in which our hero is rather forcefully introduced to the concept of flirting.
"Greetings, oh secretive conqueror of computers!"
"Hello. You're alone today?"
"Yeah, Haugtusla is off studying. She does that sometimes in spring, the owner is OK with it."
"Haugtusla? Ah. I see. But you don't study. You're a year older perhaps?"
"No, just a few months. She's in class B and I in class C actually."
"Yet she is studying and you are not."
"Tee hee. She is a bit driven in school matters. I guess she has a lot to live up to. Me, I read the night before the exam. Who goes around remembering things for 3 weeks??"
"Well, yeah, important things like clothes, sure. But school stuff?"
"To each their own."
"I will be sure to tell her that you asked for her. She'll be here on Saturday, you know. That's the day you usually come here."
"I guess it is, at that."
"By the way, I got the pictures."
"Ah yes. I hope they served a good purpose."
"Yeah. Too bad the first didn't develop right!"
"Ah. That sounds too bad, if she was looking so much forward to seeing them."
"Hee hee. So was I."
"I take your word for it."
Marianne looked him over, thoughtfully. "Since you are here anyway ... mind doing me a tiny little favor?"
"Depends on the favor."
"I need a hand, or rather two, back at the storage room. It won't take more than a minute. And don't worry, we'll keep our clothes on!"
"Obviously, since it takes less than a minute."
"Hahaha! Not all guys could say that!"
"I fail to see the humor in it. Now, what do you need done?"
"Come here." She led the way to the room behind the shop itself, through a door marked 'No entrance', which she left open. There were crates and shelves and stuff in various stages of unpacking. Evidently most of the wares were on display at any time, but there was always some stuff here too. The ceiling was higher here, and she pointed to a ventilator built into the wall in a corner, near the ceiling. She pressed a switch, and the rotating wings slowed down and fell silent.
"I'm a little bit too low. Could you lift me up so I could get a good look at the fan?"
"Unless you've got an adamantium skeleton, I think I could."
"I thought that was music."
"Well then. Prepare yourself."
She stood straight, facing the wall. Jon crouched, took hold with both arms around her legs, and lifted. Not for the first time, he reflected on how he could have wished to inherit demon strength too, or even instead of these other powers. Perhaps he was slightly stronger than the average programmer; that still didn't amount to much. Surely most men were stronger than he. Of course he had other benefits; but those were not of a nature he could safely flaunt.
He was not surprised when she asked him to lift her a bit higher, even though she should be able to see the fan fairly well as it was. As he had been standing behind her, there had been only her back to watch, and he doubted she would stop with that. She did not stop until he had a clear view of her bottom, at which time she had to lean heavily forward to inspect her target.
"This looks interesting" she said.
He could not agree more, and that was an unsettling observation. "Isn't this a needlessly complicated way to say 'kiss my ass'?" he asked.
She giggled. "You make it sound like a bad thing."
He closed his eyes. It was as he had thought, then. Her clothes, the way she moved, and when all else failed, the contrived excuses ... for some reason, she wanted to draw attention to her breasts and buttocks. As if that was needed, for a woman. She already had a boyfriend, probably not her first, who she shared bedroom with from time to time. So she could not be unaware of how a woman's physical attributes influenced a man. Why then did she persist in this?
"Which part of the chicken do you prefer?" she asked, "breast or leg?"
He steadied his breath. "Wings."
Concentrate on your breathing, the way you've learned. Control your breath and you will control you mind; control your mind, and you will always control your body. He wrapped himself in the Silence, a bubble of emptiness around his soul. Her laughter hit the Silence like rain hitting a window pane, and slid down the outside. Keep breathing. Each heartbeat loud, like a sledgehammer against the barrier around his mind. Keep breathing, that is all.
Finally she straightened. "I guess our minute is at an end."
"Good. My arms are growing as long as an octopus'."
"Only your arms? How do I compare to Haugtusla?"
"What game are you playing, Mary-Ann? And don't tell me it is about the fan, or the freezer. Why is it important to you that I pay attention to your body? Why do you ... take risks, like that?"
"Marianne. My name is Marianne. Can you say that?"
"OK, Marianne. Can you answer me now? Why do you dress to emphasize your hemispheres? Why do you move the way you do, why do you stretch and lean and bend to show off like that? Do you want me to desire you?"
"My, you are much more forward than I expected. I always figured you the shy type."
"You don't know me in the least. Do you mind answering truthfully?"
"Sure. Have you, like, ever heard about flirting? You don't seem to know the first thing about it."
Jon shrugged. "I am a programmer, not a courtier."
"Flirting is not a profession. I believe it is called a social skill. It is a way to make others feel better, and you are supposed to know it well before your age. Did you grow up in Jehovah's Witnesses or something?"
"OK, here is how it works. Flirting means to see the other as a sexual being, even if you don't go on to mate with them. When guys tell me that I look sexy, I feel energized, like I got new batteries, you know? And they don't have to say it either, like 'you look sexy' – that's kinda clumsy really. All they have to do is look at me to admire me, and I will notice. If I have my back turned, you cold slow down your steps when you pass me, for instance, and I will notice that. Of course, you could 'accidentally' brush up against me too. Grabbing my butt would be kinda rude, although truth to tell I don't mind unless the guy is big, scary or creepy. Grabbing breasts is a big no-no unless we are really good friends or it's a wild party. And even then, my boyfriend would probably not be happy."
"There is always that. If you have a boyfriend, why would you want others to think of you as a 'sexual being'?"
"Huh? Because there are other sexy girls than me in the world! Not quite as sexy, of course – just kidding – but the more compliments I get, the more I feel that I climb in the World Cup of Sexiness. So the more self assured I get. It is a virtuous circle, only without the virtue."
Jon was genuinely intrigued now. "So you try to make me feel better by waving your butt at me?"
"Of course! And you should try to make me feel better by hinting that I am darned sexy."
"I apologize for underestimating you. I thought you were just a shallow slut."
"Huh? I am a shallow slut! I am just a highly intelligent and skillful shallow slut! My idol is Madonna, one of the world's shallowest sluts with an IQ of a couple hundred. Perfecting the art of shallow sluttiness!"
"Can we be friends?"
"I don't see why not, since I'm not gonna sleep with you anyway. But right now I have a shop to look after, before those sneaky old pensioners come in and hobble off with my canned soup and cat food without paying."
"Oh. Of course."
"Oh, and one thing before you go. Don't try this on Haugtusla. I don't know what's wrong with her, but she's just like you, clueless. Handle her with care or I will come over and ... sit on you."