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Lancer woke just as the sun began creeping up the horizon. Eyes barely cracked open, he scanned the room through insignificant slits. No one else was awake.
He didn’t know why he’d agreed to sleep in the Ellis’s room. Mr. Ellis reserved a room for him and Rei, but one thing led to another, hamburgers, this and that, and when Rei, Jared, and Mr. Ellis returned from delivering Albedo to the guards Lancer was as good as passed out. He vaguely remembered Jaylee saying something before he fell asleep―where was Jaylee, anyways?
Well, everyone was asleep, no sounds of movement, so he risked opening his eyes and looking around. Jaylee lay next to him, a layer of blankets separating them. Breathing shallow, mouth open, she looked kind of sweet.
Bad thoughts, Lancer decided. This wasn’t the place for that; no place was good for that. He needed to leave.
Apparently he hadn’t changed into pajamas, which he approved of. Always good to prepare to face the new day, you know? Jaylee wore pajamas; a cute, pink getup with baby blue flowers embroidered all around it.
He left. He just left. There wasn’t anything to do but leave before he noticed something weird and dumb and not good. Which was a lot right then, and he didn’t need the distraction.
Lancer explored the hotel, intent on staying awake. Tired, yes, and Rei would let him in if he knocked loud enough, but he had work to do and it was a solo job. Rei wouldn’t understand, Jaylee would hamper him, and he felt uncomfortable asking Jared or Mr. Ellis to help.
A too-cheerful-by-far man greeted him at the hotel’s front desk. “Early riser? Sun’s just up. I’ll page someone to deliver breakfast? Nothing fancy, mind. Continental.”
“No thanks,” Lancer said. “Do you have a map?”
The man grinned, holding up one finger indicating Lancer should wait. He disappeared through a door to some office behind the desk for half a second, then returned with a pamphlet.
“Best we have, good as anything.” He tapped it on the desk, then slid it over.
“Thanks.” Lancer smiled, pocketing the pamphlet. “Oh, um. If anyone asks for me―I’m Lancer―tell them I’ll be back later?”
Lancer stepped outside, yawning. The sun persevered, fighting against nighttime weariness, overcoming obstacles until it reached the top. That’s what Lancer decided he would do, today, no hesitation.
Opening the pamphlet, he looked inside for―what the heck was this? On the paper, drawn in bright colors, was a map of Garde. Written in a box on the side, and marked on the map, were some of the most useless tourist attractions he could imagine. The observation wheel(which the mapmaker personified by giving it a smile), a coupon for an arcade, and numerous other tourist traps that sounded neat if he was four years old.
The map did show streets, which was all he needed, he guessed. He followed one, using the pamphlet’s vague directions, then another, and one more. The walk ended in front of Kanin’s apartment. The bellhop from yesterday stood beside the front door, greeting people with a curt nod and a “have a good day.”
Lancer approached, confident. He’d march right in, ask for Kanin’s apartment, stride there with purpose, and pound on his door. Nothing to it.
Except the doorman halted him with a glare. “Get lost, kid.”
Lancer blinked. “What?”
“No solicitors. See the sign?” The doorman tapped a thick wooden sign with an “X” and red circle surrounding the word “solicitors.”
“I need Kanin,” Lancer said, attempting to fix this mixup. “He’s my brother.”
The doorman checked him over head to toe, hand resting on his chin. He paused, offering someone a “have a good day” before saying, “You don’t look anything like him.”
“Me.” The man jabbed a finger into his chest.
“Hello, Lancer.” Preoccupied with his argument, Lancer failed to notice his brother leaving the apartments. “Everything fine, Sam?”
“Kid says he’s your brother.” Sam jerked his head towards Lancer.
“I’ll deal with him. Sorry, Sam.”
“Yeah.” Sam shrugged, brushing it off. “Have a good day, Kanin.”
Kanin walked past Lancer to the sidewalk, barely acknowledging his existence. Lancer glared after him. It wasn’t like he wanted to come in the first place, and now his brother needed to embarrass him, treating him like a spoiled child? Not that he cared what Sam thought, or Kanin, or anyone else, but still.
Kanin looked over his shoulder. “Are you coming?”
Lancer went, oh he went alright. He stomped after Kanin, not even caring if he made a scene. His brother rolled his eyes and frowned, but Lancer just kept going.
“You’ve grown,” Kanin said. “You’re almost as tall as me.”
