Copyright 2019 - Allison R. Warn

Prologue - Last Days of Summer

"Another two injections to go on the GC auto-run, Nick," Gracie said, not looking up from where she was busy with her lab notebook and a calculator in front of her laptop as the professor came into the lab. "I'm processing them as they come off the column." She smirked. "I love having robotic minions to do my bidding."

"You and me both. Thanks, Gracie," Nick nodded, grabbing his lab notebook from his desk and connecting his laptop to its docking station. "Never ceases to amaze me how you know who it is without looking up," he chuckled.

"Well, to be fair, that trick only works with you," she laughed. "Anyone else, it's because they were talking out in the hall. You're the only one in the lab tall enough to bounce sound that direction. But I wouldn't be able to tell the difference between you and Toby like that."

"Makes sense," he nodded, pulling up the NMR processing software. "When that run finishes, could you please swap out the column for the BetaDex?"

"You got it, Nick," she nodded. "Incidentally, enantiomeric excess on the ADtBuCarboxy comes back as nothin' – consistent with the optical rotation, which is also nothin'," she observed, shaking her head as she at last looked up from her work.

"And we're positive on the species?" Nick asked, hoping against hope. "No non-chiral side chemistry?"

"Confirmed by NMR," Gracie nodded. "It's ADtBuCarboxy, all right. What we have here is a racemic mixture."

"Damn," Nick sighed, shaking his head. "Such is science – back to square one on that one."

"They're separating okay on the HPLC, so we can probably pack an ion exchange column with resin and separate them out," she shrugged. "But damn, it'd be awful nice to find a way to force the reaction to only give the + enantiomer."

"You said it," he agreed. "Looking forward to the chemistry picnic tomorrow?" he asked, changing the subject.

"Can't wait," she nodded. "Weather's supposed to be perfect, too," she grinned.

"Yep. Planning to bring the guitar?" he asked.

"And the violin as well," she nodded.

"I uninstalled car seats last night – Eliza's got the kids in the other car – so I've got room for seven," Nick grinned as a small herd of professors and research minions made their way out to the Mudd Hall parking lot. With few students having cars on campus, it wasn't uncommon for a professor or two to swing by S.U.P.E.R on the way to work on rainy mornings so that minions there wouldn't get soaked walking or biking (or, in Gracie's case, flying) to the other campus, and more than a few would need a lift out to Devil's Cauldron for the end-of-summer research assistant picnic.

"I didn't uninstall the seats, but I've got room for three," Janelle grinned.

"And I can get one," Chuck nodded. "Single cab pickup."

"I can get four," Beth nodded.

"That should get everyone," Nick nodded. "My apologies in advance for any stray goldfish crackers lurking in my third row – those fishy little buggers work their way into every crevice, and then have the audacity to smile back."

"When's the physics department's picnic, Nick?" Anders asked.

"Tomorrow," Nick replied, popping his trunk to stow backpacks and other odds and ends. "I suspect five little girls are gonna be worn out good and proper by Sunday," he chuckled.

"If they aren't, I can't imagine what it'd take to do the trick," Chuck laughed.

"If they aren't, I'm afraid to imagine what it'd take to do the trick," Gracie laughed.

"Believe me, you have no idea," Nick snickered.

"Anyone got room for the food and the dewar?" Janelle asked.

"I can take it if someone else loads it," Chuck replied.

"Consider it done," Amelia grinned.

Popping her seat belt as Nick shifted into Park at Devil's Cauldron, Gracie got out and looked around. "Man, looks way different in good weather," she mused.

"What do you mean, Gracie?" Cliff asked.

"I haven't been out here since we caped up to pull some teens out of the lake this past spring," the aeromancer shrugged. "Rain was coming down in sheets, and the winds were so high, Cam was having to teek flyers in to shore because we couldn't maintain altitude once we cleared Hannah's radius."

"Dang," Anders whistled. "I heard something happened out here, but I hadn't realized it was that nuts."

"Yeah – Cam and Toby mentioned that that one was pretty wild," Nick nodded, teeking a dewar of liquid nitrogen out of the bed of Chuck's pick-up. "Gracie, can you please grab my guitar out of my trunk when you get yours?" he asked.

"You know it, Nick," Gracie grinned, grabbing the two guitar cases along with her backpack and her violin.

"I got the sand toys and the floaties," Amelia nodded.

"Drat – I forgot the sunscreen," Hallie remarked, rummaging through her backpack.

"Gotcha covered, literally and figuratively," Gracie laughed, tugging a RashGuard over her swimsuit before fishing a bottle of SPF 50 from the front pocket of her backpack. "Catch."

"Much obliged," the rising senior laughed, easily catching it one-handed. "Why wear RashGuard if you're carrying high-octane sunscreen, Gracie?" she asked, curious.

"Because the 'f' is for 'factor', and fifty times nothin' is still nothin'," Gracie laughed. "I'm at least a quarter vampire, and I burn if I think real hard about direct sunlight," she said, putting on a bucket hat with the widest brim she'd been able to find and swapping her glasses for prescription sunglasses. "I use chemical sunblock for face, ears, and hands, but I'll still burn if I don't use a physical sunblock."

"You? A vampire?" Cliff laughed. "You haven't got it in you, Gracie."

