I’m back, dear readers! Been writing up a storm over the holiday break; I did manage to churn out a few chapters of the sequel to my King Arthur story, as well as this little number. I’ve cooked up this short romance for the 2018 Valentine’s Day contest over on Literotica. As you can tell by the title, it has a gaming theme, specifically Pokémon, a game that I’m really big into. I did make sure to write it in such a way that even someone with no familiarity with the game can easily follow along with the action. Even if you were to only skim through the gaming portions, I think you’ll still enjoy the story. I’d really appreciate it if y’all could give it a read, and maybe post some honest feedback. Your comments are always helpful in getting my stories ready for the critics. And if you really enjoyed it, I’d appreciate it if you could make a quick visit to Literotica later this month and vote on me for the contest. Thanks for your continued readership!
Gaming for Love
“And Smallwood drains it for three!”
Michael Goldman scanned the Auburn Basketball Arena, always looking for the perfect shot for the school newspaper, The Plainsman. Allison Smallwood, the star point guard of the women’s basketball team, always made for an excellent target. Not only was she a fantastic athlete, but she was also a pretty blonde with a dazzling smile.
“Foul on Georgia, and Smallwood steps to the free throw line!”
As he snapped a few more shots, Michael couldn’t help but smile. Even as socially awkward as he was, he seemed to thrive whenever he was on the job. While behind the camera, he was able to see the world around him not as the annoying bunch of people he had to deal with, but as a collection of models waiting for him to capture the perfect moment. Still, it’d be nice to have a sweet girl to go home to after work, but Michael wasn’t holding out much hope. Most girls weren’t attracted to the stereotypical Jewish kid: scrawny with curly black hair, pale skin complexion, and a bit of a large nose. As much as Michael tried to downplay the cliché, there really was no escaping it.
A sudden thud from the court snapped Michael out of his daydream, and he saw one of the other girls down on the floor. A quick glance at his roster sheet told him it was Desiree Bonner, the starting forward. As he went to work with his camera, he was relieved to see that her injuries didn’t look too serious. Soon, she was being tended to by one of the trainers.
“There she is,” Michael breathed.
Michael still had no idea who she was, but the student trainer that worked with the women’s basketball team was nothing short of a knockout. She was maybe 5’5” with light ash blonde hair, and her sharp eyes and wry smile seemed to indicate that she had a keen intellect to go with her stunning good looks. As she worked on Desiree, Michael couldn’t help but snap a few shots of the two of them, making sure that both the trainer and player were in focus. What he would give for a shot with her. Soon, the buzzer interrupted his fantasies, forcing him back to reality.
“Well, back to work…”
So it went for the rest of the game. No further injuries occurred for Auburn, so Michael didn’t get any further glimpses of the little goddess that tended to the players. The Lady Tigers kept the game close, but Georgia was just the better team in the end, and the Bulldogs ended up winning 67-62. This didn’t come as a huge surprise to Michael. Throughout the season, the team had proved to be talented but young, with Smallwood being the only real veteran on the team. Considering that she was only a sophomore, the team had nowhere to go but up in the coming seasons.
After a final series of shots as the teams shook hands, Michael texted his boss up in the press box. The reply thanked Michael for his hard work and instructed him to take the rest of the night off; his boss would handle photography at the postgame press conference. This suited Michael just fine, as he had gotten more than enough of people for the day. After packing up his camera gear, he headed out to his bike to begin the trek back to his apartment.
As he reclined on the sofa in his living room, Michael grabbed his Nintendo 3DS and powered up his copy of Pokémon Sun, intending to waste away the rest of the evening with some online battles. On the other side of the room stood Antonio, Michael’s roommate. He was a tall drink of water by any standard, and his dark chocolate skin and shaved head gave him quite a striking appearance. Still, he was as nerdy as Michael was, perhaps even more so, and tried to communicate this with his black horn-rimmed glasses. Of course, with his height and good looks, that only served to make him even more irresistible to the opposite sex. As was his usual Thursday evening routine, he stood with iron in hand, pressing his shirts for the coming weekend, no doubt for a Valentine’s Day date of some sort.
“Dammit,” Michael muttered.
“What’s wrong, man?” Antonio asked.
“Another rage quitter. That’s three in a row!”
“You gettin’ that good?” Antonio wondered with a laugh.
“No, the level of competition has definitely gone down in the last few months. Not sure what’s happening. Still, I can’t help it that I’m kicking so much ass!”
“Sounds like you need some stronger competition.”
“Yeah, but I know you don’t play Pokémon anymore.”
“True. I ain’t got the time to put in. But maybe you ought to consider joining the local League?”
“League? I thought you said the president of the AU Pokémon League was a total asshole?” Michael replied.
“He is, but it’s gonna be your best bet for some decent people to play against. Besides, none of them will rage quit on you; it’s against their rules. If they do, they get put on probation. Too many times, and they’re kicked out.”
“Hmm… maybe so. When’s the next meeting?”
“Tomorrow, actually. They meet at the GameStop on University Parkway.”
“Thanks, I’ll check it out.” Hearing the steam from Antonio’s iron, Michael remarked, “Dude, you’re fucking obsessed with clothes. It’s a little disturbing.”
“What can I say? The ladies love a man wearing a freshly pressed shirt!”
“Yeah, right. I’d bet you’re in the closet. Great cover, by the way,” Michael snorted.
“Hey, that hurts,” Antonio whined, feigning a heart attack. “I can’t help it if I’m that much better than you with the women, just like you can’t help it you’re so much better than those idiots online!”
“Yeah, but you could share,” Michael shot back with a grin.
“Sorry, but Antonio don’t kiss and tell,” he replied with a toothy grin. After a moment of silence, he continued, “You see that little hottie at the basketball game again?”
“Yeah, she was there.”
“You should talk to her, man! I bet you two would hit it off real good!”
“Are you nuts?! She’s so far out of my league, I bet she doesn’t even know I exist!” Michael laughed.
“Dude, stop sellin’ yourself short. You’re a good guy with some excellent job prospects after you graduate next year. What girl wouldn’t be all over that? And if a girl isn’t all over that, you don’t want her anyway!”
“Easy for you to say, Mr. Ladies’ Geek.”
“Trust me, just chat her up next time you see her. I don’t care when or where it is, introduce yourself and see what happens. You might even be able to get her to go with you to the Valentine’s Day dance in the student union building.”
“No point; I bet she’s got a boyfriend.”
“Don’t hurt to ask, does it?”
The next afternoon, Michael arrived at the GameStop on the outskirts of campus. For some odd reason, he felt nervous. He reasoned it was likely just because of a new and unknown situation; once he tried this group out, he had little doubt he’d like it. As he walked in to the shop, he was pleasantly surprised to see at least a dozen people there, all seated at tables. A couple of them were engrossed in discussions or trading card games, but the majority had their 3DS systems out and ready. After a moment, an overweight man with long greasy hair greeted Michael.
“What’s up? You here for the League?”
“Uh, yeah. Thought I’d give it a shot, see what it’s all about,” Michael replied.
“Cool. I’m Eric, the Almighty President of the AU Pokémon League,” the man said with pride. “That’s an official title, by the way.”
“Good to meet you,” Michael answered, hiding his immediate dislike for the man. “Name’s Michael.”
“Lemme show ya around. The rules here are pretty simple,” Eric said, pointing to a poster on the wall.
1.The terms of any battle or trade must be discussed and agreed upon by all parties beforehand.
2.If terms are not discussed, all battles are assumed to take place under standard OU rules in the case of singles or VGC rules for doubles.
3.Any and all disputes will be settled by the Almighty President of the AU Pokémon League.
4.Absolutely no rage quitting; either forfeit or see the battle through to the end. The first offense will result in a warning, second offense will be probation and temporary suspension, and the third offense will result in the player being banned from the League.
5.The Almighty President of the AU Pokémon League may be challenged for leadership at any time by any law-abiding member.
6.These rules may be amended as the Almighty President sees fit, but rules 5 and 6 may not be changed.
“Huh… I like rule four,” Michael remarked. “That’s what brought me here.”
“You’re not alone in that,” Eric replied. “Rage quitting is a huge problem with online gaming, and probably more so with Pokémon than with many other games. In Call of Duty, for instance, a single rage quitter often goes unnoticed. If he’s doing that bad, neither team is likely to miss him. But Pokémon is always one-on-one, so any rage quit ends the match altogether.”
“At least Nintendo is trying to do something about it lately, forcing rage quitters to stay offline for a while before they can play again.”
“Only in ranked battles,” Eric corrected him. “In free battles, there’s nothing stopping them. Anyway, looks like everyone’s paired up for now, but feel free to watch. If anything opens up, you can jump in.”
“What about her?” Michael asked, seeing a girl sitting alone at a table in the far corner of the shop.
“Dude, you don’t want to play her,” Eric said, the disgust apparent in his voice.
“She cheats. Nobody can figure out how, of course, so we can’t kick her out. But nobody can come close to beating her, and as good as the guys that come here are, she has to be cheating.”
Not believing Eric for one second, Michael replied, “I’ll take my chances.”
“Whatever, dude. Your funeral.”
Despite his promise to “show Michael around,” Eric returned to his seat and began a battle with another member. Michael stared for a moment, watching the pretty brunette with thick glasses seated next to Eric. The way she was hanging on his every move, they had to be an item. Still, Michael could have sworn he saw something in her eyes. It could have been sadness, but it could also have been longing. Either way, Michael decided he wanted as little to do with Eric as possible; a part of him wished he had listened to Antonio. Still, the competition was bound to be better here than online. Turning towards the lone table in the back corner, Michael froze as he realized something.
“Holy shit… it’s her!” he muttered to himself.
Sitting alone at the table was the same girl from the basketball games. Her ash blonde hair was unmistakable, even if it was held up by a hair clip rather than in a ponytail. Now that he had his best look ever at this girl, Michael had to concentrate to keep from embarrassing himself with a public erection. Her face was the cutest thing he had ever seen, impish with a slightly rounded tip to her nose. On one side of her nose, he could see a piercing with a tiny faux diamond stud in it. Her front bangs were quite long and side swept over her right eye for a sultry look, even if that wasn’t what she was going for. She wore a black t-shirt with a picture of a very unhappy Princess Peach saying, “Rescue this.” Michael shook his head in disbelief. All this time he had thought this mystery girl a jock, but now, he couldn’t see her as anything other than what she apparently was: a gamer girl. Collecting his courage, he walked over to the open seat across from her.
“If you think I’m gonna fuck you just ‘cause I’m a gamer girl, fuck off. If you think I suck just ‘cause I’m a gamer girl, fuck off,” she muttered without even looking up.
Though Michael was taken aback by her cold remark, he replied, “Nothing like that, I just wanna play a game with you.”
“Right, but only ‘cause there’s nobody else available,” she snorted.
“Actually, I’d want to play you regardless. I’m told you’re good.”
“Pretty sure you were told I cheat.”
“I was, and I don’t believe that bullshit for one second.”
Shrugging, the girl replied, “Maybe you ought to believe it.”
“Only one way to find out, right?” Michael smirked, adjusting his glasses.
At last, she looked up at him, studying his face. “You seriously just wanna play? Nothing more?”
“Fine. 6 on 6 single battle, standard OU rules.”
“Works for me,” Michael said as he powered up his 3DS.
Studying him again, she asked, “Do I know you from somewhere?”
Michael replied, “I don’t know if you do, but I’ve seen you around. You’re the trainer for the women’s basketball team, right?”
“That’s where I know you from! You’re the photographer I always see on the sidelines!”
“Yep. Michael Goldman, graphics design major and photographer for The Plainsman student newspaper,” he said, extending his hand.
She waited a moment before shaking it, saying, “Ashley Henderson, sports medicine major and your soon-to-be executioner.”
“Damn, little trash talker!” Michael chuckled.
Ashley’s eyebrows shot up at this. “Huh. Sorry, it’s just that… most guys can’t handle my trash talking. You’d think I had cut their balls off or something.”
“I’ve heard worse from twelve year old kids playing Call of Duty,” Michael snorted. “Ok, let me pull my team together…”
For most non-gamers, the first thing they think of when they are asked about Pokémon is the catchphrase, “Gotta catch ‘em all.” From this, it is easy to assume that the games are simple collectors games, catch them all to win the game. But for players like Michael and Ashley, who had both been playing the series since the first games came out in the 1990s, it went far deeper than that. They loved the competitive turn-based battles, finding joy in structuring different teams for different situations and going up against as many skilled opponents as they could. With six Pokémon per team, each with different roles to fill, the possibilities were endless. To them, it was like a massive game of chess in which you could customize your pieces to fit your play style. Don’t have any use for bishops? Trade them in for an extra knight or two. Every decision had advantages and drawbacks, and as in chess, victory often hinged on which player could accurately predict what their opponent was going to do and when.
In Pokémon, every combatant has either one or two elemental types, each of which has its own strengths and weaknesses. For example, Fire types are strong against Grass types, but weak against Water types. Water is strong against Fire and weak against Grass, while Grass is strong against Water and weak against Fire. With eighteen different elemental types to choose from, crafting a team strong and varied enough to handle anything that comes along is essential. Further, each Pokémon could fill different roles on the team. Some are quite fast with powerful attacks, known as “sweepers.” These offensive Pokémon are the basis for most teams, eschewing defensive capabilities for the ability to pressure the opponent with their sheer damage output. Others have little to no offensive presence, known as “supporters.” They possess a variety of moves that can indirectly disrupt the opponent’s strategy. Finally, there are “bulky” combatants with little to no speed but incredible defenses. Such Pokémon are often capable of filling either an offensive role or a defensive support role, depending on the overall team strategy.