“I’m not here to talk, Kanin.” Lancer thrust his chin up so he could look down his nose at his brother. “Having fun with your jobs? Great and dandy, is it? Well, you know what?”
Kanin laughed. “I don’t, but I’m sure you’re about to tell me.”
“Yeah, well―yeah.” Kanin always ruined this for him, always mocked his anger and made it sound like Lancer was the incorrigible one. “Rei needs help and you’re here doing whatever you want. She needs you and you don’t care. What do you think about that?”
Kanin patted Lancer’s shoulder. “I’m going to work, Lancer. I’ll talk to you later.”
Kanin left. Lancer blinked, unsure what just happened. Once Kanin was a block away, turning down a side street, Lancer fumed.
Good! Kanin could work and ignore Rei and treat the world like his kingdom for all Lancer cared. He’d help Rei on his own. Because how hard could it be? Someone must know about sphereshifting here, an expert with enough knowledge to fix his sister.
Like a librarian. Books. He found books dull, but they had lots of stuff in them and librarians loved the things.
Sam snickered behind his back. “Tough break.”
“Where’s the library?” Lancer asked.
People gaped when Lancer’s group entered Garde on the reconstructed Ellis carriage. Not much of a carriage now, though.
Mr. Ellis, with Albedo’s confinement in mind, spent three hours using metal sphereshifting to transform their transportation into a rolling prison. The passenger’s compartment shrunk, with no doors to speak of. Albedo spun in the middle, the carriage wheels powering a series of gears to keep him unbalanced and contained. Refitted, the seats sat above all of that, with Jared, Jaylee, Lancer, and Rei occupying them. Mr. Ellis found this fine and dandy, humming a tune while the horses clopped through the city.
The carriage wasn’t the only thing attracting stares, though. With Rei out in the open, doll transmogrification visible, more than a few passersby stopped to ogle her. Strange, an oddity, Lancer felt like they were members of some circus sideshow. He frowned, shooing anyone who stared for too long, grumbling, grunting.
“Want to work on your schoolwork some more?” Jaylee asked, pressing against him.
He let her put her head on his shoulder; it seemed the least he could do after she’d rescued him. “Not really,” he said.
“We’re almost there,” Mr. Ellis said. “I arranged for some rooms in a little hotel I know of. Owner’s an old friend, so don’t worry about the cost.”
“Thank you, Mr. Ellis,” Rei said, dutiful. When Lancer grunted, she prodded him.
“Thanks,” Lancer said.
He wasn’t ungrateful, far from it, but with stress from the events on their journey here, along with his impending meeting with his brother, Kanin, he was in nothing resembling a good mood. In fact, he felt rather sour. Arms crossed over his chest, grumping, glowering at a man who asked about acquiring a doll like Rei, he felt reassured about the reason for his bad mood.
“Layne.” Rei tugged his sleeve. “That’s Kanin’s apartment building.”
Lancer took a good look at it. Nothing special, he decided. So what if it had a fancy tarpaulin above the entryway, with a suited doorman standing guard. Who needed a house constructed from materials like that? Why not stick with classic wood, or brick, or whatever people built houses from. He didn’t actually know what the apartment was made of, but he didn’t quite care, either.
“Lancer,” Jaylee declared, distracting him from glaring at the apartments. “I’ll make you dinner at the hotel.”
He grunted, trying to feign indifference, but his stomach grumbled giving him away. “Alright,” he said.
“We need to bring Albedo to the guards, right?” Rei asked, then without waiting for an answer, added, “I’ll help. Maybe Jared should come just in case?”
Jared shrugged. “Yeah. That’s good. If he tries to escape, dad and I can handle him.”
Rei beamed, bright and brilliant. Or that’s how it appeared, but Lancer saw it as more of a sadistic and maniacal look. What kind of sister did he have here?
And so it went, Jaylee and Lancer were left alone in one of the hotel rooms while the others delivered Albedo to the authorities.
“I know I said I’d cook–” Jaylee started to say, then paused.
Lancer frowned. “You’re not going to make food?”
“Oh, no, I will! Promise.” She nodded her head so fast it made his neck hurt watching it. “It’s just―I wanted to talk first. Kinda. Alone, you know?”
Lancer saw where this was headed. Clearly noticed the path, and thought it best to avoid it altogether. “Jaylee, I like you, but I’m not in like with you.”
Jaylee blinked, lips pursed. “That’s not what I wanted to talk about.”
“You’ve made this awkward.”
