Chapter 11: Kailani
all too soon the clock will strike midnight

Kailani’s mother was against dances. “Just meat markets,” she’d insisted, “places where you’re reduced to nothing but a piece of flesh, places where you’re further indoctrinated into the patriarchy.” Between her mother’s ranting, and her own shyness, Kai had never been to a dance in her old school; she had agreed to Taro’s invitation, such as it was, mostly out of stunned surprise.

She had just been beginning to get truly nervous about the whole thing around seven, when Mabina and Cassidy had knocked on her open door. Once invited in, Mabina – still looking strange to Kailani with her heavily gravid belly – had made a whirlwind run-through of Kailani’s closet. When asked what she was doing, Mabina’s none-too-reassuring answer had been, “you’re part of our crew now, one way or the other, and I want you to look – and feel - fabulous for the dance tonight. Don’t you own any dressy clothes?”

“I have skirts…” That didn’t seem to be the right answer, and, with some unspoken communication between Mabina and Cassidy, the latter, rolling his eyes, had headed out of Kai’s room. Mabina had fussed over Kailani’s hair while they waited, and applied a little make-up – from her own purse, as Kailani had none of that, either. “Natural is good, I think,” she’d mused, while Kailani tried to not feel too much like a doll – or like a piece of meat. “A good part of your appeal is that you give off a very natural feel, like you just stepped out of the waves.”

The dress Cassidy had produced, and the job Mabina had done on her face, seemed to be based off that idea; the dress, in a swirling blend of blue-and-teal, trailed around her ankles like the ocean at noon and left her shoulders nearly bare. Mabina had left her hair down, trailing across her almost-naked back, but had somehow strung freshwater pearls into a dozen tiny braids, and whatever make-up she had used was nearly invisible.

“You’re a miracle worker,” Kailani had told Mabina, as the zero hour approached.

“Nah,” she’d demurred. “I just highlighted what was already there. The dress is yours to keep, by the way.”

“It doesn’t disappear at midnight?” She’d hoped she sounded like she was joking, but she’d held her purse clutched close to her chest, as it if could cover her in the event of a dress failure.

“That would be funny,” Cassidy’d chortled.

“That reminds me.” Mabina had turned to Cassidy, who, unrepentant, had held out to her – and where had he been hiding them? – a pair of sandals, more strap and heel than shoe. “These should work properly under the dress. And that purse.” She’d frowned. “You’re really fond of it, aren’t you?”

“It’s just a purse.” Even to her own ears, she’d sounded defensive.

“Mm-hmm. Could I see it? I promise I won’t hurt it.” And with that, Mabina had… folded the purse, in a way that had to involve several extra dimensions, and handed it back to Kailani as a small beaded bag. “Everything is still in there,” she’d promised, “and you can unfold it back to its normal size after the dance. And, no, the dress and shoes are not going to vanish at midnight. Now, we need to go get ready.” And with that, they’d left.

Now, it was eight, and Kailani had given up on her homework and was trying not to pace, holding her much-smaller-purse in a death grip. The sounds of Taro, Conrad and Vlad joking loudly with each other preceded them to her doorway, and then they were there, Taro leaning in the door, the others horsing around behind him. Kai noted that Taro’s feet were carefully placed on the hall side of the threshold.

“Hey, cutie,” he grinned at her, “ready to go?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be.” She stepped towards the door, her hands trembling, and forced a smile.

He moved to let her out of the door, and she was faced with Conrad and Vlad, who had fallen silent. Vlad was staring at her; she checked herself nervously - dress still in place? Check. Nothing on her face? Well, besides the make-up. “What?”

She looked at Conrad, who was smirking lightly, for some sort of support; he responded by thwapping Vlad lightly on the back of the head. “You look spectacular,” he murmured, his voice deeper than normal. “Stunning, actually.”

“I... what?” She blinked at him, startled first by his solemn expression and then, feeling very slow and stupid, by his words “What?” she repeated.

“You look like a Nereid,” Taro said, wrapping an arm around her waist, but she noticed that he looked smugly at Conrad when he said it, not at her, “like Poseidon's favorite sea-nymph.”

Some little moment of brattiness made her challenge the compliment. “But you're not a sea-god,” she said, smiling at him, “first-born rock.”