At the pregame preparation screen, images of the teams Michael and Ashley had chosen appeared. Michael had gone with his favorite bulky attacking team. Most of his Pokémon weren’t fast, but could take some damage and dish right back, once they had the chance to boost their attacking power. For several seconds, he studied Ashley’s team in an effort to figure out what her overall strategy would be. Her team seemed all over the place, possessing a couple of fast sweepers, but also several members known for their defensive stalling abilities. He didn’t know what to make of it, but the battle was about to start, so he would have to figure it out as he went.
Michael led off with his Ice type Pokémon, Alolan Ninetales. Though frail, this Pokémon was very fast and possessed the ability to summon a hailstorm once it entered the field. Further, its Aurora Veil technique would boost the defenses of his entire team, giving them the edge as Michael got them in position to take Ashley’s team down. Unfortunately, Ashley had predicted this exact strategy, leading off with her Celesteela, a bulky Steel and Flying Pokémon. Michael now was faced with a difficult choice. Ninetales was faster and could easily set up Aurora Veil, but would also be taken out of the game with a single hit from Celesteela. Deciding not to sacrifice his best supporter so early, he pulled Ninetales back onto the bench in favor of his Magnezone.
Magnezone was a staple for most of Michael’s competitive teams. A Steel and Electric type, it possessed the ability to trap other steel types and prevent them from being pulled back onto the bench, as he had done with his Ninetales. Thus, Celesteela was forced to remain in the game, ensuring it would soon fall to Magnezone’s electric attacks, which were twice as effective against it. But once again, Ashley had predicted this exact action and was ready for it. Rather than attack with Celesteela, as Michael had anticipated, she had it use a boosting move to increase its otherwise slow speed. This would ensure that it could attack Magnezone first in the next turn, while Michael had used up his first turn to switch to Magnezone, rendering him unable to retaliate. Still, Magnezone’s attacks were powerful enough that Celesteela shouldn’t survive more than a single hit, Michael reminded himself.
That, of course, was when disaster struck. Celesteela is a Pokémon capable of learning a wide variety of attacks, even if they don’t match up with its own types of Steel and Flying. One sneaky move is to teach it a Fire type attack, and this is precisely what Ashley had done with hers. The Flamethrower attack hit Michael’s Magnezone for twice the damage, due to it being a Steel type, and reduced its HP to 0 with a single strike. Michael was dumbfounded by the surprise attack, but had no time to recover. Upon achieving a knockout, Celesteela’s special ability came into play and boosted its attacking power. Now, Michael knew he was in trouble.
“Aw, you gonna go crying to your mommy?” Ashley teased him.
“I’ve still got a few tricks up my sleeve,” Michael shot back.
“Good. You’re gonna need ‘em.”
Michael took a few moments to consider his options. As Magnezone was who he was relying on to defeat Ashley’s Celesteela, he was forced to change tactics and sent out his Tapu Fini, one of his more defensive players. Celesteela immediately fired off a powerful attack, but Michael’s Tapu Fini managed to weather the hit and launch a Water type attack. As Michael had hoped would happen, its Muddy Water attack had the additional effect of lowering Celesteela’s accuracy, and the next attack missed completely as a result. After lowering Celesteela’s accuracy once more, Tapu Fini succumbed the next turn, but Michael could sense the tide turning, in spite of the score being six to four against him. Michael’s next Pokémon was his Alolan Marowak, a Fire and Ghost type with incredible attacking power. Even though Celesteela was faster than Marowak by far, its first two attacks missed, allowing Marowak an easy knockout with its Fire Punch.
“Not over yet,” Michael grinned.
“Eh, Celesteela had done its job; no biggie,” Ashley shrugged.
From then on, the two played an even match for the most part. Ashley brought out one of her only fast sweepers, Garchomp, to force Marowak out, but Michael switched to his most defensive Pokémon, Mandibuzz, who took the hit with little effort. This allowed him to pivot back to Ninetales and set up Aurora Veil to boost his defenses. Garchomp opted not to retreat in spite of the type disadvantage against Ninetales and narrowly managed to defeat the Ice type with a critical hit. But as it had sustained heavy damage, Michael brought out his ace-in-the-hole, Scizor. The Bug and Steel Pokémon was not fast, but bolstered a massive attack stat and a powerful priority move, Bullet Punch. Priority moves allow the user to move before other Pokémon regardless of speed, making them highly valued in competitive battling. A single hit was all it took to remove Garchomp from play.
“Making a comeback,” Michael teased.
“We’ll see about that.”
Ashley next sent out her Clefable, a Fairy type Pokémon. While Michael’s Scizor would normally have the advantage against Clefable, he suspected she had something unexpected ready, based on how the battle had gone so far. After benching Scizor in favor of his Marowak, Michael was pleased to see that he had guessed right; Clefable had used a Flamethrower attack, which would have obliterated Scizor in a single hit. But Marowak, being a Fire type, took the hit with ease and retaliated with a powerful hit of its own on the next turn, forcing Clefable to retreat. Its replacement, Gyarados, was more than capable of handling Marowak, and Michael suspected it was Ashley’s strongest player.
“Time for Mega Gyarados!” Ashley grinned.
In competitive Pokémon battles, each team is allowed one Mega Evolution, which is a supremely powerful Pokémon able to increase its strength far beyond its normal capabilities. Gyarados was Ashley’s Mega, while Scizor was Michael’s. As Marowak was outmatched against the Water and Dark type, Michael pulled it back in favor of his Scizor. Ashley did as he expected and used a boosting move with her Mega Gyarados, but Mega Scizor was still able to tank the next attack and retain about a third of its overall HP. Scizor retaliated with a powerful Bug type attack to severely wound Gyarados, followed by an easy priority attack to take it down before it could do further damage.
“Fuck,” Ashley muttered, seeing he was better than most.
Clefable came off the bench once more, but Michael shifted back to his Marowak as he had done before. At this point, Michael gained a massive advantage when he predicted that Ashley would switch to her Buzzwole, a powerful Bug and Fighting type. Marowak hit Buzzwole with a devastating Fire Punch as soon as it switched in, knocking it out with a single hit. Clefable came back once again and finally managed to take Marowak down. Still, Michael had gained the upper hand in the momentum of the battle, and managed to take down Clefable with his Mandibuzz. Just like that, Ashley had only one Pokémon remaining to face Michael’s two.
“Well, well, well… nobody’s ever gotten me in a corner like this,” Ashley grinned.
“I aim to please,” Michael replied.
“Too bad. I aim to win.”
Ashley’s final Pokémon was Tapu Koko, a very fast Electric and Fairy type. Though Michael’s Mandibuzz had taken a hit or two, it was bulky enough to be able to land a light hit before being taken down by Tapu Koko’s Thunderbolt attack, leaving only Michael’s Mega Scizor. Still, Michael’s ace turned out to be just what he needed, as his priority Bullet Punch negated Tapu Koko’s greatest advantage: its speed. While Tapu Koko was fast enough to always have the first attack, Scizor managed to launch a powerful priority strike that took advantage of its weak defenses, knocking Tapu Koko out and winning the game for Michael.
“And that’s that,” Michael said with a smile.
“Shit,” Ashley grumbled, not at all happy with the result. To her surprise, Michael’s hand appeared in front of her.
“Good game,” he said.
Ashley seemed confused for a moment, but soon regained enough presence of mind to give Michael a light handshake.
“Yeah, you’re good. That Scizor is no pushover,” she admitted.
“He’s been my ace for over a decade,” Michael said with pride. “He’s my best partner in the game.”
“Nice. Um, I guess I’ll be going…”
“Huh? Why? Got somewhere to be?” Michael asked. He had been hoping for a rematch with her.
“No, but… well, I won’t be welcome here anymore.”
“What do you mean?”
Sighing, Ashley leaned close to him and whispered, “Eric’s been looking for an excuse to run me off. Losing to a new member just might do the trick.”
“Yeah, but they don’t know which one of us won, do they?” Michael grinned.
“What do you mean?”
“If that asshole wants you out so bad, I’m not gonna do anything to help. You’re the best I’ve played in months!”
“Uh, thanks,” Ashley replied with a tiny smile.
“So, can I ask why you keep coming? I mean, if these guys treat you so badly, why put up with it?” Michael asked.
Ashley shrugged. “I don’t have much of a social life. No boyfriend, no other clubs, just classes, working as a trainer, and this. Gaming has always been pretty special to me; it’s how I relax my mind. But to be honest, the real reason I keep coming back is her.”
Seeing her point to the girl sitting next to Eric, Michael asked, “What about her?”
“That’s Sophia. Eric would say she’s his girlfriend, but I’d more call her his servant,” Ashley replied with disgust. “She may not look it, but she’s incredibly socially awkward and has a lot of anxiety. She came here in desperation, looking for somewhere to belong. Eric said he’d provide it, if she did exactly as he told her to. They’ve been ‘together’ ever since. He treats her like shit, and is only giving her the most rudimentary information about the game to make sure she doesn’t get too good. In Eric’s mind, Sophia is what a gamer girl should be. Me? I’m a stupid girl who doesn’t know her place.”
“You’re waiting for a chance to try and help her, aren’t you?” Michael realized.
“Yeah, but it’s not easy. She clings to Eric, as if all ability for her to socialize would crumble if she lost him. And if he were to see me trying to befriend her, I doubt it would end well.”
“That’s really big of you, wanting to help her like that,” Michael smiled.
“Well, I have my cousin to thank, I guess,” Ashley remarked.
“How do you mean?”
“I grew up next door to my cousin, Sam. He has mild Asperger’s Syndrome, kind of like Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. He’s always been really awkward, but with genius-level intellect. He loved video games growing up and introduced me to them. That was how I bonded with him, and how I got so good at Pokémon. I’m good, but he’s the master.”
“I can imagine,” Michael chuckled.
“Anyway, it was bonding with him that made me realize how gaming can be such an awesome way to connect with other people, especially those with zero social skills. Seeing Eric use gaming to control and stifle Sophia… it disgusts me.”
“I completely agree.”
Ashley was more than Michael could have ever dreamed of. Not just beautiful, but also smart, witty, self-assured, and with a heart of gold deep down. And no boyfriend! That didn’t mean she was a lesbian, did it? He reasoned she was not. Otherwise, why mention it? As they chatted, Antonio’s words kept playing over and over in Michael’s head.
Just see what happens.
Figuring he had nothing to lose, Michael said, “So… can I ask you something?”
“Yeah?” Ashley replied, cocking her eyebrow.
Michael was now beet red with embarrassment and sweating like crazy. “Well… there’s a Valentine’s Day dance at the student union building tomorrow… or at least, that’s what I’ve heard. And… if you’re not busy… I was wondering… w-would you maybe w-want to go? With me?”
Though Ashley was flattered, her subconscious worried that this might be a setup and kicked into defense mode. After all, every guy that had ever shown any interest in her was only after the one thing. She hadn’t exactly had the best taste in men over the years, but even the nicest ones tried to control her with sex, sooner or later. With that fear entering her mind, her face twisted and grimaced.
“So, that’s your game? You beat me once and think I’m obligated to go out with you? That it?” she answered dryly.
“I can’t believe all you guys are the same,” Ashley sighed. “Pretend to respect my gaming skills all so you can get in my pants…”
“N-No, that’s not it at all,” Michael began to protest, but he could see the look in her eyes. He knew he wasn’t winning this one. Resigned to his crash-and-burn, he stood. “I’m very sorry for offending you,” he mumbled turning to leave.
Ashley’s stomach twisted at seeing the look on Michael’s face. All of a sudden, she knew how hurtful her words had been to him. All he had done is ask her out, and she had replied with cold indifference and a terrible accusation. Worst of all, there was no proof that Michael was that sort of guy at all. As he was about to go, she reached across the table and grabbed his wrist.
“Wait. Please, stay. I’m… I’m sorry, Michael. I shouldn’t have said that.”
“I don’t want to bug you,” he said quietly.
“You’re not. I just… have a seat. I’ll try to explain.” As Michael sat back down, Ashley continued, “As you can imagine, I deal with a lot of prejudice in my everyday life. To be honest, some of the worst of it comes from the gaming community.”
“Case in point, Eric,” Michael nodded.
“Yeah. I guess dealing with that prejudice has kind of fueled my own prejudices. I assumed you were just like every other guy I’ve gamed with, plus I haven’t exactly made the best choices in boyfriends in the past. Still, that’s no excuse for me assuming you’re exactly the same. I’m sorry, Michael.”
“Apology accepted,” he replied with a grin.
“So… can I ask why you’d want to go to that dance at all? I mean, it’s gonna be flooded with sorostitutes and fratdaddies! You know, all the popular kids that made our lives hell throughout school. Why play into that?”
Michael said, “I think it’s ‘cause I never went to my prom in high school. I didn’t have a date, but I was determined to go no matter what. But then, two weeks beforehand, several of the seniors on the Student Government Association decided to pull the prank of all pranks: they stole the principal’s car. They were only going to deck it out in tin cans and whatnot, but then they got into a bad wreck and totaled it. The principal was so pissed that she cancelled all remaining senior activities, including prom. I guess I just wanted to have that sort of experience for once.”
Ashley smiled. “That’s so cute. An idealistic dreamer.”
Smirking, Michael replied, “All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity.”
Recognizing the quote, Ashley continued, “But the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.”
“This, I did,” they both finished in unison.
Giggling a bit, Ashley said, “You’re something else, quoting T. E. Lawrence.”
