Note: Having recently seen Kristy Swanson in the original Buffy movie, I just got to thinking…
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by Ann Rivers
He knew he was in trouble the second he set foot through McGinty’s door. Deep trouble.
They weren’t especially busy. Nothing that would make his staff want to come after him with demands of more help, more money and… well, yes, more sight of their frequently absent boss.
But, faced as he currently was with one seriously miffed Erica and yet another missed dinner date, the thought of coming up against a sea of rolling pins suddenly didn’t seem quite so bad.
Stuffing the paper into his jeans pocket, Gary took a deep breath and followed her into the kitchen - hopefully believable excuse for this latest let down at the ready, along with his most melting smile.
Unfortunately, Erica Paget was not in the mood to be melted. Well, not as much as usual anyway. “So, what was it this time…?” she asked at last, raising a quizzically mocking eyebrow. “Cousin sick again ? More bad seafood ? Fifteen mile wide spaceships over Chicago ?”
The irresistible smile faltered into a whipped puppy wince. Now, that wasn’t fair.
Okay, so Independence Day wasn’t the most romantic of movies to take your girlfriend to, but… well, it had been that or The Fly…
Besides, he’d paid for the tickets. And the drinks. Hot dogs. Popcorn. Ice cream.
Guilt food, he now realised. And lots of it…
Gary sighed, ruefully wondering what was worse. Missing their dates or paying for it afterwards. Maybe he should set up a collection tin on the bar. Or, at this rate, a collection bucket.
A less than subtle cough interrupted the financial planning, bringing him back to tricky reality.
“Aw, come on, Erica, that… I - I mean, how was I to know they’d changed the program…?” he wheedled - uneasily aware that Erica was standing way too close to the cutlery for comfort. Steak tenderiser against rolled up paper. Oh yes, he thought peevishly, real comforting…
Perhaps it was the smile. Or the puppy dog eyes. Or the look of slight hysteria on his face - but Erica felt her anger faltering into a vainly stifled smile, followed by helpless laughter. “Oh, I’ve no complaints against the movie, Gary… just the part when you yelled the place down…” she said, giggling still more as that strikingly handsome face turned a just as striking shade of red. She knew what was coming next. Mild panic first, followed by acute embarrassment, then on to an adorably defensive, tongue tied whelp.
“Look, that - that part when the plane blew up was… and… well, it caught me off guard, is all…”
This time both eyebrows rose, in politely amused disbelief.
“Gary, how many times have you seen Independence Day…?” she asked mildly.
The hazel eyes dropped, developing a sudden fascination with the state of the floor.
“Um… well, four…” Gary mumbled - his embarrassment doing him a kind of backhanded favour, since when he looked up again the smile was back to its full glacier melting strength. “It’s… um… well, you’ve got to admit that it’s a terrific movie…” he added brightly - with such boyishly earnest enthusiasm that Erica couldn’t help but laugh.
“Oh, it is - even if you did spend most of it either jumping out of your seat or grabbing my arm…” she shot back, still giggling as the floor again found itself under intense scrutiny.
“Only in the scary parts…” Gary retorted, adding with what he hoped was some manly authority, “Besides which, it - it was real dark in there…”
Erica, however, wasn’t about to let him off so easily. “Cinemas usually are, Gary…” she pointed out, loving the look on his face as she added sweetly, “Especially when you watch most of the film with your face buried in the popcorn bucket…”
“Yeah, well, I - I was hungry…”
“Behind your hands…?”
“Look, that - that autopsy scene was downright icky. Besides, everyone jumps at that bit…”
“Mouthing the President’s speech…?”
“Nothing wrong with being patriotic…”
“Oh, absolutely nothing…” Erica agreed, pausing for effect before moving in for the proverbial kill. “And you just happened to have something in your eye, right…?”
