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From Vain to Dandy Chapter 12

Chapter 12
The aliens have taken over our backyard! Angel gasped at Nolan. When? Yesterday, Nolan said with a fierce nod. There were lots of green lights! We should say hi to them, Angel said, suggesting. I made weapons out of sticks, Nolan said proudly. That's helpful! Angel cried, delighted. You want to see them? Nolan asked, excited. I want to, but, Angel frowned. Mama's not feeling good. What's wrong with your mother? Cherry asked from the driver's seat. She was driving Nolan and Angel home from school that day. She's sick, Angel said. I'll get her some medicine and make her soup, Cherry said. Papa already did that yesterday. Cherry was not surprised to hear that. Is he coming over today, too? Angel looked puzzled so Cherry laughed and said, I'll help out a bit, then. We're staying over at Angel's house? Nolan asked, thrilled. Yes, but Angel's mother is sick so keep your voice down, Cherry said. Your TV has all the cool channels, Nolan said to Angel. You want to watch them, Nolan? Angel asked with wide eyes. Yeah! Nolan cried. May I, Nicki? As long as you're quiet, said Cherry in reminder. After Cherry helped Angel unlock the door to Simone's house, Cherry and Nolan entered cautiously as if they were being watched and closed the door softly behind them. In the living room, Simone West was watching television with a thick blanket around her. The redhead smiled gratefully at the sight of the familiar sight of Nicki Chantelle. I'm back, Mama! Angel said, running over to her. Did you say thank you to Nicki? Simone asked Angel. Yup! Angel said with a smile. How are you, Mama? I'm better, Simone said before she coughed. How about you play outside with Nolan for a while? Race you, Angel said before the two kids ran out of the sight. Are there leftover ingredients in the fridge? Cherry asked curiously, taking off her shoes by the front door. There should be, Simone said, tossing a glance at the kitchen. I'll make you some chicken soup, then. Thanks, Nicki. With Simone's permission, Cherry proceeded to cook in the kitchen while Simone sat at the kitchen table and watched her in silence. Ten minutes past before Simone decided to speak up to her guest. It was not every day Cherry had time to stay over to chit-chat. I hope Angel isn't troubling you too much, Simone said. Not any more than Nolan, I reassure you.

Simone observed Cherry for a bit before Simone asked, Have you spoken to Blaine lately? All the time, Cherry said honestly. Does he still go to that speed dating place? He stopped recently. Simone gawked at Cherry's back and cried, Is he that serious about that girl? What girl? asked Cherry, turning around to face Simone. The one he told me about, Simone said in a lowered voice. Cherry lifted a brow. The one who seems to be at his level. Oh, Cherry said. They don't have that kind of relationship. What other kind of relationship would Blaine have with an attractive woman? Cherry shrugged. It's none of our business who he sleeps with. But... Why are you so vocal about Blaine all of a sudden? Cherry asked more out of curiosity than accusation. No reason, Simone said, pouting and glancing away with red cheeks. Just that he hasn't been serious about anyone ever since our divorce. He deserves happiness, too, Cherry said, waiting for the water to boil. Even if Angel is his number one priority, he should find time for himself, too. You're right, Simone said, resolved. You're always right, Nicki. I'm not always right, Cherry said. You deserve happiness, too, Simi. That's what I thought too when I divorced him... Cherry scanned Simone's face quickly before she asked, You want to get back together with Blaine? I don't know what I want! Simone said with a moan. All I know is that I'm more miserable now than before! I understand where you're coming from, Cherry said. But you shouldn't go back to that relationship because it's better than your current state. That wouldn't be fair to Blaine or Angel. But I don't want Blaine to be serious about another woman! Simone said loudly, unable to help herself. At Cherry's shocked face, Simone flushed bright red and looked away again. Sorry... Cherry frowned at her. He's twenty-three, Simi. I know, I know, Simone said quickly, still flushed. That's a long time for him to still brood over you. Suddenly, Simone's face lightened up. He still cares about me? Why else would he take care of you when you're sick? asked Nicki, astonished. Because, Simone said, crossing her arms stubbornly. I'm Angel's mother. Exactly, Cherry said with a comforting look. You will always be Angel's mother for the rest of your life so you will always have an advantage over other women in Blaine's eyes. Simone beamed now. That's true. Thanks, Nicki! Ah, Cherry said, whirling around quickly. The water's boiling. *** Who's he?

