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Heavy is the Head That Wears the Crown; Open sesame!
Topic Started: Jan 31 2018, 04:01 PM (643 Views)
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do you want to go to war, balakay?
[ *  *  *  *  *  * ]
The feeling overwhelmed him; at this very moment, there was only one thing on Connor Lorenzen's mind.

Murder.

He was certain; as soon as the clock moved forward another hour, he would be guilty of cold-blooded murder, and he'd enjoy every second of it.

The only problem now, he thought to himself as he surveyed the crowded mall food court, was where the hell he was going to sit.

This hamburger wasn't going to murder itself.

((Connor Lorenzen continued from Future Loves Me))

Balancing a couple of shopping bags in his left hand and the food tray in his right, Connor felt his mouth salivate at the juicy-looking slab of meat that he could virtually hear calling his name. His stomach was in perfect harmony with his salivary glands, and seemed to rumble on cue. Enough was enough: there had to be a table somewhere that he could plunk down at. It was a busy day here at Harrison Central, busy enough that it seemed half the city had decided to take their Sunday and converge upon the food court.

The burgers at Tony's were worth the hassle, though.

Tony's Burgers and Fries was a unique experience for a food court. Between the surly older man who was nearly always behind the counter and the no-frills buns that the burgers were served on, most people wouldn't expect to get anything worth making a stop for. There were plenty of other, less expensive options in the food court as it was. But something about a Tony's burger was just... Connor had never been able to explain it. He didn't treat himself often, once or twice a month, max, but when he did?

It was hard not to visit the mall without a visit to Tony's. Connor caught a whiff of the home-made onion rings that were still steaming next to his burger, and immediately felt his mouth water again. This was ridiculous. Could every table really be full? He was hungry, but not hungry enough to suffer the indignity of sitting on the floor in a crowded mall.

Some lines, he just wouldn't cross. His parents would never forgive him for sullying his image like that.

Neither would Connor.

Doing another cycle of the food court and shifting the two shopping bags in his hand, Connor's eyes finally lit up as he saw an opening. One table had just become available at the far end, and he quickly made up the distance, his long strides carrying him there before the young Asian couple that he saw eyeing the table as well. The man gave him a scowl as Connor beat him to the empty table, but Connor simply ignored it. He'd been here first and already done about six laps of the food court, so they could wait their damned turn.

Setting the tray down in front of him, he placed his bags on the seat next to him. It had been a fruitful shopping trip, and he only had one more stop that he needed to make before he could head home. There wasn't anything that he really needed to buy on this particular visit to the mall, but he'd been getting a bit of the cool treatment from Madison after he'd accidentally left her at school a few days prior. He'd been so concerned with the dent that he'd found in his car that he had blanked completely on the fact that his girlfriend was lurking around, waiting for him to finish his workout.

He'd gotten three quarters of the way home before he'd realized that he had forgotten her. Immediately Connor had texted her an apology and offered a lame excuse, one that he was certain Madison had seen right through. Instead of blowing up his phone and exploding though, she'd opted for the silent treatment, which for her, was unusual. Having known he'd screwed up, this expedition was his way of making amends. His next trip would be to her house, to offer gifts as restitution.

Hopefully she would accept his apology. He'd picked out a really stylish-looking jacket that he'd seen her eyeing the last time they'd been in the mall, and a pair of chartreuse yoga pants from the Lululemon store. Something about that colour tickled her fancy, and while it wasn't Connor's thing... who was he to argue with an angry girlfriend?

His secret weapon for this particular indiscretion though, was a small bag that lay inside of the bigger Forever 21 bag. Inside of it lay a particularly hilarious-looking flamingo stuffed-animal, bright pink with a funny smile on its face. Madison wasn't one for stuffed toys (as far as he knew), but her sister was developmentally delayed, and Connor knew she would enjoy it. Madison was generally pretty reticent when it came to matters about her sister, but Connor pitied the girl and always made an extra effort to be kind to Cassidy whenever he found himself over at her house. If the toy came from him, or came from Madison, it didn't matter. If you could help make your girlfriend's sister happy, how could that possibly not work in your favour?

He had it all figured out.

The table was one of those larger tables that allowed for anywhere from one to six people at it, but Connor only felt a miniscule amount of guilt at occupying it. He had to eat too. Wasn't his fault that there was nowhere else to sit. With a satisfied smile, he brushed his hair back, unwrapped the hamburger and sunk his teeth in.

