Kim determined she would prove her mother and Monique wrong over the next few weeks. Her plan appeared to be simplicity itself. The rumor around Middleton High was that Kim was too busy to date, but there were usually boys asking her out. On Monday morning she resolved to accept the first five boys who asked her. Given a couple of the guys who asked for dates she regretted that promise, but she kept her word to herself. By Wednesday she had the next five weeks planned. She was going to be too busy to even think about coffee.
Monique went in to work after school on Tuesday. It was a relatively quiet afternoon at Club Banana. The big sale that ended over the weekend meant that the dedicated Bananamaniacs had what they wanted, for the moment, and the staff could restock and prepare for the next sale. Monique was checking for miss-shelved items. (Some shoppers tried to ‘hide’ a perfect sale item on the wrong rack until they could borrow money and come back for the sweater or pair of pants.) She had just discovered a six petite lurking among the sixteens when a discreet cough startled her and she whipped around, wondering who could have approached so quietly.
The pale woman put a finger to her lips, “A little more quietly, if you please. Unless you want everyone in Lowerton to know I'm here I'd rather you not advertise my presence.”
“What? Why are you here?”
“I'm here for some of these lovely sweaters,” she said loudly enough for the manager, whose attention had been drawn by Monique's outburst, to hear. Her voice dropped enough for only Monique to hear, “I'm not going to steal anything, okay? I'd… I'd like to ask you a couple questions about Kim.”
“I don't trust you.”
“On the not stealing part or the asking about Kim part?”
“Neither. And I'd rather you stole something than hurt Kim.”
“I don't want to hurt Kim,” Shego hissed, then raised her voice slightly. “Cashmere, please, I'm not sure whether I want a v-neck or a crew. What would you recommend?”
Monique sighed, “Over here.”
The older woman wore Monique's resistance down to the point that, as the black woman rang up three sweaters at the register, she whispered to Shego, “Food court in twenty minutes. I'll be on break.”
“Can I get you anything?”
“A cinnabun and a carton of milk?”
“I'll have them for you. See you in twenty.”
“I had a little trouble finding you,” Monique complained as she sat down.
“It's an old habit in my line of work,” Shego apologized as she slid a plastic tray across the small table.
“Well, your line of work is what makes me suspicious,” Monique said as she poured the milk into a paper cup. “I don't know what you did to Kim, but I don't like you or trust you. Still, I'll give you fifteen minutes for your sales pitch, then I have to get back to work.”
Shego chewed her lower lip nervously, not knowing where to start, what she wanted to say, or even exactly why she was there. “Look, I don't have a lot of friends. Maybe none. Kim is about as close to someone I can talk with as I have. I guess I'm kind of worried about her. She could get hurt with what she's doing and--”
“You've put her in the hospital! You've hurt her more than all the other crazies she's gone up against combined!”
Green flame flickered around Shego's hands and Monique prepared to duck and roll, but Shego brought herself back under control. “I'm not asking you to betray her!”
“Then what in the heck are you asking?” Monique demanded.
Shego paused, “I'm not sure… Look, if I tell you something, will you promise never to tell another person?”
“I'm not sure I can make that promise. If you tell me you hurt someone, that's a crime. I don't want to be an accessory. I won't hide information that hurts another person-- And I sure as heck don't like it that Kim acts all OOC around you.”
“Out of character.”
Shego smiled, “Really?”
“You don't have to look so happy about it.”
“Look, this is going to sound weird. I'd like to give you my phone number. If something happens to Kim I'd like you to call me.”
“You want to give me your phone number?”
“That's what I said. But only if you swear not to pass it on to anyone. And I mean anyone. I've got identities I pick up and drop as needed. This is the number that I use the most. Kim doesn't have any phone number for me. I just want you to give me a call if she gets hurt or something. That's all I want.”
“You haven't given any phone number to Kim?”
“I'm still worried she may be setting me up to get arrested.”
“You don't really think that or you wouldn't be here.”
“I'm big on irrational fears, okay? And it might get passed on to Nerdlinger or somebody.”
“That boy genius who runs her website.”
“Yeah, that's his name. I can see him checking out the numbers programmed into her phone. This phone number goes to an identity I'm fond of. If it gets in the hands of the authorities it can screw up a chunk of my life.”
Monique sat silently for a minute, digesting the offer. “Why are you doing this?”
“Because I'm worried about Kim.”
“No, why are you making the offer to me?”
“Oh, I read your manager's evaluation of you--”
“Hush, people are staring. Your manager said you were extraordinarily honest. She says she's never met anyone more trustworthy. I'm going to believe you if you promise not to say anything to anyone.”
