Jason yawned as he opened the bathroom door and stepped out into the hallway, still blinking blearily. It was far too early for him to be functioning at peak performance, which was probably why what happened next took him completely by surprise.
A hand seemed to shoot out of nowhere and ruffle his hair. “Morning, Dopey,” Kala said cheerily, leaning up against the wall as Jason flinched away, trying to smooth his hair.
“Knock it off.” He glared cross-eyed at the one stubborn curl that had fallen down onto his forehead before frowning at her. “Stop messing with my hair, Kal! Isn’t it like a Goth law that you can’t be up and perky at this hour?”
“Goths have no laws, only guidelines, and the true measure of coolness is your ability to break them without losing your essential Goth-ness,” his sister replied, darting her hand out faster than his eye could follow and mussing his hair again. “You, on the other hand, dear brother, shall suffer the curse of the super-curl today, since you beat me to the bathroom first by some nefarious means.”
“Nefarious means?” Jason said archly. “No, I just woke up first because my butt was hanging off the bed. I almost fell on the floor, thanks to you.”
She snorted and slid past him into the bathroom like a queen to her throne. “Sometimes I worry about you, Jase. Every boy in school would just love to wake up next to me, and all you do is complain.” On that note, she shut the door in his face and locked it.
“Yeah, I’m your brother,” he shot back, thumping the door irritably. “You’ve been hogging my space since the womb. Trust me, Kal, the thrill’s long since worn off.”
Kala laughed merrily, and Jason headed back into his room. Gazeera was awake; Kala had probably stirred him up before she left the room, and Jason opened the cage to soothe his pet. The iguana, once a cute, big-eyed baby lizard, was now six feet long, with a broad head and heavy jowls. His legs and tail were strong, his claws long and curved, and his jaws powerful enough to severely demolish any rampaging vegetables in the vicinity. His species was quite long-lived, much to Lois’ chagrin, and with excellent care he might see another ten years. “Hey, big guy,” Jason murmured, stroking Gazeera’s spiny back. “How’s my monster today? Wanna go out on the balcony and get some sun before I have to go to school?”
The lizard seemed sluggish, so Jason left him in the cage, taking his water bowl and food dish when he left the room. His first task every day, before even having his own breakfast, was to provide for his pet. Mom and Dad insisted on both kids learning responsibility. Jason filled the dish with fresh veggies from the fridge and added a couple of fruit slices, then washed and refilled the water bowl. By the time he got back to his room, the timers had turned Gazeera’s cage lights on, and he was basking on his highest perch, eyes closed. Jason left him his food and went back to the kitchen to wash his hands again and see what was for breakfast.
Dad had come back from his morning rounds and coffee was brewing. “Good morning, son,” he said when Jason re-entered the kitchen. “Waffles sound good?”
“Sounds great,” Jason replied, pouring himself a glass of juice and sliding onto a chair at the table. “Anything interesting today?”
“The usual nonsense,” Clark replied, dropping two waffles into the toaster and getting the maple syrup from the fridge. “Although I stopped by the harbor just for a lark, and busted one of the container ships coming in with an unscheduled shipment. Forty refugees seeking political asylum. The way they were living on that ship … it’s illegal to treat a dog like that in this city.” He shook his head. Clark rarely expressed political views, especially on such topics. To be technical, he was an illegal immigrant himself, although Jason doubted any government official would have the nerve to try kicking Superman out of the country.
As if the mention of the word ‘dog’ had summoned her, Bagel came running, whining and yipping like the puppy she no longer was. She hit Jason’s legs at a dead run and swarmed most of the way up into his lap, licking his face excitedly, her white-tipped tail beating a staccato rhythm against the table. “Hello, Bagel,” Jason laughed, grabbing her head so he could kiss her nose without getting licked in the mouth. “And hello, Bagel’s breath – whew! Dad, have you been brushing her teeth?”
“It’s your mom’s week to do it,” Clark replied. “Which means she’s been getting those dental bones and celery every day.”
Jason chuckled, patting the little dog’s side as she sprawled contently across his lap. “You know, Kala and I won’t get you two any more pets unless you can take proper care of the one you have,” he admonished teasingly.
“Aw, but I always wanted a pony,” he heard his mother growl, coming up behind him and lightly whapping him in the head with the newspaper. “Don’t be a smartass, young man. Or, at least, not where your Mom can hear you.” At his embarrassed expression, she smirked and padded barefoot past him to the coffeemaker, wearing a robe and carrying a now-empty coffee mug.
