Chapter 89: Kailani
I used to know my place was the spot next to you
Now I’m searching the room for an empty seat
‘Cause lately I don't even know what page you're on
They’d stopped after Elfred Saturday, as they were a little uncertain about talking to Finnegan, and the next two people on the list were the two of them. Kai had slept in her own room again, pondering what Jamian had said. I can see why he wants a change, if you’re hurting him. She had to trust Jamian’s reading of people; her own was still so erratic and useless. Conrad wanted a change. Why couldn’t he just tell her that?
Why couldn’t she just ask him that? And why had he waited until all of the horrid mess with Anatoliy to start getting so cranky about everything? Despite everything, was he still angry at her about that?
She was still trying to figure it all out when she sat down beside Conrad at breakfast. He didn’t say anything strange, didn’t do anything strange. He just sat and ate his breakfast like everything was alright. It was maddening. Was everything all right?
Maybe it was. Maybe if she just acted like everything was okay, it would be okay. She could do that. Breakfast was easy, right? Vlad had a question about math. Taro was, possibly, acting a little strange, but it was hard to tell. Less angry-looking, at least. And Mabina-and-Cassidy were their normal cheerful selves.
“Any plans for the day?” As casual as Cassidy sounded, Kai wondered if there was a trap in his question. But since it was a normal day, she could just answer normally, right?
“I’m going out with Jamian.”
“I know, Kai,” Conrad exclaimed, pushing his chair back from the table. “You don’t have to tell me. The whole damn school knows you’re going out with Jamian.” He stood quickly and turned away from the table.
“What?” She stared at him. That hadn’t been what she’d been expecting. That… “What?” The way he’d said it, it had sounded like… “I’m not dating Jamian.” There were so many things wrong with that idea that it was laughable. Except Conrad wasn’t laughing. He was already walking away. Had he even heard her?
She glanced briefly at the rest of the table, but they didn’t seem like they were going to do anything. She bounced up from her chair and hurried after him. “Conrad!”
“What, Kai?” he sighed, turning back around with a hangdog expression.
“I’m not dating Jamian,” she repeated. Was that really all that was wrong?
“You’re just spending all your spare time with him, he’s leaving his crew and cy’ree hanging to be with you, and you’re not coming home at night? I’m not stupid, Kai.” His tone was resigned; he sounded more sad than angry.
“Well, yeah.” She was beginning to get angry. “You didn’t seem to want me around, so I slept in my own room. Jamian’s Kept¸ Conrad, I’m not stupid enough to make a mistake like that twice!” And she was dating him, wasn’t she?
“I was giving you your space, since you so obviously didn’t want my attention!”
“What?” She blinked at him, confused. “What gave you that impression?”
“You’ve been making a point of taking a step back from me. Since the collar thing, really. Maybe it gave you ideas, I don’t know. And you’re keeping secrets from me, don’t even try to say you’re not.”
Gave you ideas. “Do you really think I’d want to do something like that to you? To hurt you at all? And if I’m keeping secrets, well, so are you.”
“How can I? Anything you want to know you can just make me tell you.”
“I don’t want to hurt you!” She glared at him, frustrated, swallowing back tears. What had gotten into him?
“Then just let me go,” he sighed, resignation replacing his ire.
She reeled back, staring at him. She’d known this was coming, hadn’t she? Since Anatoliy. “This is about Tolly, isn’t it?” she whispered. She’d known it was going to go badly.
“Tolly... no.” He blinked, and she saw some of the more usual warm concern return to his eyes. “No, Kai, it’s not that, I wouldn’t hold that against you.”
“But you’ve been mad at me ever since… the collar, then?” She had to understand. Maybe if she understood, she could fix it, somehow.
“I’m not mad at you, not really... So wait, what have you and Jamian been doing, then?”
“Talking to the Fifth Cohort. Um, alphabetically. But you’ve been really… short and cranky-seeming lately.”
“Alphabetically?” Amusement just barely touched the corners of his mouth. “About what?”
He was trying very hard to distract her. “If we could please fix this very confusing problem between us, first, then I’ll tell you, okay?”
“I just don’t know how to fix it,” he sighed.
“Well,” she asked, trying to be practical, because it was that or yell and Mabina would scold her if she yelled, “what’s wrong?”
“I mean, yes, the Tolly thing bothers me. It’s not your fault, though, and there’s nothing we can do about it. And Sima’s been on me again lately.”
She frowned. “Massima? But…” But you’re mine didn’t seem like the appropriate thing to say just then.
“Come on, she hasn’t said anything, all the time you’re training or whatever together?”
“No.” She shook her head firmly. “Nothing.”
“Oh.” He looked distinctly uncomfortable suddenly, which was kind of impressive considering the previous topics of discussion. “Um.”
“Um?” She was growing more and more aware that they were having this discussion in the middle of the Dining Hall. “Um what, Conrad?”
“Um, well, Sima’s... interested.”
“You told me that back when I started talking to them,” she reminded him. “I thought that, with you being Kept…”
He raised a hand to the back of his head, self-consciously rubbing at it. “Uh, yeah, you’d think that, wouldn’t you?”
