Chapter 12 - Life's Ups and Downs

Humming along quietly to Bach's Sheep May Safely Graze, Salome flipped a page on the Reformation essay she was grading. "Heh," she chuckled, finding a quote from a published work properly cited. "I caught you once at that – I don't think anyone will ever catch you twice." She looked up from her work at a tap on the door. "Come in," she called, setting Fletcher's essay and her fountain pen aside.

"Reverend Salome," Zach grinned, coming into the room. "I had a super-quick question for you."

"Zach," she grinned. "I may even have a super-quick answer for you," she laughed. "Shoot."

"I don't suppose you'd happen to know when Jacoby's birthday is?" he asked hopefully.

"Of course," Salome nodded – Zach, by now, was well aware that she and Raffi had once been Jacoby's foster parents. "Why?"

"Erik and I were just thinking we'd like to do something for his birthday," Zach explained. "Nothing really big, because he'd hate that – but maybe round up Gracie, Devon, Carlie, and Alyssa and go out to Cowabunga's for pizza and air hockey, something like that."

"Yeah, I can help you with that," she chuckled. "Believe it or not, his birthday is the 31st of October."

He blinked. "Wait, you're kidding…"

"Nope," she laughed. "He's always gotten quite the kick out of that."

"Planning to eventually be Dr. D'Eath, does more justice to a The Grave costume than anyone I know, has shadow and invisibility powers, and his birthday is on Halloween?" Zach laughed. "Yeah, I'll bet he does."

"Looking forward to seeing what he does for the carnival this year," Salome chuckled. "He has a bit of a bent for the theatrical."

"I've noticed," he smirked. "I should let you get back to it, Reverend," he nodded. "Thanks again."

"Any time," she smiled. "Oh – you might wanna invite Jojo too."

"Definitely," Zach agreed. "Those two are adorable together."

Of all the things I still remember
Summer's never looked the same
The years go by and time just seems to fly
But the memories remain

In the middle of September we'd still play out in the rain
Nothing to lose but everything to gain
Reflecting now on how things could've been
It was worth it in the end

Making their way across the S.U.P.E.R. campus on a rainy afternoon, sharing a big Periodic Table print umbrella, Devon and Gracie were laughing and singing without a care in the world.

"Oy, you two," Faith laughed, coming the other way with an umbrella with a musical score, and Ada prancing around at the end of her leash, exploring all the new rainshower smells. "I'll grant it's the middle of September, and we've certainly got plenty of rain, but depending on what kind of playing y'all are planning on, you may wanna find a room," she teased.

"Hey!" Gracie laughed, blushing beet red.

"Honestly, Grace, you know as well as I do that rain is bad for the violin," she laughed, pointing at the instrument on her older sister's back. "You'd never even get it in tune."

"Fair," Devon snickered. "What's up, Faith?"

"Just taking the puppy out," Faith replied. "How about you guys?"

"Was just over in Davis, checking mail," Gracie grinned. "Headed back to Evans to work on a Music Theory assignment."

Devon couldn't help himself – he started humming the notes on Faith's umbrella to determine the tune, then burst out laughing. "Singing in the Rain," he snickered. "Nice."

"Thanks," Faith giggled.

Suddenly, Ada started barking. "What's up, Adie-lady?" Faith asked, looking down at the dog.

Undeterred, Ada jumped up, leaving muddy front paw prints on her human's jeans, barking all the more fervently.

"Weird," Devon mused. "Has she ever done that before?"

"Never," Faith replied, shaking her head.

"Let's walk the rest of the way over to Evans," Grace suggested, pointing to the dorm a couple hundred yards away. "Maybe she's got a thorn in her paw or something, and it'll be easier to get a look out of the rain."

"Yeah," Faith agreed. "Come on, Ada," she said, watching to see if the puppy would try to carry one paw.

Ada was having none of it – she kept barking and pawing at Faith's knee.

As Faith bent down to pick the dog up and tuck her under her arm, her right arm jerked uncontrollably, shaking her umbrella.

Gracie frowned. "Faith… do you taste copper?" she asked.

"Yeah," Faith nodded. "YeahIdo…"

"Oh shit," the older sister muttered. "Devon – take Ada's leash," she requested.

"Thanks," Faith nodded as Devon took the leash, looping it around his wrist, then scooped up the puppy. "Comon… Lessee… iffeecan… gettoEvans."

"Are you sure?" Gracie asked, taking Faith's backpack from her. "I'm not sure you'll make it that far before it hits."

Faith tried to smirk. "Ravernot… dovis… invemud… iffeecanhelpit…" Were she by herself, she'd never have taken that risk, but with someone she trusted implicitly to be able to handle the situation and keep her safe, she was hoping to be able to get inside.

