AnimeCon Harem Pt. 02

byFortySixtyFour©

"So we can stay with you?" Emily asked, sounding adorably hopeful.

"'Course you can," Brian said. "It'll be just like the old days."

"Well not just like the old days." Emily declared. "This time, it's gonna be even better."

"You might be right this time," Brian said, chuckling.

"I'm always right. But this time, Brian, listen, there's... well, I..."

"Hmm?"

"Uh, it's nothin', it's nothin'. Thanks for lettin' us stay room with you tomorrow, really. I gotta... I gotta go. See ya tomorrow, Brian."

"Hey wait, Emmie?"

"Yeah?"

"Have you seen Chloe at all?"

There was a prolonged silence on the other end of the line, and he had that unpleasant gut feeling he used to get around Chloe, that feeling when he realized too late that he'd said just the wrong thing. For some reason he even imagined a look of distaste and disapproval souring Emily's normally perky features.

"She... uh, yeah, I saw her," Emily reluctantly replied. "She's been pissy."

"Did she say something?"

"She's always saying things, she won't fucking let up," Emily hissed. "I've about had it. Like, someone's gonna find her accidentally fallen down an elevator shaft somewhere. Onto some bullets. If she says anything about you to me again... look, I can't be responsible for what happens, 'kay?"

"That bad, huh?"

"...Yeah," Emily huffed. "That bad."

"That's... well, that's normal," Brian said with difficulty, frowning. "After a relationship, for her to feel that way, you know."

There was silence on the other end of the line for a while.

"Brian, don't fucking make excuses for her anymore." Emily finally said, her voice quiet and a little cold. "I've really gotta go. Talk to ya tomorrow. And thanks again. Later, guy."

"Hey wai--" he began, but she'd already ended the call. He stood there silently for a few seconds with the phone to his ear. She's always taken my side with things, Brian thought, showing a faint smile. Wonder if she'd feel the same way if she knew what a crush I had on her in high school. Would we have still been friends like this?

"Someone checkin' in on you, huh?" Kelly asked, sounding amused.

"Nothin' like that," Brian replied, tossing his phone back into his things. "'Nother friend of mine, Emily, she and our friend Rebecca need a place to stay for the con tomorrow."

"Will you need us to find somewhere else to crash tomorrow?" Kelly asked.

"All of us'll fit in here just fine," Brian assured her. "Our first couple times here at AnimeCon, we had seven of us packed in a room just a little bigger than this. S'part of the whole anime convention experience."

"So... okay, on that note, now I've gotta ask," Kelly said, "What's up 'tween you and Stephanie? I mean, I know you mentioned earlier today that you're recently single, but are the two of you like a thing, or gonna be a thing?"

"What do you mean?" Brian asked innocently, and Kelly shot him a sardonic are you fucking kidding me look.

"Okay, okay... I feel like we could be a thing," Brian admitted. "I think we're both interested, but... well, we just met today, I don't wanna rush anything, we're definitely not ready for that."

"Well, what if she was ready?" Kelly said. "Could you be ready, like, what would it take?"

"What's it matter? I mean, why? Did she say something?" Brian asked, curious.

"We talked for a while. She's into you, but like, she actually wasn't even gonna call you about being stranded and roomless. She was all against it... until I mentioned that it could be like, an opportunity, and that really flipped her gears or something. It's definitely like she's wantin' you to take a shot."

"Ah... opportunity. I did say she was my opportunity. That's from stuff we were talking about earlier today," Brian mused, thinking back. "You ever hear the phrase, 'Luck is when preparation meets opportunity?' "

"Nope," Kelly shook her head.

"Well, I was saying that rather than chalking things up to good fortune, I've got to appreciate the people who... helped my circumstances. Emily, that girl I was just on the phone with, she got me back on my feet, prepared me to come have fun at the con after my breakup. And meeting Stephanie really gave me this opportunity to... well, not be as miserable as I thought I would, I guess," Brian shrugged.

"Okay. But what are you actually gonna do about it? Are you gonna take advantage of the opportunity?" Kelly smirked. "We called you because she obviously wants there to be like, a chance for something to happen. Isn't it just a missed opportunity if you don't make a move, then? Guys are supposed to be like, proactive, take initiative and make the first moves, you know?"

"I can understand why she'd be enthusiastic," Brian said uneasily. "But I'm getting the impression that, in a lot of ways, this is her first... kind of this experience. So, I don't want to push things too fast."

