“Phee?” Tam’s voice sounded so far away. “Earth to Phee?”
Phoenix ignored him, still staring down at his phone. Hallie had said she was on her way over half an hour ago… But her house was less than fifteen minutes from his Papa’s, and there was still no sign of her.
He couldn’t help but panic a bit as his mind raced, wondering where she could be. Part of him realized just how foolish he was being. Hallie had met his friends plenty of times at school. It really wasn’t a huge deal, was it?
But no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t quell the panic that he felt rising up in his chest.
What if she stood him up? What if she’d decided he was too much of a loser and changed her mind? Oh God. This is like Skylar all over again… His stomach lurched at the thought.
“Phoenix!” Bryce’s light punch on his arm finally called him back to the present. “Dude, chill. She’ll be here. Probably just running late.”
“Maybe… Thanks for the bruise, by the way.” He muttered, rubbing the spot where his friend had hit him. Phoenix finally returned his phone to his pocket. “I’m sure she’ll be here any minute.” He tried his best to sound confident. “I just hope she has fun…”
“She will.” Jasper smiled gently at his older brother. “Tam’s been working his ass off on this campaign for like… weeks! It’s totally epic. She’ll love it!”
Tamsin gave Jasper a small bow. “You flatter me, good sir.”
The other boy laughed brightly in reply.
“Jeez, why don’t you two just kiss and get it over with?” Bryce rolled his eyes at them.
“Be nice!” Meg leaned across the table and swatted her boyfriend’s arm as she spoke. “They’re just joking around.”
“Yeah, and Jasper’s right… This campaign IS epic. I think it’s your best one yet.” Phoenix grinned at his friend.
Tamsin puffed his chest out proudly. But before he could reply, he was interrupted by the loud chiming of the doorbell.
Phoenix’s smile widened so much that it made his cheeks hurt. “It’s her!” It was all he could do not to skip his way through the kitchen and living room on his way to greet Hallie.
But, to his horror, as he crossed into the living room, he found his father and Rubi still sitting on the couch. Erik already appeared to be rising to his feet and making for the front door. Phoenix threw himself in front of his father, blocking his path to the door.
“Papa, wait! Let me get it.” Phoenix was practically begging. “And I thought you said you guys were gonna ‘lay low’ tonight.”
“We can’t even say hello to your girlfriend first?” Erik asked, amused.
His son shook his head almost frantically. “Not tonight. Please? You guys already met her anyway…”
Rubi stepped forward, placing a hand on her husband’s shoulder. “Alright, we can take a hint.” She gave Phoenix a smile. “Tell Hallie we said hello.”
A heavy sigh of relief passed her stepson’s lips. “I will.” He lied.
Erik chuckled softly and shook his head. With a smile, he turned to leave the room with Rubi at his side. “Have fun tonight.” He called over his shoulder.
Phoenix nodded, then ran immediately for the entry way. But he paused before he reached the front door. He was a total mess of nerves and excitement. He couldn’t face her like this! He needed to calm down.
Shit. Play it cool. He took a deep breath. Everything’s gonna be fine.
His hands fumbled awkwardly with the doorknob as he finally pulled it open. So much for playing it cool. “H-hey Hallie.”
“Hey. I was starting to think you weren’t home or something.” Hallie smiled slightly.
“Nah, just a slow poke, I guess.” He laughed awkwardly. Oh my God. ‘Slow poke’? Really?! Phoenix was kicking himself. He tried his best to recover by leaning forward to give Hallie a soft kiss on her cheek. “I’m really glad you could come tonight.” He told her as he pulled away. “I was kinda worried you were gonna bail or something.”
She let out a small laugh. “I considered it.” Hallie confessed. “But I promised I’d come tonight, so… here I am.”
“Thanks for giving it a chance.” Phoenix reached out to take her hand in his. “I promise… You’re gonna have so much fun tonight.”
She raised an eyebrow at him.”Yeah… we’ll see.”