"Fair," Gracie conceded, moving to be able to catch her sister with an air pocket if she was correct about not having that much time.

"Glad… Iwasntalone…" Faith remarked, leaning gratefully on her sister.

"No fooling," Devon agreed, nuzzling the anxious pup under his arm.

Grace had been correct – they hadn't gotten much more than a quarter of the way there before all of Faith's muscles stiffened up and she lost consciousness. "Here comes the tonic. Sometimes, I really hate being right," she remarked, getting Faith safely to the ground and turning her on her side to prevent choking.

"Need something to put under her head?" Devon asked.

"I'll use an air pocket," she replied, kneeling down next to her sister. "Time it, will ya?" she asked, pulling her sister's valium pen out of her backpack should it be needed.

"Already on it," he assured her just as Faith's arms and legs started to jerk. "And there's the clonic," he nodded.

After what felt like an eternity, the jerky movements slowed, and then stopped.

"One minute, fifty-seven seconds," Devon said, looking at his watch.

"She gets paresis – I doubt she'll be able to walk back on her own," Gracie observed, looking up at him.

"Huh… whahappened?" Faith groaned, trying and failing to sit up.

"You had a seizure, Sis," Gracie told her, scooping her up and setting her in her lap, propping her on her shoulder. "You okay?"

"Ugh… headache."

"I don't doubt it," Devon nodded, squatting down so that Ada could nuzzle comfortingly at her face.

"Adie…" Faith smiled, struggling to raise a hand to scritch the puppy's ear.

"She was worried about you," Devon smiled.

"Can't keep my eyes open," Faith groaned. "Just wanna sleep…"

Gracie looked up at Devon. "I can get Faith back to Watson, but I can't carry her and Ada at the same time," she said. "Can you walk Ada up there?"

"No problem, hon," he nodded, slinging Faith's backpack over his shoulder and picking up her umbrella. "What room number?"

"201," Gracie replied. "I'll let her roomies know you're coming."

Landing on the balcony of Evans 201 with Faith in her arms, Grace managed to knock on the sliding glass door with one knee.

"Oh my God, Gracie, what happened?" Maddie asked, rushing over and opening the door to find both sisters dripping wet and covered in mud and Faith fighting hard to stay awake.

"She's told you guys she's epileptic?" Gracie asked.

"Yeah," Jane nodded, jumping up from the couch where she'd been working on an assignment.

"She had a seizure while she was out walking Ada," Gracie told them. "I'm gonna go get her into bed, and then I'll be right with you. My boyfriend is walking Ada back – he should be up in a few."

"Gotcha," Maddie nodded.

Stepping into Faith's room, Gracie closed the door, then set her sister down on an air pocket. "Let's get you out of those wet clothes, Sis," she said.

"Thanks, Grace…"

Spying Faith's gym bag by the door, she raided it for dry track pants and a t-shirt, then helped her change. Tossing the wet clothes at the hamper, she lifted her onto her bed and tucked her in under the music-themed quilt. "Love you, Faith."

"Love you too." Faith was sound asleep before Gracie even made it to the door.

Gracie stepped out just in time to see Jane let Devon and Ada in. "C'mere, Ada," she called as Devon unclipped the puppy's leash. Drying the puppy off with a towel she'd grabbed from Faith's room, she ducked back in and set the pup on the bed next to Faith, before coming back out and taking a seat on an air pocket to avoid getting mud everywhere. "Sorry for the dramatic entrance," she said apologetically.

"No worries," Jane told her. "So she just… had a seizure?"

Gracie nodded. "We ran into her while she was out walking Ada. She started going pre-ictal, and started seizing before we could get inside."

"She's okay?" Maddie asked.

"She will be," Gracie nodded.

Devon nodded, setting Faith's umbrella and backpack down by the door. "It wasn't a very long seizure, as seizures go."

"Do you know what caused it?" Jane asked.

"I have a couple of educated guesses – I'd have to ask her to know if any of 'em are right," Gracie shrugged. "She's probably going to sleep like a rock for about the next four to five hours," she told them. "When she wakes up, she won't likely remember anything after she started going pre-ictal on us – she generally has no memory of the pre-ictal or post-ictal states."

"Will she have another today?" Jane asked.

"Highly unlikely," Gracie replied, shaking her head. "She's never had more than one in a day unless she was running a high fever. But if she does, you'll know. Ada figured it out even before Faith and I did. If you need me, though – for whatever reason – text me. I'll be right over."

"Thanks, Gracie," Maddie sighed. "Surprised you're not freaked out, Devon," she observed.

"Not my first time at the rodeo," he shrugged. "My Dad is epileptic."