“Well, you always want to be close to me and help me and the way you look at me―I mean, it seemed obvious.”
“I do like you, but you’re not the only thing I think about ever.”
Silence. Crickets might’ve chirped, except there weren’t many in Garde.
“So what are we talking about?” he asked after awhile.
“I don’t want to say it now. You’ll laugh,” she said.
“I won’t, I promise.”
She stared at him, surveying the situation. “Alright. Give me a hug first.”
“What?” He stared back, not surveying anything.
“You’ve made it uncomfortable. This’ll help.”
He didn’t understand her logic. Actually, he thought a hug would make it more awkward. He enjoyed hugs, didn’t mind them, but a hug was sort of intimate and that’s what he’d intended to avoid.
Except she hugged him before he could say anything against it, so he wrapped his arms around her waist and held her close.
“Alright, so I’ve decided–” she said.
He fidgeted. “We’re going to talk while hugging?”
“Yes.” Her statement accepted no bridge for disagreement. “We can’t keep the pearl out in the open. I’ve been practicing with something, and I think it’s best if we do that, but I wanted to ask first.”
“Alright,” he said. “What is it?”
“I was thinking―if we dissolve the pearl in vinegar, dilute it with water, and sweeten it with honey, I can drink it. It’ll take a few days, but then no one can steal it or misuse it, since it’ll be part of me.”
“Sure? What are you asking me for?” He didn’t understand half of what she said. Vinegar dissolved pearls, what?
“Because it’s ours, silly.” She squeezed him tight. “The pearl, it’s like our baby.”
“It’s a pearl, Jaylee.” This conversation needed fixing quick.
“I know. If you want to use it, let me know.”
He refused to even ask what she meant by that. “Can we eat dinner?”
“Oh! I’ll start. Let me set the pearl up first. What should we eat? Do you like hamburgers? My mom taught me how to make sliced fried potatoes that’re really good, too.”
“I’d love a hamburger!” A sliver of drool escaped his lip imagining a greasy meat patty.
Jaylee flashed a shy smile and fussed about with her hands. Maybe he shouldn’t say “love” around her. Agh, when were the others coming back?
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Everyone was fine, in a manner of speaking. Or they were until Jaylee hefted up the fist-sized pearl she’d procured from the clam and used its power to unbind them.
Then everyone wasn’t so fine, except Rei who treated the situation like an interesting puzzle that needed figuring out.
“Who’s that?” Mr. Ellis asked, peering at Albedo.
“I saw a huge rockslide,” Jared said. “Seemed fine before, but I’m pretty sure rockslides don’t just happen randomly, especially without mountains–”
“My sincere apologies,” Albedo said, politely ignoring Mr. Ellis’s stares. “Lancer and I were having an altercation, but it’s been resolved.”
Jared nodded, accepting this explanation. Mr. Ellis wasn’t so easily convinced. “What’re your intentions with my daughter?”
Jaylee, whether to keep Albedo spherebound or because Albedo kept pressing towards her, had her arm wrapped around his while he combed his fingers through her hair. “Daddy, it’s not what you think.”
“It’s not? I don’t need to think to see what I see, and the sight’s not suiting me.”
Demons didn’t break loose from the underworld then, but Albedo’s bindings shattered, which was nearly the same. “Insignificant fleas! How dare you spherebind me. As if I’d ever feel love, even affection, towards a juvenile girl. You shall pay for this.”
Albedo raised his hands, ready to strike. Mr. Ellis reacted faster. In the blink of an eye, sprockets and gears and gadgets galore surrounded Albedo, spinning and lifting him off the ground. Without dirt beneath his feet, he seemed to lose control over the rocks. The cogs zipped forth, removing themselves from the wagon and Mr. Ellis’s clothing: wheel spokes, transformed zippers, belt buckles. In the end, Albedo was trapped in a constantly spinning clockwork prison.
The well-dressed man screamed until a pair of screws attached themselves to a bit, spun tight, and clamped his mouth shut.
“Jaylee,” Mr. Ellis said, “you’re too young to date him.”
“Daddy, I don’t want to,” Jaylee said.
“I know he might seem appealing, being more mature and handsome, but–”
“He wanted to kill us, daddy.”
“Makes no difference. I’m not losing a daughter to the likes of him.”
They argued, each confusing the other. Mr. Ellis wanted to keep him trapped so he’d stay away from Jaylee, and she wanted Albedo constrained so he wouldn’t be a threat to anyone. Neither budged, until they realized they wanted the same thing(though they still refused to accept the other’s viewpoint).
