Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School

by brooklinegirl



For the Midsummer Fic Challenge. Many thanks for inspiration, beta, and several key lines from the wondrous ms. Pearl-o. Apologies to Estrella for, uhm, Don McKellar's existence

The music in the store had been a good idea. The job had been a good idea. Hope wasn't stupid; she knew this was a dead-end job. It was, in fact, a job a trained monkey could do - a poorly trained monkey, even - but it felt good. It felt good and happy and like living. This dumb job in this dumb store felt like she was living her life, and she liked that.

"Turn it up," she called to Newbie, who was up front, leaning on the counter in his yellow and black checked shirt, reading the latest gossip rag. She stood up on her toes so she could see him over the boxes of dishwasher detergent on the shelf in front of her. "Turn it up!" she said louder. He reached up and back, nudging the volume up without ever taking his eyes off of the magazine.

"We'll dance in the garden, in torn sheets in the rain," Hope sang out loud as she finished pricing the sponges and stacking them neatly on the shelf. She twirled the price gun around with a flourish, and picked up the empty cardboard boxes. She headed up front, doing a little shimmy to the music on the way.

"Wild girls and boys going out for a big time," she sang, dropping the boxes in front of the counter and leaning forward over it, nudging Newbie out of the way so she could snag the box cutter from the drawer. He moved aside, and she noticed his lips were moving as he read.

She grinned to herself and set to work cutting the boxes down flat.

"Hey!" said Newbie all of a sudden, startling her. "Did you know that Malcolm-Jamal Warner was named after Malcolm X and legendary jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal?" he asked her intently in his rapid-fire tone.

Hope blinked. "No. I did not know that."

"Yeah, me neither," said Newbie, tossing the magazine aside and grabbing a couple of boxes of canned cat food from the pile of product they had been slowly shelving all night long. Tuesdays were Hope's late night at the store - they stayed after work for two hours, ostensibly straightening, shelving, and cleaning, but more likely gossiping and chatting and haphazardly putting products away.

Newbie hefted one box to his shoulder, awkwardly picking up the other one under his arm, and headed down the aisle. Hope finished cutting down her boxes, and tossed the box cutter aside. Hopping up on the counter, she sat and swung her legs to the music. She watched Newbie's high-spiked, brilliantly-blond hair as he bobbed down the aisle.

"That reminds me," Newbie called out. "Don't let me forget to give you the tape to give to Curtis."

"What, of the Cosby show?" Hope called back doubtfully. She jumped off the counter and trailed him down the aisle.

"No, of Klanfrontation." Newbie was bobbing and weaving, a can of cat food in each hand, boxing with the boxes of dry cat food, apparently.

"Klanfrontation," Hope said hesitantly.

"Yeah, you know, the long robes, pointy hats, marshmallow roasts." Newbie paused. "Something like that. It's the-"

"Rex Reilly Show," Hope finished with him. Of course it was. What was she thinking? "Okay. Remember the tape," she said dutifully. "Only, wow, Curtis is actually missing an episode?"

Newbie looked at her and scratched the back of his head. "He said you taped over it."

Hope stared at him, outraged. "I don't tape anything! I don't watch anything, because Curtis always has the remote."

Newbie shrugged and ducked his head, pricing more cans and tossing them on the shelf. "That's what he said, is all."

"Yeah, well." Hope angrily straightened the cans. "He's lying."

Newbie stopped and leaned against the shelf, looking at her curiously. "Does it matter?"

"I just mean - Curtis doesn't - I -" Hope blew out her breath, and stared at Newbie. "You know what?" she said.

"No," he said, grinning. "What?"

"It really doesn't." She grinned back.

"Except to Curtis."

"Except to Curtis," she agreed.

"So donít let me forget the tape." Newbie ripped open the second box. "Oh, hey!" He looked up, a delighted smile spreading across his face. "This is my favorite song! The Ramones!"