"I'm gonna head back to my room and get a shower," Gracie told them. "But like I said, if you guys need me, I'll be right over."

At last out of the shower and in dry leggings, Gracie went and grabbed her backpack and joined Devon on the futon – not wanting to go back to the other campus for dry jeans when Gracie was feeling high-strung, he'd grabbed his gym bag from his trunk and fished out a dry shirt and his running tights.

*Captain, we are being hailed* Grabbing her phone off the charger, Gracie found that the text was from Jacoby.

*Gracie - is everything okay? I saw you and Faith head back to Watson…*

"Is that Faith?" Devon asked, looking over from where he was pulling out a three ring binder from his backpack.

"Way too soon for that," Gracie replied, shaking her head. "Jay saw me fly back with her." *Yeah, it will be. Faith is epileptic - she had a seizure. She's pretty weak for a few hours after one, so I gave her a lift back.*

*Oh no - is she all right?*

*She will be. She's exhausted, but Jane and Maddie are keeping an eye on her.*

*Good to know. Anything I can do for her, or you?*

*I think we're both okay at this point. A little excess adrenaline in my system, but… par for the course. Thanks for checking up on us, though, Jay - it really means a lot.*

*That's what friends do, right? Speaking of, what are some of her favorite treats? It honestly sounds like she deserves something after this*

*Brownies. And she's a sucker for anything that calls itself a cookie.*

*I /do/ recall her enjoying my German chocolate cake cookies lol Alright. I'm sure I can put something together. I'll see you in a couple hours~!*

*Thanks, Jacoby - you're amazing.* With that, she set the phone aside and dug out her binder.

"Treats in-bound?" Devon chuckled. "Jay's nothing if not predictable in that regard."

"Oh, yeah," Gracie nodded. "Definitely to Faith, probably to me as well."

It was well past evening when Faith finally awoke to a nasty headache and a cold wet nose in her ear. "Ada?" she said, scritching the pup's ears and squinting painfully at the bright light – Gracie had left the light on. She groaned, feeling like she'd been hit by a truck as she pushed herself upright. "What the hell… why did I go to bed in gym clothes?" she muttered, fumbling for her glasses.

"Faith?" Maddie asked, tapping at the door. "You awake?"

"Yeah, come on in," Faith called back. "What the hell happened?"

Maddie stepped into the room and took a seat in her friend's desk chair. "Apparently you had a seizure while you were out walking Ada," she explained. "Gracie brought you back here and got you into bed."

"Oof… that explains everything," Faith groaned. "The headache, feeling like I got hit by a mack truck, waking up in gym clothes," she said, raiding the nightstand for migraine medicine. "Everyone should have a sister like that," she said, smiling slightly. "And lucky me, I have two." She sighed, popping the tablet with a water bottle. "Did she say how long it lasted?"

"No, only that it wasn't very long," Maddie answered. "You all right?"

"Will be," Faith nodded. "I'll be tired, achey, and a little spacey for a couple of days." She glanced at her watch – already after seven. "Annnnd also emailing a professor to request an assignment extension, because there's no way in hell that's happening tonight," she said, reaching for her laptop. Ordinarily, she would not email her Japanese professor in English, but she was too foggy to even attempt to construct a coherent email in Japanese.

To: stendo

Subject: Assignment Extension

Tendo-Sensei - my apologies for the short notice, but I was wondering if I could have an extension until Thursday on tomorrow's assignment. I'm epileptic, and had a seizure this afternoon - I still feel like I got hit by a truck.

Thank you,

"I'm sure they'll be fine with that," Maddie nodded.

"If I was out with Ada, I wonder how Gracie got both of us back here," she mused. "I'm useless for hours after a seizure."

"She didn't," the bear-shifter shrugged. "Gracie flew up here with you while Devon walked the pupper back. Apparently Ada realized what was happening even before you and Gracie did."

Faith blinked. "Well, aren't you a good girl, Ada," she smiled, stroking the pup's head. Noticing a new text alert indicator on her phone, she reached over and picked it up.

*Hey, Sis - you had a seizure. I got you home and poured you into bed. Text me if you need me to come over. Oh, and tell Ada that she is a very good girl. Love you!*

Setting the phone down, Faith got experimentally to her feet – tired, and her calves and hamstrings ached as though she'd spent hours at the gym, but she was steady. "I'm gonna go see Gracie," she said.

Maddie nodded. "Text me when you get over there?" she requested.

"Sure," Faith replied with a small smile. "Thanks, Maddie."

"Come in," Gracie called, looking up from a page of staff paper.

"Thanks, Sis," Faith said with a small smile, making her way in with Ada.

"Always," Gracie told her. "Have a seat, Faith," she added, nodding to a nearby chair. "How are you feeling?"