The redhead smirked. "I vont to trink yor tea. Ah ah ah."

"Now that, I will believe," Nick chuckled. Glancing over his shoulder at the sound of a vehicle pulling into the parking lot, he smiled – Eliza had just pulled in with the kids.

"How much tea do you go through, anyway, Gracie?" Janelle laughed, putting sunscreen on one of her three boys as her husband Neil got another. Life vests would be next – with the risk of a child wandering off in the mayhem, the faculty always put flotation devices on all of the kiddos in the chaos.

"A lot," Gracie laughed. "I drink tea like you drink coffee."

"Anyone got any big plans for the last week or so before upperclassmen arrive back on campus?" Amelia asked, raiding a lemonade from the cooler.

"Heading home for a few days with my Mom and little sister," Cliff smiled.

"Nice," Anders grinned. "I was thinking I might spend some quality time with an XBox controller, before classes start eating all my free time," he smirked.

"My younger sister's an incoming freshman," Gracie grinned. "It worked better with flight schedules for her to fly into Missouri before New Student Week. Our older sister is at Wash U, so they both got into St. Louis this morning. They're catching a concert tonight, and then Hope will give Faith a ride into Glenwood tomorrow morning – Faith's crashing on the futon in my room until New Student Week starts on Monday and she can get into her dorm. And then Devon's coming down on Wednesday after work – there's a folk instrument exhibit at a museum out in Harrington, and we were gonna go check it out on Thursday. So he's crashing in my room until upperclassmen can get into the dorms on Friday afternoon."

"Not on the futon, though, I'm betting," Anders teased.

Gracie smirked, blushing more than just a bit. "Nope."

"Uh, Gracie – aren't you like half-blind?" Anders asked, watching the aeromancer wade out of the lake.

"Nope," Gracie smirked, grabbing her towel from where it was hanging on the rail of the dock. "I'm way more than half."

"Then… how are you doing that?"

She smirked, dropping her voice an octave and a half as she wiped the water from her face. "I'm Batman."


"I echolocate," she laughed. "I can hear where the sand and the parking lot are, so I know which way out of the lake without glasses. And I do see color and some movement, so I can tell where the towel is – granted, what I see is a vague bright blue blob versus the clearly defined periodic table you see, but it's sufficient for these purposes," she laughed, putting her glasses and hat back on. "Hey, Jo – nice sand sculpture," she laughed, now that she could actually see it.

"Thanks, Gracie," the nine year old giggled from where she was sculpting the dorsal fin on a sand shark.

"Careful, guys," Gracie laughed, reaching behind her back and catching an errant Frisbee before tossing it back to Janelle's older two sons.

"Sorry, Gracie," Tommy laughed.

"Yeah, sorry," Mark agreed.

"No worries," Gracie laughed.

"Seriously, you heard that?" Anders asked.

"Mmhmm," she nodded, wrapping her towel around her shoulders. "It's how I can tell when the NMR's shims are off, too."

"Periodic Towel-ble of the Elements?" Amelia snickered, looking over. "Really, Gracie?"

"Mmhmm," she laughed. "It's a color that's easier for me to see without glasses, because nothing else out here is that unnatural shade of cyan," she explained. "Thus enabling me to be a hoopy frood who really knows where her towel is," she smirked. "Also, I'm a huge nerd, but I'm pretty sure we all knew that already."

"Need me to start the grill, Chuck?" Amelia offered.

"That would be excellent," the department chair nodded to the pyromancer.

"No problem." Arranging the charcoal in the grill, she lit it with a wave of her hand. "There ya go. Lighter fluid is overrated," she smirked.

"Thanks kindly," he chuckled.

Is this the chem lab? Is this just biology? Caught in the physics, no escape from the entropy.
Open the trace, round to the tenths place and see… I'm just a lab rat, I need stoichiometry
Because it's spectrum come, titrant flow; noise is high, yield is low…
Any way the graph shows, doesn't really matter to me, to me

Minion, killed that column… Raised the pressure on the head, baked it out, and now it's dead…
Minion, data just had run – but now I've gone and thrown it all away
Minion, ooh, didn't mean to make you cry…
If mass spec's not up again this time tomorrow
Carry on, carry on – the spectrum really matters… to me

As Grace and Nick strummed Bohemian Rhapsody on guitars, the entire group had chimed in with the unorthodox lyrics until at last Chuck had called 'soup's on' from over by the grill.

"I did check the labels on the veggie burgers and dogs this time, Gracie," Nick told her, setting his guitar in the case. "No peanuts, no chickpeas, so they shouldn't try to kill you."

"Much obliged," Gracie nodded. "For the record, were it ever to be needed, there's always a couple of EpiPens stashed in either my satchel or the front pocket of my backpack."

"Good to know, but please let's not," Nick chuckled as folks began getting up and grabbing plates. "Stabbing is my brother's department."

"And I'd really prefer that Toby not either," Gracie agreed.

"Fair," Beth laughed, passing a plate to her wife Angie before grabbing one for herself.

"Who made the cookies?" Gracie asked, seeing a couple of plates of homemade baked goods sitting temptingly at the end of the table, just past the fruit salad.

"I did," Betsy replied.