"Fuck that. You like her, right? Push her into things, push her into everything. She's already twenty-two for Christsakes, and she hasn't even... she hasn't, uh..." Kelly quirked her lip as if realizing she might've let slip too much. "Listen, you kissed her today, right?"

"Yeah," Brian admitted sheepishly. "But it was, uh, I realize I shouldn't have, I didn't plan it out or anything. It was outta the blue, kinda 'cause she dared me to. Was one of those moments where the vibe is right, and it seems like she's sending cues, and it just... seems like the right thing to do, you know?"

"Why're you getting all defensive about kissing her?" Kelly snorted. "Kissing a girl you just met's kind of... well, badass?"

"Just something I'm readjusting to, I guess," Brian explained with a chuckle. "You see, my ex, she was always stressing that acting without explicit consent was always a form of... well, a part of rape culture. So all day I've been feeling kinda guilty for kissing Stephanie without... asking for her permission or like, really confirming that it was gonna be okay with her. I mean, sure, it felt like she was flirting with me, but that doesn't--"

"That's retarded," Kelly said, rolling her eyes. "You don't have to ask for permission for every little thing and make sure it's okay, that's your ex bein' a control freak. Guys are expected to read the mood, take charge, and know exactly what to do. That's masculine. That's what's sexy."

"Chloe, uh, my ex would definitely disagree with that," Brian said with a bitter smile.

"And look where it got her," Kelly countered with a dismissive laugh. "She's gone, she's outta your life. Doesn't matter what she thought, what do you actually think?"

"About Stephanie? I'm gonna... well, I want to take things slow, not take things further before she's really ready. I'm a mess right now anyways."

"She's not gonna be gettin' any readier than she is," Kelly grumbled. "And she shouldn't be! I've always hated that whole mentality."

"What mentality?" Brian asked.

"Thinkin' a girl needs to be ready for things so she can safely experience them. Trying to ever so delicately ease her into things as if life and love is just this awful, dreadfully traumatizing thing. Take off the kiddie-gloves, for fuck's sake. You're coddling her, you're watering down the experience, and worst of all, you're holding back. That's dishonest."

"Being careful with things isn't dishonest," Brian said in exasperation.

"Here, I've got a weeb way to put it for ya," Kelly said. "My mom was a registered nurse, and she told me about this stuff in Japan. Didja know over there they're real crazy 'bout hand sanitizer and cleanliness, and like, wearing those medical-looking face-masks that block germs in public when colds are going around?"

"That's called courtesy, it's this weird cultural thing over there."

"Funny. But yeah, when they do get colds, they don't just shrug it off like we do. They're actually like, bed-ridden and near death and shit, because they're so focused with preventing germs everywhere that their immune systems have never been challenged, and like, toughened up. So when they do ineva... uh... inevibly? Is that right?"

"Inevitably?"

"That's it, when they do inevitably catch a cold, their bodies aren't equipped to deal with it. Do you get what I'm saying here? If you shelter a girl from too much, if all you do is 'play it safe' and take it slow with her, your relationship ends up weak."

"That's... certainly one way to look at things. But it's not just her, either. I just got out of a nasty relationship, and I'm not gonna press my baggage and problems from all of that onto Stephanie," Brian argued. "That wouldn't be remotely fair."

"Fuck fair," Kelly said. "That's you deciding things all... one-sidedly. What if we--uh, what if she wants to help? What're you really gonna accomplish by keeping a distance up when she wants to get closer?"

"I don't get it," Brian chuckled, running his hands through his hair. "Why're you pushing this so much, like, what's your angle?"

"You gave me this," Kelly dangled her convention badge from its lanyard, and then used it to gesture to the room around her. "And you set me up with all of this. I'm just tryin' to earn my keep here, alright? You look out for me, I'm gonna look out for you. So let me look out for you!"

"All of that was no-strings-attached. I don't want you thinking you have some obligation to--"

"Aren't we friends though? I mean, just what am I to you?" Kelly asked, cutting him off.

"You can't pull the friend card on day one," Brian pointed out. "That's like asking for your vacation day during job orientation."

"...Okay, then. Maybe I've been goin' about all of this the wrong way, if you don't really think of me as a friend yet..." Kelly mused, a sly smile slipping across her features.

"That's not what I said," Brian said.

