The Study Date Stratagem

To celebrate the release of Snowed in With the Alien Warlord, I wrote a slice of life short story to visit Penny and Kol one year later into their Happily Ever After. Is life as newlyweds as perfect as promised or are there some bumps along the way?

After the story, keep scrolling for an original Sam Griffin drawing of Penny and Kol! (I love it so much.)

Audio is now available.

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The normal warnings of typos apply. This has only been edited by me and I’m not great at that.

The Study Date Stratagem 

Slice of Life Short Story: Penny and Kol

Starr Huntress

Nancey Cummings

Copywrite April 2020 Nancey Cummings

Penny 

He was doing it again. Staring at her. A prickle of awareness crept along her neck, soon replaced by irritation. 

“Get an alien boyfriend, they said. It’ll be fun, they said,” Penny muttered. She clenched the pencil in her hand hard enough to snap it. 

“Do you require anything, my mate? More coffee? The French fries?” Kol’s entire body practically vibrated with the need to be useful. 

Penny sighed, closing her laptop and notebook. Her notes might as well have been written in gobbledegook, and the essay was in no better shape. She needed to concentrate, and that was not happening here. “I’m going to the library.”

“Let us go to the library.” Kol stood at attention, every inch of him ready to guard over her from the dangers of the university library. Which would be… Penny wasn’t sure exactly? The odd wandering grad student lost in the stacks? Maybe the archaic computers? Seriously, the computers used an operating system that you had to know a programming language to use efficiently and only searched the library’s catalog. Nothing else. No internet. Not even a flipping mouse, just a blinking green cursor on a black screen. 

Once upon a time, the library had modern computers before the invasion, but those must have suffered a catastrophic fate for the library to be desperate enough to dig those dinosaurs out of storage. But, as Penny and the rest of Earth’s population soon learned, that life post-invasion was all about compromise and making do until they reached a new normal. 

The old computers still sucked, though. 

“No. Just me. Alone,” she added, just in case Big Red didn’t get it. 

“Yes. Just us. Alone,” he said, not getting it. 

“Kol.” She rubbed the bridge of her nose. “I need to concentrate to get this assignment done and I can’t do that with you breathing down my neck.”

“Are you unhappy with me?”

“No,” she blurted. Perhaps a little too quickly because he frowned. “No. I’m not unhappy. I need to concentrate.”

“You need to relax.” He leaned back on the bed and kicked his legs out. She caught the way his tail beat against the mattress. 

“Super subtle there, Big Red.” 

He gave a panty-melting grin at her nickname for him. “I am super in many satisfying ways. Let me help you relax, then you will better focus and complete your mission.” 

So tempting, but Kol’s idea of relaxing stopped her from working on her paper last night and the night before. And the afternoon before that. Basically, anytime they got near a bed, they ended up naked in that bed. They didn’t even need a bed. Once he pinned her to a wall, and just—

Penny shoved her laptop and books into her satchel, tucking her chin down to hide her blush. “Kol, you know I adore you, but I need to work and that means you have to give me space.” 

The university opened back up in the fall, one year after the alien invasion brought the world to a standstill. Pre-invasion, Penny lived off campus with her aunt. Post-invasion, Penny sort-of married an alien and now lived in a one room tent in the military camp. Well, tent might be the wrong word. Maybe yurt? 

Their not-a-tent was a single structure, round with a domed roof, and made of super strong material that looked like canvas but felt like steel. Rows and rows of similar structures filled the Mahdfel camp, each equipped with running water and power. Built large for a Mahdfel warrior, the shower stall was enormous, but the rest of the structure was basic. No frills allowed. They had a bed, two chairs, and storage under the bed. Penny squeezed in a desk for studying.  

Normally, she enjoyed the coziness. The bed was gigantic and comfortable, the perfect place for reading and other activities. 

But not with an enormous red alien breathing down her neck while she tried to write fifteen thousands words, which more than half of her grade depended on. Half! Of course she was stressed out. Finals sucked, and it had been so hard getting back into her school-groove, considering that classes had been cancelled for nearly an entire year and she had the added distraction of her alien boyfriend. Husband, technically, but Penny had a hard time wrapping her head around that. 

