The kitchen was coated in flour, as was the entire front half of Kayla's body. She looked up at Mark and grinned. "I don't seem to be any good at this."
"She's really not," Kristen said, from the sink where she was washing a sticky mass of... something... down the garbage disposal. "If she weren't my girlfriend, I'd kick her out of my kitchen."
"Don't worry, Kristen," Aaron said. "I'll clean up the kitchen when you're done."
Mark shook his head, smiling at Kayla. "And you're so good in the lab, too."
"That's different," she insisted.
"Nope. Baking is just applied chemistry," he said.
"Wrong," she said firmly. "Baking is applied torture, Mark."
He grinned, watching as Kristen brushed the remainder of the flour off of her and onto the floor. Once they were done, he sat down, his face sobering. "I talked to Aaron's mother about us?"
"Oh?" Kayla asked cautiously.
He nodded. "She thinks maybe she has an idea what Kristen is, but she needs to do some research. She also offered to weave some protections for us." He stopped there.
Kristen frowned, then tossed the towel she was holding onto the counter and sat down in his lap, pressing close against him.
Kayla's eyes narrowed, and her voice was wary. "What's the catch, Mark? These things always have a catch."
"She'll need things from us," he said. "Hair, blood, a photograph."
"Um." Kayla went pale. "Aaron... I know she's your mother, hon, and I'm sorry, but... you know what she could do with that sort of thing!"
Aaron nodded unhappily. "Yeah. But I also know what else she could do with such things," he said. "And... I think she just means to help. But you're right. It's risky."
"So we need to decide if we're willing to trust her," Mark said. "On the one hand, she could really help. On the other..."
"On the other," Kayla said, "we'd be giving levers to a powerful Voodoo priestess who just might decide her son would be better off without all of us."
"Exactly," Mark said. "But... on the gripping hand, she seems to be powerful enough that she might not need it for that."
Aaron nodded. "I wish I could say for sure she wouldn't do that, but... I really can't. She's very protective, and unpredictable. I think she's okay with everything, but I can't be sure she's not just hiding her reaction really well," he said. "But you're right. She wouldn't need it, not just for revenge or anything. It would help, but she could do more than enough without it."
"So," Mark said. "It looks like things are pretty well balanced, and it all hinges on our decision."
"Yes sir," Aaron said, nodding again. "Sorry."
Mark looked down at Kristen. "How do you vote?"
"I guess... let her have it," she said. "I'm scared enough to look for help wherever it's offered."
He nodded, then asked, "Kayla?"
She sighed. "Yeah. I don't like it, but... we're already in enough trouble that I can't see getting cautious now would do us any good."
Mark grinned. "That's the truth. So I guess we do it." He looked thoughtful. "I think I want to use FedEx, though. Not the mail."
Kayla shuddered. "Gods no, not the mail! If you did something that stupid, I'd... I'd... I'd make you eat my cooking!"
The rest of the weekend was spent in playful relaxation. Despite the playful bits, they managed to produce only a slightly brighter glow in Kristen. She seemed to be getting more control over the light, though, and was able to use it as a sort of ethereal body paint on Kayla, who proclaimed it a really odd, but quite nice feeling. The light changed color slowly once it was applied, from gold to silver.
Kristen's ankle seemed to be basically healed, too, based upon the lack of attention she paid it. She certainly had no trouble getting around, even without crutches, and said that there was no pain at all, just irritation from the cast. There were no nightmares Saturday night, either.
Sunday morning, the rest of them woke up to find that Aaron had apparently slipped quietly out of bed much earlier, and cleaned the entire downstairs, careful not to disturb anything or make any noise.
Eventually, though, their pleasant weekend had to draw to a close. Sunday evening, as she and Aaron were getting ready to leave, Kayla approached Mark a bit nervously. "Ah, by the way, I needed to ask you something."
"Okay?" He looked at her curiously. Her cheeks were pink, and her eyes on the floor.
"Um, see, next week's my birthday, right?"
"Mmhmm?" he asked.
"So, like, there's my mom. She's crazy for birthdays. It's a real big deal to her." She sighed. "So, she wants to do a party. I rather hate them, but... she's my mom, y'know? Anyway, Kristen is invited 'cause she's my best friend, and Mom wanted me to invite you because she wants to meet my 'favorite teacher who has the telescope' and like I said, it's really a big deal to her."
"Er, I see," he said, though he wasn't entirely sure that he did. "You want us to come?"
"Well, honestly," she said, "I'd rather I didn't have to come. But if you don't, she'll have her feelings hurt." She peeked up at him.
He nodded. "Okay. I'll be there. What do I have to look forward to?"