"Steph's a sweet girl, and I do like her. But from what you're saying, maybe she's not really what you need right now? You did just get out of a long relationship, and Stephanie... she doesn't really even know the ropes yet. If you're not comfortable with the situation, like, taking initiative and introducing her to your... needs, you're headed right back into another long, messy slog without any emotional... relief."

"Relief? My needs? That's the last thing anyone should be worried about right now," Brian laughed.

"That's naive," Kelly chided, her voice dropping to almost a whisper. "Look, I'm no stranger to rough break-ups. In a serious relationship, you invest all these big pieces of yourself. And, when it all ends... well, s'not like you get your change back. You're gonna have all these empty aches inside of you that'll keep reminding you of her, and they're not gonna really heal 'til you can forget."

"What can heal you is... affection. Intimate affection. Being shown physically that someone else is attracted, cares for you, accepts you. Wants you, wants to put in effort for you. Minds are complicated, and it's easy to doubt words, but with the physical... well, bodies are honest. Besides, sometimes you just need to get laid, it's healthy. I know I definitely need some action this weekend," Kelly said, flicking her brandy-brown eyes back to him meaningfully.

"Yeah? Well, I wish you the best of luck with that," Brian said, grinning. Is she baiting me on behalf of Stephanie? Or does she just want to mess around with my head? She seemed fairly sincere earlier, too... What's going on?

"I don't need luck," Kelly said with a confident laugh. "What'd you say about luck before? Luck is when... effort begets opportunity?"

Close enough. You have the idea of it, what was important, Brian thought, remembering Stephanie's words. For a moment, his head whirled as these ideas and coincidences seemed to align themselves together. If Stephanie represents my opportunity, maybe she's been Kelly's opportunity, too? I'd have never run into Kelly, or given Kelly my spare pass if not for Steph, and if she hadn't called me tonight from Stephanie's phone, I'd never have invited them to stay with me. Both times it was--

"I make my own luck," Kelly declared, a finger toying with her tank top at the crook of her cleavage and teasing it lower. "Maybe, do you wanna... fool around?"

The tipped shapes of her nipples distended the shifting fabric as Kelly leisurely inched the neckline of her garment down, revealing more and more of her tantalizing skin. In the span of a slow breath, she'd tugged that hem nearly to her navel, her lovely breasts nearly spilling free... when the hush of the spraying shower water inside the bathroom cut off, followed by the sound of the shower curtain being drawn open.

In unison, Kelly and Brian exchanged guilty looks followed by laughter. Coughing nervously, she released the fabric and let her neckline return to position with a distracting jiggle. This girl's absolutely dangerous, I almost froze up and lost it there...

"Meaningless sex wouldn't get anyone anywhere," Brian said, a bitter smile crossing his face. "It's always a terrible idea."

"That's small-minded," Kelly said, scowling playfully. "Just because it's not part of some deep, committed relationship doesn't automagically make sex meaningless. A meaning can be something as simple as, like, 'I don't wanna be alone with my thoughts tonight,' or 'Please help me forget him.' Or her, I guess, in your case. And a lot of sex in relationships is meaningless; you just end up fuckin' outta convenience, without any real reason or significance."

"You know what I like about you, Kelly?" Brian asked, looking thoughtful.

"What's not to like, I'm pretty fuckin' amazing?" A cocky, genuine smile broke the surface of her cool facade, and Brian felt himself smiling in return.

"I like that you're this total opposite side of the spectrum from my ex, this completely other perspective," Brian chuckled. "It's refreshing. I mean, neither of you are right at all. You're both pointlessly persistent and take your ideologies to these weird extremes, but still. It's nice."

"That's rude," Kelly scoffed. "I've been being serious with you."

"Have you?" Brian wondered. "It's kinda weird that you're pressing your point so much, like, why, why're you so adamant about it?"

"I'm here lookin' out for you," Kelly insisted, pouting. "And you're here being a stubborn jackass. You're really not gonna make a move on Stephanie, then?"

"Tonight? Of course not," Brian answered.

"Well... we'll see about that, won't we?" Kelly remarked with a mysterious smile.

