Chapter 50: KailaniDiscuss
I can't control...
Control your temper
She doesn't see
“I don’t understand,” Kailani complained. Mabina was doing her fairy godmother routine again, placidly modifying a dress that she’d pulled, improbably, out of her closet, using Kai as a dressmaker’s dummy.
“What’s there to understand?” Mabina asked gently. “Hold still, I need to fit this part a little better.” She pinched the dress between two pale, iridescent sequins, and the extra fabric melted away. “It’s a dance, honey. People go to have fun and show off.” She stepped back and surveyed her work. “And you have plenty to show off.”
The furnaces were burning in her cheeks again. They seemed to be on almost perpetually now, but the low-cut dress with the tiny little push-up lace bra Mabina had produced did nothing to cool the flames.
“But I thought dances were about ‘hooking up,’” she protested, more confused than upset. She had thought she was learning everything she needed to know in high school. “I already have a… um,” she frowned, and trailed off. “Is dating always this complicated?”
“Dating is always complicated,” Mabina answered. She lowered herself to the floor, sitting cross-legged with surprising limberness. “It’s a matter of what sort of complication. Addergoole adds its own flavor, and takes away a lot of the normal drama – parents, disapproving teachers, and so on.”
“Parents are a complication?” Mabina’s ears were fascinating from this angle, thicker than they looked from the side, with a groove as if someone had run a thumb down a line of wet clay. It looked very touchable; she folded her hands firmly behind her back.
“Well, yes.” She looked up from the hem of the dress, where she was fussing around. “What would your mother say if you told her you were going to a dance tonight, with a date? Or, worse yet, that you were sleeping over with him afterwards?”
Kai gulped. She’d been writing a letter home last night while they all watched TV, and had danced around the subject of Conrad in general and even more so the specifics of whatever it was their relationship was. Her mother would be displeased with the idea of Conrad, much less the reality.
“I see what you mean,” she admitted. “If I were living at home, still, my mother wouldn’t like the idea of me going on a date.” She bit her lip. “She’d probably find a way to talk me out of it altogether. Mabina, is this whole thing a terrible idea?”
“What?” She looked up again, startled. “Honey, no! Just because your mother doesn’t like something doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea!”
“It doesn’t?” Rationally, Mabina’s comment made sense. She’d been in any number of situations that her mother’s advice was poorly-suited for. But she’d always relied on her mother’s judgment.
“I’m not saying go out and ignore everything your mother ever told you or anything.” She smiled wryly, and cupped a hand over her round belly. “That sort of advice would certainly come back and karmically bite me in the ass. But you’ve described your mother as a man-hater. You don’t strike me as the sort of person who hates men.”
She might as well just give up and accept the blush as permanent. “I don’t think I hate men,” she admitted. “Cassidy is very nice.”
Mabina laughed at her, although it was good-natured-sounding enough to not be very offensive. “Only here three weeks, and you’re already learning to dissemble. What are you going to learn next?”
She grimaced, her pride still feeling a little raw around the edges. “Hopefully, how to deal with a Kept.”
“Ah, yes.” Mabina finished the adjustments to the hem and stood slowly. “He did get the two of you into a bit of a predicament, didn’t he? How is that working out for you?”
“I’m learning a lot,” she answered truthfully, and then, feeling a little wicked, she added, “and I think he is, too.”
Mabina chuckled. “Oh, I bet he is! He’s lucky that you’re such a good person, Kai, and that you like him.”
“Some days he drives me bonkers,” she admitted, feeling a little guilty about it, “but I said I’d take care of him, even when he’s driving me nuts. Even when he keeps telling me I don’t need to take care of him.” She made a face, sticking out her tongue at the closed door to the suite. It was childish, but it felt good.
“Just between you and I,” Mabina whispered, “sometimes Cassidy drives me bonkers. And we live in each other’s heads!”
“Really?” She blinked at her. “But you two seem so happy together!”
“Oh, we are,” Mabina smiled. “We’re wildly, blissfully happy. Sickeningly so, I’ve been told. But we’re still human, or at the very least, humanoid,” she grimaced, tugging on one scrolled ear-tip, “and as such, we’re prone to our share of failings, and pretty ears doesn’t exempt you from the normal human scope of stupidity. Mood swings, silly arguments, getting under each other’s skins in exactly the wrong way – we’ve had it all. And on top of all that, I’m pregnant, which bring with it its own madness.”
