©2011-2012 Jaron Dael Belboda Celestial Gleams International Studios, Limited
Lazy afternoon sun drifted in as Jason emerged from his bathroom dressed and combing his hair. He passed the freestanding mirror in his room without looking. Normally he would have struck a heroic pose—or dramatic. He really didn’t consider himself a hero, especially today. He hadn’t caved, but he had lost his sister in the process. He continued to run the comb absently mindedly through his hair as he looked sadly out the window. After several minutes he shook himself; he couldn’t do this all day. Passing by the mirror again he stopped to look. For a brief moment he contemplated smashing the mirror, but quickly decided against it as the clean-up job alone would not be worth the satisfaction. But he had to break something! Almost before he realized it he threw his comb into the bathroom with such force that it stuck in the far wall next to the shower. “Wow, guess I’m stronger than I thought,” He said out loud. He stared at the comb for a few moments thinking about nothing in particular. Finally he sighed and shook his head. “Guess I’ll get a drink.” He murmured out loud again. With that he turned and left his room, leaving the comb in the wall.
He dragged his feet down the hall and into the living room (the kitchen was opposite with no divider wall) and suddenly stopped short. Serena was sitting on the sofa with her feet up on the center table, playing on her laptop. On the center table was a cup of some sort of iced drink with a lid and a straw. For a few moments he just stood there in shocked silence unsure if he was dreaming. Finally he decided to break his suspense “Phoenix?” He asked not daring to hope.
She turned around so fast she nearly dropped her computer. Then relaxed when she saw it was him and smiled. “Oh, hey! What’s up?”
“What’s up!” Jason exclaimed. “What are you…Is it really you?” He asked skeptically.
“Yeah, why wouldn’t it be?” She asked, slightly amused, as she paused her game.
“Well to put it bluntly, you’re dead.”
“Uh, ghosts don’t have slit marks on their throat.” She replied, baring her lower neck.
“Oh, that’s a good point.” Jason agreed. “Unless they’re in Stardust.”
Serena was mildly amused. “Can I have another look?” Jason asked.
“Sure,” She invited baring her neck again. “Go on, touch me.”
He carefully ran his finger across the scar. “Funny, it’s about four months old.”
Serena’s jaw dropped “How…?”
“I read it.” Jason replied before she could finish her question.
Serena didn’t know what to say, she did miss her brother when he was gone but what she was feeling now, she couldn’t quite understand. Even his unintended insult felt good. Placing her computer on the center table she climbed over the back of the sofa and grabbed him tightly, resting her head on his chest. Jason was a little caught off guard but quickly wrapped his arms around her and held her close, stroking her hair. Serena shut her eyes as the tears burned behind them. Why was she crying? Of course she knew why, but was unwilling to show these feelings which she found somewhat frightening. She forced back the tears, but her body shook. “There, there.” Jason mumbled as he felt her trembling; he rocked her back and for slightly and rubbed her back. In a way he felt more like her father, than a big brother as he tried to comfort her. Against her will she began to sob, she struggled to compose herself, then surrendered and had a good cry. Jason patiently held her until she stopped crying. He kissed her tenderly on her head before letting her go. “Thank you.” She squeaked, gratefully though somewhat embarrassed.
“Hey,” Jason soothed, sensing her uneasiness. “There were times when I needed to be held.”
He smiled and nodded as he saw the surprised look in her eyes. “No one was there for me,” he thought looking away slightly. Serena smiled back, feeling much better that her brother understood.
“So what happened?” Jason asked after a few moments of silence.
“Oh, the guy just didn’t slit my throat right,” Serena replied with surprising flippancy. “He was pretty retarded.”
He looked at her in bewilderment. Her change in tone was only partially convincing, as the effects of crying could still be heard in her voice. She lowered her eyes and looked away. “I don’t remember.” She admitted. “They slit my throat, and next thing I know I’m waking up and Shelby’s there slapping me in the face.”
Jason was taken back.
“Yeah, I was pretty groggy and she wanted to make sure that I was alive.”
“Hm.” Jason nodded.
“Now, before she came in, I vaguely remember a man helping me but honestly this whole situation freaks me out and I’d rather not talk about it.”
“But since you asked…”
“Oh.” Jason laughed.
“What?” Serena asked.
“Uh, sorry; go ahead?”
“Well there was this…” Serena began, but stopped short as her chat window popped up on her screen. It was Shelby (though her screen name was Jade).
Jade: Hey what’s up, magic bird? How’re you feeling?
“I’m gonna answer this.” Serena said motioning towards her computer. Jason smiled as she climbed back over the sofa and grabbed her laptop. “But I still wanna talk,” She continued as she typed a response to Shelby:
Me: Oh nothing much. I’m better. Just here chilling with mah bro.
“So ah…what happened?” Jason asked
“So there were these cops,” Serena began as she read Shelby’s response and returned an answer. “And they stopped us for speeding.”
“Yeah me and Shelby—well they stopped me for speeding and Shelby got out of her car. I know weird, but anyway they arrested me and let her go.” Suddenly she laughed, and Jason looked puzzled. “Jade just said something funny.” She enlightened him.
“What?” Jason wanted to know. Leaning over her screen he read:
Jade: He’s so devoted, and kind of cute 😉 tell him I’m here if he ever needs a date.
“Oh.” He said out loud.
On Serena’s screen:
Me: lmao! Get out! He hasn’t had a girlfriend since he broke up with Snowflake. Besides I don’t think he wants to go out with his feisty cousin.
Me: But he has taken a shower; maybe he has a date for tonight?”
Jade: Nah, I think he just didn’t want to look like he came out of one of those R rated films anymore. O.o Unless he has plans with that Leopard girl.
“Yeah, well it sounds like you’re having a good conversation, here.” Jason squirmed “I’ll just go get a drink.” He continued heading into the kitchen.
“Um, yeah the cool aids on the counter!” Serena called over her shoulder, amused at her brother’s discomfort. She wiped the remnants of her tears away and turned back to her screen.
Me: The new transfer.
Jade: Yeah, how’d you know?
Me: Oh I have my sources. Hey do you wanna come over?
Me: Bring your laptop we’re gaming.
