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Chapter 3

Saturday 12:17 PM

"Who?"

"Bob… Dy-lan" Kyle spoke slowly and clearly at the young man behind the counter. The boy couldn’t have been more than 17 years old and had more piercings on his face than a Zulu native.

"Ah, you mean Jacob Dylan… The Wallflowers," the boy pshaw-ed, obvious disdain on his face. "They're in the Rock section, under W"

"No," Kyle said slowly. "Not Jacob. Bob. Jacob’s Father."

"Jacob Dylan’s father made a CD? Hah, talk about cashing in on your son’s fame…"

Kyle just shook his head. Unbelievable.

Suddenly, Kyle felt someone tapping his shoulder. He spun around and came face to face with a gorgeous redhead who looked to be in her mid-twenties. She smiled warmly and held up a Credence Clearwater Revival CD. "They've got 'em all in the 'Oldies' section."

"Oldies?! You're kidding me?" Kyle asked, suddenly extremely relieved to be talking to someone who knew that there was music made before 1995.

"Unfortunately, I’m not," she answered with a chuckle. "Check over there," she pointed to a corner of the store at a large black-and-white sign reading "Oldies" hung from the ceiling.

"Thank you. You're a life saver!" Kyle gushed.

"No, a Life Saver is a candy. Or a circular floatation device used on a boat," she replied with a smirk. "I’m a ’sharon'." She extended her hand for Kyle to shake it.

He stared at her for a minute, actually processing what she had said. "Oh, sorry," he said, shaking her hand. "I’m a 'Kyle'. Thank you, Sharon."

Her eyes flicked down quickly, scanning over his body. Her eyes locked back on his, her warm smile returning. "You're welcome, Kyle. You look like you're having a rough day."

"You have no idea…" he chuckled. "Thanks again," he added, before heading off toward the Oldies section.

"No Problem." She watched him go, twirling a section of her hair as her eyes locked on his backside. "No problem at all

Kyle searched through the Oldies section, flabbergasted to find that they had crammed about 40 years of rock music history into 6 laughably small CD racks. He picked out a couple of CD’s (Bob Dylan, The Eagles, Janis Joplin, and the same CCR CD, Sharon was holding) then headed back to the front counter.

"Dude, d'you get her digits?" the metal-enhanced clerk asked as he scanned the disks.

"What?" Kyle asked absently, more concerned about getting out of the store at that moment.

"Her digits, man! Her phone number!"

"Who?" Kyle asked, handing the kid his money.

"The carrot-top. Dude, she was a hottie! You should have seen her checkin' you out, man."

"Wh-what?!" Kyle looked at the kid incredulously. "Y-you mean Sharon?"

"Yeah, G! Don’t tell me you didn’t get her digits, man, 'cuz that’s just a crime against nature." The boy shoved Kyle’s CD’s in a bag and handed them over.

"No," Kyle corrected, taking his bag. "That was an over-sight. A simple miscommunication. You, on the other hand, are a crime against nature." He turned and walked out of the record store, mumbling to himself. He stopped suddenly, the whole record store experience playing over in his head. The kid was right, she had been hitting on him. She was a knockout, expressing interest in him and he blew her off to go look at CD’s (in the "Oldies" section, no less!). Then, he’d come this close to actually yelling at the kid behind the counter about "real music, back when I was growing up." It was at that precise moment that realization crashed down on his throbbing head.

"Dear god! I've gotten old!"

 

Saturday, 2:53 PM

“Hey it’s Kyle and this is it, the phone machine that doesn’t quit. You know what to do with it, so leave a message or take a <beep>”

“Uh, hello? Mr. Rayner? This is Simon from Grabowski Deli. You party platters are ready. We’re sorry for the delay…”

“Shit! Hang on! Hang on!” Kyle shouted through the front door as he juggled the various bags that filled his hands, fumbling for his keys. “Don’t hang up!”

“… you can come down any time before 5 PM today to pick them up. If you have any questions, call us back at 202-555-DELI…”

“Fuck it!” Kyle grumbled as the bags started to slip from his hand. A green glowing key shot out from the ring on his finger and slid into the lock, opening the door just in time for an explosion of shopping bags to tumble into the apartment, followed closely by a running Kyle.

