prompted by carolandtom
Friday. May 29, 2009. Burbank, California. 3:21 pm.
Jimmy was panicked. It wasn’t anything Clark hadn’t seen before, of course, but when they had less than forty minutes to get to their assignment, Jimmy’s panic had taken on an entirely different level of hysteria.
“This is bad, CK,” he said, leaning nearly halfway out the window of their rental car searching for any and everything. A RadioShack, a Circuit City, anything. “Tess is gonna kill me.”
“She won’t kill you,” Clark said with a tight frown, hauling Jimmy back into the car before a truck speeding down the opposite lane chopped him in half. “Keep doing that and she won’t have to,” he warned. Reaching over and with remarkable deft, Clark secured the seatbelt across his friend’s chest with one hand.
Fidgeting in his seat, Jimmy looked down to the camera in his lap. On closer examination it was clear the camera’s lens was cracked and there was even further internal damage. “It’s bad enough they wouldn’t let me carry on my bag but seriously? Losing it too?!”
“We’ll get something.”
“I hate planes,” Jimmy grumbled. “Really, really hate planes.” He held up his camera, “And CK, really, what’s the chance that lady would knock right into me on the exact day I don’t have access to my parts?”
“You were kinda spinning around.” Clark tried to hide his grin. “Hyperventilating.”
Jimmy slunk down in his seat, grinding his teeth. “She’s gonna kill me. I know the rumors going around. She’ll actually,” he made a neck-slicing motion with his hand, “kill me.” He started to mumble and grumble about murder and cement shoes.
“You just need a replacement. We have enough cash to cover it. We’ll survive.” For reasons he knew and motivations he was suspicious of, Tess had given Lois enough money to stay at the boutique hotel Amarano and eat three times a day for a week at every four-star restaurant in Los Angeles. When Lois pawed off the assignment and her discretionary account to him in favor of furthering her own personal investigations into the Red Blue Blur, he figured he and Jimmy could survive the weekend at the Marriot eating just as well. Now the prospect of buying a proper camera lowered the notch a little further to the Travelodge and maybe breakfasts at an empanada stand on the side of the road.
Their car, first reserved as a large sedan, was now a small economy whose seats Clark had to ratchet back just to barely be comfortable driving.
“I’m sorry about this, CK. I really am,” Jimmy said with a resigned sigh.
“It’s okay,” Clark said, his tone assuring Jimmy that it really was okay. “We’ll get the interviews, we’ll get the story and we’ll even get your bag back. I promise.”
Jimmy listlessly shrugged, “It could be anywhere.”
Clark nodded, “But still.” He didn’t add that the first time he could get away from Jimmy he’d track down his bag and mail it back to him. “Never lose hope.”
They turned onto Burbank Boulevard and almost immediately before them was a shopping mall with a large Buy More super center.
“That’s it!” Jimmy shouted, pointing wildly, “Turn here, turn here.”
“Okay, here we go,” Clark said, turning into the parking lot. “See? And time to spare.”
A little bit of positivity had returned to him. Clark parked and Jimmy immediately jumped out saying, “I’ll be five minutes, tops!” Clark nodded, watching as Jimmy disappeared into the large electronics store. Allowing himself to uncurl from the car, Clark got out and stretched his legs. If he’d known doing so would cause a hungry grumble to penetrate his otherwise impenetrable skin, he’d have stayed in the car. The prospect of food on their current diminished budget was slim but he had enough cash on him and enough in his bank account to allow more than cheeseburgers and fries to occupy their weekend in California. Turning around he spotted a small shop across from the Buy More. Checking his watch he figured he had enough time to grab a snack before they had to leave.
Clark jogged across the parking lot and headed for Orange Orange.
“Hey,” Jimmy said, approaching a sales representative. “Any chance you guys have a Nikon D . . . 90?” He asked, sadly looking to his own broken three-thousand dollar D700. He was infinitely glad the insurance plan was still active.
Morgan Grimes turned around with piqued interest. “Seriously?”
Jimmy’s brow crunched, “Huh?”
“People usually come in here and Sony’s the best they’ve got. They’re all, Cyber-shot and Kodak paper. They figure, a picture of grandma’s a picture of grandma, right? The cool stuff’s collecting dust back there—” he glanced down to Jimmy’s camera, “Holy shi—”
“Morgan?” A voice cut him off.
Turning to face him, Morgan said, “Hey, Chuck.”
Chuck Bartowski’s eyes widened and he mumbled to Morgan that sounded something like, ‘what did Emmett say about cursing around the customers?’
Morgan shrugged, “Not to do it?”
Jimmy piped up, “Back, where exactly?”
Morgan led the way, “Right over here my friendly new commission.” Looking back to Jimmy he pondered, “You know, you look really familiar.”
Chuck sighed and headed back to the Nerd Herd kiosk where he was intercepted by John Casey. “Sarah needs you at the Castle.”
“But—” He began, looking to the customer who was waiting for him. He knew a customer with a broken external drive wasn’t a good excuse to delay a required visit to the Castle but ever since Christmas, watching Sarah kill that Fulcrum agent just to keep his secret safe, he’s been avoiding any and all alone time with her. Both Sarah and Casey had noticed but in Team Bartowski certain things were never discussed and this was the five month-old elephant in the room.
