Michael still wasn’t completely sure as to what had possessed him to text Denny back for such a sudden outing.
Perhaps it was his way of apologizing for not texting her back for so long.
Or perhaps it was just his way of getting his mind off of all of Colleen’s drunk ranting, along with the accumulated stress from tussling with the Pop 5 as well as Calvin’s departure from the Audio Knights.
Either way, for the time being, Michael Kay was happy.
Of all the arcade games Denny could have chosen to want to play, it was no surprise that it happened to be the same dancing game that Nami Nagataki claimed to be such a master at some time before.
Michael had sort of just followed along in everything; he let her take him by the hand to go where she wanted to go, and he had tried his best not be embarrassed when she handed him an unlimited play card without so much as asking. Virtually broke, and certainly not getting any allowance from Colleen anytime soon, Michael was thankful for it nonetheless.
Michael and Denny stepped back and forth, in sync with the song playing on the large fluorescent screen in front of them. They’d take residence on one of the three dancing game machines in the corner of the arcade, playing whatever Michael decided to pick.
Denny seemed ecstatic to choose something at first, but she’d quickly given up as soon as she realized there were absolutely no Michael Jackson songs to be found.
So Michael was left scrolling through until he found that something that looked vaguely familiar. It was from a classic music game on one of Rob’s old consoles that had been gathering dust in a closet since 1998. Though this was a remixed version, Michael still remembered the familiar, upbeat swing tune like he’d heard it yesterday.
Of course, since it wasn’t anything by the King of Pop, Denny could care less.
She paid no mind to the song itself, but still matched her movements to the steps of the game perfectly. She then glanced at Michael, who was similarly at ease, and realized the perfection of the moment.
“So what’s new? You kind of caught me out of the blue.” she asked, while multitasking with ease.
Michael hit three quick diagonal steps in sequence, and the game announcer congratulated him loudly.
“I meant to text you earlier, and I had some free time, so I figured we could do something together.”
Denny spun on her heel, catching five directional steps without even trying. “You were thinking about me? That’s sweet. But are you okay? I heard about what happened with Ollie and Nathan…”
Michael swallowed, almost not wanting to respond.
Her casual way of asking about his close calls with death was almost unsettling, to say the least.
“I mean, Ollie almost killed me.” Michael said, laughing in an effort to lessen the blow.
Even with both of them still able to dance along to the beat of the game perfectly, Denny’s voice still was as apologetic as she could muster.
“Yeah, sorry about all that. I would have gone and said something, but then…”
Michael cut her off quick. Her apology was all he needed for his mind to rest easy and know she wasn’t really planning on killing him in secret.
“Hey, it’s okay. Just like Kim said, I’m still here, and that’s what’s important. You gotta do your thing with the Pop 5, and the last thing you need is to worry about me.”
Denny piped up in an instant. “But I want to worry about you! If they did something to you, I’d never be able to forgive myself.”
She raised a curious eyebrow at the sound of a name she didn’t recognize. “Hey, who’s Kim?”
Michael smiled, criss-crossing his legs as they both continued following the beat of the song.
“She’s a good friend of mine. She basically taught me everything I know about being a Music Master. I’m…I’m pretty thankful for my friends.”
Finally, they’d reached the end of the song. Neither Denny or Michael had broken so much as a sweat, even on this supposedly Heavy difficulty. Behind them, a few people, among them some Japanese tourists, had gathered and watched in awe.
Denny took the moment to step closer to Michael, a longing gleam in her eyes.
“So…are we friends?” she asked with honestly.
Michael nodded quickly. “Yeah, totally!”
Denny then smiled, slyness in her voice as she moved her face closer. “Just friends?”
Michael could just about taste her breath.
“I’m not sure what you mean…” he asked, becoming somewhat uncomfortable mostly because of all of the people around.
Denny glanced towards them, and she realized the moment had already been ruined. She sighed, but then grabbed Michael’s hand again as her voice worked back up to excitement.
“Eh, we can save that for later! For now, I booked a karaoke room! We got all night to sing our hearts out!”
Michael didn’t fight her pull, but was confused nonetheless.
Denny giggled, very loudly now. “Before you got here, duh.”