He twirled in the aisle, tossing a can of cat food from hand to hand, and Hope looked on, giggling. He grabbed her hand and pulled her forward, twirling her in against him, then out. She banged against the shelves, but was laughing too hard to care. Newbie was grinning widely, his arms flailing as he danced, looking like a totally adorable dork. He pulled her close again, and stepped on her foot, and spun them both around, like they were ballroom dancing to the Ramones.

She tripped over his feet, and he grabbed her to keep her from falling, and the two of them stumbled against the shelves, sending several cans of cat food rolling down the aisle. Hope laughed breathlessly up into Newbie's face, and he sang, "She's a punk, punk, a punk rocker," and leaned in and kissed her.

Hope froze, startled, the shelf digging into her back. He was - Newbie was - they were kissing, and that wasn't - she shouldn't -

Newbie pulled back a little and his eyes were wide and amused and a little concerned. "Is this okay?" he asked. "I could -" He pulled back a little more, then leaned back in, one eyebrow going up. "Do you want -"

"I - yeah," she said, putting on hand on the back of his head and pulling him forward again. "Yeah," she said, kissing him, and he made a happy, enthusiastic noise, and pushed his tongue into her mouth. He tasted like pink bubble gum and he kissed with his whole body, pressing against her, one arm sliding awkwardly around her, while his other hand slid down to her ass, no hesitation.

Hope moaned against his lips a little - because my god, how hot was this, just - it was the enthusiasm he put into this, he wanted this, wanted her, and they were friends, sure, but being wanted like this was good, it was great, it was - different. Really very different, having the entirety of someone's attention, and she thought she maybe needed to take advantage of that.

"God," she murmured against Newbie's lips.

"Yeah," he breathed. She pushed forward against him, turning him around so she was the one who had him pressed back against the shelves.

"Yeah," he said again, looking at her, wide-eyed and pleased, "Yeah, okay," and then he was kissing her again, missing her lips the first time, but that was okay, because he kissed his way to her neck, sucked there sloppily for a second - God, that made her toes curl - before working his way to her mouth again, muttering, "Sorry" against her lips before slipping his tongue into her mouth again.

She thought it was a good thing he had his arm wrapped around her tight, because he was kissing her so hotly, she couldn't feel her knees.

She pressed against him, kissing him back the best she knew how, one hand wrapped in his truly tragically-patterned shirt, the other on his hip, hanging on. His hands were in constant motion, stroking her ass, her back, her hair. She was dizzy with it, and barely realized when he slid his hand to the front of her shirt, undoing the buttons clumsily. "Yeah," she moaned, as he slipped his hand inside and stroked her breast, "God, I - yeah."

He was rocking forward against her, and she could feel him, hard against her hip, and realized with a start that she was wet, really wet, more turned-on than she'd been in ages. This was - he was - god, Newbie -

He ducked his head, and pushed her shirt aside with one hand, nudging the cup of her bra down and running his tongue over her nipple. And that was good, great, it was -

"Oh god," she said, opening her eyes, and staring up at the fluorescent lights. "Curtis."

"Newbie," said Newbie, not even looking up from her breast before taking her nipple in his mouth again.

"No," she said, pushing him away. He stopped, giving her nipple one last disappointed lick.

"I can't do this to Curtis," she explained, tugging her shirt closed. "I just - it isn't fair to him, he trusts me."

"Okay," Newbie sighed, nodding and adjusting himself in his pants. "You sure?"

She noticed she still had one hand clutching at his shirt. "Um, yes," she said, letting go abruptly and patting the wrinkled fabric back into place. "I'm sure."

He shrugged, and sighed. "Okay. I get that." He grinned at her. "That was fun though, huh?"

She grinned back helplessly. "Yeah," she said, grabbing the empty box from the floor and heading up to the front of the store. "Yeah, it was."

She glanced back once as she headed up the aisle, and he was leaning back against the shelves, tossing a can of cat food in one hand and still grinning at her.