Penny met Kol during the invasion. Stuck outside the safe zone, she hid in her aunt’s house and did her best to find food and scavenge supplies. That’s how a Suhlik warrior discovered her, came very close to killing her, and Kol saved her. Then she saved him. There was mutual saving. He’d been by her side ever since. 

Literally. 

Every day. 

He followed her to classes, even. The first day on campus, an energy buzzed through the air. Friends reunited after the end of the world. Students and faculty tried to get back to business as usual, but everyone understood that the world had changed. Aliens were real and absolute bastards. Earth had alien allies, the Mahdfel, and they would remain on the planet for years, possibly decades to come. 

Seeing one of those aliens in person, though, was different. 

As Penny walked to class with Kol at her side, the crowd parted and she could feel eyes on her. On Kol. She felt the urge to say something, to prove that he was a good guy—the best guy—but everything she thought of felt demeaning to him, like he was an exotic animal on a leash. 

Marvel at the alien! Tamed by the love of a good woman! 

Yeah, no thank you. 

Rather than make the situation worse, Penny kept her head held high and kept her mouth shut. Let people stare at Kol. He was amazing. They’d figure it out soon enough. 

“I will accompany you to the library,” he said. Penny’s back knotted with tension. They hadn’t really had a fight yet—if you didn’t count the one time he ate the leftover pork dumplings from her favorite restaurant that had finally reopened and she had been saving for lunch. Was it petty? Yes. Was she disappointed that Big Red ate all the dumplings, and she didn’t get a single one? Hell yes.

“I will remain outside,” he added.  

“Deal,” she agreed, knowing it was as good of a compromise as she could get. 

Penny loaded up her satchel with the rest of her books, then handed the bag to Kol. They lived a brisk fifteen-minute walk from campus, her bag was heavy and it’d be a crying shame to let all that alien muscle go to waste. 

The university’s campus remained much the same. Spared from the worst of the raids, the buildings and roads had some minor damage. In the past, landscaping gave the campus a lush garden quality, winding paths through dense patches of wildflowers and native plants. Landscaping obviously took a backseat to more serious repairs. 

The biggest change at the university happened during the invasion. After cancelling classes, any available space had been repurposed. The fieldhouse housed those seeking shelter instead of basketball games. They had used the student union as a field hospital, the same one that treated Penny. Empty classrooms became shelters. Students in dorms doubled up with people from the community. Temporary buildings, much like the not-a-tent Penny and Kol lived in, were erected on the lawns between buildings and even inside the football stadium. 

Change lurked in the air, but it was more than the physical damage left by the Suhlik raids, though that made an impact. Slowly, cell phone and internet services were being restored. Repaired roads and rail connected people again. Pizza delivery even happened again. Even when stuffing her face with a barbecue chicken pizza and a side of onion rings, that sense of difference never left Penny. 

“Send me hourly updates,” Kol said, handing her the bag. 

“Love you.” She stretched up to plant a kiss on his cheek. 

“Hourly updates,” he repeated. 

“Yeah, yeah. I heard you, Big Red.” 

Using her student ID to unlock the doors, she made her way past the main desk and down the stairs for two levels to the basement. The overhead lighting flickered and hummed. Penny followed a narrow hallway down past doors labeled “Staff Only” and past the conservation department. The scent of mildew and dampness never really left the basement, but it was Penny’s favorite place to study. Absolutely no one came down into the miserable dungeon, and the tables were always empty. 

Powering up her laptop, Penny looked over her jumbled mess of notes. Writing papers had never been so taxing before. Part of her wanted to blame Kol and his remarkable ability to distract her, but she knew that was a fib. She needed to get over herself and just put something down on paper. She had notes. She pulled good quotes from source material.  She was a good student, dammit, and she’d done well in her previous classes.

This professor had a reputation for being a tough grader. That was part of her anxiety. So much of her grade depended on one project and Penny could not afford to choke. 

The other half of the problem was that everything in her political science major was changing. The world had changed. International politics were no longer the big picture. The big-big picture was interstellar. Earth entered an alliance with an alien military force and other planets in that alliance. How would that shape policy, law and even the economy?

Needless to say, the musty old books on political theory didn’t really cover that. 