Casey growled and Chuck snapped his mouth shut. “You’ve got an update, so get your ass over there before the head of Lashkar-e-Taiba walks in here and you’re offering to fix his iPhone. Capisce?” He stomped away.
Chuck lamely retorted, “Ha . . . I don’t fix . . . iPhones . . .” He sighed, calling Anna over to help the customer and heading out to Orange Orange.
Maybe he got lost in translation? He figured a place called Orange Orange would somehow offer . . . fruit? Wild thought, he supposed. Well, frozen yogurt was alright. He was in no particular way opposed to it. Looking around it seemed like the small shop was empty. He’d been in enough unusual situations to recognize an open door and an exposed register was usually a bad sign when one entered a store.
“Oh! Help, a little help,” a female voice said from the storage area. Clark ran to the back room and saw a woman struggling to get a box of waffle cones from the top shelf. The step ladder she was on dangerously tilted to and fro. “Chuck?” She asked without looking down.
“Clark,” he corrected, taking the box from her and settling the ladder. Setting the box to the floor he looked up to her. It was like a small buzzing noise started to feedback in his ears. She was . . .
“Hi,” she smiled down to the stranger. Her brain getting muddy she tried to focus. He was . . .
He held out his hand to help her down the ladder. “Hi,” he said.
Remembering how words were formed, Sarah blushed, “Thanks. Sorry about that.” They shifted out from the back room. “What can I get you?” She asked, doing her level best to avoid his face. She turned away and washed her hands, glad to have something to do. Something about him turned her face on fire and made her toes tingle. She didn’t like that feeling at all having thought she’d banished it during high school.
“Um,” he said, forcing himself to look at the menu. Having a hard time making sense of it he finally just said, “Two large sized whatever you can recommend.”
She nodded, turning to him. “That’s a dangerous request. I could peg you strawberries and banana and you’re kiwi blueberry all the way.”
“I’m not much of a yogurt fan so I’ll trust you.”
Given the appropriate latitude, Sarah sized him up. “Alright.” Turning, she went to work. Having to pull his eyes away from her he pushed his hands in his pockets and tried not to glance back. “So,” she said, talking from over the blender. “Why exactly is a non-fan of yogurt in a yogurt shop?”
“I had no idea it was,” he said, trying to banish the awkwardness from his voice. “I just got into L.A. and for all I know this is your version of Dairy Queen.”
Grinning she said, “Kinda is. That’s okay. Business trip?”
“Yeah, in for the weekend.”
She hummed. They stayed in silence after that.
“Here we go,” she said two minutes later, placing two large cups in a cup holder and sliding it across the counter. “You’re not a cone man,” she observed with a squint of her eyes and he nodded. “And I figured I’d play it safe with cherry chocolate. Classic flavors. Very DQ.”
“I think you read me like a book,” he conceded with a grin.
Passing her a bill, their hands touched for a brief moment. Both vigorously ignoring the minute electric tingle that ran down their fingers, Sarah took the money and gave him the change. “Thanks for visiting Orange Orange.” She said, looking to the space right between his brows. “Have a nice day.”
“You too,” Clark said, turning to leave. The front door to the Orange Orange opened and a guy in a grey tie and short-sleeved white dress shirt walked in. Passing each other, the guy in the grey tie stopped in his steps, his eyes nearly rolling back into his head. It happened so fast that anyone else seeing it wouldn’t have thought anything of it but Clark stopped moving and reached out to the guy with his free hand. “Are you okay?”
Chuck watched the name ‘Clark Kent’ zip through his mind attached to a decommissioned Department of Domestic Security Top Secret project called Starhawk and something about satellite espionage.
“Yeah,” he breathed, his mind finally functioning along with the rest of his body. “I’m fine!” He said, plastering on a smile.
Clark wasn’t convinced. He’d seen that expression of false assurance on others and was positive he often used it himself. “Sure?”
“Yeah! No problem!” Pulling away from him, Chuck made a beeline for Sarah.
“Did you just—?” She quietly began through clenched teeth, hoping it wasn’t true.
Chuck nodded with wide eyes, “I totally just did.”
She had to move fast but she didn’t know what kind of threat was involved. Knowing her primary objective was the Intersect and keeping Chuck’s life as regular as possible she acted in a way to keep her cover intact. Rushing around the counter and past Chuck, Sarah called out, “Clark?”
He turned to her, “Yeah?”
“It’s not fair I know your name and you’re leaving without mine,” she said with a small coquettish shrug. Holding out her hand she said, “Sarah.”
Gladly taking her hand, Clark said, “Hi, Sarah.”
“If your business doesn’t keep you busy all weekend, I’d love to show you around the city.”
“I’d like that,” he said, his eyes fighting to stay level with hers. She had a solid way of pegging people and in no way did this guy come across as a terrorist or a psycho. He was . . . sweet. And shy. She wouldn’t recognize it just at that moment but he had a Chuck quality about him, though, if possible, quieter. Taking his phone number and giving him hers, they parted with a smile and a promise to get together later that night at Sarah’s insistence.
Once out of sight, Sarah’s face fell and she about-faced on Chuck. “Get downstairs and tell me exactly what just happened.” He slowly backed away towards the Castle entrance.
prompted by carolandtom