Book 5, 6: OMG
Charlotte stared deep into Scout’s eyes, thinking about the only question that mattered, until the deep, swimming blue of them, as blue, she thought, as Mr. McNeely’s tinted contact lenses, but real, left her unable not to talk. “How are you going to eat with a kerchief over your mouth?”
“’Cinch.” He said, and the familiar word left her dizzy. Had she heard anyone say that something was a cinch since she arrived in 20ll, except on Landing? She and Scout were totally on the same wavelength. Well, maybe she wouldn’t shove a nacho in her mouth sideways under a hanging kerchief mask to prove a point, like Scout proceeded to do. But he did it with the hand-eye coordination of a gun-fighter, leaving no guacamole behind.
He bit, swallowed. “That’s good. Also, that’s a funny question to start with.”
“It’s our second date,” Charlotte pointed out. “I want to see your mouth.” I want to see your lips, she left it unsaid. Okay, she wanted to see the rest of him, too, but that could wait.
“Hunh. Is it really our second date?”
“Second date,” Charlotte said, “Second base. I want to see your mouth.” And, inside, she thought, OMG, I can’t believe I just said that. I’m going to lose my paladin status, for sure. And she didn’t care a bit.
Scout cocked his head, like he had no idea what she was talking about, which he probably didn’t, being from the backwoods of a backwoods planet and all. Though . . ., flitted through her head for a second, before vanishing like the memory of a dream. Charlotte blushed from top to bottom, as she realised that she couldn’t possibly explain to Scout, and her eyes dropped from his.
“What’s wrong, Miss Wong?” He asked. Looking confused, or possibly amused, and for a moment Charlotte wondered if they did have second base out on the ranches on Landing. Or maybe it was the fact that “Wong” and “Wrong” rhymed when he said it, all Canuck-style. Which Wongs did not find amusing, she explained in her head to whoever was listening inside her head.
Something that could actually happen when you knew telepaths. Were related to telepaths. Named Wong, in fact, at least in Cousin Amy’s case. “Char Char,” she corrected, firmly.
“That’s the Chinese way of making a pet name, right?” Scout asked. It was odd, the way his accent came and went. Or probably not, because Charlotte was sure that he was putting on some of his hick act. She nodded.
“Okay, Char Char,” Scout asked, “What happens on Earth in a second date?”
Charlotte brought her eyes back up to Scout’s. You didn’t think of Denny’s as being romantic, for the simple reason that it very much was not, not even the private booths at the back that this particular Denny’s was in the habit of letting superheroes in costume take, out of long habit, and because the owner, Mr. Stonechild, used to beat up Panda and Raccoon as an awful, Indian-chief themed superhero back in the day. “Lots of stuff,” Charlotte said, trailing off as she said it because, first, it was hard to talk about, you know, stuff with an actual boy for serious, and because, most of what she knew about dating came from Sweet Valley High and Archie, and she doubted the credibility of those sources. Okay, and Teen Cosmo and Cousin May, too, and, helpless, like she was watching herself from outside, Charlotte could see herself blushing again as her eyes fell.
“Do we talk shop? Is that a thing we can do?” Scout said, as he gently turned Charlotte’s phone, face up on the table, to see a team text.
Charlotte reached out for her phone. The text was from the Mechanic. “In this case we do. So the Mechanic’s talked with Superintendent Hite. Apparently, he’s under some kind of retroactive memory erasure spell that will eliminate his memory of the night. So, no trouble for the Paradigm Pirates, but also no trouble for us.”
Charlotte was glad about that. Her brother would tease her to the end of time if she were suspended. And Auntie Ma’s reaction would be Tiger Mom to the max. “The Mechanic says he’s not going to fiddle with that. The results are positive in balance, especially since Mr. Guzman’s all about rehabilitating the Pirates, anyway.”
Charlotte frowned a little at that. Eve, she figured, they could reach, if they could ever get past her humiliation at the Valentine’s dance. Madison needed treatment. The werewolves could probably be cured, or at least contained, if they just stop liking being werewolves. Mario, though. . . There was something wrong with him, something twisted and broken from the template out of which he was cloned. Meta-cloned, if that was a thing.
“Sorry. I was thinking about rehabilitating the Pirates. So, anyway, Superintendent Hite says that the school assembly was a cover. He was actually in the school to talk to the community about Federal funding. The programme gets money through the Department of Education, but it comes from PRIMUS, and PRIMUS and Education are having some kind of argument about something that would be fixed if someone would file forms or sign forms or something? Anyway, he needed to talk to the superhero parents and guardians and stuff, which he did after the assembly, and everything is a-okay about the forms and stuff, but. . .”
“But?” Scout asked.
“Basically, everyone’s parents were there, and even some of the olds who don’t have kids, like Mr. Stonechild and Mr. Stone and Father Asplin. That’s so many suspects.”
“Suspects? You really think that a retired superhero would be involved in this?”
“My friend, Bruce,” Charlotte said, uncomfortably, seeing a reaction in Scout’s eyes and realising that he was jealous, just like May said he would be, that this was a minefield, that she could turn Scout off without even realising, and also not even make an impression if she said ‘MY BOYFRIEND in all caps to another boy, which was, like, double minefield, “My friend, Bruce, says that we can’t rule out anyone. Superheroes get mind controlled, taken over by alien doubles, all sorts of stuff. Sometimes, they even go bad.”
Scout nodded. “Why, much obliged, ma’am,” as the waitress quietly put hot, grand slam breakfasts in front of them. Breakfast for supper, Charlotte thought. They really were teen rebels, breaking all the rules.