Jade: okay I’ll be there in 10 mins. CYA! -Jade;)
Satisfied, Serena closed her chat window and un-paused her game. Jason returned, set his drink on the table, sat down next to her and opened his own notebook computer. Still his mind was troubled. How could she come away so untouched from a near death—no resurrection experience. Forgetting that it was not his problem to worry about, he noted that she was exactly the same as she had been before her death. Jason frowned as he typed in his password. Or maybe she wasn’t dead after all. Maybe…maybe she was just close to death…maybe…no. He sighed and checked his email.
“You know, Phoenix…” He began after a moment’s silence.
“It’s Serena, Jason,” She interrupted. “We’re at home.” A true rebel at heart, Serena only complied with the policy of using “agent names” in place of real ones on the job or in the agency buildings. Otherwise she would have none of it.
“Uh yeah….right!” Jason replied, bristling a bit. “Serena, you’re very talented. But that’s not what it’s about—it’s not about your ability to get yourself out of tight situations and be aware of your surroundings. It’s not about your abilities; you must be focused!”
“On what?” Serena returned without looking up. “Being an agent at some old agency where the people sleep half the time and do almost nothing? And for the record, I didn’t get myself out! Some guy came and helped me. Believe me I know where my trust lies.”
“Oh.” Jason moaned; her response was just what he had feared.
“Look, if I’m gonna chill, I’d rather do it here or with my friends. At least I’m not letting my brain go to waste with all those losers who don’t even live half the stuff they talk about.”
“That’s good to know, Phoenix…” Her eyes darted in his direction and he quickly corrected himself. “Serena. I will say this though; even if the other people are losers, our Leader is not. We can be the ones that really do what he says—that really have a working relationship with him. You have to either give it all, or else give it nothing.”
Jason sighed heavily. “Yeah, you know.”
Serena turned to face her brother. “Look, I’m just not like you. You’re like, super dedicated. I can’t bring work with me everywhere. You need to chill out for once! Remember when we used to just hang out?”
“We had just graduated from Ninja Academy!”
“At Ninja Academy you weren’t allowed to take a break!”
Jason reflected a moment. She was right, perfectionist that he was, he was always absorbed, no absorbed was too mild a word. He was obsessed with his performance. Everything hinged on getting it right. Also as a highly emotionally sensitive male (at least internally) he tended to feel and react to things with an almost irrational logic. “You’re right. What game are we playing?” He asked out loud, much to her surprise. Serena smiled.
Natalie Summers sighed as she fiddled with the lock on her studio apartment. She had forgotten her keys—again! Something she only did when she was stressed she realized, shaking her head. Now she had to pick her own lock! She looked around making sure nobody saw her. Picking a lock is actually quite difficult in general, and depending on the lock it could be even more difficult. Fortunately she had some experience and in less time than she expected, though more than she had hoped, the door was open. Entering, she wearily threw her bag and keys on the center table and tumbled onto her bed. Staring up at the ceiling, she tried to relax. But she couldn’t; the weight of the secrets she carried pressed down on her like a massive boulder. The ceiling seemed to swim and twist as if she was recovering from a good spin and her stomach ached! Presently she felt her mouth filling with fluid. “Oh no, not again!” She moaned. Trying to hold it in, she attempted to get up; her intent was to go to the bathroom and deal with it there. It was a good plan, but as she turned over her belly contracted forcibly and she vomited onto her brand new comforter. For a moment she just crouched there bent over in shock. It must be over she decided judging by the amount of grossness on the bed. But she was wrong! Another contraction forced more of her breakfast and lunch onto the bed. It burned! “Oh! Hot sauce!” She rasped and vomited again. For a moment she thought she would choke to death and her fear was intensified as she threw up yet again before she could fully recover from the last bout. She braced herself for the next wave—which never came. “Oh I hate throwing up!” She moaned. Easing off the bed, she gathered her comforter into a ball and carried it to the bathroom where she dumped what she could into the tub. She stuffed blanket into the hamper and turned back to the tub in disgust. It was a nasty job, but she had to do it. It would smell worse if she left that…that stuff in the tub.
But it did give her time to think as she forced herself to wash the tub clean. She knew why she was sick. At work she was (Snow) Leopard tough assassin; at home she was Natalie Summers—a sleep deprived 19 year-old—at least that was when it really showed. No one fully understood the pressures she had to deal with every day. Well…maybe Rubi did. Her loyal friend Francesca Bianchi was the only one who came close to getting it. They were partners and Francesca was her spy and strategist. She should call her, she decided as she washed the last of the “ugh!” down the drain. It had been four months. Because of their deep cover operations, they could not keep in constant contact. But first…yugh! She had to get that taste out of her mouth! Moving to the sink she rinsed out her mouth and washed her face.
Now she felt much better! Finding her phone, she dialed her friend’s number.
After a few rings she heard the welcome sound Francesca’s voice. “Hello?”
“Hey Gorgeous.” She replied mirroring her friend’s cheerful demeanor.
“Hey Natalie,” Francesca greeted her cheerfully. “How are you?”
“Oh, I could be better,” Natalie answered honestly.
“Hm,” Francesca said sympathetically.
“Listen,” Natalie continued. “Before I forget I need you to get me some information on a building. I’ll give you the address and then I need to know…
“Okay…alright…stop!” Francesca interrupted. “You just puked all over creation, Nattles. You need to rest.”
“How did you know?” Natalie exclaimed. “Do I sound weird after I throw up?”
“No! Because I installed spy cameras in your apartment!” Francesca retorted, her Latin accent making an otherwise creepy statement amusing.
“You what?” Natalie asked, laughing in spite of herself.
“Someone has to keep an eye on you.” Francesca replied, simply.
“Tell me that’s not all you do.” Natalie grimaced.
“That’s not all I do. How much have you slept this week?”
Natalie squirmed. “Oh please, Cessie, not that question!”
“How much?” She insisted.
“Including today?” Natalie stalled.
“Thirty-six hours?” She half said half asked.
“Ooh. I’m gonna turn you over my knee and spank you with a wet noodle!”
“Spank me with a wet noodle.” Natalie spoke in unison with her on the last part. “I know I’ve been bad.” She admitted with a sigh.