Up ahead, Michael’s eyes spotted the lounge area that housed bowling alleys, a large bar and food area, and numerous prize games, among other things. Behind all of it, a line of large rooms were framed with Japanese kanji that Michael could only assume meant karaoke.
A flashback drifted through his mind, of his final encounter with Nami in Semi-Sound.
He smiled to himself though, shaking the thought away. That fight was long gone, and Michael had come out it unscathed.
And on top of that, the difference here was that Denny wasn’t dragging him to his death.
He might as well just stop worrying about it all and enjoy himself already.
Michael would never say it out loud, but Denny wasn’t kidding when she said she couldn’t sing.
Not that he was any Frank Sinatra or Freddie Mercury himself, but he knew the difference between what sounded good and what didn’t.
And Denny, belting out the lyrics to Scream and making her attempt to change her pitch and tone to match the King of Pop’s vocal hiccups, did not sound good at all.
She struggled to get out each verse, like a rooster with a cold that had also been forced to crow nonstop for the last two hours.
But despite her awful singing, she still glowed with happiness, and her words showed it.
Michael leaned back on one of the many long black couches within this karaoke room, silent as Denny finished the song. It was the fourth one she’d sang, as Michael quickly realized she was far more excited to sing Michael Jackson songs than he was to even sing in general.
When Scream ended, she tapped on the microphone, smiling wide at Michael in the processing.
“Testing, I’m terrible. Testing, I suck at singing! Testing!”
Michael laughed, only to catch himself in the next second. “What? No, not at all! No…it’s like a more …traditional singing style. Like Jim Henson, or Bob Dylan.”
Denny giggled, putting down the microphone on the table ahead of them.
“Don’t baby me, Michael. That girl singing on Live to Five? That’s not me.”
She put a warm hand on his nonetheless, smiling at him and batting her eyes if only a little.
“But it’s nice of you to try anyway.”
It was now, after singing through four songs and being lost in her love for the King of Pop, that Denny realized they were truly alone.
The room she’d booked was huge, and tinted windows allowed them all the privacy they could ever ask for. In her excitement, Denny had booked the room until closing, and even on Christmas Day, that would still be 1 AM.
Michael and Denny remained silent, but Denny’s heart thumped so hard in her chest that she was afraid Michael might somehow hear it.
Finally, as if to break the silence, Michael’s eyes drifted towards the song book, the R section in particular.
“…you want to sing Rock With You?” he asked, in the most casual way possible.
Denny’s face became aglow with a pink flush in response, and she just about stammered her reply.
“R-Rock with you? With me?”
“Yeah.” Michael said, making a small grin. “Is that a problem?”
Denny didn’t answer immediately.
Instead, she found herself once again lost in his features. He had that same golden smile, those same big eyes, and that same perfect orb of hair from the first day they’d met in the basement of Audio Empire.
Resisting the urge to jump on him right this instant, Denny suddenly remembered something important.
“No. Not at all.” she said, her voice becoming lower.
It was then noticeably somber. “But there’s just something I gotta do first.”
Denny glanced towards the tinted windows. It would only take a second, and she’d locked the door behind them, so there was no way they were being interrupted.
She said nothing else, and to Michael’s confusion, he just watched as she took out her Z-phones, which had been resting inside a red jacket pocket this whole time.
Michael’s fingers tightened on the shoulder of the couch, and he felt himself edging onto the mental recesses of fear.
He swallowed a dry breath.
There was no way.
She couldn’t have fooled him this entire time. He had to just be assuming the worst.
But to Michael’s horror, Denny then spoke, and the voice-activated command of her headphones responded.
“No one’s gonna save you from the beast about to strike.”
Her announcement was followed by the noise of Thriller, which filled the karaoke room with its electro-funk sound. Soundproof or not, no non-Music Master was going to hear it even if they did walk in. And Michael had yet to buy new headphones, leaving him virtually defenseless.
Behind her, materializing into existence within seconds, a large, horrifying shape came into being.
Michael shrunk back into the black couch in fear. His eyes were now locked onto the bear-sized, undead werewolf that prowled behind Denny, snarling through mismatched and missing teeth.
