Squeak

The Terrace 
#1
outfit, sometime near midnight


Originally, it had been an outing with coworkers. Ashley was happy to tag along, clinging to the early process of making friends in a relatively new area.

But eventually, six coworkers had become four, and four had become two, and... now those two were definitely making out somewhere out back! And one of them was her ride. So. She'd just be ready when they were!

Ash was nursing her third drink and feeling it a lot more than she wanted to be. But it seemed lame to waste it, and Ashley wasn't lame, so here she was! She'd gotten "The Healer" because she had healing powers and at the time had seemed funny. Now, it felt a liiittle strong.

She sat happily on a bar stool anyway, legs swinging as she listened to karaoke ranging from good to funny-bad. Her mood was good despite having been left alone, and the drinks probably helped with that. As one song finished, she waited to see who was next, and... the bartender called for an "Ashley?" into the mic. He'd said more words, but she only heard her name.

No response from the room. Chatter continued, and the bartender repeated it again with some hint of... annoyance? Which Ashley would realize the source of in a second.

"Looking for Ashley, covering a Sir Mix-a-Lot classic."

And Ashley could see it on the screen, the song about asses, and she wanted to die. She was Ashley, but not that Ashley, it was a common name! Feeling a little drunk and a little red-faced flustered, she turned to the stranger next to her and squeaked out: "I'm Ashley, but not that Ashley!"

It felt important for, like, someone to know in that second, but she felt a whole lotta dumb right after.
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#2


Hope had read somewhere that the Japanese used karaoke as a type of therapeutic outlet when their jobs were too stressful or too boring or too mundane or whatever it was that your average Japanese business-person went through. She didn't really know--she'd never met one, had never been the country where this information seemingly originated, and probably never would.

Still, it had tickled her brain just enough, some stroke of uncharacteristic attempt to break free from the bad habits of just going home and watching Hulu for the hours before bed. A decision... well, she didn't want to say she regretted it, because she didn't, but even as she'd sat and nibbled on really good food and carefully imbibed with the awareness she'd eventually need to go home, she had felt rather out of place.

Public spaces were weird. Technically she knew they were meant for everyone, but she always felt like an intruder, even as she paid money to experience this particular moment.

Having debated but not really worked herself up to actually doing karaoke herself--making this whole exercise perhaps a bit pointless--Hope hadn't spoken to much of anyone until the girl next to her seemed to think they needed to have a moment.

Blinking for a couple of seconds to catch up with what had just been said to her in the context of what was going on, she then laughed a dry and short laugh, sympathy bleeding into a marblework of bewilderment and what should have been disinterest. "Doesn't seem like anyone's that Ashley. Maybe someone went and signed you up..."

Sounded like a bad prank, if so.
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#3
The laugh was kind of comforting because at least it meant she hadn't made a total fool of herself! Still, she clasped a hand over her mouth a little like it might keep more words from spilling out.

But the girl raised a very real possibility. Ashley's eyebrows rose, and she took a glance around the crowded bar in search of either of her remaining coworkers. Nope, nope, nope... nope. They were probably still, um, doing whatever they were doing together.

"I don't think so," he said, but she wasn't entirely certain. Looking to the girl next to her a little better, Ashley gave kind of a gasp she couldn't help.

"Has anyone ever told you you look like the Star Wars girl?!"
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#4
Oh boy, Ashley seemed to be a fair bit deeper into her drink than Hope was herself. Thankfully, it had a more endearing than alarming quality to it, like she was particularly more innocent rather than tipsy. The prank idea was dismissed, which was fine, because it would be better for everyone if it weren't so. Hard to imagine this chick singing that particular brand of... song.

The gasp and question that followed took her off guard. "Oh, uhh, no actually? Which one?" she asked, her mind flitting over each of the movies. She'd seen them all at least once, but she supposed she could have looked a little like... any number of the leading ladies. Brown hair, rounded face... She was just buzzy enough right now to be perfectly flattered no matter the specifics.
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#5
"Oh, uhhh!"