“So… you’re happy together, but you still fight?” She wanted to understand – and wanted to know that the way she sometimes wanted to shout at Conrad wasn’t weird – but it seemed counter-intuitive.
“Exactly.” Mabina patted her shoulder. “The dress is all ready for you for tonight. You can take it off now.”
“But…” she frowned. “I thought that fighting was bad.”
“Oh, bah, there you go again,” she laughed. “Look, did you ever get mad at your mother? Wasn’t there a time when you shouted or threw things or ran into your room crying because she was just that stubborn, or were you the perfect child, then?”
She hesitated, embarrassed. “I don’t think I ever threw things,” she hedged.
“So you did shout, then.”
“Well, yeah.” She bit her lip. “I’m coming to realize that I’ve got a bit of a temper.”
“That’s all right, dear.” She held out her hand for the dress, and Kai began stripping it off. “Realizing it is the first step.”
“The first step?” She handed the sparkly thing to Mabina and slipped into her old, familiar, “hippy” clothes.
“Yes indeed. Having a temper is a fine thing, but you have to be careful.” She directed a very firm, intent look at Kai. “It’s all well and good to be fed up with him once in a while, but you’re in a different situation with him than Cassidy and I are – and certainly a different situation than where you were with your mother, yes?”
“Well, yeah,” she blushed. Mabina nodded solemnly.
“In our years here, we’ve seen a lot of couples muck up the Ownership thing pretty badly, even when they were trying to do it well. One of the worst mistakes is self-centered blindness.”
Realizing slowly that Mabina was working around a warning to her, Kai frowned. She didn’t think she was either self-centered or blind. Mabina continued, unheeding of her concern.
“Everyone has a bad moment now and then. They get caught up in their own drama and they don’t see nor care what’s going on around them, right? Some people – you’ve met Megan, right? – some people just go on their whole lives so stuck in their own story that they don’t see anything around them.”
Kai’s frown and her discomfort grew. She didn’t like being compared to Megan at all, and she was beginning to understand that the pushy girl had somehow mistreated Taro last year.
“Now, every mood you have affects those around you, especially your near and dear. Are you with me?”
She nodded, although that sounded more like the new-age nonsense her mother sometimes spouted than anything based in fact or reason.
“People like Megan – or like Shadrach, who you can thank your lucky stars you never met – just don’t care about other people. Their only reason to keep their so-called friends around is so they can use them for all they’re worth. I’m sure you can imagine what life is like for their Kept.”
Use them for all they’re worth. Where have we heard that before? Her senior year of high school, Darryl Allington, the handsome boy with the chocolate-colored eyes and the slightly off-center smile, long after she’d given up any hope of having friends. She’d done everything he asked of her of her own volition, just so that he’d talk to her again. If she’d gotten tricked into some sort of ownership like that which existed here in Addergoole… she shuddered. It had taken her long, exhausting, depressing months to see the light with Darryl, but when she had, she’d been able to walk away.
“I can imagine that it would horrible!”
“I get the impression it’s downright awful. People like that, they have a bad day, they just scream at their Kept, just because they feel like screaming.”
Kai shuddered. “I don’t think I’d like that at all. I don’t like being yelled at.”
“Most people don’t, honey.” She sat down on the edge of her bed and patted the quilted coverlet next to her. “Now, no-one’s really worried that you’re going to turn into Megan. You’re a good girl, and Megan had some trouble before she met Taro.”
No-one’s worried that you’re going to turn into Megan. “That sounds,” she said slowly, sitting down next to Mabina, “like you’re worried about something else.”
“Well, we were talking about your temper, were we not?”
“I mentioned my temper in passing, yes.”
“Well, we may have noticed you had one before you mentioned it. And we understand, this place can be more than a wee bit aggravating, what with the secrets and the lies and the completely rearranging your life, not to mention the monsters trying to kidnap you. But…” She took a deep breath, and caught Kai’s eye again. “There are people with tempers, who will have a good blow-up every once in a while, and they can afford that. They can see when they’re going too far.”
“They can see it?” She pulled her knees to her chest, beginning to grow afraid.
“It echoes, if you will, in the people around them. Nothing magical about it, Kai, just watching people faces and the way their bodies move.”