“Nickel for the cursing jar,” Clark reminded her mildly as she passed him.
“Bite me, I haven’t had my second cup of coffee yet,” was her blasé reply. “It doesn’t count at this hour. Even if it did, I prepaid this week.”
Jason snickered at her quietly. Mom would never quite fit in with the minivan-driving PTA crowd, but he liked her that way. No one else’s mom had ever cussed out someone’s dad for hitting her Audi and scaring her kids in the elementary school parking lot, leaving the poor man in tears. No one else’s mom had a Pulitzer Prize on the mantle and another one she’d returned years ago. But then, no one else’s mom ever got to fly with Superman any time she wanted, either. Lois couldn’t really help being the coolest mom on earth.
Just as Clark set the plate of waffles in front of Jason, he heard a clatter of heels in the hall and Kala dashed into the room. “Hi Dad, hi Mom,” she said, swiping one of Jason’s waffles and rubbing Bagel’s head.
Lois opened her eyes a little more, then narrowed them. “Kala Josephine, you know better. You can march yourself right back to your room and put on a different shirt,” she said sternly. The blouse in question was black velvet, with a high mandarin collar but almost no sleeves. It also hugged Kala’s figure tighter than her mother wanted to see. And this was not a new argument.
Kala’s face had gone utterly blank at those words; she knew better than to look disgusted or defiant, as either one would provoke an argument. She simply stood up and turned around, her back very straight, and walked out of the room. Jason stared at the dog, not wanting to look up at his mother or his sister. He knew that Kala would have rolled her eyes extravagantly the moment she was out of sight.
Watching Kala’s back, Lois couldn’t help the way her mouth thinned in annoyance. Once she heard the door close, she closed her eyes and gave a heavy sigh. “I swear to God, she’s deliberately trying to make me crazy. Everyone in this family knows it,” Lois muttered unhappily, sipping her coffee.
Awkward silence ruled in the kitchen until Clark put another waffle on Jason’s plate to make up for the one Kala had stolen. “Jason, are you two going to start handing out invitations at school today?”
“Yeah,” Jason said. “And after school. We decided not to mail the ones for everybody in town. Besides, it’s always fun to go pester people at work.”
That brought something of a smile to Lois’ lips, her voice colored with amusement. “That’s my boy. Give Raines hell for me since I can’t do it in person.”
Jason chuckled. Aunt Tobie was now the Editor in Chief of the Daily Star, traditional rival of his parents’ newspaper, and EIC Raines never missed an opportunity to remind Lois that she outranked Assistant Editor Lane-Kent. Lois, in turn, never missed an opportunity to remind Tobie that she hated administration and didn’t want the Chief’s chair, anyway.
In the wake of their merriment, Kala returned to the room, casting an almost palpable wave of frigid air ahead of her. Her back was perfectly straight, chin up, and Jason recognized the charm-school stride that Ella had once taught her. She’d gone around balancing a book on her head for weeks to achieve it. The shirt she’d chosen to replace the offending blouse was a long-sleeved faux-suede men’s button-up. Kala could wear it for a nightshirt, it hung so low, and it covered everything including her hands unless she rolled the sleeves up.
Lois took one look and couldn’t resist a snort of derision; as usual, Kala had gone overboard. Clark and Jason both glanced at her and then at Kala. The girl had seated herself primly, without meeting anyone’s gaze, her expression still carefully blank. “Oh, give it up, Kala. The martyred ice princess act doesn’t impress me,” Lois stated sharply, as Clark set a plate of waffles in front of Kala.
Still studiously not looking at her, Kala cut her waffle, “Yes, Mother.” Her voice was quiet and flat, deliberately measured, and Clark and Jason both winced inwardly. Any hint of scorn in her tone would’ve provoked a fight with her mother, but paradoxically, the utter lack of any tone whatsoever tended to have the same effect. Lois knew, after all, that the only reason Kala spoke like that was to suppress her sarcasm.
For a long moment, the silent room vibrated with tension, Lois glaring at Kala and the girl completely ignoring her. Finally, Lois just sighed in apparent disgust and stalked out to go get dressed, taking her coffee mug with her. Clark watched her go sadly, and put the waffles he’d made for her onto his own plate.