“Right…” Gary nodded, then frowned slightly as he saw the mischievous grin on her face. Somewhere along the line, he wryly reflected, I’ve kinda lost my advantage…
Time to quit now, he decided, while I’m not too far behind…
“Look, Erica, I’m really sorry for… well, for us missing that Truffaut movie…” he said at last, totally serious now as he realised that beyond all the banter she had a real and justified grievance. “And I know we were meant to have dinner tonight and all, and… and…”
A rather impressive looking menu slapped against his chest, held there by a determined hand.
“Steak dinner for two…” she said firmly, the look in her eyes brooking no further argument. “Tomorrow night at Berghoff’s. Seven thirty. Be there… or be…”
“Square…?” Gary offered - the eager beaver smile fading as Erica gravely shook her head.
“Afraid…” she smiled, slapping a fly swat against her hand just in case he’d missed the point. “Be very afraid…”
Relieved and terrified in equal measure, Gary nodded and risked a tentative,
fence building grin. “Berghoff’s at seven thirty…” he assured her,
breathing a sigh of relief at her nod of approval. Unfortunately his
assumption of forgiveness was slightly premature as she moved past him -
a playful swat in the seat of his jeans reminding him that he wasn’t out
of the woods just yet.
Great… he thought peevishly. First the stinging rebukes, now the stinging butt… To his surprise, Gary felt himself smile. Or was that stinging rebuttal…?
The smile turned to a self rebuking cringe. Even Chuck would have been ashamed of that one…
He needed coffee. Hot, strong, caffeine laden java. And somewhere soft to sit.
Absently rubbing his still smarting butt, Gary grabbed a full, fresh pot and headed for the office. He’d had some mail in, mostly the inevitable bills, orders and supply arrangements for the bar. Far more welcome though, was a thick envelope with an LA postmark. Which could only mean…
The business stuff could wait till later. Right now he needed to kick back and relax - and no better way to do that than with a pot of coffee and one of Chuck’s multi page gossip fests. Stretching out on the couch, Gary poured himself a good sized mugful and settled down to read.
When he’d left for LA, Chuck would regularly phone. Needless to say, Gary would do the same.
But after too many missed calls, his friend had wryly suggested that they try writing instead - on the sole condition that Gary did not use said letters as stand by kitty litter. Needless to say, his friend had vehemently protested at such an outrageous suggestion - then sheepishly admitted that slightly dubious honour already fell to the paper…
Smiling fondly at the memory, Gary hunkered more snugly down and made a start on page two.
It was as well that he’d gotten himself comfy. Chuck had an awful lot to tell him…
By page four his eyelids were starting to droop, prompting yet another generous mugful.
Two pages later, thankfully empty mug dangling from his hand, Gary Hobson was sound asleep.
And about to face something a lot more terrifying than mean, marauding
Two entirely unrelated thoughts crossed his mind as Gary ran at full pelt down West Adams. One was he needed yet another new pair of sneakers. The second, and far more alarming…he probably wasn’t going to live long enough to buy them.
Be afraid, she’d warned him. Well, he was way beyond plain and simple afraid now.
All out terrified was more like it. And not just for the sake of his rear, but for his entire anatomy… Another thought popped, unwanted and unbidden, into his adrenaline-rushed mind.
Death by swatting… well, you never saw that in ER…
He had tried this time. Really tried. But when someone starts choking next to you on the E1…well, what was he supposed to do ?
It’s just not fair, he thought peevishly, urging already aching legs to find just a little bit more speed.
All he wanted was a quiet dinner with Erica, and instead some guy had thrown up all over his shoes. Where was a doctor when you needed one ? Probably auditioning for some local hospital drama…
Gary wouldn’t have looked out of place in one himself as he crashed through the Berghoff’s doors - his all too rarely exercised devilish streak near screaming at him to join in the spirit of the moment.
“Get me a CBC, Chem seven and lytes, stat…!”
It was really just as well that he didn’t - his somewhat dramatic entrance would, he ruefully knew, cause him more than enough embarrassment and humiliation as it was.
Promising himself a lot less coffee and a lot more sleep, Gary skidded to a halt and looked round - his eyes widening slightly as they took in the impossible.
