He seems a little, I don't know, too cocky. Also, dumb. Lois is smart.
And then sometimes this happens.
Let's see you talk your way out of this one, Kal-El.
Book 5, 33: Deal
And there was Bruce, his deep hazel eyes, so unlike Scout’s blue that you almost forgot that they had coloured contact lenses now, and OMG, Charlotte thought, colour aside they could be the same eyes. And they were so. . They were good eyes. Like his mouth, and his dark, wavy hair. It took an effort for Charlotte to remind herself how much she hated him for rejecting her.
Except that Scout never rejected her. Was it a game? Should she hate Scout? She didn’t want to hate Scout!
Charlotte hauled back from the table, stood up, put her hands on the table, stooped her head, started to talk to her friends. “I can’t,” she started to say, without any idea of what she couldn’t. So she started again. “I don’t,” before realising that she didn’t know what she didn’t couldn’t. She opened her mouth again, but she thought about what she was going to say, the only thing that made sense was that she couldn’t make sense to herself, so how could she make sense.
They were all looking at her. One more time, she tried to assembler her thoughts. “I think. . . “
And Rose was standing beside her. “You’ve had a tough day, Charlotte. Can I take you home?”
Charlotte nodded, greatfully, and Rose’s gentle hands were around her. The world blurred with Rose’s high speed running for a moment, and then they were standing in the entrance of some kind of tunnel. Water, choked by ice tried to trickle out the front, between bars that had been bent back far enough for someone to run through. Outside, the gray midwinter light showed a typical Philadelphia park forest, with gritty, crusted snow piled up around the trunks, and the walls of a gully beyond.
They were in a park. And it was very cold out. Charlotte couldn’t help shivering. For some reason, she wasn’t in a mood to summon her qi. She’d hoped that they were done with ambushes for the afternoon, but apparently Rose was down with one more.
“I love this place,” Rose said. “It reminds me of home. Looking out of a tunnel at all that nature. You guys have no idea how good it is to be able to just take a walk in the park.”
“Better have pretty good shoes if you’re going to walk in this park,” Charlotte said. Which was true. When it wasn’t crusty-icy, it was usually muddy as all heck. She shivered again.
Rose blurred, reappeared holding her jacket, hat and scarf, blurred again as she dressed Charlotte, like Charlotte’s mom used to do, only a bazillion times faster.
“Thanks,” Charlotte said, very deliberately not saying, “I can dress myself,” you know, because while Rose was her friend, she didn’t take cracks like that as well as Dora.
Instead, she said, because Rose was so smart, “So. Is Bruce actually Scout?”
Rose shrugged. “That’s what I thought when Scout showed up. Bruce decided to be a different person to win your love. Unfortunately, it turned out to be not that simple. Or, if it is, he’s a very, very smart boy. You remember seeing Scout and Bruce in the same place at the same time at that fight by the lake park in Geithner’s Strike, back on Landing, don’t you?”
Charlotte nodded. “He is a smart boy, all right, and he’s got a holograph projector. Also, ‘win your love?’ Did I just fall into a Twilight novel? Because I just want it on the record that I don’t think that werewolves, vampires, or zombies are cool.”
“There’s no zombies in Twilight,” Rose pointed out. “And I have a list of things you think are cool: elves, dark elves, dragons, unicorns, mind-flayers; and, for the bad-boy slot, warg-riding orcs and half-demons.”
Charlotte looked at her friend.
“What? It helps at Christmas!” Rose protested.
“So,” Charlotte said. “Holograph projector.”
“True. I thought of that. So when the two of them rescued me from Overdrive last Halloween, I paid very, very close attention when they each grabbed me by both hands. You can’t do that with a holograph projector.”
Charlotte peered over at her friend. “You fought Overdrive and Scout and Bruce rescued you? Before Scout even told me he was on Earth?”
Rose shrugged. “I have solo adventures, too, you know! And he asked me not to tell. Said that it would look creepy, him following you around like that. That was before the rescue, and I was pretty sure that he was actually Bruce, so I didn’t tell you, and after the rescue, it was too late.”
That was a big information dump, Charlotte almost said, before realising what was going on. Hah! She might not be a computer-mind supergenius or the twenty-seventh best detective in the world, but she could do this whole deduction thing. Okay, once a year, maybe, she could have deductions. No pressure. Same thing as hating crossword puzzles. If you expected to be able to do them, you just got upset when you couldn’t. Anyway, Rose’s solo adventure. “You’re just trying to distract me from the fact that you had to be rescued by some boys again. You’re embarrassed! You’re not being a good female role model!”
Rose flushed. “So I rushed into trouble for once. I could have got out of it without their help. In fact, I bet the reason they did it that way was to plant a false clue. I mean, if Bruce is actually Scout. In which case I meant ‘he,’ not ‘they.’ Please edit your memory of this conversation accordingly. ”
‘Bet?’ Misspeaking? Rose was embarrassed. Time to change the subject, before her friend’s feelings were really hurt. “I love the way you blush, Rose. I wish I had a complexion that fair.” When you were throwing out a compliment, it was always a good idea to make it an honest one.
Only Rose just looked at her. “Oh, Charlotte. You have the nicest complexion I’ve ever seen.”
Now it was Charlotte’s turn to blush. “Yeah, well, after today, I’m going to break out like you’ve never seen by Monday. You wait.”
“Can’t you just use one of your Heals on yourself?”
“That’s a game,” Charlotte said, for the millionth time. “This is real life!” Besides, it would be selfish to waste it that way. Sure, self-healing was a standard tactic for paladins in games, but that wasn’t what the healing gift was about. “So you’ve got lots of evidence that Scout and Bruce aren’t the same person, but you still think he might be fooling you?”
