Silence inside the pickup truck. Gene focused on her driving while Max stared outside, enjoying the view of the town. He went past the awkward feeling and just let things flowed as they should be. At times he stole a peek at Gene and every time he did, the frown was not going anywhere as if stuck on that pretty face of hers. Not gonna lie, she kind of resembles a lot to that girl in Joryeo. He grinned just from remembering his second life. Good times, he thought.
The pickup truck veered to the side. Okay, where are we going? They left the road and parked in a parking lot of a diner. Gene pulled the handbrake with the sound echoing. They looked at each other for a second. “Get out,” she said in her cold tone.
Yikes, it seems someone holding a grudge. Max got off the truck and glanced at the sign. “Betty’s Diner. Simple and clean,” he said. He chased after Gene and went inside. Gene already took a seat at the far end, near the window. Max sat opposite of her and watched as Gene waved her hand at the waitress.
“I’ll be damn. Gene’s on a Wednesday.” The waitress smiled and handed over the menus. “Does Mr.Park know about this little date of yours?”
“Shut it, Barb.” Gene read through the menu. “Ouch, someone’s being cranky this evening.” Barb gave a glance at Max and lightly smiled. Max responded with a smile of his own. “I’m Max,” he said. “Barbara,” she pointed at her tag. “But you can just call me Barb, so what can I get for you, Max?”
“No, I’m fine. I’m just here to accompany the lady,” Max said. “Lady? Well, someone has a way with words,” Barb chuckled, glancing at Gene with a meaning behind her eyes. Gene gave a glare at Barb and turned her eyes at Max. “It’s fine, just pick anything you want,” Gene said. She took something from her pocket and flashed it in front of Max. “Since you’re dad’s friend, it’s my dad’s treat.” She flashed a wicked grin as she acted out for revenge. What better way to fight back if not using the most cherished thing from the opponent. In the case of Mr.Park, he loved his money dearly.
“Isn’t that your dad’s?” Barb asked. “Keep it a secret and I might give you a big tip,” said Gene. “Wow, Gene. Never knew you were so low, but I’ll agree to that,” Barb chuckled. Gene managed to rope in an accomplice and seeing Max was eating along, he was already down in the bowl with them.
Barb left after taking their orders and then there were two. Gene already stuck her eyes with her phone, while Max was left to his own bidding. He looked around the diner and admired the retro vibe. The checker tiles and the red and white furniture. It was like a blast from the past. But the admiration didn’t last long. Over the few days, he found out how to inspect his skill set. Check the Persuasion description.
Type: Conditional Passive
The art of swaying people’s hearts and mind through the way of words. Boost likeliness in persuading others to user’s own bidding. Higher Charm increases the effectiveness of the skill.
Skill Usage Conditions: Close proximity.
Skill Cost: 1 MP per person
Skill Cooldown Time: None
Wow, even talking needs mana. But at least it doesn’t need much. His eyes were drawn to the Conditional Passive. Don’t get it, is it always on? Or does it depends on my thought? His eyes stared at the occupied Gene. “Hey,” he called. Gene looked up at him. “What?”
“You’ve got beautiful eyes,” he said. Gene narrowed her eyes a bit. The sudden comment came out of nowhere. “Okaaay,” she dragged her word a bit, pondering his intention. “Is this your plan?” she asked with her attention turned back to her phone. “If it is, you’re failing. I get a more interesting pickup line from Tinder,” she said.
Well, that didn't work. He inspected his MP and the number stayed the same. His attempt in utilizing Persuasion was quite a failure. But it got him thinking, was it because he said those words halfheartedly that made it a failure, or did the skill needed some kind of predetermined action for it to be activated?
He crossed his arms and deep in thought. There was even a bit of a frown on his forehead, and Gene caught on. “Are you that disappointed for your boomer-era pickup line?” She wasn’t guilty of being blunt but she did felt pitiful for Max. “Not like it’s wrong but, you should try updating that flirting software of yours. If, you want to get a chance with a girl that is.”
Great, now the twenty-year-old is pitying me. He scoffed and Gene noticed it. “A word of advice, you won’t get anyone with that kind of ego.” Sounded more like sarcasm than advice. Max didn’t say a thing. He glanced down a bit at Gene and noticed the unnoticeable. Flat as a board, definitely not my type. Now he pitied her and he didn’t bother covering that emotion from his face. It was subtle revenge for what she said.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” Gene’s sense tingled. It didn’t seem like he was checking her out but for some reason, she felt slighted a bit. “It’s nothing,” Max said with a smirk. She felt fishy and wanted to ask. But Barb came. “Here you go, sunny side egg with bacon, and a serving of burger and fries.” Barb served their meal and flashed a smile before she left. The food saved both of them from a verbal fight.
“For someone who said you're only waiting, you kind of pick the heaviest menu,” said Gene. It was too heavy of a menu but Max cared less about such a trivial thing. “They’re gorgeous,” he said. Max could feel his saliva building up in his mouth and he couldn’t wait to dig in. His stomach and grumbled and both Max and Gene looked at each other. “Huh, let’s just eat,” Gene said. The grumble made her feel sorry for Max.
They ate and they drunk. Both kept to themselves and ate in silence. At times, Gene stole a few glances at Max. That comment about beautiful eyes was really weirding her out in a way.
