A.N.: Hey, look, I'm not dead, after all! I know some of you were wondering, but we're gonna blame the Evil Writer's Block Fairy for the wait. It's her fault for making me take so long.

Many thanks to my beta, The Sloth, for his patience and input!

"I Blame the Llamas"

~Venus Smurf

CHAPTER EIGHT: Finding My Inner Monkey

The usher stayed suspiciously behind us until we'd crossed most of the lobby, Rick still brushing popcorn from his clothes and hair with the hand not still over his eye. I finally took pity on him, grabbing his sleeve to make him stop moving and then reaching up to snag a few of the kernels stuck in his shirt collar. "Saving these for later?" I joked as I stored the gathered popcorn pieces in one hand and kept picking at Rick with the other.

He only scowled at me. The boy really has no sense of humor.

I was almost done—dang, there was a lot of popcorn—when someone tapped on my shoulder. I assumed it would be the usher again, but the sheepish smile I'd plastered to my face completely died as I turned around.

Smirky. Of course.

This really cans my peaches.

I can't really say that I was surprised by Christian's appearance. I mean, why not? It's not like Lady Karma likes me, or that God does. It's not like I don't have the absolute worst luck in the world, and after all, didn't some famous guy once insist that anything which can possibly go wrong naturally will?

Ah, yes…dear Sir Isaac. You've now explained why I can't seem to keep Smirky out of my life. He's not a fungus, after all—he's just the universe's way of making sure my life sucks. It all makes sense now.

Christian must not have shared in my epiphany as to his real nature, though. He was smiling at me, seemingly genuinely pleased to see me even though his smile became just a little strained as he glanced at Rick. "Ria. What are you doing here?"

What am I doing here? What a stupid question. I'm pretending to be a monkey as I pick questionably edible particles out of another primate's hair. Obviously.

I somehow managed to keep a straight face—and by "straight," I mean that I wasn't glaring or laughing outright at this idiotic man, which is really more than he deserved—as I answered. "Dealing with abandonment issues," I told him, still irritated with Mia for getting me in this situation in the first place. "And possibly seeing a movie."

He didn't quite seem to know what to make of my words, but then people with only partially functioning brains usually don't, and Christian very clearly belongs in that category.

"Well, it's a pleasant surprise, anyway," he told me only a heartbeat later, giving what someone with lesser intelligence might have believed to be a real smile.

I automatically made a face, not even remotely falling for it. "Not really," I muttered under my breath before realizing that Smirky was close enough to hear no matter how quietly I'd spoken.

Only maybe he hadn't, because that strained smile of his briefly split into a grin. Not even Smirky is stupid enough to grin over a comment that unfriendly, right?

…never mind. Let's not answer that one.

Christian was still staring rather expectantly at me, and I finally sighed and made a vague gesture in Rick's direction. "Rick, this is Christian. Christian, this is Rick," I announced, trying not to sound as irritated as I felt. Isn't it bad enough that I have to deal with both Smirky and Skeevy in one night? Will I now be forced to listen to these two stalker-wannabe's pretending to make intelligent conversation?

And emphasis on the pretend. A man who laughs when he's insulted and another man who can't take several years' worth of not-so-subtle hints are obviously not the brightest bulbs on the tree. Heck, I'm not sure they're even on the tree in the first place.

Gah. This night is never going to end.

…and I still have to write that paper, don't I? Double gah.

Christian held out a hand, which Rick reluctantly took. "Christian Calloway," he said, his voice more polite than friendly, and I briefly wondered what had crawled up his butt and died. Wasn't he grinning just a second ago? I swear, this guy must be bipolar.

"Rick Emerson," Rick said in turn, not sounding any happier. Seriously, what was up with these guys?

Eh, I don't care. They're both idiots, and I have bigger problems.

Like that paper. Time to bail.

"Right," I said, interrupting what had become a very awkward silence. "And we're all pleased to meet each other, so yay for us. It was great seeing you again, Christian," I blatantly lied, voice thick with enough sarcasm that he'd know it, "but—"

I stopped, only then realizing that Smirky wasn't alone. A tall, slender and very nicely dressed brunette was standing just a little behind him, obviously with him and obviously listening in to our conversation. She had her arms crossed over her chest, her classically beautiful face twisted in a slight sneer as she stared in my direction.

Huh. I wonder if she realizes that it's not actually possible for people to shoot lasers out of our eyes? Apparently not, since she's definitely trying to slay me.

Geez…what did I do this time? Maybe she just objects to the monkey behavior.

Whatever. At least this one has better taste than the one from the restaurant, the one who thought vomit was the perfect color for her footwear. Christian's current date was wearing a chic little pant suit that would have made Mia die with envy and a pair of black heels that looked horribly uncomfortable but which I was already starting to covet—clearly a different league than the last one. I think I'd have liked her for her shoes alone if she hadn't also been glaring so fiercely at me.

Speaking of which, where have I see that look before…?

Oh, yeah…she's looking at me in the exact same way that Smirky's mother does—like I'm a bug, and one that badly needs squishing.

Charming. Utterly charming.