“Why you no take care of yourself?” Francesca asked, adopting a stereotypical Italian speech pattern. “Why you no listen to me? You kill yourself instead of target!”
“Ouch!” Natalie said softly. Francesca might as well have called her stupid!
“You’re being stupid!” Her friend added.
“Ow! Spanking accepted I’ll do better next time. ” Natalie whined half in jest.
Francesca showed her no mercy. “I’m not finished yet. Get on your bike and meet me at our usual spot—now!”
“But I’m hungry!” Natalie whined again.
“No. What you need right now is water.”
“I hate water!”
“Oh hush it and get your butt over here!” Francesca bristled. “I’ll have something for you when you arrive.” She hung up before Natalie could say anything else.
Natalie begrudgingly put her phone down. Then thought better of it and went to the kitchen for a glass. Perhaps she did need a “mother” in these troubled times. And a good…yeah she didn’t like to think about that either. Filling her glass with cold water, she gulped it down, refilled it and drank again. Not a very good idea when you’ve just thrown up. For a moment, she thought she might do it again as her stomach churned. She was relieved when she burped instead. “‘Scuse me! Good thing there are no boys in here.” She smiled at her own joke as she grabbed her jacket and gloves from the closet. She didn’t wear them for short trips like the ones from the Agency and back. The trip to her usual meeting place with Rubi, however, would take at least half an hour. Forgetting her keys again, she bounded down the stairs and into the parking garage where she kept her bike—a Honda CBR1000RR—definitely not a typical pink-accented-with-ribbons girl’s bike, although it was red in places. She put on her helmet, fired it up and took off squealing the back tire a bit.
It was early evening as Jason and Serena prepared for their night out. They were using the master bathroom since it was unoccupied, and had a separate dressing room that Serena liked. Jason stood in the main bathroom in front of the dual mirrors adjusting his black leather jacket. Yeah, he wasn’t what you’d call fashion crazy, but had a particular way he wanted it to hang. No, not really. If the truth be spoken he was waiting for Serena to hurry up and finish!
“So what are you gonna tell them?” She called to him over the wall.
“What else?” Jason replied. “That you escaped with a scar.”
“You’re not gonna tell them the whole story?”
“That’s up to you Sims. Hey are you almost finished in there?”
“Just a sec.” She called back. Jason groaned inwardly. That could mean anything! But in a few seconds she opened the door and stepped out. “Ta-da!” She proclaimed. Since his back was turned Jason looked at her in the mirror. “Whoa.” Was all he could say. “You like it?” She asked, spinning around. “Yeah,” Jason replied a bit dazed. “You look beautiful.”
Serena’s heart skipped a beat; he had never called her beautiful before. “Aw thanks, Bro.” She said kissing him on the cheek. Now it was Jason’s turn to be shocked. She rarely ever kissed him.
“Awkward silence,” Serena said after a few moments, as she re-did her hair.
“Ah…sorry it…it’s just…” Jason fumbled for a rational response.
“We need to get used to this brother sister thing.” Serena finished. “We suck at taking affection.”
“Nah, I think it’s just me.” Jason replied. “I’m weird.”
Serena patted him on the back and resumed her primping. “Think I’m gonna try something new tonight.”
“Oh yeah? Like what?” Jason asked with mild interest.
Serena laughed, condescendingly “If I told you, you wouldn’t know.”
“Oh come on!” Jason protested. “I know hair styles.”
“Then can you tell me what I’m doing now?” Serena quizzed.
Jason observed a bit before speaking. “You’re doing a…um…
“Mm-hm,” Serena said in a challenging tone.
“A thing…w…with a comb—and then a brush.”
“Go on!” She urged.
“To do a thing that will take three hours.” Jason finished, smugly.
“That’s to wash and dry it, silly.” Serena returned.
“Oh well then it will take an hour.” Jason decided
“I already spent that hour.” Serena countered. “This is just what you do after you get dressed.”
“It’s what you do after you get dressed.” Jason returned defensively, simultaneously reaching his hand to tousle her hair. Serena’s eyes darted in his direction. Jason slowly put his hands up.
“Walking away…” He said as he backed towards the wall, and leaned against it. To his relief she was done in a little over 15 minutes (she was known to take 30 =).
“There!” She proclaimed in a satisfied tone.
“Are you done?” Jason asked foolishly.
“Well…” She began.
“Ah ah! No, forget I asked.” Jason interrupted, knowing what was coming. “Let’s go!”
“Just a little bit,” Serena pleaded. “I got another idea.”
“No, no, no, no!” Jason moaned.
“Just a little twist—promise.”
Jason half sighed half groaned. “As long as you don’t braid it.”
“Hey! That would be cute!” Serena teased, pretending to start.
“No!” Jason cried in consternation, but he couldn’t help laughing at the same time.
“Alright, let’s go,” She laughed grabbing his hand and pulling him with her. “We’ve gotta pick up Shelby.”
“I know!” Jason shot back. “That’s why I said you needed to finish.”
“I’m done!” Serena returned defensively.
They continued arguing playfully…
The sun was beginning to set as the trio drove up to the restaurant in Jason’s rented Camaro. “Thinkin’ about buying this car.” Jason commented as they pulled into the parking lot. “Really?” Shelby asked from the back seat. “‘Cause I don’t think you should.” Jason glanced at her in the rearview mirror as she continued. “You need something that’s more…you.” Jason glanced at Serena who shrugged her shoulders. “Really?” He asked. “So what am I?”
Shelby shifted in her seat. “Well you’re definitely not a car guy.” The Bells laughed. “Seriously, girl, have you seen his room?” Serena asked. Shelby smirked. “Totally boring.” The three of them laughed. “Well here we are.” Jason announced as he pulled up to the door. “Oh thank you!” Serena said as she opened her door. “What a gentleman!” Shelby agreed, adding to his squirmy feelings by blowing him a kiss as she shut her door. After their backs were turned Jason shook himself hoping to make the warmth from his face even out with the rest of his body. He parked the car and headed in.
Serena and Shelby were waiting for him just inside. “Ladies.” He acknowledged, offering both of his arms which they took. “Feeling chivalrous tonight?” Shelby teased from his right. “I should blow you kisses more often, huh?” Jason started to reply but Serena cut in. “Hey he’s my brother!” Shelby smirked, reverting to Cantonese. “And he’s my cousin! What’s it to you?”