“Alright, gang.” Tamsin smiled gleefully at the others as he spoke. It was clear he’d been bursting to get started. “After clearing the cave of that vampire coven last week, your party returns to the village. As you approach, you run into the old shop keeper who sent you on your quest. He throws himself at your feet and starts weeping. ‘Oh, you’ve saved us! How can we ever repay you for your heroism?'” As always, Tamsin put on the perfect voice for the kindly old man.
“There’s no need to thank us.” Phoenix replied in-character. “It is our duty to protect the world from evil such as this.”
“But, uh, we probably wouldn’t say no to a round of drinks at the tavern?” Bryce chimed in. “Or two.”
The others couldn’t help but laugh. Phoenix was grateful that his friend was always so willing to play along, even if he spent most of the time getting his character drunk or trying to find hot elf chicks to bang. At least it fit with the character of his dumb, burly half-orc.
“The old man pulls himself up from the ground and pulls out a small sack of coins. ‘Of course, of course! Whatever you wish.’ He hands you the money before shuffling off back toward his shop.”
Phoenix smiled. “And I guess we head for the tavern.”
Tamsin turned toward Hallie. “Alright, let’s switch over to Eden.”
The others all looked toward her expectantly. She shrugged under their gaze. “Huh?”
Phoenix leaned close to her, whispering. “Eden… that’s your character’s name, remember?”
“So, Eden… After a long and very tiring day of travel, you happen to stumble upon a tiny village.” Tamsin continued. “You haven’t eaten anything in hours, and you can smell something delicious coming from a large stone building in the center of the town.”
“So… what do you do?”
Hallie shrugged. “I dunno.”
Phoenix’s heart sank at the sight of her face. It was a strange cross between boredom and confusion. Uh oh. “Well, you’re really hungry, right? So… maybe you should go check out what that smell is?” He suggested gently.
“Um, okay, I guess.” Hallie muttered. “I’ll go in that big building or whatever.”
“Perfect! You start making your way down the street toward the tavern, and head inside.”
Jasper leaned forward, glancing across the table at Tamsin. “Do we notice her walk in?”
“I dunno, do you?” Tamsin smirked playfully back at him. “Everyone give me a Perception check.”
Phoenix pulled out his D20 and rolled, adding the clattering of his dice to the chorus of rolls from the others around him. Not bad… 12, plus my modifier… “Fifteen.” He announced happily.
Beside him, Hallie was staring at her phone. “Am I supposed to roll too?” She asked, glancing down from the screen at the dice in front of her.
“Not yet.” Phoenix shook his head as the others called out their totals to Tamsin.
“Alright, I guess Zandak and Smash are too busy getting drunk off their asses to notice anything… Faelar and Azalyn, you two look back toward the door in time to notice the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen walk in. She looks very tired, but she’s so gorgeous, she’s practically glowing.”
Phoenix’s lips curled into a smile. “Not too hard to imagine.” He muttered playfully, looking over at the beautiful girl sitting beside him.
Hallie didn’t even glance up from her phone. “Hmm?”
His face fell instantly. “Nothing… Nevermind.” Phoenix sighed, picking up his D20 and rolling it once more. “Is an 8 on my Arcana check high enough to notice she’s an Aasimar?”
Tamsin shook his head. “Nope. You just think she’s really, really hot.”
“Alright, well… I’ll leave my drink at the table and go introduce myself.”
“Okay. Meg, what about you?”
She shook her head. Meg was one of the best at improvising conversations — her years in drama club made her great at getting into character. But it always seemed to take her a while to really get into their game sessions. “I’ll just sit and watch for now.”
Phoenix turned back to face Hallie once more. At least she’d finally put down her phone. “Good evening, Miss. Might I offer you a drink?”
She stared blankly at him, and said nothing.
“Um… You appear quite weary. Surely you could use some food or drink. Please. I insist.” He tried again. “My name is Faelar, by the way. And you are…?”
Hallie sighed. “Alright. No offense you guys… but this is the dumbest fucking thing.”
“Excuse me?” Tamsin cried.
“Well, yeah. Of course it’s dumb… But it’s still fun.” Bryce shrugged as he spoke.
