"That was a really expensive bottle of wine, you know, and she didn't even open it."
"She offered you a beer," Leo said, not understanding why Karly was so annoyed.
"Do you want me to get a beer gut?"
Leo stiffened sensing the beginning of a trap. One thing he knew about girls was that when conversation turned to their appearance there was no right answer. "You know I don't care about that stuff," he said weakly. She rolled her eyes at him in response.
Normally Leo liked that she spoke her mind - it meant he didn't have to waste time trying to decipher her every thought - but right now he would have loved some bullshit. They were sitting in a parked car on a decrepit street after a long evening and Leo wasn't in the mood for an argument.
"This is not what I pictured when you said you wanted me to meet your family."
Me either, Leo thought bitterly. It now seemed crazy that this morning he had actually been excited to see everyone together.
The main thing Leo had learned since setting out on his own was that he wasn't very good at being alone, something which surprised no one but himself. He'd grown up with a constant background noise of chaos and a complete lack of privacy. At any moment a shout would go out or a door would slam open, so you learned to always be on guard, and RMI hadn't felt much different. Without anything to worry about Leo didn't know how to harness his adrenaline and spent his off time pacing around his tiny rented apartment, which was really just a room with a bed and a sink, and slugging cans of cider until he grew bored of that and started magically altering his furniture for fun.
When that began to feel too sad he would write. Leo had never been a prolific letter writer - writing put you in a vulnerable position as you ran the risk of accidentally oversharing - but he wrote to old school friends, to his family, and sometimes he wrote to himself, just to have someone to talk to. It was incredibly embarrassing behaving like the female lead in a teen rom-com but he was willing to try anything to avoid a future as that stoner guy.
And then he met Karly Beck.
Around the time Leo had started making his living telling false fortunes at a carnival Karly had secured a seasonal job selling candy floss to children and adults who had no business hopping themselves up on sugar when they were about to ask to be flung through the air at top speed but insisted on the taking the risk anyway. They'd been dating almost nine months and Leo was beginning to find hiding magic exhausting but he couldn't bring himself to tell her. She'd think he was mental and besides, Leo enjoyed pretending he was just like everyone else - even if he did cheat and use magic for chores when no one was looking - and he didn't want to throw any new hurdles at the relationship. Because, the strange thing was, Leo actually really liked Karly, although, they hadn't hit it off straight away.
She was born Carly Beck but when she was fifteen she decided the 'C' was too soft and abandoned it for the more aggressive Karly Beck with a 'K'. When Leo first heard the story he had laughed assuming it was the punchline of some lame joke, because what sort of prat would think changing a single letter of their name was a radical act of reinvention?
She followed the trials and tribulations of the Kardashians like they were her Quidditch team and would spend her wages in a day without a thought. Leo, who was terrified of debt, eventually began to see her erratic spending as fearless rather than reckless, but it certainly hadn't been his initial impression.
"I want what I want, when I want it," Karly had once said without shame, and she had taken a similar approach in her pursuit of Leo. She made it clear she liked Leo, thought he was funny, and didn't care that he had no career aspirations before snogging him mid-way through a palm reading. It hadn't taken long for Leo to re-evaluate his views on Karly after that. Right now, however, he was having some mild regret.
Leo shrugged. "I really don't understand what's going on. I thought it went fine."
"Your mom was totally judging me. When you went to the bathroom she said, and I quote, "I can tell you're actually a very pretty girl under all that makeup." So don't sit there and tell me it went fine."
"I'm sure she meant it as a compliment!"
"And that weird brother of yours kept asking me all these questions about sheep."
Leo couldn't help it - he laughed.
"What's so funny?" she cried, reaching across the car to give him a playful whack on the arm.
"That's just Eugene! He's eccentric, but in a totally adorable, totally endearing way. I promise you'll get used to it. So no more calling my brother weird, okay?"
"Okay, okay. Your sister, Brandy, was nice and the little ones were kind of cute" she said, leaning over and kissing him in apology. Leo was about to go in for another kiss but stopped, suddenly, when he saw Eugene come out of the apartment building carrying JJ on his shoulders. They walked down the street towards Leo's car and JJ grinned as he held a pie high above his head. It was the kind you picked up in a panic at the gas station when you'd forgotten the in-laws were coming by for dinner and it still had a red reduction sticker stuck on top. "We brought a present!" he screamed so loud Leo didn't even need to roll down the window to hear. Leo gave JJ a thumbs up and glanced at Karly. "Be nice," he teased, turning around to push open the back door, allowing his brothers to scramble inside. She flashed him a look which he understood to mean: Me? I'm always nice.
"Mom thought you might be hungry on the ride home," Eugene explained. "Elisa wanted to put whipped cream on top but I said no. Last time she did that she smashed the pie in my face. It was the worst. When I looked out my glasses they were coated in cream and I felt like I was trapped in a washing machine with way too many suds." JJ giggled.
"That's ok," Karly said, in that sweetly voice adults often used when talking to children, "I don't like cream all that much anyway." All three boys looked at Karly in horror. Leo knew Karly was just trying to be friendly but she would have to learn never to talk ill of whipped cream if she ever wanted to be accepted back into their home.
"I'm starved already. Why don't we open up that pie now?" Leo said quickly, and watched with relief as his brothers turned their focus away from Karly and toward the cheap dessert sitting in JJ's lap.
JJ had already pried open the cardboard packaging and wasted no time in slamming his hand into the centre of the pie and shovelling a handful of apple jelly into his small mouth. Leo felt Karly wince but to his surprise she followed JJ's lead and grabbed a fistful of pie, holding it up to her mouth for a moment and then, with an exaggerated level of enthusiasm, proclaimed its deliciousness. "You've got to try it babe." - And before Leo had a chance to speak a streak of mushy pie had been spread across his face, and he didn't know whose laugh was loudest, JJ’s or Karly’s. It looked like Karly had found a way to make friends after all.