“So,” Rei said. “How was it?”
The commotion between the Ellis family had distracted him. “What?” he asked.
“You and Jaylee? The water? Did you kiss?”
Lancer stared at her, his expression blank. “Are you serious?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
So she was serious, which seriously bothered him. “Look, Rei–”
He would’ve said more, set the record straight, but then he remembered the giant clam. Isabelle, too, but the clam seemed more immediately important. Could clams live out of water? Agh! What if he was dead already?
“Gotta go!” Lancer ran as fast as he could towards the reservoir.
The upheaved ground made the search more difficult than necessary, but he found the clam. Tilted sideways, shell cracked open, the clam looked so horribly out of place. He jogged up and patted the shell.
“Hey, buddy?” How did one address a companionable clam? “You alright?”
The clam gurgled, water spluttering out of his shell like a drowning man spitting up water during resuscitation. “Lancer–” the clam said, voice dying.
“What do I do? Hold on, hold on, I’ll save you.”
Lancer turned to run to get help, but crashed into Rei. Her and him, wood and flesh, fell to the ground.
“Rei! Are you alright? This is horrible. Two in one day. Don’t die, Rei.”
Rei clicked her eyelids, blinking. “I’m fine. Stop trying to put me back together! I haven’t fallen apart. I don’t even think that’s possible.”
Lancer stopped prodding her arm, moving it around its socket. “Oh. Sorry.” He glanced at the clam. “Look, Rei. This clam can talk. It saved us. It’s going to die.”
Rei surmised the situation, eying the clam. “I don’t think he’s dying,” she said.
“What do you mean? Did you hear him?”
“The girl’s correct,” the clam said, cheerily. “I can live away from water for days. It was a joke. Did it lighten the mood? I’ve heard of jokes, but I’ve never done one.”
Lancer stared at the clam. Maybe the clam stared back, but Lancer didn’t know how that worked. He assumed they had the equivalent of a mollusk staring contest, though.
“I’m going to drown you,” Lancer said.
“That’s a joke?” the clam asked. “Because I can’t drown–”
Lancer grinned. Was he joking? No one needed to know.
“Did you need that woman?” the clam asked.
Lancer stopped, confused. “What woman? Jaylee?”
“The muddy one. I hope not, because she’s escaping.”
Lancer spun on his heels, looked towards where Isabelle should’ve been. In her place stood a goopy pile of mud, the seductress nowhere in sight. He stomped, angry. Argh! Well, they had Albedo, right? Double checking, he calmed a little bit. Not a happy calm, but with Jaylee around Isabelle shouldn’t be a problem.
“Let’s roll you back into the water,” Lancer said to the clam. “You were a big help. I appreciate it.”
“No problem,” the clam said, a hearty chuckle coming from somewhere. “I always wanted to go adventuring. Three hundred years without any fun gets you down in the dumps. Your friend can keep the pearl, too. She looks like she enjoys it.”
“Thanks,” Lancer said. “I’m sure she’ll like that.” To Rei, he added, “Help, please?”
Rei nodded, helping maneuver one side of the clamshell. Between the two of them they slid the clam into the water just fine.
“Is it bad that woman escaped?” Rei asked afterwards.
“It’s not good,” Lancer said. “Not good at all.”
Hopefully they could deal with it, though. This trip into Garde was too eventful by far.
Weight: 125 lbs
Eye Color: Mint
Body: Average, Pear-shape
Blood Type: A-
“I don’t like using daisies when I play ‘he loves me, he loves me not.’ Marigolds are better, and they smell nicer, too.” -Jaylee
(Jaylee was drawn by Deanna. Check out more of her art [here])
Jaylee’s brother said she was obsessive. Her father thought she had too much free time. Her mother only smiled and said, “Jaylee, would you like a–” holding out her most recent cooked creation.
Well, her brother was a twit, she thought. And her father thought everyone had too much time. Her mother understood, though. Her mother was the one who taught her about pheromones in the first place. The cookies she baked were delicious, too.
It started when she began her diary at the age of ten. Her mother gave it to her, telling her it was precious and she could write down her deepest secrets. She took this to heart.
First Entry -
Dear Diary(is this how you start?)
Lancer’s dumb. I don’t why anyone calls him Lancer. I did because he doesn’t like his real name and asked me to, but is Layne a bad name? I think it’s nice. I wrote too much bye now.