“Yep, specifically used in Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception,” Michael replied.
“Ooh, I love that series!”
“Ditto. Great stories and characters… though I do sometimes need a violent romp through a Call of Duty game to blow off steam.”
“Same here,” Ashley agreed. “You any good?”
“I have a longstanding love affair with Call of Duty,” Michael answered. “That, however, does not make me good at the game.”
“A gamer that admits he’s not the master at something? You are something of a unicorn, Michael.”
“Thanks,” he blushed.
Biting her lower lip, Ashley said, “So… I’ve got a proposition for you.”
“And that would be?”
“Play me once more in Pokémon. If you win, I’ll go to the dance with you.”
Michael’s eyebrows shot up at this, but as much as he wanted to accept then and there, he had the presence of mind to ask, “And if you win?”
“If I win, I get your Scizor.”
Michael almost balked at this offer. It wasn’t that his Scizor was unique or difficult to get in the video games; he could get another one with little problem. Rather, it was due to sentimental reasons. He had been using this particular Scizor for over ten years, all the way back to Pokémon Platinum. It had been his ace on nearly every competitive team he had built over that time, and letting it go would be tough. He was certain she knew this based on his previous statements. Still, he’d have been a damned fool to turn down a chance with a girl like Ashley. After a moment’s consideration, he stuck his hand out.
They shook on it, and their rematch began. This time, both had a better feel for what the other was going to do, resulting in a very even bout. Knowing how huge a threat the Celesteela was, Michael planned a brilliant trap to take it out before it could do much damage. Ashley battled back, sweeping Michael’s next two Pokémon with her Buzzwole, which hadn’t had much of a chance to do anything in their previous match. Michael finally brought in his Marowak, taking down Buzzwole and Clefable in quick succession. Her Garchomp finished off Michael’s Marowak and Mandibuzz, leaving only his Scizor to face her final three Pokémon. Garchomp was no problem, weak from battling two Pokémon already, but both Mega Gyarados and Tapu Koko were at full health. Thanks to a couple of well-timed attack boosts, Michael managed to down Mega Gyarados with just over half its HP remaining.
As Tapu Koko came out for the final pairing, Michael knew he was going to win. Scizor’s attack power had more than doubled from the previous boosts, and its opponent had a very weak defense. One shot with a priority Bullet Punch would be plenty to end the match. But as Scizor attacked, Tapu Koko’s health bar stopped depleting just shy of a knockout. Michael slapped his forehead at realizing that Tapu Koko was holding a special item: the Focus Sash. It’s an item used by frail Pokémon with no defenses, guaranteed to let them survive a single hit, provided they are at full health. That hadn’t been revealed in their previous match due to a couple of his Pokémon going up against it. To make matters worse, Tapu Koko now unleashed its Hidden Power attack, a special attack that could be customized to any element, in this case, Fire. It didn’t matter how strong Scizor might be; a single Fire type attack was plenty to bring him down. A moment later, the screen faded to black, showing Ashley’s team as victorious.
“Son of a bitch,” Michael muttered in disbelief.
“That’ll teach you to mess with me,” Ashley grinned, sticking her tongue out at him.
Without a word, Michael initiated a trade request with Ashley, depositing his Scizor into the system. “A deal’s a deal. Just… use him well. He’s been with me a long time.”
Michael stared at the screen, waiting for his ace to disappear onto Ashley’s 3DS, when a message appeared at the bottom of the screen.
Trade request canceled. Please wait…
Ashley reached across the table, placing her hand on Michael’s. “I didn’t really want your Scizor, but I had to know how serious you were about asking me out,” she explained. “That seemed an easy way to see for sure.”
Michael shook his head. “Ashley, this game is one of my favorite pastimes, but I’d be a certifiable idiot if I let some piece of data in a video game keep me from asking out the most awesome girl I’ve ever met in my life.”
“You… mean that?” she asked as she began to blush.
“Yeah, I do.”
With a sly grin on her face, Ashley packed up her game system and grabbed her backpack. As she walked past Michael, she slipped him a scrap of paper and whispered, “Pick me up at seven tomorrow.”
“Will do,” Michael replied, finding her address and phone number on the paper.
As Ashley approached the door of the GameStop, Eric stood and blocked her path. “You beatin’ up on my new members, bitch?” he growled.
“None of your business, shithead,” Ashley huffed, pushing past him.
“If you know what’s good for you, you won’t come back,” he continued as she left. Turning back towards Michael’s table, Eric approached and asked, “What happened? Did you beat her?”
“No way,” Michael answered.
“You sure? I thought I saw you two making goo-goo eyes.”
“It’s called a distraction, and it didn’t work. She kicked my ass,” Michael reiterated.
“I warned ya not to play her…”
“Eh, it happens.”
“Well, anyway… I’ve got a solution to the problem with her. Next time she comes, she won’t be a problem,” Eric remarked.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Michael wondered.
“Don’t worry about. Just trust in your Almighty President; he’ll take care of you,” Eric replied, grinning and slapping Michael on his back.
Yeah, I’ll bet, Michael thought to himself
“Dude, you won’t believe what happened today,” Michael called out as he arrived back at his apartment.
“What’s up?” Antonio asked from the sofa.
“You know the girl from the basketball games?”
“That hot little trainer? Yeah?”
“She’s a member of the AU Pokémon League!”
“Are you serious?! Wha… what happened? Did you talk to her?” he asked.
“Yeah, we played a couple of games. She’s good; maybe the best I’ve ever played against,” Michael replied.
“That’s all? You just… played video games?” Antonio wondered, cocking his eyebrow.
“I, uh, might have also gotten her to agree to come to the Valentine’s Day dance with me,” Michael admitted.
“That’s what I’m talkin’ about!” Antonio cheered, fist-bumping Michael. “You got a big day tomorrow. You ready for this?”
“To be honest… no, I’m not.”
“Dude, I’ve never been on a real date before, let alone had an actual girlfriend!” Michael replied. “I don’t know the first thing about women!”
Grinning, Antonio said, “Don’t you worry; I got your back.”
“Yeah, says my gay roommate,” Michael teased.
“Not cool, dude. Here I am, trying to help you out, and you gotta go and question my sexuality!” Antonio fired back with a laugh. “But in all seriousness, if you doubt which way I swing… you could always ask Allison Smallwood.”
“You and Allison Smallwood?!”
“You bet your ass! We’ll be at the dance tomorrow.”
“Lucky bastard…” Michael grumbled.
“Hey, I’ve seen that trainer you’ve been pining over. You ain’t got nothin’ to be jealous of! Her name’s Ashley, right?”
“Yeah, but how’d you know?”
“Allison told me,” Antonio said. “I was tryin’ to gather information in case you needed a stronger shove to chat her up.”
“I take it back. You’re not a lucky bastard, you’re a sneaky bastard!”
“Damn straight! Now, let’s get you ready for your big date. Take a seat, my man.” As Michael plopped down in the chair across from him, Antonio continued, “Now, the first rule to remember is that she’s in charge. Anything she says ‘no’ to or isn’t comfortable with, that’s what goes. Understand?”
“Good. But remember, even though she’s in charge, she’ll still want you to take the lead sometimes. The most attractive thing to most women is confidence. Not cockiness, but confidence.”
“Knew there was a catch,” Michael sighed.
“Don’t do that, man. That’s exactly what I’m talkin’ about. The minute you get down on yourself just ‘cause you think you’re not good enough, that’s when the girl will pick up on it. As cliché as it sounds, you have to just be you. You don’t want to go too over the top with your personality, or she’ll think you’re compensating for something, but you don’t wanna stifle your personality either, or she won’t get to know the real you. Worst case, she’ll think you don’t like her. But if you just act like you and be confident in that, everything else will fall into place. Trust me.”
“I’m assuming I need to open doors and everything like that?”
“Definitely start out that way, yeah,” Antonio answered. “Now, it’s entirely possible she may not like that, particularly if she’s strong and independent. If she reacts negatively, don’t panic. Just explain that you were taught to do those things as a sign of respect and good manners. That ought to be enough, but if she’s still not keen on it, don’t force the issue.”
“Ok, but… what if she wants me to hold her hand or… kiss her? How am I supposed to know and not fuck it up?”
“As far as holding her hand, it’s a dance. That means you two will be in close proximity all night; handholding is gonna happen on its own, so don’t stress over it. Now, as for kissing, you have to read the signs.”
“The signs?” Michael asked.
“Damn, ain’t you ever seen Hitch? Will Smith wrote the book on reading signs!”
“Dude, you know I can’t stand romantic comedies!” Michael laughed.
“With your luck, Ashley will feel the same way,” Antonio chuckled. “Anyway, the signs. If she’s smiling and maybe laughing at everything you two do together, that’s a sign she’s into you. If she finds any excuse in the world to touch you or take your arm, that’s a sign she’s into you. If you two find yourselves alone and she’s in no hurry to go back to where there’s more people, that’s a sign she’s into you. If you’re at her door and she fumbling with her keys, in no hurry to let the date end, that’s a sign she’s into you. And finally, if there’s a long silence where she maintains eye contact with you the whole time, that’s a full on signal she probably wants you to kiss her.”
“Yeah, probably. There’s never any guarantee, especially when it comes to the fairer sex. The first kiss is always built on taking a chance. Keep in mind, the chance may not come tomorrow night, and that’s ok. That doesn’t mean she’s not into you, it may just mean she plays things close to the vest.”
“Fair enough. But what do I do if I get the signal? Just kiss her?”
“Naw, dude. You gotta use the 90/10 rule.”
Antonio sighed. “Man, this would be so much easier if you had seen Hitch. The 90/10 rule is simple: you have to go 90% of the way towards your first kiss with her, but make her come the last 10%. For example, imagine that long silence where she maintains eye contact the whole time. You maintain eye contact, too. That’s 20%. You smile, maybe laugh. That’s 20%. You put your hand on her arm. That’s 20%. You start to lean in closer. That’s 20%. Your faces are almost touching, and you stop. That’s 10%. She’s got to come the last 10%. The point of all that is to make your intentions clear while still giving her plenty of opportunity to pull back if she wants, and if she does, that’s ok.”
“Easy for you to say…”
“Again, stop that. Some gals play things conservatively to start with on account of being burned in the past. Nothin’ wrong with that, you just have to show that you’re trustworthy before she starts to open up. It certainly doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you if that were to happen.”
“Guess that’s true.”
“Now, for the final piece of the puzzle. Whatcha gonna wear tomorrow?”
Michael’s face twisted in panic. “I have no fucking clue!” he realized.
“No sweat! You’re looking at a master of the threads,” Antonio boasted. “You got a suit?”
“Just a black one I use for interviews and presentations.”
Michael led the way into his closet and pulled out his black suit and white dress shirt. Antonio looked them over for a moment before tossing them on the bed.
“This’ll work. Got a tie?” he asked Michael.
“Yeah,” Michael replied, pulling out a striped red and white tie.
Antonio snorted a bit. “Good enough for a job interview, but not even close for a Valentine’s Day date.”
“Ok, what about a black tie?”
“A black tie with a black suit?! You gonna look like a damn Mormon, man! Put the suit on; I’ll be right back.” Antonio returned a couple minutes later with a few of his own neckties in hand. “The black suit and white shirt is a staple of any man’s wardrobe because of its incredible versatility. The tie is the most crucial aspect of this versatility. It’s the accent that allows the suit to send any message you want it to.”
“You are so obsessed,” Michael chuckled.
“I’ll choose to ignore your continued condescension,” Antonio shot back. Holding up a pale orange tie to Michael’s neck, he shook his head, saying, “Nah, you’re definitely not a pastels kind of guy. Whatcha think of this one?”
Examining the wine colored tie with a starburst pattern, Michael replied, “Too loud for my tastes.”
“No problem. Let’s see… ah ha! This is it!” Antonio held up a solid royal blue tie to Michael’s neck.
“Hmm… not bad,” Michael admitted.
“Not bad? Dude, this one is perfect for you! Goes great with your skin tone and the suit color, plus it sends the right message: confidence. It’s a strong color, but the lack of pattern makes sure it’s not too loud or trendy. It’s classic, just like you, my man. Here, put it on.”
As Michael fumbled a bit in front of his floor mirror, he asked, “What knot do you think I should use? Half Windsor?”
“Nah, a full Windsor is almost always best,” Antonio replied. “Symmetrical and confident, but not too over the top. A half Windsor can come off as sloppy.”
Michael took a few seconds to remember the steps for a full Windsor in his head before tying the knot around his neck. When he was finished, he had to admit he was impressed with the final product.
“Damn… I’d do me.”
“And who knows? Ashley may feel the same way,” Antonio grinned.
Michael took several deep breaths as he ascended the stairs in Ashley’s apartment building. Antonio had done everything he could think of to make sure he was prepared yesterday, but Michael was still a nervous wreck. There was something special about this girl, and he did not want to screw it up. With a trembling hand, he reached forward and knocked on the door to apartment 2B.
“Yes?” came a voice from the other side.
“I’m Michael Goldman, here to pick up Ashley.”
“That’s right! Hold on a sec.”
A moment later, the door swung open, revealing a slim redhead with a pixie haircut. Dressed in a tank top and gym shorts, she had a hint of makeup on that seemed to indicate she was getting ready for Valentine’s Day, too.
“Hey! I’m Liz, Ashley’s roommate,” she said, extending her hand with a bubbly smile.
“Michael. Nice to meet you,” he replied, shaking her hand.
“Make yourself comfortable; Ashley should be ready in a little bit,” Liz said.
“No problem. Take your time.”
