Richard hunched forward over his desk, eyeing his computer monitor warily. His latest article, about test-flying a restored biplane, seemed to lack something. The Aviation Journal wasn’t a terribly demanding job, but he had his own standards, and this article wasn’t quite meeting them. The technical details were there, the appreciation of the history was there, so what was missing? He frowned at the screen, pondering.
His phone rang, a welcome distraction. “Richard White, Aviation Journal, Copilot’s Comm, how can I help you?”
“Hello, darling.” As always, Lana’s voice completely changed the tone of his day. Richard’s frown disappeared, replaced by a blissful smile.
“Hello, beautiful,” he murmured, leaning back in the chair. “What’s up?” While he spoke, his gaze roamed the wall of his office, hung with family photos: him and Lana at Lois’ wedding, baby Kristin’s first steps while holding Lana’s hands, the obligatory family photo of everyone at the annual Independence Day picnic at the Troupe house, him and Clark in front of the seaplane Clark had just successfully flown for the first time. Eventually his eyes settled on the most beloved photograph of all, a shot of himself, Lana, the twins, and Kristin, taken at the vacation cabin in North Carolina. The three kids were playing in a drift of fallen leaves, and Richard had gotten into the act, tossing a double handful of leaves at Lana. She was caught laughing; all five of them were laughing, in fact. Lois had even been laughing when she took the picture. It was their first joint family vacation, the first time he’d known that the future for both couples and all three children was really going to work out as wonderfully as it seemed.
“Well, your darling daughter has decided that she simply must speak to her big sister,” Lana said, with a touch of exasperation in her voice. “No matter how much trouble Kala would get in for having her phone on at school. I eventually managed to get her to settle for talking to Daddy instead.”
“Put her on the line, then,” he said. “And Lana? I love you.”
“I love you, too, Richard,” Lana replied, and he could hear the smile in her voice. It was nice to know that talking to him affected her as much as it did him, that the contentment was shared. “Here’s the princess.”
A brief clatter as the phone was transferred to eight-year-old hands. “Hi Daddy!” Kristin chirped. “Whatcha doin’?”
“Talking to you, silly girl,” he said. “Before that I was working, no matter what your mom tells you.” Kristin giggled happily, sounding very much like Kala at her age. And like Kala, she knew perfectly well that her father’s cure for an attack of ‘gigglitis’ was the application of ‘tickle therapy’. Fortunately for her, Richard was in his office and not presently able to apply his favorite cure. “What are you doing, giggle-monster?”
“Botherin’ Mommy,” Kristin replied, with more chuckles. “She says I can’t call Kala cuz Kala’s at big-kid school an’ she can’t have her phone on.”
“Mommy is exactly right, as usual,” Richard told her.
“But Kala said I could call her whenever I wanted!” Richard could easily picture his daughter’s pout.
“Yeah, well, your big sister is so smart, she has so many thoughts running around in her brain, sometimes she loses track of things. Like the fact that her phone is supposed to be off while she’s at school,” Richard explained patiently, not for the first time. “If she forgot to turn it off, and you call her, her phone will ring and she’ll be in trouble. You don’t want Kala to get in trouble, do you?”
“Kala says ‘lee me not inta temp’shun, I c’n find it m’self’,” Kristin recited, as Lana snickered in the background. “She says it means she’s really good at gettin’ in trouble.”
“At least she admits it,” Richard sighed. “Look, angel-baby, wait ‘til Kala leaves school for the day. Mommy will tell you when, and then you can call her, okay?”
“Oh-kay,” Kristin sighed heavily, drawing the word out. “Are you comin’ home early today, Daddy?”
“Probably,” he replied. “I can’t stay away from the two most beautiful redheads in the world, can I?” The light compliment hid past altercations. His bosses preferred that the employees spend a lot of time hanging out with them after work, for ‘networking’ purposes. Richard knew it for pure brown-nosing, and refused to participate in spite of the fact that not doing so virtually guaranteed he would never get a promotion. He had better things to do most evenings than spend time with his coworkers, and had told his bosses precisely that. They left him alone because his column was well-liked by their readers, and because he didn’t need this job. If they irritated him, he could just walk away. Richard worked there solely because he enjoyed working, not because he needed money – and he’d explained that to his employers, too.