The place was empty. Totally deserted and in the kind of darkness that made your skin crawl.
An already overwrought heart thudded even more harder against his ribs as Gary checked his watch.
Surely he wasn’t that late ?
A wince crossed his face as he noted the time. Eight thirty.
Late enough to guarantee some serious swatting, but not enough to explain this uncanny emptiness.
Erica was still there though. Sitting alone by a still impeccably set, candle lit table. Arms crossed, gently tapping that dreaded fly swat against her forearm. Except…
No, he thought, gulping in nervous disbelief, it had to be a trick of the flickering candle light. How else could he explain that instead of a fly swat, she was holding a stake. Not the lovely thick juicy kind that even his appetite had trouble dealing with, but a wooden one. Thickly rounded at one end and, he noticed with growing alarm, extremely pointed at the other.
She was smiling too - a serene but still slightly odd, surreal smile.
“Hey, handsome…” she purred, beckoning him forward. “How lovely of you to join me…”
No, he decided in just slight hysteria, it’s not the hospital dramas I need to stop watching. From now on it’s Mulder and Scully with the lights very much on…
Holding the paper defensively in front of him, Gary edged nervously towards their table - trying, as he always did in times of crisis, to find something humorous to say.
“Don’t… um… well, I guess the waiter must have misheard your order…” he said at last, grinning weakly back at her while nodding somewhat worriedly to that lethal looking stake. “I - I mean… well, I prefer mine medium rare myself, not… um… well, carved out the table…”
She laughed - not the usual girlish giggle either, but more in the Gwyneth and Toby league, ie supernaturally insane.
“Oh Gary, you have such a sense of humour… and you’re so cute when you go all stuttery…” she sighed, nodding purposefully towards the as yet unoccupied chair beside her. “Now, sit yourself down and we’ll make a start on the first course…”
“F - First course…?” Gary echoed weakly, now very nervous indeed as he studied the menu.
Anything with toads in it, he fervently promised himself, and he was outta there…No toads, live or otherwise, anywhere on the menu - which was good.
Just a wooden stake being raised beside his head - which was… well, not so good.
She was twirling the damn thing now, in and out of her fingers before his wide and nervous eyes, still with that playful smile on her face.
“I used to slay vampires in a previous life…” she said at last - as if that explained everything.
It didn’t, of course. But there was no way on this Earth that Gary was going to argue with her.
“Oh, well, um… that would explain why you always go for garlic bread…” he laughed nervously, idly wondering if supernatural insanity was contagious. If so, it would explain an awful lot…
Erica laughed too and clapped her hands in delight at his albeit panic induced wit. “Oh Gary, you’re such a tease…” she giggled, playfully slapping his chest.
It was here that Gary Hobson made a startling and somewhat painful discovery about his girlfriend - garlic bread clearly did for Erica Paget what spinach did for Popeye. One minute he was sitting, admittedly freaked out, beside her, the next he was dizzily airborne - flying high and fast, to finally land in a winded groaning heap on a thankfully empty pool table.
For several moments he just lay there - not sure if he was alive, dead or somewhere in between. One thing was for sure, though - he wouldn’t be having the garlic bread…
By the time he got his breath back and opened his eyes, she was standing beside him - a thankfully gentler hand quick to prevent his still dazed attempts to sit up.
“No, Gary, stay there… lie still… no, stay right there… don’t move…”
Assured by a much more normal smile, and too sore to argue, Gary smiled and closed his eyes. It was the best suggestion he’d had all day. Okay, his bed would be a lot softer on his back, but…
Sensing movement behind him, his eyes flew open - wide and aghast at the sight that met them.
She’d grabbed hold of his shirt collar with one hand, raised that lethal stake with the other.
And the loony tunes smile was back.
“Well now, Mr Hobson…” she said at last, pulling his shirt as far back as its buttons would allow. “I finally have you right where I want you…”
That was a matter of opinion, of course. Except Gary Hobson was in no position to voice his. No, his current position was flat on his back, aching in places he hadn’t even known existed - and his would be, ex vampire hunting girlfriend was all set to turn him into shish kebab.