"Do any of them have peanuts?" Gracie asked. Nick's research team and most of the S.U.P.E.R. crowd were well aware of the allergy, but Betsy was a Kensington student and one of Chuck's minions, and it was entirely probable that she didn't know.

"Yeah, the chocolate ones have Reese's Pieces," the rising junior nodded. "And the ones with the fork tine marks are peanut butter."

"Yeah, we won't get into how many times those fork tines have kept my sorry ass alive," Gracie chuckled. "Good to know – I'll hold off until the s'mores, then."

"We've got a geeky surprise for dessert as well," Janelle grinned. "Legume-free."

"Excellent," Gracie smirked.

"But I am all over chocolate with Reese's Pieces," Cliff laughed.

"You people and your lethal legumes," Gracie giggled, dousing a burger and a hot dog in ketchup. "Blech!"

"Um…" Betsy said sheepishly as she realized the implication. "Oops. I'm sorry, Gracie – I didn't realize you were allergic. The chocolate chip should be okay."

"Not on a plate with the peanut butter, they aren't. But no worries," Gracie assured her. "I made the muffins, so I know those are safe. I learned a long time ago not to eat homemade baked goods without checking," she shrugged. "And I'd have smelled it before I got in too much trouble. Smells like death," she laughed.

"There's one for the quote board," Janelle laughed, making a note on her phone. A large piece of bulletin board paper hung on the wall in the hallway outside the research labs, covered in humorous, often out of context, quotes from minions and professors. Gracie had made the board more than once over the summer.

"How long have you been allergic, Gracie?" Cliff asked, curious.

"Since well before I can remember," she shrugged, helping herself to some potato chips and some salad. "I reacted the first time I ever had it. I was about 15 months old and stole my big sister's sandwich right out of her hand and helped myself to a bite – broke out in hives in under a minute. My poor parents," she laughed. "I was screaming because I was swollen and itchy, and my throat was probably constricting some – didn't go full anaphylactic until the second or third time – Hope was screaming because I'd taken her sandwich and now it had little sister germs, and then Faith was screaming because Hope and I were screaming."

"How far apart are you and your sisters?" Eliza asked.

"Twenty months between me and Hope, fourteen months between me and Faith."

"Three under three," Beth blinked. "How did your mother survive?"

"It's an excellent question," Gracie laughed, grabbing a cherry limeade muffin. "Not sure even she'd be able to answer it at this point."

"In my experience?" Eliza laughed. "Profound sleep deprivation and a whole lot of coffee."

"Amelia, can you heat up the hot fudge?" Janelle asked, setting sundae toppings on one of the tables under the picnic shelter.

"Better ask Cliff – I get a little too hot for these purposes," Amelia laughed. "By which I mean that I'll melt the glass if I go slightly overboard."

"Point taken," her mentor laughed. "Cliff?"

"On it," Cliff confirmed, wrapping a hand around the jar.

"How did we keep the ice cream cold on a day this hot?" Anders asked.

"We didn't," Beth laughed, getting out three tubs full of milk, cream, sugar, and vanilla from the cooler of ice where they'd been stored to keep the dairy from spoiling. "We're freezing it ourselves like proper nerds."

"Nerd ice cream is a time-honored chemistry picnic tradition," Nick laughed. "Here's the dairy-free for Neil," he added, taking out a tub of blackberry mint sorbet ingredients and a can of almond-based whipped cream.

"Excellent," the English professor grinned. "Thanks, Nick."

"There are peanuts available for sundaes," Janelle added. "I've just put them on a separate table to prevent accidental cross-contamination."

"Thank you!" Gracie interjected.

"So what's nerdy about it?" Anders asked, curious.

"This," Nick laughed, teeking over the dewar of liquid nitrogen.

"We're freezing ice cream with cryogenics?" Gracie giggled. "Awesome."

"We are indeed," Nick grinned, swapping out prescription sunglasses for prescription lab glasses. "946 mL of heavy cream plus 473 mL of half and half plus 473 mL of whole milk plus 200 g of sugar plus 20 mL of vanilla plus 100 mL of liquid nitrogen yields 2 liters of ice cream."

"Now there's some stoichiometry I can get behind," Anders laughed.

"If we run low on nitrogen, I can freeze the rest," Cliff laughed.

"Much obliged – we may evaporate pretty quick in this weather," Nick grinned. Pulling on cryo gloves, he opened the dewar in a cloud of gas and poured 100 mL into the first tub, teeking a spoon to get it stirred. "Someone want to take over on stirring that?" he requested. "I don't have the attention span to keep more than one up at a time telekinetically."

"On it," Betsy nodded.

"Go ahead and start as we get 'em frozen," Beth said as Nick added nitrogen to the sorbet. "No sense in letting it melt."

"No one escapes enthalpy," Eliza smirked.

"No need to tell me twice," Gracie laughed, loading a bowl with ice cream and adding hot fudge, Andes mints, oreo crumbs, marshmallow cream, and whipped cream.

Today I don't feel like runnin' anything… I just wanna sit in the lab.
Don't feel like spiking with acetone, so go run it by NMR alone.
'Cause today, I swear I'm not runnin' anything… nothing at all

I'm gonna kick my feet up, then watch my trace graph,
Make glove balloons, just for a laugh
Prof ain't gonna tell me I can't.

