Chapter 125: Kailani
Kai’s skirt was shorter than she liked, but Mabina had made it for her, and she didn’t want to seem ungrateful. She tugged the blue-and-white gingham a little lower, and checked her watch. “We’re late,” she grumbled.
“Fashionably late,” Mea corrected her, still fussing with her own hair, which had been poofed out into a golden-dyed halo around her head. “It certainly wouldn’t do for our sense of style to be right on time, now would it?”
“We have a sense of style?” She took Conrad’s hand, smiling at the fake straw poking out of his sleeves.
“Mea does, at least,” Taro said, rapping his knuckles against his breastplate with a resounding clang. “Although this isn’t bad, aside from the helmet.”
Conrad shook his head, laughing. “I hardly think it’s practical.”
“He’s my knight in shining armor, aren’t you?” Mea said, turning to kiss Taro’s cheek.
“Tarnished armor more like,” Conrad smirked. “Remember, he’s got no heart.”
Kai chuckled despite her nerves. The fake tin wasn’t tarnished, but it didn’t have any shine, either. “That’s not how the story ends up,” she commented idly, clicking her heels together.
“You’d rather cut to the chase, when you leave us, eh?” Conrad said.
“What?” she blinked at him. “I just meant, the Tin Man turns out to have a heart after all.”
“You were clicking your heels,” he smiled. “But, what do I know? I’ve got no brain, right?”
“Stop that,” she complained, wrinkling her nose at him. “I was just playing with the costume, that’s all.”
“Well, I’m ready,” Mea declared, turning to face them and striking a pose. “How do I look?”
“Leonine,” Kai answered politely.
“Rarrr,” Taro grinned.
At least Kai didn’t have to worry about how short her skirt was, if she was going to be standing next to that; no one was going to be looking at her.
“Shall we, then?” Mea headed for the door, the sashay of her walk swishing the artificial tail which protruded from her skintight, velveteen hotpants.
“Do I look okay?” Kai whispered to Conrad, as they followed in Mea’s wake.
“You look great,” he nodded. “The slippers may be a bit much, but the look wouldn’t be complete without them.”
“Thanks,” she smiled, looking down at the ruby slippers in question. “Mabina really went all out.”
“She does that,” Conrad agreed. “She’s a good friend.”
As long as you stay in the box she wants you in. Kai was learning when to keep her mouth shut; she just smiled at him. “I still think you should have been the lion.”
“Now I have no brains and no courage?” he teased her.
She smiled back at him, glad to have gotten a smile out of him. “You know they ended up having had it all along. And your tail is nicer than hers.”
“Oh, I’m not so sure about that,” he said, watching Mea walk for a moment.
Kai wrinkled her nose and scooted closer to him. “Yours is real,” she pointed out. “Hers is fake.”
“Mine’s also not the right color, and I really don’t think I could pull off the rest of that outfit. I mean, look good in it; anybody could pull it off. Uh, I mean...”
She frowned up at him unhappily. “Hey.” And you and Taro will be leaving, leaving those two alone together.
“Hey, I don’t mean anything, it’s just hard not to notice, y’know? She wants people to notice.”
“She also wants to sleep with you.”
“With me?” he said with some surprise, shaking his head. “Nah. She’s got Taro.”
“Who will be in Texas.”
“We’re here,” he noted, cutting off the conversation for the time being as they entered the dance hall, stepping back up to the others. Un-reassured, she squeezed his hand and looked around the crowd. Their entrance had certainly gotten some attention, as Mea predicted; Kai wasn’t sure how she felt about that, herself. Still, their outfits were fairly good, and people were smiling at the theme.
She let Mea pose and preen for their audience, and kept looking, hoping to find some of their friends. There was Xaviera, looking lonely and forlorn, but she didn’t see Shahin or Emrys, or, for that matter, Jamian or Ty. Conrad was trying to lead her to a more secluded area, though. They’d have plenty of time later to talk to everyone, she supposed, and she was going away… oh. She sat down with a thump on the bench he’d found.
