"Okay everyone!" Ariel padded to the bottom of the stairs. "Fifteen minute warning on dinner."
He walked back into the kitchen to survey his work: bowls of pasta, so much salad, enough bread rolls to feed a small army. There was meat too. Stir fry. All his knives were sharpened until they gleamed in the dim, orange light.
Ariel Cohen: master of dinner.
His mother shuffled into the room. "Ariel," she muttered, rubbing her temples and yawning. "Has it been fifteen minutes?"
"No, it's been two." He hands her forks, spoons. Two handfuls of them. "Set the table for me?"
She took the silverware and promptly passed it off to Ariel's elder sister. "Bashe, would you set the table?"
Bashe rolled her eyes. "They're your friends. But whatever." She turned into the living room to begin setting out eleven places. "So Joe and Lev are foster parents. That's so weird."
Ariel's mother shrugged. "They're registered with the state. They like kids. I don't see why it's so unusual." She ran her fingers through her hair. "Ariel, does my hair look okay?"
Sighing, Ariel patted her arm. "You look fine, mother."
Bashe walked back into the kitchen. "Fine indeed," she said. She kissed her mother's cheek and picked up two of the bowls of pasta. "So pasta for everyone, right? No salad for Seth because he's a whiny carnivore."
"I resent that." Seth jogged into the kitchen. "Wait, so Joe and Lev have a kid now?" He sat down on one of the barstools to peer over at his stepmother. "That's...actually not surprising. They're so domestic. The poster people for the gay nuclear family."
"He's not really a kid," Ariel's mother pointed out belatedly. "He's in your and Ariel's grade."
There was knocking at the door.
"That must be them. Bashe, answer the door."
With a sigh, Bashe slunk over to the front door and pulled it open. "Greetings," she said, face level. "Joe. Lev. Joe and Lev's new foster child. Welcome to our home." She held out half a handshake.
Joe and Lev's new foster child glowered. "Nehemiah," he corrected, hands stuck firmly into his pockets.
"Bashe," Bashe said. She wiped her hands on her jeans as if holding it out had infected it with snobbishness. "Nice to meet you Nehemiah." As soon as she had turned, her faced wrinkled in disgust and she stuck her tongue out in distaste.
Ariel's mother smoothed out her bright yellow sun dress. "It is nice to meet you," she echoed. "I'm Ava. This is my son Ariel," her hands grabbed Ariel's shoulders, "and over there is my stepson Seth."
Seth waved with the tips of his fingers. Nehemiah glowered at him; Seth glowered right back.
"There are more," Ava said, looking around. "My husband Max, my youngest stepson Keegan and my daughters Esther and Eliana." She pushed down her hair, smoothing it out as best she can as she let go of Ariel and set up the stairs to look for the rest of her family. "I'll be right down."
"So," Bashe leaned on the counter of the island and peered at Nehemiah over her green square glasses. "You're what, seventeen?"
"Sixteen," ground out the teenager. "I'm starting your school next week."
"Not my school," Bashe said, straightening. She arched an amused eyebrow at him. "I'm nineteen. Physics major over at the university." She pushed the curls of black hair out of her face and behind her ears. "You mean Ariel and Seth's school."
Nehemiah's mouth set into a hard line. "Whatever." He leaned against one of the walls, digging his hands further into his pockets.
Ariel eyed him suspiciously. "You like tomato sauce?"
"Duh," Nehemiah snapped, baring his teeth. "Who doesn't like tomato sauce on their pasta."
Bashe raised her hand. "Can't stand the stuff." She shook her head and picked up plates of salad to take over to the dining room table. Ariel could see her annoyance in the curve of her spine, her spite in the way her hips swung back and forth. "Seth, why don't you get drinks?"
Seth turned his attention on their three dinner guests. "Do you guys want water? Apple juice? Booze?"
Lev opted for water, Joe for wine. Nehemiah just stared in contempt.
Ariel straightened the flowers in the vase on the table as the rest of his family filtered down into the dining room. He sat down next to Nehemiah and waited patiently for the bread rolls to be passed around.
Bashe cleared her throat dramatically. "Blessed are You, HaShem, our God, King of the Universe, who creates variety of sustenance." She nodded sagely and took a bite of bread. "This is good."
Nehemiah slid down in his chair.
"So," Ava began, focusing her brown eyes on the teenager. "Are you going to miss your friends? When you go to South, I mean. You used to go to Sheldon high, right?"
"I didn't have any friends at East," Nehemiah replied, keeping his words clipped. "So there's no one for me to miss. Just druggies with no ambition." His lip curled and he cast a dirty look at the glass of water in front of him.
"What, you're a druggie who has a ton of ambition?" Bashe snorted. Max kicked her under the table. "Dad," she snapped, "I'm just telling it like it is."
"Inappropriate dinner conversation," he warned. "I apologize on behalf of my daughter, Nehemiah."
Nehemiah, unperturbed, took another bite of pasta.
The conversation split into parts as people began to converse with each other across the table.