"Like I went three rounds with a group of super-strengths," the younger sister sighed, dropping into a chair, and sending Maddie a quick text saying that she'd arrived without incident. "How long did that one last, out of curiosity?"

"Just under two minutes," Devon replied.

"Yeah, if you ever force me to get valium into you, Sis, I swear, you will never hear the end of it," Gracie smirked.

"Fair," Faith snickered. "So what's this I hear about Ada being a good girl?" she asked, curiously.

"She must've smelled it," Devon shrugged. "Or something like that. She realized that there was a problem even before you and Gracie did."

"She started barking and pawing at you a few minutes before your shoulder jerked and your speech slurred," Gracie nodded. "I don't know how, but she recognized pre-ictal before we did. She was insistent, wouldn't even let you try to continue walking. Devon eventually had to pick her up."

Faith blinked. "Wow. Everything I've ever read says that seizure alert is difficult to get a dog to do. And she's just a baby, she's only three months."

"Born, not made, I guess," Devon shrugged.

Gracie reflexively turned as the door opened and Carlie came in with River.

"Hi guys," Carlie waved, quickly drying the rain-soaked dog with aquamancy.

"Heya, Carlie." Faith paused – the aquamancer, of all people, would know... "Carlie… do you know what I'd need to do to train and certify a medical alert dog?"

Carlie nodded. "What do you need her to do? And does she already know the behavior?"

"Seizure alert and response," Faith replied. "I'm epileptic. And… apparently yes."

Gracie nodded. "Ada realized that Faith was about to seize this afternoon before I did."

Carlie whistled, setting her parking brake. "Wow. Seizure alert is one of the hardest things to train a dog for. Seizure response is much easier," she observed. "I assume you need her to be able to hit a MedicAlert button if you seize when you're alone?"

Faith nodded. "I got lucky this time – Gracie and Devon were there. But I need to know that if they're not, I'm not going to be stranded alone where no one can find me."

Carlie nodded. "Absolutely. One of the first steps is that she'll need her Canine Good Citizen certification – how is she doing with basic obedience?"

"Really well," Faith answered. "'Heel' is still a work in progress, and she can get a little distracted on her 'stay' if there's a squirrel or something tasty, but she's got a good handle on 'come', 'sit', and 'down'."

"That's doing really well for being only three months," Carlie nodded. "That should be enough for you to get her a 'Medical Dog in Training' vest, which will let you bring her places in town. You need her used to everything – focusing in traffic, sitting nicely in restaurants, going to the movies, going grocery shopping, class… all the places you need to go, she needs to know how to navigate, and how to act. You'll also need to teach her 'speak' – she needs to be able to bark on cue."

"Got it," Faith nodded. "What else?"

"Seizure alert and seizure response are two entirely unrelated skills, as far as she's concerned. The trigger for the alert is whatever biochemical change in your system that she's detecting. The trigger for the response is the seizure itself, and training that is gonna be a two-person job. Can you fake a seizure?"

"I think so," Faith nodded. "I don't ever remember them, but I know more or less what happens."

"All right," Carlie nodded. "Once you have the medical alert button, don't activate it right away. You're going to need to fake the seizure, while someone else teaches her that her job is to hit the button and bark like crazy. They keep a database of patients with animals trained to call for help in an emergency. Once she's got that down, then activate and register the button."

"Guess I need to order a vest," Faith mused.

"They can take a bit to come in," Carlie observed. "In the meantime, I'm pretty sure I have Rivvie's old Training patches in my desk drawer. If you pick up a harness at Petopia, you can stick them on that."

"Perfect – I've got a harness for heel training. Thanks, Carlie."

"Of course," Carlie nodded. "If you email Leah and Aaron, it should be no trouble to get Ada added on to your existing IEP or 504 plan."

"Excellent," Faith sighed. *Hey Jude…* Fishing her phone from her pocket, she found that the email was from her Japanese professor.

To: frose

Subject: Re: Assignment Extension

Of course, Faith - you may have as long as you need. Take care of yourself, and feel better soon.


"Thank God for merciful profs, one less thing I gotta do tonight," Faith sighed. "Tendo-Sensei gave me an extension. Because a reading comprehension assignment, in Japanese, is so not happening tonight."

"Yeah, can't fault you there, Sis," Gracie agreed.

"I'll go grab you those patches," Carlie nodded, releasing her brake and cruising off to her room.

Pulling up a new email on her phone, Faith next sent one to the two deans.

To: lhenderson, awright

Subject: 504 Plan

Good evening Leah and Aaron,

I'm epileptic and had a seizure this afternoon - apparently my dog can detect one coming before I can. I'm going to be training her as a service animal for seizure alert and response. Is there anything special I need to do to get Ada added to my 504 plan so that I can have her in class with me while she's training?