Second Entry -
I don’t like starting dear diary, so I’m not going to. You’re a book not a person and I don’t want talk to you.
Lancer’s dumb. I asked if he wanted to come for cookies today, but he said no. He said *there are tear drops on the page here* I smelled and had cooties! Serious? We’re ten and I don’t have cooties. He’s dumb. No one has cooties. Those are fake.
Seventh Entry -
Lancer’s dumb. If he’s really dumb am I dumb, too? I look at him in class and I can’t stop! I’m going crazy. He’s so pretty, though *heart* We’re reading a book and the teacher told us to write our favorite descriptions and I want to write about Lancer but I can’t give Ms. Allen that! She’ll read it. I’ll write them here.
Lancer’s hair is dark and wavy like wheat stalks bending in gusty wind. His eyes are so beautiful and blue, like a deep lake or maybe a splashy puddle on a rain day. His lips are ohmygod I can’t even think about his lips Iwanttokisshimsobad.
Do you think he’ll kiss me if I ask?
Eighth Entry -
Lancer’s dumb. Today is my birthday and I asked him if he’d give me a kiss for a present and he said no. Why? I’m not pretty? I think I am. Mom has a big mirror and I can see all of me when I stand in front of it and I’m pretty sure I’m pretty. I even practiced making pretty faces so I could show Lancer. But he looks away! I make a pretty face and he looks away. Serious? If I were him I’d kiss me. What about ohmygod I can’t write that! Alright, I’ll write that I think kissing would be fun but maybe there’s more fun after? Diary, if you aren’t a book and are a person and you tell anyone I’m going to burn you in a fire.
A few days later, Jaylee’s mother knocked on her door. “Can I come in, dear?”
Jaylee stuffed her diary under her pillow in the middle of writing her ninth entry. “Yeah, mom. What is it?”
Mrs. Ellis opened her daughter’s bedroom door, stepped into the room, then closed the door behind her. She smiled at Jaylee, reassuring and calm. This, Jaylee thought, was odd, because her mother didn’t do it unless something was wrong. Sure, she smiled all the time, but it was more a silly, whimsical look instead of one with a lot of meaning.
Her mother removed the plentitude of stuffed animals from atop a wooden chair and pulled it to the foot of her daughter’s bed before sitting on it. “Jaylee,” she said. “We should talk, dear.”
Jaylee shrugged. “Alright.”
And they talked. About birds and bees and how Lancer might be a very pretty boy and–
“Wait,” Jaylee said near the end of the conversation. “How did you know about Lancer? Did you read my diary?”
“Yes,” her mother said.
“Is that why you gave it to me? You’ve been reading it this entire time! Right? Haven’t you? It’s private, mom! I hate you!”
This was the fourth time Jaylee had said I hate you since coming home from school, and while she meant it this time(she really did, more than the time before when she thought she’d hated her mother but now knew she didn’t but this time was for real), her mother smiled and laughed it off.
“It’s fine to have crushes on boys,” her mother said, ignoring the accusations(which were true, of course), “but wait until you’re older, please? Maybe you’ll get married and then it’ll be amazing. Kissing is fine, Jaylee, but you have a wonderful life ahead of you and I don’t want you to ruin it by–” And here her mother mentioned awkward details of what lay beyond kissing.
Jaylee cringed, because it was gross talking about this with her mom. Except, wait wait, she backtracked a second. “Lancer will marry me?”
“Why wouldn’t he? You’re an attractive young lady.”
“He doesn’t even look at me, though. I―alright, watch.” Jaylee made a pretty face to show her mother, the same one she tried on Lancer. “I do that and he looks away!”
“He’s shy, dear.”
“I don’t want him to be shy, though. I want him to kiss me.”
Jaylee’s mother scrunched up her brow. Contemplating something probably, but who knew what. Jaylee never understood her mother. Her father said she was some great sphereshifter before, but to this day Jaylee had never seen her mother sphereshift. Nothing. Not once.
“I’m going to teach you something, dear.”
“Mom, I don’t want to learn to make cookies.”
“Stop pouting, your face will get stuck that way and then how will Lancer find you attractive?”
Jaylee stopped pouting right away. “I still don’t want to learn to make cookies.”
“Not cookies. I’m out of practice, but I did this when I was young. You just need to be careful, alright? I don’t want you to take advantage of situations and if I hear about you and Lancer, or any other boy–” Her mother really really liked being awkward.