“’Kay,” Kristin said. “Mommy wants to talk when I’m done. I love you, Daddy.”
“I love you, too, Kristin.” Richard made kissing noises into the phone, getting a giggle and loud smooch from Kristin in reply, and then Lana was back on the line.
“Thanks, love,” she sighed.
“How’s everything going?” he asked, still hearing an weary note in her voice.
“Pretty much as usual,” Lana replied. “Deadline panic over the winter line, a certain little princess enjoying her early-release day a bit too much, all the typical delights. I’m looking forward to calling it quits for the day, actually.”
“Me too,” Richard said, glancing at the clock. Barely two in the afternoon – he couldn’t quite sneak out this early. “Tell you what. How about we meet at three-thirty and head over to the Planet to pester Lois and Clark? The investors are going to be there tomorrow, and they’re probably both going half-crazy trying to make the place presentable.”
“So you want to stress them out even more?” Lana teased.
“Nah, I’m bringing you and the kid. Between the two of you, you can probably solve most of the world’s problems, you with diplomacy, Kristin with sheer cuteness.”
That won him another laugh, and Lana said, “I’ll pick up something to nibble on – if we arrive bearing mid-afternoon snacks, we’re less likely to get thrown out of the building.”
“You’re on,” Richard told her. They said their goodbyes, and he looked at the most recent article again. He finally saw what was missing from it: the delight he’d felt while piloting that ninety-year-old plane. It had been a rare and special moment, one he would never forget. Little wonder that talking to his wife and daughter had made him think of joy.
Jason sat down to lunch, his head spinning. He’d spent the time before his first class helping Giselle, and she’d thanked him with a kiss that so disrupted his train of thought, he’d nearly flunked the pop quiz. Thankfully, the worst test grade would get dropped at the end of the semester, so he wouldn’t have to worry too much, but his chagrin at missing so many questions had made him work all the harder in history and English. He was still obsessing over that kiss, so sweet and tender, and that terrifying test grade, while walking up the hall to lunch.
A couple of the seniors were rough-housing as they walked along, just good-natured shoving and laughter, but they weren’t looking where they were going. One of them bumped into a girl roughly, and she stumbled right into Jason’s path, dropping her books. He snapped out of his daze and caught her with one arm around her waist, just before she would’ve hit the ground. None of the other students noticed how fast he’d moved.
Only after he caught her did he get a look at her face. Elise.
They stared at each other, equally shocked, Elise looking mortified. Jason almost dropped her, wanting to leap back as if he’d touched something scalding, but couldn’t let her fall. He helped her up and steadied her, feeling his cheeks blaze. For a moment there, they’d been so close, he could’ve almost kissed her.
Elise pulled away, straightening her blouse and looking at him warily. They hadn’t really spoken since school began, studiously avoiding each other even though they were both in the same chemistry class. Jason noticed a hundred little things: she was wearing a new perfume, she’d changed the way she did her hair, and in the few seconds he’d held her, he noticed a few more curves than last year. Jason found himself wishing he had some pithy remark that would let her know he was just fine without her, but he was too tongue-tied to speak.
“Thanks,” Elise said after a moment. “Not bad, for the vice president of the chess club.” She turned on her heel and disappeared into the crowd, leaving Jason stunned and hurt. When he sat down at a free lunch table moments later, not even the sliced jicama in his lunch bag appealed to him. With a sigh, he opened his math book. No sense in wasting time, and he never wanted another test grade like that again.
Lois was having lunch at her desk, while simultaneously trying to clean off her workspace. So far, multitasking wasn’t working out so well; her pristine copy of her latest story now had soy sauce spattered across both pages, and she’d accidentally used two pens instead of the chopsticks to pick up a piece of chicken. Clark could’ve done this in half the time and without any of the trouble, but he was so busy with the JLA that she’d likely wind up cleaning off his desk for him.
Thoroughly disgruntled, Lois decided to stop trying to organize things and just make her desk presentable. To that end, she grabbed an entire stack of paperwork – the miscellaneous pile, not urgent but not quite ready to be recycled yet – and dropped it into a cardboard box beside her desk. She’d label the box and hide it in the supply room later…
A small piece of paper floated off the bottom of the stack and landed by Lois’ shoe. It was a postcard, and Lois recognized the beach photo on the front. Beautiful white sand, palm trees, and a sky so blue it reminded her of Clark’s eyes. She sat down and picked up the postcard, smiling wistfully as she turned it over. There was her address in Lana’s neat handwriting, and beside it two colors of unruly crayon scrawl. “We luv you Mommy” was written in magenta, and “We miss you TOO” in forest green. A neater note had been added to the bottom in Richard’s script, “You HAVE to see this place, Lois!”