“… or just come on by and pick ‘em up. Thank you so much for your order and we’ll see you…”

He tripped over one of the bags, collided into the couch, flipped over said couch, landed on the floor and scrambled up to pick up the phone. 

“H-hello?… HELLO!?! Oh, great! You’re still there. *pant* … Sorry… I just… *huff* …ran in the door… and… ouch!…  fell over my couch… Sorry. You were saying? Great! Oh, thank you so much! I really appreciate it. Ok… by Five?” He looked up at the clock. “Shit… no-no. No problem. I’ll be there by five. Thanks.” Kyle hung up the phone, collapsed onto the floor, and let out an exasperated “Fuck!”

After a brief moment of collecting himself, he got up, his side throbbing from the catastrophic couch dive. Instantly, he noticed the front door still open. He stumbled over, closed the door, and began gathering the assorted shopping bags.

He started putting things away, then stopped, slapping himself in the forehead. He walked over to the balcony and peered down at his SUV. Ok, technically it was Jen’s SUV, but since she was in Minnesota for the weekend, it was his SUV for now. Alan’s table – the illustrious poker table – sat in the back, covered by a blanket. He promised Alan to get it out of the car as soon as possible (granted that was 3 hours and 4 headaches ago) because it was sitting in the back of the car on its top. The daunting task of hauling that heavy ass thing up 5 flights of stairs by himself didn’t quite appeal to him at that moment. He glanced up and down the alley, checking for any on-lookers, then sent two large green hands floating down. One opened the back of the SUV while the other pulled the table out, rising up and bringing it into the apartment. The first hand closed the car, checked all the locks, then dissipated.

The table now in place in the living room, Kyle glanced over at the answering machine as he made his way back to the kitchen. The message indicator blinked the number 3. He walked over and pressed the Play button, then headed to the kitchen.

<Beep> Hello, Mr. Rayner. This is Harmon’s Bakery. Your cake is prepared. You can come by any time before 5:30 tonight to retrieve it. Thank you for your patience this morning and we apologize for any inconvenience.

“Huh, no inconvenience at all, jackass…” Kyle called out from the kitchen.

<Beep> Hey sweetie!

“Shit! Jen! Goddamn it!” Kyle walked back into the living room, listening to the rest of the message.

… Minnesota is… well, Minnesota. I was just calling to hear your voice. Don’t forget, my plane lands at 12:30 Monday afternoon.  I love you. I miss you. Ok, bye.

“Aww. I’ve got the greatest girl in the world. Take that, Ms. Redhead-Virgin-Records-Flirty-head.”

The last message was the one he had run in on. “Ok,” he thought to himself, checking the clock, “I have to get to the Deli by 5, the Bakery by 5:30 and be back here by 7 or so to finish getting ready. The great Rayner plan, version 4.2 should be back on track and ready to go… as long as the Party Shoppe delivery guys get here before 4 o’clock or so…”

 

Saturday, 4:35 PM.

“Fuck!”

Still no Party Shoppe. If they didn’t arrive in the next 5 minutes or so, he’d have to forgo the decorations and specialty dishes and go for the Deli Trays and cake. It was a sure-fire bet that Kyle would never use this damn shop again. They screwed him that morning and it was beginning to look like they were gonna screw him this evening too. Add on top of that that he hadn’t been to the bathroom since he got home because he KNEW that the second he went in there, they’d come a-knockin’.

He sat on the couch, bladder begging for mercy, as he stared at the door, willing the delivery guys to arrive. He almost pissed on the couch when there was actually a knock at the door. He got up, wincing with the pain in his gut, and stomped for the door.

“It’s about goddamn time. I want you to know that you’ve completely screwed me…”

He opened the door to see, not the delivery guys, but a widely smirking Wally, leaning against the doorjamb. “Well, no I haven’t yet, but if you play your cards right, big boy…”

“Gah! Wally! You son of a bitch!”

“What?” Wally laughed as he walked in. He turned to look at Kyle, his smile fading when he saw his friend’s face. “Dude, are you ok?”

“Am I Ok? AM I OK?!?! NO, I’m pretty fuckin’ far from OK!! I get up this morning…”

“And call me,” Wally interjected.

