Well, this is awkward.
Ash had never felt more out of place in his life. People were eyeing him as if he were some kind of strange fungus they'd found growing in the bottom drawer of their refrigerator, but that was nothing compared to the way Fee had looked at him when he'd first walked into the meeting room. That look had been pure annoyance followed by a healthy serving of exasperation, and told Ash quite clearly that his attentions were neither welcome nor appreciated. It wasn't that Marisol hadn't given Fee his number or that Fee hadn't gotten his message from the website. He'd gotten both and chosen to ignore them. Ash had been intentionally snubbed, for the first time ever, and didn't that just irritate the hell out of him. Oddly, it also made him even more determined. He wasn't giving up, not until Fee agreed to at least one date.
Ash couldn't really understand the animosity and strange looks coming from the others, though. Maybe he was a little overdressed, sure, but it wasn't like he'd shown up in his tight, flashy club gear with every tat on display. He'd done a bit of research and given himself a geek-chic makeover. Instead of his usual skinny jeans, he'd gone for slim-fitting black slacks. He'd paired those with his most conservative shoes (plain, black Doc Martens), a deep blue button-up that almost exactly matched the shade of his eyes, and a sharp, black vest that emphasized his toned chest and narrow waist. Add to that a pair of dark-rimmed costume glasses and a black leather messenger bag, and he thought he looked a bit like a hip, young professor. Scholarly, but not entirely without fashion sense. He'd even gone as far as changing up his hair a bit, trading his typical, stylized disarray for something sleek and preppy with carefully side-swept bangs.
If any of his friends had seen him this way, Ash was sure they would have done a double-take and then laughed their asses off. He didn't look bad. Just … different. And it would've taken them less than a second to figure out he'd dressed to impress someone. Not that it had done him any good. Beyond that first annoyed glance, Fee hadn't even looked in his direction. He'd stayed on the opposite end of the meeting room, locked in a conversation with a tall, gangly blond wearing a shirt that read "Han Shot First," which Ash didn't understand at all, while Ash lingered near the snack table, his outfit making him feel embarrassingly conspicuous in the sea of grubby jeans and faded graphic T-shirts.
From what Ash remembered reading on the blog, the RTFS book club met at this same location every month, the second floor of a local used bookstore/coffee shop called Grounds For Thought. Ash had never been there before, but he liked the place. It had a mellow, friendly vibe, with high, haphazardly organized shelves, a smattering of comfy chairs and cushions scattered throughout, and a small café area that had been entirely packed when Ash first walked in.
The signs, chalkboard menu, and bookshelf tags had been drawn by someone with a decent artistic hand, which added to the laid-back, homey atmosphere. Ash could have taken those signs from cute to awesome and helped them come up with a really memorable logo too. But, well, he wasn't there as an artist. He was there trying to win over a guy who had yet to give him the time of day. It was kind of pathetic, but he'd already come so far. It was a matter of pride at this point to see the whole thing through.
"Okay, everyone," Fee announced from the front of the room, startling Ash out of his thoughts. "I think we're all here. Let's get started."
Ash moved toward the table and sat down at the far end. A chubby girl with a mop of ginger curls and an overabundance of freckles plopped into the chair next to his with a muttered "hey." Ash returned her greeting with a bit more enthusiasm and got a small smile for his efforts. He smiled back and started digging in his messenger bag for the book he'd purchased earlier in the week, while casting a surreptitious glance in Fee's direction.
Fee had settled in a seat about midway down the table and the gangly blond he'd been talking to had taken the seat on Fee's right. Ash wondered briefly if the blond was the "Donovan S." mentioned on the blog. He didn't want to consider any other possibility, like how maybe the guy was actually Fee's boyfriend, not just his book club co-captain. Blondie was sitting pretty close, after all, and seemed to be leaning toward Fee in the familiar way of a close friend or maybe even a lover. The thought made Ash's stomach churn. But if Fee was dating someone, surely he would have just said so that first day or told Marisol to pass on that little bit of info so Ash wouldn't contact him again, right?
Ash liked to think so. He wasn't one to push once the boundaries of a relationship were drawn. If Fee had said he had a boyfriend, Ash would have backed off, but he had the feeling that Fee wouldn't be the type to hide something like that when he was being approached by another guy.
No. Even though Ash still didn't really know Fee at all, just based on his impression of Fee so far, Ash doubted Fee would have withheld the fact that he had a boyfriend when Ash first asked him out. Unless Fee and Blondie had hooked up since then, Ash figured they were probably friends. The only way to find out for sure was to continue with his plan, so that was what he'd do.
He tried to pay attention when the blond started talking—he was Donovan, Ash discovered after a couple minutes—but it wasn't easy. Ash's eyes kept straying to Fee and occasionally he caught Fee looking back. Yeah, no way is Donovan his boyfriend. Not when he's checking me out with the guy sitting right next to him.
Ash allowed himself a smile, ignoring the discussion going on around him until a question was directed at him—by Fee, who along with the rest of the group, was staring right at him expectantly.
Ash cleared his throat and sat up a bit straighter. "I'm sorry, I missed that."
Fee's eyebrows arched. "Many reviewers in the Star Wars fandom have stated that Darth Plagueis could be seen as a prequel to The Phantom Menace, even though an official prequel already exists. What do you think about its place in the Expanded Universe?"
Say what? Ash blinked. Now would probably be a bad time to admit he hadn't been able to read the entire book, right? He'd tried, honestly he had, but he'd gotten confused only a few chapters in. There were so many characters that didn't match up with the ones he knew in his head. Where was Luke? Leia? Han Solo? He didn't have a clue who Darth Plagueis was, or Darth Sidious for that matter. Maybe he should have paid more attention during the movies or watched them more than once, but aside from the main characters, he couldn't actually remember all that much. Sci-fi had never been his thing.