Faith Rose

Gracie glanced over as her sister's stomach rumbled. "You slept through dinner," she observed, getting up and going to the mini-fridge. Rooting around, she came up with a take-out box from Mother Clucker's containing honey roasted chicken and green beans, then grabbed the leftover cornbread off the top of the fridge – she and Devon had made a fast food run after the evening church service the night before, and her eyes had been bigger than her stomach. "Here ya go, Sis," she said, grabbing a fork for the green beans.

"You're a lifesaver, Gracie," Faith sighed, eagerly tucking in. "I'd assumed I was gonna be stuck with death butter and jelly when I got back to Watson."

"Hey, you've saved my sorry ass from death butter, the least I can do is return the favor," Gracie giggled.

"And got the Training patches," Carlie grinned, coming back out of her room. "Just what a good girl needs to get started being official."

"Thanks!" Faith nodded, slipping them into her pocket to tack-stitch to the puppy's harness when she got home.

"Is it okay if I give Ada a treat, Faith?" Gracie asked. "I think she's earned it."

"Definitely," Faith nodded. "If that doesn't deserve a cookie, I don't know what does."

"Ada," Gracie called. "Come here, girl."

At the sound of her name, the puppy eagerly trotted over, looking up at her 'auntie' expectantly, tail wagging in anticipation.

"Ada, sit," Gracie told her. As soon as her rear-end hit the floor, Gracie gave her a homemade dog biscuit. She turned, giggling, at a slight whine from across the room. "Sure, River – you can have one too," she laughed – Carlie had given standing permission for the occasional cookie. "Here, girl!"

*Hey Jude…* Checking her email, Faith found a reply from Leah.

To: frose, awright

Subject: Re: 504 Plan

Of course, Faith. Come by my office tomorrow morning, and we'll get the paperwork updated. I'm very glad your canine friend is able to help - you'll be able to have her in class as soon as she has a training vest. Feel better soon


"Ada, heel," Faith instructed as she made her way into Davis with the puppy. She'd sewn the 'Service Dog in Training' patches Carlie had had on hand to Ada's turquoise harness, and now had the dog reasonably official. Ada had done fairly well in the cafeteria at breakfast as well – she'd begged and whined a bit, tempted by all the delicious smells, but all in all, it had been quite successful for a three month old puppy's first try.

Ada's tail wagged happily as dog and girl made their way to the elevator. As far as she was concerned, coming along on Faith's daily adventures rather than waiting in her crate was the best thing ever.

Coming down the hall off the elevator, Faith made her way to the dean's office and knocked.

"Come in," a familiar voice called.

Stepping in, Faith found Kensington's dean waiting with Leah.

"Good morning, Faith," Leah smiled. "Come on in and have a seat. And this good girl must be Ada," she chuckled. "Faith, I don't know if you've met Aaron Wright – Dean of Students over at Kensington. Aaron, this is Faith Rose, one of our freshmen."

"Not in person," Faith replied, shaking her head as she settled into one of the empty chairs in front of the desk. "Ada, down," she instructed the pup. "Pleased to meet you, Sir," she said, returning her attention to the humans in the room.

"Likewise, Faith," he said cheerfully, shaking hands. "Just Aaron is fine," he assured her.

"Are you doing all right, Faith?" Leah asked.

Faith nodded. "Still tired, achey, and spacey – and likely will be for a couple days yet – but I'm okay," she sighed. "My sister was with me, fortunately – Gracie was able to keep me from choking or concussing myself and then get me home to bed. But if I'm ever going to be able to live independently… that kinda drove home just how much I need a dog. Someone who can give me that additional warning, and call for help when I can't." She smiled slightly. "Ada volunteered. Gracie's seen a lot of my seizures over the years, and she said Ada realized something was up even before she did."

"I'm impressed, especially with such a young dog," Aaron observed.

"Me too," Faith agreed. "No idea how she did it – that was the first seizure I've had in months, she'd never seen one."

"Are you planning to train her yourself?" Aaron asked.

Faith nodded. "Carlie Eisen was able to give me some pointers, so we'll start there, and expand as needed."

"Makes sense," Leah nodded, picking up a file folder from her desk and extracting a copy of Faith's 504 plan. "Additions have been made to allow for a service dog in training," she assured her, passing it over. "Only place you won't be able to have her with you is chemistry and biology labs, just because it's not safe for her."

"Naturally," Faith nodded. "I was planning to get the lab science requirement with physics anyway, I prefer my math as pure as I can get it," she laughed. "This looks ideal," she nodded, reading through the document.

"Then all it needs is your signature," Leah told her, passing her a pen.