A Latino-American girl pointed directly at Weston and asked Joel the question. Joel didn't bother replying immediately because he was too busy conversing on the phone with another One Heart member, who wanted him to guide her step by step on how to bake pumpkin pie. Currently, all three of them were in the computer room where Weston was told to assist all member who needed technical help. This order annoyed Weston to no end because he was trained to be a mental support, not a technical support. Hold on one second, Mrs. Lucy Fitzgerald, Joel said before he put his phone on hold and turned to Weston. Weston Andrews, please attend to Miss Kayla Perez. Joel, Kayla said, frowning. Stranger danger, remember? Yes, he is a very strange man, Miss Kayla Perez, Joel said, smirking at a fuming Weston. But in no way is he a dangerous one. Why is he here? Kayla demanded. He's under training. Weston shook his head at Joel. ...Four years ago. Re-training, then, Joel said, amused. Where's Logan? asked Kayla, turning her back to Weston. Logan Holly's out on a mission, Joel said. What kind of mission? Joel smiled. He's teaching someone about the online community. What's so great about a world in a monitor? Kayla asked, rolling her eyes. If you have any computer questions, ask Weston Andrews, Joel said, leaving the room. Mrs. Lucy Fitzgerald? Are you still with me? I don't like you, Kayla said decisively at Weston. Even if you dislike me, Weston said with his trained perfect smile. I am here to help you in any way I can. I need help on my introduction paragraph, said Kayla as she sat back down in front of the computer she was working on. Weston stood behind her and checked the screen. You're a junior high student, Miss Kayla Perez? I'm twelve, she said, typing rapidly on the keyboard. How are you able to attend One Heart? My cousins come here often and they recommend that I print my essays and projects here. Weston lifted a brow. You don't have a computer at home? No computer, printer, or Internet, Kayla answered. After that brief conversation with Kayla, Weston rushed over to Joel's office and went in without knocking. There was no need to, Weston thought, since the entire center had see-through walls except for the restroom, the changing room, and the outer walls. Still, Joel looked legitimately annoyed at the sight of Weston. Tim has been wondering for a while why your center is doing so poorly in terms of profit, Weston said with a severe frown on his face and his shoulder leaning against the nearby wall. For a center so enormous and profitable, Joel said while typing on his computer. Your manager has a lot of free time on his hands. Tim is a caring and wonderful manager, Weston said in protest. Not only does he want his branch to succeed, he also wants every other branch to as well.