“Well, isn’t that what we’re here for?” Charlotte asked. Oh, she was fishing, now, she realised. She totally was. And she didn’t care. What Scout thought about her was, right now, the most important thing ever.
“No. I mean, Ah mean,” he corrected, “That’s what Ah said. But what Ah’m here for is to be with the most beautiful girl I know.”
And even though it was a line, Charlotte couldn’t help blushing, and pulling on her ponytail.
Scout looked around. It was the middle of the night, and the back of the Denny’s. The waitress had disappeared, like she knew that three was a crowd. With a single, lithe motion, Scout jumped right on top of the table, his tooled leather cowboy boots just materialising at almost eye level. “Come on up here, Miss Wong,” he said, his still-hatted head looming far above in the dim lights.
Charlotte looked at the table, with its clutter of plates and coffee cups and trays of creamers. “I can’t!” She decided that she would give up on getting him to call her Char Char for now. And by “now,” she meant, craning her head up to look at him, while he was being crazy.
But attractive crazy.
“Of course you can. I’ve –Ah’ve seen you fight. Your toes are light as the air. You could dance your way through a jumpin’ jack tournament!”
Dance? DANCE? Charlotte didn’t even have to think about it. She was standing on the table, chest to chest with Scout. “Ah know the next song on their soundtrack, and Ah like it,” he said, putting one hand to her shoulder and the other to her hip, over the hilt of the Pearl Harmony Sword. “It’s not really a waltz time, but Ah think we can fake it.”
Charlotte could feel a tremor working its way up through her sword and into every bit of her, one that went with a crow’s call that she could hear only in her head, a raucous cry of triumph as she put a hundred percent of her attention into her memory of the layout of the table, a million miles below, and the other hundred percent into Scout’s eyes, and a third hundred percent into the feel of his strong and tender hands.
A touch, a push, and they were moving. It wasn’t much of a dance, of course. Charlotte was ready to vault to the next table, but since they’d have to dive through the narrow slats of the privacy partition, it would probably be more of a move than Scout was ready for, and, anyway, the point wasn’t to find more room to move her feet, but to stand, chest to chest with Scout, and hear his heart with her Eight Spirit Dragon hearing, and feel him move with her, like a sparring partner, but a sparring partner of---
And it was over, and Scout’s hands fell away, and it was the most disappointing thing ever. Until Scout’s hands came up, and they were holding a chain of napkins, twisted and knotted into a mask like Scout’s. “Ah’m afraid Ah haven’t been entirely honest with you, Miss Wong. Ah’ve got secrets, but Ah aim to kiss you right now, and Ah have to take my mask off to do it. So if you don’t mind?”
And he held out the mask. Charlotte nodded, unable to talk, biting her teeth, until she realised that “unable” was just a block of words sitting in her throat, and that it was easy to say, “Yes, Scout, yes.”
The silly, goofy, Denny’s napkin mask settled over Charlotte’s head, tugged into place by those strong, sensitive, gentle hands, and Charlotte leaned into Scout’s wide and solid chest, and felt gentle lips on hers.
Clumsy, uncertain, lips, like someone was kissing their sister, and Charlotte was reminded of every romantic disaster ever, but mostly Cordelia and Wesley from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, until, in the middle of the actual kiss itself, Scout’s whole body changed, and his lips went soft and firm at the same time, and Charlotte realised that, if she was any judge, which she was not, that he was a pretty good kisser. It was everything—
Actually, with her acute senses, it was the most embarrassing thing ever, as she sensed before she heard the two men who had come up on them “Ahem,” loudly.
In moments, Charlotte was down in her place, blindfold off, and so was Scout, his hat held before his head as he hastily reorganised his mask. For a third time in fifteen minutes, Charlotte felt embarrassment in every cell of her body as she realised that she’d been interrupted by her priest.
For there was Father Asplin, and, to make it worse, the owner of the furniture they had just been standing on, Mr. Stonechild.
Mr. Stonechild sat down beside Charlotte. “Scoot over, child. And nothing spilled. That was some pretty nice footwork. Though if you or your friend ever put hard heels to my tables again, your Aunt is going to get a phone call.”
Charlotte’s heart jumped at hearing the implication that Mr. Stonechild wasn’t going to phone her Aunt. It was crazy for Charlotte to be afraid of that, much less guilty, when Auntie Ma after all ran away with her boyfriend when she was fifteen.
But that was the Tang dynasty, and Tang rules of dating were different. Something about you having to have your own horde if you wanted to date my daughter.
Ha! Charlotte made a funny in the midst of mortifying disaster. She turned her eyes to Father Asplin.
Who was taking a set of glasses out of his vest pocket. “It’s so dim in here, I can’t see anything without my prescription.”
Charlotte looked at the old padre, and mouthed, ‘B.S.’
“No, it’s true. Or something’s true, about how kids will be kids, and all that. Now, in my day,” Father Asplin began, well aware that his day included everything from the Old Red Aeon to Gold Rush days, “A party of adventurers couldn’t even go into a tavern like this without getting involved in a brawl or a quest, or usually both.”
“Denny’s is a tavern, now, Jerum?” Mr. Stonechild asked.
“Better than some of the dives I’ve recruited parties in, I’ll tell you that. Was dark days, in the rule of Kal Turak, when first we quested for the Swords, and Auralia.”
“Now, as for you young people. I understand you’re looking for the person who sabotaged Paradigm’s gauntlet, and I have a lead for you.”
“a lead, Father?” Scout asked. “A good one?”
“I hope so,” Father Asplin answered. “I know who did it.”
“Who?” Charlotte asked.
“Why, I did, Char Char.”