Ariel sat awkwardly pressed against the teal wall. He traced patterns on his place mat. Everyone seemed to fall into their usual rhythm of conversation: Joe and Max discussed sports; Lev and Ava discussed politics, Seth asked Bashe about university; the twins spoke to each other in hushed, unintelligible tones that sounded like the sounds a bird might make. Even Keegan, who would usually offer Ariel a few words of offhanded conversation about video games, was unusually silent, enthralled by something Joe was saying about hockey.
"Will you stop?" demanded Nehemiah, glowering. "This is the fifth time you've elbowed me. You're the worst judge of personal space ever."
A few of the conversations died down.
"Sorry," Ariel mumbled. "I'm left handed."
"And I'm not. So be more careful." Nehemiah took a long slurp of water. "Good. Glad we got that settled."
Bashe kicked him under the table. His head jerked up, face set into a snarl. "Stop picking on my brother," she said, without flinching. "I do not appreciate it when people are needlessly cruel to my family. Especially not snot-nosed punks like yourself."
"Bashe," Max began, voice lowering to a warning.
Her eyes snapped to look at her stepfather. "Max. I can handle this one." She looked back at Nehemiah. "I don't know what your problem is, but we invited our friends," a quick gesture at Lev and Joe, "and you came along. If you have a problem with the people here, you can leave, but we don't have to put up with this crap."
Nehemiah stood up abruptly. "Sounds like a plan to me. I'll be waiting in the car." He picked up one of the bread rolls that had been sitting on his plate and left the table. "Later."
Only when the door had slammed shut did the talking resume.
"So I got this new game," said Keegan, leaning across the table to look at Ariel. "And you build these paths out of bubbles. It's so great."
Fatima looked up from her sketchbook. "Nehemiah? Yeah, I know him. He's in my American History class. Real prick too." She looked back down at her drawing. "He's been here like a week and already he has a nasty reputation for being a right asshole. You'd think he'd be more careful."
Ariel stretched his arms over the table, back arching. He yawned. There was something about the orange light in the café that made him tired. "I don't really care. I just wanted to know if you knew him. I think my parents are inviting him over for Shabbat."
"Why?" Fatima demanded. "I mean, I'm blatantly not Jewish, and I know your Shabbat dinners are like, super-low key, but even I know that Shabbat is not something you invite assholes to. I can't imagine why you'd invite assholes over to your house anyway." She shook her head and made tiny lines on the wide span of paper, filling the white space up with graphite.
"Joe and Lev volunteer at the community centre with my mum. She loves them." Ariel rested his forehead on his arms. "I don't want to think about this any more. What are you doing this weekend." He peered over his arm to trace stars on the table with his fingernails.
"Hanging out with you, duh." Fatima paused to examine her sketch. "What do you think?" She turned the sketchbook around to show it to Ariel. "Looking okay?"
Ariel groaned. "Fatima, why do you even ask? Is it just to feed your ego?"
Fatima considered. "50-50. Half ego, half actual interest."
He stared at her.
Ariel opened his mouth to say something else, but stopped. Fatima smirked at him and slammed her sketchbook closed.
"So," she began, wiggling her black, bushy eyebrows, "do you dig him?"
Eyes widening, Ariel started. He almost fell off the purple chair. "What? No! He's an asshole. You said it yourself." He picked at his salad. "I mean, he's kind of cute. But he's also totally stuck-up and has no manners. My sister hates him."
Fatima nodded. "Will concede that most of your conjectures are correct." She took a bite of her curry. It was the colour of a wilted sunflower. "You forgot that he's a drug obsessed sex fiend."
"Didn't know that last part," said Ariel. He perked up, squishing a tomato between his teeth. "The sex fiend bit. I knew about the drug bit. He looks like a druggie."
"He's got tattoos," Fatima continued, dark eyes still glued to her paper. "I mean, so says that gossip Louise. She sits behind me and talks all together too much." She erased something on the page and took a long drink of her iced tea. "He has a crucifix on his hip."
"Crucifix?" Ariel echoed. "And why do you even remember these titbits of information?"
"Because I'm stealing him for some conceptual art," she replied coldly. "Why do you even care?"
"I don't. I don't even remember why we are talking about him." Ariel crossed his arms over his chest and stared at the girl across from him. For someone to pretty, she would be remarkably annoying.
"He's coming to Shabbat," Fatima supplied. She pushed a strand of black hair out of her face. "And that pissed you off. Because he's got no social skills and your sister hates him. That's where this conversation started."
"I think you should come to Shabbat," Ariel suggested, leaning his elbows on the green café table. "My whole family loves you."
Fatima arched an eyebrow. "You want me to go to a holy dinner for a religion of which I am not a part, with a classmate I abhor, so I can converse with a family that isn't mine?"
She shrugged. "I'm in."
Wednesday night found Ariel, Seth, and Bashe squished onto the couch to watch the Lifetime channel.
"Why are we watching this?" Ariel asked, blinking at the screen. He could make out a whining girl clinging to a boy that minutes prior she had insisted was not her boyfriend. "I can't appear to make sense of this plot."