The reporter found herself sniffling back tears. She could remember with absolute clarity the twins’ first trip to the Bahamas. Lana had bought a beach house there shortly after marrying Richard, and they’d gone to the island for a week in December of the next year, taking the kids. Lois had stood on the dock at her sister’s house, smiling and waving as the seaplane took off, but the moment Jason and Kala disappeared from her sight she hadn’t been able to control her anxiety. Clark had held her once she started sobbing, waving a concerned Lucy off, and whispered in her ear that they could fly by and check on them tonight if she wanted.
In the end, they hadn’t. That hadn’t been the problem; she trusted Richard and Lana to look after them. Lois, even then, simply couldn’t bear to watch her babies flying away from her. It had been her personal nightmare ever since she’d learned who their father really was. And it was also inevitable. Every child must grow up and grow away from their parents, grow into their own identity. But in spite of knowing that in her mind, Lois had wept for her heart’s realization of it.
And now, though they were still in the same house with her every day, the twins seemed to be growing up so fast they might as well be flying. Not so long ago they had been tiny, well-behaved, and fragile; now they were taller than she was, bold and sassy, and super-powered. Other moms had to feel the chagrin of looking up at their sons and daughters, maybe had to listen to the occasional backtalk, but Lois was the only one in the world who had to cope with a son who could pick up her car, and a daughter who could outrun it.
Her office door opened, and Lois slid the postcard under one of the photos on her desk for safekeeping. She blinked the haze of memory out of her eyes and turned toward the door with an exasperated expression. “Yes?” she snapped.
Laurel, Lois’ secretary, was unfazed by the look and the tone. She’d been hired three years ago, enough time to grow accustomed to her boss’ temperament. Perry tended to tell ambitious cub reporters that his job was so difficult, he needed an assistant, and his assistant needed a secretary – which made Lois and Laurel roll their eyes in unison. “That department meeting got moved up,” Laurel said in a voice of utter calm. “Mr. White told me it’s set for fifteen minutes from now. One of the investors got here early, and they’re keeping him out of the office by letting him sit in on the meeting.”
Lois swore pungently, already grabbing her cell phone to send an urgent text to Clark. I told him he was going to be late, she thought angrily as she punched the keys. And guess what? Imagine that, ladies and gents, I was right. “Great,” she growled aloud, the look of her face incendiary. “Laurel, will you grab my notes and meet me in the conference room? Oh, and I need the expense report for City. And the damn stock quote for the day. And…”
Thankfully, Laurel was practically psychic, as always. “I’ve got it,” the younger woman reassured her. “I’ll make you look organized like I always do, if you can make your husband appear. Looks like he got sucked into a black hole during lunch. Again.”
Lois bit her lip against another round of swearing.
Kala was staring at her algebra notes, not seeing them, just waiting for the third-lunch bell to ring. And she knew just what was ruining her concentration. It seemed like she was in a permanent state of annoyance with Elise; the girl had flatly refused to attend the birthday party. She had known it wouldn’t be easy and she had tried her most persuasive wheedling, but Elise had just continued to stride past her with a flatly-repeated no.
Of course, it wasn’t over that easily, not when you were dealing with Kala Lane-Kent. The two girls shared English class, and Kala boldly took the desk beside Elise despite the exasperated look on the other girl’s face. “Okay, so this is the part where you tell me what your problem is,” she said matter-of-factly.
“My problem is, I don’t want to see your brother,” Elise had said snappishly.
“So don’t look at him,” Kala had shot back. Why should she have to suffer for Jason’s slip-up? “Look, the last time I checked, we were friends, too. Don’t you want to come to my birthday party? Yeah, Jason’s gonna be there, but so what? I’ll disown him for the day if I have to.”
Elise had finally turned in her seat to look directly at the black-haired girl. “Kala, stop it. You’ve never been a fan of Jason’s girlfriends in the past.”