Rose nodded. “To be honest, I haven’t given it a lot of thought in the last month or so, but, yeah. That was my take on it.”
Charlotte nodded. “Suspicious timing is suspicious. Could that silver bolo-tie-Navajo thing Bruce was wearing have been some kind of charm that prevented anyone from noticing that Scout and Bruce were the same person. I could swear that Scout was wearing something similar.”
Rose nodded. “They were. Actually, they’ve got a number of items like that. I assumed that Scout gave them to Bruce, the way he gave you your bracelet. Or, for that matter, this.” Rose reached around into her mass of red-blonde hair and pulled off the hairband that held it back. Shaking her head to let her hair loose, Rose showed Charlotte the hair band. It was a twist of bright green string made by twisting some thin vines together.
“It’s a freedom of movement charm,” Rose said. “I hope you’re not jealous. He said it was so I could help you out instead of getting tangled in every little trap that comes along, and that I shouldn’t tell you about it because he didn’t want you to know that he was hanging around you so much. Although he oversold it a lot. The charm gives me a little extra protection from entanglements, but basically only from ones I can break, frankly. Which is why, thinking about it, I think it might be—“
“A fake clue.” Charlotte finished for Rose.
“Actually, I was going to say, a ‘red herring.’” Rose answered.
“A what?” Charlotte asked.
“A figure of speech that’s also a technical term?” Rose shrugged, haplessly. “It’s technically a ‘relevance fallacy.’ For example, an ignoratio elenchi is a relevance fallacy.”
“Which you would have said, because it’s fancier.”
“Yes, yes, I would’ve. There’s no shame in having an adequate vocabulary, you know. The thing is, the band only makes sense as red herring if the bolo-thingie is a charm, and I have a problem with that, because it was a gift from the Emperor of Babylon, and why would he give Bruce a present that would just screw up his life?”
“Bruce said that the gift was to help him achieve his heart’s desire.” For the millionth time that busy day, Charlotte felt her stomach drop onto the ground. Only there was more to it than that. Wow, two deductions in one day. Next, Charlotte thought, she’d be taking up crossword puzzles. Or maybe Sudoku.
She started again. “So Bruce got a present that would help him achieve his heart’s desire. Twelve got a present to help him achieve his heart’s desire of working for some Presidential campaign in three years. You got a Library of Babylon card, which is so totally obviously your heart’s desire it should be written on your forehead. But I didn’t? I got cool stuff, but I didn’t get anything to help me achieve my heart’s desire.”.
Rose looked at her. “I see the theory you’re flogging, but Dora didn’t get her heart’s desire.” Rose was too fast to do one of those tells where you start a sentence, but Charlotte saw it in her eyes. The Dark Ninja. Rose didn’t get a gift to help her gain the Dark Ninja’s heart, because she already had it. She just had to decide what to do with it. Dora had a boyfriend. Twelve had a girlfriend.
Charlotte didn’t. Bruce didn’t. Two heart’s desires, one gift.
No, Rose was right. That couldn’t be how the Emperor’s charm worked. To think otherwise would be crazy. Bruce had rejected her, said they could never be together, or they’d make babies according to Noatar’s master plan.
Scout couldn’t be Bruce. For all the hints pointing that way, there was just too much evidence pointing the other way.
Evidence that could all have been manufactured by the world’s twenty-sixth-best-detective-on-a-good-day-or-when-his-sister-was-distracted. Charlotte winced to squeeze her frustration out of her face. Winced, and held it, as she tried to think the logic through. It was as tricky as those things you tried to think about while you were falling asleep, slipping away this way and that, leading in all sorts of funny directions. One thing was for sure, being in love with Bruce would be a lot more complicated and a lot more serious than having a thing with Scout.
“Careful, or your face will freeze that way.” Rose cocked her head. “Yeah, I know, I work better as Dora’s straight girl, but she’s not here.”
“This is so complicated!” Charlotte announced. “And I don’t mean ‘Facebook complicated.’ That just mean’s I’m stalking some boy!”
“Thank you for disrespecting all social media,” Rose said. “Hey, did you see what I posted from this morning on Snapchat?”
Charlotte nodded. It was kind of cool, although you’d have to think it was easier to do good video when you could move around the room at Mach 5.
“So have I helped get your brain sorted out?” Rose asked. “Because back at the mansion, you seemed like you really needed it.”
Charlotte nodded. “As much as it’s going to be sorted out, anyway. Hey, you think anyone knows for sure? I mean, besides Scout?”
Rose shrugged. “I know that your cousins think that Scout is Bruce. Dora would, too, but she’s also run into them together, also literally, no-holographs-about-it a few times.” Rose paused, looked into Charlotte’s eyes. “What? We talked about it, back in December, after Scout showed up on Babylon, and you had your first date. We agreed that if you were happy, and Scout was happy, we weren’t going to stick our big noses in it. That was before your big thing with Bruce down on the Understate, but by that time we were pretty much stuck with it.”
And then, Charlotte didn’t need to add, if the charm theory was right, people just stopped thinking about it. The people the charm affected, anyway. Probably not her cousins, Charlotte realised, thinking back to the way they behaved when Scout came to dinner.
She wondered if she should ask them. Nah, probably get awkward. Which reminded her to check the time. “Oh, crap! I’m going to be late for piano!”
Or not, as the blue back door of the Yurt appeared before her. It must be nice, Charlotte thought, as she walked in the door into the mud room, to be a speedster, and always where you were going
Charlotte wasn’t sure that she’d ever get her heart to where it was supposed to be.