By sending his workers to other branches? asked Joel incredulously. Weston sighed. That Kayla Perez is not paying much for her membership here, is she? Her family is poor, Joel said. Your branch is wasting resources, Weston said. What is One Heart's motto? Joel asked, gazing at Weston now. One heart, one man, one fit, Weston answered. Kayla Perez cannot afford a computer at home, but her school is deaf to her plight, Joel said. Her teacher demands all essays to be typed and printed regardless of a child's circumstances. I understand why you help her, but- One Heart's job is to find the right fit for every member in any circumstance, Joel continued in a scolding tone. Even those who cannot pay money for our help. I am not questioning your decision, Weston said with another sigh. All I'm saying is to be mindful of spending too much of the center's resources. Not only are there too many members for the amount of conversationalists you have in place here, you are losing profit as well. Weston wrapped his arms across his chest. Tim is very concerned for you, Joel Eduardo. Let me lay it out loud and clear for you and your boyfriend, Tim- I'm straight. -understand, Joel said with a cold expression on his face. California has more minorities than you ever see in your entire life and they are some of the most hard working people I have ever met. It is my pleasure to be the manager of a branch who accepts every member, regardless of their ethnicity and income. Yet, you have to make up for the lack of profit by having less conversationalists to pay for, Weston said, smirking. That's quite an ingenious economic scheme you have going there. It's too bad that it means there'll be inadequate attention to your members all around. Even with our shortage of conversationalists, our branch is still standing strong, Joel said. I guess it means we work twice or maybe even three times as hard as Tim's boys. How should I feel, Liam said in interruption, poking his head in. He was strolling by Joel's room when he witnessed this. About two of my fellow coworkers arguing in the middle of center hours? It's important, Weston said calmly, throwing Liam a glance. Joel Eduardo is slowly killing the Californian Branch. Liam nodded thoughtfully. With that face, I'm not surprised. Not my face, though it is well crafted, Joel said in retort. Liam laughed. Tim and Weston Andrews have issues with how I run my center when they should be concentrating on their own instead. Liam raised his hand. If the center burns down and dies, I will volunteer to go down with Joel. Thank you, Liam, Joel said gratefully. I heard Joel Eduardo is the master of brainwashing, Weston said in a serious voice with his full attention on Joel again. Another compliment, Joel said with a smirk. He got off his seat now. Liam slipped fully into the room now. He really is. How can you not love

that radio voice and sarcastic humor? That's not what I mean, Weston said. Despite hating on Mandy and having a sour attitude all around, Joel is the manager of a whole branch somehow. If that is not brainwashing to some expert level, I don't know what is. Sour attitude? asked Joel with a lifted brow. Hating on Miss Mandy? asked Liam to Joel. Joel looked back and forth between Liam and Weston. I beg to differ on the sour attitude. I like to call it 'spicy' instead. Joel doesn't hate Miss Mandy, Liam said to Weston. They have a complicated relationship, that's all. No, he's right, Liam King, Joel said, hesitating. Joel went to the window and stared out at the darkening sky. I won't deny facts. I hate Mandy Monroe. Liam frowned while Weston said proudly, I knew it all along. Why do you hate her? asked Liam, clearly unhappy. I hate her in the sense that if I were to invite my co-workers to a private birthday party, I would invite everyone but her, Joel said in a solemn tone with his hands clasped behind his back. Weston's smirked widened now. Miss Mandy Monroe knows. Tim knows. A couple of the earliest conversationalists know. Why do you work for her, then? Liam asked, unconvinced. Because even though I hate her personality and her methods, I strongly believe in her dream, Joel said, turning around and gazing at his fellow Californian branch co-worker in the eyes. I also respect her. That is why I put my everything into this occupation. My job is done, Weston said in satisfaction as he left the room. Everyone here knows you work the hardest, Joel, Liam said understandably. But it must be hard on you to work under someone you hate so much. Let's say, Joel said slowly. I believe in and respect her vision and center so much that I am willing to follow her every order even if I hate her as a human being. In a way, Joel paused with a contemplated look on his face. I am the most qualified for this manager position since she knows I will fight and die for her beliefs and dreams without being dragged down by my personal feelings