being alone, uh... well, again, I don't know what kind of 'alone' you're afraid of. I can't see a future where you don't have people close to you, though. That doesn't add up for me. I don't know if that's going to address what you're thinking and what you're afraid of, but that's what I believe." The discomfort was clear in her voice as she spoke openly.
Lady didn't speak for a while. The phone wasn't close enough to catch her breathing, but it did catch her as her breaths grew short, as her little gasps turned into full on crying. "Lauren," she slurred, "I'm busted. I want to be in love with someone! I want to feel what you feel like! Like, I tried! I really did!"
"Hey, hey." The skink didn't really know what else to say for a bit. She listened to the corgi on the other end and tried to keep her own panic down as she spoke. "You don't have to. You don't. Hey."
She sniffed. "I tried, I tried, I tried, I tried, I tried!" It sounded like she was yelling into a pillow. She came back, "Every time we've been together, I try to feel that way. Every time you wake up with me. Every time we hang out. And you know what? You're the closest. You're the closest I got."
Lauren just listened to all that, quiet. At length she spoke, her voice hesitant, "Is that what you wa-- Sorry. Is that what you were hoping for with me? That I was going to 'be the one' or something that made it work?" Her voice wasn't accusing. It was true, pure curiosity.
This gave Lady enough pause to catch up to her drunk emotions. She cleared her throat. "Not at first, no. I just thought you were fun. And you were different. You came back. And you kept coming back. You dealt with me being annoying. I thought, maybe this would be different. So, I tried to see if it felt different. And...it does? You feel different than others, but not that same thing I know everyone talks about when they talk about love."
Lauren sighed into the phone this tie. It wasn't a sound of exasperation. It was just the sound of letting out pressure. "Do you actually want it to feel like... whatever it is you think love should feel? Or do you just think you're supposed to feel like that?"
"Both?" Lady groaned. "Maybe not with you, but I just feel like I'm wrong, like something hasn't clicked. Like, you're super cool and supportive and you come to me for things that feel like more than friend stuff, but like, I still don't feel that from you, you know?"
"Lady, I..." Lauren was quiet again as she tried to think through things. Then she tried again. "I promise, I'm not going to just make this about me. But you need to know, I have no idea what the whole love thing is supposed to feel like, or even if I do want it. It might seem like I just know what I'm supposed to be doing or feeling, but I don't. As for you and I, uh... I come to talk to you about things because you're my friend. You're a very good and close friend, and I trust you. It doesn't need to be anything else than that."
Lady half-chuckled, half-whimpered, though she sounded more upbeat. "I guess I don't want that either, huh?"
Lauren didn't laugh along. Instead, she asked, keeping her voice as gentle and level as she could, "How often do you feel like this?"
"Not a lot. Sometimes when I'm with people and they leave to go be with their S.O. Sometimes just out of the blue. Usually doesn't last, but I dunno. Being around a lot of people this week, and everyone has everywhere else to be. Kinda got to me, and I sorta ditched someone because of this."
"Right." The skink was quiet for a few seconds, then spoke, her voice leading. "You know, when you are feeling like that, you can give me a call. It's the same friend stuff. I know I lean on you a lot. You can do the same with me."
Lady nodded, but she realized Lauren probably couldn't hear that. "I know. I'm sorry."
"You don't need to apologize." Lauren sighed. Lady could hear her moving around on the other end of the line. "I'm sorry I wasn't there to keep you company."
"Hey, you're here in spirit. And phone." Lady sighed. "Can I ask you one more weird thing?"
"It's what, one in the morning?" There was a pause as Lauren checked the time. "Two. Can't think of a better time for asking weird things."
"You said you don't know what love feels like either, right? That true?"
"Yeah. Well, sort of. Obviously, I love my dad and the rest of my family. But romantic stuff? I don't want to sound too melodramatic, but I've been very focused on just protecting myself for a long time. Trying to feel strongly about somebody else or trusting that somebody else can feel that way about me is strange. I don't know."
Lady listened as she described her feelings. "Not to prove my own point, but you've kinda trusted me with a lot. Maybe you trust people more than you think."
"Lady." Lauren's voice was very dry. "We slept together and then you didn't immediately try to take advantage of the situation. Let's say you earned some points early on."
"I did steal your shirt," she whispered. She coughed. "I mean, what?"
Lauren snorted. "You still owe me an Arctics shirt, by the way." She held the phone away from herself as she yawned, then continued. "It's very late. Are you going to be alright tonight?"
"Yeah. Sorry again." Her words seemed clearer, but she sensed a diner trip in her future. "You can also call me whenever you need. I think I finally cashed my late-night friend chip."
"Right." Lauren hesitated. When she finally spoke, she was trying to rush through the words. "You don't ever need to love somebody like... whatever it is. If you ever decide that you want to, though, I believe you won't have trouble finding somebody." She cleared her throat. "And, um. Good night."
"Good night, Lauren." Lady ended the call. She paid attention to herself for a moment. Things felt better; maybe not ideal, but better. She tapped her fingers on her thighs. "Eggs, then an apology text to Desi. But maybe in the morning." She got up and pulled on enough clothes to be presentable. She picked up her wallet but left her phone. Yeah, things felt better.
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