Jason hated the silence, hated the stiff, distant way Kala was still carrying herself. There was only one sure way to thaw her out. Giving her a small encouraging smile, he put his hand over hers. “Thanks for this morning,” he said softly.
Those frosty hazel eyes met his after a moment. “For what? Messing up your hair?” Kala asked in a cautious tone, arching an eyebrow at him.
“You know what,” Jason replied, squeezing her hand gently. It normally didn’t take more than that…
Kala actually smiled then, and it was like the sun breaking through stormclouds. “You’re welcome,” she said, and devilish humor gleamed in her hazel eyes now, warming them, as she squeezed his hand back. “Although you know I don’t do it for your sake, Jason. I do it for Gazeera. He doesn’t deserve to be disturbed in the wee hours of the morning.”
“Yeah, wouldn’t want him to miss his beauty sleep,” Jason replied easily. “He might wake up looking like your weasel.”
The expression on his twin’s face was indignant. “Captain Bonnie is a gorgeous ferret!”
“She’s a rodent with pretensions. And an identity crisis. At least Captain Jack knew what he was.”
Kala couldn’t help but agree on that one. “Jason, it’s not her fault everyone told us she was a boy.” The ferret purchased to replace Captain Jack was supposed to be a black male like him, but the first vet visit had corrected that misapprehension. Kala named her new pet after a famous cross-dressing female pirate to highlight the hilarity. “And I’ll have you know that she’s a mustelid, not a rodent. Learn your taxonomy, science geek.”
“Little, furry, and it squeaks. Rodent.”
“Carnivorous, long-bodied, with a short, furry tail. Domesticated form of the European polecat, Mustela putorius furo. In other words, ferret.”
Bagel, who had been blissfully lying across Jason’s lap getting her tummy rubbed, chose that moment to lift her head and sniff Kala’s arm. Her tail began to wag faster and faster. Fast enough that Clark had to ask, “Kala, is that Richard’s shirt?”
Looking instantly guilty, his daughter gave a little laugh as she sipped her juice. “Busted by the hound,” Kala sighed, putting the glass down and rubbing Bagel’s head again. “I bet she smells her cousin on it. Yeah, it’s his. He said I could borrow it this time, though.”
“He probably gave up after all the times you’ve stolen it out of his closet,” Clark admonished her gently with a shake of his head. “You always come back from Richard and Lana’s with twice as many clothes as you had before.”
The black-haired girl gave a shrug. “She’s a designer, Daddy,” Kala said with a charming smile. “She wants me to model stuff. If I like it, she knows it’ll sell.”
“Modeling stuff does not equal raiding Lana’s closet, Kala. Or Dad’s,” Jason said, rolling his eyes just before shoving another forkful of waffle in his mouth. “You never see me over there stealing clothes.”
“Oh, but Lana has this green skirt that would look so fetching with your typical plaid,” Kala teased him, tugging at the sleeve of his shirt. “You could tell people it was a kilt.”
The unamused glare he gave her was pure Lane. “We’re not Scottish, Kal.”
“Some of those historical Kryptonian outfits have more than a little kiltishness about them,” she pointed out, polishing off the last of her waffles. She took another long drink of juice to wash it down before adding, “You could carry it off, I think. You’ve got the knees for it.”
“Kal, you’re weird,” Jason said affectionately.
“Jase, you’re weirder,” she replied.
With normality apparently restored, Clark leaned on the breakfast bar and looked at them both. “So you’re delivering party invitations after school,” he said. “How are you traveling, and when should I expect you at home?”
“Subway,” Jason said. “We split up the list last night, so maybe two hours, three tops.”
“Yeah, that sounds about right,” Kala added.
“So we’ll see you by six, or I expect a phone call from each of you telling me where you are, how many invitations you have left, and when you’ll be home,” Clark said. Kala gave an exasperated groan at that, but he ignored it; if the twins felt he was overprotective, Clark didn’t mind, just so long as they kept in touch. “Both of you have your phones? And they’re fully charged?”
At that, Kala and Jason grinned at each other and replied in unison. “Yes, Dad.”
Clark couldn’t help his chuckle. Moments of solidarity between the twins always had that effect. “Good. Remember to turn them back on after school lets out in case we need to get hold of you. And be careful on the subway.”
