1.27. Respectfully & Sincerely
Sheba has been very lethargic recently, worryingly so. She sleeps constantly, and moving seems to strain her. Quentin--her de facto caretaker, despite Sheba’s obvious preference for Lark--has started to grapple with the idea she might need to be put down soon.
Thus, he isn’t surprised when one night, Sheba begins to moan and pant. This is it, he thinks grimly, I guess I should call the vet.
He is surprised, however, when he realizes what’s actually happening: Sheba is in labor. After a few short minutes, she gives birth to two pied puppies.
“Puppies,” Luna gasps, “Quen, I thought you said she was fixed?”
“That’s what they told me at the shelter,” Quentin shrugs, “guess they were wrong.”
“Wow,” Lark smiles, “good for you, girl--getting out there and getting some.”
Luna gives her a disapproving look. “Lark, don’t be crass.”
“What? It’s honestly impressive! We never let her outside unleashed, after all.”
“That’s true,” Quentin frowns, “weird that she got pregnant.”
“Maybe it was parthenogenesis,” Lark suggests.
“How do you know what parthenogenesis is?” Luna asks.
Lark rolls her eyes, “mom, I’m not dumb. I saw it in Sharks...on Land!” The premise of the movie Sharks...on Land! is twofold: first, they can live on land, as the name suggests, thus increasing their ability to terrorize unsuspecting sorority girls. Second, the sharks--all of whom are female--can reproduce without a male. This plot point leaves the film open for a sequel: even though all the sharks are eradicated at the end, they leave behind eggs, which of course begin to hatch just before the final credits. Lark had recently seen the movie with Nikolas, and its flimsy science left a lasting impression on her.
“You shouldn’t watch trash like that,” Luna wrinkles her nose.
“Hey, I scored the music for that trash,” Quentin says. He had found a niche as a composer, working primarily on sci-fi and horror films. He has a knack for the dramatic and cheesy, and he’s protective of anything associated with his music.
“This one’s really cute,” Lark, ignoring her parents, picks up the smaller of the two pups, “I think she’s a girl. Can I name her?”
“Of course,” Quentin smiles.
Lark looks at the puppy for a moment. “Honey, ‘cause her eyes are golden.”
Lydia, having been attracted to the room by the noise, picks up the other pup and examines him. “He looks like an Aristotle,” she declares, “mom, can I take him with me when I move out?”
Luna deflates a little. “Yes, honey. Of course,” she replies. She’s having a hard time accepting that Lydia and Luke will be graduating and moving out soon. The twins are ready, though: Luke has applied to the police academy, and Lydia is trying her best to maneuver into a political position upon graduation.
And it seems like Lydia’s machinations might just pay off. Despite a rocky beginning at Nature and Nurture Learning Academy, she’s now a member of the debate team. Not just that, she also led a coup to become the new president. Her eloquence and ambition has caught the attention of several local politicians. Lydia is obviously going to have a bright future. Luna just needs to accept the inevitability of change.
Lark is also trying to embrace change. She’s more or less content with her appearance--she is aware that she’s pretty--but she feels like she needs to do something new. And so she decides to visit Shear Luck, the most fashionable salon in Aurora Skies.
After a couple of hours, Lark leaves with a head of dreads and some new makeup. Her hair feels strange--she isn’t used to so much weight on her neck--but she likes it. However, she also can’t help but wonder what Nikolas is going to think about her new look, however slight the difference is. They’ve gone out on a couple of dates since their first kiss. Well, they don’t call them dates, but functionally they are: an interchangeable activity followed by kissing, right up to the edge of heavy petting. No further, of course.
Lark texts Nikolas and invites him to “hang out,” still avoiding the word “date.” He agrees, suggesting they meet somewhere different this time: The House of Ragnarok and Roll, aka the HORR Bar. The HORR Bar is nondescript, hardly different from the buildings that surround it. In fact, it’s wholly unremarkable. But as soon as Lark pulls up on her bike, she feels a looming sense of dread. Something feels off about this place.
It’s mostly empty inside, though it’s hard to tell for sure considering the gloomy lighting. Nikolas is standing at the bar, his eyes on the door. His face brightens when he sees her.