Phoenix’s stomach twisted unpleasantly. It was already worse than he’d imagined it would be. “Come on, Hal. You don’t mean that.” He muttered weakly.
“Sorry if that was way too harsh… But it’s true.” She replied. “I mean, I know you guys are super into this whole thing. But I just… don’t get it. Like, it’s a Saturday night. And we’re sitting around rolling stupid dice and pretending to be having drinks in a tavern, when we could be out doing it for real!”
Bryce and his girlfriend exchanged a look. “That’s… not a terrible point.” Meg admitted almost reluctantly.
“Maybe we should call it good here for tonight?” Bryce suggested. “I mean, if we’re not all feeling it, there’s really no point, right?”
“Are you guys seriously thinking of ditching us?” Jasper cried before Phoenix had a chance to say anything. “Weren’t we just talking about how hard Tam’s been working on this? And we just got started!”
Phoenix nodded in agreement. “Can’t you give it one more chance?” He asked his girlfriend almost desperately.
“Phoenix, I tried, okay? It’s just not for me. And it’s Saturday night! We should go do something fun.” She smiled excitedly. “We could go check out that new bowling alley? The one with the bar and the arcade?”
His ears perked up a bit in spite of himself. He had been meaning to check that place out. And if Hallie really wasn’t having fun…
“Sounds great to me!” Across the table, Bryce and Meg were already rising to their feet. “You don’t mind if we skip this week, right Tam?” Bryce smiled. “We can always pick up where we left off next time.”
This wouldn’t be the first time they’d gotten sidetracked and decided to postpone their game session… But usually it was Tam who made that call. And Phoenix could tell instantly that he was having none of it.
“Seriously?!” It was rare to see his friend get so angry. “Do you have any idea how many hours I spent getting ready for tonight? Because, um, spoiler alert, you guys had a huge boss battle coming. I’ve been working on it all week!”
Bryce seemed unconcerned. “Well, if it’s really gonna be that awesome, it’ll be worth the wait, right?” He turned to Phoenix. “Dude, you in?”
He bit his lip. “Um…”
It was so tempting to leave with them… Especially Hallie. But he knew how much this game meant to Tam. And to be honest, he’d really been looking forward to it all week. But then, he’d been looking forward to spending more time with Hallie too…
As though on cue, she reached out under the table to grab his hand just as the thought crossed his mind. “Come on, Phoenix. It’ll be funnnnn…” She used the cutesy, sing-song voice that always made him smile. “Maybe we’ll even get to have a little alone time…” She added softly, her lip curling into a smile.
God damn it. How could he say no to THAT?!
“Alright. I’m in.” He grinned at her.
“Really, Phee? You too?”
“Sorry, Tam.” Phoenix glanced guiltily back toward his friend as he rose to his feet. “I’ll make it up to you?” He offered.
His best friend sighed heavily. “Yeah, sure. Whatever.”
There would be hell to pay later, Phoenix knew. But he was sure Tam would forgive him. “Do you guys wanna come?” He offered. Jasper was still too young to get any drinks at the bar, but he could at least bowl with them.
His brother and Tamsin both shook their heads in unison. Phoenix knew better than to try and push them to join. He had a bad feeling it would simply make things worse. “Okay… well… um… I guess tell Papa and your Mama I’ll be back by ten? But, uh, maybe don’t mention where we went…”
Jasper shrugged. “Sure.”
“And sorry again, Tam. I’ll seriously make it up to you.” He promised once more.
To his relief, his friend’s lips curled into a small smile. “Alright, fine… Just don’t be surprised if you guys get TPK’d next session as revenge.”
“Ha! Noted. Thanks, Tam. I owe you”
Hallie walked up and tugged at his arm impatiently. “Alright, now that everybody’s kissed and made up… Can we get out of here?”
Phoenix nodded, his smile widening. “Let’s go.”
Note: Added a few new pieces of art to my Fan Art page recently, if you’d like to check them out! 🙂 Thank you so much to my very talented and thoughtful readers for sharing those with me ❤