"You think he's missing his little girlfriend?"
"Yeah he's definitely missing his little girlfriend."
"Mike's little girlfriend won't come over anymore since Mike was mean to her.
"Awww. At least Mike still has Paladin."
"That isn't the pussy that Mike wants."
"You guys are assholes." Mike said as spun round on his chair
Dustin and his other colleague Lucas burst out laughing.
"Aww come on dude, you've been sulking practically the whole week since you found El with that girl." Duston said flicking a rubberband at Mike's head.
"I have not been sulking." He huffed.
"Ooo, someone hit a nerve." Dustin sang and made his way over to him.
He sat on the desk next to Mike's PC. "Why don't you go over there and try again?"
"Because just this morning a blonde left her place wearing a dress that ended right under her ass. I think it's safe to say that she's not into men." Mike said running his hands through his already dishevelled hair.
"Okay let's say that it's true and El's gay. Does that mean that you don't even want to be friends with her because you can't fuck her?"
Mike paused looking up at the guys around him. Dustin did have a point. Even though he did think that El was attractive, and the chance of them hooking up was practically non exisistant. He wouldn't mind having El as a friend and he wasn't that shallow, disappointed but not shallow.
"I guess you do have a point." Mike said logging off his desktop and grabbing his bag. "So what do I do?"
"You do what I've been telling you to do since last week. Go home, take a shower, throw on some cologne or whatever and go over to her place and ask her out for a drink so that you guys can talk it out like adults." Dustin stood up and patted Mike on the shoulder. "I mean you don't have anything to lose anyway."
Dustin was right. He didn't have anything to lose. He carefully tried to tame his unruly hair as he looked himself over in the mirror. Black shirt, sleeves rolled up, blue jeans and his converse with a dash of cologne. He didn't know why he listened to Dustin sometimes.
"Wish me luck Pal." He called to the cat as he walked the door. The cat kept its head straight seemingly ignoring Mike. He smiled to himself. That cat could be so moody.
Mike took a deep breath outside of El's apartment door as he raised his fist to knock on the door. He could do this, he told himself. He gave El's door three hard taps and waited.
It seemed as if it took forever as he heard the locks being undone on El's side of the door. He tapped his right foot nervously against the hardwood floor as he waited.
El peeped out at him through the barely cracked open door. No greeting. Just a raised eyebrow.
"Hi." Mike started. "Look I shouldn't have gone off on you like I did a few weeks ago. I was in a messed up place and took it out on you." No response. "I.. I was wondering if we can go.. I mean if you would like..I mean that if you're not already busy maybe you fancy going for a drink and just hang out?"
El studied his face for a few seconds. She was clearly thinking the offer over. Finally she shrugged her shoulders as if she had given up. "Fine. Lemme grab my coat." El closed the door in Mike's face.
Well at least it was a good start. Mike went back to his apartment to get his own coat. Paladin was in the living room. "Stepping out for a bit Pal. Now don't tear up the house while I'm gone, okay?"
Paladin just watched him as he slipped on his brown wool jacket. The nights were starting to feel a bit chilly.
"Are you ready?" El was already standing at his door wearing a lightweight hood over her black skinny jeans.
"Um yeah." Mike looked around for his keys on the side table spotting them almost hidden by a couple of D&D figurines. He grabbed the keys and shoved them in his front jeans pocket. "Let's go."
"Do you have any place in mind?" Mike asked as he locked the door.
"Uh, Benny's down the block is pretty good."
Mike knew of the quiet little dive bar that El spoke of. "Yeah that sounds good."
They set off down the street. The sun was setting and people were making their way home from work. They didn't really say anything to each other mainly because the tension between them felt awkward as hell and Mike didn't want to make it any worse.
They crossed a busy intersection and then they were at Benny's. Mike was walking towards the door when something told him to look behind him. When he turned around, he gasped. Looking quite innocently up at him was his cat.
"Paladin!" Mike darted forward and scooped up the cat. "How did you get out? Why did you follow me? Oh my god, I can't believe that you crossed that intersection by yourself. You could've been killed. Don't you ever do that again. Do you hear me?" The cat just purred and rubbed it's head against Mike's neck.
Mike turned and looked at El apologetically. "El, are you ok to go in without me? I have to take Paladin back home."
El raised her eyebrows, she had to play second fiddle to the cat again. It was hardly surprising at this point. "Sure."
"I'll be right back as soon as possible," Mike said as he continued to stroke Paladin's head.
El just watched Mike cross the busy intersection before shaking her head as she went inside.