You know, if this woman has been or is ever unlucky enough to be introduced to Smirky's mother, I bet they'd get along swimmingly.

I think I'm gonna call her The Minion. It's a fitting name for someone who gets along with Mrs. Satan, right?

I just hope she doesn't tell me her real name, because that'll totally ruin it.

…though I doubt that I'll be seeing her again, anyway. Even Karma can't hate me that much, but even if she does, Smirky is clearly too much of a playboy to stay with one woman for too long.

Which is probably a good thing, if only for the gene pool and his potential children. Nobody would deserve Mrs. Calloway as a grandmother or this idiot as a father. He may be pretty, but that's hardly enough to make up for the soul-snatching aspect of their personalities.

…and this is me focusing. Paper, dang it! I have to write that flippin' paper!

I nodded to myself. "Right," I muttered again, turning to Rick and completely forgetting that Minion and Smirky were there, still listening. "Ricky, darling," I began, voice positively dripping with my special brand of saccharine sarcasm, "as charming as this evening has been, I still have a paper to write and a best friend to strangle. Do you mind if we go?"

Rick didn't answer for an instant, but then his glance slid from me to Christian and back again. Something like irritation danced through his expression, and then he turned back to me and nodded. "Sure," he said, taking my elbow with one hand and beginning to guide me out of the theater. "Nice to meet you," he called over his shoulder to my fungus-spawned stalker and his snooty date.

Somehow, I didn't think he meant it. Then again, I wouldn't have. Smirky is really annoying, and I'm not a fan of Squish-You-Like-a-Bug women, either.

Minion must have felt the same way about Rick and I, though, because she was already tugging on Christian's sleeve—she either thinks she owns him or has the maturity and patience of a five-year-old child on a sugar high—and was trying to get his attention. Judging by his expression, I think that just irritated the man, but the way I see it, that's so not my problem. He's probably the one who asked her out—or at least the one who agreed to go—right? So he's the one who gets to deal with a clingy Minion.

...though, clingy or not, I totally want her shoes.

The sun is mocking me.

No, really, it is. It's up there laughing at me, knowing how much the light is hurting my tired, bleary eyes, knowing how much of a headache I have and deciding to make it worse just because it can.

Stupid sun. I think I should become a vampire just so I have an excuse to avoid it. Where's Edward when I need him?

Okay, so sucking blood isn't really my thing, and usually darkness and gloom isn't, either. I make fun of the Goths way too often to become like them, but after staying up all night working on that stupid paper, I wasn't exactly my usual chipper self.

Not that I'm ever chipper. Chipper people give me hives, actually.

…but I'm tiiired, which means that I'm grumpy and slightly more incoherent than usual. Stupid education that requires people to stay up all night writing stupid papers…

And you know what the worst part about last night was? Not the fact that my best friend threw me to the stalkers, or that I had to spend an evening with Rick in the first place…though I suppose Rick actually wasn't that bad, at least until he tried to make out with my ear. If he hadn't started hitting on me again, we might have actually had fun, guts-and-gore movie aside.

…ahem. Anyway. This is me focusing.

The worst part of the evening was that Mia wasn't even around by the time Rick finally dropped me off at our apartment. She'd gone AWOL on me, probably knowing that no amount of blackmail could have made me forgive her this time, probably knowing that I wouldn't be able to curb my homicidal tendencies if I saw her.

Okay, so I'd actually been just a little worried when I came home and she wasn't there. We don't exactly live in the best part of the city, after all, and for all I knew, she could have gotten kidnapped and sold on the white slave market while I was still watching the not-so-cute chainsaw guy slashing at his screaming, annoyingly teenaged victims.

Hey, it could happen!

…all right, so maybe not so much. And I did eventually find a note saying only that Rick had a better computer, which really did explain everything, including where she'd gone. We both have laptops, of course, but they're not exactly the nice models, and it makes perfect sense that Mia would want to mooch off her brother. Frankly, it's probably only a matter of time before Mia and I break into his apartment and steal any and all electronic equipment Rick has.

…oh please, don't act so shocked. Where do you think I got my last stereo?

In any case, once I knew that Mia was safe, and once I'd sprayed her toothbrush with Windex, I'd hunkered down and dedicated all of my attention to research for the paper.

…yeah, I'm laughing, too. So my research really consisted of whatever I could get from Wikipedia and a few sources that I made up. I was strapped for time, okay? I mean, honestly, by the time I escaped Rick, spent a few hours watching Spongebob and Invader Zim on YouTube in order to psych myself up for the paper, then stared in the general direction of the computer for an hour or so while I tried to come up with an opening…well, there wasn't much time left for thorough research, now was there?

Exactly my point.

Anyway, I didn't actually go to bed at all last night—the hour I spent slouched over my keyboard, drooling, does not count as rest!—and coupled with the fact that I still have to work this morning…needless to say, I'm a bit on the "look-at-me-funny-and-I'll-go-all-Sylar-on-you-and-eat-your-brain" side.

Then again, some would call that my usual personality. Regardless, I don't think my co-workers should let me handle knives today.

