Sunday, October 15, 2000
Melchior had been visiting for hours.
At first, Arnbjörg had been happy to see him. Melchior being around made Jaya happy, and it made severyone else relax. He’d even dropped his Mask for her once, which made her understand both why he Masked all the time and why everyone treated him like a mascot.
But Magnolia had broken out something she called “prime hootch” that smelled like a perfume factory truck had run into a vodka truck, and everyone had started drinking. And the more Melchior had started drinking, the more he draped himself on Jaya, who just petted him like it was cute.
Arnbjörg didn’t like it, but she wasn’t about to humiliate herself by throwing a tantrum like some besotted high school kid (never mind that you ARE a besotted high school kid, the little voice in the back of her head muttered, helping matteres exactly none), so she sat on the other side of Jaya and drank prime hootch and studied the patterns of Magnolia’s spots up and down her legs, and the way Sheba’s stripes on her ears seemed to make very faint lines in her hair. It didn’t suck any more than everything else at this school.
“An’, you know, maybe you and I could like old times?” Melchior thought he was whispering. That was clear. But he whispered very loudly.
“I’ve got a Kept now, Mel.” Jaya’s voice was gentle enough, but if she’d used that tone on Arnbjörg, Arnbjörg would be out in the hall punching walls.
“You had a Keeper last year. C’mon. I miss you. And we could even do it, you know, guy on guy…”
“Well, I think it’s time for a new movie!” Sheba’s voice was loud and shrill and more importantly, too late. Even as she popped up to put a movie in the DVD player, Arnbjörg was looking at Jaya. Jaya was looking awkward and uncomfortable and most importantly, not surprised or shocked. “Melchior, I said no.”
“Awww,” he sulked. Arnbjörg looked around at everyone else, the upperclassmen trying to get their game faces on, Howard as confused as she was.
Phelen was, of course, amused. “Heard that, did you?”
“I did,” she answered grimly. “Not that I know what to make of it.”
“Oh, go ask VanderLinden. I’m sure he’ll tell you.” He was smirking broadly. It made Arnbjörg a bit nervous.
“Phelen!” Sheba glared.
That just made her angry. “Why is everyone so quick to keep everything from me? It’s ridiculous.”
“Phelen isn’t exactly the person to hear things from.” Sheba’s voice went gentle and careful. Jaya still hadn’t said anything. She was looking pale and worried. “He likes to put the most negative spin on things possible.”
“Oh, come on, you can’t blame this one on me. Melchior’s the one crawling all over Jaya inches from Arna here. And if that wasn’t bad enough, he’s the one that slipped. Nobody else has.”
“So everyone else knows.” Knows what? Arnbjörg spoke slowly, working through it. Jaya was squirming. That didn’t bode well for her innocence.
“Jaya didn’t exactly keep it a secret last year. Of course, dating Ty, that would have been a lot harder.” Phelen’s smile had vanished. He was watching Arnbjörg rather intently. She swallowed, feeling like there was a test and she was failing.
“…does that actually happen?” She had to be misreading. Right?
Now he smiled again, although it wasn’t a nice smile. He shrugged out of his trench coat, and shadows climbed out of his black t-shirt and up his neck, down his bare arms. “You’re in a magical school for fairies. If you can imagine it, there’s a good chance that it was possible.”
“Phelen.” Sheba’s voice was sharp. “Stop helping.”
“Phelen…” Jaya sounded like she was pleading. “Come on…”
Phelen was implacable. “The problem isn’t me coming on, Jaya, it’s Mel there crawling all over you in front of Arna. Your Kept.”
“So now you’re the expert in Keeping?” Sheba’s voice had claws and teeth in it.
“Well, of everyone here? Yes. Yeah, I am. Mags come in close, but I started Keeping my first year in, and I Kept people who wanted the collar.”
“And that makes, me, what…?” Arnbjörg thought Sheba might start steaming. Her ears were raked back, her smile was showing too many teeth, and she sounded way too casual about everything all of a sudden.
“The head of this crew. I never argued with that part. I’m just saying that there are things it’s dumb to keep from your Kept.” Phelen looked way too pleased with himself. “And there are things it’s just cruel to do in front of a Kept, but I wouldn’t expect Mel here to remember that sort of thing.”
Arnbjörg glanced at Melchior, who was looking lost and miserable, and then at Jaya, who was sitting very stiffly on the couch, her mouth half-open like she wanted to say something.
She caught Arnbjörg looking at her. “Arna…”
“Is it gonna be like this all year?” She curled her hands into fists on her lap. “What else haven’t you told me? I mean, seriously, do you think it’s going to be easier for me to keep finding shit out every time I turn around?” She stood up. “Or were you just hoping I wouldn’t find anything else out? This is ridiculous, Jaya. I mean… is that even your name?”
“Phelen.” Jaya stood up, leaving Melchior scrabbling to pull himself upright. “Come on, man. That’s enough.”
“Clearly it’s not. You heard the lady. She wants to know what’s going on.”
“And that was so important when I was being Kept?”
“Look, just because your Keeper made a bunch of stupid mistakes is no reason for you to make the same mistakes. At least be interesting and make different mistakes.”
“Could someone just tell me what the hell is going on? You’ve got all your politics and that’s fine but they don’t involve me.” Arnbjörg looked from Jaya to Phelen to Melchior, from the squirming little shit to Sheba and Magnolia and back to…
…to… She rubbed her eyes.
“Sometimes I’m a guy.” Jaya’s voice sounded wrong, deep. “I know you’re not into guys. But I’m a fullblooded Daeva, and sometimes I’m a guy.”
Arnbjörg looked at… at him. She looked at the room of people who had known, who had known and thought she didn’t need to know. She darted for the door, running as fast as she could before anyone could stop her.