I'll be lounging on the bench, Chillin' in my lab coat
Not worried about whether the report gets wrote
'Cause in this lab, I procrastinate…

Oh oh yes, I said it
I said it, I said it 'cause I can...

'Cause today I don't feel like runnin' anything… I just wanna sit in the lab.
Don't feel like spiking with acetone, so go run it by NMR alone.
'Cause today, I swear I'm not runnin' anything… nothing at all

Chuck waited for the end of the Bruno Mars parody, then picked up his cane and made his way closer to the fire pit where Amelia had a roaring campfire going in anticipation of s'mores. "Ladies and gentlemen, I have an announcement," he said, grinning impishly.

As all eyes turned toward the department chair, Nick suddenly looked decidedly nervous.

"Last week, Nick lost a bet with me," the older man continued. "And, devious old bastard that I am, I deferred comeuppance until tonight," he chuckled.

"I believe I am what is commonly referred to as 'screwed'," Nick smirked. "All right, Chuck – fair's fair. What're the terms?"

"I'm getting to that part," Chuck grinned. Making his way over to where Gracie was sitting, he leaned over and whispered in her ear.

The young aeromancer blinked. "You want me to what, Chuck?"

"You heard me," Chuck smirked. "Can you, Gracie?"

"Well, yeah, sure, no problem – but… he hates that one," she laughed.

Chuck smirked even wider. "I know."

Gracie facepalmed. "Right… he lost a bet. Nevermind." She pinched the bridge of her nose between thumb and forefinger. "Nick, I hereby disclaim any and all responsibility for this."

Nick groaned, already suspecting what was coming by who Chuck had sought out and her response. "Hadn't planned on assigning you any, Gracie," he said, shaking his head. "Serves me right for being dumb enough to make a bet on reaction kinetics with the guy who – quite literally – wrote the book on it," he laughed.

"Yeah, you brought that one on yourself, Nick," Janelle laughed from where she was nursing baby Nathan.

"All right, Chuck – hit me," Nick snickered.

"I wanted a better costume," Chuck grinned mischievously, reaching into his satchel. "Unfortunately, the good ones don't come anywhere near long enough, so this'll have to do."

Teeking the costume over to see it better in the fading light, Nick winced. "Knew it," he groaned, opening the package. "So be it. C'mere, Kater Tot," he smiled. "I think Daddy's gonna need some help with this one."

"Thought you might say that," Chuck laughed, tossing him a toddler-sized costume.

When Kate saw what the costume was, she squealed excitedly. "Tank you Uncle Chuck!"

"You're very welcome, honey," Chuck laughed.

"Sing wif me, Daddy?" Kate asked hopefully.

"Absolutely, sweetheart," Nick smiled. Putting the yellow shark costume on his daughter, he put on the blue dorsal fin and flipper gloves. "All right, Gracie," he laughed. "Let's get this over with."

"As requested," Gracie laughed, shouldering her violin and playing Pinkfong's bane of parents everywhere.

Baby Shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo
Baby Shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo
Baby Shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo
Baby Shark!

As the song finished, Nick noticed that his wife had her cell phone out. "You just sent that to my brother, didn't you?" he asked.

"Mmhmm," Eliza laughed.

"I am never gonna hear the end of this," Nick groaned.

"Nope," she smirked.

"I'm claiming collateral damages, Chuck," Gracie laughed, setting the violin back in the case before skewering a marshmallow for a s'more. "I'm gonna have that stuck in my head for days."

"Welcome to my world," Nick laughed. "You eventually grow kinda numb to it."

"Come on in, guys," Gracie called, hearing footsteps outside her door.

"Gracie – good to see you," Hope grinned, coming in with Faith.

"Likewise," Gracie laughed, setting her phone down and catching her sisters in a hug.

"Good summer?" Faith asked, setting her backpack and viola case down by the futon. "Everyone at camp says hi, by the way."

"Oh, I've been having a blast," Gracie laughed. "Doing lots of science, and I've even started some informal piano lessons with a faculty member's kid. And Salome's accused me of spoiling her rotten, not having to scramble to cover music for service over break," she giggled.

"Nice," Hope laughed. "Been seeing Devon at all?"

"Of course," the middle sister grinned. "He only lives 20-30 minutes away, so he's been down quite a bit, and I've been up there a couple times as well. He's been spending the summer working at a plant nursery up in New Holstein." She turned, hearing a faint but familiar noise of collar tags. "Arie, quit stalking Carrie," she chuckled.

Faith facepalmed as she looked over. "Gracie… how did you get a cat into a Megatron costume?"

Gracie smirked. "Very, very carefully."

"Okay, next question," Hope laughed. "Why did you get a cat into a Megatron costume?"

"Same reason I got a turtle into an Optimus Prime costume," Gracie laughed, pointing to Caravaggio's tank. "I'll grant the turtle was easier."

"Go on."

"It's a pain in the butt transporting a reptile halfway across the country by air," Gracie shrugged. "So since I was staying for the summer, I told Lexie I'd watch Caravaggio for her."

"Okay, I get that part," Faith nodded.

"I started an Instagram project," Gracie laughed. "Every week, I dress up Arie and Carrie and get a picture. I figure it'll make Lexie's day." Grabbing her phone, she unlocked it and pulled up her Instagram account. "See?"

