Chapter 59 - KailaniDiscuss
Hearing only what you want to hear,
And knowing only what you've heard
“It ought to be impossible.” It wasn’t the first time she’d said that, but it kept coming back around to that. “There’s a whole village underground? But there’s still sunlight, real sunlight. And the air doesn’t get stale.” That was the only part of it she understood – there were thousands of tiny fissures where the air flowed in and out. “I don’t know how it’s done.”
“Magic,” Conrad answered, maddeningly. They were, after a long and pleasant day, heading to the Dining Hall for dinner.
“Magic shouldn’t cause sunburn.” She held out her arm to show him the red, overlain by a new crop of freckles.
"Why not? Magic can do just about anything it needs to."
"But why make it cause sunburn?"
“More realistic, I guess?”
“It certainly hurts like it’s real,” she grumbled.
“Kailani, a moment?” She turned, knowing who it was from the voice and accent before she saw Sarita, a pretty girl from her Calc class hurrying up towards them. “Thank you. Do you think you could help me a moment? You seemed to understand what Professor Reid was talking about there at the end.” She held out her book.
“Oh! Sure, I can probably help you with that.” She glanced at Conrad. “I’ll catch up in a minute?”
"Um, okay, sure." He continued down the hall, glancing back at her once over his shoulder.
She smiled at him, then turned her attention to the math problem. It wasn’t very hard, but she was careful not to say that, and tried to not imply it, either, as she explained it to the other girl.
“Thank you very much!” Kai felt a warm burst of pleasure at the thanks. Maybe being smart wasn’t always a social handicap?
Feeling cheerful and uplifted, despite the sunburn, despite the energy-sucking that had her still a little woozy, she headed after Conrad. There he was, just inside the Dining Hall…
…up against the wall, with Mea from their Chemistry class pressed against him, one spandex-clad thigh pressing against his leg, her lips fractions of an inch from his ear.
Idiot. Fool. Moron. Couldn’t see how much he didn’t really care.
"Oh!" Conrad sounded startled as he noticed Kai, turning her direction. "Um, Kai, there you are!" He set a hand on Mea's shoulder, trying to gently push her away.
The mental echo of recrimination stalled, confused. Was he really pushing her away, or was he just embarrassed he’d gotten caught? “I’ll come back later,” she mumbled.
"No, no!" He slipped out from the pouting Mea's embrace, tripping over her leg still twined with his and falling flat on his face on the floor.
Kai hurried over to him, dropping into a cross-legged sitting position on the floor. “Are you okay?”
“Oh, yeah, um... yeah, I'm fine.” He took the hand extended down to help him up, which happened to be Mea's.
Kai stifled an urge to yell at the other girl. No more tantrums. She had no right to tell Conrad who to hang out with, who to… snuggle… with. She slid back to her feet as he stood. “I’m glad. That looked like a bad fall.”
“No, no, I'm okay,” he insisted. He brushed himself off with his free hand.
“All right…” She felt more than a little brushed off herself.
“Didn’t I tell you he was trouble?” Taro chuckled unkindly from behind her right shoulder. She didn’t turn to look at him; she was looking at the pleased-seeming smile on Mea’s face.
“Yeah,” she answered slowly.
“Hey now...” Conrad looked down, seeing his hand wrapped around Mea's, and jerked it back as if bit by a snake.
“That wasn’t nice,” Sarita scolded; she had come in, it seemed, while they were talking, and caught Mea as she stumbled back – although, to Kai’s eye, the stumble looked faked. He hadn’t tugged that hard.
“Oh, Mea deserves worse than that,” Taro sneered.
Conrad stepped back to Kailani's side, half-turned towards Mea and Sarita.
She left the small space between them, and didn’t move closer, not sure she wanted to touch him right now.
“You shouldn’t say such things,” Sarita shook her head, “or people might think you were trying to start a fight.”
“And what if I am?” Taro blustered.
“Then I’d have to stop it.” Kai hadn’t even noticed this newest participant coming in; he stood behind Mea now, with a hand on her shoulder: tall, long-faced, he looked a lot like a horse.
Conrad frowned, turning slightly towards Kai. "You know nothing was happening," he said softly.
“I do?” she asked, perplexed.
"I wouldn't..." He looked up to watch the scene continuing to unfold before them.
“What, your women can’t fight for themselves?” Taro was sneering. “They oughta keep away from things that aren’t theirs, then. Come on, Smitty, you guys know better than to fuck with our crew.”