“Could you say that in a language we can all understand?” Serena asked.
“Huh?” Shelby queried in bewilderment.
“You just spoke in Chinese, Cuz.” Jason enlightened.
“Damnit!” Shelby cursed (again in Cantonese).
“And now, I’m glad you’re speaking Chinese,” Jason smiled.
“Sorry,” Shelby blushed.
Serena gave Jason one of those looks that says: you’d better answer. “What did she say?”
“Nothing!” Jason and Shelby chorused in English.
Serena responded with a knowing wry smile. “Well where do you wanna sit?” She asked, changing the subject. The three of them looked around. “Um…there!” Shelby pointed to a table near the door, about three tables in. “Alright,” Jason replied moving towards the spot. Serena and Shelby let go of his arms. “We’re gonna…you know.” Serena pointed in the direction of the restrooms. Jason scoffed a bit. “Of course.” The cousin friends looked at each other and shook their head as they left for their intended destination. Jason watched them for a brief moment before turning to their chosen table. Suddenly he stopped short—there were voices coming form that table—it was the sort of table which was behind a wall that didn’t quite reach the ceiling. The voices were in mid discussion of the young couple seated at a table in front of them.
“Come on man, you’re jealous.” Caiman was saying.
“Just because I’m single doesn’t mean I’m jealous.” Tiger replied, taking a sip of his water. Jason struck his forehead with his palm. “Of course! I told them I would meet them for dinner and this is where we usually meet. Oh well, it was Serena’s idea to check out the place I go to.” He turned his attention to back to their conversation. “Oh, come on!” Caiman urged. “When’s the last time you looked at Jade and didn’t say man….?”
“Just because we’re Asian doesn’t mean we’re meant for each other.” Tiger interrupted, beginning to get flustered.
Jason decided it was a good time to reveal himself. “What’s this?” He asked pleasantly, coming around the wall. “Trying to get old Tigger a date?”
They both looked up in surprise and greeted him pleasantly.
“Have a seat.” Tiger offered, motioning to a chair.
“Thank you.” Jason replied, taking a seat opposite his friends.
“Yeah,” He went on, taking up the conversation where he left off. “He’s trying to convince me that Jade and I would make a good couple. Since girls are your department maybe you can tell me whether we would be good or not.”
Jason smirked. “Oh, I’m not that good with girls. I haven’t had a date since I was in Ninja Academy.” He reflected a moment before continuing. “That was foolish.”
“Oh, so you were about to kiss her and the ceiling fell in?” Caiman teased.
“Yeah, something like that.” Jason replied, deciding to argue his angle.
Tiger smiled slightly. “Uh-huh. What really happened, Jay?” He asked, unconvinced.
“You don’t wanna know.” Jason answered distantly as he looked out the window.
At that moment Serena approached the table. “Hey boys, mind if I join the fun?” Serena asked.
Caiman looked up in stunned amazement, Tiger nodded, and Jason smiled.
Recovering himself, Caiman whistled. “Can I borrow you date, when you’re done.”
Tiger was puzzled. “Dude, that’s his sister!”
Caimans face fell in disappointment that no one else found it funny. “I know that.”
“You are most welcomed to our table, Phoenix.” Tiger said, ignoring Caiman completely as he increased their order to 4 people. The menu for the restaurant was part of a glass touch surface system built into the table.
“Thank you.” Serena replied, glancing at Caiman’s hopeful face. “I’ll sit by my brother.” Caiman’s face fell.
Noticing his dejection, Tiger thumped him on the shoulder encouragingly. “Hey! Cheer up, man. I know it’s been a while since any of us have had a date but…” He paused as a waitress came to their table with a tray of dates with almonds stuck where the seeds were. “Oh! Thank you.” He said to her, as he took one, popped it into his mouth. “As I was about to say, these dates are the best!”
Caiman gave him a look. Did he have to say that? Serena put her head down on the table to hide her embarrassment, and Jason and the waitress laughed openly. Taking a sample, Jason put his thoughts into words. “Pretty, good!” He turned to the waiter “Thank you, Madam.”
The waitress giggled “You’re welcome.” Tiger and Jason each took two plates and she (the waitress) walked away laughing with her empty tray.
Finally in control of herself, Serena picked her head up. “Here, I’ll take one—don’t eat them all.”
Jason rubbed her back comfortingly. “I don’t mean to embarrass you.”
“You did/well, Tiger did.” She retorted, as she took a bite of one of the dates. “I have to admit it was pretty funny, though.”
Tiger grimaced. “I guess we cats go for the kill.”
“You crush worse than stones, too.” Shelby added, startling everyone by her sudden appearance.
“Jade.” Jason acknowledged.
Caiman groaned. “Could we make this table a little more crowded, please?”
“Oh hey, K!” She smiled. “Didn’t see you there.”
“Yes you did.” Tiger interjected beginning to bristle.
Shelby twisted her mouth into a comical shape. “Hey, loosen up, Tigs.” She knew he hated being called Tigs, but enjoyed giving him a hard time.
“It’s Tigger!” Tiger shot back just as she expected.
“Guys!” Jason interjected, calmly but firmly put an end to their argument. “Chillax.”
“Here, sit down.” Serena offered, patting the chair next to her.
“Thanks.” Shelby accepted. “Hey, you guys actually like that stuff?” She asked, noticing what was on the plates.
“Sure,” Serena answered with her mouth full. “I love dates with nuts.” She added with wink at Caiman. He was moved to defend himself, but Tiger restrained him.
Shelby looked at Caiman then at Phoenix’s plate. “Sure.” She said sarcastically.
“So, you want one?” Serena asked, trying to change the subject.
“I’ll take a couple.” Shelby answered facetiously.
Tiger grinned. “A couple.” He intoned mischievously, following Shelby’s lead.
Again, Caiman looked disturbed, seeing this, Jason ran his fingers over his mouth as if zipping it shut; Tiger nodded in acknowledgement, leaned back and folded his arms across his chest.
“Oh! By the way,” Shelby continued, sliding a set of keys over to Jason. “Rim-shot said your new ride’s ready.”