Okay, Hope thought as she tugged her coat closer around her on her walk home. Okay. She could do this. No problem. It was just a kiss. Or - okay. Some kisses. A few kisses. Not a big deal. No deal at all, really! This was Newbie, after all. Newbie! They'd be fine. Newbie was cool. Newbie was -

Newbie was Curtis's friend. Curtis's only friend, really. And Hope had just made out with him in the cat food aisle.

Hope sighed, and stood outside their apartment building, the plastic bag with Curtis's Frooty-O's in it dangling from her hand. She gazed up at the dim windows of their apartment, and thought about Curtis sitting there, innocently watching his show, and not even knowing that his girlfriend had just randomly - though, Hope thought to herself, sniffling, not maliciously - made out with his only friend.

She was an awful person, Hope thought, as she trudged up the stairs. And she'd even forgotten to get the Klanfrontation tape from Newbie.

She sucked.

Curtis was on the couch when she walked in, and she waved nervously to him from the door to the living room and scurried to the bathroom. She pushed her coat off and hung it on the doorknob, and was brushing her teeth in front of the mirror when she heard Curtis yelling her name.

She brushed harder and ignored him.


She turned on the water full blast and kept brushing.

"HOPE," Curtis bellowed.

She sighed, and spat, and trudged to the living room, wiping her mouth on a hand towel. "Yeah?" she said, peering at him through the door.

"My tape?" Curtis asked, not looking away from the TV.

"Oh." Hope drifted into the room, and sat down on the chair, twisting the towel nervously in her hands. "I was just - Newbie and I were - he told me to remind him but - " She took a breath. "I forgot."

"Oh," said Curtis, glancing at her. "Tomorrow, then?" he asked, shifting back to sprawl out more on the couch.

"Yeah, I'll - yeah," she said. "I'll bring it home tomorrow."

"Okay," Curtis said agreeably. "Did you bring the Frooty-O's?"

"Yeah," she said, sighing and getting up. "They're in the kitchen."

"Get me some?" he called as she headed down the hall.

"Sure," she called back miserably. It was the least she could do.

It took her three days to drive herself crazy enough that she had to tell Curtis. Work had been normal enough - Newbie was so caught up in his own little world that she didn't even have a chance to feel uncomfortable before he was telling her some long and involved story about garden gnomes that she didnít completely understand, but was grateful for regardless, since by the time he was done, they were into the routine of work, and the We Can't Make Out In the Cat Food Aisle Anymore conversation never even had to happen.

But at home, she was making herself nuts, and finally, she sidled into the living room close to midnight one night. Curtis was enthralled with his third watching of Klanfrontation, and didn't even seem to notice when Hope sat down beside him, her legs pulled up, her arms wrapped tightly around her knees. She politely waited until the closing credits started to run before saying, "Curtis?"

"Shh," he said, holding up one hand. "Barney Shuster, Alvin Crain, Sylvia Zimmerman," he muttered to himself as the names zoomed by up the screen. She waited, chewing on her thumbnail and staring at the side of his face. Finally, it finished, and he nodded, and smiled, and pressed Stop.

"Curtis," she said again.

"Yes, what?" he said, half turning toward her, keeping his eye on the blank TV.

"I just have to -" She stopped, breathed. "Curtis," she tried again, going for a firm, yet gentle, tone. "I have to tell you something."

"Mm-hmm," he said, fondling the remote, his fingers obviously itching to start flipping through channels.

"Curtis," she said once more.

"What," he said, finally focusing on her. "I'm right here, I'm listening. What, Hope?"

She closed her eyes tightly. "I - I sort of kissed Newbie in the cat food aisle," she said all in a rush.

"You sort of kissed who?" Curtis asked vaguely. She opened her eyes. He was still looking at her, and not the TV, which was good. Or - maybe it was bad.

"Newbie," she said again, cringing.

"You mean Craig."

"Um. Yes. Right." Hope leaned forward and grabbed both of Curtis's hands. He looked down at where she was touching him like he didn't even know her. "Listen to me, Curtis, it wasn't on purpose, I didn't mean to, it just happened."

"It just happened," Curtis repeated, looking right at her now.