The murder had begun.
---
The Future

The Past

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Blastinus
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(Mackenzie Baker start thread)

"Hmph...what to do..." Kenzie mused to herself, tray in hand, chicken sandwich rapidly cooling, four bags hooked on her arms and threatening to pull them right off. She'd picked a poor time to visit Harrison Central, it seemed, as just about everyone was there, packing the tables, the stores, the lines...She enjoyed a crowd, but even for her, this was just too much. She'd hardly had any time to relax in her favorite boutique without people trying to shove past her, and worse, while she was waiting to check out, she'd had to hear some middle school brats in front of her giggle loudly while pointing at her outfit. Nonstop.

And what, pray tell, was wrong with banana yellow and neon red? They were beautiful colors separately, so why not together?

Well, if nobody was going to open up a seat, it was time for Plan B. Scanning the tables, she searched for somebody she knew. Wouldn't be too hard, with how close the mall was to George Hunter. And sure enough, her eyes lit on him in no time at all; Connor Lorenzon, alone, at a wide table, with plenty of room. She'd known him for years and years, which is what tended to happen with most kids in that fenced-in neighborhood. Odd that Madison Springer wasn't with him, but that was all the better for her, since there'd be more space.

"Connor! Good to see you!" she exclaimed, sliding into a seat in front of him and letting her bags slip down to the floor. They were thick plastic, so no risk of the clothes inside picking up the stench of millions of sweaty feet. This stunt drew the attention of many other shoppers in a similar situation, but if their envious eyes were threatening to sear her flesh, she didn't feel a thing. Any public shame would be worth relieving the strain on her arms.

Heaving an exaggerated sigh, she unwrapped her sandwich and continued, "Surprised to see you alone here. Everything okay with you and Madison?" Some would say that was none of Mackenzie's business, but they would be wrong. EVERYTHING was Mackenzie's business, and she could be quite persistent.
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"Mmmfm!"

Holy hell, he'd almost choked. The shock appearance of Mackenzie Baker had happened at a tremendously fortuitous time: seconds before and he would have certainly sputtered in surprise. As it were, Connor tensed sharply as the gregarious girl slid into the seat opposite him, bags tumbling down as though she were making an entrance.

Of course she were making an entrance - this was Mackenzie, after all. She was hard to miss, vibrant (and unusual) colour-scheme and all.

Brushing away the momentary annoyance that her sudden appearance had almost led to the closing of his windpipe, Connor's expression lightened. He held up a finger and smirked as he took a moment to finish chewing the large bite of hamburger. Near-death experience aside, it tasted as great as it had smelled. Picking up his napkin and wiping the slight grease that had sputtered out when he'd been surprised, Connor picked up the bottle of water from his tray and uncapped it, taking a long drink and allowing the cool liquid to clear his throat of any leftover food. Coughing once, he apologized.

"My goodness, Mackenzie, y'all must be the only girl I know that can manage to announce herself and sneak up on you, all at once."

Connor took a breath and felt more composed. That was better - no more choking for the George Hunter High's star quarterback. As her second question resonated with him, he raised an eyebrow in surprise.

"Madison and I? Nah, we're all good. She's got some family business that she's taking care of today."

Denial: the best strategy. He'd known Mackenzie for a long time - her parents ran in the same circles and they lived in the same part of town, but Connor knew that the second she got even a smidge of something she considered juicy gossip in her head, half the school would know by the time he got to first period on Monday.

Nope, as far as Mackenzie needed to be concerned? Everything was a-okay.

"Now, I'm fixin' to whip up a little something for her for Valentine's Day, so I figured it was the perfect time to do a little shopping."

Spin: all lies, but explained away with a positive slant. His father would be proud. If Mackenzie did feel the need to run around and flap her gums, he could do better than being known as a guy who did nice things for his girlfriend. There were worse reputations a man could have in his high school.

He could be the shitter. Nobody wanted to be the shitter.

And there was always a shitter.

"I see you've gone and found yourself quite the bounty. What'd y'all do, go buy a whole new wardrobe? " Connor glanced down at the bags that had arrived haphazardly around their table with amusement, and grabbed an onion ring from his tray, taking a bite.
---
The Future

The Past

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Blastinus
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Oh dear, had she done that? Observing Connor's momentary distress, Kenzie considered reaching over and giving him a hearty slap on the back, as she'd only heard of the Heimlich and would likely just shatter his ribs in the attempt. But it seemed that he had the situation well in hand, so she just settled back into her seat as if she'd never considered saving his life at all. Always nice when problems resolve themselves without any work on her part.