“All except for you, ‘cause you were actually worthy of the big dork,” Kala interjected. “First one ever.”
“And everybody knows you hate Giselle,” Elise pushed on as if she hadn’t spoken. “Kala, stop it! We both know you’re just using me to get at her.”
“No, that’s what my brother’s doing.” Kala gave her a withering look that showed just how disappointed she was in her. “C’mon, Elise. Get a clue. Why else would a giant geek like him be going out with a hot girl who’s got the brains of a Chia pet? He’s trying to make you jealous,” the black-haired girl retorted, frowning at her. “And wow, imagine that, it’s working! Or at least, that’s what he’ll think if you don’t come to the party.”
“Jealous?” Elise had snorted imperiously. Turning back around, she opened her textbook as if she was fascinated with catenative verbs. “Kala, please. I have much better things to worry about than your brother. As far as I’m concerned, they deserve each other. If he wants someone whose measurements exceed her IQ, then let him have her.”
“But that’s not what he wants and we both know it.” The impatience that Kala was feeling was becoming harder to hide. “Elise, he’s always gone for intelligence first – I told you about how he had this monstrous crush on Jamie Sawyer during the most awkward phase of her life. She was like tall and skinny with coke-bottle glasses, but brilliant. That says a lot.”
“Yeah, you told me,” Elise muttered, gritting her teeth and resolutely not looking up. “Look, Kala, there’s no point in talking about this. Get it through your head. Give up. I’m not going.”
Kala had sighed melodramatically when all she really wanted to do was shake her. “Fine. Whatever. Your loss. It may have escaped you, but he’s not the only person in this family who likes you. Not the only one who misses you, either. Mom sure isn’t having stimulating discussions of world politics with the bimbo.”
Even that last sally had failed, Elise studiously ignoring her, and Kala had finally admitted defeat. She rarely accepted failure, though, and it left her feeling discombobulated for the rest of the day.
On her way into lunch, she saw Jason sitting off by himself, staring into space. Wonder what’s up with lizard boy, she thought, but before she could go over to him her friends found her. Kala usually ate lunch with the popular-Goth clique, herself and Sebast being well-known members of it. Stalmaster had more Goth kids than most schools, largely because artistic temperaments tended to find the subculture interesting instead of scary. They were spread across every arts area, though Kala was the sole vocalist at the moment, and there were enough of them to create subgroups within the general heading of Goth. The witchy Goths were having lunch in the courtyard under a tree, the alienated Goths were off in corners by themselves, and Kala’s group tended to take their lunch while sitting at the tables just outside the cafeteria.
A couple of freshmen who had unwisely sat down at their favorite table saw the solid mass of black-clad students approaching, and scurried away. Kala snickered; by the end of the year the new kids would know that the Goths weren’t evil soul-sucking vampires … though they’d never find out one of them was an alien. She dropped into a seat and opened her lunch bag. “Oooh, cherimoya,” she said. “Anybody want half of a poisonous fruit?”
“I’ve got Pop-Tarts,” Sebast said. “Raspberry, your favorite.”
“Trade,” Kala said, handing over a couple sections of fruit for a Pop-Tart. “Melissa, what’ve you got?”
“PB&J,” the burgundy-haired girl sighed. “Again. I really need to send my mom shopping with your parents.”
Kala hid her smirk; some of their household snacks were imported directly from South American rain forests, picked up by Dad on his flyovers. All three sets of Kryptonian taste buds in the Lane-Kent family yearned for flavors that just weren’t available at the average grocery store. “Hey, I earned this,” she said aloud. “My brother and I were allergic to just about everything when we were little. Can’t blame the ‘rents for spoiling us a little now that we can actually have something besides macrobiotic shakes.”
“So what’re we doing this weekend?” Scott asked. His naturally dark hair was currently bleached blond, cut short, and spiked up with massive amounts of gel, a look that Kala found rather fetching.
“Well, if you all aren’t too busy…” Kala began, grinning. Someone kicked her under the table, and they all laughed as she brought the party invitations out of her book bag. “But Sebast doesn’t get one, because I don’t want any competition,” she teased.
“Yeah, right,” he retorted. “I already have mine. And I’ll definitely be there, if only to see this dress you can’t stop talking about.”
