Stayed up waaaay too late finishing this guy. I have GOT to crash. See how much I love all of you? *faceplant at desk*
Elise stared at the molecular structure in front of her. She was missing a hydrogen atom somewhere. There should’ve been five of them in this compound, but her diagram had four that she could see and no space for another. Am I losing my mind? It wasn’t the first time this semester she’d thought that. Diagramming complex molecular structures occasionally made her rethink her choice of major.
“Hey everybody,” a cheerful and familiar voice called into the campus pizza parlor where Elise had taken her homework. “Someone said I could find a hot brunette rocket scientist around here?”
An opening like that surely had everyone’s attention. There was absolutely no mistaking that sing-songy voice, either, and the girl fought the reluctant smile she felt forming. To be truthful, she’d actually missed it since she’d moved out here. And not just because the voice’s owner brought a breath of home with her. Sighing, Elise sat up and shook her head. “Chem, not physics, for the hundredth time,” she said drolly without actually looking around.
“Oooh, even better,” Kala laughed, strolling over to plop down in the other side of the booth. “Rocket scientists are so last year; mad scientists, now, they’re all the rage this season.”
The usual wave of affection swept through her then. Some things never changed; Kala being Kala was a constant in a currently-unpredictable new world. “You’re impossible.” Elise couldn’t help a smile when she said it.
Kala leaned toward her and said in a low voice, “Hey, you and I know that I’m too perfect to exist, but don’t tell the crowd, okay?”
Elise dissolved into laughter. How could she not, with Kala’s irrepressible smile and the devilish gleam in her eyes? In the last three years, Kala had become more polished, more Goth if that was possible, but her off-the-wall sense of humor hadn’t changed a bit. When she could stop snickering, she managed to say, “You, perfect? If I admitted that I’d have to give up my claim to the title.”
“Touché. And that would be a damn shame for all of us.” Kala shrugged, and picked up a slice of Elise’s pizza. “Mmm, mushrooms and olives. God, I miss that. You’re my new best friend.”
“I was always one of your best friends, and you’re a shameless mooch. Hands off my lunch.” She swatted Kala’s hand when the other girl playfully reached for another slice. “What brings you randomly to sunny California this afternoon?”
“Gothapalooza, of course. Not like you haven’t been hearing about this on and off for a month.” Elise stifled more laughter; the tour had an actual name, but every band involved mocked it. “We were in Texas, and I figured we’re halfway here, so I might as well take an evening and come see you. Besides, our newest member made the mistake of saying Sebast can’t hook up in a cow town.”
Elise groaned at that. “Oh my God. He’ll be lucky if he doesn’t get shot. Why did you even let him run loose?”
Kala snorted and rolled her eyes. “Like I could stop him. Sebast thinks he’s a force of nature. Besides, if he can hook up in a backwoods Alabama gas station, he can hook up anywhere. There’s a reason we always have a bottle of Listerine in the glove box.”
“Wait, wait. Alabama? Backwoods Alabama? How the hell…?”
She shrugged. “Don’t ask. He’s the Queerfinder; it’s like his superpower or something. We stopped for gas and he went in for smokes. Next thing I know, the ‘Open’ sign is off and he’s gone for half an hour. Morgan and I were just about to call the cops when he strolled out. And he didn’t pay for the smokes.”
“Oh my God! Is he still pulling that high school bullshit?” Elise clearly remembered asking Sebast one time how he always managed to have cigarettes and condoms and the occasional beer. He had winked and told her about two different boyfriends who worked in convenience stores.
“Only occasionally. Besides, he probably only did it because it was an hour from the highway in Alabama, of all places. The guy’s name was Dwight. Sebast had to have a souvenir, so he wheedled the smokes. Freakin’ Marlboros, too. I hate those.”
Elise rested her face in her palms. “Sebast is … there are no words for Sebast.”
“No, there are words, just not polite ones. And a lot of gestures, too.” They shared a chuckle at that, and Kala added, “Sebast is just trying to find himself. In every man he meets.”
“Has he at least given up on Morgan?” Elise asked.
“Officially, yes. Unofficially, I believe we’re at ‘as long as we’re both still breathing I have a chance’ status.”
“You know, if you and Morgan…” Elise began, but Kala shook her head briskly.
