". . . and if you get pregnant, I swear, somebody's dick is going to get pulverized," Jake told me through his teeth, a final farewell message. So heartwarming. Charlie's laugh just made me roll my eyes.
I winced at the mental image threatening to invade my mind's eye. Gross. "Chill your balls, man," I replied, face still scrunched up in reaction to what he just said. "Lay off Luke for once. Testosterone spills are hard to clean up." I gave a friendly nod to Melanie Vanders, who gave me a mock-weary smile. "Melanie knows. Don't make it hard for her."
"Melanie does know," Jake told me, waggling his eyebrows.
"Gross!" Vivian looked like she had thrown up in her own mouth. (Pretty much mirrored my reaction.) Jake stuck his tongue out at her. Dear God my twenty-two-year-old brother who's a law student at NYU was still acting like he's goddamned five.
Jake pinched Vivian's nose ("Ow! Jackass.") and ruffled her hair. "Don't be a pain in the neck, kid," he told her as he picked up Melanie's and his suitcases. My parents were waiting right by the door, and gave him and Melanie a tight hug. I spied the corner of a CD case peeking out from inside the pocket of the leather jacket he's wearing.
"Congratulations," my mother told them, eyes shining.
"You're sure you're not pregnant?" Dad asked Melanie, and I slapped my hand onto my forehead. Way to be tactful, Dad.
"Dad," Jake groaned. Other people might think that they were too young to get married, but what do they know? Besides, being engaged doesn't mean you're getting married the next day, right? I'm pretty confident Jake and Melanie knew how to handle themselves. Of course they do.
Melanie just laughed. "If I am, you'd be the first to know," she reassured my father, giving him a hug. I kind of liked how Melanie handled my family's um, quirks. I'd be rooting for her for my whole life.
We followed them to the front yard, where Jake loaded their luggage to the trunk of his car.
"Take care!" I called out.
"Yep, thanks for the mixtape, sis!" Jake replied, winking.
"Thanks for taking care of my hair!" Vivian said. I noticed Charlie quietly stepping away from her.
"You were so close to looking like a crystal ball," Jake sighed, shaking his head.
"Crystal ball?" Dad repeated, looking suspiciously between Jake and Vivian.
"Okay now, take care on the road!" Mom quickly said. We didn't need a farewell brawl to send them off.
As soon as Jake and Melanie were out of sight, Mom and Dad rounded on my sister, who gulped and smiled at them nervously.
"But how do we figure out what kind of timeline there is?" Charlie asked shrilly.
"Charlie, keep your voice down," I hissed, looking around. Cheerful laughter, giggles and yells filled the air, and as much as even the playground itself looked like it didn't give a rat's ass about the three of us, I still felt a little paranoid.
"Ronnie, you do know no one's interested," Madison pointed out. "How those kids managed to even come out and play in this kind of weather, though, I would never know." I squinted at the little tots running around the merry-go-round and squabbling over who sits at the see-saw next. A corner of my mouth quirked up as I watched a little boy crouch down to gather partially melted white mush in his little hands, look closely at the snow (that is not really all snow anymore), and fling it down with a frustrated cry before running to a woman who I assumed was his mother.
The snow was starting to melt. Only the frigid air remained as a sign of the Yuletide holiday coming to an end. New Year had come and go without incident, and three more days remain before the school year officially resumes. Personally, I can't wait. Madison was going back to Cherrywood in two days, and we had decided to go out to make the most of the last of the holidays.
I wanted to go back to school, though. It's much easier to forget about the whole bizarre time-travelling thing when you've got a mountain of work to knock off your desk nightly.
Yeah, classic Ronnie move, running away.
"I don't think there's any way of determining exactly what kind of timeline there is," I said resignedly. "Seriously, guys, since when did we stop griping about the shit ton of school work and start worrying about this kind of sci-fi stuff instead anyway?" I groaned.
"I thought you'd always wanted to be part of the Doctor Who universe," Madison said, smiling at me slightly.
"Well look where it got me," I retorted.
"TV series or not, those kids have got to go home," Charlie insisted, shivering slightly as wind blew across us. Charlie and I had updated Madison all about the messy Mikey-and-Ynna affair the night of the post-Christmas dinner, when we managed to get away from the family long enough to get time to ourselves. "To be frank, it kind of freaks me out how Luke's cousins are not freaked out by any of this at all," Charlie said, eyebrows scrunching together.
Fuck, she's right, I thought. But then again, they were as far from the issue as Pluto is far from the sun.
Fuck you guys, Pluto will always have planetary status in my heart. "Viva la Pluto!" as one of my favorite sayings went.
Anyway, where was I?
"Then send them home," Mads was saying, as if the solution was simple enough.