“Yes, sir, we will,” Jason said. He knew that Clark was warning him of more than the usual subway dangers. Any mugger who attempted to snatch Kala’s purse was in imminent danger of blowing the family’s cover if she backhanded him across the train.
“Good kids,” Clark said with a smile. “Now, if you’d like, your mother and I can hand out the invites to everyone at the office for you. Save you a little time.”
Another groan from the peanut gallery as Kala pouted. “Aww, but I like coming to the newsroom,” she wheedled. “We were going to do those last, so we could hang around.”
“That’s fine, but you won’t be able to linger,” Clark told her. “The investors are coming in tomorrow morning, and everyone’s going to be rushing around in a panic trying to make the place look good today. Why they think a working newsroom should be neat and tidy escapes me…”
“Because none of them have ever worked at a newspaper?” Jason offered. “C’mon. We all know the sloppier the desk, the more brilliant the reporter.”
“And we all know that your Uncle Perry was talking about your mother when he said that,” Clark pointed out. “It doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone. My desk is only a little messy, after all.”
Lois came back out of her room, dressed for work with briefcase in hand, pausing in the kitchen to fill a travel mug. And with her reappearance, Kala finished her juice without saying another word. Jason and Clark shared a brief look, full of exasperation at the two women. Why was it so necessary for them to bicker like this?
Topping off her coffee, the elder of the two women cruised out of the kitchen and made her way toward the door and the coat rack. “All right, everybody, load up and move out,” Lois called, jingling her keys in warning. “Mom has a meeting with her department first thing, so let’s move.”
“Don’t forget your jackets, kids,” Clark added from right behind her as he put his on, and both twins groaned. Their half-Kryptonian metabolism meant that they didn’t feel the fifty-degree weather as much as most people, and they tended to forget to wear warm clothes.
Finally ready, they all trooped down to the building’s garage, leaving Bagel sniffing forlornly at the door. The ride to school was fairly pleasant since Kala had warmed up enough that she stopped giving everyone the silent treatment. Due to their parents’ work schedule, Kala and Jason arrived earlier than most students, so they had plenty of time to go by their lockers and socialize before class began. They were out of the car with only brief goodbyes, hurrying to see their friends.
Clark sighed as he watched them go, and heard Lois echo him unconsciously. She drove off looking pensive, and he gently took her hand. “Still can’t believe how fast they grow up,” he murmured.
“Oh, please, don’t be clichéd.” Her tone was studiedly blasé, but her fingers tightened around his. “Growing up is what kids do. They can’t be little forever. We’d be pissed if they never got old enough to tie their own shoes. Or go places by themselves. It’s a relief to not have to chase monsters out from under their bed at three in the morning anymore, I’ll tell you that. ”
He knew her better than that. Even if no tension showed on her face, he knew her stomach had to be clenching at that thought. “It would be nice to keep them small and agreeable,” Clark said gently. “Well, mostly agreeable. And they ate a lot less when they were little – I swear you could feed six adults on Jason’s consumption alone.”
That was enough to bring on a snicker of amusement out of her. “Yeah, right,” Lois chuckled. “Like you eat like a bird. Guess we both know where they got their metabolisms, huh?”
“From you, of course,” Clark countered. “Lois, no other woman your weight can eat an entire pizza by herself, with breadsticks and hot wings on the side, and still be hungry for dinner. Not unless she has tapeworms or something.”
That earned him a roll of her eyes. “You’re exaggerating,” she said dryly, a smile playing around the corners of her lips. “I could manage the pizza and the wings, but not the breadsticks too. It’d still be at least four hours before I had dinner.”
“And you still wouldn’t gain an ounce.” Clark said this appreciatively, moving his hand to her thigh and running his fingers over the smooth fabric of her skirt.
That was enough to finally break her melancholy mood. Lois smirked; he wouldn’t distract her while she was driving. Not much, anyway. “Yeah, but I have huge feet,” she said teasingly.
“You wear a size six,” Clark protested, then realized she was just taunting him. Typical. “Very funny. If you weren’t driving, Lois, I’d rumple your hair for that.”
Grinning wickedly, Lois checked the surrounding traffic. They were out of the school zone, and Metropolis’ infamous gridlock hadn’t yet begun in earnest. “Is that so, Mr. Kent?” she purred wickedly, and floored the accelerator. “I guess I’d better not give you the opportunity.”