Once the threat of the burger had passed, she took some tentative nibbles of her chicken sandwich in return. In truth, she would have preferred a salad with some nice juicy tomatoes, but the food court seemed to lean more towards the fast food-ish options: burritos, pizza, subs, everything a growing zit could ever ask for. Even the "chicken" had a suspicious breading about it that she was certain she'd come to regret in the near future, but what was one to do?

Nodding with an occasional "Uh huh?" or "Ohhh!" as he explained his Valentine's Day plans, Kenzie realized that she also needed to buy some cards herself. She'd have to swing by the book store on her way home, since they always stocked some amazingly sentimental ones. She just knew already that she'd up all night personalizing them for every one of her friends, but it'd be all worth it to see their beaming smiles.

Or they'd throw them in the trash the instant her back was turned. She'd forgiven whoever it was, but it still stung whenever she thought of it. Gifts weren't meant to be discarded, but to be cherished forever in a special place, and she for one couldn't understand how people could be so blase with what she gave them. How could anyone be so ungratef-

Oh, right, Connor was asking her a question about her recent purchases. With a light chuckle, she waved her hand and replied, "Oh please. You should see the size of my wardrobe. This should tide me over for..." she waved one of her bags back and forth as if weighing it. "Mmm...a month? You know the Goodwill on Dodds Avenue? I daresay I'm their number one supplier."

In truth, she hated wearing clothes that didn't have that new outfit feel to them. Once used, they just were never the same. She could tolerate it for a week or two, but her attire never lasted very long. Still, as long as they went to a higher cause, it hardly mattered now, did it? Let the needy have her spoiled garments and she could live with something shiny and fresh.

"Sooooooo," she asked, trying to catch a peek into his own bag, "what are you getting her? Don't leave me in suspense now."
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Mom looked distracted while she was eating. Her phone had rung several times since they'd sat down, and every trumpeting of Bey ringtones was pointedly ignored.

Eventually their never-peaceful lunch out came to an end.

Mom had insisted she would be spending more time out of the house. She needed 'time to herself'. To figure things out. To consider 'life choices'. Every person at that table knew what she meant. But every person at that table also talked around it. Joanne encouraged Mom to take time. To relax, to self-care.

To let her family fall further apart.

Mom had thanked Joanne so sincerely the exhausted tears had been filtered and strained through a smile. Mother and daughter had exchanged hugs. Bribes. Mom had insisted Joanne take a little extra handful of cash. Money earned became time well spent when a mall was involved.

She'd lost Mom, though. She was busy with her life.

Joanne couldn't be there for it.

((Joanne Coleman continued from Desperate Times))

A certain Harrison Central Food Court on a Sunday. Nobody on this earth had no time for that, yet fuck it they all came around anyways. This human-ing old haunt was from the days called 'yore' when Joanne had still insensitively called anime 'Chinese cartoons' because there'd also been a time when she had been unenlightened, uninformed. Years of the most Circadian rhythm woke of brain ascensions later... Joanne Coleman, exhibit A. Walking the halls of a food court where she knew every nostalgia-blast neon sign like she knew the curves of her own body. '쿡', A+ with the bomb '백김치'. 'Sun Ray BBQ', a solid A with the pulled pork from heaven's own slab of fatty ham. 'Tony's Burgers and Fries', A+ with the simplicity is an art form postmodernism... Yes ma'am! The familiar smell of grease left her shook-eth. The familiar sizzle of loud friers left her brain cook-eth. TL;DR, she could totes go for seconds right about now. She dodged around a Vietnamese couple wandering around, looking about aimlessly, looking lost for salvation. Joanne pointed them at her recently abandoned table. Warp speed, my little ones. Fast as your feet will carry you.

She saw a table. Two occupants, two empty seats.

Kenzie, Connor! Her people! ... Uh, at least to the point that she could casually throw first names at them! Okay, real talk. Look. Hashtag real quick maths upcoming: anyone who hitched their wagon to any amount of either the Langley and/or Springer 'Axis of Military-Industrial Complex, Methicillin-resistant brand Evil' were immediately inviting a violent full-body tumble through the rumor mill. But these two? Relatively hands clean, Pontius Pilate gave them the A+ bill of hygiene. They were both decent kids, who maybe needed to reconsider their tastes some, but heck. Joanne wasn't about to throw any judgement, no sir no ma'am, she kept herself humble. She was pretty sure a moment of her time here wasn't time wasted, not like she had the busy time to waste anyways.

