Jason woke up with a stuffy nose and sore eyes from crying himself to sleep. He pushed himself through the normal morning routine even though what he really wanted to do was pull the blankets over his head and fall back asleep. But Gazeera had to be fed, and the last thing Jason wanted to do today was disappoint his parents.
Despite his trying, Kala had never deigned to talk to him last night. He’d heard her crying, but she wouldn’t even open the door, so he’d finally slunk across the hall and curled up in his bed when Mom and Dad started fighting. Sleep had taken far too long to arrive, as Jason’s stomach and emotions were tied up in knots.
It wasn’t as if he didn’t know that his parents were having problems even when they tried to hide it from the kids, but they’d argued before and always made up in the end. This was a whole new level of ‘argue’, though. Never in his life had Jason heard such antagonism in both their voices, never imagined either one could think to mention the ‘D’ word. And to have Dad say it … it just seemed as if the world were turning inside-out. He was crazy in love with Mom, had been since he and Kala had first seen them together, so obviously starry-eyed over her even now that all Jason’s friends snickered over it. Dad had to be utterly at the end of his rope to even consider…
Heading into the kitchen with a regretful glance at Kala’s door across the hall from his, Jason tried to push aside the sick feeling he felt in his stomach. Mom did have a point, though. Dad was getting awfully hard to find sometimes; it seemed like he spent more time with the JLA than ever. And Kala was definitely Daddy’s girl. She always had been, since they had both been little, and it was hard not to see how much delight Dad took in her antics. But Jason didn’t think that Dad spoiled her too much. Well, maybe a little much, but not as bad as Mom had implied. Kala was a pain in the neck, and she couldn’t get along with Mom these days for more than a week if you offered her a million dollars to do it, but she was his sister. His twin sister. She wasn’t evil. Just snotty and annoying.
And Mom was his mom. She’d always been there to tell him to stop pushing himself so hard, to tell him just what he needed to hear to not feel like a coward or a failure when things didn’t go right. Mom, who seemed to know what he was thinking even when he hadn’t even told Kal. Who always had the solution to problems he didn’t even know he had. And, that said, how was a guy supposed to stay sane when his mother and his twin were fighting over totally stupid stuff? Nobody had even let Kala say where she’d been last night, or who was with her, or why her neck looked like she’d been attacked by really clumsy vampires. Sure, she’d done something stupid, but it shouldn’t have triggered World War Three in the living room.
Jason realized he was just giving himself a headache. He was trying to put together a 5,000 piece puzzle with a thousand pieces missing. Sighing, he tried to force himself back into some semblance of normalcy. Dad was out doing his morning rounds, just like always, and Mom was…
He couldn’t help the aggravated groan when he checked for her. Mom wasn’t in the house. He couldn’t hear her heartbeat; his own hearing only had a range of a few blocks in the middle of the noisy city, though, so she could be just about anywhere. This wasn’t going to make the morning any easier. Jason was just starting to get worried when he heard his father returning. “Dad?” he called out. “Do you know where Mom is?”
He knew he didn’t imagine the tiny wince his father made as he came in the French doors. Yep, this wasn’t going to be a good morning at all. “At work,” Clark replied, never slowing pace on his way to the bedroom to change out of the uniform. “Wake your sister.”
Jason’s eyebrows when up at that. The sober expression and tone were not exactly common to Dad at all; that was far more abrupt than the boy could ever remember his father being. Then again, considering last night, could he really blame him? He was going to tread a fine line here if he said anything; it really wasn’t his place to question what happened between his parents, but he had to try. “Dad, are you okay?” he finally asked, hesitantly.
At that, Clark stopped, and turned to look at his son. It was then that Jason saw the weariness in his expression, something even more alien to Dad, and it chilled him. If nothing else made him want to wish this all away, this would. The only other time he’d seen Dad this defeated had been years ago on an island made of kryptonite. “I’m all right,” Clark said quietly, obviously sensing his anxiety. “Everything’s going to be okay, Jason. Don’t worry. Just wake Kala up. I need to talk to her before I go to work.”