“I wish it were magic.”
“I know, hon.” She patted her back companionably. “I think it will come for you, with time. But in the meantime, you don’t have that buffer that other people have, so you’re not going to be able to tell when you have gone too far. And Conrad can’t get away from it, and he can’t really holler back.”
“So…?” She didn’t want to lose Conrad, and she wasn’t sure he’d let her free him if she tried.
“No more tantrums,” Mabina said succinctly. “It was both fine and reasonable when you didn’t Own someone, but now that you do… rein it in.”
Kai wanted to be offended at that. She sputtered a little bit, trying to come up with a reasonable retort. But…
“You’re right,” she admitted. “I said I’d take care of him. No more tantrums.” It galled her that it was so obvious how bad she was with social matters, but maybe Mabina wouldn’t hold it against her. “Will you... will you help me?”
“Of course dear. You’re crew, after all.”
Chapter 50b: Kailani
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you might find
You get what you need
Kai was more than a little dazed when she wandered out of Mabina and Cassidy’s room into the suite’s living room. Nobody had ever come right out and confirmed that other people understood these invisible social cues, and that it was obvious that she didn’t.
“Just get a talking-to?” Taro was sprawled on the couch, watching TV, or at least aiming the remote at the TV at semi-regular intervals. No-one else was in sight; when she and Mabina had left them, the whole crew had been out in here.
“They went to the Store. Something about dinner.” He clicked the TV off and looked her over. “Yep, you got the talking-to.”
She sat down on the edge of the armchair. It was odd, sharing a living space with someone she didn’t like all that much. “What do you mean?”
“It’s written all over your face. Don’t worry, we all get them. Cassidy’s dragged me off to the side more than once.”
“But you deserved it.” It was only as he glowered at her that she realized that she’d been a little rude, but what of it? He’d been pretty horrible to her.
He shrugged, the frown vanishing. “None of us are perfect. Not even Conrad.”
“Conrad didn’t try to own me,” she countered. “And he’s willing to share information with me.”
Taro frowned. “Would you have stayed with me,” he asked, “if I hadn’t tried to Own you?”
It was a good question, and one she wasn’t sure she knew the answer to. She felt he deserved her best try, though.
“I don’t know,” she answered, thinking about it as she talked. “I liked being with you a lot. I liked when you kissed me, and I liked some of the nice things you said. When you said I was like Poseidon’s favorite sea-nymph – no-one’s ever said anything like that to me before. It was really nice.” He was smiling, and she almost didn’t want to continue. But she’d wanted to give him an honest answer, not a half-truth.
“But you talk to me like I’m stupid a lot, too, and I really don’t like that.” She frowns. “Being uninformed is not the same thing as being dumb, you know.”
He made a sweeping gesture with his hand. “Aw, come on, Kai. I was just joking around. You should know that!”
She frowned at him. Wasn’t it blatantly obvious that she didn’t know things like that? But he’d already moved on to another point. “I don’t think you would’ve stayed. Conrad said he’d hang back and not make a move on you, but he was, wasn’t he?”
“Do you think I’d know?” she flared.
“Was he finding excuses to spend time alone with you?”
“He was explaining this place to me, which is more than you did!”
“You’re so smart, I thought you’d figure it out on your own!” He laughed shortly. “How’s that working out for you?”
She caught herself before she shouted, and took several long breaths. No more tantrums. No more shouting. She could do this.
“What’s wrong with being smart?” she asked plaintively.
“It doesn’t mean anything,” he snarled. “You think it makes you so important, but what does it do for you? You still don’t have the common sense to come in out of the rain.”
“That’s not true!” She glared at him. “How would you know, anyway?”
“You don’t have a clue about what people really want. Conrad is using you, and you’re too stupid to figure it out. I mean, who cares if you can do calculus?”
“I care!” Her voice was rising again; she calmed herself down and lowered her voice to just over a whisper. “I’m good at it. And it’s fun.” The rest of his sentence worked its way over her indignation. “And… it’s pretty clear even to me that Conrad was trying to get something out of me.”
“Trying to get? You don’t think he’s gotten it? What did you think he wanted, answers to his math homework?”
“You sound like my mother! ‘The only thing a boy wants is to subjugate you and sleep with you,’ is that it?”
“Not the subjugate part.”