“What dress?” Melissa asked. She was a recent transfer to the school and still fairly new in the clique. Everyone else at the table groaned; they’d heard about it. Several times.
“Oh, just a little something for the party,” Kala said airily. “Nothing special.”
“Oh please,” Sebast muttered. “She’s getting an L. Lang original for her birthday. Custom made for her by Lana Lang herself.”
“Whoa,” Melissa said, eyes widening. “I really like her stuff … for a mainstream designer, she’s got a lot of things I’d wear. How’d you get a custom-made dress?”
Kala smirked gleefully. “Well, maybe I’m just lucky.”
“Or maybe it could be the fact that Lana Lang is her stepmother,” Sebast supplied.
“No way!” Melissa said, eyes going wide.
“Way,” Kala replied. “She’s really cool in person. And she’s not technically my stepmother. She married the guy I grew up calling Dad, but my actual biological father came back into our lives and now he’s married to my mom. So basically I have two dads and two moms, and she’s one of the non-biological set.”
“My head hurts,” Melissa commented.
“Hey, don’t get Kala started on her family,” Scott drawled. “Half the people she calls relatives aren’t actually related. And half of them are famous.”
“I can’t help it if I come from a well-known family,” Kala protested. “Besides, not everyone is famous. They’re just really cool, for the most part.”
“Newspaper royalty,” Sebast said to the confused Melissa. “Her mom’s the assistant editor at the Daily Planet. Her dad’s the International editor, and three of her uncles work there too – one’s the Editor in Chief.”
“I pretty much bleed ink,” Kala added with a smirk.
Kal-El left his cell phone on silent in meetings; he could hear the faint buzz of electricity through the circuits when a call came in, so a ring tone wasn’t necessary. And as was typical, a call came in at the worst possible time. He caught Dinah’s eye and gave her a chagrined smile.
The Chairwoman sighed and waved at him to check his phone. Kal-El did so, making use of his super-speed, but they all saw his expression when it turned out to be a text message, not a call. “That has to be your wife,” Bruce commented in a droll tone. “Not even a nuclear disaster puts that look on your face.”
Kal-El couldn’t help his wince. “They moved up the department meeting. To immediately.”
“She’s thrilled,” Bruce added, having met Lois on more than a few occasions. That provoked a chuckle from several of the JLA members who were acquainted with Kal-El’s wife.
“We’re done with the most important news,” Dinah said. “You’ve got your identity to protect; go, and someone will take notes for you. Someone like you, Bruce?”
Bruce looked straight across at Wally. “Mind taking notes for the only guy here who can run a race with you?”
“Sure,” he said. “Fly, Clark. We’ve got your back.”
“Thank you,” Kal-El said, cape swirling as he rose. He couldn’t help giving Bruce a perfectly innocent smile as he added, “We should try doing this on Friday afternoons, when those of us who aren’t independently wealthy can leave work early.”
“Well excuse me for being born rich,” Bruce parried with a chuckle. “Maybe you should think about working nights. Or just getting out of a field full of people who are trying to guess your identity?”
“Only one of them guessed it right,” Kal-El retorted, turning to the door.
“So you married her,” Bruce shot back.
“Which is why I’m busy nights,” Kal-El said as he walked out, but Bruce didn’t need to see the smirk on his face. He could hear it in the Kryptonian’s voice, and he shrugged, admitting defeat while the rest of the JLA laughed.
Kal-El heard their amusement as he soared down toward Metropolis, knowing he only had a few moments to get there and change. Behind him, he heard someone mutter, “And that’s why I’m glad I’m single. No one to call me up out of a meeting. It’s sad to see Superman running to his wife’s beck and call.”
“Man, have you seen his wife?” Wally said incredulously. “I’d answer her calls.”
“It’s not about Lois,” Dinah pointed out sharply. “He has a job. If he’s late often enough, his cover’s blown. And then one of the founders of the League would be discredited.”
The same voice – Kal-El made a mental note to figure out which of the new members that was – asked, “Has anybody noticed the incongruity of Superman having a day job? I mean, come on. Why is he down there on the street pretending to be something he’s not?”
“Because he would rather be ‘merely’ human,” Diana cut in, her tone warning. “Because he is well aware that his powers don’t make him ‘better’ than the people he works with every day.”
“Because he’s a better man than you are,” Bruce added. “And by the way, he can still hear you. Wherever he is.”