Kyle just stared at him, then continued. “Anyway, I got up this morning, and got phone calls from the Deli, the Bakery and the party supply store, all of which tell me that the stuff I ordered won’t be ready because their delivery trucks haven’t shown up yet, I turn on the news to see a fucking 18-wheeler blocking the entire George Washington bridge, keeping all of the delivery trucks from their destinations. So I go to fix the problem at the bridge like a good little Superhero, and when I get back, the Party Shoppe assholes are pulling away. I almost killed myself running after them, only for them to tell me to call the office to reschedule the delivery. So then, I run off to John’s to get the poker stuff, then on to Alan’s where I have to listen to the entire life history of the goddamn table of the century, from tree to this morning. Then, I have to listen to this punk-ass little snot-nosed Heavy Metal wannabe at the fucking record store wax poetic about Jacob fucking Dylan and stand there completely oblivious as this absolutely drop-dead gorgeous redhead hits on me. Then I have to sit in line at the fucking grocery store behind some non-English-speaking dick-wad trying to sneak some 30 fucking boxes of goddamn Pudding Pops through the ‘15 Items or Less’ aisle, and then have the audacity to try and pay for all that chocolaty-goodness with a goddamn out-of-COUNTRY check! And I’m not even gonna talk about the imbecilic 19-year-old jack-off trying to buy three fifths of Jim Beam at the friggin' liquor store! THEN I get home to the phone ringing, almost spill the entire contents of my packages all over the fucking hallway, almost bust my neck over the goddamned couch just trying to get to the phone on time! NOW, I’ve been waiting here for the last hour and a goddamn half for the fucking Party Shoppe assholes to show up, and I’ve got like 20 minutes to get the Deli trays and like 50 minutes to get the cake and I haven’t been able to take a piss THIS WHOLE GODDAMN TIME!!! I swear to Christ it’s a goddamned CONSPIRACY!!”

Wally stood, trying desperately not to laugh in his obviously desperate buddy’s face. “D-dude, c’mon take a breath! Look, first, go pee. Then we’ll deal with the rest of this after that…”

Before Wally even finished the sentence, the bathroom door was slamming shut. 4 minutes later, Kyle emerged, looking decidedly calmer (and possibly a little lighter). Wally led him over to the couch, sat him down and stood next to him.

“Ok, you stay here and wait for the Party Shoppe guys. Give me the addresses for the bakery and the deli and I’ll go pick the stuff up. I’ll meet you back here in a bit and we’ll get everything setup together, ok?”

Kyle slowly turned toward his friend, a dejected and almost defeated look on his face. “I-it’s too late. Everything is ruined…”

“Too late? Too late?!” Wally smirked, opening the secret compartment in his ring, his Flash suit springing out. “Who do you think you’re talking to!”

 

Saturday, 6:32 PM

To Arthur’s surprise, he did actually have a council meeting waiting for him upon his return to Atlantis. Actually, he had a whole afternoon full of them. In one respect, he was actually glad: it helped keep his mind off of what had happened in the Watchtower.

Now that most of the "business" of the day was done,  however, he found himself dwelling on the whole thing. He never meant to blow up at Diana like he had. He never meant to be so cold. But something about the way she was acting just set him off. As much as he still cared -- yes, he had to admit that much, at least to himself -- it was becoming increasingly more and more difficult for him to handle being around her.

Then, she had asked the question.

"Why don’t we talk anymore?"

He thought it over, again and again, his mind trying to make sense out of it all.

He still loved her. There was no avoiding that. The simple act of her touching his arm had sent his mind, heart and body, into a tailspin. He knew that, regardless of what ever came between them, some part of him would always love her.

He was still angry over the way she had treated him… ok, that wasn’t fair. He had to admit that some of it wasn’t really her fault. She was going through a pretty rough time. He could have been a bit more understanding…

Wait, how could he be more understanding? She never told him anything about it! He didn’t know! All he knew was she stormed in one night, screamed her head off that it was over and walked out on him.

Arthur sighed, looking out of the dome of the ante-chamber, taking solace in the inherent beauty of his undersea kingdom. The more he thought it through, the more confusing it became. He knew she had been hurting. The missing Lasso had damaged her in ways that he couldn’t even imagine…

He paused, looking down at the long harpoon that now served as his left hand. Perhaps he understood more than he thought. Great personal loss was something he was intimately familiar with. He thought back to how he had pushed everyone away when he lost his hand. Things became so much easier for him when he kept everyone away from him. He, too, had gone on a bit of "house-cleaning."