“Nuh-uh. Sebast met him first, and we don’t poach on each other’s men. Remember how that worked out sophomore year?” Another snicker, and Kala continued, “Besides, I might just have another option open.”
“Oh really? Do tell.” Elise leaned forward.
“Try half-Japanese, carries a freakin’ katana around everywhere, speaks five languages, and he’s a singer.” Kala smirked. “Oh yeah, and Allen is Shinto. I am officially dating a pagan guy.”
“Still won’t shock your mom,” Elise pointed out. “She’s unshockable, Kala.”
“It’s not about shocking Mom. It’s about being around a guy who probably won’t ask me to judge an armpit-farting contest. You know, something that’s been lacking in my life since Nick left.”
“You’ve been spending too much time around these boys,” Elise teased.
“Try occasional fourteen-hour-drives in the van with them. I’ve come to the conclusion that the vast majority of the male population under the age of 30 is just disgusting. Which is why, if Allen doesn’t work out, I’m coming back to California to lure you back into the family.” With that she batted her eyelashes melodramatically.
Elise heaved a deep sigh. “At least you acknowledge that I’m not dating your brother right now. He doesn’t.”
A uncomfortable silence followed that statement, Kala looking away with a sigh. No surprise there, a moment of regret pricking Elise sharply. That had been a little too blunt maybe. While Kala agreed that her twin was far too serious on the topic, it was bound to be just as painful for her. No one had been a bigger cheerleader of their relationship. It was a relief when the other girl finally cleared her throat. “Are you surprised?” Kala asked sardonically.
“I had to ask him to change his Facebook relationship status three times! I had to threaten to post it on his wall before he actually did it.”
Kala just shrugged. “I guess it just takes some people longer to get over things than others.
“That’s not fair,” Elise shot back. “It’s not that I want to get over him. It’s that—we were fourteen! Hell, we were sixteen when we got back together, and he’s already planning the wedding.”
“You know, Elise, if you’re gonna keep on with the ‘we can’t be together’ thing, you have to find some new excuses.”
Elise glared at her. “Shouldn’t he be the one saying he wants to play the field before we settle down?”
“Why? He’s smart enough to know when he’s onto a good thing. There’s no rule that says you have to have a horrible relationship before you can appreciate a good one. That’s just movies. Besides, if you want to see the rest of the world, try all the cuisine before you marry a nice boy, you should get on with it already.”
“I am, actually,” Elise replied icily.
That was enough to rock Kala back on her heels. Another silence, those hazel eyes wide with an aggravated surprise Elise knew all too familiarly. They just stared at each other, neither venturing a peep. No surprise who broke it first. Kala gritted her teeth and narrowed her eyes. “Wow. This is news. We’ve been talking once a week and this was never even alluded to. You weren’t even going to tell me?”
For one second, Elise wanted to snap back at her. Kala did entirely too much meddling in her love life; she knew perfectly well that the dark-haired girl thought she and Jason were idiots for not getting on with it already. She meant well, she truly did, but she’d never learned not to give unwanted advice.
Still, they’d been friends a long time, and Kala’s temper was hotter than hers. A fight was the last thing either of them wanted with their visits so limited. So Elise swallowed her initial grumpy response and said calmly, “No, I hadn’t told you because I’m going on my first date with Corrin this weekend. So I figured I’d catch you up on Sunday if there was anything to tell, and if it fizzles, then there’s really nothing to tell.”
Somewhat mollified, Kala leaned her elbows on the table. Yeah, the news wasn’t exactly what she had wanted to hear, but they both knew the ways of relationships. Only the little frown between her brows hinted at her loyalties. “Corrin, huh? What’s he like?”
“I don’t know. This girl in my chem lab, he’s her brother’s friend. She set us up. For all I know he could be a complete waste of my time.”
“But you will keep me posted, right?” Kala asked, giving her a tiny smile. “Because if he doesn’t treat you right, I’m gonna come out here and kick his ass.”
Elise sighed. “Kala, I can kick his ass myself. I don’t need your blue belt assistance, or any other assistance you had in mind to provide. I appreciate it, I really do, but you don’t have to.”