She stared at him for a moment, wondering if he realized what he’d just said. He stared back for a second, then another, before laughing ruefully. “Well, all right,” he admitted, “I walked right into that one.”
It wasn’t funny, but she giggled anyway. “If my mother was right all along, I’m going to be rather disillusioned with the male subspecies.”
He laughed a little louder. “Go ahead. Guys are not nearly as complicated as girls think we are. We’re nowhere near as difficult as girls to figure out,” he added, his laugh fading a little bit.
“That’s really all guys want?” It didn’t make sense. She’d known girls who seemed boy-crazy, but even they had other hobbies, even if those hobbies were putting on make-up and shopping for clothes.
“Pretty much, yeah.”
“That’s what you wanted from me?”
“No, I stood up to the Thorne Girls for you out of the goodness of my heart. What did you think?”
“I thought you wanted to be my friend.” She swallowed the tears that threatened, wishing he weren’t confirming her worst fears.
“Friend?” He smirked. “No. I never wanted to be your friend.”
The door swung open on friend, and he looked up, grinning with false cheerfulness. “Conrad! Just in time.”
“We would’ve been back twenty minutes ago, but Cassidy decided to break a jar of pickles all over the place and Lydia made us clean it up.” As the three of them - Conrad, Vlad, and Cassidy – trooped into the suite, the smell of vinegar preceded them. “And by all over the place, I mean all over me. What’s up?”
“We were just talking about ignorance,” Kai said, her voice catching like a sob in her throat.
“Kaia?” Conrad asked. Before she looked up, she heard the thump of a light punch and Conrad’s indignant “Hey!”
“You stink. Go change your pants before the whole suite smells like pickles.”
“I’m not the one who spilled pickles all over me.”
“But you’re the one that stinks. Go. You, too, Vlad.”
Grumbling good-naturedly, they left. Cassidy waited until their doors both thumped shut, then sat down on the couch next to Taro and draped his arm over his shoulders. “Now, you two were talking about ignorance?”
Taro seemed to be having trouble talking, so Kai answered bitterly. “My ignorance. My stupid belief in the male subspecies. Why do you care?”
“Because you’re crew, and when you fight, it makes us all miserable. And believe you me, after the year we had last year, we are not going to put up with that again. And,” he added with a sudden smile, “because we like you, and Taro can be a right moron sometimes. Can’t you, Taro?”
“It’s not his fault.” Kai was a little surprised to find herself defending him, but Cassidy seemed to be missing the point. “We were all bred to be the way we are.”
“Thanks,” Taro muttered.
“Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your genes are what’s making you who you are.” Cassidy leveled a stern look at her. “You or him. We’re none of us just the average of our parents, are we?”
“How could we tell, if we don’t know half the equation?”
“Because we make our own lives.”
“How can you say that, knowing that we were purposefully bred to be the way are? Don’t you think being strong affected the way Taro’s life went? Do you think being smart affected mine?”
“Don’t you think finding myself in a telepathic connection with my girlfriend affected my life just a bit?” he countered. “Sure, we all start from our genes. But we choose where we go from that. Sometimes, for example, Taro chooses to be a moron.”
“Well, honestly. What could you hope to achieve by making our lovely Kai doubt herself? You’ve lost this round, Taro – bear it with some grace.”
As if on cue, Conrad sauntered back into the living room, no longer smelling of vinegar. “What are we baring now? I don’t want to see Taro with his shirt off if I can avoid it.”
“Just setting some records straight. I’ll leave you all to your fun; my lovely lady is calling.”
Conrad wrapped his arms around Kai’s shoulders briefly. “Everything all right here?”
Kai thought about it for a moment before answering. “I think so,” she said slowly. “Taro was explaining to me how you’d been using me to get what you wanted, and I’d been about to explain to him that I was getting what I wanted from you, too.”
Mabina’s words about Megan and the unknown Shadrach echoed in her head …Their only reason to keep their so-called friends around is so they can use them for all they’re worth. She wanted answers. But those answers were beginning to lose priority. She looked back at Conrad, who was holding himself strangely still.
“But?” he whispered.
“But I don’t think that’s an accurate assessment of the situation.” Driven by an urge she didn’t yet understand, she wrapped her arms around him and hugged him fiercely.
Copyright © 2009-2010 Lyn Thorne-Alder & Elasmo. All rights reserved.
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