No position, hell. If he was going to die, then he had one last and profound matter to point out.
“But - But Erica, you - you’ve maybe not noticed that I’m… I’m not a vampire..!” he wailed, the stuttering protest turned into a full fledged scream as that raised hand suddenly descended - its aim true and unerring and heading straight towards him.
Instinct compelled him to close his eyes. A bone jarring impact on the table behind his head, followed by two more at each ankle of his jeans pretty much obliged him to open them again. To his dazed and astonished relief, he was still in one piece. Unfortunately his clothes weren’t. Twisting his head as far as he was able, Gary stared at his newly ventilated shirt in silent disbelief. She’d staked clear through the collar, then through each leg of his jeans, effectively pinning him.
He could still move his arms and legs ( a real bonus, given the scenario of a few seconds before) And he could even raise his head, to a certain extent. But other than that, he was going nowhere. For a full minute, Gary could only stare down at himself in dumbstruck disbelief.
When he finally spoke, sheer relief and lingering shock led him to state the plaintively obvious. “Um, Erica…? You - you know, funny thing this, but… but I… um, I can’t move…”
Erica, seemingly returned to the land of normality, just smiled gently
and sweetly back at him. “Oh, I know that, Gary…” she said at last,
seemingly unfazed by his bizarre predicament. Settling into a chair
beside him, she tugged a now nicely flattened menu from under his back and
studied it for a moment before meeting his wide, bewildered eyes with a slyly
“And this is one dinner date that by hook, crook or wooden stake, you are not going to miss…”
“It - It isn’t…?” Gary frowned, before realisation dawned in now only slightly terrified eyes. With realisation came relief. Unfortunately a peach of a Freudian slip followed on right behind it. “Oh, right… okay, well… um, well, you’ve made your point…”
Well, three of them, to be exact - but, he wisely decided, this was hardly the best time for pedantry. Or to mention that she’d ruined his favourite shirt…
“Good…” Erica nodded and smiled at him, clearly pleased in spite of that last little faux pas. Playfully kissing the tip of his nose, she then slid her arm under his neck so he could read the menu. “Now, how did you say you liked your steak…?”
Surprised at such sudden, not to mention pleasant comfort, Gary grinned drowsily back at her. “Don’t mind…” he sighed, closing his eyes - the smile widening in surreally happy afterthought. “Just so long as it doesn’t have splinters…”
A familiar, highly amused voice broke into sleepily contented dreams of steaks and salad. “Well, I’m sure the food hygiene board would prefer that too…”
Gary came to with a start - almost jumping clear off the couch as Erica
appeared beside him, eyeing him in puzzled amusement.
Still half asleep, Gary could only stare back at her with all the comprehension of a potted plant.
Even when he finally found his voice, things weren’t much better.
“Erica…! What…? I - I mean, we were having dinner, and… you were… um… well, kinda…”
The words skidded into a slightly embarrassed, uncertain halt as Gary rubbed the back of his neck - causing yet more amused intrigue as he gave each leg of his jeans the same near frantic treatment.
Finally convinced that he truly was in the real, vampire free world, Gary slumped back in relief - meeting Erica’s amused though now slightly concerned eyes with a distinctly sheepish grin.
“I - I guess I must have been dreaming…” he said at last, the sight of Erica’s impishly shrewd smile causing an already beet red face to turn several shades deeper.
“I’ll say you were…” she replied, unable to resist the temptation to tease him as she added mildly, “You were making such a racket that the customers thought someone was trying to murder you. I think Marissa and I just about managed to convince them otherwise, once I checked in on you…”
Faced with this latest twist in a very odd tale Gary groaned out loud, burying his face in his hands. Great, so now their customers thought he was nuts. Well, he thought wryly, join the waiting list…“I - I was yelling out too, then…” he said at last, peering up at her over the tips of his fingers.