Boisterous as ever- vroom vroom, bitches can't catch- Joanne politely forced herself into the seat beside Mackenzie with a fingers waggling wave and a smile parting her boldly red-painted lips. She'd gone with the classic today, white polo with the collar, black skirt. Classy? Classic? Peep-on-an-Egyptian-pharaohess? Yes yes and, um, yes. She stayed silent besides her loud body language. Respectful-like, kinda. Seemed like they were in the middle of a conversation, and Joanne had no intent to not accidentally eavesdrop on purpose.
V7

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Connor's eyebrows raised in amusement as Mackenzie assessed the length of time that her new purchases would last in her active clothing rotation. Women. He'd never understand the fascination with keeping a rotating array of options at their disposal for any given day. Sure, Connor himself was one to keep himself looking clean-cut and stylish, but he only paid a modicum of interest or effort in shopping for himself. His own personal trips were limited to generally once per season, to discard his older clothes and replace them with newer ones. He hated when a shirt got faded or ratty. It looked slovenly, and who the hell would want that?

"The Goodwill on Dodds? Daresay I've passed by there a few times." He nodded knowingly, popping another onion ring in his mouth.

He had no idea, of course. Had even been inside of a Goodwill? Maybe last year, in the interest of Halloween costume shopping with Madison. But even then? The thought of wearing other people's donated clothing left him with an uneasy feeling. That was nice of Mackenzie, though. A very admirable thing to do - why let something sit in your closet when someone else could get some use from it?

He should really start doing that too. Perhaps him and Madison could make an afternoon out of it.

Attention being called to his own set of bags, he blushed a little bit, and brushed the onion ring grease off his fingers with a napkin from his own tray. "What, these? It's just a start, but..."

Reaching down, Connor grabbed one of the bags from by his feet, and plopped it in his lap. He opened the bag and withdrew the bright chartreuse pants from within, giving them his own quizzical look before showing them to the girl opposite him.

"Now personally, I don't really understand what the big deal is with this colour." He turned the item in his hand, almost as though the other side would solve the big mystery. "But Madison's in love with it. If y'all want to walk around looking like a highlighter, who am I to argue?"

Connor was about to say more when Joanne made her presence known and smoothly ventured into the seat beside Mackenzie with a wave and a smile. Quite the motley crew they'd gathered here at the mall. With food court seating at a premium, Connor supposed that made strange bedfellows. Joanne was a nice girl, she was a fixture at most of the larger parties that went on at George Hunter High, and was not one to shy away from jumping directly into the limelight. Connor found himself able to identify with that, though she was decidedly less concerned with how she came off than he was. Still, in that manner she was a bit of a kindred spirit, and the few times he'd shared a one-on-one conversation with her, she'd garnered a few chuckles.

He usually made at least a few minutes for anyone who could make him laugh.

"Joanne! What a surprise. Fancy meetin' you here. Just seems like the whole town showed up for lunch, don't it? You doin' a little shopping of your own today?"

Don't it? Dammit.

His hunger was getting the better of him. He was never ashamed of his southern twang, but his parents were constantly chastising him whenever he failed to use proper grammar. These onion rings were delicious, but the real prize of this meal was the burger, which still sat, only one bite missing. Time to rectify that situation.

Connor took a bite of the burger, and the grammar problems washed down his throat like the delicious juices from the cooked meat and melted cheese.
---
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Chartreuse: the magical fusion of yellow and green. Connor didn't understand it, but she supposed his eyes were just untrained to see the beauty inherent within it. And yet, regardless, he was still buying it, which was really sweet of him. Mackenzie couldn't help but smile. "I know she'll love it," she remarked with a nod, and leaned back in her seat from where she'd been craning forward.

It was then that she realized that she wasn't alone on this side of the table. Instinctively, she fell backwards, nearly tumbling off the chair, but righting herself at the last moment. Her right hand had caught her hat, and as she replaced it on her head, she turned towards the mysterious intruder and realized that she was now sitting next to Joanne Coleman, silently waving as casually as you please. She hadn't even seen her slip in, focused as she was on the chartreuse, but returned her wave with a bashful one of her own.

As Connor led the conversation, Mackenzie filled the space with another bite of this so-called chicken. She'd always liked Joanne Coleman, assertive and confident as she was. She was the kind of figure who could storm into a room and take charge without a word. They didn't always see eye to eye on certain issues, but she appreciated that Joanne would stand steadfastly by them regardless of opposition. Mackenzie wished sometimes that she had the same kind of fortitude.

Once she'd adequately chewed through the stringy bit of processed poultry, she nodded her head towards Connor and added, "I wouldn't recommend Bevello right now. They are packed to the GILLS! Then again, what isn't?" She guffawed in a truly undignified fashion and theatrically swept an arm at the throng weaving through the area, as if to accentuate her point. The laughter continued for a few seconds before petering off. After being startled like she had, that was a nice decompression, even if she had turned a few heads in the process.