"It's for my women's studies class," Bashe clarified. "I have to watch a piece of television media and analyse it, making note of the commercials that play during the breaks and the way women are portrayed." She ruffled Seth's bright red hair. "And no way was I going to watch it alone, so I drafted my darling stepbrother to keep me company."
Ariel nodded slowly. "So naturally he decided I must share in the horror that is made-for-TV-movies?"
"You're welcome to leave," Seth snapped, leaning up against Bashe. Then, "But I'd really rather you not, as I'd like a witness to testify that I am taking this sappy morality like a man. I refuse to cry when the lady gets hit by a car." He crossed his arms and glowered at the flashing screen.
"Wait, a lady gets hit by a car?"
A moment later, a blond woman went flying across the screen. The crunch of her bones landing on the pavement flickered through the surround sounds and reverberated off the walls.
"How many times have you seen this?" Bashe asked, eyeing her stepbrother suspiciously.
Seth rolled his eyes. "I checked the wikipedia article," he replied. "Which you could have done before watching but now you're stuck actually having to pay attention." He stuck out his tongue and shifted to lean up against Ariel. "What about you, lovely?"
Ariel shoved him off. "God, you're a weirdo."
"A weirdo with hot step siblings," Seth corrected, wiggling his eyebrows at the other boy. He paused. "Okay, that was probably just going too far. Bashe, did you pick up on the allusion to women having to stay in the kitchen in that last commercial?"
Bashe's eyes widened. "What? Where?"
Seth snickered. "You're horrid."
"Damn it Seth, I'm a physics major, not a feminazi."
Grinning, Seth leaned against the back of the couch. "You know, even though the Original Series had all those girls in short skirts, Star Trek totally dealt with social issues like feminism, racism and homophobia." He nodded sagely. "Oh, Bashe, sexist stereotype, 12 o'clock. That woman can only make cupcakes but doesn't use the grill."
Absently, Bashe nodded as she inspected her notebook. "Got it," she murmured from between her pursed lips. "Would you consider that lady who couldn't clean her shower until she got OxyClean a sexist character?"
"Nah, everyone uses OxyClean," Ariel said.
"God bless Billy Mays."
The door to the den opened up. "Will one of you guys play with me?" Eliana stood in the doorway, tiny hands wound up in her pink dress. "What are you watching? Can I watch too?"
Bashe shook her head. "Nah, you don't want to watch this, it's stupid adult stuff."
Ariel climbed off the couch. "Don't worry about it, El. Here, I'll play with you." He excused himself with only a quick jerk of his head at Seth and Bashe. He peered down at the little girl standing near his feet and shut the door to the den. "Where's Esther?"
It was rare to see the two twins separated. For a moment, he wondered if they had had a sort of fight in that strange, bird-like language they so often spoke to each other. They never fought.
Eliana looked up at him. "Oh. She's at a violin lesson. Mommy said I couldn't take violin lessons because violins are so scary." She wrapped a hand around Ariel's wrist. "You'll play with me now?"
"Sure." Ariel let her lead him out into the side yard. The beginnings of darkness were settling into the air, making everything look bluish. "What are we doing out here?"
Eliana squatted down in front of a large rock. "Looking for fairy temples," she breathed. Then she turned and hushed him as well. "I saw one once, and I've been looking for them ever since. Fairies are very good at hiding their temples." Her eyes narrowed in concentration.
"Can I help?" Ariel pushed words and thoughts aimlessly around in his head. "I am sure I'd be very good at finding fairy temples."
Eliana considered a moment before nodding and motioning for him to kneel down on the slate flagstones. "Be quiet," she breathed as she climbed to her feet. "They'll hide otherwise."
Nodding, Ariel followed Eliana around the front garden, replacing the stones she haphazardly overturned. She never glanced back at him, though her voice continued to form words that only sometimes made sense.
"Yes," she was saying. "They are many, gold and orange like the colours of their earth..." She straightened to peer out into the distance, out into the cemetery across the way. "I wonder if there are fairy temples out there."
"No," Ariel snapped, interrupting her droning words. "There aren't any fairy temples out there. Only dead things."
He couldn't bring himself to drag his sobbing sister home from the graveyard, covered in dirt.
"Why not?" She looked up at him, eyes wide in wonder. "I haven't checked across the road."
It would be just too taxing to watch her calculate the dates in her head and realize that some of the people buried under those cold, hard stones were only a little older Bashe or Seth or even her twin sister.
Instead, he just took her by the hand and lead her towards the house. "I'll play paper dolls with you," he said. "We'll build our own fairy temples."
She skipped after him, up the porch steps and into the house. Her reddish ponytail bounced from side to side as she danced through the rooms towards the stairs. "Paper dolls," she sang. "Paper dolls and fairy temples."
Ariel sighed, hands tucked into his pockets.
It was the least he could do for her.
This is NANOWRIMO.
The first one I've ever posted. T rating shall be temporary, I solemnly swear, and if anyone has a better title, tell me and I'll love you.
Feedback is appreciated.
There are mistakes because, um, there are a lot of words in not a lot of time.