The bathroom door opened, releasing a dramatic whirl of steam as Stephanie stepped out after her shower. She wore simple blue pajama bottoms, and an oversized T-shirt featuring a faded soft-drink logo hung loosely on her petite frame. Her skin was flushed from the heat of the water, her pink and blonde shoulder-length hair fluffy from being dried. It was an appealing look, but Brian had trouble putting his finger on just exactly why. This isn't the Stephanie everyone gets to see, this is her out of costume, out of normal clothes even... this is her when she wants to relax and be comfy, he guessed. It was an intimate look, and she was cute as hell.

Chloe had always insisted on donning a bathrobe and pulling her damp hair up into a towel-wrapped bundle on her head after showers, which to Brian somehow felt stuffy and prim. Fuck. Stop remembering her.

Stephanie turned away from the mirror, paused when she realized his attention was on her, and offered a nervous smile that immediately eclipsed errant memories of his ex-girlfriend. "It, uh... I don't think it came out at all. Still very pink, uh, in the same places." Oh, right. Her hair.

"Here, lemme take a look," Kelly offered, withdrawing a brush from her bag and directing Stephanie in front of her easy chair. "You showering too, Brian?"

"Nah," Brian replied. "I'll wait and take one tomorrow, after my morning run."

"Ew, run? Are you one of those weird morning people?" Kelly asked as she stroked carefully through the tufts of Stephanie's mottled hair.

"Something like that," he replied. "The loop I do in the mornings back home gets old, so the change of scenery'll be nice."

"That's... cool, I guess. So you run. You're a geek and a runner?"

"Yeah. Wakes me up, clears my head and gets me going, you know? Plus, I don't want to be this morbidly obese for the rest of my life, so I've gotta do something, you know?" Brian joked.

"You're not fat at all," Stephanie predictably protested. "You're perf-, uh, you're just, ah, just fine the way you are."

"Well, hey, it's late. You guys feel free to take the bed," Brian chuckled, "I've got the floor over here."

"What?" Kelly asked, giving him an incredulous look as she gently pulled the brush through Stephanie's hair. "Uh, no? You're not sleeping on the floor 'cause of us, that's stupid."

"I'm fine, don't worry about it," Brian said. He'd slept alone on the floor a fair amount over the course of his relationship with Chloe. After all, the couch in their shared apartment had been slightly too short for him to sleep comfortably on.

"You, uh, can't sleep on the floor," Stephanie protested, shooting Kelly a desperate glance for help. "It's you, ah, it's your room, you let us stay, so you can't, I mean, if anything, we should sleep on the floor."

"You're my guests, what kinda hospitality would that be?" Brian asked, putting on his charming grin. "And more importantly, you're girls. There's no way I'm letting delicate and lovely creatures such as yourselves sleep on the floor like common beasts." Chloe woulda murdered me for saying something flippant and sexist like that, even though she probably would've agreed with me.

"You're not sleeping on the floor," Kelly insisted.

"Hey now," Brian said. "It's my room, since when do either of you get a say in where I sleep? It's not a big deal."

"Since we actually care, and any of us sleeping on the floor is dumb? We'll all fit on the bed together if we're cozy," Kelly argued. She tossed her brush back into her purse and carefully smoothed Stephanie's hair down the nape of the shy girl's neck with her hands.

"Are we cozy? Sleeping in the same bed when we've all just met is kinda weird, isn't it?" Brian pointed out. "I'd be pretty self-conscious in bed next to you girls, you know? I mean, I can keep my hands to myself, but that doesn't mean I'd sleep well."

"Who asked you to keep your hands to yourself?" Kelly retorted, grinning. "Right, Stephanie?"

"Uhm, wh-what?"

"See? She's uncomfortable," Brian pointed out.

"We're, uh, well I'm fine with sleeping anywhere, really," Stephanie interjected weakly. "I just, um, I don't want you to have to sleep on the floor because of me. I'll feel bad. Please."

"Ugh. Look, just drop the stubborn gentleman act," Kelly groaned. "You're a guy, and you're actually gonna refuse to climb into bed with us?"

"Now that's sexist," Brian countered playfully, pulling back the bedspread. "You guys want the sheets, or the comforter? Take your pick."

"W-we could vote," Stephanie suggested. "That would, be, ah, be fair?"

"It's my room, how is voting fair?" Brian asked.

"How 'bout we compromise here?" Kelly proposed. "We can have a little wager, or like... a game or something, and the winner gets to decide."

"Like what?"

"Oh, I dunno... why don't we play truth or dare? It's fun, plus it'll help us get to know each other a little better. We're all in this room together now, we don't gotta be strangers."

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