Liz adjourned to one of the back bedrooms to check on Ashley, finding her seated in front of the vanity. Her hair had been dried after her shower, but she still wore a towel wrapped around her body. She seemed lost and befuddled as she perused her makeup selection.
“Your guy’s here,” Liz giggled. “He’s cute! I’d totally be all over him… ya know, if I weren’t a lesbian.”
“Hands off, he’s mine!” Ashley laughed.
“You ok? You look lost.”
“Yeah, I just have no idea what to use. I want to make the right impression.”
“May I?” Taking a seat next to Ashley on the bench, Liz continued, “To be honest, you don’t need much. The point of makeup is to accentuate your best features, but much more than that just starts to look clownish. Here, a little bit of eyeliner… there, that’s perfect. Just add a touch of lip gloss and you’re good!”
“That’s it? What if he’s not impressed?” Ashley worried.
“Jesus, I’ve never seen you this worried about a date! He must have really gotten to you yesterday,” Liz giggled. “Don’t worry; if he’s the kind of guy I suspect he is, then he’ll enjoy every moment with you no matter how much makeup you use. Seriously, he gonna be speechless, girl.”
“If you say so. Thanks for letting me borrow your dress, by the way. Lord knows I don’t have anything to wear for something like this.”
“My pleasure! Gay or straight, I’m still a girl who likes wearing pretty things!”
“If I didn’t know you better, I’d say you were just as bad as all those sorostitutes,” Ashley deadpanned.
Hugging her friend, Liz said, “Oh, I won’t be home ‘til after lunch tomorrow, so you two can have the place to yourselves.”
“Liz! I just met the guy yesterday! I have no intention of sleeping with him!”
“I know, but I don’t want the lack of somewhere private to hamper your date tonight. Should the opportunity present itself, you two have somewhere to come after the dance, that’s all. No pressure.”
Rolling her eyes, Ashley realized her roommate was only trying to be considerate and helpful. “Thanks.”
“Welcome. All right, you finish getting ready. There’s a cutie outside waiting on you!” Liz replied, bouncing up to her feet.
Michael fidgeted on the sofa, nervous as all hell as he waited for Ashley. He had expected to wait like this; Antonio made sure of that. Still, talking about the wait and experiencing it are two completely different things. A moment later, he heard the door open and snapped to attention, seeing Liz enter the living room.
“She’s almost ready, just a minute or two more.”
“No problem.” Remembering a suggestion Antonio had given him, Michael asked, “Hey, Liz… what’s Ashley’s favorite song?”
Eying him, she asked, “Why do you want to know?”
“I, uh, had the idea of surprising her by requesting it at some point tonight,” Michael admitted.
A wide grin soon spread across Liz’s face. “That’s a great idea. She’s got lots of favorites, but the top one is probably Welcome to the Black Parade.”
“My Chemical Romance. She’s got good taste,” Michael remarked.
“In music, at least,” Liz smirked. “We’ll see after tonight how her taste in men is.”
Before Michael could respond, Ashley’s bedroom door creaked open to reveal his date for the evening. She wore a red A-line halter-top dress that extended down to about her knees. Though the dress flared out at the skirt, the top half hugged her form nicely, displaying her flat stomach and the curvature of her breasts. The sleeveless top exposed a tattoo of a shooting star on her left shoulder. His eyes soon drifted up to her face, which was the most adorable thing he had ever seen in his life. To Michael, the fact that she wore so little makeup made her even more attractive. Her ash blonde hair had been straightened and now hung down past her shoulders; a headband with a small flower on top completed the ensemble. Of course, her bangs were still side swept over her right eye, which Michael surmised was part of her signature look.
“Well?” Ashley asked nervously, giving a little twirl.
“You look incredible,” Michael managed through his own nerves.
“Thanks,” Ashley replied, walking over to him. “You clean up nice, yourself.”
“Ok, smile!” Liz said, snapping a few pictures of them.
“Dammit, Liz! You know I hate having my picture taken!” Ashley laughed.
“I’m sorry, I don’t recall giving you a choice in the matter,” Liz replied, sticking her tongue out at her roommate. Handing her a wrap that matched the dress, Liz said, “Oh, you’ll need this. It’s a bit cool out there.
“Thanks, Mom,” Ashley smirked as she rolled her eyes. “Ready to go?”
“Definitely,” Michael grinned.
“You kids have fuuun!” Liz called out, causing Ashley to flip her off before closing the door behind her.
“So, yeah… that’s Liz, my lesbian roommate,” Ashley sighed as they started their walk towards campus.
“I like her,” Michael replied.
“Of course you do! She’s gorgeous!” Ashley teased.
“Not what I meant, but yes, she’s quite the looker. But more than that, she seems like a great friend.”
“Yeah, I guess she kind of is. Just don’t tell her that.”
“So, tell me about Ashley?” Michael asked. “Where you from, where you’re going, and all that?”
“Well, my family lives about thirty minutes south of here. My original plan after high school was to learn the body art business, but Dad pushed me to try and find a path to college. Nobody in our family has ever gone to college, but he knew I had the capability if I would work for it. Since I had helped out with injuries on the sports teams at my high school, I decided to look into the sports medicine program at Auburn. Once I got a scholarship as a student trainer, the rest was history!”
“That’s awesome,” Michael said. “I know college isn’t for everyone, but I’m glad your dad pushed you.”
“I am, too. I’m definitely in a better place than I would have been.”
“Two older sisters. One’s a beautician in my hometown, the other moved down to Mobile with her husband,” Ashley replied.
“Nice. You mentioned your dad. What about your mom?”
Ashley grimaced at this. “Mom ran off with some guy when I was six…”
Michael cursed himself for bringing up the topic. “I’m sorry, I didn’t-”
“It’s fine,” Ashley said, linking her arm in his. “It just helped me learn what family really is. In spite of everything, Dad never got down or blamed us for anything. Hell, he never even said a bad thing about Mom.”
“He sounds like a great guy.”
“The only male I’ve met that I know I can trust,” Ashley agreed. “Now, what about you? What’s your story?”
“Me? I grew up in Dunwoody. It’s a suburb just north of Atlanta. As I’m sure you guessed from my last name and my nose, yes, I’m Jewish!” he laughed.
“I had wondered if that was the case,” Ashley grinned.
“There’s not much way to hide it. Pale complexion, the nose, and dark curly hair… I’m pretty stereotypical.”
“Nothing wrong with that. You are who you are, so own it!”
Huh. Maybe Antonio was on to something?
Shaking his thoughts away, Michael focused back in on his date. “Anyway, I grew up in a pretty normal family, if there is such a thing. Only child, went to synagogue every Saturday, annoying yet loving parents…”
“Sounds better than what I had,” Ashley agreed with a smile.
“Eh, you seem to have turned out just fine. In spite of everything, your dad still wants the best for you.”
“Yeah,” she said wistfully, realizing she actually had a pretty good family in spite of her life circumstances. “So, what brought you to Auburn all the way from Atlanta?”
“Family school. I’m a second generation Tiger. Both parents went and met here, plus my aunt and uncle, then their two daughters…”
“Indoctrinated from birth much?” Ashley teased.
“Wait… we talking college or are we back to Judaism?” Michael replied, eliciting another laugh from Ashley. “But yeah, very much brainwashed in favor of Auburn. When I was little, I used to think that all kids went to Elementary School, then Middle School, then High School, and then Auburn.”
They walked along for a few moments in comfortable silence before Ashley said, “It’s awesome that you can laugh at yourself. I try to do that, but I don’t always succeed.”
Michael shrugged. “I’m a walking talking caricature, so why not admit it? Makes it impossible to get offended, I’ll tell ya that.”
“You don’t get offended by anything?”
“Not even a topic that hits close to home?” Ashley wondered.
“Depends,” Michael replied. “Take Hitler, for example. Evil man, and I hope there’s never another like him, but I’m glad he existed. If he hadn’t, my grandparents would never have fled Germany and met on the voyage to America, falling in love and eventually having my dad. If not for Hitler, I’m never born, plain and simple. Perspective.”
“That’s a great way to think about it,” Ashley said, becoming more impressed with this guy by the second. “So, are we walking because today is Saturday? No working on the Sabbath?”
“Nah, we’re walking because we’re poor college students who have to beg for gas money,” he remarked. “But that’s only something the more conservative branches of Judaism practice. My family is part of Reformed Judaism. Basically, we aren’t supposed to work on the Sabbath, but individuals have to determine on their own what constitutes ‘work’. For example, yard work might be considered a chore for one person, so they refrain from it, but it may be a relaxing means of recreation for someone else, so they do it.”
“That makes sense,” Ashley nodded. “That’s so cool that your faith is such a natural part of your life. Like, you don’t even have to think about it; it’s just like breathing. To be honest, I kinda wish I had something like that…”
“You guys never went to church growing up?”
Ashley shook her head. “Mom was a big Bible thumper for the short time I remember of her, but then she ran off with some CEO type. At least, that’s what my big sisters say. Dad never could bear to bring us to church after that. I think it reminded him too much of the things he used to love doing with Mom. And as big as she was on religion, I guess that pretty much turned me off to the concept. Of course, then I see you, mature and strong in your faith without all the pompous arrogance…”
“Makes you think, doesn’t it?”
“Good! When done right, religion is supposed to make you think.”
Ashley smiled at this, leaning a bit closer to Michael as they walked. She was now finding out that there was far more to him than met the eye. Beneath his nerdy exterior was a deep, contemplative man with an incredible amount of maturity and perspective. The fact that he could discuss Hitler so calmly was impressive in and of itself; hell, Ashley doubted she would be able to keep her cool on anything regarding Hitler were she in Michael’s position. Combine that with the way he discussed his faith, calm and thoughtful without actively trying to convert her lest she burn for eternity, and she began to question many of her own preconceived notions. Might there actually be people of strong faith that were different from her mom? In spite of her mom’s hypocrisy, Michael was beginning to convince her that it was possible.
“Hey, you ok?” Michael asked, nudging her in the side.
“Huh? Oh, yeah. I’m great,” Ashley replied, holding his arm a little tighter.
By now, they had arrived at the student union building on campus. Ashley hesitated a bit when Michael held the door for her, as she wasn’t used to that sort of gentlemanly behavior, but accepted without protest. Liz had reminded her that such actions weren’t meant to belittle her but rather were a man’s way of focusing his attention on his date, provided they weren’t forced. As Liz had said, sometimes it’s the smallest actions that tell you the most about a person. Ashley chuckled inwardly at realizing that her lesbian roomie understood men better than she did. Michael then took her wrap as Antonio had instructed and handed it to the coat checker. Again, Ashley was surprised by his old-school manners, though she was growing fond of them. Michael had to mentally slap himself to keep from staring at Ashley’s gorgeous body, instead keeping his eyes on hers, where they belonged.
They made their way into the large common room, finding the party already in full swing. At least two dozen couples were on the dance floor, and at least that many milled around the tables situated on the walls. Ashley was pleased to see that, despite it being Valentine’s Day, the atmosphere was fun and casual, rather than stuffy. The DJ was currently playing Walk the Moon’s Shut Up and Dance. As they hadn’t eaten, Michael suggested they check out what food was available, to which Ashley readily agreed. They spent a half hour grazing on the various finger foods and appetizers. No alcohol was served, being that the dance was an official university event, but that suited them just fine. The last thing Michael wanted was to give Ashley the impression that he was trying to get her drunk, and Ashley had no intentions of drinking on a first date.
“Ashley! You came!” came a squeal.
Turning, Ashley saw her friend from the basketball team approaching in a form-hugging navy blue party dress.
“Alli! How are ya, girl?”
“I’m great, and even better now that I know you decided to come,” Allison grinned. “What changed?”
“I… got asked by someone,” Ashley admitted, blushing a bit. “Alli, this is Michael. Michael, you of course know who Allison Smallwood is.”
“Of course. Michael Goldman,” he replied, shaking her hand. “I’m one of the photographers for The Plainsman.”
“Fantastic! Glad you got our girl to loosen up and have some fun tonight!” Allison agreed.
“Yeah. I’m just glad she said yes,” Michael remarked, glancing at Ashley, who was still blushing.
“Hey! No stealin’ my date, dude!”
Seeing his roommate walking over, Michael shot back, “Not my fault if you can’t keep her, Antonio!” After greeting him with a fist bump, Michael said, “Ashley, this is my roommate, Antonio.”
“Good to meet you.”
“Likewise,” Antonio said with a grin. “Glad our boy finally asked you out. He’s only been pining over you for a few months!”
“Dude, you’re full of shit,” Michael remarked.
“Oh, you shoulda heard some of the awful poetry he’d stay up late and write!” Antonio continued.
“Look at that, Ashley. You see all the smoke coming out of his ass?” Michael replied, eliciting a giggle from Ashley.
“Antonio, behave,” Allison whispered into his ear. “That is, if you know what’s best for you…”
Antonio cooled a bit at this, picking up on the obvious innuendo in Allison’s sultry voice. He and Michael stepped aside for a few minutes to pick up some Cokes for their dates. Meanwhile, Allison was still excited at seeing Ashley there with an actual date.
“Girl, your date is super cute!” she said once the guys were out of earshot.
“Yeah, he is, isn’t he?” Ashley agreed. “He’s got the sexy nerd vibe going on, which is right up my alley. Of course, your guy’s kinda gorgeous, too.”
“Yeah, Antonio’s a lot of fun,” Allison said. “Dunno how long it’ll last, but it’s a hell of a ride while it does.” Biting her lower lip, she asked, “So, what changed your mind? Last I heard, you were bitching about not being caught dead with all these ‘sorostitutes and fratdaddies’, right?”
