"I just don't understand it, Cherry. Why won't you just talk to her? I've been working with her on this biology project and it's obvious she still likes you...always asking me about you and stuff."
Cherry shook her head stubbornly. "No, I won't be the one to... I'm not falling into what we were before...She's got to want to be with me the right way."
Poppy rolled her eyes in disgust, moving over to clean up a shelf of crystals. "You are so dumb, Cherry," she said. "How hot is Rose, huh?" She turned back to give Cherry a look. "Pretty hot, right?"
Cherry scowled a response. "Yeah..."
"And you're just letting all that go to waste because you're stubborn." She glared at Cherry. "She's too proud and scared to come to you...you're gonna have to bite the bullet and be the big man here."
Cherry opened her mouth to reply, but closed it again when the door to the shop opened, Cola and Gothic walking in, arms laden with bags.
"Hey," Poppy said. "Long time no see."
"Poppy, is Cosmic here?" Brazilian poked her head out from the office.
Poppy shook her head and Brazilian sighed. "Late again..." she grumbled before going back into her office.
Poppy shrugged and smiled at the customers. "Sorry about that. What can I do for you guys?"
Cola pulled a list out of his pocket. "I need some of that relaxing tea you guys have, some of that soap that I get...you know the kind...and...um...really pretentious music. You know what I mean? The kind with monks chanting and whatnot?"
Poppy grinned. "Oh yeah. I'll go get you the best." She grabbed a basket and went into the storeroom.
Cola smiled and went over to where Gothic was browsing, Cherry peering curiously at them from beside the counter. Gothic poked through the shelves on one wall. He grinned as he picked up a bottle and showed it to Cola. "'Improve your love life. Natural Spanish fly'," he read off the label.
"You saying there's something wrong with our love life?" Cola replied, arching an eyebrow.
"No..." Gothic quickly turned to Cherry. "You sure it's legal for you guys to sell this?"
"How would I know? I don't even work here." Cherry crossed her arms over her chest and looked disgruntled.
"I just asked..."
"Got it!" Poppy said as she walked in, holding up a CD. She walked over to Cola and Gothic and showed them the cover -- monks in tie-dye robes. "It's monks chanting old sixties' songs. Really screwed up if you ask me..."
Cola grinned. "Oh, that's perfect! I'll play it at my next show."
"You have a show coming up?" Poppy took the basket to the register and started ringing things up. "I didn't know that" She paused, waving the price checker at Cola. "See, you should come to the store more often so I know these things."
"Sorry, Poppy," Cola said apologetically. "But it's not really my kind of store, you know? It's more of Spice's thing."
"Wait, Spice?" Cherry suddenly snapped to attention. "Spice Shimmer? Rose's sister?"
Cola gave Cherry a sympathetic look. "Oh, you've met Rose? My apologies. "
Poppy grinned. "Not only have they met, but..." Poppy leaned over the counter, lowering her voice to a gossipy whisper. "They used to date."
"Poppy! Please! Privacy!"
Poppy laughed. "God, have I made you so mad you're resorting to alliteration?"
"Whoa, wait a second..." Cola held up his hands. "Rose Shimmer... was dating you?" He pointed at Cherry. "But you're a girl!"
"What of it?" Cherry snarled back.
Cola started laughing. "I knew it! I knew that girl was a latent waiting to happen!" He turned to Gothic. "God, we have to tell Spice!"
Poppy chuckled. "Okay, Cola, it's twenty five dollars and thirty-five cents. How do you want to pay for it?"
Cola continued to snicker as he pulled his wallet out. "I think I better put it on my credit card. I'm all out of cash, had to buy a lot of stuff today." He flipped through his wallet, frowning. "I could have sworn I put my credit card in here..." He shrugged. "I must have left it at home. Hmm... Could you hold this stuff for me while I go to the ATM? I'll come right back."
Gothic smiled and handed Poppy two twenties. "I got it, hon..." He set the bottle from earlier on the counter. "And this as well."
Cola scoffed. "You're not!"
Gothic shrugged. "Hey, even if it's total hype, it's still a really pretty color."
"You're just awful," Cola said, smiling.
Gothic leaned close to his lover, grinning. "Wanna go and try it out?"
Poppy spoke up. "Get a room, guys. This is a PG-type shop." She winked at them as she handed Gothic his change.
Blaze sighed as she looked over the folder on her desk. She looked back up at Venus and forced a slight smile. "Look, I don't want to fool you," she said. "It's going to be hard to prove intent to murder in this case. I understand that you want to go for the maximum charge, but I still think you'd be better off settling for manslaughter or negligible homicide. She did..." She paused, but then continued. "She wasn't being forced to take drugs."
"He got her hooked on them!" Venus said angrily. She pulled sharply on the hem of the blue suit she was wearing.
She'd done that several times today, and Blaze realized suddenly that it was a nervous gesture. The lawyer smiled sympathetically. "I know... The cops have been trying to nail him since he moved here, and he's apparently had some trouble in Chicago as well. But, Venus, again..it's very hard to prove..."
"I don't care how hard it is!" Venus got to her feet. "Just...do it, all right? God, why doesn't anyone help me? Auburn's..." she faltered, her voice trailing off, tears shining in her eyes..
Blaze stood up. "Venus, come on...sit down. I'm trying to help you, but you have to calm down, okay?" Venus nodded and sat down, brushing tears from her face. "I still think our best bet is manslaughter. If we can also get him charged with something drug related at the same time...we might be able to apply the three strikes rule and put him away for good."