He sat beside her, quietly for a moment, before putting an arm around her. “Kai... do you really think I’d cheat on you?”
Did she? She shoved down all the knee-jerk responses that seemed to be based on an unfamiliar emotional stew. “No,” she admitted softly. “But sometimes it’s hard to remember that. I still don’t really understand why you’re with me.”
“Why are you with me?” he countered. “I care about you, Kai.”
“But you’re…” Brilliant. Handsome. Good with people. She gave up, and leaned against him. “I care about you, too. I’m going to miss you.”
“Don’t worry about missing me. You’re supposed to be having fun. I’ll still be here when you get back.”
Not much choice in the matter, is there? Where was he going to go? She would miss him, though. “I’ll have fun,” she told him, since he seemed to want to hear that. “It will probably be safer than being in school.”
He winced a little, but nodded. “You’ll be just fine. It’ll be good to get out and remember what reality looks like.”
She smiled at that. “I think this is pretty real.” And, because words didn’t seem to work all that well sometimes, she kissed him to illustrate her point.
That was definitely real, the way he responded to her, the way he held her. For a few moments, the rest of it didn’t seem to matter. She smiled at him, when they finally stopped kissing. “That.”
“That,” he agreed, his broad smile looking comical under his costume’s face makeup.
She touched the side of his face. “Do you want to be here?”
“Did you have someplace better in mind?” he asked, apparently open to the idea.
“I haven’t seen the stars in a while.”
“That could be nice,” he agreed. “What about the other half of our masquerade?”
She looked out onto the floor. “I could be wrong, but it looks like Mea is having a very good time.”
“Yeah, I’m sure they’ll be fine. Let’s go, then.”
“I hate to ruin all Mabina’s work… but maybe we could stop and wash your face on the way?”
“Okay,” he grinned. “It’s kind of weird anyway. I’m not used to having stuff on my face, and I can feel it.”
“I like your face the way it is normally, anyway.” She stood up and took his hand. “I like you, in general.” And she did. A little shyer, she added, “I like that I have your baby.”
He rose with her, moving closer as she spoke. “Our baby. We’ll make this work, Kai. You’ll see.”
She smiled at him broadly, pausing in their exit to hug him tightly. “We will,” she agreed, really believing it. “I think it will be fun.”
“It will. Now, though, to the stars?”
“And a sink.”
The sky was clear, the stars bright, the air crisp and chilly. She didn’t mind snuggling closer to Conrad for warmth, though, as they stared at the sky. “I’m going to miss this.”
“It’s nice, isn’t it?” he agreed. “Some time just to ourselves, away from all the rest of it, the rest of them. Even our friends; I mean, I like Taro and the gang, but I like having these moments just for you, too.”
“Yeah,” she agreed quietly. “Sometimes I feel like we’re having a relationship by committee.”
“They mean well, but... well, it’s not easy, here. Anywhere, really, but we have some special challenges.”
“It seems that way,” she agreed quietly. “But it seems like your crew has done pretty well, despite that.”
“We have, and part of that is because we look out for each other. I know you think they’re hovering sometimes, intruding even, but they’re just trying to do right by you.”
She snuggled closer to him. “I know they’re trying to help,” she agreed quietly. Even if they did help me right into carrying Anatoliy’s baby. “But what really helps is information.”
“We’re all here for that, too. It’s easier, now, without the imposed secrecy.”
She looked at him curiously. “The geas ended?”
“Well, there isn’t anything more to tell you, so it amounts to the same thing.”
“Oh.” She blinked, startled. “That’s it, really?”
“Yeah?” He shifted uncomfortably in the grass. “Did you expect more than there’s already been?”
She could tell that this was one of these situations where the honest answer wasn’t necessarily the best answer, but she didn’t have any other answer to give. “I could show you my notes?”
Copyright © 2009-2011 Lyn Thorne-Alder with Elasmo. All rights reserved.
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