for her. I can't argue there, Liam said, feeling his tension toward Joel leaving. You and Miss Mandy Monroe probably have the most professional relationship in the whole center. Joel smiled. Liam King, if one day, my hatred for that woman exceeds my love for this job, you have every right to leave this center and side with Tim and Weston Andrews against me. Chucking at Joel's serious suggestion, Liam said, If that happens, every one of us will use everything in our power to bring you back to your usual, cold self. We don't abandon our members around here and surely, we won't abandon one of us. And this is why, Joel said, walking over and patting Liam's arm. I love what we do at this center. *** Sorry, Blaine, but I have to let you go. After receiving his paycheck, Blaine West emptied out his locker with his back turned to the rest of his coworkers. None of them approached him because

they were told not to by the manager. Blaine picked up a picture frame of Simone carrying Angel in her arms from a few years ago and admired Angel's tiny features. The situation seemed hopeless indeed. Not only could he no longer afford to send Angel anywhere, he probably had a hard time buying for himself. On top of that, he might be chased out of his apartment. The probability of any one person having this much misfortune in a few days is slim, Blaine muttered under his breath as he left the restaurant. In other words, none of this made sense to Blaine from a logical standpoint. Your shift is over quick. Oh, Mandy Monroe, Blaine said as he glanced over at the blue-eyed woman standing next to the front door. I apologize that I cannot serve you this evening since I'm no longer a server here. It's fine, Mandy said, beaming at him. Let's go on a date. Blaine chuckled. I have no money. Money is never an issue, Mandy said, resolved. You will join me, won't you? Where will we go today, Miss Mandy Monroe? asked Blaine politely. Hm, Mandy said, pretending to think. How about... Mandy pointed at a small restaurant across the street. Chinese fast food? How serious are you? asked Blaine. Mandy's grin widened. Please? Sure, said Blaine, completely smitten by her bright expression. After the two of them ordered each a box of orange chicken and chow mein, they sat across from one another at the tables provided. Blaine watched as Mandy ate her food with a delighted look on her face as if she enjoyed every bite of it. There was so much liveliness on her pretty face. Still, Blaine could not believe she would enjoy fast food this much. As if she read his mind, she lifted her eyes at him and wiped her mouth with a napkin. I was not allowed to eat fast food the longest time, said Mandy. Because it's unhealthy? Mandy poked Blaine's arm with her chopsticks. Have you thought about my job offer seriously? I have, Blaine said. I'm considering it. Great, Mandy said, tapping her fingers together. With you on our team, our empire, I mean, center will expand in no time. Blaine smirked at her. I haven't agreed to join your empire yet. It's inevitable, Mandy said in dismissal. It's only common sense that you will accept my proposal after evaluating all the possible options. As confident as ever, Mandy Monroe, Blaine said, returning his attention to his half-eaten plate. Thankfully, not delusional since your center is my safest bet of a stable income at the moment. Blaine West, said Mandy, gazing intently at the redhead across from her. This job I am offering you is not some ordinary, stable income for you to use as a tool to raise your child. Blaine frowned at Mandy. This job is your calling, Blaine. It is what you are meant to do for the rest of your life. That's hard to believe, Blaine said, his realism kicking in. You belong with me, Mandy said with a soft expression on her face. You belong in my center. You and this career are meant to be together.

Blaine laughed, slapping his hand over his eyes. But I have no idea what I'm supposed to do at your center! You will be trained to become my perfect business partner, Mandy said with her usual confident smile. You have the potential to become a master conversationalist who can tackle any case given to you at One Heart. Now, we're going somewhere, said Blaine, throwing her a flirty look. Give me more, Mandy Monroe. Sustain my interest. Mandy leaned toward him. Do you play basketball, Blaine West? Mastered it, Blaine said without a doubt. You have what it takes to become the Michael Jordan of socializing. Blaine studied her blue eyes carefully before he said, This is what you mean when you told me I was the 'one'? Your so-called soulmate? Nodding firmly, Mandy said seriously, I am the most talented scout in the world and you are the one I picked out of millions to be the one to spread One Heart's message and art form. I might fail, Blaine reminded. Those who succeed do not believe in failure. You don't believe in failure, then? I don't believe