Katherine Elizabeth Margaret Pope, aka “Kit”, she of the ten zillion potential nicknames who’d ended up letting a stranger pick one by accident, was completely unlike anyone in my centuries of experience. Mostly because she wasn’t a Power to be obeyed, a man to be inspired, a rival to be crushed, a pest to be disposed of, a fellow Muse to be tormented, or Aunt Sally, to be figured out real soon now. I was starting to suspect that my understanding of mortals might be just a tad limited by my former lifestyle.
I made it through my first day of school by keeping my eyes on her and my big mouth shut. Which turned out to be a really good idea when one of the fifth-grade rebels said A Naughty Word during recess, and I discovered that getting your mouth washed out with soap was not just an expression. Fuck, that looked nasty. Um, gosh? Golly? Jeepers?
I added “acceptable language” to my long list of future discussion topics with Kit. I’d initially planned to interrogate her over lunch, until I discovered that Sally’s cooking was as good cold as it was hot. I didn’t share. That probably made me a terrible friend.
Sally was waiting for me after school, and she’d brought the car. Oh, right, shopping. Her already-bright smile brightened further when she saw that I wasn’t alone. Kit and I were holding hands; she seemed to like it, and it helped me keep track of her. First law of the jungle: stay with your native guide at all times.
“Oh, you’ve already made a friend! And who is this lovely young lady?” That would have sounded totally phony and condescending if I’d said it, but Aunt Sally was a different breed of cat, and Kit cheerfully introduced herself. This led naturally to an invitation to join our expedition, which suited me just fine; Kit was sure to know her way around children’s stores.
The two women in my life got along like a house on fire. Unfortunately, this meant mutual giggling over the tale of me setting the house on fire, or at least myself and part of the kitchen. I needed them both breathing, though, so I took it gracefully. I just thought about demonstrating the less-recreational uses of cotton rope and hot wax.
Our mutual torture session ended as we arrived at the mall, and we went forth into the land of wash-and-wear and off-the-rack.
The mall was… actually kind of awesome. I’d forgotten that Fifties shopping centers could be bright, colorful destinations, not just dreary rows of nearly-identical shops. I think we were a little early for the sort that were fully enclosed, but it was a nice day, and the light breeze carried off the worst of the cigarette smoke. The place was pretty upscale, with covered walkways, landscaping and fountains, and plenty of kids off the leash inventing their own fun. All clean-cut and wholesome, but I suspected the teens had some quiet spots for stolen kisses and quick hand-jobs. If they didn’t, I’d be happy to point out a few.
Kit knew the place inside-out and pulled me along by the hand, which pulled Sally along by my hand. I found myself laughing with them, which was a new experience for me. We were quickly loaded down with brightly-colored shopping bags and excess calories; I feared Sally’s cooking had ruined my tastes forever.
Interdimensional sophisticate that I was, I hadn’t noticed that our happy laughing mall crowd was exclusively white until Kit practically ran over a well-turned-out black woman as she rounded a corner.
Or was it “colored”, still? Honestly, it wasn’t something I’d kept much track of; there were plenty of worlds where pale redheads were hated and feared, after all, which was not my fault, but I was spared further introspection by Kit’s sudden retreat behind me.
Apparently dealing with the unknown was my job. “I’m sorry, miss, we weren’t looking where we were going. Are you all right?”
“Oh, just fine, thank you, dear. I’m sure I was at least as much at fault.” She was young, with a strikingly pretty face, a warm smile, and well-polished manners that pretended Kit’s discomfort didn’t exist. She was also, it turned out, an acquaintance of Dear Aunt Sally’s.
Gevalia has updated the branding of the core ingredient in my daily liquid pie. Hopefully this means Amazon and others will start stocking it at non-scalper prices again soon. Fortunately I have time to find out, after a recent stop at Target increased my stash to 102 days worth.