“Denny. Please tell me this is some sort of prank.” Michael pleaded, but she didn’t answer.
She stayed in place, but her Sentonal stalked around her. Its eyes were focused on Michael, with what almost certainly looked like killing intent.
Finally, he could see her mouth move, but words that came out were ones that he’d never, ever wanted to hear.
“Nick ’em!” Denny declared, and Michael just about screamed like a girl as Denny stepped aside and the wolf pounced forward.
It stopped just before hitting the couch, before slashing a claw in the air with uncanny speed.
In fear, Michael shut his eyes, waiting to feel his neck split open or worse. If he was about to die, he preferred it to be as quick and as painless as possible.
A moment later, and there was a slight hint of pain. It came from his shoulder, and he could feel small drops of blood coming down from the cut.
Michael waited for the end, but to his surprise, nothing else came.
Then, Denny addressed him again, just as happy as she’d been before.
“You can open your eyes now. It’s done.”
Blinking a few times after opening his eyes, Michael was met with the sight of her huge werewolf just inches from his face. Hot breath hit his nose, and Michael could see all the minute details of the exposed skull on the right side of its muzzle. Despite its horrible appearance, its eyes were docile now, and any knife-sized teeth not showing through rotten and torn skin were no longer bared aggressively at him.
The huge wolf blinked back at him, before its long, rough dog tongue snaked out and licked him in the face.
It was panting now, akin to the neighbor’s dog. Michael slowly but surely reached a hand out, petting it as Denny watched with glee.
Besides its partially undead appearance, it turned from a threatening monster to what could easily be Denny’s pet dog.
“Denny…fill me in please. What the hell is going on?” Michael asked, still a bit scared but more than anything extremely confused.
His shoulder hurt only slightly, but Denny was quick to come over to his side. She had gauze and a bandage ready, but made sure to take the bloody scrap of his tie dye shirt and place it in a small ziplock bag for safekeeping.
“I needed to draw blood. They’re not going to believe me if there’s no blood.” she explained, but Michael just understood even less.
“Blood? Blood for what? You couldn’t have just asked me first?” he questioned, and only now did she figure out that her actions might have seemed just a bit off-kilter.
“Oh…oh my gosh! I’m sorry. I…I wasn’t thinking.” she apologized. In the next moment, she took off her Z-phones, stuffing them away as her werewolf Sentonal vanished instantly in the process.
She held up the ziplock bag, displaying the bloodied scrap of Michael’s shirt inside. “But now we’re totally fine, see? I bring this to the rest of the Pop 5, tell them that my Sentonal ripped you to shreds, and you’ll be home free. They’ll think you’re totally dead, and be off your back forever!”
Michael raised an eyebrow. Now he finally understood.
He could trust her again, at least. Because even in every alternate universe that may have existed, the chances were slim that Denny would go through the trouble of doing all of this, only for her to kill Michael some time later.
Though he had been terrified only minutes before, Michael’s chest relaxed, and the air of danger subsided.
“You got to warn me next time, Denny. Don’t just go and do that. I’m still jumpy after dodging the rest of the Pop 5 as it is.” he told her, and unfortunately, heavy impatience finally came out in Michael’s voice.
Denny looked back at him, her eyes filling with uncertainty as she realized her mistake. “Oh…well, of course. I just wanted to make sure…”
“…you wanted to make sure I was scared for my life?” Michael barked, now transitioned from impatience to annoyance. “Was that all part of the plan of faking my death?”
Thankfully, the karaoke room was appropriately soundproof. Denny plopped down next to Michael, staring ahead and at a loss for what to say next.
In her head, it had all made sense. She’d thought it over for almost an hour, digging into each of the intricacies of what seemed like a foolproof plan.
Have her wolf scratch Michael, then get the bloody piece of his shirt, and show it to the rest of the Pop 5 and the Fourth Beat tomorrow. They’d believe he was dead, and he could stay alive, and she could keep seeing him.
No problems with it whatsoever, as far she could see.
But it appeared that Michael didn’t exactly agree.
From the sound of his voice, she’d clearly made him mad. His heavenly tone was gone, replaced with a tone that served as a most awful reminder of the aunt she’d left behind in San Diego. All of the screaming and threats and demeaning words hit her in one painful tidal wave, made only worse as Michael kept going.