He’d asked; maybe that could be enough for the moment. He’d have to try with Mom later. There had to be a way to fix things and if anyone could do that, it was his father. Giving the older man a small smile, he nodded with a deeper understanding. “Sure, Dad,” Jason replied, hurrying to do as he’d been asked. Just before he could knock on Kala’s door, though, it opened with a suddenness that made the boy startle back.
Kala stood there wearing a black turtleneck and black jeans; minimalist attire for her. She hadn’t bothered with makeup, either, and in spite of that she looked unusually pale. The dark circles beneath her eyes made Jason want to hug her and promise that everything would work out somehow. The utter dejection that spoke in her every movement spoke louder than words ever could.
In spite of the clear misery she felt, Kala didn’t give him even half a chance. “I heard him,” she said flatly, and brushed past him to go into the living room and await Dad’s judgment like a prisoner to the gallows.
Taking a deep breath, he sighed as he stared up at the ceiling. And they say what you do for New Year’s Day, you do all year. Please, God, don’t let that be true this year. I’m not sure I can handle it. Squaring his shoulders, Jason followed her up the hall, noticing that no one had started coffee and deciding to do it himself. Better to be there and watch without being noticed. As he was starting the coffeemaker, Clark came back out of the bedroom and spoke to Kala in a level, dispassionate voice.
“You’re grounded until further notice,” he started immediately, and Kala didn’t even offer a groan of protest. “No television, no internet, and no leaving the house. I’ll need your cell phone, too; I don’t want you to make any calls. Read, do any homework you have over break. We’ll discuss this further when your mother and I get home from work tonight, including how long you’ll be on restriction. You’ll have a chance to tell your side of the story as well.”
Again Jason expected a storm of temper to be unleashed and was amazed to see that it wasn’t forthcoming. On the contrary, his sister wasn’t even looking up at her father, the shame Jason knew she had to feel keeping her from meeting his eyes. The only way you knew she had heard was the way that her shoulders slumped. “Yes, sir,” Kala replied meekly, her voice trembling.
There was a painfully long pause, in which Jason pretended to be fascinated with the coffee beginning to drip, and then he heard his father say softly, “I love you, sweetheart. Never doubt that. But this had to be done.”
Kala said nothing, her face still hidden in her long fall of hair, and after a moment Clark came into the kitchen with a pained expression, his mouth thinned and his brow furrowed. “Thanks for making the coffee, Jason,” he said, patting his son’s shoulder.
Jason had made plans for the day, long before all of this had occurred, although he was starting to wonder if it was the best thing to do in light of the situation. On one hand, family took priority over all else, but with the way things had been with Giselle lately, he really didn’t want to face yet another cancellation of their plans. Who knew if his girlfriend would understand? “Umm, Dad, I’m supposed to meet Giselle for lunch,” Jason said in a tentative tone, already feeling like a heel. “I’ll cancel if you need me to…”
“No,” Clark replied quickly, looking at him. “Kala knows what I expect of her, and she doesn’t need a warden to behave. I think we all know this, right?” The small smile he gave Jason let him know that Clark knew how much he hated being a tattletale. “You go and see Giselle; we should be home a little early today.”
“Thanks, Dad. Have a good day at work, okay? Or try?” Then, knowing how difficult things were for him, Jason caught his father’s shoulder and hugged him. “Mom’ll cool down. You know she will.” When they pulled back, Clark could only give his son a somber smile that made Jason frown in worry. “Dad, she will. There’s nothing you guys can’t work out. Seriously.”
The discussion could go no further; Clark was running late as it was. Calling out final goodbyes, Jason was left alone in the apartment and the heavy ghosts of the previous night. He needed to talk to Kala, to understand what had happened in his twin’s own words before anyone else could hear and misunderstand, but she’d already retreated to her room and locked the door again. Well, that puts the kibosh on that. If she’s still that wrecked, she wouldn’t talk to me, anyway. I’ll be so glad when this is over and done with. I don’t even care what happened now. Ijust want the Kent Uncivil War over with.
Sighing in frustration, Jason went to his room, wondering how he’d fill the hours until his lunch date.