Penny set a timer on her phone and started writing, just dumping her thoughts onto the page. Organizing and planning an argument was Future Penny’s problem when she edited the hot mess.

Can’t edit a blank page. 

Once an hour, she updated Kol. Still working. Still free from ambush and danger. 

Kol

Penny worked too hard. He admired his mate’s intelligence and her scholarly pursuits, but she expected so much of herself. She did not rest enough or eat enough to his liking. When the semester started, excitement filled her but steadily her mood deteriorated as her irritability increased. 

Kol wanted to bring a smile to his mate’s lips but feared a misstep. 

He took the only action he could. He called Penny’s mother. 

“Kol, honey,” the female answered on the second ring, as if she had been lurking near the communication device. 

“Andrea—”

“What’s wrong? I don’t like that tone. Is it Penny? Is she sick? She pushes herself too hard and then she snaps and gorges herself on mac and cheese, which is not good for her digestion. Not to mention her cholesterol. But cheese has always been her comfort food.”

When the female took a moment to breathe, Kol said, “It is not that, but I will bear it in mind when she demands pizza.”

“My baby isn’t sick?”

“She is well, but you are correct that she pushes herself too hard. Do you have any guidance?”

Andrea laughed with warmth. “Oh, I like you. I had my doubts, but you are just the perfect son-in-law. Yes, I have some tips when it comes to handling Peninia Novak. Are you taking notes?” 

“You have my full attention.” Satisfaction filled his chest when Andrea admitted she liked him. After the disastrous first encounter with Penny’s aunt, he had worried that the rest of her family would reject him. 

“That child gets too in her own head. She spends far too much time with her nose in a book. What you need to do is get her out of the house and do something physical. When she was a girl and would get in one of her moods, we’d go to the family fun center. Play mini golf and race go-carts. She always pouted on the way there because whatever she was doing was so important, but ended up having the time of her life.”

“Thank you for the insight,” he said. 

“I’m rooting for you, baby,” Andrea said before she ended the call. 

Penny

When she could no longer ignore her growling stomach, Penny packed up. She made decent progress, her mood improved, and there was still some daylight left in the day. 

She passed her fellow students in the stacks and at the reading tables. It felt so normal. 

The lights flickered, and someone gasped. A few seconds later, clutching her bag tight, Penny realized that was her hyperventilating. 

The world had changed—it’d be foolish to think otherwise—but she changed, too.  

Her life differed completely from it was a year ago, and not just because of the invasion. She had a boyfriend. They were technically married, and they hadn’t even dated. The days they spent holed up together in a snowstorm didn’t count.  She jumped straight into a serious relationship with Kol and didn’t pause to think of the ramifications. Little problems that cropped up she ignored easily because everything was new and exciting and she loved that warm, squishy feeling when they were together. 

And sex was brilliant. Like, wow. If people knew, they’d be volunteering in droves to get their own alien warrior. As great as it was—she had zero complaints—sex could only distract her for so long. 

The honeymoon was so over.  

Maybe it was too much, too fast. They had so much to learn about each other, and living on top of each other in a tiny tent—even with power and hot water—did not help. Penny felt like she was failing the most important test of her life. 

She needed guidance. She needed her momma. 

 On her way upstairs, she ducked into the restroom to make a call. The trouble with calling her momma for relationship advice was that it was awkward as hell to talk about Kol right in front of him, so furtive bathroom calls it was. 

Andrea answered immediately. “Did you have a fight? I don’t know what you did, but that man is worked up all in a tizzy and you need to apologize.”

“He already called you? That snitch.”

“Don’t call names,” Andrea said automatically. 

Penny sighed. “Momma, does Dad ever work your nerves?”

“Oh my, yes. All the time.” She chuckled, the sound warm and comforting over the phone. “That man can not, for the life of me, put anything back where it belongs. Trash? On the kitchen counter. Dirty dishes? Counter. Empty milk carton? Does he put it on the counter with everything else in creation? No. It goes right back in the fridge.”

Penny nodded along, familiar with her mother’s complaint. She witnessed the fall out every morning when Momma went to pour milk in her coffee and found an empty carton. 

“I’m just so irritated lately. He’s always there,” Penny said.  