“Just think next time, Denny.” Michael demanded now, not at all noticing her changing expression.
“Imagine if I had my headphones. I could have hurt you. You gotta be more aware, seriously.”
She didn’t answer, and once Michael heard her loud sniffling, it became incredibly obvious why.
“I’m…I’m sorry, Michael.” she blurted out, before finally descending into a tears.
When she started truly crying, Michael was putting his hands up, and instantly regretting his words.
His expression softened, and he was soon internally cursing himself.
All of his anger and frustration had come out in one brief moment.
For a moment, with those few words, he had become his older sister at her worst.
“Hey.” Michael assured, taking her hand in his and smiling to comfort her. “I’m sorry. It’s been a long week. Don’t cry; it’s cool. I’m glad, actually.”
Denny stopped crying, wiping away some of her tears in the process. “Really?”
“Yeah.” Michael said through a grin. “I should have realized it in like a second. You’re just trying to protect me.”
By now, their original plan to sing Rock with You together was long forgotten. Sitting right next to her on the black couch in the vast karaoke room, Michael finished his words, making extra sure to sound as grateful as humanely possible.
“You’re not alone, Denny. I’m here with you.
His words were formulated in his mind as his way of thanking her and reassuring her of his friendship, but what Denny heard was something else entirely.
Once again, another voice from heaven replaced Michael’s, and song lyrics drifted into the air within the realm of Denny’s mind.
Warmth flooded her very being, and before she could even react, she found herself literally falling into Michael’s arms.
Denny laughed, and some stray tears followed. She sat back up, listening to Michael’s concern in the process.
She nodded as she again wiped the tears away. “Better than ever.”
They were very close now. The remnants of the song still hummed in Denny’s ears, and even Michael could see the red flush growing just underneath her eyes. That was something she could not wipe away no matter how hard she tried.
Her voice was soft and honest, as she finally said what had been on her mind for quite some time.
“You’re…you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me, Michael.”
Michael laughed through a toothy grin, not at all understanding the situation.
“Seriously? Definitely the first time anyone’s ever told me tha-”
Michael never got to finish. There was a flurry of movement as he was completely and utterly cut off.
He tasted a sweet, honey-flavored lip balm and all attempts at talking further were foiled as Denny’s lips locked upon his.
After days of impatience, Denny finally ignored those voices in her head that begged her to control herself. She could stand it no longer, and whether or not anyone walked in on them at this most perfect moment, Denny could care less.
Caught like a lobster in a trap, Michael muffled out an attempt at words, but he was further stifled when he felt the previously unknown sensation of someone else’s tongue invading his mouth. It was strange, pleasant and a bit scary all at the same time.
In front of him, Denny’s eyes were closed as she continued to make her best attempt at kissing him. Caught like a deer in headlights, Michael didn’t struggle, and just stayed in place and waited for another few seconds, before Denny finally decided to let go.
She was breathing heavily, her face blazing red as Michael sat in front of her stunned.
Not counting the unwanted incident with Nathan, that had become her first kiss. Little did she know, she had also stolen Michael’s in the process.
She blushed to herself. It was an enlightening experience, to say the least. And far more involved than kissing the posters of Michael Jackson she had hung throughout the years all over her room.
“So…you want to sing Rock With You now?” Denny said, switching right back to her previous excitement as if nothing of note had even happened.
Michael leaned back in his chair, not at all knowing what to say. Perhaps this was one of those unspoken things he’d heard about countless times.
Slowly though, he smiled as he touched his lips.
“Sure.” he replied, reaching for the microphone. “I’m game.”
So that’s what it was like to kiss a girl. That was one mark he could now check off on his teenage checklist.
Michael looked up, and of course, there was no mistletoe waiting above them. That was done completely on Denny’s own volition, and to say it was an experience would be a massive understatement.
He’d need time to think about all this. Maybe Rob would know what to do.
For now though, it was time to sing, whether he wanted to or not.
As Michael Kay had predicted, today had suddenly become his most interesting and pleasant Christmas in these last seventeen years of his disco-loving life.