and I don't fail, Mandy said fiercely. I met your other conversationalists, Blaine said, keeping his full attention on her. She was returning the gesture as well. I am similar to them, yes, but I am not above them. Why am I the soulmate you're looking for and not one of them? It's simple, Mandy said, reaching over and grabbing a hold of his face with the tips of her fingers. Logan Holly can only be Logan Holly. Darren Christie can only be Darren Christie. Joel Eduardo can only be Joel Eduardo. But Blaine West can be Logan Holly, Darren Christie, Joel Eduardo, and anyone he wants to be. Mandy removed her touch from him as she admired his facial features. You're a shape shifter, Blaine. You can master everything required for this job and effortlessly too, I might add. You are a worthy investment no matter what. What about you? asked Blaine, feeling excitement boil in his blood. He could not stop himself from feeling challenged around Mandy. Can Blaine West become Mandy Monroe? That's impossible, Mandy said, breaking off their eye contact and pouting. I have excellent genes. I am also a woman and you are a man. Besides, I'm the founder of this idea. There's a difference between founding an idea and being the best at it. At Blaine's challenging tone, Mandy whirled on him and said, Have you forgotten that bet we made during our first date? You lost to me. But I haven't been trained by you yet, Blaine said casually, noticing that this was the first time he saw her so tense about something. Even after I train you, you might be extremely close to my level, but you will never match or surpass my level. By being born a woman alone, I will always have the advantage over you. Blaine narrowed his eyes at her. Are you absolutely sure about that? I am absolutely sure about everything, Mandy said. You do not see me as your Michael Jordan, then, Blaine said in amusement. Mandy gaped at him for contradicting her. If I am your Michael Jordan, I will be the best player of this sport, this game of yours. I will be even

better than the teacher who trains me. What foolishness, Mandy said, laughing and shaking her head. Perfect is perfect. You cannot be better than perfect. Reaching out, Blaine grabbed a handful of Mandy's silky, black hair. Are you afraid of how much better than you I will become? I am Mandy Monroe, Mandy said, holding her hand to her rapidly beating heart. I am not afraid of anything. If you are not afraid, train me to be the best. You do not need to ask this of me, Mandy said, slightly insulted. That is exactly what I was planning to do in the first place. It's a challenge for both of us, then, Blaine said, watching the strands of hair drop from the palm of his hand. A playful smirk traced his lips. Am I able to live up to my potential to be One Heart's Michael Jordan? Are you capable of training someone like me to become your envisioned master conversationalist? Your ideal soulmate? Or are you all talk, Mandy Monroe? There is no doubt about it, Mandy said, smirking as well. She stood up from her seat with her hands on her hips. There is nothing humanly possible that I can't do. With my perfect abilities and your perfect potential, we are an unstoppable force. Mandy slammed her hands on the table. We will change the world. And make this world a better place? asked Blaine, amused. Yes, Mandy said, smiling sweetly. I will accept this challenge. Blaine got up to his feet as well as he held his hand out to her, I'll be in your hands, capable founder. Mandy shook his hand with determination on her face. But don't throw a tantrum when the inevitable happens- the day when I beat you at your own game, Mandy Monroe. Wrapping her arms around his neck, Mandy leaned up to Blaine and said in a whisper, I dare you to try because I'm not the least bit worried. You will be, Blaine said in a whisper back. When that day comes, you'll bow down to me and apologize. Maybe, but only for wiping the floor with you so badly. Blaine smirked at her and played with her hair. After we're done, you wish you were wiping floors with a washcloth instead. Because of how much you dirty it with your loss of blood and tears? asked Mandy fearlessly back with her hands caressing the back of his neck. There will be plenty of those, Blaine said. But none out of loss. I beg to differ, Mandy said, scoffing. Not winning is the same as losing in my world, Vain Blaine. You should know better that that. Of course, someone who usually wins like me know that perfectly well, Blaine said, glancing at the time on the wall before he broke away from Mandy at last. They could continue like this forever if neither of them backed down. So, when should I start offering myself to you, Dandy Mandy? Tomorrow should suffice. And the arena? I'll stop by your room and we'll talk it out. Blaine nodded and picked up the leftover boxes on the table. Should I take you back to your house? Usually, I would like to be escorted back, but, Mandy said, checking her