"I don't expect any professors will give you a hard time about it, but we'll make sure you have a hard copy to carry until the official copy catches up via campus mail in the next day or two," Aaron told her.

"Thanks," Faith nodded, signing and dating the document.

"Just doing our job, Faith," Leah smiled. "I'm glad Ada can make your life a little easier."

"Come on, Ada," Faith told her dog as she made her way back to her room Tuesday afternoon to grab her viola before orchestra practice. "Oh, hi Jacoby," she waved, spying a familiar face coming down the hall.

Jacoby smiled, shifting a small box to a shadow tendril as his hand reached back to adjust his backpack. "Hey Faith. How're you feelin'?" Came the concerned question.

"Like I pushed way too hard at the gym," she sighed. "Par for the course. I'll be all right, but…"

"Well, when I heard what happened I wanted to do something that would hopefully cheer you up." With that, the shadowy arms looped around and presented Faith with a pastel printed craft box with a simple sticker with her name. "Just a little 'feel better' package."

Ada's ears instantly pricked up and she got up on her hind legs, sniffing hopefully – something smelled tasty. Lifting a corner of the lid, Faith snuck a peak and squeed. "Oh my gosh, German chocolate cookies," she said excitedly. "Thanks, Jacoby," she laughed. "I definitely need some chocolate this week."

"You can call me Jay," the umbramancer smiled. "Yup. Half dozen. And 9x9 inches of s'mores brownie." He grinned. "There's more too," he admitted with a blush. "I… I do wanna apologize if this is all 'too much', I'm still new to the whole… friend thing," he explained, blushing more as he admitted his social 'ineptitude'.

"You're fine, Jay," Faith smiled, hooking the loop of Ada's leash to the carabiner on her belt loop with her keys to free up her hands to investigate properly. "Not for you, puppy dog – these are chocolate," she chuckled, taking out a brownie and taking a bite. "There are not words in Orcish, Entish, or the tongues of man to describe how badly I needed that," she sighed. "You're a lifesaver, Jay."

"Really?" Jacoby chuckled. "I thought that was Miss Ada here, which is why I made her some puppy treats. No lethal legumes, so they're safe to be around your sister. Carrot and apple sauce," he said, pointing to the small bag of bone-shaped treats nestled into the box next to a little felt plush.

"Sure, Adie – you've rocked it your first day," Faith giggled, fishing out one of the bones and giving it to the dog. "That right there will make you a friend for life, Jay," she laughed. "Ada is all about the cookies." She squeed, pulling out the little felt plush – a catbus from My Neighbor Totoro. "Awww."

"Really though, who isn't about cookies?" Jay snickered gently. "For real, though. I'm glad you're doing okay. If you need anything, let me know, okay? I'm happy to help."

"Thanks, Jay," Faith nodded. "If there's anything I need, I'll definitely let you know."

"Cool." Jay smiled, looking down. "Oh. Is she 'on duty'? I was gonna give her goodbye pets."

"She can have pets," Faith smiled. "I'll train her to the vest when it comes in, but the harness is mostly just so she can come to class and into town with me."

"Never hurts to check." Jay crouched down to scritch the puppy, slipping her another treat with a grin.

The little dog's tail wagged excitedly as she jumped up and licked his face. "Like I said," Faith laughed. "Friend for life."

"Aww." He laughed, scratching her sides as she planted her paws on his knee. "Such a good girl, Ada. Amazing too, sniffing out a seizure."

Faith nodded. "I don't know how she did it, and I probably never will, but I'm grateful."

"Agreed, wholeheartedly," he smiled, standing up. "If you're still feeling worn out and don't wanna go to the cafeteria for dinner, let me know and I'll bring something for ya. I'm not trying to coddle, but I don't know how quick people recover from seizures."

"I'm through the worst of it," she sighed. "Just tired and sore at this point. I'm going to try to make it to orchestra practice, since music is usually good for what ails me, but I haven't decided yet whether I'm going to try to play or just listen."

"Sounds like a plan, either way," Jacoby smiled. "I hope you feel even better soon."

"Should be right as rain in a couple of days," Faith nodded. "Just a matter of riding it out."

"That you up there, Gracie?" Devon called from where he was below the balcony on Wednesday evening with his guitar – he and Gracie had some practicing to do for one of the pieces for Sunday's service.

"How many other bagpipers do you know?" she called back, laughing. "Gimme one sec." A moment later, she flew down from the balcony, then lifted him onto her air pocket and flew both of them back up.

"Heh," he grinned, looking around at the instruments she had out on the balcony – the bagpipes, the hurdy-gurdy, the violin, and the guitar. "What's up, hon?"