She nodded several times. "It did. I didn't - and he didn't - we didn't mean to - It was a mistake." She took a breath, and put her hand on Curtis's face. "It was a mistake, Curtis," she said softly, desperately. "I love you. I didnít - I'm so sorry."

"A mistake," he repeated, still just looking at her.

"Yes," she said. "Iím sorry."

"Oh." He stared at her, and she gnawed on her lower lip nervously. "Well." He tilted his head a little. "Now I get a free one, right?"

She blinked. "What?"

He gestured at her with his hands. "You know, you cheat, I cheat."

Hope stared at him. "Curtis, what? No! It was a mistake."

"Right!" he said, still looking at her persuasively. "And now I get a free mistake."

Hope stared at him, horrified. This was not going anywhere near the way she had planned. She was going to throw herself on his mercy, admit she was wrong, beg his forgiveness, and offer him sex and Frooty-O's until he couldnít refuse. This was - not going the way she thought it would. This was crazy. This was -

"Do you have one?" she asked doubtfully. "A mistake, that you want to tell me about?" Had he cheated on her? Was that what this was, that now he could tell her, and not have to feel guilty? But with who? Who did he even see? Not that Meals on Wheels Lady. No. Right?

"No," he said, sounding completely reasonable. "But now I can make one. If the opportunity presents itself. Right?" He reached forward to snag the box of cereal from the table, and shoved a handful in his mouth, looking at her. "It's only fair."

She stared at him, confused, all turned around, just - "I - guess?" she said.

"Right!" he said. He flipped the VCR back on, and settled back on the couch. "There you go. Even steven."

"EvenÖsteven," she said slowly, sinking back and staring at him as he slouched there on the couch. Sure. Right. An eye for an eye and all that. She couldn't exactly argue, right? And besides - she took a deep breath, and relaxed a little bit. This was all hypothetical. Curtis didn't leave the house. Who would he kiss? She smiled a little to herself, settling back further on the couch, and slipping her feet under his leg. He patted her knee vaguely as he flipped through the stations. Who else would want him besides her?

There was something very comforting about that thought.

Two weeks later, Hope was coming home from the laundromat with a huge bag of clothes slung over her shoulder. She shoved the door open with her head and staggered right into Newbie. He reeled back, hitting the wall and almost going down.

"Oops!" said Hope. "Newbie, I'm sorry, I - "

"That's okay," Newbie said, hopping a little as he finished - doing up his pants? "No problem." He had his coat shoved under one arm, and it fell to the floor as he tried to shrug into his work shirt.

Hope dropped the bag of laundry on the floor with a thud. "I - Newbie, what are you - where's Curtis?"

Newbie gestured with his chin towards the living room. "Watching TV, what do you think?" he asked with a grin. He scooped up his coat from the floor, and headed out the door, careening off the jamb and stumbling down two stairs before he caught himself. "You're in at six tonight, right?" he asked.

"Yes," Hope said vaguely, staring at him.

"All right." He flashed her a smile. "See you then." He waved as he headed down the stairs, and Hope just stood there, staring after him for several moments. Finally she kicked the laundry bag out of the way, shoved the door closed, and went to the living room.

"Curtis," she said from the doorway. "Curtis, what was Newbie doing here?"

Curtis looked up at her for a second before returning his attention to the television. "Nothing. He was just - here."

Hope stood in front of the TV. "Curtis. This is important." He didn't look like he'd been doing - well, whatever it was he might have been doing. He wasn't any more disheveled than usual - though that was hard to tell - and his shirt was buttoned wrong, but then, it often was. She blew out her breath and said again, "Curtis."

He was leaning sideways, sprawled over the arm of the couch, craning to see the TV around her body. "What?" he said crossly.

Hope snatched the remote out of his hand and shut off the TV. He looked at her, aghast, and tried to grab the remote of out her hand as she slapped him away before finally settling back on the couch with his arms crossed petulantly across his chest. "Fine," he said, then reached forward and snagged his bowl of cereal from the coffee table.

Hope put one hand to her face where a headache was starting right behind her eye. "Were you and Newbie just -?"