Kala stared at her for a long moment, then offered her fist, knuckles toward Elise. “Okay, fine. Just remember, whether you ever get around to marrying my brother, we both know you’ll always be kind of a sister to me, okay? God knows you know all the family secrets. And you were mine first and don’t you forget it.”
Chuckling again, Elise fist-bumped her. Leave it to Kala to phrase it that way. “Sure thing. Besides, Kala, no matter what happens from here on out, I’ll never lose touch with you.” She lowered her voice to add, “Friends who can bring you fresh bagels in Berkeley—from your favorite deli in Metropolis—are a thing to be cherished.”
At that, Kala tipped her head back and laughed openly.
It was wonderful to see her again, and the evening hanging out did Elise a lot of good. She’d needed to relax for a little while. But thinking back on what they had said, their discussion stayed with her. As usual, Kala left her with as many questions as answers.
Especially that thing about new excuses. That had burned. It was still the same problem: Jason was absolutely, utterly sure that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with Elise. It wouldn’t surprise her to find out that he’d tentatively named a couple of their kids. Love, marriage, children, he had it all figured out.
She’d actually started to think it was a good idea. By senior year, Elise had lulled herself into seriously thinking about marriage and everything else. They were lovers by then, and she’d never been so intimate with anyone, or so comfortable with that level of intimacy. It just felt right with him, and not just the physical side of things. That was nice enough—more than nice enough, and she did miss it—but it was the falling asleep in his arms and waking up to his ridiculous sleepy-bear face that tugged at her heart. Missing him was a physical ache most days. After all, Jason knew her like no one else, and she was the only person outside his family who knew the whole truth about him. They had so much in common that they seemed destined for each other. It would be so easy, so right, to take up her destiny with him.
But, nothing in life was ever perfect, and she didn’t trust anything that felt so easy. The first stumbling block had been choosing college on opposite coasts. Jason’s first choice of school was Johns Hopkins, and he had the grades to get in. Yet when he found out she was looking at Berkeley, he’d been all too willing to change schools just to be with her. Elise had vetoed that automatically, without examining why at the time.
Only recently, when she saw the big headline unveiling Superboy to the world, did she realize what was really wrong. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust perfection. The simple fact was, she could easily settle in with him and have a happy life at Jason’s side. But Elise didn’t want to just be a superhero’s wife. Sure, for other people that was probably an achievement in itself, but she wanted a doctorate, a career, a chance to change the world in her own way. Maybe even to save the world, a little bit, not with superpowers that were an accident of birth, but with the knowledge and experience she was etching into her brain every day.
When she looked at that article, Elise wondered if she could have both. Or would that feeling of rightness just make her dreams fade away? Sure, she’d be happy with Jason, but she didn’t want to be known just as the woman who sewed up his cape and raised his kids. Look at Lois—she had a career and a standing of her own. Everyone in the caped community probably knew she was Superman’s wife, but they referred to her as the media liaison for or as the editor of the Daily Planet. She was no one’s little woman. And Elise was close enough to her to know just how dearly she’d paid for that independent recognition.
Elise didn’t know if she was strong enough to be Dr. Thorne when the easy, comfortable, safe, and happy role of Mrs. Superboy was sitting right there waiting for her. Did she have the determination to choose the harder road? Or would she wind up just being a satellite orbiting his planet?
Right around then, she realized she’d framed the question in cosmology terms, his major, and groaned. No, if she and Jason were ever going to work out, she had to know first if she could achieve her goals on her own. She had to be Elise Thorne before she could be Mrs. Jason Kent.
And if he didn’t see that, well, she didn’t want to hurt him by explaining it in plain terms. Jason would never, ever think of her as a footnote to himself. Elise knew that very well. And it wasn’t so much the opinions of others that worried her, in the end. It was her own mind, her own goals, her own self-image that she was concerned with. If she couldn’t stand apart from him, how on Earth could she stand beside him when he was growing into his legacy as a superhero? He was the son of Superman! An ordinary girl would get swept up and lost in that, and Elise had to prove to herself that she was way more than ordinary before she could risk losing herself in him again.
Not exactly the best thoughts to have right before bed, but Elise rolled over and recited the periodic table—with atomic weights—until she fell asleep. And when she dreamed, it was of trying to glue atoms together into molecules instead of wistful fantasies of the life she could be leading.