"Therein lies the problem." I planted my face in my hands. "Unless we could call the Terminator and cart those kids back—"
"Maddie," Charlie suddenly said, snapping me out of my gloom, "what kind of timeline does the Terminator take place in?"
Madison scrunched up her forehead. "I have no idea," she admitted. "I'm not the movie buff, why not ask Ronnie?"
"It's kind of complicated, really—" I began. I was always happy to discuss fictional plot devices.
"The Terminator goes back to the past to kill Sarah Connor, right?" Charlie interrupted. I made a face at her.
"Dude, the Terminator isn't the only one from the future," I pointed out. "Kyle Reese is also from the future. By doing that, he ensures that John is conceived. But there's this thing—"
"Cut to the chase, Ron," Charlie urged impatiently.
"I'm getting there, okay? Kyle Reese is actually sent by John—or at least, John is involved—"
"Ronnie," Madison said shortly.
"—and that's why Kyle Reese has the John's picture. . . but he gets killed in Sarah Connor's time. I mean, doesn't that make a paradox? John would then not have any way of contacting Sarah Connor in the past if Kyle Reese dies—"
Charlie groaned. "This is giving me a fricking headache."
Madison smoothed her palms down her lap. "Well, I guess the Terminator is not a good place to start."
I sighed. And then I remembered something.
"What, were you saying those kids went back to kill m—their parents?" I questioned, narrowing my eyes at Charlie.
"How are you even sure that you're their mom?" Madison asked, frowning slightly at me. I had to admit, this was the first time this kind of question was sprung on me with such a no-nonsense, matter-of-fact tone. Madison impressed me. "You know, I'm not one to ask questions, but you seem pretty convinced."
I wracked my brain. Why exactly am I going along with them?
Charlie scoffed. "Come on, Mads," she said. "Ronnie won't even get out of that wardrobe back when we were nine, remember? She was so intent on finding Narnia."
I flushed slightly. "Hey, no digging up of embarrassing childhood memories."
"Oh, and remember the Hogwarts letter Jake fabricated for her on her eleventh birthday? She cried so hard." Charlie grinned.
"Now that's harsh," I groaned. I can still remember exactly how it felt when my parents looked at me with so much pity in their eyes when I was dragging them to London. Oh, how Jake had roared with laughter.
He had also been grounded for a month.
"Guys, you haven't even talked to the children." I felt the need to defend myself. Okay, I'm quite gullible when it comes to my favorite fictional universes. Who won't be? Really. Frankly, reality is shit. I'm quite certain I'm not the only one a little (okay, a lot) desperate to escape to magical worlds.
Charlie and Madison stared at me.
"You're right," Charlie finally decided.
My two best friends got to their feet and buttoned up their coats.
"Come on," Charlie said, grabbing one of my arms.
"Where are we going?" I asked, confused.
Madison took hold of my other arm. "Why, the Conners', of course!" she announced with a big grin.
The dark green van, with its back entrance open, was idling just by the front door of the Conner mansion when my friends and I drove up in Charlie's Prius.
"Wow, seems like Jake and Melanie weren't the only ones to leave," Melanie remarked from the passenger seat, watching the cousins trooping with suitcases, pillows and parcels back and forth the van.
"Perfect," Charlie said happily, killing the engine. "Fewer witnesses."
"'Fewer witnesses?'" I repeated. "Are we committing homicide here?"
"If you know you're going to do it beforehand, it's not homicide, it's murder," Madison felt necessary to inform me.
"Guys, shut up and get your asses out of my car," Charlie ordered, rolling her eyes affectionately.
"Look, it's Charlie and Ronnie!" I heard Claire's voice announce as we walked towards the front doors. Everybody else turned to us. Luke was nowhere in sight.
"Where have you guys been?" Bill, momentarily ceasing his current task of stacking the suitcases in the van, sported a genial smile on his face.
"Who's the chick?" Alex said, using her lollipop to point towards Madison. She alone looked like she didn't care about the general after-holiday-rush-to-get-home.
"Hi." David, appearing out of nowhere, eyed Mads. He smirked. "I'm David."
"David," Arielle groaned in exasperation, walking out from the Conner mansion. "Stop flirting and help me with your stupid puppy." I glanced at the animal cage Arielle was carrying and silently squeeeee-d at the black Labrador puppy peeking out.
My stomach flipped when I heard the voice I didn't realize I was searching for amidst the din.
"Ronnie?" I looked up and saw Luke, his eyebrows raised at my sudden appearance.
I tried to ignore the way my heart beat hard against my chest. The chaos that was the Conner cousins rushing to and fro with luggage faded into the background. "I—you're not sick anymore," I said dumbly, and mentally slapped my forehead. Way to sound intelligent, Veronica.