Kal-El laughed to himself before tuning them out to concentrate on the Daily Planet building. He picked out Lois’ voice instantly, growling under her breath, “I swear, if he’s late again, I’m gonna kill him. We’re running out of freakin’ excuses. Kal-El, wherever the hell you are, you knew about the deadline and I sent you a text about the change. You’d better be here…”
Perry was at her side, scowling, with the rest of the department heads straggling along behind them. In the midst of the pack was the man Lois would’ve referred to as ‘the walking wallet’; she tended to be a bit derisive of the investors, but this one was a decent guy. He startled as a sudden rush of air down the hallway mussed everyone’s hair and sent a few papers flying. “Damn drafts,” Perry muttered. “I’ve had the maintenance crew go over this building a hundred times, and we still get these crazy drafts in the place. The remodel should’ve taken care of it, and it did for a couple years, but now…”
Lois smirked. She was the only one unsurprised when they walked into the meeting room moments later and Clark was already there, his briefcase on the table. Perry came to a halt in the doorway, staring at him incredulously, and Clark just looked back innocently. “Mr. White?” he asked. “I got the right conference room, didn’t I?”
“Yeah, but we were meeting in the bullpen and then walking over here,” Perry said gruffly. “Never mind; at least you’re on time.” With that he went to his seat, shaking his head slightly.
Walking past Clark without ever breaking her stride or looking him in the eyes, Lois just tightened her hold on her notes while she followed the Editor. As she passed him, she muttered under her breath, “Once again, we can thank me for your continued survival.” Despite the pointed edge to her words, those eyes sparkled devilishly as she slid into her own seat.
As usual, she’d chosen a moment when he couldn’t actually respond. Clark caught Lois’ gaze as she sat down, letting his grin speak for him. You’ll get yours later, that look seemed to say, and Perry sighed heavily when he caught them eyeing each other. “Down to business, people. We have a meeting to run here,” he said warningly, but Lois and Clark both caught the glint of amusement in his eyes when he glanced at them.
“Your homework for tonight will be to watch fifteen minutes of a movie – any movie – and write down each shot and camera action used,” Mrs. Sharpless said. “Oh, and I shouldn’t have to say this, but it has to be live-action, and it has to be G or PG-13 rated.” The final class bell punctuated her words.
A few of the students groaned, but Jason grinned. Now that was what homework should be like every day. He picked up his backpack, already thinking about which movie to watch. The Lane-Kent household had more books than DVDs, but there was enough of a selection for his purposes. Jason headed out to meet Kala for the ride to the Daily Planet, unconsciously hurrying in hopes of seeing Giselle.
“Hey!” Jason turned around and saw Nathan catching up with him. He waited for the shorter boy, a visual art major whom Jason had met in film class. “Didn’t see you at lunch today,” Nathan said as they walked down the hall to the stairs. “Were you and the hottie locked up in the photo lab or something?”
Jason couldn’t help his unrestrained snort. “Not hardly,” he replied with a grin. “I was in the cafeteria, studying.”
Nathan sighed. “You didn’t miss much.” Jason usually ate lunch outside the music building, with a mixed group of instrumentalists and their friends from other arts areas. Nathan proceeded to fill him in on all the off-the-wall theories that had been floated around for Jason’s absence. “Of course, Caleb said you probably got suspended for PDA.”
“Caleb’s a moron,” Jason opined, smirking. “Nobody believed him.”
“He’s a pathological liar. But you do have a tendency to be attached to Giselle’s face all the time.”
“Do not,” Jason said. “And Caleb’s just jealous because he doesn’t have a girlfriend.”
“Somebody told me he likes Kala.” That said, Nathan automatically took a step away from Jason.
The dark-haired boy whirled, glaring. “You can tell him from me to get that thought out of his head,” Jason snapped. Nathan chuckled, and Jason shoved his shoulder. “You jerk. You’re an only child. You don’t have to worry about every guitar-playing stoner in this school trying to hit on your little sister.”
“Little?” Nathan said incredulously. “Jason, Kala’s my height. And she’s only like a minute younger than you.”
“Whatever,” the taller boy muttered. “Anyway, Caleb had better leave her alone. He’s not good enough for her – and Kala will tell him that. I don’t want to see him crying at the bus stop or anything.”