"Mad musical mayhem," she laughed. "I was poking around with the hurdy-gurdy, going compare and contrast with that, the bagpipes, and the violin."

He smirked. "Well, now you've got me curious, Grace."

"Check it out," she grinned, picking up the violin and playing Scotland the Brave.

"Man… that sounds way different without drones," he mused once she'd finished. "Like, I can follow the melody okay, but I feel like if I hadn't just heard you playing it on bagpipes earlier, I'd have trouble placing it."

"I know, right?" she nodded, picking up the bagpipes and playing it again.

"Now there's the piece we know and love," he grinned.

"Now, check it out on their lovechild," she laughed, picking up the hurdy-gurdy.

Devon blinked as she started playing. "Wow. I see what you mean. Is this what you're planning to do when Kyle sweet-talks you into bringing the hurdy-gurdy to Music Theory?" he asked.

"Probably," she nodded. "The comparison is interesting, and bagpipe pieces are what I find most intuitive to play on it." She grinned, picking up her guitar. "Now… Shine, Jesus, Shine."

Sitting down at his desk, Zach pulled up his email client.

To: grose, dmackey, jmiller, ceisen, eseawall, apike

Subject: Operation Birthday Spooktacular

Hey guys, I checked with Rev. Salome, and you're never gonna believe this: Jay's birthday is on Halloween. I don't think we should do anything really big - he'd probably hate that - but some small-scale shenanigans are definitely in order. Maybe go to Cowabunga for pizza and air hockey. Maybe in costume, since it's Halloween?


Laughter emanated from the swingset and the playpen Nick had set in the grass, as teens and adults gathered around the picnic table. The Dungeons & Dragons game that he had started back in June had met weekly over the summer, but now with everyone back in school, they'd moved to monthly out of compassion for everyone's schedules. He'd been looking forward to this session for weeks.

"A lich," Toby said, looking around at the other players. "It has to be a lich, Tarryn. No one else would be able to cast a necromancy spell that strong."

Raffi snorted in agreement. "Not really alive, Enrias, but nowhere near dead enough."

Smirking, Salome reached over and grabbed Nick's guitar out of the stand and started playing a merry sing-song tune to go with lyrics swiped from a favorite webcomic, Catena Manor. "You licked a lich, he did not care," she sang. "I can't believe you licked him there. He tasted nasty, this I've saiiid…. I think you should not lick undeaaaaaaaaad."

Jacoby blushed nearly as red as his foster mom as he fought to contain his snickers.

"All these years, and you'd think we'd know by now what happens when we let Sal play the bard," Raffi smirked.

Nick raised an eyebrow, pointing a finger at Salome as she set the guitar back in the stand. "Fifty XP for you, Sal," he smirked.

"Why thank you," she said primly, noting it on her character sheet

"Let's just hope it isn't a dracolich," Eliza observed. "And if it is, please do not lick it there, Jessamina."

"You're no fun at all, Akra," Salome giggled.

"This evil cannot be abided," Jacoby nodded decisively.

"Agreed, Garrett," Raffi nodded.

"As you progress down the corridor, you hear a single voice, chanting," Nick told his players.

"Do we recognize the language?" Sarai asked.

"Roll me a Knowledge: History check," Nick replied.

"Fourteen," Sarai replied as her die clattered on the table.

"You can't put your finger on it, Caelynna, but it has a familiar quality," Nick replied. "It reminds you of conversations you've had while in wild shape." He turned to his sister-in-law. "Saila, however, does recognize it."

"Tabaxi?" Cam asked.

"A very, very old dialect," Nick replied. "This would be Saila's equivalent of your trying to read Beowulf."

"Innnnnnnteresting," Cam smirked. "Nobody lick the lich," she instructed. "Anywhere." She paused. "I suspect he may be self-cleaning."

"You come to a locked door at the end of the corridor," Nick told them.

"I pick the lock," Eliza pipes up.

"Doesn't work – it's an arcane lock."

"Plan B. I cast knock," Toby told him.

"Roll 'em, Bro," Nick told his twin.

"Twenty-four," Toby said as the twenty-sided die landed.

"The door slowly creaks open," Nick told them. "What do you do?"

"I cast divine smite on my morningstar," Jacoby replied. "Garrett will take point."

"Wildshape," Sarai said. "Caelynna shifts to bear."

"Akra notches an arrow for backstabbery," Eliza grinned. "And I hope he likes it hot, because this dragonborn had the red hot chilli peppers for lunch."

"Saila readies her quarterstaff for a flurry of blows," Cam nodded.

"Tarryn raises her mace," Raffi added.

"Jessamina prepares to cast Vicious Mockery at first hostile action."

"And Enrias draws his Sword of Wild Magic in his main hand, Staff of Healing in his off-hand," Toby finishes.