“You sure were…” Erica nodded, unable to resist herself despite the melting appeal of those eyes. “Whatever you were dreaming about, it made ID4 sound like Mary Poppins…”
“Oh, you have no idea…” Gary muttered, recovered enough now to carefully sit upright - wincing slightly as the dull headache he’d felt since waking suddenly decided to up the tempo.
Seeing this, Erica sat beside him, offering him a consoling grin while lifting the culprit into his lap. “I’m not surprised you’re feeling kind of spacey - you downed an entire pot of decaff…” she said - hard pressed not to laugh as Gary stared back at her, totally mortified.
“Decaff…?” he echoed, staring at the damnably empty pot as though expecting it to sprout fangs.
Which, given where his subconscious had just taken him in caffeine starved revenge…
Fortunately a now much more reassuringly normal Erica was on hand to bring him back to reality. “Here…” she said, replacing one unwelcome empty pot with far more welcome water and aspirin. “Get these down you, then I suggest you get your track shoes on and try and get yourself tired…”
The grin widened in a mischievous afterthought that stubbornly refused to go away - especially when she visualised how very fetching he’d look in a tracksuit. Or, better still, shorts. “Either that or get one of your bikes from upstairs… maybe do some laps round Wrigley…”
Gary frowned, puzzled for a moment, then pulled a somewhat rueful face as the penny dropped.
“Very funny…” he muttered, smiling though as he enjoyed a good, long, muscle wrenching stretch.
Freakish after effects regardless, he had to admit that decaff had its good points too. He hadn’t slept that well or that deeply for a very long time. On the downside, of course, he was now wide awake - and likely to stay that way all night…
Erica seemed to be thinking the same thing, if her sudden and playful grin was anything to go by. “Well, Henry’s at a sleepover tonight, and Patrick’s closed up for you…” she said at last, resting her chin against the broad curve of his shoulder. “Want to catch the late night movie…? Maybe see if the aliens win this time…?”
Hazel eyes glinted mischievously back at her, brightened still more by a just as impish grin. “Okay, enough already - point taken, we’ll go see something else…” he shot back good-naturedly,the grin suddenly breaking out into a prolonged splutter of laughter as they rose to their feet.
Erica watched him, puzzled but enjoying the sight of him laughing too much to question the cause.
She’d already guessed that whatever had hit Gary’s funny bone was somehow related to his dream - just as she was coming to realise, with a slightly rueful smile, that for once the joke was on her.
Still, given the amount of teasing which he took from her, Erica figured she was due some payback. “What’s so funny…?” she asked at last, her curiosity finally getting the better of her.
The startled, guilty way that he stopped laughing and stared at her confirmed her amused suspicion.
Funnier still was watching him try to work out a cohesive, not to mention diplomatic reply.
She had to wait a while for that reply to come. But when it did… well, it was - different…“No… I - I mean… well, it’s that when I was dreaming, we were… well, we were on a date, and…well, I was late, see, and you… well, you kinda threw me onto a pool table and staked me onto it…so when I said point taken just then, I kind of… well, just thought it was kind of funny, is all…” Explanation more or less complete, Gary grinned sheepishly at her and shrugged his shoulders - wisely deciding to wait to see how she reacted before bringing up that other little vampire issue.
Erica stared at him in silent, sanity doubting disbelief - which, given what he’d just told her…
Eventually she shook her head - her tone of voice that normally reserved for a recalcitrant Henry. “And all this from your weird imagination and a pot of decaff…?”
Figuring he’d embarrassed himself more than enough for one day, Gary just nodded meekly.
“Pretty crazy, huh…?” he ventured at last, his eyes widening slightly as Erica smiled and nodded - not in the mockery which he’d expected but… well, dared he to imagine a strange sense of relief.
“Not at all…” she replied, moving to the coat rail and so missing his reaction to what she said next. “You should see what happens when I overdo the garlic bread…”
Coat in hand, she then turned back - voicing a familiar question into a suddenly Hobson-less office. “Now where the hell did he go…?”
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