Benny's was never fully of traffic which was what El liked about it. She choose a booth near the back and ordered a beer. It was at least a ten minute walk to get back to theirs. Mike would probably be back in half an hour or so, El thought as she sipped her beer and watched the dodgy 80s music channel on the television hung up on the wall.
El was on to her second beer by the time that Mike reappeared.
"El I'm so sorry about that," he said sliding into the booth opposite El. "Paladin wanted to play when we got home and I couldn't get away."
El narrowed her eyes slightly, whilst taking another sip of her beer, unflinching, as if she was just waiting for Mike to get to the purpose of this outing.
Mike sighed softly. "El look, I'm truly sorry for what I said to you. I was angry at a client and instead of dealing with it, I let it fester and unleashed it all on you and I was wrong for that."
A waitress popped up as if on cue and placed a beer in front of Mike and left as discreetly as she came. He figured that El had ordered for him.
"You said that I just waltz in uninvited." El accused him.
Mike looked at him sheepishly. " Yeah sorry. Of course you can come over, whenever you want," he paused. " Well with in reason."
"You asked me if I didn't have any other friends." El's golden eyes narrowed even further at him.
"I have no excuse. That was completely an asshole thing to say." Mike finally took a sip of his beer.
"You even said that Paladin doesn't like me." El said sounding completely hurt.
Mike slowly placed the bottle down on the table. "Well..."
"Oh god, seriously? He doesn't like me?" El shook her head. "Why?"
"I don't know." Mike shrugged. "Maybe he just isn't accustomed to you as yet."
El tilted her head slightly and blinked slowly at Mike.
Mike laughed nervously. "Maybe it's because you took up his remote."
"Really Wheeler? Your cat can hold a serious grudge." El drained the remainder of her beer.
She stood up and eyed Mike impatiently. "Come on. I wanna go to the park."
Mike was confused. "But isn't the park closed by now?"
El sighed dramatically and rolled her eyes. "I bet you pay all of your taxes too." She started to walk away.
Mike quickly dug a twenty out of his pocket and dropped it on the table and then walked quickly to catch up with El.
"I can't believe that I'm doing this," Mike said as he squeezed through the sizeable hole in the fence. El was already standing, waiting for him on the other side.
"Jesus Mike, chill out." She watched as Mike stood up and dusted off his clothes. "It's just a park not the Pentagon."
El started to walk down a dirt trodden path and Mike called out to him. "Hey wait up. Its pitch black, I can hardly see in front of me."
"God, you're such a whiner." El waited until Mike caught up with her and then she grabbed his hand. "Just so you won't get lost."
Mike didn't mind El holding his hand at all. El's palm fitting perfectly against his own.
They held hands until they reached a park bench. El hopped over the back of it and plopped down in the seat whilst Mike sat like a normal person.
There was nothing in front of them but an open field and the night sky. Mike glanced over at El who had her arms spread across the top of the bench as if she owned it.
"You know, I don't really know anything about you." Mike finally said after sitting in silence for a while.
El raised an eyebrow. "What do you want to know?"
Mike slid a bit closer to El on the bench but didn't touch her. "Everything."
El furrowed her eyebrows. "What are you? The FBI?"
Mike crossed his arms over his chest. A wry grin playing on his lips. "Just start talking."
El gave him one of those long looks that made him feel something that he knew better than to feel.
He watched as El's tongue lightly licked her bottom lip before she started to speak. Mike involuntary bit the inside of his own lip. Damn it. There was just something about her.
"Well I'm twenty-six years old," El started. "From Chicago. Single, no pets." El smirked. "Safer that way apparently."
She stopped speaking and stared out into the night.
"Um..is that it?"
El shrugged nonchalantly and stretched out her legs. "What else is there to know?"
"Oh come on." Mike knocked his knee playfully against El's. "Like what do you do? What are your hobbies?"
El waved him off.
"Oh no you don't get to ignore me." Mike pulled a lock of her hair gently. "If you insist on coming over and eating my food and upsetting my cat, I think l at least deserve to know at least what you do." he said batting his eyelashes ridiculously.
"All right, all right." El swatted Mike's hand out of her hair, scowling whilst trying to suppress a grin
Mike laughed at the look on El's face. El was about to say something sharp but the way how totally relaxed Mike looked when he laughed, stopped her in her tracks. She needed to stop finding this man so damn attractive. Knowing her luck he probably wasn't going to be into her, not many guys were, she was a little rough round the edges for most.
El used her right hand to push her hair from out of her eyes. "I'm into stuff." She finally said.