By afternoon that day, most things had practically returned to normal in the Velez house. So much so that Sebast had been relieved of watching his little brother and made a trip out to Fuel, a trip that he had hoped would involve Kala, but she wasn’t answering her phone this morning. Considering the disappointment that had come of last night for her, it wasn’t as if he could blame her. He’d have to call later and sweet-talk her out of her funk. Thank God it was rarely difficult.
As it was, he had found Scott had been wandering the racks in Track Record, the music shop in Fuel when he had come in. Browsing the CD selections, Sebast had updated him on what had happened with his grandmother last night. “So we’re all freaked out that Abuelita had a stroke or something. And it turns out she just slipped on the kitchen floor.”
“That’s a relief. Bet that scared the hell out of the whole family until you guys found that out.”
“Yeah, right. Exactly. We were some serious basket cases for a while. But then, here’s the killer,” Sebast continued, eyeing an almost-new copy of an old Siouxsie and the Banshees CD. “Guess why the floor was wet? She decided to mop it, at nine in the evening! You’re not supposed to start the New Year with a dirty floor, you know, and the kitchen is the most important room of the house. So she was gonna be nice and mop the floor for everyone. And then right after she put away the mop, she stepped on the wet floor, fell, and broke her hip. Figures, right?”
Scott winced at that. “God, that’s sucks. She’s gonna be okay, though? Oh hey, they’ve got Chainsuck!”
“Yeah, she’s stuck on bed rest and hating it, but she’ll live, thank God.” Sebast replied with a sigh. “The worst part is that I had to blow Kala off on coming here last night. Remember how she signed up for that ‘sing before the Flying Foxes’ gig’ open-mike thing that she was so excited about? She couldn’t come because I had to stay home with Michael. She’s got to be totally irate with me right now; her phone’s going straight to voicemail.”
When he said that, the blond boy looked at him like he was crazy. “What are you talking about? When I first got in, all Brandon could talk about was how much my friend surprised him with how great her performance was and that it sucked that almost no one was here for it. He said that the ‘Foxes even applauded, dude. When he said that there had been one guy that was here with her, I thought it had to be you. If it wasn’t you or me, who was it?”
Now it was Sebast’s turn to look shocked. Kala had never mentioned going with anyone else instead. So what the hell…? “Wait, what? No. She was going home; her mom and dad were only cool with it if I went! And Jason had plans; even then, she didn’t want any of the family to hear her yet. So who was this guy?”
“Sebast?” So wound up with concern over what exactly had happened here the night before, both boys turned around slowly at the sound of that voice, completely perplexed. Much to their surprise, it was Jason’s girl who stood behind them, clutching her purse and looking ill at ease. This was not something either boy had expected and the panic of the moment before was lost in the curiosity of Giselle Davenport’s sudden appearance. “Can I talk to you?”
Out of the corner of his eye, Sebast saw Scott look at her appraisingly, and he elbowed the blond boy. “Scott, you know Jason’s girlfriend, Giselle, right?” He tried to indicate with subtle eyebrow gestures that this was the girl they all knew was evil incarnate. The biggest question was, what was she doing here?
The other boy, of course, missed the gesture completely. “Damn, Jason’s lucky. How are you doin’, Giselle?” Scott said, grinning, and Sebast elbowed him again.
“Knock it off, Spaz. Hitting on someone else’s girl, especially one that belongs to your friend’s twin? Lame, Scott, totally beneath you,” he shot back as he glared a hole in the other boy. “Get some manners, boy. You know that Kala’d whip your ass for trying to mess with her brother’s sweetheart. And never go to prom with you.”
“Hey!” The fact that Scott was playing to their audience clear, even as Giselle looked at them with an expression of skepticism. “Whatever happened to bros first?”
Scott, you idiot, no wonder you can’t get a girlfriend, bringing up something like that in front of a girl. I don’t even like Giselle and I’m embarrassed for him. Oh, well, might as well call him on it. He’ll know better next time. “What, you mean ‘bros before hos’?” Sebast asked matter-of-factly, his look unfriendly. “Scott, honey, Kala is my bro, and you’re just the ho.” With a dramatic roll of his eyes, he guided Giselle away from the still-clueless laughing blond. “Well, this is unexpected. What do you need to talk to me about?” he asked her, not quite knowing what to expect.