“Hey,” she greets him halfheartedly as she looks around the bar, searching for whatever is giving her the heebie-jeebies.
“What’s wrong?” He asks as he pulls her in for a hug, “everything okay?”
“I’m fine. Why’d you pick this place?”
“I heard they don’t card,” Nikolas shrugs, “do you want to go somewhere else?’
“No, that’s okay,” she frowns.
It proceeds like any of their other dates. They chat a little, then play a game (in this case, foosball). Then Nikolas suggests that Lark order them some drinks.
“You’re a cute girl,” he shrugs, “less likely to be questioned.”
He’s right. The bartender doesn’t question her at all, and gladly takes her order. She watches in amazement as he makes their drinks with flair. He talks idly to her as he works, though it’s nothing beyond simple niceties.
“How long has this place been open?” she asks.
“I’m not sure. A pretty long time, I think,” he responds, “well, it closed for a bit after the murder.”
“Some bartender was stabbed by some chick he had a fling with or something. She was killed somehow, too. A couple of other people were also hurt.”
“Poor guy,” Lark frowns. Murder--maybe that explains her goosebumps.
“Yeah, it was a damn shame,” the bartender assumes an appropriately grim face as he hands the finished drinks to Lark.
“Thanks,” she says absently. Finding out the possible source of her creepy crawlies does nothing to stop them, though.
Lark takes the drinks to Nikolas. He happily takes a drink, hardly taking the time to thank her for her subterfuge.
“Hey,” she tries to sound casual, you wanna go to my house? I’m not really, um, into this place. We can just hang out, talk or something.”
Nikolas chokes on his drink, “your house?”
“My parents aren’t home, so you wouldn’t have to meet them or anything.”
“Your parents aren’t home,” he repeats slowly, “yeah, sure. We can hang out at your place if you like.”
When they arrive at her house, Lark plays it cool, suggesting they talk by the fire pit outside, and Nikolas, mirroring her coolness, agrees. There’s potential here: it’s a chilly night in front of a warm fire, and they’re alone and as in love as two teenagers who hardly know each other can be.
But they’re interrupted, of course.
“Hey, Lark,” Luke shoots a curious look at Nikolas as he sits in the chair next to Lark, “is Kyra coming over tonight?”
“No,” Lark rolls her eyes, “not tonight. I think she’s hanging out with Lowell. You know, her boyfriend.”
“Small detail,” Luke shrugs then gestures to Nikolas, “who’s he?”
“Nikolas,” he extends his hand but Luke ignores it.
“Hey, Luke, don’t you have somewhere to be?” Lark says, her voice prodding.
“Nah, I think I’ll stay,” Luke grins, “So Nikolas, I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“Really? What has Lark said about me?”
“I haven’t heard it from Lark,” Luke says casually.
Nikolas raises an eyebrow, but doesn’t respond.
Lark tries to intervene: “Seriously, Luke. Don’t you have something better to do than bother us?”
“Nope, my night is completely open” Luke grins, “So how did you two crazy kids meet?”
“Nikolas found my phone and returned it to me,” Lark says, “what’s with the third degree, brother?”
“What, I can’t take a casual interest in my darling sister’s love life?”
“No. Not at all.”
“Nikolas,” he corrects Luke.
“How did you get in contact with Lark after you found her phone?”
“I texted the last number in the contacts, and got a hold of her through Kyra.”
“Good job, Luke. You’ve uncovered the odyssey of my lost phone,” Lark rolls her eyes. Ever since his application to the police academy, Luka has been incessantly annoying, turning any conversation into an interrogation.
“So where’d you guys meet up? Back at the festival?”
“No,” Lark frowns as she thinks about it, “at a cafe. Björn Cafe, actually.”
“Hmm. Tell me, Nick, where’d you find her phone again?”
“Nikolas. And at the festival, like I said.”
“And you met at Björn Cafe. That’s pretty far from the festival,” Luke points out, “like, three blocks away, right? Kinda far to go before texting Kyra and trying to return her phone.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Nikolas replies, his face unreadable, “so, Lark, do you wanna hang out again tomorrow? I thought we could get dinner or something.”