Jason looked puzzled. “I didn’t order a new car.”
Serena smiled. “I know. We wanted to surprise you. Happy Birthday, Bro!”
“Oh that’s right.” Jason said rubbing his head. “Thanks, Sis.”
“You forgot your birthday?” Shelby asked, in mock amazement.
“Maybe.” Jason admitted reluctantly.
She turned to Caiman and Tiger. “You guys remembered, right?”
“Oh! Yeah sure, of course.” Caiman said less than convincingly.
“Totally!” Tiger added, barely masking the fact that he had forgotten too.
“You forgot, didn’t you?” Serena said shaking her head.
Caiman looked embarrassed. “Oh, well…I mean.”
“Hey man,” Jason interjected. “If I can’t remember, I wouldn’t expect you to.”
Shelby grew serious. “Okay, Cuz. Promise me after this case you’ll get yourself checked out.”
“Yeah, I will.” Jason promised.
“Remind him.” Shelby said to Serena in confidential tones. Serena nodded.
“Thanks, girls!” Jason said gratefully as he slid the keys over to Serena.
“Why’re you giving them to me?” She asked, not wanting them.
“You’re the one with the purse.”
Serena rolled her eyes as she took the keys and slipped them into her purse.
“Good girl.” Jason said. She gave him a funny look.
“Seriously, dude?” Caiman asked incredulously.
“Out of space in my pockets.” Jason shrugged.
Shelby shook her head. “So where’s the main course?”
“Should be coming up.” Tiger replied.
“We’ll have to order one more plate.” Caiman added.
“Oh! Right.” Tiger said, grateful for the reminder as he increased the number on the digital menu to 5 people.
“What did you guys order?” Jason asked. In answer Tiger rotated the menu and slid it over for him to read. “Ah, good.” Jason nodded.
“OMG!” Serena gasped suddenly.
“What?” Jason asked, voicing everyone’s surprise at her sudden change in demeanor.
“Over there.” She motioned to the right.
Everyone looked. “I don’t see anything…” Shelby began, only to be cut off by Serena.
“Those are the cops who groped us earlier today.”
“Oh yeah.” Shelby realized. “They look different.”
“Hey, wait a minute!” Caiman interrupted. “Groped? Those guys groped you?”
“Yeah, didn’t you know?” Tiger answered for the girls.
“No!” He shot back. “Why am I the last one to know, Sims?”
“You don’t get to call me that.” Serena replied, pointing at him for emphasis.
“Hey,” Jason said with growing realization as he studied the two men. “Those are no cops.”
“They’re not?” Serena stammered.
“They’re agents.” He continued softly. “At our facility!”
“No way; those are the two who went missing for the past few days!” Tiger exclaimed in Cantonese.
“Missing?” Shelby asked incredulously (also in Cantonese).
“Well not missing but they didn’t show up to meetings. Said they were sick or something. Maybe even family emergency—it’s all on the records.” Tiger explained.
“Hm,” Shelby nodded. “I’ll have to check that out.”
Caiman looked from Tiger to Shelby not understanding a word of what they had just said. “You know you two really should date.” He said out loud, but was instantly filled with regret as they turned to look at him.
“Why don’t we have a chat with them, hm?” Jason asked, conveniently steering the focus away from Caiman.
“Now wait a minute, Jason.” Serena cautioned. “Your Jaguar side is really dangerous. Are you sure you have it under control?”
“Did you just call him…?” Caiman started to ask, but was cut off.
“His Jaguar side!” Tiger scoffed. “What is he, like a “Werewolf Jaguar?”
“I don’t change shape, if that’s what you mean.” Jason replied.
“Did you just call him Jason?” Caiman asked still in shock.
“That’s his name, isn’t it?” Serena returned. “What are you gonna do?”
“Yeah, we all know his name around here.” Shelby added.
“I didn’t.” Caiman lied.
“Very amusing.” Jason returned. “Now can sit here talking about names and personalities, or we can go have a chat with our friends over there.”
“I’m game!” Tiger said.
“Yeah, me too.” Caiman added.
The three boys stood to their feet. “Girls?” Jason invited.
“Um…we’re gonna sit this one out, if you don’t’ mind.” Shelby replied softly. Serena nodded.
“Suit yourselves.” Jason said as the three of them headed for the “cops” table.
Jason decided to greet them pleasantly. No need to be rude, he nodded in recognition as they saw him approaching. Caiman was not so courteous. “‘Sup mothafmmm!” He quipped, his greeting cut short by Tigers hand over his mouth.
“Gentlemen!” Jason greeted them cheerfully placing his hands on the table in a friendly gesture.
“Hey!” said the first.
“Wuss goin’ on, Jag?” Welcomed the second.
“Well I understand you have a taste for the assets of my sister and cousin.” Jason replied getting right to the point. Their faces suddenly sobered and they attempted to get up. Jason firmly pressed their hands into the table forcing them to sit and smiled.
A few moments later the fake cops limped towards the door then fell to the floor drawing stares. They struggled to their feet and continued—only to fall again. They finally managed to remain upright by leaning on each other and swaying awkwardly to counterbalance. “You’ll wanna see a chiropractor!” Jason called after them, hands in his pockets. “Real soon.” He added to his buddies.
“Dude that was awesome!” Caiman exclaimed.
“Yeah.” Jason agreed. “See? You don’t have to yell at them, or cuss at them. Just say what you mean, and mean it when you say it.”
“And you really meant it.” Tiger mused with a wry smile.
“Right! Let’s go.” Jason said in his British imitation accent—which was quite convincing—if you weren’t British. It was only a few steps so Jason felt free to let him mind do a play by play on what would happen after the men got themselves straightened out again. He didn’t even see it coming—until he bumped into her head on.
“Ugh!” she grunted in shock; she hadn’t been looking either.
“Oh! Uh…pardon me.” Jason said politely.
Francesca’s heart skipped a beat. “That’s okay,” She replied, her voice sounding surprisingly breathy. She quickly moved passed him and between his buddies, pausing only to ask them to let her through. The boys exchanged puzzled glances before continuing.
“Really, Jason?” Shelby asked as the boys retook their seats at the table.
“Well, what would you have done to them?” Jason returned.
Shelby grinned slightly. “I could smell the testosterone.”