But the one thing he had never done is neglect or abandon a friend or teammate in the middle of battle. That one still stung, and stung deeply. And now this. After all that had happened, she was asking him why they weren’t close anymore. Did she honestly think that they could just pick back up where they had left off, "no harm, no foul?"

He just didn’t understand her. And he didn’t understand how he could still love her and yet hate her at the same time… 

Again, not fair. He didn’t hate her. He hated what she had done. He hated what she had said. He hated… the way she made him feel.

There was one thing he did know for certain.

He needed a drink.

 

Saturday, 7:28 PM

Kyle walked out of the bedroom, his hair still damp from the shower. Wally was putting the finishing touches on the food table. He grabbed the last box from the Party Shoppe, not expecting it to be as heavy as it was.

"Ugh. What the hell is in this?" Wally set it back down on the table.

Kyle walked up beside him, slicing the top of the box open with his pocketknife. "This," he said, with a modicum of pride, "is the Piece de Resistance! The Coup de Grace! The… some other French phrase that I don’t know the meaning of." He reached into the box and pulled out a set of hard plastic plates and set them on the table.

Wally looked down, a small smirk creeping onto his face as he stared at the large, bold "JLA" emblem emblazoned in the center of the top plate.

"I present to you, oh Man of Quickness, the infamous 'JLA Party Set' complete with plates," Kyle returned to the box, pulling out more items, "napkins, silverware and glasses. The glasses are the best part. Each one has a symbol of a different Leaguer on it!" He pulled a particular glass out, handing it to Wally. "There you are, my friend. Your very own 'Flash' commemorative glass."

Wally stared down at the large yellow lightning bolt crested on the side of the glass. He had to admit, it was pretty funny. He hoped the others would see the joke, but he knew at the very least he and Kyle would enjoy it. Some of the other Leaguers had issues with being "idolized" with things like this, but he and Kyle always thought it was kind of funny.

A knock at the door drew both their attentions. Kyle glanced around the room, taking inventory of what was set up.

"Uh… I’m not expecting any more deliveries…"

Wally looked down at his watch, then turned to Kyle. "That would be Plaz."

Kyle checked his own watch. 7:30. "You know," he said, heading toward the door, "that man is late for everything: meetings, missions, his own party… but he’s always at least a half an hour early for Third Saturdays."

"That’s our Plaz!" Wally agreed with a chuckle as Kyle opened the door.

Eel stood in the doorway, morphed into an odd red-and-yellow Vegas Casino Dealer, complete with visor, glasses, vest and cigar. He strolled into the room, laughing heartily. "Ladies and Gentlemen, lock up your daughters! The Magic Man of Plastic is fired up and ready to prowl! Howwooooooo!"

Kyle and Wally laughed as Eel made a bee-line toward the food table. Wally emerged from the kitchen and pressed a cold beer into Eel’s hand. Eel looked down at the beer, then looked back up at Wally, a huge smile on his face.

"Thank you, my man." Eel said with a wink, popping the top on the beer can. "You know me too well!" He cocked his head back and began guzzling the beer while Wally walked over next to Kyle and nudged him on the arm. "Yep, that’s our Plaz!"

 

Saturday, 7:55 PM

It had been twenty five minutes, and true to form, Eel had already had four beers. Kyle and Wally moved around The Infamous Poker Table, putting the finishing touches on the place settings: poker chips in the slots, munchies-bowls, napkins, etc. Wally walked over to chat with Plaz, who had made his way onto Kyle’s couch, as Kyle went to answer a knock at the door.

Kyle opened the door to reveal a tall dark-skinned scantily-clad woman, adorned with crossed-out Green Lantern Symbol earrings and brandishing a pole-axe taller than she was. She was 6-feet of angry, violent, vicious, nasty, Green Lantern killing machine.

Fatality.

On a normal night, Kyle would have immediately shifted into Green Lantern mode. On a normal night, the sight of not just his, but ALL Green Lanterns' worst nightmare come true standing on his doorstep would immediately send him into a fighting frenzy. But this was no normal night.

This was Third Saturday.

Kyle calmly turned away from the door, nonchalantly walking back toward the poker table. "Hey J'onn. C'mon in."