Madison was casting sideway glances at me. I can hear little snorts coming from my blonde bestfriend.
"A week with Lilia's chicken noodle soup will do that to you," Luke replied, his expression still searching. I felt a twinge of guilt as I remembered how I suddenly disappeared at the peak of his fever. Unbidden, a memory of him clutching at my wrist, asking me not to go, played through my mind. I desperately fought against the heat threatening to flood my cheeks.
I said nothing—and I was pretty sure I had just won the award for Most Awkward Smile for this year. (Suck it, losers.)
Charlie cleared her throat. Luke turned to her. Charlie greeted him with a grin several miles far from the one I'd decided to stick with. "Hi! You remember Madison, don't you?"
His eyes widened. "Maddie? Madison Carter?"
Yep, we were the trio back then. Maddie, Charlie, Ronnie.
We totally sounded like a team of top secret kickass spies.
Madison smiled primly. "Hi, Luke."
Unlike Charlie and I, Madison had taken some time getting used to Luke's boyish roguishness. After all, it was not in her nature to instantly hit boys whose first words to her were "So have you figured out what orange juice is made of, Poindexter?" while she was sitting on a bench near the playground where we were playing Prince-and-Princess-versus-spoiled-blonde-rage-monster. We hadn't known her that well at that point, since she and her sister had just moved into the rustic bungalow a block away from where I lived. Luke had decided to make the first move and approach the shy-looking girl in glasses, but I didn't think he did it the right way.
"Wow, Cherrywood has been good to you," Luke remarked, giving my best friend a once-over.
"Luke," I chided him, though not without feeling a strange pang in my chest.
Oooh, ickle Ronnie, feeling jealous?
God, you're here again.
The annoying voice in my head clucked reproachfully. That won't do, Veronica. Chicks before dicks, remember?
Jesus Christ, you don't ever shut up, do you?
I forced myself to focus on the small talk between Luke, Madison, and Charlie, feeling more irritated by the minute.
Earth to Ronnie? Green-eyed monster has taken over, mayday, mayday—
"Oh my God!" I growled exasperatedly, inevitably interrupting whatever Charlie had been saying. Claire and Louie, who were passing by with baggage, paused at my minor outburst. I gave them a small smile (and there goes the award for Second Most Awkward Smile) and watched them as they shrugged and went on their merry way.
Charlie and Madison stared at me. Luke was looking at me amusedly, and I had the sinking feeling that he was never going to let me live this down.
"Trouble with the voices in your head, Ron?" Luke said, and I got the impression that he was enjoying my humiliation. My cheeks flamed.
"As I was saying," Charlie interrupted loudly, and I wanted to kiss her for rescuing me from the one voice in my head. "Madison's already been accounted for, and she—huh, Mikey and Ynna still M.I.A.?"
"Mikey and Ynna?" Madison said, looking interested, as if she had heard the names for the first time.
Luke's gaze flickered to me before answering. "They're upstairs with the twins—I, uh, think Ynna's not good with goodbyes."
"Can I—I mean, can we see them?" I asked.
Before Luke can answer, the sound of a car door slamming made the four of us turn towards the van. The cousins had finished loading, and they were milling around their transport.
"So," Bill said, stuffing his hands into his pockets, "this has been a very. . . interesting Christmas." He grinned, and crinkles formed around his eyes.
"Much more different than the others," Alex agreed, nodding slightly towards Charlie and me.
"You guys were more entertaining than MMA," Louie remarked. "Totally knocked them down a notch."
"Whatever, Louie," said Luke, but there was no heat behind his words.
"So. . . I guess this is goodbye?" Arielle smiled affectionately.
"Not goodbye, just farewell," Charlie said with airy cheer. "It's not as if the Internet doesn't exist."
"Oh, I left your phone charger by the front hall," Seth reminded me. All this time I had been borrowing my brother's charger. I tried not to relive the last time I was seriously desperate for a phone charger. Not in front of them, anyway. I gave him a mock-salute.
"Call me," David said, winking, and I wasn't sure if he was addressing me, Charlie, or even Madison. I sneaked a glance at Luke and saw him rolling his eyes. I smiled.
The cousins squeezed into the van. Seth was behind the wheel this time, and I waved back at little Claire, who was sitting by the window. In no time at all, the van vroom-ed its way down the driveway, and I was very certain that I'm going to miss them.
I was still staring after the van when Madison nudged me. Luke was heading up the steps and apparently expected us to follow him.
"I'd forgotten how huge this place was," Madison commented with a little smile, looking around as Luke led us through hallways and staircases.
"Where's Lilia?" I asked.
"Went home to visit her grandchildren. She's been away for two days now," Luke replied.