“Hey,” Serena interjected. “That technique you used that’s like the opposite of what I would do to make…have you been reading my homework?
“What else should I do on long stakeouts?” Jason asked defensively.
“You’re studying to be a chiropractor?” Shelby asked, turning to Serena.
“I told you that six months ago.” Serena replied, somewhat annoyed.
“You said you were studying to become a doctor.” Shelby retorted.
“That’s what a chiropractor is!” Serena laughed.
“So pro gaming’s not enough for you?” Caiman asked tentatively.
“If you must know, it pays for school.” Serena replied cooly.
“Yeah, everyone can’t flip burgers.” Shelby added in support of her cousin.
The five of them shared a good laugh. Meanwhile at a table on the other side of the restaurant…
“Oh my gosh!” Francesca squealed as she slid into her seat across from Natalie who was just taking another bit of fruit salad.
“What is it?” Natalie asked, a little puzzled at her friends excitement.
“I just met Jason; I can totally see why you like him!”
Natalie gulped involuntarily and began to choke. Francesca immediately went to work, thumping her on the back to help her coughing.
“I never said I like him,” Natalie protested once she recovered herself a bit.
“And why would you?” Francesca returned.
“What?” Natalie asked, then quickly decided she didn’t want an answer. “Nevermind,” She continued. “We can’t let him see us.”
Francesca was bewildered. “Why not?”
“It’ll ruin the plan!”
“We could get a new plan!”
“No! Not so late in the game.”
“Because I like him, okay?” Natalie almost shouted in frustration. “I don’t want my feelings to get in the way.”
“Oh.” Francesca relented. “So you wanna date him?”
“It’s not like that.” Natalie replied more calmly. “It’s…complicated; long story.”
“We have time.”
Natalie smiled wryly. “Seeing as we’re both screwed if things go south, I’ll tell you.”
Back at our friends table the main course has arrived and they are taking to it with a good will.
“Mm, this is good!” Serena exclaimed.
“Well fruit pizza is their specialty.” Jason commented.
“One of.” Tiger corrected.
‘Sure.” Jason replied sarcastically.
“Hey, are you sure you’re okay man?” Caiman asked, his voice tinged with concern.
Jason was puzzled. “What’s wrong? Don’t I look fine?”
“Those veins on your neck,” Caiman pointed. “They’re looking worse.”
Everyone else looked at his neck with unease. Jason smiled, not wanting the attention. “It’s just the effects of the torture, guys. I’m sure it’ll be fine in the morning.
“If you say so,” Shelby replied, sounding unconvinced.
“So Phoenix,” Tiger began, changing the subject. “You didn’t finish telling us what happened.”
“Oh yeah,” Serena acknowledged, taking another bite. “So they drove me out to the edge of District 5, and I was like ‘wait a minute, this is not the police station!’ And the guy was like, ‘that’s right!’ tshhhh!
“What?” Shelby laughed.
“He hit me with some kind of knockout gas.” Serena said defensively.
“Oh, so that was the sound effect.” Jason concluded.
“Yeah,” Serena replied, facing him. “Didn’t you get?” She looked at the others for confirmation.
“Psh!” Shelby answered with a wave of her hand.
“Oh, yeah.” Tiger scoffed at the implication of his unintelligence.
“Of course.” Shelby added.
“Yeah.” Caiman half mumbled.
“Moooving on.” Jason directed, sensing that the conversation was about to become counterproductive.
Serena glanced at him before continuing. “Yeah, so I wake up and I’m tied to this chair. Can’t move, they’ve immobilized me or something.”
“What did they say to you?” Shelby queried with interest.
“I was a little out of it, but they were saying something about getting Jas…uh Jaguar to talk. And if he was a good boy and cooperated, then I’d live.”
“Oh.” Shelby said softly.
“So you were leverage.” Tiger declared.
Serena nodded. “I wasn’t worried, though. People usually cave before letting their loved one get hurt.”
“But you forget that your brother is not human.” Caiman grinned.
They responded to his joke with stifled laughs—not quite what he was looking for but at least they didn’t jump on him for joking at the wrong moment.
“Anyways,” Serena continued. “I hadn’t counted on him having amnesia.”
Shelby looked at Jason. “You didn’t tell me.” She said accusingly.
“I forgot.” Jason replied simply.
Shelby gave him a look, which he returned with one of his own.
“So,” Serena continued ignoring Jason and Shelby’s standoff. “No matter how many times the interrogator asked him he couldn’t answer.”
“Hm, so what did they do?” Tiger asked.
“They killed me.” Serena replied flatly. Everyone but Jason stared at her in shock. She could have been joking, but judging by the scar on her throat…was it possible? They continued to sit in shock as the thought over the possibilities. “Well at least you’re not all running.” Serena remarked after a few moments of silence.
“Uh…” Caiman began. He really did want to run, but his legs wouldn’t work.
“S…so,” Shelby began. “Why…?”
“I believe the Leader brought her back to life.” Jason replied simply, simultaneously answering and interrupting Shelby’s question.
“Why?” Caiman asked bluntly.
“Excuse me?” Shelby asked sternly, as the others looked at him and exchanged glances.
“That’s what I have to find out.” Serena said softly before anyone else could offer a reason.
No one said anything more and the mood became pensive as they finished their meal in silence.
“Okay Nattles,” Francesca puzzled out loud. “I know why you want to know where he lives. But why do we have to come here in the dead of night?”
“I told you,” Natalie smiled. “I wanna see his bedroom.”
“But he might be in there!” Francesca protested.
“That’s what I’m hoping.”
“Shhh! I’ll explain when I come back.”
“If you come back.” Francesca worried. “Are you sure you don’t need your climbing stuff?”
“Did you disable the security field?” Natalie asked facetiously as she began climbing the wall of the house.
“Y…yeah.” Her friend replied uneasily.
“Then I’m good!” She smiled as she maneuvered around some plants.
“Uh…not if you fall in the bushes you’re not.”
Natalie stopped. “What?
“The bushes are part of the security system.” Francesca explained after double checking the analyzer on her phone.
“You mean they’re not real?” Natalie asked.
“Oh they’re real!” Her friend assured her. “But some are not—at least parts of them are not.”