Ashley shrugged. “Part of it was the reason Michael wanted to come. His high school prom was cancelled, and just wants to know what it’s like. And the way he treated me when we first met, no prejudices or putdowns, I found myself wanting to get to know him better. So, against my better judgment, I said yes.”
“Wow. That’s quite a change in attitude,” Allison observed.
“Yeah… I’m not sure why, but I’m having more fun than I ever thought I would.”
“I know why: Michael.”
“I mean… he’s a fantastic guy, but can one person change an entire event? Especially one that I’d otherwise never be caught dead at?” Ashley wondered.
Allison rolled her eyes a bit. “Girl, this is something you’ve got to learn. When you’re with the right person, it doesn’t matter what the event or activity is. Being with someone that you connect with makes anything more fun and enjoyable.”
“Hmm… I guess Michael is pretty special. It only makes sense he’d make an otherwise insufferable event more bearable,” Ashley agreed.
Getting a twinkle in her eye, Allison asked, “So, just how special is he?”
“What are you getting at?” Ashley replied warily.
Allison leaned close and continued, “You gonna sleep with him?”
“Absolutely not!” Ashley laughed. “You know me. I don’t just hop into bed with any guy I meet. It’s brought me nothing but trouble in the past.”
“I know, and I respect that about you,” Allison smiled. “Still, Michael does seem different from most guys, in a good way.”
“Can’t argue with that.”
“All I’m saying is… if there’s a connection there, don’t ignore it. He might turn out to be everything you’ve been looking for.”
“Seriously? Bullshit happily-ever-after dreams? You know I don’t fall for those,” Ashley huffed.
“Yeah, and I also know you’d never want to come to a dance like this. All the same, here you are,” Allison giggled. “I’m not telling you to sleep with him. All I’m saying is I don’t want the right guy for you to slip away just because you were too focused on playing it safe. Keep your heart open; that’s all I ask.”
“Yes, Dr. Phil,” Ashley retorted, sticking her tongue out at Allison.
By now, the guys had returned with the Cokes. After a few sips, Allison took Antonio’s hand and dragged him onto the dance floor. Ashley was content to hang on the sidelines with Michael for a bit longer, until she heard the distinct opening chords of the next song.
“Wait… is that?”
“Welcome to the Black Parade,” Michael replied with a grin. “I requested it.”
Ashley’s jaw dropped. “How the hell did you know to request this song?!”
“How else? I asked Liz!”
“You sneaky bastard!” Ashley laughed, punching his shoulder. “Come on, get out here, mister.”
Grabbing Michael’s arm, Ashley had brought him onto the dance floor just as the frantic second half of the song was about to start. Still, Ashley wasn’t exactly a dancer and only planned on doing some head banging to her favorite song… maybe even find an excuse to get close to Michael along the way. Michael, on the other hand, had other plans.
Unknown to anyone else, Michael had learned the art of swing dancing from his cousin, Esther. Before prom was cancelled, Michael had no luck at all finding a date to go with him. His plan had been to learn to dance in secret, then find someone willing to dance with him at prom, whereupon he would let loose. He figured that at least some of the girls there would be lining up to dance with him after that, and it might have worked had prom gone on as planned. He had kept this a secret for three years, but now, it was time to finally let loose.
Taking Ashley’s hand, he winked and said, “I’ll lead.”
Before Ashley could even think to ask what he meant, she felt his firm yet comforting grasp pulling her closer to him. She had no chance at all of containing her surprise at this change, going with Michael as much as possible. Despite the innate flashiness of swing dancing, he kept his moves relatively simple, making sure his steps would either be easy for Ashley to follow or require almost no reaction on her part. As Michael spun her around, Ashley’s eyes lit up with sheer delight. A lesser woman might be frightened off or intimidated by this display, but not Ashley. She recognized that he was showing her a part of himself that very few would ever get to see. That sort of confidence was such a turn-on for her, and she could definitely feel her panties getting a little damp. All too soon, the song ended, and Michael slowed to let Ashley catch her breath. Unsurprisingly, a circle had formed around them, and the onlookers gave a round of applause for Michael’s impromptu show.
“Holy shit… where did you learn to do that?!” Ashley laughed, still panting from the experience.
“My cousin, Esther,” Michael replied, explaining his plan for his high school prom.
“Huh… that’s a hell of a plan. It probably would’ve worked, too,” Ashley remarked. “Seems to be working now.”
Michael looked around and saw a surprising number of attractive young women inching closer, their eyes begging him to dance with them. With a wry grin, he took Ashley’s hand and spun her close to him once more.
“Too bad for them. Tonight, I’m only dancing with you.”
Ashley snorted a bit at this. “Oh my god, you’re so cheesy.”
“Hey, if it works!”
As the next song was more moderately paced, Michael helped Ashley pick up on the basic steps of swing dancing. She was a fast learner, and found that she enjoyed it quite a lot. By the end of the song, she was able to follow and anticipate his actions with little difficulty. It was then, of course, that the moment Michael had dreaded arrived: the slow number. As the sounds of Berlin’s Take My Breath Away filled the room, Ashley instinctively moved in close and slipped her arms around Michael’s neck.
“You’re not getting away from me, mister. Not after those last two songs,” she whispered with a smile.
“I… sorry, I’m just… really bad at slow dancing,” Michael stuttered.
Ashley cocked her eyebrow at this. Michael seemed like a completely different person than the man of confidence he had been mere moments ago.
“Your cousin didn’t teach you?” she asked.
“No… must have slipped our minds,” he replied, silently cursing himself.
“Well, I don’t think there’s much to it,” Ashley said patiently. “Here, put your hands on my waist. See? Easy.”
Ashley took the lead from there, not dancing so much as rocking back and forth with Michael as they slowly spun in a circle. To the outside observer, it may have looked like they were at a middle school dance, but she didn’t care. She was having the time of her life, and it was all because of Michael; the last thing she wanted was for a slow number to take away his confidence. Soon, they developed a steady rhythm, and Michael began to relax.
“Not so bad, is it?” Ashley giggled.
“Guess not,” Michael sighed.
“So, can I ask how you’re so good at swing dancing if slow dancing terrifies you?”
“Swing dancing is basically a science. Kinda like Pokémon, it’s all about following your cues and keeping to your plan. But slow dancing is… intimidating. It naturally brings about more emotional intimacy, which makes me terrified I’m gonna screw something up. Plus, I’m more likely to crush a girl’s toes while slow dancing than anything else.”
With a sweet smile, Ashley replied, “You aren’t screwing it up with me.”
Michael didn’t know what to say to this, so he played it safe and said nothing at all. Still, even he couldn’t miss the signs. Ashley was leaning in very close to him, maintaining eye contact the entire time. Everything he did seemed to make her smile, and he could even feel her running her fingers through the back of his short curly hair. It seemed like Antonio was right: she was into him. But what if he was wrong? If he tried to kiss her and she reacted negatively, the results could be nothing short of disastrous. Still, Antonio’s words replayed over and over in Michael’s head.
The first kiss is always built on taking a chance.
Knowing it was now or never, the ever-conservative Michael decided he had to take the chance. He made sure to remind himself of the 90/10 rule, then began to make his move. First, he maintained eye contact with Ashley, giving a little smile the whole time. Ashley responded positively to this, so he continued by moving one of his hands to caress the small of her back through her dress. She gave no hint of disapproval, and even began to run her fingers through his hair a bit more obviously. Drawing her closer as they swayed, Michael soon felt her perky breasts pressing against him. He did have the presence of mind to shift his pelvis a bit so as not to scare her with his obvious erection. Their faces drew closer by the second; he could feel her hot breath on his chin. Still, she didn’t pull away or balk in the slightest. Closing his eyes, Michael leaned is face closer, making sure to stop just short of her lips.
Antonio’s advice worked to perfection. Ashley was completely mesmerized by Michael. She knew the entire time what he was up to, and had secretly been hoping he might try to kiss her. Thankfully, her subtle hint of running her fingers through his hair seemed to have gotten the message across. Then, when he stopped millimeters short of kissing her, she knew he was giving her every chance to back out of it. That tiny action made her melt in his arms. She knew Michael was different, but now she saw just how different he was from all the guys she had dated in the past. He was into her, but still afforded her every opportunity to gracefully exit the situation if she so desired. To her, it was a no-brainer.
Ashley leaned forward and closed the remaining distance between her and Michael, at last pressing her lips against his. The feeling was electric. To them, it was as if the entire world around them had ceased to exist. There were no other dancers around them, no distractions to ruin the moment, and they barely even noticed the music playing. All they cared about was savoring their first kiss, one that both would later describe as the best first kiss imaginable. It was quite simple, without any tongue to speak of, but the tension and atmosphere made it incredibly sensual all the same. At last, they separated after around thirty seconds.
“Wow,” Ashley breathed.
“Uh huh,” Michael mumbled, still in a daze himself.
They continued to dance for a couple more slow numbers, thankful that the DJ was maintaining a rhythm with his song selections. All the while, Ashley giggled nervously, enjoying every second of her time with Michael. Eventually, she had worked her way even closer to him, laying her head on his shoulder as they danced. She couldn’t explain how Michael had managed to penetrate her usual defenses so quickly, but Ashley couldn’t deny that she was falling for him. Feeling his arms around her made her feel safer than she had ever felt before in her life. In that moment, she made her decision.
“Hey… you wanna get out of here?” she whispered, kissing Michael on the cheek.
“If that’s what you’d like,” he replied nervously, unsure if this was a good or bad sign.
“Yeah, I’ve just had about enough of people for one day,” Ashley giggled. “You, by the way, aren’t people. I haven’t had near enough of you.”
The entire walk home, Ashley was smiling like a little girl on Christmas morning, holding Michael’s arm and walking as close to him as she could. Michael, on the other hand, was a nervous wreck. Antonio’s advice for him to be his normal dorky self had worked, but had it worked too well? Questions began to race through his mind. What if she invited him in? What if she invited him to bed with her? How would she react when he told her of his lack of experience? If she did want to sleep with him, he didn’t dare try to hide the fact that he was a virgin; no way would that end well. Sighing mentally, he decided he’d just have to play it by ear and hope for the best.
“I… had such a great time with you,” Michael said as they approached her door.
“Me too,” Ashley agreed. “And… well, it’s still kinda early.”
Throwing caution to the wind, Ashley leaned forward and planted a long and sensuous kiss on Michael’s lips. By the end of it, her tongue had found his for the first time, to both of their delights.
“Why don’t you come in and stay a while?” she asked as they parted.
“But… wouldn’t Liz mind?”
“Liz already told me she’ll be gone ‘til tomorrow. We have the place to ourselves.” Sensing his hesitation, she continued, “Michael, believe me when I say that I swore at the start of the night this wouldn’t happen. No matter how well tonight went… I had no intention of inviting you in after one date. Yet, here we are, and I don’t want the night to end. No pressure, no expectations, I just… I want to spend more time with you. I mean, it is Valentine’s Day, after all, and I do consider you my Valentine.”
“Now who’s the cheesy one?” Michael laughed. “I’d love to spend more time with you tonight, but only if you’re sure.”
Another peck on the lips, and Ashley said, “Positive.”
Taking Michael’s hand, Ashley practically dragged him into the apartment and locked the deadbolt behind her. She then took Michael’s suit jacket from him, hanging it on the back of a chair at the breakfast nook. Before long, she had kicked off her shoes and plopped down on the sofa.
“Come on,” Ashley beckoned, patting the seat next to her. “I don’t bite.”
Michael smirked at this, discarding his own shoes and loosening his tie a bit. As soon as his ass touched the sofa cushion, Ashley was already hanging on him, running her fingers through his hair and moving her hand to his thigh. Still, he tried to play it cool and have no assumptions about her intentions.
“Did… you wanna watch a movie or something?” Michael asked.
Smiling, Ashley gave a few playful kisses to Michael’s cheek before replying, “Is that really what you want us to do tonight?”
“I… I-I um…”
Michael was slowly losing control of his mental capabilities, and Ashley damn well knew it. After he had driven her crazy on the dance floor, seducing her without even realizing it, she was determined to do the same. Turning up the heat, she leaned closer to Michael and kissed his lips longingly. He was powerless to stop her as she pushed him to lie back long ways on the sofa. The feeling of her lithe body on top of his was almost too much to bear.
“Ashley…” he moaned.
Looking deep into his eyes, she said, “Michael, I can’t tell you how into you I am. I know this sounds insane, and I don’t want you to think I’m slutty or anything, but… I want you to stay the night. Unless you absolutely don’t want to, I have no intention of letting you leave until tomorrow.”
Michael’s face twisted a bit at this. “Of course I want to be here with you! But why would you think I’d think you’re slutty?”
Snorting a bit, Ashley replied, “Come on, Michael. Here I am, throwing myself at you after one date. How is that not slutty?”
Maintaining eye contact, he asked, “Do you respect yourself and your standards?”
“Of course! I would never even consider inviting a guy in or certainly sleeping with him under normal circumstances.”
“And what makes you consider doing that?”
“Basically… he has to be boyfriend material. I mean… look, I’m gonna be honest with you, Michael. I’ve been pretty stupid around men in the past, sleeping with them while knowing they aren’t even close to being boyfriend material. I guess I thought I could change them. Like I said, I was stupid back then. But now, I know I have to fall for a guy because of who and what he is before I’d even think of sleeping with him. I don’t just hop into bed with any guy I meet, not anymore.”
Michael grinned. “Sounds like the opposite of slutty to me.”