"Damn," the Martian replied, shifting into his normal form, "I can’t fool anyone today." J'onn walked in, heading over toward the food table, High-Five-ing Wally on his way. He glanced over to see Eel lounging out on the couch. "How you doing, Plaz?"

"Me? Oh, I’m just fine, fine, fine, my man." Plaz answered, tipping his beer can at J'onn in a toast before tilting it back and finishing it. J'onn cocked a questioning eyebrow at Kyle, who promptly held up four fingers, answering J'onn’s unasked question. J'onn merely shook his head slowly, grabbing a handful of peanuts from a bowl on the table.

"Hey, isn’t that Alan’s infamous poker table?" J'onn motioned to said table.

"Yes, it is!" The reply came from the balcony as Superman landed and strolled through the door. "You know, that table has been…"

"I know!" Kyle interjected, not really caring to hear the entire table saga for the second time in one day.

Superman laughed as Kyle brought him an iced tea. "Now that’s the look of a man who sat through Alan’s entire story of that table." Superman took the glass and paused, staring at the large logo on the side that conveniently matched the one on his chest. He cocked an eyebrow at Kyle, then chuckled "JLA Commemorative Gift Set?"

Kyle winked. "World’s finest!"

 

Saturday, 9:17 PM

"I see your ten and raise you twenty." Steel tossed two chips into the growing pile.

The six men sat around the poker table, cards in hand: Kyle, Wally, Plaz, Steel, J'onn and Superman. The drink holders in the table held their respective player’s Commemorative Glass. Kyle was glad to see that they all got the joke. He looked around the table, content that all of his headaches throughout the day had been worth it. He smiled quietly to himself, then returned his attention to Superman, who was in mid-story:

"So, I finally pinpoint the location of the silent alarm. I start to land in front of the bank when this guy comes flying out of the door, over-stuffed sack in hand…"

"No shit?!" Wally interjected. "Ran out right in front of you?"

"Well, I hadn’t quite landed yet and I don’t think he saw me, but yeah. Anyway, I land and do a quick scan of the interior of the bank and see everyone on the floor, hands on their heads. Now, I know I’m not really considered the smartest one in the League, but I think I pretty much had this one figured out."

There was a collective laugh from the table. Ever the public speaker, Superman waited until the laughter stopped to continue:

"So, I look up the street and see this guy turn and disappear down an alley. I double-check to make sure no one inside is hurt, then I fly off after the guy. As I get close to the alley, I hear this yell."

"Yell?" Kyle asked.

"Yeah, yell. But not like the scared type of yell. The shocked and exasperated type of yell. It was this loud 'NO!' By the time I reach the alleyway, I’m hearing this thumping sound. I can’t figure out what the hell it is, so I spin around the corner into the alley and there’s the crook: sitting on the ground next to a car, the bag of money sitting on the ground next to him. He’s got his knees up to his chest and the banging is him swinging his head back and banging it against the side of the car! I had no idea what was going on! He doesn’t even seem to notice that I’m there. He’s just sitting there, moaning to himself, eyes closed, slowly banging his head against the car door. I approach him cautiously and cough, trying to let him know I was there. His head snaps forward suddenly and he looks right at me. For an instant, I’m thinking: 'This guy’s gonna snap!' I mean, he looked like he was ready to jump up and start swinging. Then, he just gets this resigned look on his face and drops his head down on his knees."

"He just sat there? What the fuck?" Wally interrupted again.

"Turns out, this guy had been planning this thing for months. He'd done a few small robberies before; mostly small time stuff - convenience stores, liquor stores, and so on - and always with other guys. Well, he decided he was gonna plan one big score and do it alone. Big payoff and get out of the business for good. Anyway, he plotted and planned for months. Staked out the bank, learned their security schedule, got familiar with the traffic patterns, the whole nine yards. He finally decides it’s time to do it. He said that the job itself went perfectly. Exactly like he planned it, even down to one of the security guards being in the bathroom! He told me that as soon as he ran out the bank door, he got that feeling. That everything-is-going-way-too-well-and-something-is-going-to-go-wrong feeling. So he hightails it up the street, runs into the alley, heads for the car, and…”

Superman paused dramatically, a small smile appearing on his lips as the rest of the table stared with keen interest for him to finish.