“Ugh,” Natalie sighed. “I’m not gonna fall Cessie!”
“I hope not.” Francesca returned quietly. “I wish you had given me time to hack the whole system before we came here.”
“You worry about that, I’ll worry about keeping my balance.” Natalie replied as she resumed her ascent.
“I hope you know what you’re doing.”
“As long as I don’t get shot by one of the neighbors I’ll be fine.”
Realizing her friend was telling her to shut up, Francesca made a pouting face but Natalie didn’t notice as she continued climbing up the wall. After a meandering climb she made it to the top floor and Jason’s bedroom window. Carefully she removed the screen from the window and placed it inside the room. She climbed into the room and looked around. It wasn’t quite full moon, but there was enough light to see what she needed to. Jason was asleep laying on his chest. “This is gonna be easy.” She said to herself. Pulling out her gun she shot him—with a tranq dart. He jolted, then passed out. Holstering her gun she opened her sealed holster and pulled out an injector. “This is why I had to tranq you, buddy.” She said softly. “Didn’t want you resisting.” The injector was shaped like a gun with a syringe in it, to put it simply. Pulling back the covers she bared his chest and reopened the cuts form the torture device that had been used on him. Then she injected the medicine in his arm. Sighing she holstered the injector and sat on the edge of the bed to write him a note. After the note was written there was the issue of where to put it. She contemplated various places each more mischievous than that last. Finally she decided to be decent and placed the note in his hand closing his fingers around it. She stroked his face with the back of her hand it was a little more rough than it looked! Satisfied, she pulled the tranq dart from his neck and, taking it with her, she climbed out of the window, replaced the screen and retraced her path down the wall.
“There you are.” Francesca breathed with relief as Natalie stepped down onto terra firma. “What took you so long?”
“I wrote him a note.” Natalie replied, with little emotion.
“You took time to write a letter?”
“Not a letter—a note.”
“Nattles the security field will reactivate any…”
There was a distinctive sound of ray shields turning on.
“…Minute.” Francesca finished. “We’re effed.”
“Ugh.” Natalie moaned.
“Now do you mind telling me what was so important to risk getting caught?” Francesca asked genuinely with a tone that let Natalie know she was in trouble.
“You’re gonna kill me if we don’t die?”
“Convince me to save you.”
Natalie never made her case, because at that moment the security field was deactivated.
“Run!” Francesca commanded in a whispered shout. The two friends ran and didn’t stop until they arrived at their Jeep parked two blocks away.
“So were you really gonna kill me?” Natalie asked as they climbed into the Jeep and buckled up.
“No.” Francesca replied glibly as she started the engine and eased away from the curb. “Though I was gonna whip your butt till you cried.”
“Mm!” Natalie jolted skeptically. “Right.”
“What? Don’t believe I can do it?” Francesca asked as she ran a stop sign.
“I saved his life.” Natalie said softly ignoring her friend’s question.
“What?” Francesca queried with an air of disappointment. “Why couldn’t you tell me that?”
“Because he could have died while I explained. That kind of drug only gives you 24 hours. If you’re lucky.”
“I guess I do ask for details.”
“A lot of details. So are you still gonna spank me?”
Francesca smirked. “Maybe. How did you know he was poisoned?”
“I saw it in the conference room.” Natalie replied, reliving the event in her mind. “His veins were discolored. Normally you can’t see veins on someone that color.”
“You’re not far off.” Francesca commented.
Natalie smiled. “I guess Deputy White didn’t trust me to do the job.” She reflected.
“Okay, here’s one thing I don’t get.” Francesca interrupted before Natalie could continue. “You knew Jason back in Ninja Academy. Why didn’t you just walk up to him and tell him who are and what you’re about?”
Natalie laughed wearily “ He has amnesia.” She replied, looking out the window.
Francesca looked puzzled. “Yeah, so?”
“He doesn’t remember me.” Natalie explained.
“So he doesn’t remember the Academy?” Francesca wanted to know.
‘He does,” Natalie assured her. “He just doesn’t remember me.”
“So he had specific memories erased….” Francesca droned, beginning to understand.
“At his request.” Natalie specified.
“Why wouldn’t he want to remember you?” Cessie puzzled
Natalie lowered her eyes. “Because I told him to never speak to me again.”
Francesca looked at her briefly before returning her eyes to the road. “Let me guess—long story?”
“Mm-hm,” Natalie nodded.
“We have time!” Francesca grinned.
They both shared a laugh over how soon history could repeat itself.
Mr. Bell looked fondly at his sleeping daughter. She was so precious—when she was asleep! He had to smile to himself at the thought. More accurately she was precious all the time—sweet when she was asleep or wanted to be. He smiled again at the thought. He was home early and looking forward to surprising his children. Feeling a bit mischievous he reached down and tickled her. “Rise and shiIIIINE!”
And there was a good reason for him to shout in mid-word! Serena, being startled, kicked him in the stomach with both feet causing him to stumble/fall/fly backwards onto the foot of her bed. This in turn forced the head of the bed up into the air, launching her into his arms. “Daddyyyyy!” She shrieked.
“Oooff!” He puffed at the impact.
“Oh sorry!” She apologized, pulling back. “I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
“I suppose I did ask for that.” He managed to chuckle, re-inflating his lungs in the process.
“You’ve got to stop being a kid!” She teased.
“But it’s sooo much fun!” He coughed (in jest).
She giggled and squeezed him tight. “I love you, Daddy.”
“I love you too, Baby Girl.” He smiled hugging her back.
Jason appeared in the door still half asleep. “Dad? Sis?” He asked in bewilderment.
“There he is!” Mr. Bell proclaimed cheerfully.
“Why’re you two on the floor?”
“Didn’t you hear my welcome?”
“She knocked you down, didn’t she?” Jason asked rhetorically as he stretched. “Welcome home, Dad. Sorry I’m a little out of it this morning.”
“He’s that way every morning.” Serena commented.
“Serena!” Jason chided.
“Aren’t you taking care of him?” Dad asked.
“I try to,” Serena answered as she slid onto the floor and Dad sat up. “But he won’t let me!”
“Is that so?” Dad asked standing to his feet
“Maybe.” Jason grogged.