"Haaaaaaaaah...What a day."
Edited by Blastinus, Feb 3 2018, 02:57 PM.
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Oh, these warm welcomes, Joanne was just about ready to blush! Who said friendliness was dead in this modern generation? .. Besides old and bitter racially-charged dudes. Not Joanne, that was for sure: this bit of information confirmed, confidential, primary source.

Joanne had arrived into a slice of conversation seasoned by fashion talk and greetings. Connor and Kenzie took turns at bat and that left Joanne a healthy second to muse on the finer things in life. Baseless character assassination...! Kidding, but. Mm mm mm, almost good for a meal in Joanne's mouth even when she was tray free while others around her were eating. Like Kenzie on her sandwich. Oh honey, that chicken looked tragic. Doctors would have declared that particular life-form to be dead-on-arrival. As for the rest of the package deal, two thumbs up, nothing less for her main girl! Of many who were, like, main-er girls. Look, long story short, Kenzie was an acquaintance at best, but Joanne wasn't about to discriminate and not pretend Kenzie wasn't her bestest bestie ever while it was situationally apropos.

Kenzie was bright and colorful, bold fashion. Joanne was pretty sure that was all the rage as of the past month, she'd heard all kinds of talk about shades of yellow and the revival of questionably geometric patterns. Joanne liked to look good as much as any girl but she figured she was probably sticking to the classics and sitting out this season's hot topics. Looks like she'd be having nigh about negative one reasons to walk into Thread Heads with the next few months of the reign of 'the magical fusion of yellow and green' or whatever thesaurus-spamming fashion bloggers would describe it as. Reason zero being a certain employee that had made Thread Heads into a no-go no-mans wasteland for only since what had probably been her Sophomore year of Elementary School or something.

"Sorry I came in like a wrecking ball, hun." Her apologies to Kenzie. Overdosage of prescription strength Joanne Coleman had certainly not been malicious in intent.

"And on the, hm. All the fuss with GHHS kids discovering the color wheel for the first time- sorry, had to go for the jab- it's like, you know." Quick lip smack needed to reload after Joanne had gone on and done that. "One of those organic local trends I think. I'm not about to go selling out names, I'm not one to kiss and tell, but this is definitely going to rule the halls for at least the rest of Spring 2018. So, you know." Joanne singled out Kenzie on that. Slapped the table between them once, heartily, her hand bouncing up into a thumbs up aiming for Best Actor Supporting Role to Joanne's wicked grin playing the lead. "Rock it, girl. I'm rooting for you!"

She had been leaning forward a bit, aggressively all over the conversation. She pulled back into a more erect posture, wearing the exaggerated airs of poise.

"No shopping planned. Contrary to Kenzie's insider trader advice I did buy for this semester off Bevello. And Showpo. What's the haul, guys? I'm peeping some bags on bags by each of ya's."
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As he took a sip of the water in front of him, Connor couldn't help but continue to be perplexed by what constituted women's fashion in the twenty-first century. As a general rule, he wasn't one to wear anything incredibly outlandish: most of his wardrobe consisted of single colour shirts or varying forms of plaid. He couldn't even think of the loudest piece of clothing he owned. Maybe the pink polo he'd bought on a whim a few months ago?

Why anyone would want to walk around looking like a utility writing utensil, he couldn't imagine. But with Mackenzie's affirmation that it would likely please Madison, he felt satisfied in his decision.

Pants back in the bag where they came from once he'd taken a bit of his burger, Connor popped another onion ring into his mouth and chewed slowly. This might be about to turn into a shopping conversation, which would leave him firmly on the outside looking in. If things got really over his head, he supposed he could always finish his food and make a quick exit.

If there was one thing Connor Lorenzen wasn't equipped nor enthused to experience, it was girl talk.

Grabbing the second bag, Connor wiped his fingers on one of the napkins and removed the jacket. Giving it a quick once-over, he shrugged and showed it to both girls. It had been among the pricier items within the store, but Madison had made a show of looking at it and trying it on the last time they'd been in the mall.

"Y'know ladies, I like to be a pretty direct shopper. Get here, hit the stores I need to, and get out. Always good to have a plan of attack." He paused. "Sure helps when the lady you're shoppin' for makes it easy on you." He paused, smirking at the two women across from him and lowering his voice, almost conspiratorially. "Madison's not exactly subtle sometimes, y'all understand?"