Watching her.  

Breathing. 

Okay, the problem wasn’t Kol. It was her. She knew that. 

“You’re learning how to live with each other. It’s normal,” Andrea said. 

“Is it?” 

“Completely. Just be aware of your moods and tell him how you’re feeling.”

“I really don’t think my boyfriend wants to know that he breathes too loud and it annoys me,” Penny muttered.  

“I’d suggest phrasing it differently. When was the last time you did something fun?”

Penny blinked, surprised by the change of topic. “Does laundry count?” 

“I’m serious. Go roller skating. You love that.”

“When I was ten.” And a lot bouncier. Penny did not want to find out what it felt like falling on her butt now that she was in her early twenties, but she did sort of want to see Kol try to maneuver in a pair of skates. If they even made them large enough for his feet. 

No, she decided. There were too many reasons to not go roller skating, being out of practice was just one. 

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Penny said. 

“Why? Because people died? So you can never do anything fun ever again? It’s all sackcloth and ashes from here on out?” 

Penny slouched against the bathroom counter because that was totally why. “No,” she said, lamely.  

“When was the last time you did something that wasn’t work or school?”

“Umm.” Penny drew a blank. Before the invasion, definitely, but even earlier than that. She was so lame. “I went shoe shopping with Aunt Jasmine and then we went to the movies.”

“Uh-huh. And did it kill you to take a day off from studying? Obviously you failed all your classes and your father and I weep with disappointment.”

Penny rolled her eyes. 

“Stop rolling your eyes,” Andrea said. 

“Fine. I’m sure you already told Kol to take me roller skating. I’ll go and when I break a leg, I’m gonna guilt you so hard. I expect pie. Homemade. With ice cream.”

Andra snorted. “Have fun on your study date, honey. Stay out past your curfew.” 

Kol

Kol frowned at the implement in his hands. The metal rod was alarmingly flimsy. Penny chattered away about how she had not been to this location since she was a child and how much she enjoyed it. 

“This club is designed poorly,” he said.

“First, not a club. It’s a putter. Second, don’t hold it like you’re gonna brain the clown,” Penny said. She took the club—putter—from his hand and adjusted his grip. 

He had doubts about this putt putt. The cold air braced against his skin, dulling his senses. He struggled to remain alert enough to guard his mate. The mini-golf course was a colorful maze of twisting obstacles,  loud and garish. Anything could hide behind the windmill or the red and white striped “big top”.  The structure barely reached his shoulders, therefore it was not big. Terran amusements made no sense.

He eyed the brightly colored fiberglass statue. The clown wore a ruffle, large multi colored circles and had rainbow hair. “I do not like this clown.”

“No one likes clowns. That’s their thing. Okay, so this is how you putt putt.” Penny dropped a small ball on the artificial turf, bent her back, and positioned the putter to strike the ball. 

She looked over her shoulder at him and winked, wiggling her ass. The putter swung back and zipped forward, striking the ball. It rolled between the clown’s oversized shoes and into a small hole. 

His mate threw her hands in the air, waving the putter with abandon. “Hole in one! Suck it, Big Red.” 

She stepped off the artificial turf, and he took her place, mimicking her position as much as possible. The putter felt miniscule in his hands as he tried to hit an even more miniscule ball. 

The first stroke missed. As did the second. He growled in frustration. He was a skilled warrior. It was a stationary object. He would hit the damn ball. 

“I do not appreciate the clown’s judgmental gaze,” he complained. 

Penny walked over, the putter resting on her shoulder. She propped one elbow on him and contemplated the clown. “I think the new paint job made it worse. Chuckles there didn’t use to be so… so clownish. He’s like maximum clown. Come on, let me help you.” 

She moved behind him, placing her hands on his hips. “Bend your knees.  Lean forward. Don’t be stiff. Line up the putter.” Her hands brushed against his as he hunched to line up a shot. “Good. Now, when you swing, move your hips.” Her hands returned to his hips and guided him. 

He missed. “Again,” he said. 

“I know you can do this,” she said, her breath warm against his back. 

The putter connected. The ball rolled forward and bounced off a shoe. The red ball where a nose should be lit up and the clown laughed. 