Think, Ashley, think. Which one was it? It was the one-off. (Spin-off?) Something one. Something One. Oh!

"Rogue One!" she said. "But I think you're even prettier! I think she always looks unhappy in that movie."

Ashley broke into a grin as if to show the opposite of unhappiness, then covered her mouth a little, balancing between feeling very lonely and tipsy with not wanting to come on too strong. The bartender moved on from the mystery Ashley to someone singing "I Will Survive" and it was hard not to absentmindedly mouth the words.
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#6
The grin was a bit infectious. Not enough to get Hope to flash all of her teeth like some sort of buzzy parrot fish, but her mouth still twisted in a very sincere smile, reaching up into her eyes and everything. Rogue One... yeah, she could see it! But the addendum made her feel fuzzy in a way that was as unexpected as her own smile.

"It was a pretty grim movie," she said, with the sudden desire to see it again, as she'd only seen it the once. Had she seen that one in theatres? She wasn't sure...

"I'm Hope, by the way."

She wondered if Ashley was here alone or on a date or something... but either way it felt a little insulting to be asking.
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#7
It was totally grim. Didn't everyone die or something? At least the chick was smiling, and then- oh my gosh she had a total Star Wars name. Hope! Wasn't that one of the movies? The Last Home?

Ash was nooot a Star Wars expert.

"Ashley!" she volunteered automatically and choke-laughed a little. "But you knew that!"

Ashley, not that Ashley!

"Are you here with friends and stuff?" she asked, not to be rude but maybe to have something to bond over if they were both kind of abandoned by friends here. or. Coworkers. You know!
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#8
Hope was quick to shake her head in a 'nope,' deciding she had not drank enough yet to go so far as to say I don't really have friends which was... sorta true and mostly just sad. Stupid. She could have had friends if she wanted them!

"I heard that karaoke is good for work stress, but I still haven't gone up," was an easier confession with a sweet-and-sour laugh. "Convincing myself is harder than I thought."
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#9
Oh! So. Maybe she was here with coworkers? Or just by herself because of work stress?

It was hard for Ashley to push anyone up front to sing. She would pretty much rather die than do karaoke. But she wanted to have something to keep talking about, so she swung her legs on the stool a little and decided on an adjacent question.

"Is your work really stressful?"
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#10
"Not like... a super lot," Hope said, finding Ashley wasn't bad to small-talk with. She was the right kind of awkward without being embarrassing, but at the same time felt like the sort of person she could break away from conversation with if necessary. For now, though, this was good. "I work in data-entry and it's actually pretty boring. But my boss has been on kinda a weird rampage lately, so I guess maybe a little."

She swung her feet as well, too short for the stool, really.
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#11
Data entry. That sounded kind of easy, but maybe really boring. Ash's job (unrelated to healing magic) was very boring punctuated with moments of way, way, way too many customers at once. She couldn't tell which option was better.

"Well, maybe just watching karaoke can help, that's all I'm doing," she said, reaching to grab her drink and take a sip. Yep! Still alcohol! "You should totally sing. Like, if you want. I'll cheer you on."

Would that help or embarrass Hope? Ugh. Ash would probably find out here in a second.
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#12
Hope's smile softened but remained. "Maybe in a little while..." It was difficult to commit to. "I don't even know what song I'd do." Tucking her hair back behind her ears, she reached for her own drink and was wondering if she needed another or if that was pushing into dangerous territory if she wanted to go home anytime soon. "You here with friends, then?" She didn't see anyone, but she felt like you didn't come here with the pure intention of just watching.
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#13
Song choice was probably tough. Choosing something too obscure would bore everyone. But choosing a crowd pleaser and sucking at it seemed really bad too?

To the question, she lifted her eyebrows behind a drink sip.