That could perhaps be the understatement of the century. His girlfriend's emotions were constantly painted all over her face, and she sometimes held back less than his pal Wyatt was known to. It was amusing, he thought silently to himself, that for someone as restrained as himself, he sure associated with some bombastic personalities.
---
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Mackenzie fell silent at Joanne's comment about the color wheel. She understood her own habits and eccentricities and realized that whether directly or not, she was getting a bit of sass flung her way. She didn't know whether she meant it hurtfully or playfully, since she'd never been able to detect sarcasm that well. Even that "I'm rooting for you" could have been taken either way, since the encouragement was as likely to be ironic as genuine. Joanne could go on so many tangents, it was frankly impossible to tell.

Fortunately, she decided to move on to a subject that Mackenzie could contribute to. Hoping that the displeasure hadn't shown in her face, she oohed and aahed at Connor's next selections as he pulled them out. He was right that Madison made for an easy gift recipient. Hard NOT to tell what she wanted at any given moment.

"Not one to take in the scenery, hmm?" she responded, at odds with this sentiment. Putting on dramatic airs, she puffed up and recited, "It's easy to take the well-worn path, but if you allow yourself to explore, well, you can find all sorts of extraordinary things." With a flourish, she withdrew a vibrant pink tank top from one of her bags, holding it out for both of them to see. "I didn't even know I wanted it, but once I laid my eyes on it...I knew." To the tank top's credit, it was surprisingly tasteful compared to her other color choices, a more subdued pink than she usually wore.

But as if to assuage such thoughts, she began producing garments in an assortment of hues and designs, lacking any rhyme or reason. A t-shirt with red and gold stripes, a cyan knee-length skirt, sneakers in bright green, all delivered with an eager, anticipatory smile. "So? What do you think? Be honest, please."

She didn't want them to be honest, but if she told them to be dishonest, they'd hem and haw and make all kinds of excuses, so better to give them an opening to lie and then pretend that she didn't catch them in the act. She wasn't oblivious to the fact that some of these would not work and that she was just milking their weird patterns to get attention. But it was part of the persona she had built up for herself, and so if they wanted to think she was clueless and lacked any common sense, by all means.

She really did love neon though. Her current outfit wasn't a lie.
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Joanne glanced sidelong at Kenzie. Real name Mackenzie Baker. Joanne felt gravity of some sort slow down her delivery for a moment.

Well, even if she fucked up and said the wrong thing. Just her role to play, rather, her mask to wear.

"Thinking I agree with both of you," Joanne loudly spoke. Thus punctuated her own thoughts with the biggest segue she possibly could. "Flexibility and all that, Connor, you know what's up." She real quick mimed a sidelong stretch, well shit, athletes probably did those, right? At least the good ones. Rumor was that Connor was getting scouted by schools of the 'she who must not be named' League. Those were probably pretty good ones in most people's books. If the rumors were true, but who had any right to not take at face value the gospel truths buried in the ramblings of random assholes?

"Mall marathons for life, but when you've got an SO waiting for you at home.." Joanne turned her two arms and hands into a metaphorical weighing scale, juggling them between the options.

"Honestly, Madison's got it figured out. Someone shops efficiently so she doesn't have to. Best of both worlds." Joanne forced a very well acted laugh. Complementing Springer? The chorus was booing that bad shit right there (chorus: right there) but Joanne wasn't quite so recklessly honest and truthful that she'd spell out her grudges plainly to her target's boyfriend. Complete and total arbiter of the truth she was in her day to day life otherwise.

Anyways, peeping the acquisitions. Delicate operation, needed all the possible focus (chorus: fuh-fuh, focus on me). Joanne rested her chin on one hand welded to the table by the elbow, really scrutinized everything on display.

"Jacket's slim, liking the stitch work on the patches. Shirt's bold, skirt's bold, shoe's bold. Fortune favors the bold." Joanne's judgements rained down from above, but mostly from right next to. All honest opinions, because as stated earlier in the monologue, 'complete and total arbiter of the truth'. Honestly, Joanne loved the skirt and shoes. Used in moderation they would make any outfit genius-ness worthy of a catwalk twirl.

Emphasis on moderation, though. Emphasis all bold too, for good measure. Like, someone like Teresa or Tanisha- HOLLLAAAAA- probably had the verve to make it work without spontaneous fashion disaster. Kenzie, meanwhile, probably needed a prompt to work with. Joanne contemplated her options.

"What do you think, Connor? You two hang out more, so I bet you might have an idea. I think the sneaks, especially, would eradicate acne the world over if paired with, mmm, that one top you wore last week Kenzie, remember?" Joanne knew the exact one, but couldn't quite bring herself to specify for whatever reason. Sometimes letting people fill in the blanks worked better than doing it for them.