Nathan gave an amused snort. “Yeah, you’re so overprotective.”
“Shut up,” Jason said, reaching into his book bag and pulling out an invitation. “You can come to the party if you promise not to give me any grief.”
“I’ll think about it,” Nathan laughed when he took the invitation from him. “See you tomorrow at lunch?”
“Yeah. I’ve got to give the guys who aren’t in band class their invitations too.”
“Please tell me there’s gonna be some girls at this party,” Nathan muttered.
The other boy gave him a long-suffering sigh. Rolling his eyes, Jason let him start reading before he replied. “You can bring a date. It’s a grown-up party; Uncle Perry rented out the Centennial ballroom.”
“Whoa!” Nathan’s eyes got wide. “Okay, you can count me in. I’ll be there just for that.”
Laughing, they parted ways, Nathan going toward the buses, Jason heading for the front of the school. The dark-haired boy sighed as he merged with the flow of students struggling to get to their lockers, or to talk to each other in the middle of the hall. Jason preferred not to shoulder his way through, although when the crowds were at their worst he sometimes entertained the fantasy of simply jumping over all of them with super-strength. His leaps would break any Olympic record, but they wouldn’t get him over the heads of a hundred chattering teenagers. Not to mention, that would pretty much destroy the family secret.
With that thought occupying his mind, Jason didn’t even see Giselle until she sidled up and caught his hand. “Miss me, handsome?” she asked, swaying close enough to bump her hip against his leg.
Jason squeezed her hand gently, beaming at her. “Yeah, I missed you,” he said. “How was your day?”
He only devoted half his attention to her answer, the rest to not bumping into anyone. She told him about her classes, her teachers, and one of her friends who was seeing some guy from the parochial school up the street, Jason nodding and making noncommittal sounds in all the right places. He knew, after going out with her for a couple of months, to let Gisele get all the day’s gossip out before trying to talk about anything serious.
“…and thank you so much for helping me with math,” Giselle said, getting Jason’s full attention again. “I think I passed the quiz, and I know I would’ve bombed it if you hadn’t shown me how to do those equations.” She squeezed his hand and smiled up at him, dark green eyes gleaming with delight, and Jason couldn’t help grinning goofily at her. She was just so pretty that he couldn’t help feeling silly every time she looked at him.
“You’re welcome,” he said after a moment. “I don’t think I did so good … I was a little distracted when we went into class.”
Giselle giggled, looking up at him with an odd combination of shyness and pride. A wave of protectiveness – and possessiveness – washed over Jason, making him stand a little taller as he beamed down at her.
Something struck his shoulder hard enough to hurt, and Jason turned around angrily only to see his twin glaring at him. “Hey, Dopey, pause your hormones and watch where you’re walking. You almost stepped on a freshman.”
As always, Jiminy Cricket in black lipstick managed to ruin a perfectly romantic moment. Closing his eyes for a moment, Jason gave a heavy sigh, his look to Giselle already apologetic. “Geez, Kala, I did not. You exaggerate everything.”
“Do not,” she responded with a smirk, but any other response was forgotten when those sharp eyes locked on Giselle. Just the sight of the girl was like a red flag, as always. Kala knew that part of her dislike of Giselle Davenport was due to the fact that she was Elise’s polar opposite, but most of her annoyance with the other girl was an instinctive thing. And, as always, the need to drive her off overrode any propriety. “Giselle, what are you, a lost puppy? School’s over! Go follow someone else home. We’ve got places to go, people to see, things to do … and you’re none of the above. Especially not the last.”
Giselle glared at her, a glimmer of hurt in those eyes, and Jason hugged her quickly. “I’m sorry, Giselle, you know how nutty my sister is,” he murmured, before rounding on his sister. “Would you calm down?” he hissed in dismay. “Kal! Do you always have to be rude?”
“To Pretty Princess Barbie? Yeah,” she shot back without apology. The scornful look she gave the girl in question made it clear that she found her more than a little lacking. One hand on her hip, Kala gave a hard glance to her watch and then her dawdling brother. “Jason, it’s after three now. We’ve got to cover half the town and go by the Planet by six o’clock. We do not have time for you to stand around all moony-eyed and woogie-woogie with the placeholder.” While he stared at her in open-mouthed shock and horror, Kala glared at the other girl again. “Seriously, Giselle. Beat it. I’ve got a heavy backpack and I’m not afraid to swing it.”
