To: Wylan Van Sunshine
Jesper: Where r u
Jesper: Please don’t tell me whatever plan Kaz had went completely wrong and now you’re in huge trouble
Wylan: We’re almost to Nina’s
Jesper: Oh good
Jesper: Kuwei was able to get here early
Wylan: I knew we shouldn’t have stopped at my place after getting delayed, but Kaz insisted
Jesper: Why’d you do that?
Jesper: Also was that a minor hiccup in Kaz’s words or yours
Wylan: Had to do with the plan
Wylan: And Kaz’s words
Jesper: The police aren’t going to end up at Nina’s later for any non-party related reasons, are they?
Wylan: I don’t think they’ll even know where to look for us
Jesper: Thank god
Jesper had been a lot more jittery than usual ever since him and Kuwei had gotten fired from table-setting duty. Maybe he’s just nervous for… whatever conversation we’re going to have when Wylan gets here.
Then they heard the front door slam open.
“Kaz, how much do you have to see before you stop doing that without announcing your presence?” Kuwei heard Nina ask. “But now that you’re here, at least we can put you to work.”
A few seconds later, Wylan walked into the living room, where Jesper and Kuwei were waiting. He turned and closed the door behind himself, then opened up his satchel. “I—um… I got roses?”
Their mangled state had both the other boys concerned about what kind of job Kaz and Wylan had been on, but they were definitely roses. Two of them.
Which meant one was for Kuwei.
“We both want to date you,” Jesper said. Wylan nodded.
“And… I want to as well,” Kuwei replied, breaking into a smile. “But… Wylan, there’s something you should know… it’s about me and Jesper.”
“I already told Wylan about the kiss,” Jesper said. Then he noticed Wylan digging through his satchel. “Wylan…?”
“What I went back home for,” Wylan said, pulling out a rolled up piece of paper. “Open it,” he said, placing it in front of Kuwei.
Kuwei unrolled it gently, revealing a painting of the three of them in some sort of fantasy universe. Jesper held a piece of metal morphed into a shape that looked about halfway between a needle and a bullet, while Kuwei had a small fireball coming out of his palm. Wylan held his flute in one hand, and a paintbrush in the other.
“So Kuwei has fire power, I can bend metal, and Wylan…?” Jesper asked, just as confused as Kuwei felt.
“The paintbrush lets me paint a picture of a different time, then go backwards or forwards to it, and the flute helps strengthen you guys’ powers.”
“So you gave yourself two powers, while each of us only have one?” Jesper asked teasingly.
“Well, both of them depend on those objects, meaning without them I’m essentially useless—“
“Wylan,” Kuwei began, “You’re never useless. Not to me.” He stood up from where he’d been sitting on a couch and stepped closer to Wylan. “May I…?”
Jesper laughed from behind them, and Kuwei turned around, wondering what was so funny. “According to Wylan, you didn’t ask earlier.”
“Don’t worry,” Jesper continued, “I’m not mad or anything.”
“And yes, you may,” Wylan finally replied to Kuwei’s question.
Kuwei pressed his lips to Wylan’s—not hesitantly, like earlier, but with every ounce of determination in him, because this time he knew where they stood, with each other and with Jesper.
“Hey, don’t I get one, too?” Jesper asked, a fake pout on his lips. Kuwei and Wylan released each other before Kuwei turned back to Jesper and captured his lips. Yes, it was so much better once they’d had a conversation about everything.
“Wylan, Jesper, Kuwei! Matthias’ almost here, so you need to hide and we’re going to shout surprise once he comes in!”
“Well, I guess it’s time for the actual party to start,” Jesper said, breaking off the kiss. Something told Kuwei that the three of them would be continuing this later, once everyone else was in… a semi-asleep state, knowing Kaz’s sleeping habits.
Matthias walked up to Nina’s door, unsure of what to expect on the other side. Trassel trotted along the sidewalk alongside him, happy to explore the new place. “I would tell you to not live up to your name for once,” Matthias said, “But I have the feeling you’re not going to be the only troublemaker here tonight.” Trassel only looked up at Matthias innocently. “Well, here goes nothing,” Matthias muttered before opening the unlocked door. He stepped inside and set down his overnight bag before turning around to make sure Trass got up the slight step okay. His friends’ uncharacteristic silence struck him as odd. “Hello?” he called out, shutting the door behind him. No one answered. Well, I’ve practically got a guard dog with me, so I may as well venture into the kitchen. “Nina?” he asked, poking his head through the archway.
He heard some rustling noises.
“Inej? Jesper? Wylan? Kuwei?”
This time he got a few whispers and a shush.
“Fuck.” That was definitely Kaz.
“Well, you’ve given us away now, so…”
“Surprise!” Everyone shouted, jumping out of various cupboards, out from under the table, and… Matthias was not going to ask why the trash can was tipped over.
Trassel started barking and running around to sniff and lick everyone, clearly a lot more excited about this than Matthias was.
Nina stepped up to Matthias and pulled him in for a kiss. “Happy birthday,” she whispered. A chorus of “happy birthday”s followed from the others after that, and then the festivities began.
Nina winked at Inej. Operation Kuwesper was successful, and Nina had orchestrated everything so Inej and Kaz could have some privacy—just like she’d promised. It wasn’t too hard—it was the end of the night, after all, and she had a feeling that all three of the relationships in their group wanted a little time to themselves.