"Optortoise Prime, leader of the Autoturtles versus Meowgatron, leader of the Decepticlaws," Hope laughed, swiping back through pictures. "The Many Adventures of Catman and Bobbin… Caravaggio the Ninja Turtle versus the (Toilet Paper) Shredder… Doctor Mew versus Dalek… Captain Kirk-le and Meowster Spock.. Frodo and Samwise…"

"These are great, Grace," Faith laughed. "But how many times have you gotten scratched?"

"Only once, believe it or not," Gracie snickered, taking the costumes off now that she had her pictures. "Helps that I keep his claws capped, so he generally only draws blood if a cap's come loose."

"Okay, I'm impressed," Hope smirked.

"I'll probably hear the squee clear across campus when Lexie finds out," Faith laughed.

"Likely," Gracie grinned. "Note to self, have earplugs in when I tell her," she giggled. "Come on – wanna head into town and find some lunch?"

"Sure – I've got a few hours before I need to head back up to St. Louis," Hope nodded. "Where are we going?"

"Cowabunga Pizza," Gracie grinned. "Because the food is awesome, the arcade games are a hoot, and I know I can get us there on the ground without getting horribly lost."

"Winner, winner, chicken dinner," Faith laughed.

"Naw," Gracie smirked. "That would be Mother Cluckers. They also have really good food, but I'm much less confident in my ability to get us there without flying."

Don't you dare look back, Just keep your eyes on me
I said, "You're holding back". She said, "Shut up and dance with me"
This woman is my destiny
She said, "Oooooh, shut up and dance with me"

As the three Rose sisters came to the end of Walk the Moon's Shut Up and Dance, Hope sighed, glancing at her watch. "Alas, I'd best be on my way if I want to get back up to St. Louis before dark," she observed, putting her cello back in the case. The late summer sunset had bought her some extra time to spend with her sisters out on Gracie's balcony, but it wouldn't last forever.

"Likely," Faith agreed. "But don't be a stranger, Hope."

"Definitely not," the eldest sister grinned. "Now that I have a car on campus and both sisters in the same place, I'm going to try to get down here from time to time."

"Excellent," Gracie grinned, putting her violin away. "Between the two of us, I dare say we can always find you a futon to crash on."


"Come on," Faith smiled. "We'll walk down to the parking lot with you."

"So… what does one do for dinner when one is on campus when the dining hall is closed?" Faith asked as she and Gracie made their way back upstairs after seeing Hope off.

"The kinda chemistry where one can lick the spoon," Gracie laughed. "One learns to cook. Jacoby and I often cook together since we both enjoy it and he's been on campus for the summer too. I think I've got makings for stroganoff, chicken curry, and mushroom stuffed pasta shells with pink sauce. What strikes your fancy?"

"Ooh, pasta shells sound good," Faith grinned.

"Cool beans," Gracie grinned. She snapped her fingers as a thought occurred to her. "What I don't have on hand, though, is coffee – when did you last caffeinate, Sis?"

"Had an oversized latte in the car on the way down to Glenwood."

"Come on, then – we're going into town," Gracie nodded. "Let's get you some rocket fuel, before the Migraine Fairy drops in to say hi."

"Good thinking – she's a real jerk," Faith agreed. "I assume the campus shuttle also doesn't run in the summer?"

"Correct," Gracie nodded. "We're gonna hafta fly."

"Works for me. My new bike should be ready and waiting at the bike shop," Faith nodded. "Think we can pick it up while we're down there?"

"Perfect," Gracie nodded. "I can fly above your head and give directions while you ride it back. Let's go."

"Are we about to do an about-face on the stairs?" Faith laughed.

"Naw, I was gonna take off from the balcony anyway," Gracie giggled. "It's easier."

"What a rook," Gracie smirked as her sister captured her knight.

"Graaacie," Faith groaned, setting the captured piece to the side of the chess board they had set up in the kitchenette while their pasta shells were in the oven.

"Muahaha," the elder sister giggled, swooping in with a bishop and capturing the offending rook.

"Check," Faith observed, moving her queen into position. Distracted by the insolent rook (as had been Faith's intent), her sister hadn't noticed the looming danger from the powerful piece.

Gracie had been about to reply, but was interrupted by the kitchen timer. "Saved by the bell," she laughed, getting up and grabbing oven mitts.

"Not to worry," Faith laughed, sipping her coffee. "I'll go back to kicking your ass later." She blinked as her sister set the baking dish on top of the oven. "Wow – that smells really good."

"Mmhmm," Gracie grinned, raiding one of Jacoby's homemade cranberry ginger sodas, a big bowl of tossed salad greens, and a couple of dressings from the fridge before taking two plates down from a cabinet. "Soup's on," she added, putting several shells and some salad on her plate. "So, what all are you taking this term?" she asked, bringing her dinner back to the table where they'd been duking it out at the chess board.

"Well, I've got Paranormal Law and Paranormal History – sounds like that's pretty standard fall term freshman year," Faith began as she dished up a plate of her own.

"Mmhmm," Gracie nodded.

"And then I've got Calc 3, Intermediate Japanese, and Intro to Educational Studies at Kensington. I wanted to get Intermediate Music Theory, but it coincided with Calc 3, so I'll have to get it next term."