“But apparently not.” He wasn’t wearing a collar anymore, because the collar she’d put on him… yeah. She touched the side of his neck gently, avoiding the tiny mostly-healed burns. How were they going to make this better?
“Yeah. I can deal with her, it’s okay.” He avoided shying away from her touch with a visible effort.
She pulled her hand away, trying not to cry, and only sort of succeeding. “Do you really want me to release you, Conrad?”
“No... no, I don’t,” he sighed. He stepped forward, putting an arm around her. “I don’t really know what I want.”
“Well, that would be two of us,” she agreed, leaning into his arm. “Do you want me to come home to you tonight?” Simple things first.
“Yes,” he admitted. “I mean, if you want to.”
“Do you want to still be together? Dating, I mean?”
“Of course I do, Kaia.”
She wrinkled her nose at him. “What part of the last five minutes was supposed to make that an of course?“ She hugged him tightly before he could answer, though, relieved to hear it even if he was being odd.
“I wasn’t sure if you did...”
“Of c- Yes. Yes, I do.”
He leaned down to kiss her gently. She kissed him back, holding tight to him. That hadn’t been as bad as she had worried it would be. “Do you wa-” Probably not. “Should we get another collar for you?”
He sighed, nodding. “We probably should, before Sima tries anything.”
“You should pick it out this time.” She held his hand, enjoying the closeness for a moment, before she said, rather reluctantly, “before Jamian and I meet again.”
“So what are these ‘meetings’ about, anyway?”
She didn’t want to say too much in the Dining Hall, but she’d said she’d tell him. “Come back to my room, and I’ll tell you.” She started walking as she said it, hoping to avoid protest.
It worked, at least, and soon they were back in her little room. It seemed strange almost, being here again with him. It would be nice if she could just hold him, and not worry about anything else, but her mind wouldn’t quiet long enough for that. “We’re gathering information, comparing notes.”
“Notes? What kind of notes?”
She could just show him, but she didn’t think that would help. “All of the information about the school. About being Kept. About the Laws, and magic.”
He blinked. “So you’re... what, making a handbook?”
“Sort of, yes. Elfred called it a ‘Welcome to Addergoole, it’s All Fouled Up’ manual.”
“That about sums it up,” he grinned. “But why’s it such a secret?”
“We don’t want the upperclassmen to tell us to stop. Or the Administration.” She blinked as she realized she’d placed herself in direct opposition to teachers. “Jamain’s Kept, Ty could just tell him to cut it out any time he wanted to.” And she’d been pretty sure Conrad, or Mabina-and-Cassidy, would tell her to stop if they knew.
“Mmm. So the ultimate plan is to tell everyone everything? They do kind of figure it out on their own, during the year.”
“That takes too long. And that’s just the first step.”
“The first step?” He was beginning to sound a bit nervous, now.
“The Administration isn’t doing anything to fix problems. And trying to fix problems without knowing the Law… has painful results. But if we know what’s going on, we can work within the Law to fix things.”
“Fix... things? How do you mean, fix?”
She really didn’t want to tell him. But she’d told him she would. “Rescue people in bad situations. Keep people out of those messes that aren’t already in them. Keep what happened to me with Agatha and Anatoliy from happening to anyone else.”
“Keep...” He shook his head. “There’s no way to do that, Kaia. The system just doesn’t work that way.”
“Didn’t you say you wanted to see what I could do if I got all the pieces? If I knew everything that was going on?”
“Okay, maybe I did, but you’re talking about... I don’t even know, Kaia. Breaking the school.”
“Then maybe it ought to be broken.”
“Ought to be... Kaia, you don’t know what you’re saying. Who’s heard you talking like that?”
She glared at him. “I’m pretty aware of what I’m saying. But what’s happening is wrong, Conrad, and someone needs to stop it.”
“You can’t let the staff hear you talking like that, Kaia.” His worry was evident in his tone. “Or even a lot of the students. If that got back to Regine...”
“Well, of course. That’s why we’re being so secretive.”
He chewed his lip. “Seriously though, who all knows about this?”
“Jamian, and A through E of the Fifth Cohort, except for Bowen.”
“But if someone tells their Keeper... It’s a big risk, Kaia.”
“We’re not talking to the Kept.”
“None of them? Well, that’s safer, I guess.”
“Except Aponi,” she amended. “But, Conrad, right now all we’re doing is gathering information. No-one can really object to that, can they?”
“Not as long as you don’t talk about it like you did a minute ago,” he smiled.
“Well, no. But I figured you wanted me to be honest with you.”
“I appreciate that,” he said sincerely.
She hugged him tightly. “Would it make you worry more or less if you came along?”
“Oh, heck, I dunno. You’re honestly probably getting better feedback without me.”
He was probably right. “I’ll be careful, Conrad. Before I’ll do anything besides gather information, I’ll talk to you, okay?”
“Okay. I just want you to be safe, Kaia.”
“I know. And I want everyone else to be safe, too.”
Copyright © 2009-2011 Lyn Thorne-Alder with Elasmo. All rights reserved.
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