He’s trying to change the subject, but Luke is like a dog with a bone. “Lark, doesn’t that seem weird to you? Why would he go so far?”
But the cogs are already turning in Lark’s head. “You bumped into me at the festival,” Lark says slowly, “and when you texted your number to me, you called me ‘cute festival girl’ or something like that. How did you know who I was if you found my phone by happenstance?”
Luke turns to Nikolas, grinning widely, “yeah, how’d you know?”
For the briefest moment, an angry look crosses Nikolas’ face. It’s quickly replaced by a smile. “You got me,” he shrugs.
Lark stares at him, “so are you going to explain yourself, or what?”
“I, uh, may have acquired your phone when I bumped into you.”
“You stole it,” Luke corrects him, “stole. Simple verb, that’s all you need to say.”
“I think they’re synonyms,” Nikolas replies, his voice cool.
Lark feels a tangled knot of emotion: she’s angry, hurt, ashamed of her naivete. “You stole from me,” she says, “and then you lied about it. Why--why would you do that?” Her voice cracks at the question, making her feel even more like an idiot.
Nikolas furrows his brows, making his eyes look like that of a puppy’s. He suddenly seems softer, more innocent. “I didn’t know how else to meet you. You’re just so--you’re nice, but there was something--intimidating, I guess, about just introducing myself. I honestly didn’t really think about it beyond seeing it as a chance to meet you.”
“Oh really, you didn’t think?” Luke sneers. He looks at his sister, hoping for approval, but she’s staring intently at the fire, her eyes unwavering.
“Besides,” Nikolas continues, “how is it much different than making up a reason just to meet you? For example, if I had joined a club or something with the sole intention of meeting you, that’d be just as much of a lie. In which case, how is it any different from stealing?
“In a court, it’s the difference between innocent and guilty,” Luke shrugs.
“Luke, stop,” Lark snaps, “I don’t need your boy scout, junior detective crap right now.”
“Which am I? A boy scout, or a detective?” Luke mumbles.
“I think you need to leave now, Nikolas,” she says, standing up and crossing her arms.
“I’ll show you out,” Luke offers.
“We’re outside,” Nikolas sneers, “I think I can manage.”
“Shut up, Luke. C’mon, Nikolas. Walk and talk real quick?”
“Bye,” Luke calls awkwardly after the couple, “nice to meet you, Nick!” Lark shoots a dirty look at him.
The short walk to the street is awkward and tense, all walking and no talking.
“See you around, I guess,” Lark says when they reach the sidewalk. She looks at her shoes as she talks, refusing to look at him.
“Hey,” he tilts her chin up and tries to catch her gaze, “I’m sorry you’re upset. I really am. I didn’t mean to hurt you or anything. I just--I couldn’t think of a more interesting way to approach someone like you. I guess I have a broken sense of what’s normal and what isn’t.”
“As if you could hurt me,” she snaps, “like I care.”
“You seem to care. A lot, actually.”
“I’m just mad, okay? I finally--I do this, get a boyfriend or whatever,” Lark feels her face become hotter, “and he’s some lying liar.”
“Boyfriend?” Nikolas smirks.
“Yeah. Boyfriend,” Lark tries to look down at the ground, but he tilts her chin back up.
“Maybe current. Maybe former. I haven’t decided.”
Nikolas puts his hand on her face and pulls her closer. He kisses her forehead, standing on his tiptoes to do so. It’s a paradoxical action, both forceful and sweet, “I hope you come down on the side of current.”
Lark makes a face at him. She tries to think of a witty retort, something really cutting, but she draws a blank. “I’ll text you,” she says flatly, “or not. We’ll see.”
She turns and runs up the steps of the house, slamming the front door shut before he can respond.
“Hey, are you okay?” Luke asks as she breezes past him.
“I can’t wait until you leave,” Lark snaps as she bounds up the stairs, “I hate you.”
Luke tries not to take it personally.