Laughed

Kol roared, smashing his fist against the blinking red nose. Glass crunched. 

The clown continued to laugh, but all he could hear was the pounding of blood in his ears. 

Slowly, so as not to alarm his mate, he turned to Penny. He knew what the Terran media said about the Mahdfel, the suspicion that regards their allies with, even after the Mahdfel drove off the invasion. He did not want Penny to believe that he was dangerous.   “I have not lost my temper in years.” 

Her eyes were wide, and she bit her lower lip. 

She erupted in laughter, her arms wrapped around her abdomen. It was the sweetest sound. He had not heard it in ages. She glowed with levity, but that could have been the cold affecting his optic nerves. 

“That’s the greatest thing I’ve ever seen!” Penny gasped between each word, as if unable to stop laughing. 

“Hey!” A male shouted in the distance, marching closer. 

Kol positioned himself between Penny and the unknown threat, gripping his tiny putter. 

“Sorry! Sorry,” Penny said, peering around him. “First time, you know. We’ll pay for the clown’s nose job.” More laughter. 

The male scratched his head. “I’ve never seen anyone punch it before. Usually we get kids swinging at it with their putters. Did you cut your hands, mister?”

“You are concerned about me,” Kol said, dumbfounded. 

“Well, yeah. We don’t need you bleeding all over the grass. I keep telling my manager that the lightbulb nose is a bad idea.” 

“I am unharmed.” Kol held up his hand. 

“Thick skin,” Penny added. 

“Yeah, well,” the male said carefully, “just be careful. And I’m charging you for the lightbulb.”

“Sure thing.” Penny nodded, a hand over her mouth to hold in her laughter. Her clever eyes glanced at him, and she broke into laughter again. His heart felt lighter. 

“I have not heard your laughter for far too long. I will smash more things if that pleases you.” Kol drew Penny to him. “Do you feel better?” 

She melted into his embrace. The scratchy covering—a cardigan, his translator chip supplied—could not possibly keep her warm enough. “I do. I’m sorry I’ve been so on edge lately,” she said. “Please don’t smash stuff. I don’t want petty vandalism causing an interstellar incident.”

“I will not.” He brushed back the hair from her forehead. He loved the way her mind turned, always working, but he knew that same spark made sleep elusive. “You have many worries.” 

She rolled a shoulder. “Everything’s different but the same. Is that weird? Before, I felt pressure to be the perfect student for my family. Now, I want to do that for you.”

“Pen-knee—” He felt warm with her words alone. 

“It’s a lot of pressure and I know I do it to myself.”

“Tell me how to support you.” That was all he ever wanted, to help his clever mate. 

And hold her. Kiss her. Taste her. All those perfect moments. 

“I just need space. I’m not pushing you away. Never. But I need time alone to study.”

He nodded. “And after, we will do a date.”

“Sure. Sounds fun.”

“The study stratagem.” 

Another laugh, softer and almost shy. “Come on,” she said. “The next obstacle is the lion tamer. The guy is holding a chair and blocks the hole. The lion’s mane is the same color as the lion so it looks like it swallowed a giant ball.” Penny jumped onto his back. He easily hoisted her into position. She leaned forward, one arm wrapped around his shoulder and the other pointing the putter forward. “It’s terrible! You’re gonna love it.” 


Get snowed in with your own Big Red!

Audio is now available.

Audible

Amazon

Apple


And now the character drawing!

Art by Sam Griffin.

I love how snugly they are!

Tell me what you think of the short story and the art!

11 thoughts on “The Study Date Stratagem

  1. My favorite line has to be when Kol says “I do not appreciate the clown’s judgemental gaze” as he attempts to putt putt for the first time! And Penny’s right – everyone hates clowns! *shudder*

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I love the follow-up a year later to see how they are doing. I always wonder how the characters would do after a time if they were to still live on the written page. I enjoyed the whole series and always want more. I have to agree with Heatherhand, I love that line also!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Lol.I must admit I have never played putt putt, but I can see myself punching the clown in the nose for laughing at me. Clowns are creepy. Love the story and the pic.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Being in lockdown with big red could be fun. Love the year on , often feel left hanging when a story just ends.. Thank you lifted the spirits. 😁 lynj

    Like

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