“Aw, come here my man!” He held out his arms and Jason fell into them. “Hm, what’s this?” He asked taking a closer look at Jason’s neck.
“What?” Jason asked.
“Well you were hit with a tranq dart, no wonder you’re groggy!”
“That’s impossible!” Jason exclaimed, releasing his hold on Dad. “Unless…” He looked in his sister’s direction.
“Don’t look at me, I didn’t do it!” Serena objected.
“Do you remember what happened?” Mr. Bell queried with interest.
“No.” Jason admitted.
“Hm,” He rumbled. “Must have been a 6 hour tranquillizer—they tend to give you foggy memory.
“Hm,” Jason mumbled, mirroring his father’s demeanor.
Mr. Bell looked around. “So where’s Justin? Started his tour already?”
“Yeah he left early.” Serena confirmed.
Dad shook his head. “That boy.”
“You worried about him?” Serena asked.
“He’s a little obsessed.” Dad stated
“He’s a perfectionist,” Jason interjected. “I can identify.”
“There’s something else.” Dad insisted.
“I think all three of you boys are obsessive.” Serena remarked.
“Hey!” Jason protested.
“Ah but if I wasn’t obsessive,” Dad returned. “Then you wouldn’t have that little surprise waiting for you in the kitchen.”
Serena gasped. “Is it my new computer?!”
“Well…” He began—only to get cut off.
“Oh, thank you Daddy! Thank you, thank you, Thank you!” Serena bubbled, dancing for joy.
“Uh…” Dad tried to finish, only to have his focus redirected to catching her as she practically jumped on him.
“Uh but you haven’t seen it yet!” He exclaimed, although he did appreciate the big kiss she had planted on his cheek.
“Oh don’t worry Daddy I’ll love it!” She called over her shoulder as she flew out of the room.
Mr. Bell just laughed.
“She’s crazy.” Jason commented.
Mr. Bell smiled.
“Was mom like that?” Jason queried.
“Come on, Dad, don’t go all silent on me. I don’t remember much about her.”
“What do you remember?”
“That she chose me.” Jason said poignantly. “And she chose Serena.”
“And that’s how I think she would want to be remembered.”
They were silent for a few moments. Then Jason broke the question that had been on his mind for some time. “Dad?”
“Did you…? Did you dump us at Ninja Academy after mom died?”
“Serena and I were wondering.”
“Absolutely not!” Dad stated emphatically. “Under no circumstances!”
“Then they kidnapped us.” Jason deduced.
“They did.” Dad affirmed.
Then why didn’t Justin get kidnapped?” Jason queried. “Not that I would wish that on him, but…”
“I understand.” Dad replied reflectively. “They took him too.”
“I chased after all of you. They shot me with tranq darts—nine of them.”
“But that could make you sick!” Jason exclaimed
“It did make me sick!” Dad declared. “I can only thank my brother for getting Justin and I safely away.”
“Oh I see.” Jason said as he began to get the picture. “Uncle Ma was so busy saving Justin and keeping the rest of them off of you and himself that he couldn’t get near us.”
Dad nodded. “We never stopped trying, though. We even used agency resources.”
Jason was surprised. “You mean even Deputy White helped?”
Mr. Bell smiled wryly. “Ah…he didn’t get in the way.”
“What does that mean?”
“Well he gave his approval, but he certainly wasn’t as helpful as I think he could have been.”
“Hm.” Jason intoned softly deep in thought.
Dad’s eyes twinkled. “I have a surprise for you too.”
Jason looked quizzical. Dad nodded. So Jason decided to go have a look. He was surprised to see his “infamous date” (the one who wrecked his car) sitting at the kitchen counter talking with Serena. She turned and slid off the bar stool onto her feet as he entered. “Hi,” she greeted him holding her arms out. “Hey,” Jason said returning her greeting as they hugged. She giggled and looked up at him. “Why the gingerness?”
“Gingerness?” Jason asked incredulously.
“Gingerly-ness.” She enunciated.
“Oh! Well my dad said he had a surprise for me out here and I find you so I thought, ‘that’s so unlike him…”
“Ugh!” She exclaimed in shock pushing him away. “That’s not like me either!”
“I would have refused.”
“I know you would’ve.” She laughed. “I’m just giving you a hard time.”
Jason looked to Serena for help; she just shrugged with an air of “Don’t ask me!”
“I’m here to deliver this,” The singer went on producing car keys from her pocket.
“You didn’t have to.” Jason protested.
“Well I felt bad about your car,” She said taking his hand and pressing the keys into it. “I know you like low key.”
“You really didn’t have to.”
She smiled. “I wanted to. “I’m sorry” isn’t enough when you wreck someone’s car.” She glanced at Serena. “She told me about the Ferrari—sounds fun.”
Jason smiled slightly. “Look, I understand if you hate me right now.” She sighed turning to go.
“Mia.” Jason called after her.
She turned around.
“Maybe I can take you for a ride sometime.”
She smiled. And turned to leave again. “Are you sure you don’t want stay for breakfast?” Serena called after her.
“Oh, I have to go.” She replied “Thanks for the invitation, though.”
“Hey,” Jason said as he hurried over to her and gave her a hug. “Thanks for the car.”
“You mean the “I’m sorry slash birthday present?” She asked, hugging him back. “You’re welcome.”
“And I will take you for that ride.” He added.
She laughed as she stood him back a bit. “Just the car ride.” She said pointing for emphasis.
Jason stifled a laugh her mischievousness. “Just the car ride!” He replied lowering her finger.
She pulled away gently and headed for the elevator, but didn’t quite turn her face towards it right away. Because she was looking at Jason =) Serena whistled after Mia had left. “You should date that one.”
“I already have.” Jason retorted.
“Well then it’s between her and Leopard.”
“No it’s not. She’s just a friend.”
“A friend who you hug.” Serena insisted
“Well I hug you sometimes,” Jason shot back. “I even kiss you! What does that make us?”
Serena attempted to punch him, but he blocked. She tried again with the same results, and then she tried to slap him, only to get her hand slammed into the table palm down. She looked at her hand and then blew him an defiant kiss.
Jason started to say something but at that moment Dad appeared. “Alright, children. Settle down.”
“Yes sir.” They chorused.