Twenty-seventh Entry -
Lancer’s dumb. Mom taught me pheromone stuff. She says it’s got to do with smells. I’m practicing but I can’t get it to work. She showed me one and I think it works, but people look at me funny.
Twenty-eighth Entry -
Lancer’s dumb and so is my mom! She tricked me. The sphereshift she showed me WAS SUPPOSED TO MAKE PEOPLE LOOK AT ME FUNNY! Serious? What kind of thing is that? Who does that who wants someone to look at them funny Idon’tunderstandher.
Thirty-fourth Entry -
Lancer’s dumb. My mom apologized and told me that was the easiest sphereshift to learn and that’s why she started with it. I guess that’s alright, but I don’t like people looking at me funny. This next one is nice. It makes people smile. Mom says it taps into memory centers in their brains and causes them to remember their happiest memories. That sounds nice. I smelled it but all I smelled were mom’s cookies, so I thought she was trying to trick me into making cookies with her. I used it around Lancer and he smiled! Tomorrow I’m going to ask him to kiss me.
Thirty-fifth Entry -
Lancer’s dumb. He wouldn’t kiss me. What an idiot!
One-hundred-and-fifty-ninth Entry -
Lancer’s still a little dumb, but I think I’m wearing him down. I’ve been holding back so much. I told my mother before what I wanted to try, and she thinks it’s interesting if I can pull it off. I finally managed to do it the other day, and I’ve practiced to make sure I understand it and I definitely do. I haven’t told her yet. I’m going to keep it secret for a little. Rei came today and asked daddy if he could give Lancer and her a ride into Garde on his next trip. That’s tomorrow. Jared and I get to go. I’ll be with Lancer! I need to find a way to get Jared and daddy to leave us alone. Rei will help, I think. She’s helped before.
Back to my discovery! This is exciting I’m so excited. The secret to pheromones is water sphereshifting, mom taught me. The scents are good by themselves, but if you mix small scents mix mix swirl mix with sphereshifting, and put them on certain points on your body(wrists, neck, armpits, or another warm spot that’s inappropriate and mom told me never do that until I’m married or she’ll ground me forever I swear you’re reading this mom and I won’t do it I want to kiss Lancer but I won’t do anything else) you can use your body heat to evaporate the mixture and send scents into the air around you. A minor fire sphereshift to heat the mix increases the effects by a lot, though.
Which is fun and it works but what if you mix the pheromones inside your body and when you sweat they come out? Not gross sweat like after you run and you’re sticky, but the regular kind that happens a little at a time throughout the day.
And I can do that now! It’s neat. I’ve been seeing what my body makes naturally, but I figured out if I eat the right foods I can add different pheromones for a little while. It’s still a good idea to carry vials and ingredients just in case, but this is less conspicuous. Lancer would wonder why I’m holding a vial and mixing things before I ask him to kiss him. Now I don’t have to! Isn’t that neat?
Mom if you’re reading this stop reading this. I’ve asked you a million times. I’m sixteen now and I haven’t even kissed anyone. If you’re scared of me doing I’mnotgoingtowriteitthat’ssoweird I’m not talking about this with you. I won’t do it, alright? I don’t even use pheromone sphereshifting on Lancer ever anyways, but if I use it once to get a kiss that’s not bad, right? I’ll do the rest the hard way and I swear he’ll ask me on a date and I have two years and we’ll marry when I’m eighteen or maybe nineteen I don’t know.
I’ll talk with you when I get back. Stop reading this.
Lancer and Rei arrived at the Ellis’s home by quarter past five.
In the morning.
Lancer wasn’t pleased, in fact he felt he would have loved those few extra minutes of sleep, but Rei took advantage of his semi-consciousness in his half awake state and herded him out of the house early.
He couldn’t very well complain now. Finding out they’d arrived fifteen minutes before their necessary thirty minute early arrival was just fine and dandy. Oh, yes, nothing wrong at all. People shouldn’t expect you to arrive at six when they wanted to leave at six, no, never.
His lack of complaint attracted attention, probably because instead of speaking he kicked the ground and grumbled.
“That boy’s always so ornery,” Mr. Ellis said, packing luggage atop the carriage.
“Would you like a muffin, Lancer?” Mrs. Ellis asked, holding out a tray of various muffins.
Lancer took a muffin. “Thank you, Mrs. Ellis,” he said in between stuffing his mouth.