At that, Giselle’s pretty face crumpled with unhappiness, her displeasure all too clear. Having seen the reaction, Jason had half-turned away from her to swat Kala’s shoulder, so she mouthed ‘bitch’ at Kala before turning smartly on her heel and stalking away. “Giselle, she can’t help it if she’s a heathen,” Jason turned back to his girlfriend hurriedly to try to explain, before realizing she was already gone. “Giselle? Giselle!”
“Oh my God, whatever. Forget it, Dopey, we have more important things to do than cater to the Stalmaster Barrel of Whine.” Muttering under her breath, Kala grabbed his elbow and started dragging him along. “How many times to I have to tell you that you’re better off without her before you listen?”
The dark-haired boy turned then, favoring her with aggravated look while he threw his hands in the air. “Kal, why do you have to stick your nose in something that’s none of your business? Just leave her alone!” Jason said in utter exasperation, yanking his arm away to glare down at her. Then his blue eyes widened in disbelief as he did a double-take. “You wore that shirt anyway?! Mom’s gonna kill you!”
Kala gave her eyes a dismissive roll. Her brother always over-reacted to everything, especially if it involved their mother. All too often lately, Jason had been siding with Mom, even if his own sister was in the right. Attempting to push that uneasy frustration aside, she commented tartly, “Only if she finds out, mama’s boy. What’re you gonna do, tell?”
The reply was enough to startle Kala. “Yeah,” Jason said calmly and seriously, making her whip her head around with wide eyes. “Yeah, I just might. Unless…”
His sister’s look was wary. Jason rarely resorted to manipulation in situations like this. “Unless … what? What do you want, you cheeseball?”
“Leave Giselle alone,” was the stern reply.
Those hazel eyes narrowed as Kala crossed her arms over her chest. That little princess was completely and totally unsuitable for her thick-headed twin, something she’d been telling him for months, but he had yet to listen to reason. Well, just because he was clueless didn’t mean she was going to back down from her campaign. Besides, it was for his own good. “If that’s what you want, go on and tell, then, you big sissy tattletale,” Kala snorted. “Nothing’s worth having to put up with unfiltered twit for the rest of forever. Especially since you’re never gonna wake up and grow a brain where she’s concerned.”
An annoyed frown threatened, his brows furrowing at those words. Kala had been like this ever since he had refused to speak to Elise their first day back at school. She’d been twice as outraged when he had started seeing Giselle a few weeks after school began, none of which had been reason to find fault with his current girlfriend. After a tense moment, as always where his twin was concerned, it passed and Jason heaved a sigh. “I only want one thing. I want you to be nice for my girlfriend for one day, you little dork,” Jason said finally, shoving her shoulder playfully. “I won’t say a word to Mom about the shirt. All I’m asking is one day without your attitude. You don’t have to like or approve, just don’t comment. Can you handle that?”
There was a silent moment as Kala considered her brother’s proposition, weighed the aggravation of blackmail against having to hear an extended lecture from Mom. “Tempting, but I still don’t know if it’s worth it, you big dork.”
There was a cure for Kala’s nasty viciousness that only her twin brother knew. Without warning, Jason slung his arm around her shoulders and hugged her. “Then do it because you looooooooooove me,” he drawled, giving Kala his best big dopey smile.
Kala rolled her eyes, trying to resist Jason’s innate good nature, but she was already grinning up at him. All she could do was give in and sigh. “Okay, fine. But only because I love you and you’re my twin and we’re supposed to have each other’s backs forever.”
Jason squeezed her affectionately. “Love you, little sister.”
The despised endearment simply made Kala wrinkle her nose. He never would let her live down that one-minute difference, would he? “Yeah, love you, too, lizard-breath,” Kala replied in saccharine tones. “Now can we please get going?”
“All right, all right,” Jason backed off the ‘cute’, chuckling. He’d relent for now; there was no point in fighting over this anymore after he’d won that small concession from her. “I’d say ‘race you to the subway,’ but…”
At that, Kala gave him a superior grin as she linked her arm with his and they headed toward the metro entrance. “You just say that because you hate losing,” was Kala’s retort as they broke into laughter again.