“Why not?” Kai whispered.
"Sarita?" The horse-faced man, Smitty apparently, turned towards her. "What was happening here?"
Conrad's cheeks reddened. "Well, because of you, of course."
Sarita frowned. “I walked in right as Conrad shoved Mea right into me. Mr. Mouthy over there decided to make an issue of it.”
“I wasn’t trying to make an issue!” Taro protested. “I was just pointing out to Kai here…”
“Oh, shut up,” Conrad snarled. For a moment, everyone fell silent.
"Shoving ladies around isn't gentlemanly," Smitty said mildly, as if there hadn't just been a minor explosion.
"I didn't shove her! I was just trying to get away from her."
“Wait, really?" Kai demanded. It had looked awfully friendly...
Much to her surprise, Smitty laughed. "Mea can have that effect on some people, especially people with girlfriends.”
Mea interjected with a dainty stomp of her foot. “Oh, yes, you were objecting so much before she showed up, and where was your hand?”
“Well I was trying to put it between us...”
Taro’s rough laugh was full of glee. “See?” he asked Kai. “What did I tell you?”
No tantrums segued smoothly into leave me alone. “Shut up,” she snapped at Taro. She held her hand out to Conrad, sick of this debate.
He took it, turning with her, only to find that Smitty had crossed the hall to stand in front of them, frowning. “Mea may be a little forward, but that's no reason not to be a gentleman.”
Kailani frowned at him. “He didn’t shove her,” she answered carefully. “He pulled his hand back from her and it took her by surprise.”
Smitty glanced towards Taro questioningly, much to Kailani's irritation; how would he know any better what happened?
“Probably didn’t want his Keeper to catch him getting all friendly with another girl,” Taro offered. “Conrad’s a white knight sort. I don’t see him pushing girls around. Not physically at least.” He made Keeper and White Knight sound like dirty words.
Smitty nodded, looking back towards Mea. “That does seem reasonable.” She nodded as well, biting her lip slightly.
“Just a case of overenthusiastic attention?” Sarita nodded, seeming to accept that. She, at least, looked directly at Kailani. “Our Crew didn’t mean to interfere with your Kept, did we, Mea?”
“Well, he didn't seem to mind,” she pouted. “But no offense, no harm done.”
Kai didn’t want to start more of a fight, so she nodded stiffly at Sarita and turned her attention back to Conrad.
“Yeah, no harm done,” he murmured. “Let's get out of here?”
She glanced around the Dining Hall. “Where do you want to go?”
"A table out of the way, maybe?"
One presented itself, back in a corner where no-one seemed to be sitting. “Over here.” She didn’t look to see if he followed her, once she started heading that way. Of course, he did follow, eager to be away from the simmering tension of the breaking group, even if that meant putting himself into a corner with her simmering tension.
She looked at him for a moment, wondering what was going on. “I wouldn’t mind, you know.” She shook her head. “I would mind, but I wouldn’t get in your way.”
“You... wait, what? Of what?”
She frowned, wishing there was an easy English-to-English translator for social situations. “You and Mea. Or any other girl.”
“But... no, Kaia, no.” He wrapped his arms around her. “I don't want any other girl.”
“Oh." She blinked. “Oh!” She hugged him tightly, pressing her nose against his neck, just under his collar. “I don't want any other boy, either.”
He just held her close for a long moment, heedless of the watching lunchroom. The collar was cool against her face, and hard, and uncomfortable. She fumbled in her purse without letting go of him, without moving her lips from his shoulder. The key was right where she'd put it, near the bottom in a small pocket. She found the keyhole with her fingers, hidden under his ponytail.
He drew back just slightly, just enough to let them see each other really, with a faintly startled expression. She moved her hands with his pull, careful not to tug on the collar, fumbling again for keyhole, struggling to find words to explain herself. “This,” she said, tapping the metal with her fingernail, “this isn’t necessary right now. It was just proving a point.”
“That's...” He took a deep breath. “Okay, yes.”
She paused, the key in the lock. “That’s what?”
“Not necessarily a good idea," he said ruefully. "It's an obvious symbol. It helps prevent misunderstandings.”
“Like the one we just had with Mea, Sarita, and Smitty?”
“Um, yeah,” he said uncomfortably. “They knew I was yours. If they hadn't, there might've been trouble. And they're generally good people.”
She sighed, dropping her hands back down around his waist. “When we’re home, then?” “Yes,” he smiled.
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