She groaned miserably. "My family," she said, in a tone that implied that nothing could possibly be worse than that. "My Aunt Ellen, Uncle Jacob. Grandparents. A handful of kids including my demonic younger brother. My 'aunt' Amber, who is a whole year older than me and a real bitch. My mother's cooking. Whatever evil music Aunt Ellen is into this week. Possibly an explosion or two."
"Explosions?" His eyes brightened. "Should I bring my toys?"
"NO!" She stared at him in horror. "Definitely not! Don't encourage them."
"Not even the sparkler bomb?" he asked, looking at her with big, sad eyes.
"You did hear me say I had a little brother, right?" she asked.
He just grinned.
She glared. "Now you are asking for a spanking."
He wiggled his eyebrows with a suggestive leer.
She laughed. "Oh, you're impossible. Be good."
"I thought I was!" he said, with feigned indignation.
"Hmf. Maybe. Hmm." She frowned. "Um, y'know, we've created a problem."
"Oh?" he asked.
She nodded to Kristen, curled up on the couch with her sketchbook, immersed in her drawing. The light was off, but she still had plenty to draw by. "I don't think there's any way in hell she'll have lost enough glow to be able to hide it tomorrow," Kayla said.
"Um. Point. Shit."
"But... damn it... I want to do that to her," Kayla said.
He grinned. "So do I. I like it."
"But she can't keep missing school," she said. "They get really pissy about that." She scowled, and her face took on an expression of bitter irritation. "No matter what kind of grades you have."
"You're right," he said, frowning. "We need to find a solution, but I have no idea what."
Kayla sighed. "Well, maybe once she's more used to having enough, she'll stop absorbing it all?"
"Hmm. Maybe so," he said. "Or maybe she'll get better control of the light."
"I think what she ended up with this weekend," Kayla said thoughtfully, "was like giving a starving man an all-you-can-eat gift certificate to Ruth's Chris. Also, make him an alcoholic and add in an open bar tab."
"Maybe so. But still... I liked it."
"It's beautiful," she said. "I loved it. But, Mark, she was drunk. As drunk as if you'd given her a bottle of tequila."
"Yeah, she was," he agreed thoughtfully. "On the other hand, though, between the three of us, we'd had a fair amount of vodka. And if she was picking up our drunkenness in addition to hers..."
"Hmm. I hadn't thought of that," she said. "But still... I just wish we knew what was healthy for her, that's all. I can't help but worry, y'know?"
"I know," he said, and pulled her to him, hugging her tightly. "Believe me, I know."
Monday morning, Kristen was still glowing as brightly as he and Kayla had been afraid she would. The most she could tone it down was still way too bright to pass as human.
"I'm so sorry, Mark," she said, looking up at him unhappily. "I guess we should have stopped on Saturday. I should be okay by tomorrow."
He shook his head. "No. I enjoyed myself thoroughly, and I didn't want to stop. I wanted you to have that. We just need to figure out a solution. Hmm." He thought for a moment, then suggested, "Could you concentrate it enough to hide it all the way under your clothes, rather than just hiding enough to tone it down?" "I can try... but it was pretty hard just keeping the brightest bit under my shirt this weekend..." She closed her eyes, concentrating, and the glow slowly faded from sight, disappearing beneath her clothes as if it were being sucked in. She opened her eyes. "Um, that's as small as I can get it," she said. Unfortunately, the light was bright enough that he could still see it through the material of her shirt.
"Mm. Makeup, maybe?" he asked.
"Um. I don't think that would work," she said. "But maybe a thick sweater? I only have a couple of them, though..."
"That might work," he said.
She smiled. "Wish I could wear your sweaters. I'd love to have something of yours next to my skin all day."
He pulled her to him and kissed her forehead. "I think that might be a bad idea, though. But thanks for the thought."
The sweater she pulled on worked. The glow was totally hidden. "There!" she said, eyes sparkling.
"How hard is it to keep there?" he asked.
"Um... It's kinda odd feeling, but it's not hard," she said. "Kind of like holding your bladder when you just barely have to go. If I'm startled really bad, or hurt, I might not be able to hold it, but under normal circumstances, I should be able to."
He nodded thoughtfully. "And it should continue to fade over the next few hours and get easier, too. Okay. I think it's safe, and I'd advise sitting near windows, and you still have to use the crutches, but I think it's okay for you to go to school."
"I'll be careful," she assured him with a bright, happy smile, then took a moment to kiss him thoroughly before heading for the bathroom to brush her hair.
Her happy mood didn't survive long once they made it to school, though. Something horrible had happened over the weekend.
Someone found a body.
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