It was obvious that Giselle was uncomfortable being here; she was aware of just who she was speaking to and what that person thought of her. Sebast supposed the defensive way he was looking at her didn’t help. “It’s about Kala,” the black-haired girl began, and bit her lip.
That earned her a narrow-eyed look. Kala’s phone’s off all morning and now Giselle’s here wanting to talk about her. What the hell is going on? “What about her?” Sebast said, more warily.
“Have you heard from her since last night?”
“No,” Sebast replied, suddenly feeling cold in the pit of his stomach. “Why?”
Giselle looked down and sighed, then glanced back up at him, her green eyes fraught with worry. “We don’t get along, but … she’s Jason’s sister, and I love him. And I’m worried about her. She hadn’t come home when I left, and Jason called me this morning…”
Divorce. Clark still couldn’t believe that word had come out of his mouth, but those two simple syllables were casting a pall over every moment since. It was the very last thing he wanted – the idea of losing Lois was a terrible, visceral pain, growing worse by the hour instead of better. She was avoiding him at work, coldly formal when they had to speak, and Clark retreated into his own department.
He hadn’t meant to suggest it; Clark had been casting about for what Lois wanted him to say, and that had been the most improbable idea he could imagine – the worst-case scenario. Evidently, it wasn’t what Lois wanted to hear, nor was it as improbable as he’d thought.
His stomach churned, and Clark snuck a swig from the bottle in his desk. Most drugs had little effect on his Kryptonian metabolism, but something about the chalky taste of the Mylanta soothed his occasional stomachaches. He suspected it wouldn’t help much, this time.
Lois stormed through City, scattering frightened reporters in her wake, and Clark watched her with bittersweet yearning. All I ever wanted was to be with her forever, he thought. How did this go so wrong?
Only one thing was certain: somehow, no matter what it took, he had to put things right again.
Kala lay curled up on top of her covers, not even bothering to play any music. Boredom pressed down on her, but that was all right; she ought to be bored and miserable. The marks on her neck were blazing reminders of her very human weakness, and she despised herself for that, wanting to feel terrible.
That didn’t mean she’d deserved last night’s bitchy blowout from Mom. Just the thought made her sick to her stomach, and Kala closed her eyes, huddling into a tight ball of misery. It was as she’d begun to suspect: Mom hated her. Whether it was because Kala’s youth and beauty reminded Mom that she wasn’t getting any younger, or just that Lois Lane couldn’t stand another strong woman in the house, didn’t matter. Mom hated her. Kala could still feel her cheek stinging from that slap, the first time Lois had ever raised a hand to either child in anger.
And Dad … Kala choked back a sob. He’d never looked at her with such disappointment as he had last night, never spoken to her as coldly as he had this morning. She’d finally ruined his image of her as the perfect little girl.
Tonight wouldn’t be any easier. Both parents would want to talk to her, and no matter what she said, they were going to hit the roof when they found out about Nick. She hadn’t set out last night intending to end the night in Nick’s car, with his mouth on her neck, but she’d wound up there anyway. And Kala had the sinking feeling that no matter how she tried to explain, her parents were going to be furious.
Jason knocked at her door, and Kala groaned. “Go away,” she called. Last night he’d tried to talk to her, tried to tell her that Mom and Dad screaming at each other was her fault, and she’d thrown her boots at the door hard enough to scuff the paint. The last thing she wanted to hear right now was more of the same.
“Kal, come on,” her brother said wearily. “Open the door. Please.”
He was a persistent son of a gun, Kala knew from long experience, so she got up and went to the door, flinging it open. “What do you want, Lizard-Breath?” she said, making her displeasure obvious.
Jason smiled and held out his phone. Kala stared at it in surprise before looking up at him. Drawing back slightly, one raven brow arched up as she nailed him with her dubious gaze. “Dad told me not to make calls,” she stated flatly.
“You didn’t dial. I did. Talk to Sebast.”
Kala took the phone and sighed, looking up at her brother. Did he even have a clue how much this meant to her? Especially since he’d get fried for it, too, if either parent found out. She couldn’t help a tiny grateful smile. “Thanks, Jase.”