Clark yelped; ten years still hadn’t accustomed him to Lois’ driving. In the excitement and anxiety of watching her pilot her Audi through the streets, he completely forgot what he’d been meaning to say about the confrontation that morning. While Clark didn’t entirely approve of his daughter’s fashion sense, he recognized her stubbornness as coming from Lois, little though Kala would admit it. That meant, essentially, that Kala would resent his disapproval. He might be able to convince her to stop wearing that particular blouse, but she would be hurt, and it could turn into one of those ‘issues’ Kala was so prone to having. The less he commented, the more likely she was to simply forget about it on her own.
Unless Clark felt very strongly about something, he tended to let it slide with Kala, not wanting to provoke the kind of heart-wrenching defiance she showed her mother. It wasn’t the best parenting technique in the world, and he knew it, but it kept what was left of the peace in the house. And in the grand scheme of things, what was one nearly-sleeveless blouse, anyway? There were far more important things to worry about, and so far, Kala had been obedient about curfew and other such rules.
He’d meant to try to gently discuss things with Lois. She tended to be very tough on Kala, very demanding, and though Clark didn’t dare tell her, Lois was behaving much the same way her own father had, though without General Lane’s intense and lifelong disappointment. Clark’s leniency only made her more stringent, and they needed to strike some kind of a balance before Kala really got set into rebellion. He loathed seeing the two of them at each other’s throats.
Perhaps it was best that they didn’t get a chance to talk about it. Those kinds of discussions made Lois incredibly defensive, and she often turned accusatory. At least this way they got to have a reasonably pleasant morning. As Lois pulled into her reserved spot in the Daily Planet garage, she asked quietly, “Am I still covering for you at lunch?”
“Unfortunately, yes. Hal and Wally both had scheduling conflicts this weekend, and Bruce can’t do Friday. It’s got to be today. Annoying for those of us with day jobs…”
Lois raised a skeptical eyebrow as they got out of the car. “So you’re planning to fly out to the satellite, have the meeting, and make it back here in under an hour? While everyone is running around chasing their tails because the investors are coming?” There was no missing the disbelief she didn’t even try to hide. And the look she gave him was starting to become more and more common of late. “That’s cutting it pretty close, hero.”
“I might have to get locked into a men’s room somewhere,” Clark said apologetically. Lois looked away to conceal her thin-lipped, unhappy expression as soon as he said that, but he knew her too well. “Lois, come on. We’re getting a lot better about trimming the meeting times. Dinah’s Chairwoman now, and she doesn’t let anyone get too sidetracked…”
She had heard this particular excuse a little too often. Lois waved him off, sighing heavily. “Fine. Go. I’ll cover for you. I always do. I’ll keep the dogs off us as long as I can. Just remember, you are the International Editor. You need to be fairly visible. You’re third from the top of the paper, and your department expects you here the day before the investors arrive.”
“I know. If I have to leave the meeting early, I will.” Noting both the resigned tone in her voice and the way she was hiding her face behind her fall of hair, he added tenderly, “Lois, you know I’d rather be here with you.”
“Yeah,” she sighed again, still not looking at him as they made their way into the building. He didn’t have to see her face to know his words hadn’t had the desired effect, that her expression hadn’t lightened. “Yeah, I know. Let’s get inside before we’re late.”
Kala headed to her locker with one last friendly punch to her brother’s shoulder. Both of them had arts classes in the same building, but while the instrumental department tended to practice in the afternoon, the vocal majors used the rooms in the morning. So Kala’s first few classes rarely required books, and her locker was closer to her last class of the day so she could ditch her heavy math book on the way home.
This meant she was well out of Jason’s sight when she stopped to unload her book bag. With a quick glance along the hall, Kala took off her jacket and unbuttoned the long-sleeved suede shirt to reveal her velvet blouse beneath. She was careful to fold the shirt and tuck it into her bag; if she forgot to put it back on before she headed home, Mom would surely catch on, and she’d be forced through a wardrobe inspection before leaving home everyday.
Of course, if that ever happened, she’d just start leaving clothes at her friends’ houses and having them bring her favorite stuff to school. It would be extremely complicated and probably cause a huge fight if Mom found out, but Kala wasn’t willing to admit defeat. If the blouse was permitted by the school dress code, she should be able to wear it, and not be forced to bow to Mom’s taste in clothes.
