The half-question, half-statement from her dad made Kaye look up from her salted caramel shake. Despite the fact that it was December and the former Aquila was on her winter break, it was hot enough in the Texas shade for ice cream. She’d chosen a shake over a cone so the frozen treat wouldn’t drip onto her black skinny jeans, her matching black top, or the red corset pulling the look together. Jared looked over the straw of his chocolate malt with raised eyebrows, clearly waiting for her response.
“Well… yeah, okay, but it’s been a whole semester and I hate it. If I’m being forced to do the four year college thing,” which she was, “I’m going to study something that doesn’t make me want to jump off the roof of the GRB.” Jared certainly couldn’t argue against that; it was hard for a professional artist to be anti-study-what-you-want. He also didn’t need to know Kaye’s biggest reason to stop majoring in technomancy was because it was Hard. “I did pick a major though.”
Her dad looked completely relieved. The last thing he wanted to do was tell his husband, after he’d worked a long day wading through court documents, that their daughter was spending her Rice tuition on nothing. “Okay, what is it?”
“Medieval and Early Modern Studies.”
“It’s a real thing! It’s like a huge mix of Latin, art studies, history - it’s like five majors in one. It’s a steal.” Jared looked unconvinced. Both of them knew that didn’t matter; Kaye was going to study whatever she wanted. “I didn’t want to do college, remember? I wanted to travel and stuff. This can let me do that. I could work in museums, discover old art and literature. It’s really cool.”
“If you’re sure, and it’s what makes you happy, and you’re gonna graduate with a real degree, then you know we’re going to support you.” Jared grinned. “It sounds cool, and maybe we could do some art stuff together. I wouldn’t mind visiting some museums in Europe.”
Kaye slurped the last of her shake and smiled. That was easy enough. Dad was always more reasonable than Papa. Just imagining telling Thomas Packman that she was switching from technomancy to Medieval Studies, on his dime, sounded like signing her own death warrant. That would be her Dad’s job. She sighed in relief and stretched, looking across Kemah Boardwalk. After some time in the shade, she felt less hot and ready to keep snack hunting. She used a quick charm to protect her pale skin from the harsh Gulf sun. “Let’s go on the ferris wheel - wait, does that say Oreo-stuffed funnel cake? I need it.”
Kaye remained focused on her Medieval Violence textbook from her spot in the campus treehouse. Year two at Rice definitely showed her she’d made the right call with her major. For the first time in her life, she was interested in what she was studying. Her Latin was getting to a point where she could use it to inform her own spell creation, and the coursework was fascinating. Catapults and plague? Yes, please!
“Are you throwing your papers on the ground on purpose?” asked a voice from below her. “Or does the wind have a vendetta against you?”
Her head snapped up from the book to look at her bag - shit. She’d left it unzipped and it was windy enough for her loose papers to have scattered to the ground below. Thankfully, she knew the classmate the voice belonged to. “Yes, Lila, the wind and I are mortal enemies. We’ve been fighting for years. Could you bring those up?”
Lila pulled herself into the treehouse with Kaye’s paper’s in hand. The two weren’t close, but Kaye could stand her more than most of her classmates. Most people at Rice took themselves too seriously. At Rocky Mountain International, the stakes of their education were low enough that people could joke around, randomly stab each other, the fun stuff! Rice students definitely knew how to party, but they weren’t as fun to mess with during the day. Lila, at least, could take a joke and didn’t act as though her entire self relied on a good grade to matter.
“I was thinking,” Lila said very slowly, which was always a great sign. Kaye dropped the textbook into her lap, closing it, and gave the other girl her rapt attention. “Wanna go to Numbers tonight? We could pre-game, get some Velvet Taco after?”
“Only if you’re paying.”
“Bitch, you’re rich.”
Kaye grinned and opened the textbook again. Lila groaned dramatically, throwing herself across the other witch’s lap like a cat desperate for their owner’s attention. The former Aquila rolled her heavily lined blue eyes and pinched her freckled friend’s rosy cheeks. “Fine. But you’re paying for the drunk snacks when we go to Disco Kroger.”
It was a high pain day and one of the rare cold days in Houston, which meant Kaye was skipping classes. It was nothing special, and it was, unfortunately, way too damn common. She pulled the blankets over her face. The heating pad was far away, and she couldn’t imagine expending the energy on a wandless accio to get it. She wished Ruben was here. Or Lila. Or anyone.