“I love you, Kal,” he said, squeezing her hand. That said, her brother disappeared back into his room without another word to give her privacy.
Shaking her head in disbelief, the dark-haired girl took a deep breath and let it out in a rush as she went into her room and closed the door before she brought the phone to her ear. Although she didn’t feel it, she forced herself to sound normal. “Hey, good-looking. Everything better on the home front? How’s your grandmother?”
For all her effort to seem normal over the phone line, her best friend’s voice was sounding more guarded than usual. “Hey, beautiful. She’s doing fine; broke a hip, but she’ll be up and around shortly. How’re you?”
“Grounded,” she answered with a little laugh and a heavy sigh. “Mom thinks I’m out to destroy her life and sanity. Dad can’t stand the sight of me. We’re gonna have a family discussion tonight, I guess, and decide my fate.”
“What happened?” he asked gently.
Kala took another deep breath, trying to decide what to tell him. God, he’s going to be mad at me for being a flake, too. Well, for a minute, anyway. “I did something awful and went to Fuel by myself.” Knowing that she was going to get scolded at least a little bit, she pushed herself forward and immediately burst into explanation before he could interrupt her. “You can be mad at me later for going without you, okay? I promise, but I did really well. You would have been so proud. I got three songs, and I totally rocked them. Everybody loved it. And then, I ran into this guy I knew there – he took me out to dinner.”
There was a pause, the one that Kala had been dreading. That usually meant that Sebast was trying to think of a way to say what came next without fussing at her. “Okay. Which guy, Kala?”
“No one you know.” He’s going to kill me. I never even told him about Nick. This is so not going the way I wanted it to. Geez, Sebast, just be happy for me and don’t question it, okay? Just this once? “Anyway, he was supposed to take me home after dinner, and he stopped in this park instead, and…” Kala trailed off, her cheeks burning. “We wound up necking,” she finished in a small voice.
She heard Sebast sigh gently. “Oh, Kala. Let me guess – you conquered the club with your voice, and you felt like you could conquer the rest of the world, too?”
“Something like that.” Kala paused then, feeling more and more foolish as she spoke, but needing to explain herself. It hadn’t been the way he was making it sound. “He was a really good kisser, and I forgot all about curfew. When the fireworks went off, I panicked and ran to the subway instead of making him drive me home. Either way, I would’ve been late.”
There was a sigh on the other end of the receiver then, one that spoke volumes. And the way he was keeping his voice calm made Kala bite her lip. “Poor thing. So your parents were worried about you being late, and they chewed you out?”
Kala bit her lip, wishing she could explain to him how horrible her return home had been. Exhausted by the use of her superpowers, and then running into her mother, with her father only returning at the worst possible moment. Getting scolded not just by her beloved father, but by Superman in full uniform, using his public-address voice. And worst of all, the realization that if Daddy hadn’t stopped her, Kala might’ve seriously injured her mother.
Her breath hitched at the memory, but she forced her voice into a semblance of calm. “Pretty much,” she said. “I think they’re mostly pissed because, well… He left a bunch of hickies on my neck.”
“Was it just necking?” Sebast’s voice was very soft then.
Her entire face flamed at that, Sebast’s implication all too clear. Oh, God, not you, too! I’m not surprised that the rest would think that, but you? “Of course,” Kala said coldly, her lip curling up in a sneer. “Look, this guy – I barely know him. He doesn’t go to our school. He’s just someone I see around town sometimes. Come on, Sebast!”
“Sounds like he’s a little more than that,” Sebast’s voice came back with deliberate lightness. “I mean, you did let him chew all over your neck. Kala, you go to school with at least fifteen self-professed vampires who’d leap at that chance.”
She laughed a little, but her stomach was uneasy. “Yeah, well, I shouldn’t have let him kiss me, okay? Once the kissing started, I kinda… He’s a really good kisser, Sebast. I wasn’t paying as much attention as I should’ve been.”
“Hmmm.” Sebast sounded oddly noncommittal, like he was trying to figure out what to say to her – Kala couldn’t remember him ever sounding so indecisive.