Kissing him once more, Ashley replied, “You sure know how to pay a girl a compliment. You sure you’re not the one seducing me?”
“Hey, you’re the one who called me ‘boyfriend material’ a moment ago.”
“I certainly did not call you boyfriend material!” Ashley said, feigning offense. “I merely stated that any man I’d consider sleeping with had to fall into that category. Nothing more.”
“Gotcha. So I’m not boyfriend material,” Michael replied with a smartass grin.
“You know damn well you are,” Ashley sighed, running her fingers along his cheek. “Most genuine guy I’ve ever met.”
“After one date?” Michael asked, still a bit in awe of the situation.
“Michael, you weren’t afraid to be yourself out there, even with the real you being a big dork. To me, there’s nothing more attractive than that sort of confidence. It makes me want to make you my big dork, and nobody else’s.” Kissing him again, Ashley began to grind her hips along his obvious erection. “Hmm, something’s got you going down there, eh?”
Panicking a moment at how quickly things were progressing, Michael managed to pull back. “Ashley, wait. There’s… there’s something you deserve to know before we go any further.”
“Aw, is this your first time?” she asked playfully. Though she had been teasing, the look of terror spread across his face told her the truth. “Oh my god… this really is your first time, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” he sighed, bracing for the worst.
“Michael, you have no idea how nerve-wracking it is for us gals, trying to figure out if a guy is for real or not. So many guys are out to use any trick in the book to get into our panties. But the one trick those guys don’t use is the virgin trick; no guy I’ve ever met would lie about being a virgin. There’s plenty that would lie about not being a virgin, but never the other way around. Hearing you say that… it’s comforting, in a way. I know you’d never try to trick me or anything like that, if that makes any sense.”
“So… you’re not gonna kick me out?” Michael asked.
“Hell no.” Remembering his religious upbringing, Ashley continued, “Listen, I don’t ever want to pressure you into something that you aren’t comfortable with or that you’d feel wrong about. If you need to leave, I’m cool with that; I’d still want to see you again. If all you want to do is sleep, that’s perfectly fine, too. But if you’re interested in turning in your V-card… I’m more than willing.”
Michael’s mouth dried up at this. He didn’t necessarily share his parents’ views that sex should only occur within a marriage. Still, he had always known he only wanted to lose his virginity to someone special, someone that he could trust implicitly. Was Ashley that person? A small part of him was still terrified that this might be a setup, but the look in Ashley’s eyes was slowly eroding that fear. He wanted to trust her, no matter how much the logical side of his brain told him not to. Taking a deep breath, Michael Goldman decided to take a leap of faith.
“I want to.”
Without a word, Ashley stood from the sofa and pulled Michael to his feet, leading him to her bedroom. A pair of blue lava lamps in either corner emitted a soft glow, and the décor reflected Ashley’s true gamer girl personality. A pair of plush toys, Pikachu and Yoshi, stood guard atop her bed, her computer screensaver depicted Princess Peach and Princess Daisy, and her TV in the corner had both a Super Nintendo and a N64 plugged into it.
“Retro. Very nice,” Michael remarked, nodding his approval.
“Sometimes, the old ways are best,” Ashley agreed with a smirk. Melting into his arms once more, she turned her back and held her hair aside, beckoning, “Unzip me, please.”
Michael’s hands trembled as he lowered the zipper down to the small of her back. The mere sight of her exposed skin was enough to bring him dangerously close to blowing his top right then and there, but a few deep breaths managed to calm him down. He fumbled for several seconds with the clasp at the top of the dress, but Ashley showed no signs of impatience; they had all the time they needed, after all. At last, he managed to unhook the clasp, and Ashley allowed the red dress to slide off her body and down to the floor. She turned, now clad only in a white strapless bra and matching panties.
“I’ll teach you more about how to get one of these off another time,” Ashley cooed. “But for now…”
In one swift motion, she reached behind her back with one hand and undid her bra clasp. She was still pressed against Michael’s chest, holding the garment in place for the time being, much to his disappointment. Ashley only grinned as she backed up out of his arms, holding the bra in place with her hands for a few moments longer.
“Oh, come on…” Michael whimpered.
“Poor boy,” Ashley teased. “Remember, anticipation is a huge part of foreplay.”
“Anticipation or torture?”
“Amazing how often those two coincide,” Ashley shot back with a giggle.
Deciding Michael had waited long enough, Ashley lowered her arm and allowed the bra to fall to the floor. Michael stared in awe at her perky breasts, high and firm on her chest. He certainly wasn’t an expert, but they appeared to be about a B-cup, and her nipples were already rock hard, beckoning him to touch them. The rest of her body was just as amazing. Her milky skin contained not a single speck or blemish, save for the tattoo on her shoulder, and that only served to accentuate her beauty. He moved forward, reaching for her breasts, but Ashley slapped his hands away.
“Nuh uh,” she said, shaking her finger at him. “You don’t get to touch until I see some of what you’ve got.”
Ashley reached for Michael’s clothes to try and speed the process along, but was soon stumped by his tie. Michael found this quite amusing, considering the difficulty men notoriously had with bras. He undid the knot and tossed the tie on the floor, beginning to unbutton his white dress shirt. At this point, Ashley just stood back and watched, as Michael had done with her. After he removed his dress shirt and undershirt, Ashley’s eyes widened with lust and desire. As much as she wanted to jump his bones then and there, she managed to restrain herself. It was only fair, after her previous denial of his touch. Michael was clearly nervous as he undid his belt and lowered his suit pants. His boxers were tented from his erection and already stained with a bit of his precum, which Ashley took as a massive compliment.
“Very nice,” she whispered in a husky voice.
“Thanks,” Michael replied with a nervous grin.
Hooking her thumbs into the waistband of her panties, she continued, “Time for the big reveal, then?”
With a seductive grin on her face, Ashley began to lower the garment down her legs, her breasts jiggling as she bent over to kick them off. Michael was frozen in place with sheer amazement at the sight before him. Here he was, in the presence of the most gorgeous girl he had ever imagined, naked as the day she was born. Her shaved pussy looked so warm and inviting; how he ached to feel her wrapped around him. After allowing him a moment to stare, she sauntered up to him and slipped her fingers into his boxers.
“May I?” Ashley asked.
All Michael could do was nod at that point, and Ashley planted her lips on his as she allowed his boxers to fall to the floor. She smiled as she took his member in her hand, feeling that he was indeed packing substantial weaponry. Ashley soon remembered that this was Michael’s first time; it would be all he could manage not to go off too soon. She stopped her teasing for the moment and turned to her double bed. After slipping underneath the covers, she patted the spot next to her, which Michael readily occupied.
They spent the next several minutes kissing and exploring each other’s bodies with their hands and mouths. Michael was pleased to discover that Ashley’s breasts were indeed quite firm, fitting perfectly in his hands. As wonderful as feeling them was, he enjoyed tasting them even more, and especially the reactions this brought about from Ashley. All the while, she allowed her own hands to explore Michael’s body. She found a particularly strong erogenous zone at the back of his neck where his hairline began. Soon, neither could stand it any longer; they had to make love.
“Michael,” Ashley whispered, “I can see in your eyes that you’re worried about performance. Don’t be. You’ve already made this night more special than I ever imagined it could be. Just enjoy for as long as it may last.”
“Trust me,” she continued, silencing him with a kiss. “This is only the first of many times we’re going to do this.”
As Ashley pushed him onto his back and straddled him, Michael had the presence of mind to ask, “Do we need any… protection?”
Ashley stopped at this, stunned by his kind consideration. “Michael, you really are the best kind of guy around. You don’t have to worry about me getting pregnant; I’m on the pill. I’m also clean per my last doctor’s visit, but if you’d feel more comfortable with a condom, I’m happy to oblige. I keep a few spares in my nightstand.”
Though the logical part of his brain told him to agree to it, Michael couldn’t help but put his faith in this girl. “No, that’s all right. I trust you’re being honest. Just wanted to be sure.”
Ashley sealed her lips around Michael’s once more, positioning the head of his cock at her entrance as she did so. After a moment of silent understanding, he placed his hands on her hips and guided himself into her moist pussy. The feelings were exquisite, like liquid velvet squeezing his member. She made sure to keep a slow pace, allowing Michael to savor every new sensation that came along. After arriving at the base of his cock, Ashley sat straight up, displaying her pert breasts for her lover.
“Holy shit, Ashley…” Michael moaned.
“You’re mine, now,” she giggled. “And I don’t plan on letting go of you anytime soon…”
“No complaints from me,” he admitted with a grin.
For the next five minutes, Ashley treated Michael to the ride of his life, teasing and tormenting his engorged cock with every inch of her pussy. She was pleasantly surprised to see that he was able to last so long on his first time, long enough even for her to reach a small orgasm of her own. All the while, Michael couldn’t help but cup her perfect breasts in his hands. As he drew close to climax, Michael pulled Ashley down to lie face-to-face with him and planted a sensuous kiss on her lips. The sensation of her fingers on his cheeks and running through his hair were too much at that point, and he sent his seed into her waiting pussy with a guttural moan of ecstasy.
“Mmm… I love that feeling,” Ashley purred, savoring Michael’s cock twitching within her folds.
Spent and content, Michael couldn’t even utter a word in reply, so Ashley slipped off his cock and rolled next to him, laying her head on his chest. After a few seconds of blissful quiet, the blood began to flow back to Michael’s brain, allowing him to think more rationally.
“Ashley… this is so crazy…”
“Yeah, but crazy good, right?” she grinned.
“Oh, of course! It’s just… we barely even know each other, but you’re already looking at me like you’re in… well… the ‘L’ word.”
Nodding, Ashley began to explain, “I guess in matters of the ‘L’ word, I’ve always tried to follow my gut instinct. It’s never steered me wrong in other areas. But, I’ve never had the best luck with men, thinking I could change them and whatnot.”
“Sounds like you ignored your gut in those cases,” Michael observed.
“Yeah, I think you’re right. But tonight, with everything that’s happened, I keep looking for a chink in your armor, for some sign that sends my gut into high alert mode, but I found nothing. Everything about you… my gut says to hang onto you and never let go. God, I hope I’m not scaring you off with this…”
“Not at all,” Michael grinned, kissing her on her forehead. “Still, there’s a lot we don’t know about each other, isn’t there?”
“Yeah, but that’s easily remedied. Favorite movie?”
“Huh? Oh, Star Wars: A New Hope,” Michael replied, realizing she was trying to get to know him better.
“Figures,” she teased. “Mine is The Princess Bride.”
“Never pegged you for a chick flick kind of girl,” he teased right back.
“Hey, it’s my one and only chick flick that I like! Every other one I’ve seen can go to hell!” she laughed.
“Fair enough. Um… favorite color?”
“Nice. Blue for me, so original.”
“Nothing wrong with a classic,” Ashley replied. “Favorite band?”
“The Blues Brothers.”
“Yeah, people forget how many great musicians Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi found for their group. I’m guessing yours is My Chemical Romance?” Michael asked.
“Nope. They may have my favorite song, but my favorite band is Boyz II Men. I could listen to them forever…”
“No way I can argue with that,” Michael agreed.
Thinking a moment, Ashley asked, “Biggest pet peeve behind the wheel?”
“People who talk on their phones while driving all the time.”
“Ugh! I know what you mean! Mine is people who don’t use their turn signals while driving.”
“Preach it,” Michael sighed. Deciding to get a bit more personal, he asked, “Biggest turn off?”
“Dishonesty, both in telling lies and just not being yourself,” Ashley said without hesitation. “You?”
“I’d say… an inability to communicate.”
“Ooh, a deep answer. How so?”
Thinking a moment, Michael replied, “Well, you hear all the time about guys who screw a relationship up by saying something stupid, yet the entire situation could have been avoided if the couple had only communicated their expectations. But when they don’t, both are left making assumptions, which only leads to trouble.”
“Look at you! Teaching me right away how to be the kind of girlfriend you need!” Ashley marveled, kissing him on the cheek.
“T-Thanks,” Michael blushed.
“Well, well. Looks like someone is rarin’ to go again,” Ashley giggled, seeing his cock hardening once again.
“It’s… kinda tough not to be hard when you’re around,” he admitted.
“No complaints from me,” she retorted before straddling him.
“Holy fuck…” Michael groaned as Ashley engulfed him once more.
Riding him at a steady pace, she decided to continue their little game. “Biggest turn on?”
“Tell me your biggest turn on. Come on, I’m not going faster if you don’t play along,” Ashley giggled, sticking her tongue out at him.
Though he struggled to think in such a highly aroused state, Michael managed to eek out, “Other than your breasts?”
Ashley laughed at this. “Yes, other than my breasts. Boys,” she snorted, rolling her eyes.
“Then, I’d say… confidence. Uh… you?”
“The same,” Ashley whispered, leaning her face close to his again. “Your turn. Ask me.”
“Um… biggest fear?”
Biting her lower lip, she replied, “Being trapped in a toxic relationship. You?”
“Until tonight, dying a virgin,” he grinned.
“Well, nuts to that! What else you got?”
She slowed her pace a bit, allowing Michael to think. “Failing to leave a better life behind for my kids,” he finally said.
Ashley’s eyes lit up at this. “You want kids?”
“I do, someday, with the right girl, of course.” Realizing he may have hit a sore spot, he asked, “W-What about you?”
Ashley sank down all the way on his cock before replying, “With the right guy, I’d have as many as we could support.”
Michael couldn’t help but smile at that prospect; he’d long considered himself a family-oriented guy.
“Hey, pay attention. Your turn,” Ashley said, playfully slapping him.
“Oh, let’s see… ideal weekend?