Gracie blinked. "Did we seriously wind up in the same Educational Studies class completely by accident?" she laughed.

"Um… possibly?" Faith laughed. "Are you taking it with Professor Edwards?"

"Yes," Gracie nodded. "So, yes… yes, we did," she laughed.

"Nice," the younger sister giggled. "What else have you got?"

"Para Genetics 2 over here, Organic Chemistry 2, Advanced Music Theory, Intro to Classical Studies at Kensington, and I'm TAing Equilibrium and Analysis."

"Surprised you're not taking Russian," Faith mused.

"I'm all out of Russian to take for the moment," Gracie laughed. "I took Advanced Russian Language last term, and Conversational Russian, for the folks who've finished the basic sequence, isn't offered in the fall. There's a Russian Lit in Russian class that I could take, but it's not required for the minor, and I hate Russian lit. I'll still be active in Russian Club so I don't lose the language skills, and I may wind up tutoring a bit, but I'm focusing on other distros this term," she chuckled.

"Only two instruments this time, Gracie?" Faith giggled, making her way over as Gracie put the violin away after the Sunday evening service.

"Salome only ever managed six the once," Gracie laughed. "I told her if she ever hits seven, she owes me cookies."

"Gracie, if she ever hits seven, I'll throw in a Blasphemy by Chocolate," a familiar voice laughed.

"I don't know what that is, but if it involves chocolate, I'm interested," Gracie smirked, loosening the tension on her bow before putting it away. "Hey Jacoby," she grinned. She facepalmed. "Right, manners. Faith, this is Jacoby D'Eath – he's a junior this year. Jacoby, meet my sister, Faith," she grinned. "Incoming freshman."

"Pleased to meet you, Jacoby," Faith grinned, shaking hands.

"Likewise," Jacoby grinned. While crowds still made him rather anxious, a summer on SSRIs and talking to Cam regularly had considerably lessened his nerves at the prospect of meeting one new person – especially the sister of a friend. "I thought you looked a bit like Gracie. On campus a little early?"

Faith nodded, pushing her sunglasses up on her nose. "It worked better with the flight schedules," she explained. "If I'd waited until Monday, I'd have had my choice of leaving for the airport at three in the morning or getting in to Glenwood at nearly midnight. So since I had one sister already on campus and the other in St. Louis, it was easier to just couch surf for a couple days."

"And I've enjoyed getting my butt whooped at chess for a couple days," Gracie laughed.

"Makes sense," Jacoby chuckled. "I'm more a chinese checkers man, myself," he admitted, grinning. He pulled his backpack off, blushing a bit. "I have snacks if either of you are hungry, or hangry."

"You've got my undivided attention," Gracie laughed. "I'm about to need to get back to the dorm and feed the cat – it's half past 'I'm starving, death is nigh' in cat-time," she giggled.

"In other words, she last fed him eight hours ago," Faith laughed.

"And I'm not much past Aristotle – definitely time for dinner. You're welcome to walk along if you want," Gracie added, slinging her violin case over her shoulder. "What is Blasphemy by Chocolate, anyway?" she laughed.

"Amazing," Salome interjected from over by the pulpit where she was putting things away.

"Thanks, Mama. And yeah, I need to get back to feed Mort, too," Jacoby grinned as he pulled out two small zip-bags that had two cookies of generous size, passing them to Gracie and Faith. "No death legumes were anywhere near these," he assured her. "These are my German chocolate cake woopie pie cookie sandwiches," he grinned. "Now, as for Blasphemy by Chocolate… It starts with a fudge brownie batter forming the bottom and sides in a springform pan. Then a layer of thin, crispy chocolate wafers goes down, followed by a turtle cheesecake batter – so that's a cheesecake mix with the caramel, nuts and fudge usually on top all swirled through it. This is topped by another layer of crispy chocolate wafers," he grinned. "Then it's all topped off with a chocolate cookie dough that has hefty chunks of chocolate mixed through it."

"Mmm," Gracie sighed. "That does sound amazing."

"You said it, Sis," Faith agreed.

"Why do you call it blasphemy?" Gracie asked.

"Let's just say that when he brought a Blasphemy by Chocolate into a chaplain's office, all three of us said things which are technically prohibited by various scriptures, in multiple languages," Salome laughed. "Cam sweet talked me out of a piece, and I thought she was gonna melt right there on the spot."

"In that case, Salome, any time you wanna sneak in a seventh instrument is a-okay by me," Gracie laughed, munching on a woopie pie and sighing contentedly. "These are pretty dang amazing, too – thanks, Jacoby," she giggled. "Come on – we'd best get back and feed the kitties."

"Mind if we swing by Mudd right quick?" Gracie asked. "I had a spacey-Gracie moment and left something up in the lab." With another three hours until New Student Week officially began, the Rose sisters had grabbed bike helmets and Gracie was showing Faith around the two campuses.

"Sure, no problem," Faith grinned. "They won't let you fill the math-science distro with just math, so I'm sure I'll wind up with a class there eventually. What are you planning to do about that, anyway?"