There was a knock at the door. Blaze sighed. "Yes?"
Her secretary, Velvet, poked her head around the door. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but Dolcetto is on line three, calling back about that one client of hers. And Roast is on line one for you, as well."
"And you're telling me because...?"
"I have to go." She raised her hands showing off the handcuffs. "The Man didn't like that new piece I performed at the mall today. Can you call Star and tell her? She'll know what's going on."
Velvet smiled, then shut the door again.
Blaze sighed and rubbed her temples. "I'm sorry about the interruption, Venus. It's ...it's a long story."
"Fuck!" Cola shouted, slamming down the phone. It missed the cradle and fell onto the floor.
"What's wrong?" Gothic asked, as he bent and picked the phone up, replacing it on the receiver.
Cola cursed again. "I called my credit card company to cancel my card, because I thought I lost it, right?"
"Well, it's not lost. I used it in Chicago yesterday."
Gothic looked puzzled. "But you weren't in Chicago..." He blinked. "Oh."
"Yeah. 'Oh' is right. Rum stole my credit card!" Cola began pacing around angrily. "He must have done it that night I let him stay at my place. I guess he skipped town when he found out Camel was arrested. He must have been buying from him and freaked out."
"Did you cancel the card?"
"Of course, but he's already charged over five hundred dollars worth of crap on it." Cola scowled. "You know, my card even has one of those little pictures of me on it, but I guess that doesn't really help when my goddamned twin steals it!" He pushed a bag of flour over angrily. The bag burst and flour spilled all over the counter and onto the floor.
"Feel better?" Gothic said gently.
"Yeah, actually." Cola smiled sheepishly as he looked down at the flour. "I'm sorry, I messed up your kitchen..." He looked around. "Is there a vacuum somewhere?"
Gothic smiled and walked towards his lover. "Don't worry about it," he said as he wrapped his arms around Cola.
Cola sighed, leaning his head against Gothic's chest."I wish my brother wasn't such a fuck up. He's stolen over a thousand dollars from me now...not to mention the time he stole my Walkman when we were fifteen."
He ran a reassuring hand down Cola's back. "Do you think you can get the money back?"
"I don't know..." Cola paused. "I didn't report it stolen, I just cancelled it. I mean, he's my brother..." He laughed, but it came out sounding more like a sob. He rested his head on Gothic's chest for a few minutes. "You smell good," he finally said, trying to change the subject.
"That stuff I bought at the store must be already working."
"Dork," Cola mumbled.
Gothic chuckled. "Hmm, now that I'm on your good side..." he said softly. "Maybe it's a good time to ask if I can dye my hair back?"
Cola looked up, grinning. "Nope. I said three months and I mean it." He reached up and tousled Gothic's hair. "We'll have to dye your roots soon, actually."
"Hey, I thought you gave that up..." Blackie plunked herself on one of the barstools, gesturing at Crystal's cigarette.
"Well, you know..." Crystal continued to wipe down the bar with one hand as she smoked with the other. "I told that to the cigarette machine, but it gave me them anyway...you really ought to get the fucking thing fixed..."
Blackie grinned. "Smart ass."
"Yeah, probably." Crystal said before looking at the clock and sighing. "Man, I'm glad we're closed."
"Yeah..." Blackie pushed her hair out of her face tiredly. "I hate catching Club 44's closing crowd. I'm too old to be shouting at leather daddies."
"I like it!" Blondie piped up cheerfully as he passed by with a tubful of glasses and bottles.
"That's cause you're a slut," Blackie said good-naturedly.
Blackie shook her head as Blondie disappeared into the back. "I don't know what I'm gonna do with that kid."
"He's happy, I guess." Crystal finished wiping down the bar and set her towel to the side. "You heading out?"
"Yeah." Blackie stood up and stretched tiredly. "Gotta get up early to see my parole officer."
"The one with the crush on you, right?"
"Right," Blackie replied with a grimace.
"Well, be careful."
Blackie rolled her eyes, waved and walked out of the bar, calling out goodbye to Blondie.
Crystal shook her head and turned to check the register one last time. She jumped, startled, when Blondie tapped her on the shoulder. "You like her."
"No I don't," she said, glaring at him.
He smirked. "Yes, you do."
She started counting cash with a sigh. "Fine, so what if I do? I'm not gonna be the substitute next to that grand image she has of Red."
Blondie leaned against the counter. "Well, you know, she's had the reality, she might be feeling not so idealistic..."
"No way. She's never done it before. And besides, I don't do the whole 'exploiting vulnerability' thing."
Blondie grinned. "Don't knock it until you've tried it. I know I have...just ask Cola."
"Cola?" Crystal frowned. "Asian guy whose boyfriend just bleached his hair?"
"That's the one."
"Forget it. Look, I used to know women who did that. One in particular. And I'm not interested in ending up like she did." She closed the cash register with a bang. "You ready to lock up?"
He shrugged. "Yeah, I guess." They turned to walk out. He hit the lights and the bar was plunged into darkness. "You know," Blondie said quietly, "you should always at least try -- if you like someone, you should always try...There was a guy and I..I didn't try hard enough and..." He broke off. "You see what I'm saying, don't you?"
Crystal smiled. "Yeah. Blondie, I see." She pulled the door open. "C'mon, you need a ride?"