Feeling triumphant, Kala strolled over to the theater building. The breeze nipped at her cheeks, and she settled into the shelter corner of the theater doors, waiting for her friends to arrive. Kala was taking an acting class this year, and she’d made friends with a lot of the theater majors. They didn’t think she was weird or rebellious or scary. Then again, people who would randomly break into monologues from obscure plays were probably not the best baseline for ‘normal’.
Better than the majority of the vocal majors. They seemed to come from the same mold: pretty but bland, with sweet, clear voices and spotless consciences. Most of them seemed to like only fluffy little pop songs with no real substance. Only a few others were like Kala, putting the full range of emotions into their singing. Kala referred to the conformists as the Sugar Candy Choir. When they practiced, she liked to insert herself into a group of them, disconcerting them with her black clothes and intense singing.
Chuckling at that thought, Kala didn’t see her best friend until he sat down next to her. Sebastian Velez, called Sebast, draped his arm around Kala’s shoulders, sharing the warmth of his black leather jacket with her. His tawny skin set off his naturally jet-black hair and dark eyes, and most of the girls at school had swooned over him in vain. “How’s my platonic soul mate this morning?” he asked Kala.
“I’m fine,” Kala replied, and leaned on his shoulder. Sebast was the one guy in her life who was perfectly safe, without any ulterior motives; she could be affectionate with him without worrying what he’d expect from her, or what he’d tell his buddies later. “So how’s Evan?”
“Evan is now ex-Evan,” Sebast tossed off dismissively. “I can’t have anything to do with a guy who hates Miss Saigon. No theater taste whatsoever and the fool thinks musicals are trite.” He shuddered melodramatically, and Kala gasped in mock-horror. “So he is out the door. Finished. Over. And so I’m on the prowl again. Let’s not have a repeat of Valentine’s Day, okay?”
Kala snickered; they had both sent Candy-Grams to the same guy last year. “I bought mine first,” she insisted.
Sebast made a face at her, frowning. “My poem was better.”
“Better than Jason’s, maybe, but neither one of us got anything out of it, so hush. Besides, the guy wasn’t worthy of either me or you.” They both laughed for a moment, then Kala sighed. “Maybe if Jason had written a better poem, Elise would still be coming over every weekend…”
“Nah, it wasn’t the poetry,” Sebast put in. “It was dropping the M-bomb. Seriously. No fifteen-year-old boy talks marriage unless he’s seriously depraved. No matter how cute your brother is, he couldn’t have saved that one.”
“Yeah, I just wish he would’ve picked anyone else for his rebound. Anyone. That little slut Giselle Davenport…” Kala growled under her breath. “She laughs at my dad behind his back. And she thinks Lana is hopelessly old-fashioned. She thinks Mom’s a bitch, too.”
“At least you two agree on something,” Sebast teased gently, and Kala elbowed him.
“She’s my mom, I’m allowed to say she’s a bitch. Nobody else. And Giselle’s a complete idiot for the rest.” Kala slid down the wall a little further, nestling in the crook of Sebast’s shoulder. “I don’t get what Jason sees in her.”
“A cute butt, perky boobs, nice hair, and a pretty face,” Sebast said, shrugging. “Trite, but true. All the guys are jealous of him.”
“Sebast, she has no butt. No butt, just a void where one would be if she wasn’t a Fembot. Skinny little spawn.” Kala made a face; her brother’s girlfriend was currently the bane of her existence, the only person on earth more annoying than her mother. “Besides, Jason doesn’t think like that. He cares about stuff like intelligence and sense of humor, thank God. We taught him right.”
“Yeah, and look where looking for those qualities got him,” Sebast said with a chuckle. “Elise broke up with him, so maybe he’s going for something simpler. Just let it go, Kala. You can’t stop him, and he won’t stay with Giselle forever. When he catches on to how Giselle really feels about your parents, he’ll drop her like a hot rock.”
“I hope so,” she muttered. “The sooner, the better. I’ve tried everything to get rid of her, and she just keeps hanging around like a bad odor. None of his other girlfriends were this persistent.”
Sebast was quick to point out one certain fact. “None, except Elise.”
“Yeah, but the difference is that I like her,” was Kala’s immediate reply. “Elise hung around because she figured out I didn’t really hate her. Giselle does it to spite me. Nasty little…”
Kala lapsed into muttered profanity, and Sebast just sighed heavily. He let her go on for a moment before redirecting her. “Are you working tonight?”