“I-I got you this,” Kaz said, pulling a geranium from his sleeve with all the grace lacking in his words.
Inej carefully took it from his hand, hoping he would say more but expecting him to say nothing. She was correct in her expectation and broke the silence between them herself. “I’m sure you already knew this, but—I like you, and I want to share this feeling with you because I care about you, and I don’t want all the bridges we’ve built between us to crumble and fall because of my words. Kaz, I—I want to date you, and hold your hand, maybe kiss on the cheek sometimes, in private. I don’t want to push you past what you feel comfortable doing, but I do want to be right there with you when we’re both comfortable doing more.”
Kaz took a couple steps closer to Inej. She looked up at him, her unasked question glittering in her eyes. “Yes, Inej,” he answered, pushing away every voice in his head saying to run off and hide somewhere. “I would like all that as well. With you.” He reached out a hand towards her face. “May I?”
He reached out with a gloved hand and carefully placed a finger, then two, then four on her cheek and his thumb under her jaw. A new voice, one that sounded suspiciously like a much younger Kaz, rang through his head. She’s here. We’re here. Together. And Inej—she’ll never doubt you or leave you behind. Go for it, Kaz. This is your one chance. He moved his hand away, then leaned in and pecked her on the cheek. It lasted less than a second, but the smile it brought to her face was the biggest one he’d ever seen. This is the one day where every choice I’ve made felt like the right one.
Later that night, a man unlocked the door to the house and stepped inside. As he wandered through the halls, he smiled at a banner with “Happy birthday, Matthias” written on it in blue marker, and a little picture in the corner with the label “This is Trassel” next to it in different handwriting. He continued through the house, noting what appeared to be the remains of a party—extra clothes, cake crumbs, some empty ice cream bowls, pillows and blankets scattered about—until he reached the basement. There, he found seven sleeping teenagers and a dog, his daughter among them. He smiled to himself. This was the childhood he never had—late-night parties, spoiling his sweet tooth, laughing until his belly ached, having time to spend with friends who actually cared, causing mischief but doing the right thing in the end. This was what he’d wanted for Nina. What her mother would have wanted. He missed her every day—and his daughter, too, while he was away—but he could tell by the smile on her lips that she was content, at least in this moment.
Nina stirred in her sleep, rolled so that she was facing him, and blinked a few times. A furrow appeared in her brow.
“Yes, Nina, it’s me.”
“How? You weren’t supposed to be home yet….”
“I was able to get on an earlier flight home and… I have some good news for you, but it can wait until after school tomorrow.”
“Tell me now.”
“You’ll probably forget it, or think it was all a dream. Just get some sleep now—I should be getting to bed as well, seeing as I’ve somehow acquired six more children to get out the door.”
“Just like the crows you took Inej and I to feed that one time—remember?”
“Of course I do.”
Nina yawned. “Tell me your news already, before I fall back asleep.”
He gave in. “Of course.” She reminded him so much of her mother. “I’ve gotten a promotion. I’ll be staying here for a good long while, with limited travel.”
“What are we going to do with all the time we’ll have?”
He suppressed a laugh, wondering how the rest of the teens were still seemingly sound asleep. “We’ll get you through your senior year, for one. I’ll go to all your conferences, and to whatever else you’ve got going on. I want to meet your friends as well—I know you’ve got good judgement, but I still want to know them.”
“Can we feed the crows again?”
“And bake cookies?”
“Of course, though I wonder how many will actually make it out of the oven alright.”
This time, it was Nina’s turn to suppress a laugh. “You should meet their families, too. They’ve done so much for me.”
He nodded. “Definitely. I need to thank all your friends’ parents for practically raising you in my absence. And, Nina—I don’t want this to happen again. I want to try and do better. Be better. Not just for your mother’s memory, but also for you.”
Nina yawned. “I love you, dad.”
“Love you too, my little red bird. Don’t fly too far.”
“I think you’re the one who needs to hear that more.”
“Of course I am; it was your mother who first said those words to me, the first time we met. She’d seen me around campus at college and had wanted to get to know me better, but every time she could get close to me, there was always a reason why I couldn’t be there. Or a terrible excuse to cover for my nerves, because I was never any good at handling those. I’d either talk too much—like I am now—or just run off and hide like I did for years with you. I’m sorry, Nina. For everything. I never wanted us to be like this—I wanted to be there with you every day, from your first breath of life to when we finally had to say goodbye. Maybe—maybe I failed at that because it was too great of a goal. I don’t know. Whatever the reason—I’m going to change that. I hope you never thought I’d stopped loving you, because now you’re the one love that I’m living for.”
Nina smiled. “I know all about that kind of love—I think we all do,” she said, gesturing around the room. “And I think we all know about the heartsickness that comes with it, when you don’t do it justice. When you know you’ve misstepped, but have no idea where that misstep took place, or why, or how you can even fix it.” She yawned again. “I never thought I’d be having this much of a philosophical discussion at—“ she picked up her phone, which was lying nearby, and glanced at it—“two o’clock in the morning. That was non-school-related. And with my father, of all people.”
He smiled and kissed her on the forehead. “Get some sleep. I don’t want to wake your friends.”
“And you didn’t. We hadn’t even really gotten to bed yet.”
“Well, then I suppose my words go for all of you. Get some sleep, because I’m not writing excuse notes for any of you.”