“What?” she asked, trying to keep her irritation out of her tone. “C’mon, Sebast, don’t tell me you joined the morality police all of a sudden. It’s just a little necking, not the end of the world.”
“Kala, chulin, I’m your best friend ever, right?”
“Of course,” she replied warily, frowning with the fact that he would bring that up at a moment like this. Was he about to give her some well-meaning advice about relationships? Would Sebast try to tell her she needed to slow down? If so, she’d have to direct him to the online dictionary page for hypocrite. If he thought she didn’t know about that backstage thing with the supposedly-straight male lead of Once on this Island…
It was worse than that. “You know you can tell me anything,” Sebast said soothingly. “Hell, you know half the crazy shit I’ve done – and I’m not just talking about David, sweetheart. Not like I’d ever judge you.”
Kala’s jaw dropped, and for a moment she felt like she’d been punched in the gut. Silence hung in the air while she tried to remember how to string words together, and then she managed to say in a monotone, “You think I slept with him.”
“No, Kala,” Sebast said hurriedly, and she heard the chagrin in his voice. “I know you better than that.”
She couldn’t keep the snarl out of her voice. “Then why would you say that?”
“Knock it off,” Kala snapped. “The hot accent is not helping you right now, seriously. You thought I up and slept with some guy, and you were totally fishing for information. Sebast, I can’t believe you!”
Hurriedly, she heard him back-pedaling, realizing that he had stepped wrong. “It’s not like that! Listen, I’d heard something about last night, but I should’ve considered the source.”
“Who told you?” Kala demanded. It only took seconds for the obvious to occur to her and that made the betrayal all the worse. To think that she had trusted him! “Jason. That … that coward! I can’t believe he’d make you do his snooping! Or that you’d agree to it! Sebast, this is…”
“It wasn’t Jason!” Sebast cut her off. He groaned, and then said miserably. “It was Giselle.”
“Giselle,” Kala whispered back. So Jason had told Pretty Princess Barbie all about his sister’s wild night? And if Giselle had talked to Sebast, who else had she told? The answer was simple: everyone she could reach. “Oh, God,” Kala moaned. She’d been counting on the marks fading before vacation ended, but now everyone would know about Nick. And since that poisonous little bitch was the one telling the tale, everyone would think Kala had gone all the way with him. Just wait ‘til they find out he’s a college boy…
“Mi amor,” Sebast murmured. “I’m sorry – I should’ve known. She fed me a great line of bullshit about being worried for you. That little viper should’ve been in theater, not writing. I actually thought she cared about you…”
Kala was no longer listening. “You believed my brother’s rebound before you ever spoke to me,” she spat. “Some ‘best friend ever’, Sebast.” With that, she slapped the phone shut and dropped onto her bed, fighting the urge to scream and kick like a six-year-old.
Jason and Sebast had both betrayed her … right when Jason seemed to be doing something nice for once. Sick fury rose in Kala’s heart, not sure whether to throw things or cry or just have a complete nervous breakdown. Who can I trust? she thought miserably.
Mom and Dad already had their own opinions about last night; family discussion, hell, it was gonna be family chew-Kala’s-ass time. Her best friend thought she was a slut, her brother went and told his gossipy girlfriend all about last night. So who in the world could she trust?
She couldn’t go to Richard and Lana. Though Richard was much more blasé about teenage love lives than her father, even he might have something to say about her getting gnawed on by a college guy. And Lana … she was one of the most unflappable people Kala had ever known, she practically had to be to stay friends with Lois, but no way would she be cool with this. She probably hadn’t heard yet … unless Dad meant to make it a full family conference, bring Richard and Lana over to join in the mass humiliation.
Kala groaned and pressed her palms against her forehead. “I can’t do this,” she whispered. Sighing, she picked up the phone and dialed the one number where someone might help her out.
And as if this day wasn’t already perfect, she got voicemail. Sighing in irritation, Kala left her message. She closed the phone and got up to take it back to Jason, then thought better of it. They had the same model phone – his was green, hers was black – and it was easy to find the call history and delete the number she’d just called. Kala took a deep breath, closing her eyes, and schooled her features into a slightly hopeful mask. She couldn’t let Jason catch a hint of her current state of mind, or her plans…