Timely Persuasion - Online Edition - Chapter 13


No, For The 13th Time

    So there we were, just we three, continuing to prepare for the party.  Different playing areas were set up, along with March Madness style brackets drawn up in the living room on a chalkboard that my sister had borrowed from the school she was student teaching at.  From my enlightened perspective I could tell my sister’s roommate was paying a lot of attention to me, but again my younger self was oblivious.  Or at least he did a good job of playing it off that way.  For our sister’s sake of course.  He probably considered her to be off limits by the same roommate-in-law reasoning.  Or maybe it was just to keep my hypocritical side hidden so as not to give my sister ammunition when I criticized her boyfriends.  Or maybe I was just a wimp.  Along with having trouble remembering if we had or not, I also wasn’t completely certain of why not if we hadn’t.

    The arrivals began in typical party fashion, where someone shows up ahead of time (in this case me), followed by a block where you aren’t sure if people are being fashionably late or just not coming to your lame party at all.  By the time you convince yourself that the latter is true, a few single guests arrive in quick succession.  This leads to a few more awkward moments where you try too hard to be a good host or hostess to overcompensate for the lacking attendance.   Then the floodgates open when a large group arrives together, and you’re rockity rolling from there.  Everything’s fine until the end of the night when the reverse happens and you’re stuck with the final guest who just can’t take the hint that it’s time to go.  This party would have one of those as well.  I’ll trust you can guess who if you’ve been paying attention.

    We were in the period just after the floodgates where there is a flurry of small talk and the guests are getting comfortably numb with the surroundings.  (The drinks didn’t hurt this process any.)  At first I was constantly on edge and flinching whenever a shoe-clad foot came dangerously close to my floating head, but once I turned off my peripheral vision the crowd ended up being a good smokescreen to conceal my disembodied state.  I felt far more comfortable drifting around a full room avoiding only myself than I did when it was nearly empty.

    The last to arrive was a friend of mine from the music ‘zine I was writing for, accompanied by his infamous friend.

    “This is Nelson,” he said upon arriving.  And that was the start of it.

    Sis dove right in as hostess, taking their coats and offering them hot snacks and cold beverages.  Nelson offered to help himself if she just pointed him in the right direction, but she declined and practically insisted that she do all the work.  I could see how he may have misconstrued her actions as a special privilege of sorts, but I knew she was like that with everyone.

    My younger self and his colleague chatted away about the articles they were working on, the shows they had recently seen, and what forthcoming albums they were most looking forward to.  I left them to their own devices and followed my sister and Nelson into the kitchen where she was serving him for the first time.

    As I’ve already said, it was innocent enough.  He wasn’t particularly aggressive or negative or mean.  And she was just caught in the act of being herself.  I can’t really fault anyone here.  Who wouldn’t love her right now?  He took his food, thanked her, and was gone to scope out the competition as she freshened up drinks and discretely signaled me to let the games begin.

    The tournament started with a qualifying bracket to neutralize skill level differences.  Everyone played in a semi-randomly assigned group designed to separate the skilled and unskilled players initially in hopes that it would set up some more meaningful showdowns early on, before everyone got drunk and lost interest.  After the qualifier, the next rounds would be all winners in one group, all second places in another, etc.  The losers would be eliminated leaving three to move on from each group, narrowing the field from sixteen to twelve.  (The format doesn’t make much sense to me now either, but it seemed to be an excellent idea at the time.)

    My strategy in the first round was to play conservatively enough not to lose, but still take a few heart-laden tricks here and there to prevent myself from winning.  That way I would theoretically have an easier go of it in the rounds that mattered as part of a lower pool rather than getting thrown into a cutthroat match with the other winners right away.

    That plan failed on many levels.  The first hand was a breeze.  I had a nearly foolproof moon shooting hand with all of the royal spades, all the aces, and six high hearts but opted to control the flow of the queen of spades and broke up the hand on the pass.  It worked like a charm as I managed to come in a very calculated third place, just two points behind second and five off the lead.  My sister’s roommate was not so coincidentally in my group, and not so coincidentally the loser.

    I was teeming with cocky confidence when I entered my third place match looking like a tough luck loser until I made my big mistake.  Because of my ego I didn’t see the conspiracy against me.  Everyone knew I was favored, so they all stuck me with points whenever possible.  They were all out to get me.  I took the queen of spades on the second trick three different times and narrowly missed a moon shoot early, leaving me dead in the water from square one.

