Chloe’s notebook, predictably, focused on her costume design. I smiled at the newer bits, containing thoughts on how to do ribbon fighting using my suggestion of making indestructible ropes. I added a couple notes of my own, like the need to weight the ends, and some quick research that confirmed no one used ribbons in combat.
In a way, both a blessing and a curse. A style no one’s ever seen before would be difficult to counter, but there was no one who could teach her what she needed to know to make it work. I went on to add other notes, mostly on anatomy. Too thin a ribbon, if enhanced by her power, could easily become as deadly as razor wire.
The rest of her notes were more about fashion, on which I had little opinion; save to note she spent an inordinate number of notes on methods to make herself look taller and fuller figured. For the life of me, I didn’t get why she was so insecure over her looks.
It wasn’t much over half an hour before the garage door opened. Chloe walked straight to me.
They’re back a lot sooner than expected. “So, did your kidnapping go alright?” If the look on her face was any indication, it had not. Still, Chloe’s emotions were hard to predict, and I didn’t want to assume before having the full story.
“Worse than if it was a real kidnapping. At least then I could beat up some kidnappers and feel better.”
Dammit, Bea. I slid my chair back and stood, ready to offer what comfort I could before going inside to try for the sixty billionth time to talk some sense into my sister. “What happened?” How much justified rage should I be experiencing right now?
Chloe leaned against me, resting her head on my chest. A welcomed contact, but bad sign. I put my arms around her. She returned in kind, but only the lightest touch, which my ribs thanked her for. “Just promise me you’re not secretly a horrible person, okay? I don’t know what I’ll do if it happens any more.”
“I like to think I’m not.” Still, it was better to temper Chloe’s often unrealistic expectations. “I try to do what I think is right, but no one’s without faults. Now what did Beatrice do that has you so upset?”
“She took me to meet some of her friends.”
Oh fuck me running. “Which ones?” What was she thinking!?
“I don’t know, I think they were in a gang.” That didn’t narrow down the list nearly as much as I’d have liked. In part because my sister liked to associate with scum, and in part because Chloe did not know how to identify a gang. For example, no real gang would accept Bea, thanks to general racial bullshit. “They said horrible things about you, and she just laughed along.”
That narrows it down to people who know me, at least. “Did the names Tyrone or Angelique come up?”
“She called the guy in charge Ty.”
I sighed, more in relief than anything. “I doubt those losers have the guts to do more than ditch school and shoplifting. They can only wish they were part of a gang.” If they continued on the path they were on, that would likely change, but for now they were safe.
“Why would anyone want to be in a gang?”
What a question. “I’m hardly an expert on the subject.” I looked up at the ceiling, allowing my power to kick in so I could see the sky. “I’m sure you could get a team of sociologists to go on for hours about environment, peer pressure, and the poverty cycle. They’d probably be right, too. But if you want my answer? They’re lazy.”
I took a breath, putting together a better way to explain it. “You see it at our school, too, you know. All those kids who know their lives are set no matter what, so they never bother to put any effort into anything. It’s the same thing, but without rich parents to bank on.”
“Please don’t take this as too much of an insult, but that sounds like something my parents would say.”
“I’m okay with that.” I might have been lying just a little. “I mean, there’s no correlation between hard work and human decency. I wish there was; the world would be a much better place if all the awful people sat around doing nothing all day.”
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Chloe moved back so I could see the off-smile. “And if evil was lazy, we could let it live in the basement until it died of heart disease.”
I chuckled at the image, then immediately regretted it. “Either way, the ones you met are just your usual douchebags. I’ll make sure Beatrice knows better than pull this shit again.” The odds it would stop her from trying were low, but I’d make sure she knew.
“I don’t think that’ll be a problem.” Electricity flickered across Chloe’s dark blue eyes. “One of them tried to grab me.”
That son of a bitch! I forced myself to stay calm, to think things through; she said ‘tried’, so it didn’t happen. Chloe wasn’t covered in blood, which meant both the worst and second-worst case scenarios didn’t happen. “Did you have to use your powers?”
“A little. Nothing anyone would notice.” Chloe sounded confident enough, and I was inclined to believe her. “Pretty sure I broke his jaw when he hit the sidewalk.”
“Good.” I was surprised at the cold anger in my voice, but that didn’t stop me from being glad that Chloe put one of them in their place. I could only hope it left a lasting impression that maybe convinced at least some of them to do something with their lives.
“Is it alright if I ride to school with you from now on?” She hesitated for a moment before finishing her request. “I… I don’t want to deal with your sister anymore.”
Ah, she’s worried I’ll be upset with her. “Can’t say I blame you.” Just because I loved my sister didn’t mean I liked her much. “Besides, I suppose as your pretend boyfriend, it’s sensible for us to be seen together.”
“Thanks. Sorry I’m such a burden. I’m getting in the way of everything, aren’t I? Even your chances of getting a real girlfriend.”
“According to Bea, you’ve actually increased those odds. Besides, they were slim to none to begin with.” I was man enough to admit it. “I figured on waiting ’till after med school to worry about that sort of stuff. I hear women love doctors. But if we’re still pretend-dating after eight years, I’m going to have to ask for an upgrade.” I knew I stepped over a line the moment I said it.