"Take statistics, once I can get it to fit in my trainwreck schedule," the elder sister smirked, locking her bike to the rack. "Given that I'm doing research work, I should really take it anyway. Hopefully next term, if the schedule cooperates. In order to get the timing to work with a double major and a minor, I have to have Inorganic Chemistry, Intermediate Composition, and Conversational Russian next term," she explained. "Beyond that, it'll be whatever I can get to fit with those."

"I'm probably looking at the same thing with a double major, aren't I?" Faith asked, locking her bike next to Gracie's.

"Yes, but probably to a lesser extent," Gracie nodded, leading the way inside. "It's easier if one of the majors isn't science – the need to fit in endless lab sessions makes trainwreck schedules trainwreckier," she observed. "It's why no one double majors chemistry and physics or chemistry and biology," she chuckled. "Come on," she said, nodding toward the stairwell. "We're headed up to the fourth floor."

"That makes sense," Faith nodded. "So math and music should be at least a little easier. Especially since I'm not currently planning to tack a minor onto it."

"Honestly, if I hadn't already had half the credits for the minor, I don't think I would have," Gracie agreed.

"Well, given you came in with credit for at least one chem class, two music classes, and I don't even know how many Russian classes," Faith laughed.

"Yup," Gracie giggled. "Plus all the math credits the chemistry department requires for the major, and a couple of stray English credits. I freely admit that I'm totally using that numerical loophole to make it work."

"No shame in that," Faith laughed. "What'd you forget up here anyway?"

"My headphones," she replied as they came out of the stairwell at the fourth floor. "I have a spare pair that works okay in my room, but I do really need the bone-conducting if I'm going into town to avoid screwing with the sonar."

"Ah, yeah – shouldn't be flying blind," Faith agreed.

"Or, worse, biking blind," Gracie said wryly, pulling her lab key from her pocket. "When I'm flying, I'm high enough to be clear of traffic. I'll just be one sec." Emerging from the lab a couple minutes later, she found her sister peering at the quote board.

"Smells like death?" Faith smirked, turning toward her sister.

"Peanut butter cookie," Grace laughed. "Another minion brought cookies to the shindig at the lake on Friday night, and accidentally contaminated the whole plate."

"Yikes," Faith laughed. "Glad it smelled like death, and not tasted like death."

"No foolin'. Come on, wanna head down to the K-Club? They'll have caffeine."

"Heya Jacoby," Gracie grinned, looking up as footsteps came into the kitchen.

"Hi Gracie," he nodded, setting several canvas grocery bags down on the table. "Not with your sister?"

She shook her head. "New Student Week officially starts in half an hour," she said, glancing at her watch. "So I'm deliberately making myself scarce where Faith's concerned."

"Really?" he blinked. "Why?"

"Because my sisters and I are super close in age – there's less than 3 years between Hope and Faith, and I'm in the middle," she explained. "Heck, last summer, all three of us were on staff at the same summer camp. Until I got here, I was always 'Hope's little sister', and back in Seattle, Faith is still 'Gracie's little sister'. I won't ignore Faith if we run into each other over the next couple days and she says hi – that's just rude – but I don't want her to be stuck as 'Gracie's little sister' again here – she deserves the chance to be her own person."

"That makes you a good big sister, Gracie," Jacoby said as he started unbagging the food. "I... don't have bio siblings so I never dealt with that. Just two cousins, and one doesn't like me." He shrugged, something he'd gotten used to over the years.

"Their loss," Gracie observed. "You're one of the nicest people I know."

He blushed, "Thanks, I try." He pulled out some chicken breasts, "Indian tonight," he grinned, going back to unbagging. "I think it's more that they want attention from Aunt Karen, feeling that my Aunt is so focused on reigning in Alyssa because Alyssa is so… Alyssa," he laughed. "So they kinda double down on everything Aunt Karen says about me without thinking because it gives them something to agree on with their mother, something to talk about… or at least go 'mhm' and 'oh yes' whenever Aunt Karen is complaining about something I'm doing wrong, because next thing she knows she's going to see my mugshot on Facebook or something," he said, shaking his head.

Gracie blinked. "How much Kool Aid do they drink?" she asked, getting out curry and other seasonings, followed by mangoes and yogurt for lassis. "I mean, Alyssa is awesome, but I don't think anyone could rein her in," she observed. "She's very… Alyssa," she chuckled. "And you're the last person I'd expect to see in a mugshot."

"Whole damn jug," Jacoby groused as he began to slice up the chicken, having gotten a knife and cutting board. "And thanks. I should point out that, despite what I just said, Aunt Karen isn't a mundanist, racist or even ableist," he observed. "My mother and Aunt Karen were… 'rivals' would be the best word… from Aunt Karen's view at least. And my mother…" He blushed, rubbing the back of his neck, "She… had a drug problem, bad. And Aunt Karen was sure and is still sure that I'm headed down that same path. So anything I do is the beginning of that slippery slope she is so sure I'm on." He finished cutting the chicken for curry, putting it aside. "She's a suburban housewife, so image is everything. It's amusing that her name is Karen, because she is such a 'Karen'."

Gracie blinked. "So, she's threatened by a medical problem and she's convinced that the guy who refused the one cough suppressant that actually works when he was down with the bronchitis from hell is on his way to developing a drug problem?" she asked, cutting mangoes. "How has the Kool Aid not sent her into a diabetic coma yet?"