Illusion of choice.
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For the second time in under an hour, Connor found himself almost choking on a piece of hamburger. He'd been casually paying attention through the conversation - the girls had been commenting on their clothing purchases once he'd finished showing off the jacket that he'd bought for Madison. That was fine with him: more time to work on this delicious (yet slowly cooling) burger. With the most impeccable of timing though, Joanne had turned the attention right back on him, asking his opinion of all the clothes on the table in front of Mackenzie. Right as he'd just taken a big ol' bite.

Stifling a cough, he swallowed.

Carefully.

"Delicious."

His face going red, he blushed a little at the slip of the tongue.

"Ahh, the burger, not the clothes." His eyes focused now on the assortment of clothing on the table. To say that it wasn't his style would be putting it mildly, and some of it was downright gaudy. That opinion likely wouldn't have landed very well with either of his dining companions, but thankfully his practiced diplomacy would override the momentary horror of telling a woman that her clothes looked ugly.

That had to be rule number one of being a man. If she asks? It looks great. Any other answer would shorten one's lifespan considerably.

Coughing again, Connor balled a fist and patted his chest twice, as though to help the meaty remnants down his gullet. Taking another look at the assortment that Mackenzie provided, he threw an inquisitive look on his face and scratched the stubble on his chin.

"Y'all know I'm no fashion expert, right? So take my opinion with a grain of salt." He looked up at Mackenzie and smiled reassuringly. "But I think you've made some really vibrant choices. You've certainly got a personal style..."

Connor trailed off, brow furrowed. What was the proper word for a clothing critique? What was any word? Authentic critique or not, it was lost on him, so he took a wild stab in the dark. "... and I think the choices y'all made really compliment it well."

He shrugged sheepishly at the girls across from him. He wasn't sure if that was a good critique or a bad one, but that was about as good as it was going to get. "Sorry ladies, like I said. Fashion ain't my thing. If y'all wanted me to critique a football playbook or an old car, maybe I could do it a bit better."

Grabbing the last of his onion rings, Connor popped it in his mouth with a tinge of sadness. It was a shame - they had been delicious. A small part of his mind screamed at him to go and order another side of them, but he quickly dismissed it. There was still hamburger to eat. His mind flipped back to an earlier comment that Joanne had made (or had it been Mackenzie? The clothes had flustered him), and he pointed a finger at the two of them, as though to flip the page back.

"Madison may have it all figured out, but she doesn't know I'm here." He smirked slyly. Joanne had missed this part of the conversation, so he leaned forward, as though to let them in on the secret. "This is all a part of the Valentine's Day haul. What about you two? I'm sure two lovely ladies such as yourselves have at least some plans for the big day."

Connor leaned back in his seat and studied the two with a sly smile. Joanne was a bit of an odd duck, but she was a sweet enough girl, and he could imagine her getting together with maybe one of the artsy types that he didn't really know too much about. As for Mackenzie? They ran in the same circles but he didn't know her to have a boyfriend.

Anything to get them to stop talking about clothes. There was only so much hamburger left to choke on.
---
The Future

The Past

Meanwhile...
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Mackenzie couldn't help but laugh at Connor choking on his burger again. How could someone be so clumsy with their food? She'd been casually munching the remains of her sandwich while carrying on a longwinded conversation and the choking had not occurred in the slightest. Maybe it was just really, really juicy beef. A mystery for another time.

Anyway, her selections had received positive and neutral ratings, so overall, a net gain. What a relief...Joanne had a point about the sneakers though. Just going off the color scheme, she had an idea which top she was hinting at, and as fortune had it, she hadn't donated that one yet.

That was Tuesday planned out then. Always nice when things fell into place like that.

Then Connor reminded her: Valentine's Day. They'd gotten a bit off-topic from that. The fact that Mackenzie didn't have a boyfriend was not lost on her. She'd been too petrified to ever ask someone to go out with her, and nobody had ever approached her for it. She supposed she could lie again; she was good at that, but they knew her too well for it to work. Might as well focus then on the things she COULD do.

"Hmm, Valentine's Day...Well, I figured I'd buy the drama club a giant box of chocolates. I'm going to have to ask around and see if anyone has peanut allergies. That would be dreadful! I suppose you both have outings planned, but as for me, drama club is...as close to family as I have."

That sounded pathetic, even in her head, but it was true. If this year was anything like the last Valentine's and the one before that, her parents would remember that she existed about a week later and she'd get a text or something. Not that she cared. It had stopped being painful about...five years ago.
V7 Kids
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"Delicious, though." Joanne emphatically agreed with a flash-in-the-pan daydream of the melting mouthful of meat Connor had almost choked on. "Tony's is life. Legit-est of answers, hun."