…and all of that is precisely why, though it's not even seven in the morning, I'm on my way to Starbucks for a badly needed caffeine fix. I still have an hour before I have to be on shift, which gives me just enough time to drink my weight in coffee before work.

I sighed as I walked—okay, trudged, because who has the energy for an actual walk?—towards the paradise-that-is-known-as-Starbucks. Stupid higher education isn't worth this.

I probably should have been paying attention to where I was going, but I don't do that even when I'm awake, and I certainly wasn't capable of it when I was half-dead with lack of sleep. And since I wasn't watching anything but my feet, wasn't this the perfect time for Lady Karma to strike again?

Of course it was.

And of course I walked into someone. Of course the impact was enough to throw me to the ground. Of course it hurt.

And of course the jerk that I bumped into thought the whole thing was hilarious.

I might have been mad myself, because really, to have walked into me in the first place, wouldn't the other guy also not be paying attention to their surroundings? The only difference is that I'm the one Karma hates, so of course I'm the one who had to eat pavement.

Still, I only sighed, because I knew that laughter, and I knew how little point there would be in getting mad.

I looked up at my oldest brother, giving another long-suffering sigh when I realized that he was still grinning down at me from his lofty height of six-feet-four. "You did that on purpose."

Gus didn't even deny it. He only grinned a little wider, then reached down to help me to my feet. "Serves you right for being so out of it," my not-so-beloved brother finally pointed out. He peered a little more closely at me, and I'm sure he didn't miss the bags under my eyes or the lack of color in my poor, sleep-deprived face. "Lemme guess—you stayed up all night working on an assignment you've known about for over a month but didn't even start until the night before it was due, right?"

He knows me too well.

I glared at my brother anyway, thinking seriously about gut punching him but then deciding that since Gus is so freakishly tall and as big as the professional football player he was much too lazy to become, he probably wouldn't even feel it. "Three weeks," I corrected, annoyed but not able to say anything more since he was perfectly right. "And unlike you, at least I bothered to do the work at all."

Gus only laughed yet again, not at all bothered by the fact that even though he was five years older than I, he still hasn't graduated. He's gone through more majors than our youngest sister, Aurea, has gone through STD's, which is truly saying something. My parents are at their wit's end over him, but I think Gus is just trying to avoid graduating because that would mean he'd have to get a real job. Lazy git…

Though maybe I can turn this to my advantage and make him pay for my coffee. Least he can do when he made my butt kiss the cement, right?

Gus slung an absurdly heavy arm over my shoulders, and for just a second, I honestly sagged under his weight. "Dang, brother, how much have you been eating lately? Get any fatter, and your butt will need its own zip code."

Gus started to laugh, stopped himself just in time. "I may be fat," he immediately retorted, "but unlike you, at least I'm not so ugly that when I was born, the nurses put tinted windows on my incubator."

My turn to grin now. "Maybe not, but you're so fat that when you sit on a rainbow, Skittles pop out."

Okay, so that one probably didn't make any sense. Whatever. I'm still going to blame sleep deprivation, but from the way Gus was smiling, he obviously thought it was funny enough.

Just not funny enough to make him laugh, dang it.

Gus wasn't ready to lose yet, apparently. "And you're so ugly," he told me, "that you could model for death threats."

"You're so fat that for our last family picture, you were the background!"

"And you're so ugly that when you went to a haunted house, you came out with an application."

Ooh, good one. "At least I'm not so fat that when I wear a yellow raincoat, kids line up beside me, thinking I'm the bus!"

"No, but you are so ugly that when you were born, your parents named you 'Crap Happens.'"

I couldn't help it. I let out a short bark of laughter, realized what I'd done just a little too late and then shook my head. "Yo' Mama," I muttered, still laughing. "You win."

"I usually do," Gus retorted, which of course was a total lie. Gus is crazy smart, but when I'm not dead on my feet, we both know I'm smarter. Too bad it doesn't matter in the slightest since he can bench press me into next week.

I smiled up at my brother, already in a better mood. There's a reason why he's my favorite, after all, and it's not just because I can mooch off of him. "Starbucks now?"

"Starbucks now," he agreed, nodding. "Far be it from me to keep you from consuming your weight in stimulant."

Such a good brother…though I'm still making him pay.

Venus Smurf's Jokes of the Day:

Courtesy of HappyLittleLoser:

Did you know that they only called it PMS because "mad cow" was already taken?

Courtesy of Venus Smurf:

Q. What did God say after creating Adam?
A. I must be able to do better than that.

If your wife and a lawyer were drowning and you had to choose, would you go to lunch or to a movie?

If men can run the world, why can't they stop wearing neckties? How intelligent is it to start the day by tying a noose around your neck?

And, in honor of Ria and Gus, a few more fat/ugly jokes:

You're so fat that you're on BOTH sides of the family!

You're so fat that when you wear a red raincoat, kids think you're the Kool-Aid man!

You're so fat that when you step on the scale, it says, "One at a time, please!"

You're so ugly, when you walk into the bank they turn off the cameras.

If ugliness were bricks, you would be the Great Wall Of China.

If ugliness was a crime, you'd get the electric chair.