“Here you go Barb,” Gene gave the card. She and Max finished their meal and was readied for another long drive. “And my tip?” Barb inquired. “Can’t you use a card for it?” Gene grinned. “Wow, funny.” Barb’s face twitched a bit and glared at the cheapskate Gene.
“That was rude,” Max chimed. “What?” Gene asked. “You should have tip,” Max said. “Then you should have paid.” A cynical smile hung on Gene’s face. She got up and left the table. Max turned his head and watched Gene swaying her hips in that leather pants. And he wasn’t the only one who was doing it. Men will be men. He accidentally made eye contact with one of the patrons of the diner. A brown man with visible stubble, he looked Indian to Max. How did he know? Well, his late mom was an avid Bollywood fan. He didn’t know how she got into that genre but in his young days, he was dragged rather often in watching along with the musical-like films with his late mother.
The brown man was grinning and he put a thumbs up to Max. That was weird. Max got up while shaking his head a bit. He left and followed Gene to the counter.
“I’m gonna tell you on Mr.Park,” Barb declared, not getting her thing made her sour a bit. “I’m hoping so,” Gene responded. “Bitch,” Barb said, handing her the credit card. “Bye, bitch,” Gene smiled and snatched the credit card.
On the other hand, Max stood there, listening to everything the both of them just said. Yup, the women are also exactly the same. But I guess the women of earth are slightly less violent. He shuddered just thinking about his experience of meeting other women in his second life. He trailed behind Gene and got back inside the pickup truck. She started the engine and something crossed her mind. “Why are you going to Tourne Park?”
“A job,” he said. “Selling drugs?” she asked. Max looked at her with a stoic look, this was the second time and it came from the daughter of that man. “I look like this but I don’t do drugs,” he said. “Yea, right. A cover, I’ve got you,” Gene said. Wait, what? No, it isn’t a cover. He wanted to say it out loud but he knew this woman won’t change her mind that easily.
They drove off to the road and left the outskirt of the town. The trees surrounded them from the side of the road and the hip songs from Gene’s playlist blasted through the stereos. Max peeked at this woman who was grooving with the tune. She did a body roll while on the wheel and that was utterly impressive in Max’s eyes. I think she’s even younger than my sister.
“You know, I’ve never done drugs before,” Gene suddenly spoke and Max got a bad feeling about it. “But I did try weed before. It’s cool and all, but I doubt I can take a hit of whatever that happened to you.”
Max felt exasperated inside. It never crossed his mind that his appearance would make such an impression on other people. But on second thought, was it only to the Park family? Considering they were the only ones who pointed that out bluntly.
“I know weed is now legal and all and isn’t as hip as the other illegal things, but spending time in jail is not how I picture myself in my early twenties,” Gene continued her rant. While Max was confused. He thought she had a grudge against him, seeing she was tasked to send him away. But those pancakes probably did something to her. I guess that’s how-
Max sensed something. “Watch out!” He tried to warn Gene but it was too late. Something collided against the side of the pickup truck and everything went spiraling. Max braced himself as the sound of the pickup truck being wrecked echoed in his ears. His gravity went up and down, like being stuck in a washer machine.
But it stopped after who knows how many times it had rolled. Everything turned to a still and Max was upside down. That wasn’t a pleasant ride. The airbag puffed in front of him, blocking his front view. He popped it and saw where he was. He was in the forest with a tree stopping the vehicle from rolling further. He looked to the side and saw Gene unconscious with her hands hanging down.
He noticed blood dripping from her head and without wasting any time he checked for her pulse. He breathed a sigh of relief as she was still alive. He unbuckled himself and plopped down. It hurt but wasn’t as painful like being bit by another dimension wolf. He got out through the broken front window and went to Gene’s side. He tried to pull off the driver’s door open but his strength was not enough.
I need leverage. He found a hard wooden branch and shoved it in between the crevice of the dented door and used it as leverage. He pushed with all his might and the door cracked open.
He supported Gene with his hand while the other unbuckled the seat belt. She dropped in his arms and he caught her perfectly. He brought her outside and his head turned in a direction. A growl echoed through the sea of trees, coming from where they were before. Whatever it was, one thing for certain, he knew it was a monster on the loose. Then his Chakra Sense tingled. He grabbed the branch from before and turned the other way around. The tree branch stopped short and was blocked by the blade of a dagger.
“Woah,” the person said. “You’ve got a nice reflex,” said a brown man that was overly familiar to Max’s eyes. Max narrowed his eyes as he didn’t think someone would slip past his detection.
“Sorry bout that, it’s a bad habit of mine,” said the brown man. He was rather jovial even with something close to his neck. “It’s not like I’m a thief or something but I sneak up on people rather good and the leader told me that’s a good skill set and um…” the brown man realized the uncaring look in Max’s eyes. “Oh, I went rambling again. Sorry, another bad habit,” the brown man flashed a smile. “Um, excuse me. But can you please not do whatever you’re doing right now?” The brown man just realized how uncomfortable it was to have something on his neck. But Max didn’t budge.
“Who are you?” he asked with a cold tone.
“We’ve met, like an hour from before, down at the diners,” the brown man said. But the look on Max’s face told him that Max knew that already. “Yup, I gotcha. Short and simple, no need for exposition.” He reached out for a handshake. “I’m Raj, and as hard as it to believe, my people and I are currently fighting the rhino down at the road.”