Friendly Advice

From the Story Arc: Green and Red: A Christmas Story

Previous Story in the Arc: A Fire and Brimstone Christmas by Carpathia (Friday, December 10, 2004)

Next Story in the Arc: A Fire and Brimstone Christmas by Carpathia (Sunday, December 12, 2004)

(posted Saturday, December 11, 2004)

Zach was not happy. “Well, that was a colossal waste of time,” he thought to himself. After spending countless hours fighting the hordes of shoppers, he found himself still empty-handed. He sat on a bench near Prometheus Park, his head and arms hanging from his body like limp spaghetti. Zach was mentally and physically exhausted.

He had been optimistic about find a present for Carpathia at Bloomingdales, perhaps irrationally so. Zach had no experience with shopping in department stores, buying most of his clothes at thrift shops or the salvation army. He had even less experience with the insanity that is Christmas shopping, having been estranged from his family for most of his childhood. But Zach certainly had a reason to be shopping now.

Zach had been encouraged by the help of the saleswoman in the women’s wear section. “Mr. Bestial Boy! I just saw you on the news yesterday! I am sure we can find something perfect for your…er…mother?”

“No it’s not for my mother, its for my……” Zach realized that he was afraid to label what was developing between he and Carpathia Peregrim, as if expressing his hopes out loud would dare someone to ruin it for him. He wouldn’t give the cruel fates the chance.

“It’s for a friend. A very important friend.”

The saleswoman smiled knowingly, although she clearly suspected that something illicit was the reason for his reticence, and not simple superstition. “Is this, friend of yours, how should I say, also a ‘woman of color’?” Zach shook his head no, but actually appreciated the question, since he knew how much trouble he had finding clothes that didn’t clash with his green skin and light blue hair. He had once been subject to a painful shopping trip to Icon with Natalya and Ursula, with his entire look picked apart ad nauseum. He clearly was fashion-challenged, and was going to need help with this.

The saleswoman was pleased not to be confined to one-third of the color wheel. “Well then, there is world of options to consider. First of all, what is your price range?”

Zach had been afraid of this question, but not unprepared. He had asked Fei Li, the Commissar of the Red Brigade, for some advice before he went shopping, figuring that both as a woman and as someone in love with a woman, she would be a good person to ask. She had one great piece of advice for him, “Don’t ever tell them what you want to spend. Those decadent dogs will be looking to take your every penny, and when they see you they will be smelling fresh meat. Just see what they offer you and exercise discipline and restraint!” Oddly, enough The General’s advice for Zach’s shopping trip was identical to that she once gave him before heading off to thwart a shakedown by The Family.

With Fei Li’s advice firmly in his mind, Zach played coy with the saleswoman. “I don’t have a set range, but I’m not going to be unreasonable.” There, let her wonder what that meant! In truth, Zach was prepared to spend virtually any amount he could to get something perfect for Carpathia. He wasn’t a particularly wealthy hero, but he had been able fetch a pretty penny from Orion Labs for some cybernetic enhancements he found during a recent operation against the Freakshow. Even if it left him broke, Zach was going to find something.

But money turned out not be his biggest obstacle. The saleswoman took his vague comments about his price range in stride. “Well then, why don’t we just start looking around. What sort of style does the lucky girl have?” Zach was dumbfounded to explain Carpathia’s sense of style, mostly due to his utter lack of any fashion sense of his own. He had seen her wear everything from daringly cut miniskirts to combat gear, and he lacked the proper vocabulary or knowledge to describe her style in any meaningful way. “I don’t know exactly, but she likes form fitting stuff, I guess. Other than that, its…what’s the word….eclectic?”

It seemed like a word that meant something to the saleswoman, although Zach had no idea what message he had just conveyed. She walked him over to a rack of daringly cut dresses, and began taking some out to show him. Things began to go terribly wrong with her next question, however. “So, what size is your lady friend?” Zach, oblivious to such concerns, blithely said, “I’m not exactly sure, you would know better than me. She’s in great shape, slender but not skinny, and about 8 feet tall or so.”

The stunned look on the saleswoman’s face told him that something was wrong. “I’m afraid you are in the wrong store then.” Her voice was angry and bitter, as though Zach had dangled money in front her eyes and then snatched it away. “We don’t carry anything in such a ‘heroic’ size.” She walked past Zach like he was invisible.

Now Zach sat on a park bench, beyond depressed. He had never wanted to accomplish anything so bad, and yet had with so little clue as to what to do. He wished he knew someone that could suggest something to him for Carpathia, someone who he could trust to ask for advice about the subject.

Unfortunately, he knew exactly such a person. Kostyak, a Commissar in the Red Brigade, was one of Zach’s most trusted friends, and a huge part of how he came to join the Red Brigade in the first place. In many ways, Zach looked up to Kostyak like a big brother, as someone who had been able to transcend his past and define himself by his own terms. With no real relationship with his parents, friends like Kostyak and Fei Lei were as close as Zach got to the concept of family.

“No way, I’m not asking him…..”, Zach sternly told himself. Kostyak certainly knew Carpathia well, and could probably have given Zach some tips on what to buy her. But that was just the problem. Zach didn’t know the full story, but apparently there was quite a bit of history between Carpathia and Kostyak, and his lack of knowledge about the details only made Zach more worried about it. The very day Carpathia had expressed her feelings to Zach, and asked him to spend Christmas Eve with her, she had disappeared with Kostyak for almost an hour, driving Zach crazy. “Maybe she invited him first and he said no,” Zach bitterly thought to himself.

Suddenly, Zach became aware that his muscles were all taut, his instincts firing, as though he was in the heat of combat. “Damn!”, he said to himself. He was embarrassed by his insecurity, that he was allowing himself to doubt someone who had been as true a friend as Zach had ever known.

Even more, he was disgusted as he imagined what Carpathia would say if she knew how worried Zach was. Another of his comrades in the CCCP, Ursa Minor, had made the point of telling Zach that girls don’t like insecurity. Ursa wasn’t the type to give helpful advice, so when she did it behooved you to pay attention. Zach decided to put his fears behind him. “Time to pay a visit to my favorite bald mystic Commissar….”