“… he had locked his keys in the car!"

The table erupted with laughter. While they had a pretty strict rule about no "League Business" at Third Saturdays, a good Bad-Luck bad-guy story was always appreciated.

"See the twenty, raise another ten," J'onn added, still laughing.

 

Saturday, 10:25 PM

"Full house, queens high." Wally laid his cards on the table with a snap, eliciting a groan from the rest of the table. Just as he was leaning forward to grab his chips, Steel spoke up.

"Not so fast, Speedy Gonzales."

Everyone stopped and looked at Steel, who suddenly grinned and laid down his hand: Four Aces and a 10. Exasperated sighs and gasps went up around the table.

"Damn it!" Wally shouted. "Every friggin' time I have a good hand…"

Everyone laughed, Wally included. Winning or losing, it was all just in good fun. Eel drained the last of his beer then got up, heading for the kitchen. Kyle called after him.

"Hey Plaz, grab me another one, would ya?"

An elongated hand stretched out from the kitchen and placed a fresh beer in front of Kyle. As it shrunk back, Eel’s head poked out from around the kitchen doorway. "Hey Rayner. You got anything… harder than beer around here?"

Kyle smirked. "Plaz, do you really think I’d have you over at my house and NOT have some Jack Daniels on hand? Check the cabinet above the fridge."

Plastic Man’s head disappeared back into the kitchen, followed shortly by a loud "Woo Hoo!" sending the room into laughter again. Suddenly the entire room fell completely silent, each inhabitant turning and looking at another.

There had been a knock at the door. The questioning looks continued as each person mentally tallied all in attendance. The usual crew was all there, so that meant an outsider. Those out of costume -- Wally, Steel and a morphed J'onn -- all surrounded the table while those in costume -- Eel, Superman -- found "convenient" hiding places. Kyle walked up to the door, sending one last look back at the assembled crew and shrugged. He opened the door and gawked.

"A-Arthur?"

All three heads at the table leaned over in unison, seeing the casually dressed Aquaman standing in the hallway. Alone. For a good 30 seconds.

"Uh… are you going to invite me in or do I stand out here all night?"

Kyle smiled. "Of course, of course. Come on in. Sorry, I guess we just didn’t expect you…" Kyle looked to the others for confirmation and saw a room full of slowly nodding heads. "Can I get you something to drink? Iced tea? Lemonade? Water?"

"How 'bout a beer?"

"Sure! What kind you want?

"Doesn’t matter. Whatever you got." Arthur strolled over and shook J'onn’s hand, the Martian smiling wide.

"Welcome, Arthur. Glad you could make it."

Clark came in from the balcony and made his way to the table, clasping Arthur on the shoulder. "Hey, Arthur. Good to see you."

"Thanks, Big Blue."

The guys all shifted the chairs around the table as Kyle brought in a new one for Arthur, along with his beer, poured into his very own Commemorative Glass. Arthur took the beer, peering at the glass. He glanced around at the other glasses on the table, noticing the trademark logo/symbols on all the glasses. He stared at his glass, at what looked like a giant upside-down yellow "V". He looked at Kyle, a questioning look on his face.

"What’s this?" Arthur asked, pointing to the big yellow symbol.

"Uh…" Kyle looked around, as if expecting assistance from the others, who were all giving him the same looks as Arthur was. "It’s… uh… it’s your commemorative glass…"

"No, I meant this thing," Arthur clarified, tapping the center of the symbol.

"Oh! Uh… that’s your logo." Kyle looked around wondering if he was all of a sudden crazy. He got equally confused looks from all of the others. Well, except J'onn, who looked like he was chewing on the inside of his cheek for some reason.

"My logo? Kyle, I’m a king. I don’t need a logo," Arthur stated flatly.

"Oh, uh… well… uh…" Kyle blundered, looking around for help he wasn’t getting from anywhere. He quickly blurted the quickest thing he could think of. "I didn’t make it up! I bought these. Someone else made the symbol, I just…"

"You know, Kyle," Arthur interrupted, his voice staying flat. "I’m beginning to think J'onn was right about you…" Kyle looked over at J'onn, who now looked like he was gnawing the inside of his cheek like a beaver. He looked back to Arthur, sitting quite calmly. Suddenly, Arthur cracked a wide smile. "You are really fucking gullible!"