Fashion as a topic seemed to be coming to it's end, no lost love on Connor's end judging by the politician-tier non answer. Smart man! Springer was lucky she had someone to give her brain-children the ambiguous maybe-thumbs up. Joanne was becoming a learnt woman when it came to the intimate-est details of one of the school's infinite myriad of tabloid-worthy power couples. Alright, the detail was actually pretty shallow, but shallow was good enough for the grape vine, yeah? Hell yeah. Not one straw in this school would be left un-grapsed for so long as Joanne S. Coleman was on her roll and making the power plays.

"Hold up, old cars are fashion too? S.J Parker drives some vintage-ass wheels, probably made in The Land Before Time or some shit." Speaking of, shout outs to her Main Girl Cera, triest of ceratops.

Next topic... Ooh.

Ugly one. Well Joanne wasn't ashamed of her longform dating life being a footnote in a children's-size book or anything, she was just feeling some of that sympathy pain with Kenzie over there next to her. Joanne could recall that Kenzie was one of the latch key kids of GHHS, supposedly had been as far back as anyone who knew her well could remember.

...
In some sense maybe they were kindred spirits.
Never truly meant to be, but taunted with the possibility if one connected the dots in their lonely constellation.

"Any non-retail surprises for Madison, Connor?"

Joanne spoke loud enough to banish the odd static of silence from her own head.

"And that's a crazy good idea, Kenzie. You've got to give me tips on how to be all Good Samaritan, hun!" Joanne was all smiles, smirking her way through her various rapid-fire tangents. "Want to half-half on onion rings, Connor? I'm feeling the grease and I'm sure you are too? Food aside.. no Valentines plans. Just gotta keep up the tradition, you know?" Joanne couldn't even remember if she'd made it to a Valentines Day with either of her past boyfriends. Definitely not Myles, she'd barely dodged some sort of bomb the size of Hiroshima if she recalled her 'people drama' timelines right. "Valentine's is all corporate anyways. Not being bitter or anything, it's just the truth." Okay, maybe it was a bit bitter, the force with which she rolled her eyes.
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Plans for Valentine's Day? Shit. At this point, Connor found himself falling a little deeper into the rabbit hole than he'd anticipated. While the girls were correct in assuming that he probably should be planning something special for his girlfriend, the truth was that he hadn't really given it a whole lot of thought. He'd assumed that as per usual, he'd have to drag Madison out, probably hit up some fancy restaurant and then maybe catch a movie? He'd honestly been so busy preparing to talk her off the ledge from this most recent spat that Valentine's Day felt like it were in the distant future.

Truth be told, he had no idea what the hell he was going to do.

Appearances insisted that he come up with something, and while what he offered to his dining companions wasn't a total fiction, it brought enough to the table to give them the impression that he was a thoughtful, caring boyfriend to a loving, supportive girlfriend. The perfect couple, as it were.

Not the "tire-fire", Wyatt had colourfully offered one night, that it seemed like behind closed doors.

"Ahh, special plans? I know we're goin' out to dinner somewhere, but I haven't made the reservations yet." He paused, grimacing a little. "Truth be told, I probably should have done that last week, but y'all know how this time of year gets!"

Connor shrugged sheepishly. "Now, in the worst-case, I guess I could always jump into the kitchen myself and cook her up a little somethin'. Have a quiet night in, maybe? I'm still trying to figure it all out."

Attempting to cook a meal on his own would inevitably be a disaster. His family employed a staff for that reason - Connor barely knew his way around the kitchen as it was. Not that anyone outside of his immediate family was aware of that.

Turning his attention to the girl's responses to their own Valentine's Day plans - or lack thereof, Connor nodded along with them, a sympathetic smile on his face. Taking another bite of his hamburger, he chewed as he listened to Joanne's assessment of Valentine's Day, and he found himself surprisingly in agreement. The holiday had never truly been one that he'd found himself embracing with all that much vigor, he was really only doing anything at all because it was expected of him.

Once Joanne made her offer, Connor's eyes lit up. He was still damned hungry, and while the extra greasy food was bound to sit in his stomach all afternoon, he wasn't about to turn a gift horse down.

"More onion rings? Y'all must be reading my mind because that's music to my ears. You bet!" The smile that came to his face was genuine this time, and he rose to his feet from the table, brushing himself off as he did.

"I'll be right back. Don't go running off, now."

Nodding at the two women, Connor wandered off towards Tony's Burgers and Fries.
---
The Future

The Past

Meanwhile...
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