His hand tightened a little on the small of her back, as Vlad laughed loudly and Conrad's smile slowly came back

“Maybe,” Taro said, in a low voice that seemed at odds with the smile he'd put on, “I'm the golem who'll steal the precious gem from the gods.”

Vlad had stopped laughing, but, as he opened his mouth to say something, Conrad punched his arm lightly. “You kids have fun. We'll see you at the dance.” He was looking at Taro when he said it, but his hand was firm on Vlad's arm, and his tail was trailing lightly up Kai's ankle.

She should have stopped him, but there was something she didn't like in Taro's expression, so she ignored Conrad and his tail, and smiled at Taro, taking a stutter-step closer, putting everything she had into making that smile look, and feel, genuine.

“Steal the jewel of the gods,” she said warmly. “I like that. No-one's ever said anything like that to me before, Taro.” It was true, and it was a little intimidating. “It must be the dress.”

His mischievous grin released tension she didn't know she'd been holding. “I think you'd look just as hot without it.”

“I... oh.” She felt her cheeks grow hot and stretch in a stunned, blushing smile. “You...”

He chuckled. “That's my girl.” He hooked a thumb under her chin and gently tilted her face up towards him.

His kiss was nothing like Conrad's, rougher, more fierce, nearly as hard as the rock his name was made of. But there was something very warm and nice about the way his hands pulled her tightly snug to him, something protective and strong. She leaned into him, and kissed him back, hoping she wasn’t making a mess of it.

His smile when he pulled back was so strange that she wasn’t sure she hadn’t totally botched it, despite the warm feeling of his hands on her lower back. She held tightly to her purse – such as it was – with one hand, and wondered what she should do with the other one.

He chuckled, and she bit her lip. This was going to be worse than her first kiss had been, back at home.

“You’re adorable when you’re nervous,” he teased her, and he twirled her around lightly until she was standing next to him and took her free hand in his.

“Adorable?” She wrinkled her nose at him. That was it? She could live with being adorable.

“Adorable,” he agreed. “More a pixie than a nymph, I think… I wonder if there are ocean pixies?” he grinned at her. “My little sea pixie.”

“Storm pixie,” she corrected, giggling a little bit. “I could be a storm pixie.” Even with the warmth of his hand enveloping her, she was careful to say “a,” and not “your.” That wasn’t a trap she wanted to fall into.

“Storm?” He looked startled, but smiled. “Sea and sky, right. Yeah, I bet you could be a hurricane. Come on, wild girl, let’s get to you to the dance before you turn into a pumpkin.”

Still blushing from the suggestive hint under his hurricane comment, she almost didn’t comment. It was either going to be a life-raft from his unexpectedly intense attention, or it was going to be another unexplained variable in the equation she still didn’t understand. “That’s the second Cinderella reference today,” she said, hoping she didn’t sound critical.

“Really?” He didn’t sound offended, more amused than anything. “I guess I’d better be sure to have you home by midnight, then.” His hand still on the small of her back, guiding and holding her close, he began walking towards the main hall; she walked along with him, enjoying the warmth and steadiness of his touch.

“Home…” she smiled wistfully. “There’s nothing like this back home.” She stroked her hand down the smooth, sleek fabric of her dress, and looked down at her toes, just barely poking out under the beaded hem.

“Of course not,” Taro chuckled, as he steered her up the stairs, but she hadn’t meant the dress that had appeared out of nowhere (she didn’t really believe Mabina, golden and luscious, had kept dresses around her closet that matched her, Kai’s, Irish complexion); or the purse Mabina had folded into something that matched the dress; or the guy standing at the top of the stairway, his bright green hair plaited into a complex braid that trailed all the way down his bare, china-white back, covering a line of just-barely-darker scales – or possible thin armor plates – that ran down his spine and disappeared into the back of his pants. The magic here was strange, and not yet entirely understood, but she believed she would eventually be able to figure it out.

This, Taro’s hand in hers, the taste of his kiss on her lips, the way Vlad had looked at her, the rumble in Conrad’s voice as he’d told her she was stunning – this was new. And for that, she could forgive Addergoole any number of unpredictable variables.

Even the Laws? a treacherous voice whispered in the back of her mind. But the boy with green hair turned to look at her, licking his lips – his tongue was forked! – and smiling at her, and her stomach did a little flip-flop. Yeah… the Laws might not be all that bad.


Copyright © 2009-2010 Lyn Thorne-Alder & Elasmo. All rights reserved.
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