There was an instant of complete silence, then Arthur and J'onn cracked up simultaneously, followed shortly by the rest of the table. It took Kyle a bit longer to catch on, but he finally started laughing. And blushing profusely.

"So," Arthur inquired as the room started to quiet back down. "What are we playing?"

"Five card draw," Wally explained. "Wild is dealer’s choice."

"And of course," Superman chimed in, "the one rule of Third Saturday Poker Night?"

The entire room joined in the unison chorus: "No Powers!"

J'onn would later explain to Arthur that the "No Powers" rule came about after a particular game several months ago. It seems that someone (read: Steel) came to the conclusion that it was patently unfair to be playing Poker against a telepath, someone with x-ray vision, someone who could run around the table without anyone noticing, someone who could use a particular power ring to read minds and/or construct something behind everyone’s back to reflect their hands and a person who could stretch his eyeballs around the entire table without moving. And considering that against those odds, he still cleaned house that night, it was decided that a No Powers rule should be instituted before it got out of control. Plus, they would stop playing for money.

 

Saturday, 11:33 PM

"Plaz, what the hell is that?" J'onn pointed at the glass Eel was lifting to his lips.

Eel took a sip of the dark liquid, then set the glass back into it’s holder. After four tries. "Jack and Coke. Why? You wwwwant one?"

"No, not the drink. The Glass."

Eel lifted the glass again, inspecting the side like a gem cutter with a prize cut diamond. "What? My glash had b-beer in it! I didn’t want to ushh the shaame one for the liquor. That’s just uncoush. Uncoot. Uncouthhh!"

"But Wonder Woman’s glass?!" Assorted snickers started popping around the table.

"Sho?" Eel burbled, getting the glass back into the holder in the table after only two tries. Several of the other players chuckled and shook their heads.

"Is there something you're not telling us, Eel?"

"W-wha? Wha do you mmean?" Eel’s face suddenly went very serious, his eyes darting around, albeit somewhat lazily.

"You're not going to spontaneously change gender on us are you?"

The good natured laughter peppered the room again, Eel catching on quickly. He morphed his body into a strange impersonation of Diana, complete with over-exaggerated chest. "Why? You intereshted, Big Boy?"

The absurdity of Eel’s caricature caused more hilarity throughout the group. Once the laughter died down, Superman turned to J'onn.

"Actually, speaking of which: How’s she doing?"

"She’s fine. She’s finally able to carry the Lasso full time again."

"Good," Superman affirmed. "I’m glad to hear that."

"I think we all are," Kyle agreed. "I mean, regardless of what’s been said, or what she’s done, she’s still a teammate and a friend. I’m glad to see she'll be okay." Kyle tossed one arm around Eel’s shoulder and used his other hand to jiggle one of Plaz’s grotesquely oversized breasts. "And I know Plaz will be glad to have the Wonder Twins back in the weekly meetings!"

Kyle, Wally and Steel laughed. Arthur spit his beer out. Eel shot a strange look at J'onn. J'onn and Superman looked at each other, looks of sheer shock on their faces. They both turned and looked at Kyle simultaneously, then back at each other, then over to Arthur, who traded an equally surprised look back at them.  Slowly, all three of their heads turned toward Kyle.

"Kyle!" Superman spat, his face still aghast. "What did you just say?"

Kyle saw the look in Superman’s eyes and immediately became defensive. "What? WHAT? All I said was that Plaz will be glad to have her back!"

"No," Superman clarified, "not that. What did you call… them!" He pointed at Eel’s fake breasts, Kyle’s hand still resting underneath one.

"Wha? What? Oh, you mean the 'Wonder Twins'? That’s just my nickna…" Kyle froze as Superman, J'onn and Arthur seemed to be trading flabbergasted looks back and forth. After a full 30 seconds of open-mouthed staring between the trio, they all simultaneously exploded with the loudest, most intense burst of laughter Kyle had ever seen. The three men literally collapsed into each other, arms over each other’s shoulders as they bellowed out peals of laughter that Kyle was certain would shake the paint off of his walls.

Kyle looked over at Wally and Steel, who both shrugged, then turned to watch the Three Amigos fall out of their chairs, one by one, still laughing.