I’ve also been tinkering with using the Barista Recipe Maker froth-as-a-service device to replicate the Gevalia froth packets, and tentatively, 17 grams of dry whole milk plus 4 grams of dutch-process cocoa provides a decent approximation, and mixed with half the coffee can be whipped into a nice hot lather using the FAAS’ “latte macchiato” or “hot chocolate” settings.
Speaking of chocolate flavor, I have to say that this 0-calorie syrup is surprisingly good, and mixes well in the FAAS.
Sally introduced her to us as Jemima Bobo, Jem for short. I was pretty sure she wasn’t in the pancake business, and I was certainly in no position to make fun of anyone’s name, but I was surprised to find that Kit didn’t react, either.
We found an out-of-the-way table where the two grown-ups could chat without scaring the horses, and Sally sent us off to fetch drinks. My partner-in-waitressing was happy for the excuse to leave, which puzzled me. “What’s up with you, Kit? You’re acting like you’ve seen a dark-but-extremely-friendly ghost.”
“It’s just, I’ve never actually seen a… colored person up close before, much less spoken to one. How did you do it so naturally?”
“Wow, if you were any whiter, you’d be Canadian. Relax, they’re just people, no better or worse than any other sort. Get to know this one, and you’ll never think about it again.”
She looked at me like I was handing down the wisdom of the ages, which was definitely a new experience for me. This day was turning out to be full of them.
By the time we returned with drinks for four, Kit had her shit together enough to hand Jem her coffee with a smile and a minimum of awkwardness. Good girl; I decided to keep her.
I didn’t know what they’d been up to without us, but while Sally and Jem were chatting politely like casual acquaintances, their body language screamed Very Close Friends. Had I guessed wrong about the reason Sally wasn’t interested in all the men sniffing after her? Was her weird secret sex toy a bicycle built for two?
I considered the logistics of cookies-and-cream adult sleepovers, and how Sally might try to explain it away to her sweet innocent ward, and the ironic hilarity sent hot cocoa up my nose. Napkins and hankies were quickly deployed to clean me up, adding further to my new-experience collection. I’d never been fussed over before. Fought over, of course, usually arranged by me, but this was… different. I kind of liked it.
Still, note to self: do not mix chocolate and sex. No, wait, do mix them, just don’t do one while imagining someone doing the other. Pretty sure that one’s commutative.
Mission accomplished and new mysteries unlocked, we parted from the delightful company of Miss Jemima “Jem” Bobo, loaded up the trunk with our loot, and planned our next move.
Sally’s thoughts were completely compatible with mine. “Why don’t you come home with us for supper, Kit? You could even spend the night.”
“Oh, I’d love to, Miss Sanders, but I think I should go straight home now. She… my stepmother will be quite concerned if I’m out after dark.” Sally didn’t need to feel the sudden squeeze of Kit’s hand to notice her distress.
“Well, then, let’s take you home and introduce ourselves, to assure your mother that you’ve been in good hands, and see how she feels about that sleepover!” Clever Sally cheerfully swept us into the back seat and asked Kit where she lived.
“By Oak and Ash.”
Sally and I both twitched at that, although it must have been for different reasons. Maybe it wasn’t as nice a neighborhood as ours.
If someone had accused me of being self-centered and egotistical, I’d have congratulated them on their ability to recognize basic laws of the universe. Mockingly, of course. I’d naturally assumed that the Powers had assigned me a friend, and it had never crossed my mind that Kit had her own reasons to seek me out, or her own agency, for that matter.
The mix of reluctance and fear on her face made me oddly homesick. For there, I mean, which wasn’t a very nice place, although admittedly some of that was just me. In any case, I could tell that there was at least one Mean Girl waiting at home for Kit, and I was itching for a fight. Not out of any mortal concern for a friend, of course; I was pretty sure I hadn’t gone native yet. No, this clearly fell under “hands off my stuff” rules. 99% sure. 95%-ish.
I whispered my question, though I was sure Sally was listening in. “Why don’t you want to go home, Kit? What are you afraid of?”
Her hand trembled in mine, and she looked down and away. “My wicked stepmother.”