“How did you see her evaluation?”
“Doh, I broke into her file cabinet.”
“You broke into the manager's office?”
“Sure, I'm a thief, remember?”
Monique thought for a minute. “I do stand by my promises, so I don't give my word lightly. I'm still trying to figure your angle out. I've got a couple questions I want to ask. You answer them and I'll consider what you're asking.”
“Have you slept with other women?” Monique demanded.
Shego looked shocked, “That's very personal, and what does it have to do with Kim? You don't think I… That's ridiculous!”
“Look, you want me to serve as your spy, you answer the question.”
“I'm not asking you to spy!”
“Yes, you are. And I'm trying to figure out what it is you want from Kim. If you just want to whup her you don't need to go through all this. I've been thinking maybe you want to lay some even bigger hurt on her than a beating. And then I think maybe you have a really sick ulterior motive.”
“Sleeping with another woman isn't sick. I've slept with women. I've slept with men. I don't meet a lot of decent people I want to go to bed with. Kim's cute, but she's too dangerous for me to want to bother with. If I tried to jump Kim's bones she'd probably break some of mine. But, I'll tell you what. If you or Stoppable want to take me out for a nice dinner I'll hop in the sack with either of you. Hell, chip in for a really nice dinner and I'll do it with both of you.”
“You are sick.”
“I'm not sick. I'm lonely and I'm horny. You can help yourself with your own hand on one of those problems. You need a person you can talk with for the other.”
“I still say you're sick.”
“So, you won't--”
“I never said that. You really aren't trying to set Kim up to hurt her? You really just want someone you can talk with?”
“Yeah, stupid I know. And I can't give you any kind of promise you'll believe or accept.”
“Got that right,” Monique muttered. “Look, I'll promise not to give your phone number to anyone. But I'm not doing it for you. I'm doing it for Kim. She seems to like seeing you--”
“She does?” Shego asked, brightening visibly.
“Yeah, she does. She's normally smarter than that.”
“So you're giving me your word you won't give it to anyone -- and that includes Kim?”
“I promise not to give the number to anyone.”
Shego pulled the sales receipt from her bag and started to write on it. “I read the evaluation on Kim before she got fired, ‘Hard worker, but erratic. Too busy saving the world to follow a schedule.'” She slid the receipt to Monique who glanced at the phone number. Underneath the number Shego had written, “Susan Green, nail appointment.”
“What's the nail thing?”
“Does your mother ask questions if she sees a phone number? Mine did.”
Monique shook her head, “You and Kim are not a good idea. Do you need my number if you want to call me?”
“Oh, I stole that out of your manager's Rolodex,” Shego told her, showing Monique the card.
“You and Kim are so not a good idea… What else did the manager say about me in the performance review?”
Shego slept poorly that night, and blamed Monique for putting disturbing ideas in her head. In the nightmare she and Kim were fighting in some sort laboratory, as Kim tried to stop her from stealing something. The details were never clear in the dream, but as it progressed they were no longer on a laboratory floor, but in a bed. And they were no longer clothed. And they were no longer fighting.
Shego woke up in a cold sweat. “That is definitely Monique's fault,” she mumbled as she went into the bathroom for a glass of water. Or perhaps it was a little of her own fault. Anchovy and artichoke heart pizzas tended to do that to her. She remembered a particularly vivid dream where she had been in a huge bed with the entire cast of Friends. Who knew Phoebe was such a perv? The pale woman had been unable to watch the show for months without breaking into fits of giggles whenever Phoebe had been on screen.
Definitely Monique's fault, Shego concluded. The redhead was dangerous. Even if she weren't dangerous she was off-limits, she was waiting for Mr. Perfect to sweep her off her feet and Shego was the furthest thing possible from Mr. Perfect. Kim was certainly cute… “Damn it, Monique, why did you put that in my head. I don't want to mess up what looks like the closest thing I've had to a friendship in years!”
Kim had one reservation about her plan; she didn't want Shego to think she was being rejected. Kim just wanted to prove to her mother she was not obsessing over the villain.
A small link on Kim's website read, “Message for latte lady.” Clicking the link led to a page which read, “Busy the next few weeks, catch you later.”
Conflicting emotions ran through Shego's mind as she read the message to latte lady. She was going to miss Friday coffee times with Kim. On the other hand, based on the dream she just had, a break from Kim was probably a good idea. Shego smiled as she read and reread the last three words, perhaps it was a boast that Kim would capture her, but the pale woman took it as a promise Kim wanted to see her again after whatever business that now commanded her time was taken care of.
Shego typed a message to Kim on the site, one she was certain Kim would know was from her. It simply read “CU2K.”