"I- I think we missed something…" Kyle suggested. Eventually, everyone was laughing again: Superman, Arthur and J'onn at whatever had been so funny, and Steel, Wally, Kyle and Eel at the spectacle of the first three.

After a good solid five minutes of total hysterics, they all started finally regaining their composure. At least until the original trio finally calmed down and looked at each other, tears streaming down each of their faces. They suddenly burst out laughing all over again, just as hard as the first time. Kyle mentally checked their drink totals and discovered that there was barely enough alcohol consumed between the three of them to get a 15-year-old drunk, much less cause this. He obviously missed something.

Finally, everyone calmed down enough to begin slowly returning to their seats. Superman stood, turning to the group. "Heh ha ha… *ahem* Heh… ok… ok… *whew* Right! On that n-n-note… I must call it a night. I have to go sit my shift on Monitor Duty.” He turned to the host of the party. “Kyle, thank you very much. I had a great time. You guys take care. I’m sorry, but I have to go now.” He paused, laughter creeping into his voice again. He laid one hand on J’onn’s shoulder and on hand on Arthur’s before adding:

“I have to go relieve the W-W-Wonder Twins…"

Superman rocketed out of the apartment, but his laughter could still be heard as he flew away. J'onn and Arthur started up again, holding on to each other to keep from falling out of their chairs. Kyle looked at the others again.

"I definitely think we missed something!"

 

Sunday, 1:48 AM

Kyle closed the door to his apartment then turned and leaned back against it, blowing out a deep breath.

"Well, I’d say that was a screaming success!" Wally beamed as he began clearing off the poker table.

Kyle kicked away from the door, coming over to the table to begin cleaning as well. "Yeah. All told I guess everything was worth it. Although I doubt my wallet will recover anytime soon!"

"No kidding!" Wally agreed. "Who knew Arthur was such a good player!?! He cleaned us all out."

"And did you see his face?!"

About 10 minutes after Superman’s departure -- once they had all settled down again and were getting back into the game -- Arthur had been handed the deck to deal. They all offered to help him shuffle, but they all stared in awed silence as he expertly cut, shuffled and dealt the deck with one hand. A mischievous look crossed his face as he glanced around the table, meeting each of their eyes in turn. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a wad of cash, slapped it on the table and teased: "So… now that the Boy Scout is gone, who wants to make this interesting?"

Now, two hours later, Arthur was $500 richer and the others were going home basically empty-handed. 

"Yeah, creepy. I just don’t get it."

Suddenly, a gurgling voice popped up from the couch. "Whuddya exshpect. He hangsh around wiff sharksh all day…"

Kyle and Wally looked over to the lump that earlier in the night had looked a lot like Plastic Man but was now a mass of drooping flesh lying on Kyle’s couch.

"Amazing," Wally chuckled, "Completely sloshed and he’s still telling bad jokes. I swear he probably tells 'em in his sleep."

"Speaking of Captain Droopy-Pants: what am I supposed to do with him now?" Kyle wondered, not really looking forward to the prospect of an over-inebriated stretchy-man sleeping on his couch.

"Don’t worry," Wally assured him. "I’ll drop him off at his apartment on my way home."

"You sure?"

"Yeah. I figure a nice evening jog at Mach 2 will do him some good…"

Kyle chuckled. "Probably." Kyle lifted two handfuls of dishes and headed for the kitchen while Wally wiped down the poker table.

"Hey Wally," Kyle called out from the kitchen, "check and see if there are any other dishes out there, would ya?"

"Sure," Wally called looking around. Immediately something caught his eye and he froze. He stared straight ahead, then looked down at where he was standing. He looked back up, still staring wide-eyed, and bellowed:

"Son-of-a-BITCH!!"

Kyle came running out of the kitchen, towel still draped over his shoulder, frantic look on his face. "What?! WHAT?! What’s wrong?!"

Wally looked at his friend, then down at the table again. "Kyle, please don’t tell me that this is where Arthur was sitting."

Kyle looked at Wally strangely, then tried to remember. "Actually, yeah, I think it is. I think that’s where he was. Why?"

Wally pointed straight ahead and Kyle turned to follow the direction in which he was pointing and saw exactly what had Wally had seen. 

Jen’s aquarium. Filled with fish.

“That son of a bitch.”

To be continued...

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