“Honestly… just hanging at home with a fantastic guy, making love at every chance, shutting the rest of the world out…”
“I was beginning to think I was the only introvert in the world! Where have you been all my life?!” Michael sighed.
“So, I take it you’d like that kind of weekend, too?”
“Political affiliation?” she asked with a smirk.
“I guess I’m… fiscally conservative. I am Jewish, after all,” he said with a laugh.
“Hah! Yeah, your people have a reputation with money, don’t you?”
“Me? I’m pretty liberal… some would call me a social justice warrior. Is… that gonna be a problem?”
“Not at all,” Michael replied, thrusting deep into her pussy again. “You meet a lot of people with a wide range of political stances in Jewish communities. Some are more conservative, especially on social issues, but others are about as liberal as you can get. All I care about is having a mutual respect and a willingness to defend why you believe what you believe.”
Ashley was completely taken aback that the possibility of political disagreements in their relationship didn’t scare him one bit. It dawned on her that they were just that: disagreements. All Michael wanted was the understanding between their differences, not blind agreement. In the current political climate, Ashley had thought such levelheaded people were extinct. Unable to hold back any further, she leaned down and kissed him long and hard, hammering his cock with her pussy all the while.
“You’re amazing,” Ashley breathed as they parted.
“You say that enough, I’m gonna start to believe it,” he shot back with a grin.
“Believe it,” she replied with all seriousness. “I’ve never met a guy like you. Everything we talk about, we’re on the same page. I know what that means, but I should be more terrified of it…”
“What do you mean?”
“I… I’m falling for you, Michael. Hard. I should be scared that I’m gonna get hurt from that, but-”
Silencing her with a kiss, he answered, “I will never hurt you. Ever. You’ve given me so much already, and I’d be an ungrateful fool to hurt a girl like you. And… if you’re trying to say that you’re falling in… ‘L’ word… with me… I feel the same.”
At that, they didn’t need to say anything more. Their mutual orgasms were already near bursting, so giving in to their emotions was an easy next step. As they climaxed, both felt an incredible wave wash over them, one that seemed to indicate they would be bonded forever. Now exhausted from the evening’s activities, Ashley rolled off Michael once more and pulled her pillow closer to his.
“So… what now, Boyfriend?” she asked with a grin.
Michael chuckled. “Now, I have to figure how I’m telling Mom and Dad I’m dating a Gentile girl.”
A look of worry spread across Ashley’s face. “You think they won’t approve?”
He shrugged. “Dad ought to be just fine with it. Mom may huff a little bit, but they’ll know how serious we are when I refuse to back down. I definitely won’t let her put any pressure on you about converting; that’s your decision alone. Don’t worry. We’re a team, now.”
Smiling, Ashley clapped her hands twice, switching off the lava lamps and darkening the bedroom. Before drifting off to sleep, she leaned over for one last kiss with her new man.
“I love you, Michael.”
“I love you, too, Ashley.”
The following week was a whirlwind of happiness for the new couple. Though both still had school and work obligations, they spent every bit of spare time they could muster together. Whether at Michael’s apartment or Ashley’s, they made love every night, learning more about each other all the while. Ashley had promised to teach Michael a few things, and did he ever learn. Even after only a week, she had expanded his foreplay skills, introduced him to oral sex, and even shown him her favorite vibrator. By the time Friday rolled around, they were as attached as a college couple could possibly be.
The fact they arrived together at the next meeting of the AU Pokémon League caused a bit of a stir, and that they were laughing and holding hands was an even bigger surprise. None of the other members had seen Ashley so much as chat with anyone else, let alone date them. As the pair walked in to the GameStop, an uncomfortable silence descended upon the room. After a moment, Eric stood with a stern expression on his face.
“Michael, good to have you back.” Turning to Ashley, he continued, “Now, as for you. There’s a new rule around here that you’ll need to follow.”
“The hell are you talking about?” Ashley sighed.
Without a word, Eric pointed to the poster behind him with the rules listed. It all looked as it had last week, but an additional rule had been added at the bottom of the poster.
Girls only rule: Tits, or GTFO.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Michael growled.
“Simple. If she wants to stay a member of the League, she has to show us her tits. Otherwise, she can get the fuck out,” Eric smirked.
“You can’t do that!” Ashley spat. “This is still an Auburn University club! The Dean of Student Affairs will shut you down for this!”
“Only if someone tells on us. And I know you don’t want to be known as the spiteful bitch that ended the one and only club for all these poor lonely nerds you see here,” Eric shot back.
Realizing that tattling would play right into his hand, Ashley said, “Fine. Then I challenge you for leadership of the League, as per rule 5.”
“Of course, of course. But in order to challenge me, you first have to be a law-abiding member of the League. You wanna do this? Let’s see those titties.”
“You’re disgusting,” Ashley seethed.
“Hey, Sophia’s already done it, and she’s no worse for the wear. What’s your problem, bitch?” Eric taunted.
Having had enough, Ashley was about to lift her shirt and flash him just for the satisfaction of taking Eric’s leadership, but a hand stopped her before she could.
“No. I challenge you for leadership,” Michael said.
Eric seemed surprised at this. “You? Why? You’ve got no skin in this, dude.”
“She’s my girlfriend. You bet your ass I’ve got skin in this. I challenge you for leadership, Eric.”
“Go home,” he snorted.
“Who keeps the official rulebook?” Michael asked the rest of the members. After several seconds of tense silence, one member reached into his backpack and handed a pamphlet to Michael. Turning to a page near the back, he read aloud, “The President of the League may not refuse a challenge to his leadership from any member in good standing with the League, but as the challenged, he may determine the terms of the match.”
“Sounds pretty clear to me,” Ashley smirked.
Eric’s face twisted in rage at this. At last he replied, “Fine. One six on six single battle… AG rules.”
There was an audible gasp among the rest of the members. AG, also known as “anything goes,” was a style of play not common in competitive Pokémon. Not only did it allow the most overpowered Pokémon in the game to be used, known as “ubers” or “legendary Pokémon,” but it also did not ban the cheap tactics that were not allowed in most competitive matches. From this, Michael could tell exactly what Eric’s play was: he was betting that Michael wouldn’t have a team available that could compete at such a high level. Unfortunately for the Almighty President, Michael was well prepared for this scenario.
“Done. Set it up.”
They took a seat in the middle of the room and connected their game systems. The rest of the members gathered around, eagerly anticipating a heated battle between these two. All the while, Ashley stood by Michael’s side, confident that he would come out on top. In the past, she would have taken his stepping in as an insult, but she now saw he only wished to preserve her dignity. Though she would have gladly flashed Eric for the chance to beat his ass, Michael saw no reason for it to come to that. Across from them sat Sophia, again hanging on Eric’s every move, almost as if she felt her existence would come to an end should he lose. Ashley decided to keep a close eye on her throughout the game. Though Michael didn’t think much of it, Ashley then stood to stand behind him as a part of the crowd and reached into her pocket for something.
At the pregame screen, Michael began to inspect Eric’s team. There were the two usual suspects, Groudon and Kyogre, both of which were so powerful and versatile that any uber team was sure to include them. Michael also had them on his team, though their remaining four combatants differed. Eric’s remaining team consisted of a pair of frail offensive hitters, Darkrai and Pheromosa, the jack-of-all-trades Arceus, which could be any of the eighteen Pokémon types, and a Dragon Pokémon, Rayquaza. Michael was certain that Rayquaza would be Eric’s Mega for the match, as it’s normally banned in every other battle format. As for Michael, the rest of his team contained a couple of bulky supporters in Skarmory and Umbreon, an unpredictable wild card in Kartana, and his ace, Mega Mewtwo Y.
“Let’s do this,” Eric growled. “And when I win, you’re banned for life.”
“Same to you when I win,” Michael shot back.
With that, their battle began. Michael led off with his Skarmory, intending to set up traps on Eric’s side of the field to slowly damage his Pokémon throughout the match. Eric led off with his Darkrai, which immediately worried Michael. Darkrai was a Pokémon known for using sleep-inducing techniques, which would render one of his combatants useless for a few turns. Normally, only one Pokémon was allowed to be asleep at a time, but the AG rules they now played under made it legal to put any number of Pokémon to sleep. With some skillful maneuvering, Michael managed to switch Skarmory out in favor of his Mewtwo, but he was not able to set his traps yet. While Mewtwo would have been at a disadvantage against Darkrai, its Mega Evolution made it immune to sleep-inducing moves, forcing Eric to switch out.
Both of them played rather cautiously from there, trying to feel each other’s strategy out. While Michael’s team was slower and bulkier, allowing them to take a few hits, Eric’s team was much more “hyper-offensive,” containing only one or two bulky Pokémon. The rest were powerful attackers that would be easy to take down if Michael could land a strong hit. As Michael looked for an opening, he began switching his Pokémon at confusing times, throwing Eric off his game a bit. This led Eric to make an uncharacteristic mistake with his Pheromosa, leaving it severely wounded. It did manage to survive and fight back, hurting Michael’s Mega Mewtwo Y in the process, but Pheromosa soon fell. Michael then surprised Eric by pulling out his Umbreon. While not a strong attacker, Umbreon functioned as a powerful healer on Michael’s team, soon bringing his Mega Mewtwo back to full health with its Wish technique.
“You cheap fucker…” Eric seethed.
“You’re the one that wanted to play AG rules,” Michael smirked.
Eric’s Arceus was the next to fall, but not before it managed to take out both Michael’s Kyogre and Umbreon in the process. Now without his healer, Michael switched back to his Skarmory, taking the opportunity to set up the traps he had tried to use back at the start of the match. Darkrai returned to the field at this and rocked Skarmory with a powerful hit, but not before Skarmory had laid its traps. As it fell, Mega Mewtwo returned for the revenge knockout on Darkrai, leaving just three Pokémon on each side. Mewtwo continued its streak by taking down Eric’s Kyogre, but took heavy damage in the process, and was unable to survive even a single hit from Eric’s Groudon. Still, it was child’s play for Michael to finish it off with his own Groudon, thanks to a well-timed critical hit.
“Now, you’re dead,” Eric said, eying Michael with hatred.
Now down to his last Pokémon to face Michael’s final two, Eric sent out his Mega Rayquaza, arguably one of the most unfairly overpowered Pokémon in the entire game. It had few natural weaknesses, and those weaknesses were still difficult to exploit due to its Delta Stream ability, which increased Rayquaza’s defenses to ridiculous levels. But Michael knew of Rayquaza’s one crippling weakness that it had no counter for: field traps. He had set up a trap on Eric’s side of the field known as Stealth Rock, which did a small bit of damage to each Pokémon upon switching in. If a particular combatant had a weakness to Rock Type attacks, as Rayquaza did, it would take even more damage from the trap. Thus, the very act of bringing Rayquaza in reduced its health by one fourth, which was a godsend considering how strong it was. Still, its natural strength was more than enough to take out Michael’s Groudon with little effort.
Now one on one against Rayquaza with his Kartana, Michael took a few moments to analyze his situation. He had equipped his Kartana with a special item called the Choice Band. This increased its already strong attacking power by an additional 50%, but also forced it into using only one of its four potential moves, hence the choice. There were a couple of good options that he could use against Rayquaza, but Michael had a suspicion that there was some strategy Eric was using that he hadn’t revealed yet. Even though Kartana had one attack that would have done more damage overall, Michael locked into a move that would do a bit less damage but was guaranteed never to miss.
On the next turn, Michael smiled at realizing that he had correctly predicted that Eric was up to something. Instead of attacking, Rayquaza began using a move known as Double Team. This progressively increased its evasion capabilities, making it more likely that Michael’s Pokémon would miss in their attacks altogether. This was considered the cheapest strategy in the game, resulting in widespread bans to Double Team in all competitive rules except Anything Goes. But as Michael had picked an attack with perfect accuracy that would not be affected by Double Team, he now knew that victory was all but assured. The smug look on Eric’s face soon disappeared as he realized that his strategy was useless against Kartana’s Smart Strike attack, guaranteed never to miss.
“You’ve gotta be shittin’ me!” Eric gasped at seeing how much damage the attack did to his Rayquaza. “How the hell is a Smart Strike so powerful?!”
“Choice Band, ya bastard,” Michael retorted.
Murmurs began to be heard from the onlookers. Each one of them knew what that meant: Michael had won. Only a single hit more, and Eric would officially be known as the former Almighty President of the AU Pokémon League. Michael tapped the screen on his 3DS and waited for the final turn to begin, but Eric just sat there in disbelief. His facial expressions went from dumbfounded, to pain, to pure rage. As he was about to select his move for what everyone knew would be the final turn, he moved his hand to the bottom of his 3DS and hit the power button, turning the system off.
“What the hell?! You rage quit?!” Michael yelled, unable to believe what had just happened.
“Yeah, whatcha gonna do about it, pussy?” Eric laughed.
“You cheated! You still lose!” Ashley agreed.
“Nope. That was my first rage quit ever, so I get a warning. But the battle itself is null and void, since it couldn’t be finished before connection was lost,” Eric replied with smug confidence. “You still wanna challenge me? We’ll go again.”
“No way! I had you beat, fair and square!” Michael shot back, standing at his chair in anger.
“I doubt the rest of the League sees it that way. What say you?” Eric asked the room.
Every last onlooker fell silent at this. Due to his supreme arrogance, Eric was blind to how much everyone in the League hated him and his leadership. Still, most had been afraid to stand up to him, and the few that did had always been soundly defeated. But today, he had been beaten, and everyone knew it. Sure, the official scoreboard said otherwise, but everyone knew what had really happened. One by one, the members of the League moved to stand behind Michael’s chair, showing their support to the man they wanted as the new president. Eric soon began to lose it, seeing the only power he possessed in his life being stripped from him.