He shrugged. "Alyssa and I still haven't figured that one out yet." He grinned, pulling up a pant leg. "Just imagine how she'd freak about this." There, on his ankle, in a bright blue (likely brighter thanks to his pale skin), was a small ankh tattoo.

"If she hears about that, I fully expect to hear the horrified squealing all the way from Texas," Gracie grinned. "I like it – any particular reason?"

"Hah!" he laughed. "I wanna be a Doctor, and help babies who start out life in a hard place, like I did. I felt the ankh, being a symbol for life was appropriate plus, personally, I feel like I've been given a second chance of life here at SUPER. I feel so much better now and wanted to celebrate."

"That's awesome, Jacoby," Gracie grinned. "There's one I've been kinda thinking about, but I may be too much of a chicken when it comes to needles," she chuckled. "And with my need for SPF Infinity, no one would ever see it anyway," she laughed. "But that one seems perfect for you."

"Thanks," he smiled. "And, well, if you do, I'll go with you. Miss Soren was kind enough to show me a good place and went with me for mine. It's the least I could do." He paused. "Maybe I'm just used to needles… erm, I mean, from doctors. Not…" he coughed, "Anyway. I like it, my pale ass makes the color pop more," Jacoby joked.

"That's a good blue on you," Gracie agreed. "I was thinking a benzene ring, with music notes where the carbons should go," she grinned.

"If you'd like, I could draw it on you with a colored sharpie, see if you like it," Jacoby chuckled. "That is amazingly nerdy, I love it." He quirked an eyebrow. "Wonder if I should get something musical…"

"I could totally see you doing something awesome with an electric guitar," Gracie grinned.

He giggled. "I don't think I'd get too many tattoos honestly. But… a small part of me likes the idea of doing small ones for milestones in my life or something. I feel… okay with them? Like I finally feel free to express myself."

"And that's a long time coming," Gracie nodded. "I really like the milestone idea," she nodded. "Maybe I'll go for it when I've got something that needs commemorating. Of course, that still won't solve the fact that I'm a vampire who can't be outside more than ten to fifteen minutes without full coverage," she laughed. "But maybe that doesn't matter if I'm just doing it for me."

"It shouldn't. It's your body, so do it for you. No one but you and those you choose will see it," Jacoby nodded. "That's how it should be, anyway."

"Yeah," Gracie agreed. "Definitely something to consider," she smiled. "Speaking of milestones," she said, going to the fridge. "I don't think this one's tat-worthy, but you remember how I was toying with making a tarragon soda syrup to try and recreate a Russian favorite?"

"Oh! Yeah I do!" He grinned happily as she went to the fridge. "Kitchen shenanigans bore fruit?" There was a hopeful note in his voice. "You made the tarragon simple syrup?"

"Sure did," Gracie grinned, pulling out two bottles of grass-green soda. "Color wasn't right, so I got some natural food coloring to liven it up a bit," she explained. "Wanna help me test it out?"

"Least I can do for a fellow kitchen gremlin!" he said happily. "Wasn't there talk of a Russian teacher?" he asked curiously.

Gracie nodded. "Once I have a working recipe, I'll surprise Svetlana Feyodorovna with a bottle of syrup. The tarragon I planted this spring has invaded the pot, so I've got enough to make vast quantities of the stuff," she laughed, passing him a bottle.

Happily he took it, popping it open and taking a sip, swishing it around and swallowing it, "mh. The idea of a tarragon soda is new to me, but it doesn't taste bad at all." He smiled. "I think I like it!" He sipped again. "And I usually don't like licorice."

Opening the second bottle, Gracie sipped it, then paused. Going to a cabinet, she got out a bottle of almond extract and added a single drop, swirled it, then tried again. "Nailed it," she grinned. "This is Тархун."

"Bless you," Jacoby grinned impishly as he added the one drop of extract, mirroring Gracie, swirling and sipping again, nodding. "Nice. I'm gonna want a small jar of this stuff myself."

"No problem – like I said, I've got tarragon coming out my ears," Gracie giggled. "The almond just smoothes everything out a bit."

"It really does," Jacoby agreed, sipping again. "Mmh really, not bad at all."

"Not sure it goes with curry, baba ganoush, and mango lassi, but I've got chai teabags for that," she giggled.

"Mh, probably not. But maybe we can do a Russian food night? And enjoy it then?" Jacoby grinned. "Speaking of, let's get the eggplant cut and in the oven for some roasting!"

"On it," Gracie laughed, getting the deep purple veggies out. "And yeah, I've got some Russian recipes on hand. Maybe Zach and Erik will come join us."

"That sounds fun," Jacoby agreed, starting on the curry seasonings to make a rub for the chicken. "They're really amazing in the kitchen."

"Takes one to know one, Jacoby," she grinned.

"I appreciate that, Gracie." He blushed brightly, pale skin turning pink. "Oh, how did you and your sis like the cookies?"

"Those were amazing. They didn't even make it all the way back to the dorm," she laughed. "Speaking of baked goods, remind me to give you some of the cherry limeade and orange almond muffins – I've got a whole bunch," she grinned.

"Ooh please!" he grinned, settling in for a nice evening of cooking with a friend.