A few days later, Lydia and Luke graduate. They’re at the top of their class, Lydia barely edging out Luke for valedictorian. Luke is voted “Most Likely to Hack the Military Facility.” Despite the felonious nature of his award, he is accepted to the police academy, firmly coming down on the side of the law.
Lydia, on the other hand, is elected “Most Likely to Take Over the World.” Staying true to that, she accepts an internship in the political career.
Lydia and Luke move out that night, taking Aristotle with them. Their new home is just down the street, but to Luna it feels like it’s miles away. And to think, soon Lark will be gone too.
“I’ll miss you, Luke,” Lark says as she hugs him tightly. It’s amazing how much he’s filled out in such a short period--he’s muscular and broad, a result of daily excursions to the gym in preparation for his future career.
“Really? I thought you hated me,” he says mischievously.
“I do,” she sniffles a little, “but that doesn’t mean I won’t miss your dumb face.”
“Lark,” Luna’s tone is warning.
“Sorry,” Lark mumbles.
“Don’t worry about it,” Luke squeezes her, “And you’ll see my dumb face a lot, I promise.”
Luke hesitates before he continues, “hey--know that you deserve the best, okay?”
“Duh, I already know that,” she rolls her eyes.
“Of course,” he smiles, but his eyes are full of worry.
With an awkward farewell, Lydia and Luke depart, their future bright.
Luna starts as the front door slams. She looks up from her book, giving a disapproving look to her daughter.
“Please don’t slam the door, honey,” she pleads, “oh, what’s that?” Luna looks at the envelope curiously. She’s been encouraging Lark to apply to colleges or for internships in the hopes Lark will find a career as quickly as her siblings did.
“It’s a letter,” Lark says, “for me.”
Lark rips open the envelope. She quickly scans the letter, and when she realizes who it’s from, she reads it aloud, starting again from the beginning.
Against the advice of my father, I’m writing you regarding our recent visit, as well as to thank you for the help you provided. But first, my apologies: I do not think force has a place in the language or actions of moral men, and I violated that belief in the pursuit of your safety. Please know it came from concern, not disrespect. I hope you can forgive me.
You will be happy to learn that our travels were moderately successful. We had no problems on the journey beyond some difficulty interacting with a few of the sector’s locals. And there was the case of the local government--draconian, as I’m sure you remember--but you’ll be relieved to know there’s been a change in power.
Unfortunately, and despite my most articulate arguments, my sister decided to remain in that sector, possibly because of the affection she feels for one of the locals. However, our efforts--and your contributions--have not been in vain. As long as the political climate there remains balanced and even, my family and yours will be safe from any retribution.
The hospitality and kindness you and your mother showed to us has been unparalleled. I am a cynical person, but I have found myself re-evaluating that cynicism in recent weeks. Thank you.
The room is quiet for a moment. Lark looks up at her mother, her confusion apparent.
“He has a way with words,” Luna says.
“I don’t get it. Why didn’t he just tell me what happened?” Her curiosity is eating her alive. Dom’s letter confirms that what she had dreamt about was true, but without all of the context she can’t really know what had happened.
“He’s probably being careful. I’d be vague if I was a mage,” Luna shrugs, “are you going to write him back?”
Lark looks at the return address on the envelope: he sent the letter from Bridgeport. “Sure. I guess.”
Lark works hard on the letter. She’s happy with the result, though she knows it isn’t as eloquent as his letter.
Your letter was pretty confusing, but you’re welcome, and you’re forgiven. I’m glad everyone is okay, but it sucks your sister didn’t come home with you. Sometimes I think girls have to make choices for themselves though. I try to not worry about what my parents want me to do, because I know that I wouldn’t be happy as a nerdy genius like my brother and sister. Maybe your sister stayed because she knew even though it made you and your dad sad, it was the right thing for her.
Next time you’re around Aurora Skies, make sure to visit us! My mom said you and your father are always welcome to stay with us. Also, you left your books here, so you need to pick them up! Bridgeport seems fun, so maybe I’ll visit you if you don’t come to AS. If that’s okay with you, that is.
PS Not to push the visiting thing but I really need to know what happened on your “travels” and my mom says you’re probably uncomfortable writing it down for whatever reason. So sometime before I die, please!