cell phone for the first time. Someone very dear to me will be at the airport soon. I should pick up his car for him. Your husband? Blaine asked, teasing. Close enough, Mandy said, gasping. How did you know? Because this is the first time you call someone 'dear'. Mandy blinked. That doesn't sound like me. I'm pretty sure you said that. It doesn't matter, Mandy said, picking up her purse from the chair next to her. You are my precious conversationalist from now on so stay safe. If anything happens to you, I will not forgive you. On top of being dead, I'm not forgiven by the lovely Mandy Monroe, Blaine said, nodding as in if considering the options. I like staying alive better, don't you? Yes, said Mandy, rubbing the side of his arm affectionately. I prefer you better that way, too. Blaine shook his head in amusement as Mandy checked the clock on the wall. Anyways, I better run now. See you tomorrow morning, Blaine. Sleep well with your admirable arrogance, Blaine said as Mandy started for the door of the restaurant. Mandy tossed him a cute look back. Same to you and your beautiful vanity. Right after Mandy closed the door behind her, Blaine frowned and thought to himself, If she's actually married, doesn't that make me a homewrecker in the twisted definition possible? *** Hi Simone. My name is Pizza and I love you. Simone shrieked and snatched the puppy from Blaine's hands. Hugging it to her chest, Simone returned to the kitchen where she was drinking tea and reading magazines before Blaine came over. It was late at night so Angel was already asleep, though Blaine wouldn't be surprised if Angel heard Simone and woke up. Thankfully, there were no sign of sleepy Angel. It's so cute, Simone said affectionately, rubbing the puppy against her cheek. I thought you might like her, Blaine said, sitting down at the kitchen table. I do, Simone said with bright, enthusiastic eyes. I absolutely love puppies! I know, Blaine said with a soft smile. You always wanted one back when we were married. Simone turned red, but she chose to stay quiet. But with Angel, we had our hands full and couldn't afford a puppy even if you wanted one. It's not fair, Simone said, rolling her eyes. You don't even like pets and yet, you have a puppy and I don't. Blaine smirked at her. You can't take care of a puppy even you could afford one, Simi. Yes, I can! she cried defensively. You like puppies because they're cute, Blaine said, lifting a brow at her. He grabbed her cup of tea and drank from it. But you wouldn't think so any more after you take care of one. That's not true, Simone said, pouting. Pets need lots of love, attention, and care, Blaine said, reaching over and

stroking Pizza. Thanks to Pizza, I've learned this the hard way, but I love Pizza even more because of it. What a horrible name, Simone said, smacking Blaine's away from Pizza. Cherry named it. Horribly cute, Simone said, changing her mind. Blaine laughed at her before Simone threw him an accusing look. I smell perfume on you. Don't come visiting your ex-wife right after making out with another woman. I wish, Blaine said, shaking his head. How are you feeling, Simi? Better, I guess. Good, Blaine said with a nod. You'll be able to go back to work soon. Simone frowned at him. Is that all? You're missing work, aren't you? I am, but that's not the point. I am preparing to take Angel back, Blaine said, getting up. So, you better return to your job and work even harder to show the court what a great mother you are before they decide to hand custody of Angel to me. Simone gaped at him. Blaine West! I might have lost my two part-time jobs, Blaine said, picking Pizza up from Simone's arms. But I might have received a better one today. If everything works out accordingly, I will make sure Angel is legally mine. Simone reddened with fury at his words. Be thankful, Simi. I am warning you ahead of time so you can pick up your game a little and make it more interesting in court for me. Bastard! Simone shrieked, throwing the magazine at Blaine's face. However, when the magazine fell to the ground, she noticed that Blaine turned around to protect Pizza from the paper. Get out of here, you good for nothing low life! Smiling proudly, Blaine kissed her on the nose before he left the house immediately. Simone collapsed back in her chair and burst out in tears. She was sobbing against the table so loudly that she didn't notice or hear Angel approaching her. However, Angel had no idea what was going on and approached her. Mama, where's Papa? Angel asked, shaking Simone's arm. I heard Papa's voice. Why are you crying? Stop siding with that horrible man! Still thinking of Blaine and his words, Simone got angry at Angel for always wanting to be with Blaine and shook Angel off her arm. However, Simone pushed Angel in the wrong direction and Angel's head hit against the nearby wall.