“Like what? A pretend engagement?” Chloe’s short-lived smirk filled me with relief. The blend of contemplation and melancholy that followed washed it away. “Am I a selfish person?”
A little bit, yeah. “I don’t think so. Tell you what, let’s just take it one day at a time.” I decided to try for a bit of humor. “Besides, all my friends got pretend girlfriends years ago, so I might as well jump on the bandwagon. At least mine’s better than any of theirs.”
“You can’t be serious.” Her smile was starting to return, at least.
“Well, yeah.” All it took to win that competition was to exist, but I decided to skip the jokes. “To start with, you’re smart and beautiful and anyone with the sense God gave a goose would be glad to have you.” The pink forming on her cheeks only made me more certain of her beauty. “So, enough of the heavy stuff, let’s start talking powers for fun and profit.”
“You’re right, what’s the point of drama when we can do something useful?” Chloe stepped toward my desk. “I’ve been thinking about it, and I think I know a couple places m… Heritage might be stashing weapons.”
“Gives us something to do this weekend. I’ll pull up a map.” I sat down and opened my laptop.
From there, the conversation settled into something safe and relaxing until Nanna let us know dinner was ready. Dinner was an awkward affair, with Beatrice being reserved for what might be the first time in her life. Chloe, too, was quiet, using the excuse of eating to avoid speaking.
As soon as they were finished, both girls were away from the table to do their own things. Nanna looked at me. “You gonna explain ta me wha’s goin’ on here?”
“Bea did something stupid, no one got hurt” who didn’t deserve it “but Chloe’s upset with her. You know how teen girls are.”
“I seem to recall you sayin’ something about that girl not hurting our family, Domenic.”
“You can’t blame Chloe for what Bea does!” I bit down a hiss of pain; I would kill to have my ribs healed again. “Beatrice caused the problem, she should be the one who has to deal with the consequences.”
“She’s still your family, Domenic.” Nanna met my eyes, or as best she could with the sun glasses on. For whatever reason, she hadn’t argued with me about those. “Blood means more than whatever you have going on with that girl.”
My grandmother, undisputed champion of the guilt trip. “You’re right. I’ll go talk to her, see if I can set this straight.”
“See that you do.”
I stood from the table, taking my dishes to the kitchen where I rinsed them before going upstairs. Both Bea and Chloe had their doors closed. Or, my door, in Chloe’s case. I went past that one and tapped on my sister’s. Then I opened the door. “Hey?”
“I was wondering when you’d show up.” Beatrice was sitting on the edge of her bed. “Which one sent you?”
“What makes you so sure I didn’t come to talk to you myself?” I really need to learn to not answer questions with questions.
“Nanna.” Beatrice smirked at me. “Come on, Dom, just because I ain’t book smart doesn’t mean I’m stupid.”
“Direct all complaints to our beloved matriarch, if you dare.” I stepped in and closed the door behind me. “Still a conversation that has to happen. Chloe told me what happened. So, in the interest of being fair and impartial I will phrase this as a question. What the ever loving fuck were you thinking?”
“Fuck you, Domenic.” Bea had that defiant tone I’d come to know well over the years. “You’re not my father.”
Even if I’ve been gang-pressed into the role. “Somehow, I can’t picture you being better behaved for him than for me.”
“Go to hell.”
“Fine, just explain to me why you go from acting like she’s your new favorite sibling” not that it’s much of a competition “to being a total bitch to her in a single afternoon.”
“She told me she’s gay.”
Oh. Fuck. “And that’s why you’re being a bitch?”
“No.” Bea glared at me. “And I’m not being a bitch! I just tried to show her that she shouldn’t overlook you as a boyfriend just because you’re, well, you.”
“Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence, sis.”
“So I figured I’d introduce her to Ty and Mitch. After them, she’d pretty much jump into your lap.”
I think I was less insulted when I thought she just hated Chloe for some reason. “Wouldn’t it have been easier just to not meddle? Chloe and I are friends for reasons other than sex.”
“Pfft, yeah, you tell yourself that. Maybe one day you’ll believe it. I’ve seen how you look at her, bro. Like a damn lovesick puppy. I thought you were just trying too hard and it was putting her off. Now I know she’s taking advantage of you.”
Ouch. “Chloe’s not taking advantage of me.” At least, not in a sense that involves romance. “We’re friends, nothing more. I know that, and I’m not going to let stupid hormones interfere with that. I’d be doing the same thing to help her even if I didn’t find her attractive, like if she was a guy. Well, except if she was a guy she’d be staying in the garage instead of in the house with my sister. Now kindly stay out of my love life, or lack thereof.”
“Like you stay out of mine?”
“When you stop dating scumbags, we can talk.” That was a sore spot and had been for years. “Better yet, how about you date Chloe? She’s actually a decent human being. Or, failing that, go steal that Doberman you’re so sure Jen has. Still a step up from your usual choices.”
“Get out of my room.”
“Gladly. Just leave me and Chloe be. Your interference almost got Nanna to kick her out.”
“Whatever.” Bea looked away. “You know if I wanted her gone, all I’d have to do is tell Nanna how she likes girls.”
I left the room. She was right; Nanna didn’t exactly come from the most progressive place and time. To her, men and women had certain specific roles to fulfill, and that left no room for homosexuality. Or, for that matter, half the crap my sister pulled, but family trumped proper behavior. Chloe didn’t have that protection.