Curtis stared at the blank TV and said, around a mouthful of cereal, "What?"

"Were you and he - you know?" He stared at her blankly. "Was that - your 'mistake''?

"Oh," he said, eating some more cereal. "Yeah, we were - " He made a vague gesture with the spoon.

"You and - I just - oh." Hope sat down, overcome with confusion. "Just - listen to me, okay, Curtis?" she said calmly. Very, very calmly. "Will you just please tell me, exactly, what you were just doing with Newbie?"

He paused, the spoon halfway to his mouth. "What, you want it in detail? I didn't know you were so kinky, Hope."

"That's not - no! I just -" She could feel herself blushing, it felt like her face was on fire, and now, great, she was picturing it, the two of them together here on the couch, and what they might have just been doing, apparently right before she came in, and - She put her face in her hands.

She felt Curtis's hand on her shoulder. "It's okay, Hope," he said. "A lot of girls find the idea of two men together very attractive. There's nothing to be ashamed about."

"Curtis!" She smacked his hand away, and then got up and smacked him in the head. "Kissing and - and - whatever you two were doing are two different things entirely," she yelled over her shoulder as she stormed away.

"Oh," he called after her. "Well, how was I to know that?"

Hope moaned and slammed the door to her room. Curtis made everything in the world impossible.

Much later than night, Curtis must have crawled into bed with her, because she woke up to him curled around her in the tiny bed. He was asleep, and she pushed herself up on her elbow and brushed the hair out of her eyes, and looked at him in the dim light. Maybe she had overreacted. Maybe he was just yanking her chain. He and Newbie couldn't haveÖ Really, they obviously both liked girls, in general - they obviously both liked her, in particular - and that was just -

Ridiculous, was what it was. Just something Curtis was saying to get her all worked up. Definitely.

She lay back down and pulled the covers up to her chin, then lay there staring at the ceiling. Only. Curtis wasn't one to let an opportunity pass, ever. He was the textbook definition of opportunist. And she'd given him free reign, really. And Newbie - well, Newbie didn't owe anyone anything. He was a free man. If he chose to do - well, whatever, then he could, and it would be nothing but really great for him. Why the hell would he say no?

And it wasn't like he and Curtis didn't have a lot in common. Curtis - up till the TV contest, at least - had really gotten along with Newbie. More than any other person she'd ever see Curtis interact with. So maybe, given the opportunity -

She sat up again and stared down at Curtis. "Curtis," she hissed, nudging his shoulder. "Wake up."

"Wha - ?" he said, pulling the corner of the pillow down over his face.

"Wake up." She poked him in the side of the head until his eyes opened and he was hazily focusing on her.

"What? Hope?" he said vaguely. "Sex? Okay," and he rolled on top of her.

"No, Curtis, just - oh." He was sleepily nuzzling at her neck, and his hand was stroking her thigh. It was - wow, the one thing about Curtis's total lack of a schedule is that he was ready for sex at pretty much any time. And regardless of any other failings, he was good at it.

"Wait a second," she said breathlessly at the ceiling.

"Hmmph?" Curtis was already working his way down her body, and his breath was hot against her stomach as he pushed her shirt up.

"No, just - " What, again? Oh, it was - "You and Newbie - you didnít really - ?" She lifted up the covers and peered down at him.

He looked up from between her thighs. "Oh, uh, yeah, we did. Wow, you're really interested in this." He propped himself up on his elbow, canting to one side. "Did you want to try a threesome?"

"What! No! I just - I didn't - "

"Okay, well, you think about it, all right?" he said agreeably, and headed back down between her legs.

Which wasn't something she was about to argue with. Because he was good at that, too. And if she liked it, then surely Newbie would like what Curtis did with his mouth, and -

No. No. She blushed desperately up at the ceiling and told herself firmly that she was not thinking about it - not even a little bit, not even at all - as she arched herself up against Curtis's tongue.

Still. Should the opportunity arise -

"Oh god," she muttered to herself, and closed her eyes.


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