"Really?" Mike gave him a disbelieving look. "You don't say?" he said sarcastically. "What kind of stuff?"
El gave a slight shrug. "You know, stuff."
"You're terrible at communicating." Mike dead panned.
"Look all I can tell you is, I'm a girl who knows a few guys and girls who can get you anything you want." El's right foot started to tap nervously against the pavement.
Mike's voice lost all of its merriment. "Like drugs?"
El shot him a look. "No."
Mike noticed how uncomfortable El was becoming with the conversation but he needed to be sure for his own safety as well as hers. "Are you telling me the truth El? I won't judge you."
El locked her large golden eyes firmly onto Mike's dark brown pools. "I am telling you the truth. I don't sell drugs."
She sounded sincere enough to Mike. He honestly didn't know El well enough to know if she was lying or not. "Okay fine. I'm not going to bring it up again."
"Thank you." El gave Mike a quick once over. "You know, you aren't so bad when you get out of the house. Less up tight."
Mike chuckled good naturedly. "I'm not up tight."
"Yeah, whatever." El suddenly stood up. "Let's go home. I'm freezing."
lronically El nearly froze to the spot when Mike gently squeezed her shoulders and his soft voice was right by her ear. "You would be freezing in this hoodie."
Okay, that was a mistake. Mike had decided to go bold with the physical contact to see if El was interested in him and she tensed up as soon as he touched her. El clearly was not interested, whether it was just in him or all menkind he wasn't sure.
"Yeah, I, uh didn't realize how cold it would be." El replied blushing lightly, she definitely appeared uncomfortable and Mike released his grip. At least I didn't try to kiss her, Mike reasoned. That would've been a huge mistake.
They made their way back to the hole in the fence and got through without incident. They held a light conversation on the way home, the awkward shoulder encounter forgotten both thankful for the fresh start post argument, although neither knew where it was going.
As they walked up the path to the apartment building side by side, their fingers kept on brushing against each other. Both of them guilty of doing it on purpose but secretly hoping that the other didn't notice.
Finally as they opened the door, El half hooked her index finger around Mike's and the brushing stopped. El didn't dare look up at Mike and kept her head down. She felt as if she was in high school again not knowing how to act around her crush, hence the earlier shock when those beautiful hands of his touched her shoulders.
Mike of course noticed El's finger, half curled around his. Maybe the brushing of fingers annoyed her he thought, trying to quell that small flicker of hope that was burning in his stomach.
They took the stairs together with Mike leading, fingers still hooked, and both of them trying to ignore it.
However, when they reached the top of the stairs, El unhooked her finger. It was getting too weird, noone could ignore it for that long.
They heard a commotion coming from the end of the hallway and as they walked Mike realized that it was his neighbour Logan Lowell banging on his door.
"Come on! Shut up in there." Logan yelled at the door.
Mike rushed forward. "What's going on?"
"Your damn cat has been yowling for blue murder for the past three hours. The fuck didn't you leave some food for it to shut it up?" Logan accused Mike.
Logan was a rather large man as he was a competitive bodybuilder and Mike felt a little intimidated.
He could hear Paladin yowling loudly in the background. His heart was beating quickly wondering what had happened to him. Paladin had never behaved like this before. Then El stepped right into Logan's personal space "He did leave him food and water. Maybe all of your yelling is upsetting him more."
Logan snorted and then stood back from El, looking between the two of them. " You know what? At least you're home. Shut up your damn cat." He gave Mike one final glance and walked away.
Mike fished the keys out of his pocket and unlocked the door. He had barely gotten the door opened, when Paladin launched himself at him. Jumping as high as Mike's thigh.
Mike picked him up and Paladin clung to his shoulders, meowing in a softer and a more grateful tone.
"What's the matter Pal?" Mike asked as he walked into his home. "What's the matter boy?"
The cat just purred and rolled over in Mike's arms, nuzzling his neck with his head.
Nothing in the house looked disturbed.
"Oh you just miss me boy? Is that it?"
The cat meowed and playfully butted its head against Mike's chin.
Mike laughed. "I missed you too. I didn't mean to upset you."
Mike sat on his couch and started to tickle Paladin's tummy. The cat stretched out his body purring in delight. "Who's my favourite kitty? You are." He teased. Paladin meowed and rolled over as Mike gave him a good petting.
El stood in Mike's hallway and watched them from a distance. It wasn't lost on her that Mike had completely forgotten about her and her entire existance as soon as he saw Paladin, with a small sad smile and shake of her head she turned and left.