“Any time, dear,” she said. “Cheer up, alright? It’s going to be a beautiful day and you can sleep on the ride if you’re tired.”
Saying that, Mrs. Ellis added that whenever she traveled she found it dreadfully difficult to sleep because of bumps in the road―they needed to fix that, someone should pave it like in the big cities―but since he was young he shouldn’t have problems catching a wink.
Lancer stopped grumbling because he had a muffin, but he started again a moment later.
“Do we need anything else, daddy?” Jaylee asked from the front porch.
“Should be set. Thanks, darling,” Mr. Ellis said.
“We don’t need this catalytic charge displacer, dad?” Jared asked from inside the house.
“Next time, Jared. This isn’t a business trip.”
Lancer paused mid-muffin chew. He stared at Jaylee, who smiled and waved then looked down shyly when he didn’t stop staring. Jared told Lancer he’d help him with the schoolwork he’d missed. Rei stepped to the side, whistling, until Lancer jerked his head towards her and glared.
“Oh,” Rei said. “Did I forget to tell you Jaylee and Jared are coming?”
“Mmmffmmrrhhh,” Lancer said, then swallowed his mouthful of muffin. “Yes, you did! Why didn’t you say something? Seriously, Rei?”
Before Rei could answer, Jaylee waltzed up and stood next to him, hands in her pockets. “I’ve missed you at school, Lancer.”
“Yeah,” Lancer said. “Sorry.”
“Is that a muffin?” she asked. “Can I have a bite?”
Mrs. Ellis happened by with the muffins again. “Jaylee, hurry, take a muffin before your father and brother eat them all. I swear they act like I never feed them.”
Jaylee frowned and took a muffin from the pan. “Thanks,” she said in the most disingenuous way possible.
“Of course, dear.”
Before more awkward moments could commence, Mr. Ellis said, “Time to hit the road! Last one in’s the spoiled cheese.”
Jaylee looked at Lancer and rolled her eyes, gesturing towards her father. “It’s rotten egg, dad!”
“Spoiled cheese is worse, trust me.”
Lancer cared little for rotten eggs or spoiled cheese. He also no longer cared much for this carriage ride into Garde. Having to deal with Kanin was difficult enough, but Jaylee was another story.
Now, he didn’t hate her, far from it. He thought she was fun sometimes in larger crowds and an overall interesting person, but that didn’t mean he wanted her attention, which she gave him fully. It also didn’t mean he wanted to sit next to her in the crowded carriage, but the seats were so small that one of the boys needed to sit next to one of the girls for everyone to fit. Rei, his evil demon sister, jumped in before him and sat next to Jared.
Jaylee blushed when Lancer sat. “I can help with your schoolwork if you want? Since it’ll be hard for Jared to do if he’s not next to you?”
Lancer grudgingly accepted, Jaylee not noticing his ire and Rei feigning ignorance by refusing to look at him, humming.
Homework help was alright. Besides the fact that Jaylee kept touching him, playfully slapping his hand when he messed up, squeezing close and smiling whenever he did something right, and putting her arm around his to guide him if he took too long to write an answer. Those things bothered him, but it was better than the alternatives.
Imagine if he’d slept? He knew he would’ve woken with a tousle-haired Jaylee yawning, curled up on his chest. “Did you have a nice nap?” he pictured her saying. “I dreamt of you, Lancer.”
Bump! Creak! Crack! The carriage stopped.
“We’re here?” Lancer had never visited Garde so he had no clue how long it took to get there, but this seemed like a really short ride. Only a couple hours?
“Sorry, kids. Wheel’s busted. Going to take a few to fix. Stretch your legs for now,” Mr. Ellis said from the rider’s stoop outside the carriage.
They got out. Lancer relished his freedom from Jaylee.
“Help me out, Jared?” Mr. Ellis asked. Father and son went to work replacing the wheel.
“Isn’t that a nice lake?” Rei said to Jaylee, pointing out a small lake at the end of a willowy grass field.
Lancer suspected something.
“Daddy, can Lancer and I go to the lake while you fix the carriage?” Jaylee asked.
Ah, that’s what he suspected.
“Don’t be gone too long, darling.”
Lancer didn’t expect that.
Nor did he think Jaylee would take his arm in hers and rush off to the lake. Why was he going to a lake? Better yet why were they going to a lake?
Rei giggled and Lancer would have yelled at her but he was too busy being made to run towards some lake that he didn’t have time to do much else.