    Leaving my younger self to enjoy his new miserable experience, I drifted over (actually under) to the second place group where both my sister and Nelson were part of the foursome.  Although I couldn’t see the table from my subterranean position, the sighs and banter from up above it indicated that my sister had just ambushed Nelson with the black mariah.

    “I see how it goes around here.  Gang up on the new guy,” said Nelson as he angrily collected his trick and flopped it face down in front of him.  The force of his drop caused the cards to skid off of the table and into his lap, where I had a prime view to Nelson slipping the queen under his leg and replacing it with a card from his hand before returning the quartet to the table as if nothing had happened.

    “All’s fair when you play cutthroat,” replied my sister, “unless you can’t stand the heat.”

    She didn’t know the half of it. 

    Nelson ended up bowing out next despite his sticky fingers, and he wasn’t too good of a sport about it.  Everyone was adopting the easy strategy of ganging up on whomever took the first queen in order to advance to the next round.  I wish I had thought of that ahead of time, as it was much simpler than my ill-advised sandbagging scam.

    Since my sister was advancing and Nelson was not, I felt safe enough checking up on my younger self.  My secondary memory now recalled sulking in the corner after my loss and eventually hanging out with the roommate.  She alternated between consoling me and giving me the business regarding my big choke.  Not that she was one to talk having lost even earlier.

    When I reached their corner of the room I still couldn’t believe how thickly she was laying it on and how proportionally thick my sweet oblivion was.  I wasn’t catching sparks off her, though in the other memory I still recalled her pre-kiss line about being my consolation prize.  I racked my brain to figure out what was happening to my love life.  First tree house girl, then the cute little redhead, and now hot maid of honor roommate.  Something was definitely not right.

    In the meantime I made my way back to the gaming area.  Nelson was sulking in the kitchen while my sister was still at the card table.  She was on her way to shooting the moon but got burnt at the end, taking all but one point and eliminating herself.  Rare for her to miss a moon shoot, as she never went for it unless she knew she had it.  A better loser than Nelson, she took her defeat gracefully and went looking for me to arrange the finals.

    Seconds later younger me followed my sister back into the room and began scribbling on the chalkboard.  She tried to assist, but he told her he had it under control and sent her to the kitchen, which was the very room that Nelson had entered moments before. 

    It was my own damn fault.  Not only was I not hooking up with the roommate as I should have been, I was pushing my sister towards Nelson without even realizing it!

    Angry with both of my selves and the world, I rushed towards the kitchen, ducking down below the floor and pausing only to give my younger self a punch in the Achilles as I passed by.

    I found my sister preparing more hors d’oeuvres for the party, with Nelson leaning casually against the counter talking to her.  Like before it was harmless chitchat, though now it was a conversation I had provoked.  Other people made their way in and out of the kitchen for alcohol refills and attempted conversation, but Nelson always managed to forcefully keep her attention focused on him by butting in whether he had an appropriate opening or not.  I couldn’t outright fault him for it.  Even though he was being a jerk he was giving it a much better try than my younger self had given the roommate.  But it still made him look rather needy, especially in hindsight.

    Figuring this would be my only shot, I threw my hail mary.

    “Help!  Help!” I yelled in a high-pitched voice that was more comical than urgent before retreating into the cabinet below the sink.  Knowing that only my younger self would hear me, my only real option was to lure him into the kitchen to break Nelson’s spell.  With a lot of luck he may bring his gal as a reinforcement, though part of me worried she may serve to encourage rather than discourage.

    Younger me did come running in, and gave a confused look upon seeing nothing out of the ordinary.

    “What’s going on?”

    “Nothing,” replied my sister.  “What’s going on with you?”

    He started to answer, but Nelson jumped in immediately.

    “Do you need any help cooking?” he asked, stepping between my sister and I while reaching towards the oven.

    “I thought I heard you calling for help,” said younger me.

    Nelson gave him a glance that seemed to say get lost, then verbalized the same.  “We’ve got it under control, all right?”

    I watched helplessly from the floor as I gave Nelson a skeptical look, made brief eye contact with my sister, then shrugged and left the room.