“You fucking TRAITORS!” he screamed.
“It’s over. You’ve lost, Eric,” Michael replied quietly. “As the new Almighty President of the AU Pokémon League, I hereby ban you for life and nullify your sexist girls only rule effective immediately. Leave. You’re not welcome here.”
“And why should I do that?” he spat.
“Because you don’t want the video of your battle with Michael to end up all over the Internet,” Ashley said with a grin.
“Nice try, bitch. The battle ended before it could be completed, so the 3DS couldn’t make a video of the battle,” Eric replied.
“Maybe. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t secretly filming the whole thing with my cell phone. Including your pussy move at the end,” said Ashley. “So, you have two options: leave now, or become a viral laughing stock in gaming communities the world over. Your choice.”
Eric’s mouth moved, but no words would come. He was beyond incensed, disbelieving that Ashley and Michael could get the better of him so completely. Still, the logical part of his brain managed to kick in, reminding Eric that any further insults would result in his embarrassment being posted all over the Internet for the world to see. Left with no other choice, he slowly rose to his feet and walked to the door. As he was about to leave, he turned to see Sophia still seated at the table.
“Hey! Let’s go!” Eric snapped at her.
With a look of panic in her eyes, Sophia stood to follow, but Ashley placed a gentle hand on her shoulder.
“You don’t have to go with him,” she assured Sophia.
Gulping, Sophia replied in a mousy voice, “But… he let me join? He g-gave me a social circle, right?”
“Sophia, you don’t owe him anything. He’s been controlling you this entire time; we all see it,” Ashley insisted. “Trust me, you can stay of your own free will. You have friends here, better friends than Eric is capable of being.”
“You belong with me! Now, let’s GO!” Eric shouted from the door.
Sophia was torn. In truth, she had never enjoyed being Eric’s girlfriend, but felt it was her only way to actually have friends. Now, she didn’t know what to think. Ashley seemed so certain that she would still be welcome here without Eric, which was such a tempting offer for Sophia. As she looked up at Eric’s face and saw the rage in his eyes, she made her decision.
“I… I’m n-not going… anywhere with you,” Sophia stuttered.
“What did you say to me?” Eric growled.
“I’m staying… right here. You could not… pay me enough… to touch your dirty… disgusting body even ONE MORE TIME!” Sophia finally shouted. “We’re through, Eric.”
“Temper, temper, Eric,” Ashley taunted him, waving her phone in the air. “We wouldn’t want you to lose your cool and become a viral sensation, would we?”
Stopping dead in his tracks, Eric fumed for several seconds before storming out.
“FUCK YOU ALL!!!”
The members erupted into cheers as Eric finally left, finally rid of his tyranny for good. Ashley leapt into Michael’s arms, planting a steamy kiss on him in front of everyone, eliciting a few catcalls and whistles. After a moment, Ashley noticed several of the guys flocking to Sophia and trying to chat her up. Seeing the poor girl’s discomfort, Ashley made her way over to her.
“Sophia, you wanna grab some food with me and my boyfriend?”
“Huh? You… actually want to hang out with me?” she replied with surprise.
“Of course! Us gamer girls have to stick together, after all,” Ashley smiled.
“That… that would be nice,” Sophia said with a soft grin.
“Great! I think my roommate is making tacos tonight. Sound good?”
“I do enjoy tacos…”
Over the course of the next year, the AU Pokémon League skyrocketed in popularity under Michael’s leadership. His first order of business was to get rid of Eric’s sexist rules, along with the ridiculous title of Almighty President. His second act was to ask Antonio to join the group and assist as a Vice President. With Michael in charge, Antonio was only too happy to oblige, and helped launch a publicity campaign on campus to help draw in new members for the League. Little did they know how successful they would be.
To everyone’s surprise, Antonio and Allison avoided becoming a flash in the pan and instead turned into a serious power couple around campus. With Antonio now involved with the League once again, Allison began to take an interest in her boyfriend’s favorite club. After watching a few meetings, she decided she wanted to try it for herself and borrowed Antonio’s 3DS. She was hooked right away, and suggested using her popularity to promote the League and help bring in more members.
At the same time, Michael had the idea of starting a rental service, reasoning that it would be a way to attract people that had never played the game before. In this way, they offered a means for new members to be competitive and have fun without needing to make outlandish monetary or time investments along the way. A few longtime members offered up their spare 3DS systems for the club to use, and Michael decided to invest in a few new copies of the most recent Pokémon games. Even better, he and Antonio made sure to have a large amount of battle-ready competitive Pokémon available to loan to the less experienced members when they came to the meetings. As a result, the League began attracting casual gamers and complete newbies in addition to the more serious gamers that already attended. Before long, their numbers had ballooned to the point that they had to move into one of the auditorium classrooms on campus for their meetings.
A few months after Eric’s departure, people stopped seeing him around campus altogether. Many rumors persisted as to what happened to him. Some said he flunked out and moved into his mother’s basement, others think he had hired a hooker that turned out to be an undercover cop. Regardless, nobody missed him at all, least of all, Sophia.
Ashley’s offer for Sophia to join them for dinner turned out to be just what the poor girl needed and more. She formed a genuine friendship with Ashley and Michael, and especially with Ashley’s roommate, Liz. Sophia eventually began a romantic relationship with Liz, though the latter suspected rightly that Sophia wasn’t actually a lesbian. Rather, she found her time with Liz enjoyable because there were no controlling tendencies, as had been in her relationship with Eric. After a few months, their passion fizzled as Sophia developed the confidence and self-esteem to begin dating men again. Liz would miss the fun they had together, but Sophia was a whole new person, which couldn’t have made her friends happier.
As Michael and Ashley neared their graduation the following spring, Michael began to take a hard look at what he wanted his life to be like after the end of school. He decided that he had a serious question to ask Ashley, but first, he had to meet her family. Of course, he had met her dad and sisters over the previous Thanksgiving, but there was still one more person left…
“You’re sure you wanna do this?” Ashley asked.
“Of course! He’s such a huge part of your life, why wouldn’t I?” Michael replied.
“Just be prepared; he can be pretty off-putting.”
Entering her uncle’s house with a knock, she called out, “Hey, it’s Ashley!”
“In here,” a voice said.
Ashley led the way into a comfortable den with easy chairs and a sofa. A few watercolor paintings adorned the walls, giving it a very homey feeling. On the sofa sat a red-haired young man of about nineteen.
“Hey, Sam,” Ashley said.
“Hello,” he replied in a somewhat monotone voice. “You have a guest.”
“Yeah. Sam, I wanted you to meet my boyfriend, Michael. Michael, this is my cousin, Sam.”
“Good to meet you,” Michael said, refraining from reaching out to shake Sam’s hand; Ashley had warned that Sam didn’t like that.
“Boyfriend. Interesting,” Sam remarked without looking up from his 3DS. “Ashley, Mother and Father left some money on the counter for the pizza place at the end of the block. You should order and go pick it up.”
Ashley cocked her eyebrow at this; Sam hadn’t made a request, he’d given an instruction. Still, she knew better than to protest. Sam was trying to get this boyfriend of hers alone so he could figure him out. In spite of his Asperger’s, Sam was remarkably good at reading facial expressions and tone of voice.
“Pizza sounds good. Michael, you wanna relax here? I’ll be back in a bit,” Ashley said before leaving with the money.
“Sure,” Michael replied. Ashley had expected something like this would happen, and had prepared him as such. Sitting across from Sam, Michael asked, “Playing Pokémon there, eh?”
“Cool. That’s actually how I met Ashley. We play in a League together at college.”
“I’m not surprised,” Sam said, seeming disinterested. “You must excuse my demeanor. It’s due to my condition.”
“Don’t worry, Ashley filled me in,” Michael reassured him.
“So… boyfriend. Tell me how long you have been dating my cousin.”
Again, it wasn’t a question, but an instruction. Michael replied, “A little over a year now. We met just before Valentine’s Day last year.”
“I take it you’re having intercourse with her, then?”
Michael was getting used to Sam’s bluntness, but decided to push back this time, saying, “To be honest, that’s between her and me. Besides, I respect Ashley too much to kiss and tell without her permission. But I recognize that you’re simply looking out for your cousin’s best interests, so I’ll say that anything we may have done has been mutually agreed upon with no coercion whatsoever.”
Sam paused a moment before giving a slight nod. “Correct answer.”
At this, Michael realized Sam was testing him, feeling him out. Not that he was surprised, but it suddenly made sense. Ashley had looked out for Sam growing up, and he wanted to do the same for her now, especially with her past luck with men.
“So, you say you met Ashley over Pokémon. Are you any good?” Sam asked.
“I beat her in our first game,” Michael answered.
“Interesting. You must be a good strategist to best her.”
“I have my moments, though she does frequently get the better of me.”
“Then tell me this: what is the superior counter strategy to use against a Trick Room team?” Sam asked.
Michael smiled at this; Sam was testing him again, this time about Pokémon. He was familiar with the strategy Sam was describing. In Pokémon, the combatant with the highest speed rating normally got to move first in any given turn, but there was one popular strategy to change that. The move Trick Room caused the exact opposite to happen for five turns, allowing the slowest Pokémon to move first. It was a popular sort of team to use, though Michael had never been partial to it. Taking note of the wording in Sam’s question, Michael began to formulate his response.
“To be honest, there is no superior or inferior strategy,” he began. “All strategies are equally viable and are ultimately dependent on the person in charge of them. A team that is statistically superior to another team will still be defeated if the player is unable to predict his opponent’s moves. Strategy is important, but more vital is the ability to adapt that strategy to what the other team is doing.”
“Right again,” Sam said. “Now, what is the most important phase of any Pokémon match?”
“The endgame,” Michael replied without hesitation. “Yes, a poor start can doom you, but even the best of starts can be undone by poor decision-making at the end of a match. Never assume your opponent can’t snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.”
“And what is your endgame with my cousin?” Sam asked pointedly.
Smiling, Michael said, “I plan to ask her to marry me.”
“That is not an endgame. That is a single action,” Sam pointed out.
“Fair enough. My endgame is to marry her and spend the rest of my life with her, if she’ll have me. A home, kids, being together for six or seven decades… that’s the endgame.”
After a moment’s pause, Sam replied, “I believe that would make Ashley very happy.”
“I think so, too. I know she makes me happy, happier than I’ve ever been in my life,” Michael admitted. “I’m in love with her.”
“That is nice to hear. Still, in the interest of full disclosure, you should be aware that if you ever hurt her, physically or emotionally, you will have made a mortal enemy in me.”
“I have no doubt of that,” Michael grinned. “But if I were to propose to Ashley… you would be ok with that?”
Before Sam could answer, Ashley walked in the front door. “I’m back, and I’ve got pizza!” she called.
Without a word, Sam stood and took the pizzas from her hands. Moving into the kitchen, he said over his shoulder, “Spoiler alert: he wants to marry you. And if he makes you half as happy as you seem, you would be an imbecile to decline.”
Michael buried his face in his hands at Sam telling her this upfront, but Ashley just smiled and winked at him. “Thanks, Sam. I’ll keep that in mind.”
As soon as Sam was out of earshot, Michael moaned, “All my elaborate plans…”
Sitting next to him on the couch, Ashley kissed Michael on the cheek and said, “Don’t worry about it; I’m actually kind of glad he said that.”
“Michael, you don’t need any elaborate plans to get me to marry you!” Ashley laughed. “If you want to marry me, all you have to do is ask.”
“Come on, I can do better than that!”
“I’m a practical girl, Michael. I always have been. One of the things I love most about you is that you’re a straight shooter. So, is there something you want to ask me?”
“Dammit, you’re really gonna make me do this now, aren’t ya?” Michael sighed.
“Yep,” Ashley replied, sticking her tongue out at him.
Michael reached into his pocket, pulling out a diamond ring he had saved for three months to buy. “Ashley Henderson… will you marry me?”
Flashing a huge smile, Ashley leaned forward and planted a passionate kiss on his lips. “You bet your sweet ass I will.”
Five years later
“Almost there,” Ashley whispered.
“Come on, come on… just a bit more,” Michael growled, feeling the tension build.
“Yes… yes, you’ve got it!”
“Score! Flag captured!”
While most married couples would spend Valentine’s Day out on a romantic date, Michael and Ashley Goldman preferred an intimate evening of video games, even after nearly five years of marriage. Their six-month-old son, Sam, was spending the night with his namesake uncle. In spite of the elder Sam’s mild Asperger’s, he found that he had a natural affinity for children. His great willingness to babysit for his nephew allowed Michael and Ashley to continue their intimate evenings gaming together, with that night’s selection being Call of Duty: WWII.
“Seems like that longstanding love affair with this game is paying off,” Ashley teased her husband. “You might actually be improving!”
“Oh, that’s how you’re gonna play it, eh? All right, we’re on different teams next round! I’ll show you improvement…”
“Ooh, sounds like hot air to me. How ‘bout we make it more interesting?”
“What did you have in mind?” Michael asked, remembering losing his first gamble with her six years ago.
Eying him mischievously, Ashley said, “Winner of the next round gets oral.”
“Deal,” Michael replied. “It’s a win-win for me.”
“How do you figure that?”
“Because we both know that once I start going down on you, you can’t possibly resist doing the same to me,” Michael said with a smartass grin.
Grabbing her controller, Ashley huffed, “Just shut up and play.”
“Game on, pretty lady.”