“Nah,” she said. “Joe gave me Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday off this week. You’ll have to shop for your linens tomorrow if you want to use my employee discount.” A thoughtful conversation with her father about the value of service had led to Kala taking a part-time job after school, working as a cashier in a nearby branch of Bed n’ Bath. It was supposed to teach her about being a public servant, but so far she’d mainly learned that people were jerks, at least when they shopped.
“So are you free tonight?” Sebast asked. “This new place opened up. They serve energy drinks, fruit smoothies, and fifteen kinds of coffee all night long. Poetry slam on Wednesday nights.”
“Wish I could,” Kala said with a grin. “This afternoon, Jason and I are delivering invitations to the grand soiree this weekend. Speaking of which…” She reached into her book bag and brought out a silver-edged envelope.
“You know I’ll be there,” Sebast said as he opened the envelope. The invitation itself was black, lettered in silver, and the venue listed was the height of elegance. “The ballroom at the Centennial? Whoa. Kala, what…?”
“Uncle Perry said he wanted us to have a real grown-up birthday party,” Kala responded, hazel eyes shining with excitement. “It’s not exactly black tie, but dressy – you’ll be fine, Sebast, you clotheshorse.”
“Anybody else from school invited?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Only the best people,” Kala announced with a haughty tone before dropping her voice back to normal, winking. “Don’t worry, I invited enough boys for both of us. And I have an invitation that’ll surprise my brother.”
“You didn’t,” Sebast said with mock-amazement, already chuckling. Only Kala would dare at this point.
Her grin told him her answer before she even spoke. “Oh, I did. Soon as she gets off the bus, I’m inviting Elise.”
Jason headed toward his first class of the day, Algebra. He actually liked math first thing in the mornings; he was finally awake by this time of day, and with a good breakfast pleasantly filling him, he found his mind was at its clearest. All good things for math classes. Jason had been told that musicians were supposed to be naturals at math, or vice versa, but he sometimes felt intimidated by all the complicated formulas. He was good at math, but he didn’t always enjoy it. Tackling it first also got the chore out of the way before the classes he did enjoy.
On the way there, he met Giselle, as he did most mornings. She was in several of his classes, including Algebra, and they often studied together before class. It was an interesting change to be the one tutoring someone else; Elise had often helped him…
Jason shoved that thought out of his head. Elise had her summer boyfriend and whoever she was seeing now, she could teach him. Them. Whatever. He had Giselle, and she was always delighted to see him. She hugged him tight, kissing his cheek, and he grinned broadly at her. “Hi,” Giselle said breathlessly, dark eyes locked on his.
“Hey,” Jason said, just holding her for a moment. Giselle was an exotic mixture, half Dutch, half Chinese. She had the delicate features and green eyes from her mother’s side of the family, and the black hair and skin tone of her late father. It all added up to a girl no one could ignore, and she was his girlfriend.
Giselle sighed happily, leaning against him, and Jason forgot the rest of the world. No, she wasn’t Elise, she wasn’t his ideal girlfriend, but she was a really nice girl, and everything stressful in his life disappeared when she was in his arms.
Someone nearby cleared his throat, and Jason looked up, startled. “PDA,” one of the teachers said mildly as he passed by, and Jason blushed as he stepped back from Giselle. The rule prohibiting public displays of affection was less stringently enforced at Stalmaster than at most schools, artists needing to encourage and congratulate each other’s work, but too much snuggling was still frowned on. Giselle giggled, and her bright-eyed smile got an indulgent one from the teacher before he moved on.
“Hey, Jason, did you finish the homework last night?” Giselle asked. She didn’t wait for the answer; she already knew it. “I don’t think I did it right. Can I check my answers?”
“Sure.” Jason took her hand as they walked to class. “Before that, though, there’s something I want to give you.”
“Oh?” she asked, looking up at him with bright anticipation. Giselle knew the twins’ birthday was Saturday, and she’d overheard some of the party plans. So she wasn’t at all surprised when Jason stopped to pull an invitation out of his bag. The dark-haired girl only glanced at it before impulsively hugging him again. “Of course I’ll be there,” she trilled in his ear. “And I might have an extra-special present for you…”
“You are the present,” Jason sighed, kissing her hair. Love welled up in him, and only the knowledge that teachers were prowling the halls broke the pair apart.