"Sort of! My coworkers, but! The two that are left are making out in a bathroom I think. And they're my ride, soooo."

She swung her legs to imply she'd just be sitting here. Which was fine! Totally fine. Way cool.
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#14
Hope's face scrunched up at the mention of coworkers in the bathroom. First of all, gross because bathroom. Second of all, gross because they were having gross fun and had just left Ashley here.

"Oh, shoot, that sucks! You don't need a ride or anything? I mean, not to be weird and offer, but I could if you... are left here too long or something."

Was Hope kind of intrigued by an excuse to maybe leave without it simply looking like she'd wussed out? Maybe.
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#15
She didn't expect that response. But it was really nice! Maybe even too nice.

"Oh, I mean- I don't want to disrupt your karaoke!" she said.

Ashley took a sip that made her eyebrows go up. Still alcohol!

"I live in Larkspur, so it's a little ways away."
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#16
"Oh please, like I'm doing any karaoke," Hope said with a scoff and a wave of her hand at the other woman. "It's an offer, on the table, and you can't scare me with Larkspur, because that's where I live, too."

They were both outside of their comfort zone, it seemed.

"I just know I'd die if I was stuck here by myself with no way home."
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#17
Hope was aggressively nice. Nice, but aggressive about it. A weird mix, and yet Ashley was without complaint.

Was it dangerous to take a ride from another woman? It was maybe stupid how quickly she was okay with the idea when she didn't know Hope at all.

"Let me text my coworkers real fast to make sure they're not just about to leave or something," she said, fumbling for her phone to do just that. "I thought about an Uber but it's expensive, you know!"
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#18
Ashley probably didn't realize, but she was doing Hope a grand favor and letting her get out of this low-key regrettable decision to be here in the first place. Was this the worst thing ever? No. But she definitely was happy to go home. Maybe she'd even have time for an episode of the show she'd been watching before bed if they left within the next few minutes.

"It is!" Hope agreed, in spite of never having actually taken an Uber in her life.

She was happy to wait to be sure that Ashley was in the clear to bail, and hoped the coworkers weren't about to turn up and dash her current escape plan. (Even if the only one holding her hostage was herself.)
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#19
Ashley sent a text!

And she waited a minute, legs swinging. And then she closed out her tab. And waited just a little longer. And...

Still nothing! Which was fine. She had a ride and that was great and this was fine and it wouldn't be super awkward when she got back to work tomorrow because it was fine.

She gave her phone a look as if she'd received something, then turned the screen off and looked to Hope.

"Looks like I'll be taking you up on- riding! Or."

SOBER UP, ASH. She hopped off her bar stool.

"Thank you again. Last call for karaoke?"
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#20
Now that she'd made up her mind to go, it was almost difficult to sit and wait for Ashley to confirm that she wasn't bailing on people expecting her to really be there. If anything, it was depressingly evident that they'd likely forgotten all about her. Hope was willing to bet they might have even already left! But well, she wasn't going to say it, because Ashley was pretty nice, a little inebriated, and not in need of Hope's world view just now.

"I'm good," she said, feeling a flash of relief when Ashley finally threw in the towel. "I'm not much of a singer anyway." And she turned on her stood, sliding off, all paid up and ultimately not sure what she'd gotten out of this outing other than meeting her slightly awkward seat-neighbor.

On the way out the door, she'd stick close, just in case Ashley was more tipsy than she seemed. Like, literally going to tip sort of tipsy.
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#21
Ashley followed, unknowingly but wisely kept close. The world was a little spinny as she walked thorough it, and she realized a glass of water would have been wise

It was as they reached the parking lot that she did her casualest but definitely neck-craning search for the car she'd come here in. Following Hope still, of course!

Just... checking! And as she spotted it in the parking lot, she wasn't sure if she felt relieved or not. It was good that they hadn't left without her. Just too bad that they ignored her.

She toddled after Hope, quietly thinking over if she'd been really boring or lame or what.
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