"She didn't see your cousins off?"
"They'd already held a sort of farewell party before Lilia left." Luke glanced over at me for a brief moment. "It was chaos."
The kids were lounging on the carpet, watching Corpse Bride in the entertainment room with Lizzie and Ethan, and the twins were the first to see us as we entered the darkened room.
"You're back," Ethan said as Luke dropped into the couch next to Lizzie. Mikey turned around. Ethan's gaze fell on Madison, and he asked with interest, "and who's this?"
"Hi, I'm Madison Carter," Mads said, shaking Ethan's and Lizzie's hands in turns.
Ynna had also seen us.
Here it goes.
"Ronnie!" Mikey cut Ynna off before she could finish what she's saying. Smart boy. And then he glanced at Madison. "Whoa. You're. . . pretty. And young," he added as an afterthought.
Madison looked taken aback while Charlie pretended to whine. "Hey! You never told me that."
Ynna ran up to Madison and threw her little arms around my dumbfounded best friend's waist. "Aunt Maddie!"
Lizzie stared at the two of them. "So. . . they know her."
I shot Luke a panicked glance.
"They, uh, of course they do," Luke said in an attempt at smoothness. "Madison is _. Although she doesn't see them very often."
"Gimme another book, Aunt Maddie!" Ynna squealed, and Madison's astonished expression would have been hilarious hadn't the situation been so. . . so. . . unexplainable. "Gimme Hobbit! You told me, you told me!"
"Hobbit?" Madison repeated faintly. Tolkien's one of her childhood heroes, and her intense fascination with him rivaled my devotion to Rowling.
Madison shot me a bewildered look. I think I ought to say that that Tolkien dedication had never once reached the ears of Mikey and Ynna. Not that she remembers, anyway.
"Looks like they're pretty familiar with her," Lizzie said, obviously noticing that something wasn't right.
"Well what do you expect, they're kids!" Charlie jumped in with forced cheerfulness. I nodded furiously. I was trying to rein my panic in. The twins still had absolutely no idea who the kids are, and I had the dreadful feeling that now that the cousins and Lilia weren't around anymore, they'd spend their time drilling Luke on who these mysterious kids are.
I totally saw their point. I mean, being away for ten months and suddenly coming home to their brother, alone in the house except for the housekeeper and these two kids with no direct blood attachment to them whatsoever are in the house? Not to mention the blatantly shady excuse their brother offered, and just what was his supposed estranged childhood friend and her bestfriend doing here?
"Luke," Lizzie began. The familiar don't-you-dare-fuck-with-me-right-now glint shone in her eyes. "You wanna tell us something?"
"Lizzie," Ethan groaned. "Let it go."The Tim Burton movie kept playing, though forgotten. I had the impression Ethan didn't really want to stop his twin—he must also be burning with curiosity at these strange kids who seemed to know a lot about them.
"No, I'm not letting this go," Lizzie insisted. I gulped. "I didn't press the issue when the others were here because I didn't want to disturb the peace, but now that we're alone, I think we deserve some answers." She crossed her arms and tapped her foot impatiently.
"Well, at least let me get the kids out of the crossfire first," Ethan said in a jaded tone. I personally thought it was a good idea. I didn't think an all-out fight would result, but raised voices surely wouldn't a happy kid make.
Luke nodded slightly at Ethan as the latter ushered the confused children out the door.
"So?" Lizzie prompted. "Anybody wanna start?"
"I think you'd need a drink," Madison ventured with a small voice.
"Just get on with it," Lizzie said shortly.
Luke and I exchanged a glance, and I noticed Madison and Charlie cast worried glances at the both of us.
I cracked my knuckles. "Well," I began tentatively, and all attention shifted to me. "Do you watch Doctor Who?"
Hi guys! I just realized that I never got to properly thank you all for making the review count hit 200, and so I offer you guys a long chapter for being so awesome. This is kind of a filler chapter, but I had fun writing this (not as much as writing the UST-filled chapters though, haha). As much as I would like Luke and Ronnie to get hopelessly caught in UST (and temporarily resolving it afterwards—wink wink nudge nudge), I'm afraid it won't always be possible. I do hope you're enjoying more, more interactions between the characters though! (After all, they add spice to the whole plot.)
I'd like to thank those readers who left reviews, and more so to those readers who send me messages—you're all greatly appreciated! So now, though, I think I'm (finally) earning the right once more to a little favor: please don't just click the follow/favorite button, please leave a review! It might not even take ten minutes, pretty please? (With googly eyes on top?) I'd like to know how I'm doing. Also, what do you think about the Conner twins finding out about the whole timey-wimey shebang? Tell me! :)Thanks, ta-ta!