Living alone sucked. And she wanted her stupid boyfriend. Hell, she’d even take Pretty Boy because he wouldn’t let her suffer. Danny was a better person than her - or, at least, good enough that he’d let his good person-ness overtake his annoyance with her and help.
Her thoughts looped like this until she finally fell asleep, her dreams full of joints made of fire, people watching as she lay in bed with no wig, and the narration from a YouTube video that talked both makeup and murder.
“You stole that?”
Kaye blinked at Lila, completely confused that she was shocked. “Well, yeah. You said you didn’t have money for everything, and no one checks the self-checkout at Target. I just kept it on the bottom part of the cart.”
“What if you’d been caught?”
“Then I would bat my blue eyes, look terrified, and say,” Kaye cleared her throat to prepare for her whiny, enginue act, “I’m so sorry! I forgot that was there. Let me pay for the cat litter right now. I’m so, so sorry!!”
Lila let out a long whistle and leaned back in her chair. “Wow. For a second, I thought a ghost possessed your body and you were an entirely different being. You’re good.”
Kaye shrugged. “Yeah, I know.” Stealing was one of the foundations of her relationship with Ruben - and most of her friends at RMI, actually - but Lila didn’t need to know that. The smoking jacket from Danny, the lighter from Ruben, a compact she took after Holland did her makeup in the hospital (and was apparently charmed to stabilize her hands if they shook - how did Holland KNOW), and new boots she’d recently taken from Marissa Kendrick.
They weren’t the closest of friends, but Kaye appreciated that when she randomly appeared at the Boston House, Marissa was ready and willing to hang out. The redhead recently started go-go dancing on top of bartending, and that territory came with amazing stiletto boots. One pair came home with Kaye. She might even be wearing the thigh high lace up (with the skin showing behind the laces) platform boots with the tiniest bit of space between her red leather mini-skirt right now.
Lila stared at Kaye for quite a while, who didn’t care enough to acknowledge it. Instead, she nursed her cajeta latte and waited for her best college friend to get on with whatever she was thinking. Kaye’s mind had drifted off to the different possible homes Ruben had explored for the two of them when Lila finally spoke.
“Kaye…” Lila’s voice was barely a whisper, and she needed to lean in to hear. “I have a proposition for you.” And as her fellow college junior shared what she’d been up to in her spare time, the former Aquila couldn’t stop the chaotic grin from spreading across her face.
She was in.
“I thought Canada was supposed to be freezing.” Kaye stretched her arms over her head, staring up at the clear blue sky. She removed her black and purple striped arm warmers, definitely not needing them right now. “It’s humid here. Are you sure we apparated out of Texas?”
“Are you questioning my apparation skills? Or does Texas speak French now?” Ruben fired back, hooking a thumb over his shoulder towards what looked like a café across the street. Pâtisserie something-or-other. They’d probably get familiar with it soon. “Never fear, I am sure you will be frozen in no time,” he continued on teasingly, holding out a hand for her arm warmers and tucking them into the end of the duffel bag slung across his chest.
Kaye didn’t necessarily pack lightly when it was time for the move. She left plenty of stuff at her dads’ place, but it certainly didn’t seem like it with all the boxes and bags.
“Nope, I got it.” A grinning Ruben took the end of the box, swung it up onto his free shoulder as if it wasn’t carrying a stupid number of textbooks, and started towards the stairs. Any normal person would say this was absolutely unnecessary since they had (a) a cart to put things on and (b) elevator access to their new apartment (and also (c) magic to make the entire moving thing redundant), but he was always game for a workout. “Race you to the top!”
Kaye rolled her eyes and, without anything in her hands because apparently Ruben needed to prove himself, she apparated right into their new place. While she waited for her boyfriend, she poured herself a quick gin and tonic with blueberries plopped in to make it Healthy, sipping by the time he made it to the door. “I win.”
Still grinning, Ruben flipped her off as he strode past. “Pft, cheater.” Apparently people were smaller in Canada - he had to duck a little in the kitchen area, but where it opened into their new living room the ceiling stretched up to the top of the loft. He slid the box onto the table, tossed his duffel bag over the couch, and turned back to Kaye, holding out his hand expectantly for her drink.
“You can have this,” she teased, “when you’ve finished bringing everything inside.”
“That seems fair.” He pulled his hand back and turned it into a fist, posturing to show the cut of his bicep. “Endorphins now, booze later.” Ruben marched back out to the hall, snagging a blueberry out of her glass on the way.
The last section is co-written with Sasha