"As the door creaks open, you see a dark-robed figure bent over a leather-bound tome," Nick told them. "'Good evening', the Tabaxi says in a smug soprano purr as he looks up from his work. 'I have been expecting you – I'm really quite put out by what you did to my skeletons. Do you have any idea how hard it is to animate good help these days?'"

"Garrett glares," Jacoby said. "You shall fall – your evil spells will not help you now."

"Saila's tail lashes," Cam nodded. "Who are you?"

"The undead catfolk mage gets to his feet, his tail lashing," Nick told them. "He sneers. 'I… am Schroedinger."

Turning to his brother, Toby smacked him in the shoulder. "You. Didn't," he said deadpan, fighting to contain his smirk.

"Oh, I did," Nick laughed. "He draws a dagger that glows with a foreboding magical aura. Sal, you were holding an action?" he asked.

"Hey, you – staticky, declawed, flea caravan," Salome smirked. "Your face looks like a dog's behind."

"Yeah, that oughtta do it," Nick laughed, rolling dice behind a screen. "Roll initiative."

Sighing, Jacoby looked at the stove and counter top. He had politely taken over his parents' kitchen to cook not just a family dinner but one with a special guest as well – he had invited Jojo over (Salome had told him 'no, not at all' while managing to say 'nothing' very loudly indeed when he had asked if she and Raffi minded if he came home for the weekend and made dinner) and now he was doing his best not to get nervous. "Okay... We have my slow cooked brisket that's been smoking all week currently warming up," he said, ticking things off on his fingers. "Mac and cheese is in the oven... fried okra, and a green bean casserole for the ones who don't like okra... Yeasty rolls..." he said, making his way down the list. "Dessert is pecan pie, of course, with homemade vanilla ice cream... currently being frozen football-style by Sarai and Callum…" He inhaled. "Why do I feel like I'm forgetting something?"

Salome looked up from the stack of Intro essays she was grading at the kitchen table. "Because nervous anticipation is a beast. But that sounds pretty amazing to me, Jayjay," she chuckled, reaching for the cup of peppermint tea by her hand.

"Thanks, Mama," he smiled, giving her a hug and resting his head on her shoulder. "I'm just nervous, I guess. But I'm pretty sure that covers everything though," he sighed. "Oh, and I have like… half a gallon of my homemade barbecue sauce for the brisket but it should be tender and flavorful enough you don't need the sauce."

"Your kitchen prowess never ceases to amaze me," Salome observed with a chuckle, wrapping an arm around his shoulders. "Your mac and cheese is the best I've ever had."

"The trick, if it's really a trick, is undercooking the pasta so it finishes properly in the oven," Jay smiled. "But there's no way I'm telling you the secret of my cheese sauce," he laughed.

"All right then," she laughed, quoting a favorite movie. "Keep your secrets."

"Okay. Everything is ready to go," Jay said. "I'm going to go shower and change," he sighed, moving away from his foster mother – he'd gotten a little too warm between the stove and his nerves, and Sal's hugs were the warmest around.

"Of course," she told him. "Need me to keep an eye on anything on the stove?"

"Yeah, the mac and cheese if you could, I don't want the top to get too dark. And when the green beans are done, could you please add the crispy fried onions on top? It's not a casserole without those," he said, kissing her cheek.

"All over it, Son," she assured him, giving a two-fingered salute.

He paused at the door well, looking back. "I don't think I've ever told you how much you calling me son means to me, Mama. I can't ever thank you and Papa enough for everything you've done and tried to do for me." He left with a soft "I love you."

"I don't think I've ever told you how much your calling me Mama means to me, Jacoby," she smiled. "We'll call it even," she chuckled. "I love you too."

Whistling cheerfully to herself, Salome took the mac and cheese out of the oven and set it on a trivet, far enough back on the counter to be clear of curious little hands or counter-surfing St. Bernards. With that, she set about sprinkling fried onions on top of the green bean casserole – while she was quite partial to fried okra, and Sarai was enthusiastic to try anything at least once, Callum would be profoundly grateful to his big brother for including an alternative.

There was a telltale giggling and a thundering of paws and panting as the back door slammed – Raffi had put Kyrie in the carrier to take the dogs for a nice long walk so that his wife could grade in peace. She would need to be in St. Louis the following weekend, and was trying to get ahead of the curve. "Hi hon," Raffi grinned, unclipping Justice and Mercy's leashes.

"Hey you," she smiled, looking over her shoulder at him. "Did you guys have fun?"

"I think we must've found every squirrel in Glenwood," he laughed. "We headed down to the park and I dual-wielded Frisbees."

"Never ceases to amaze me how you can fling a disc with your off-hand," she laughed. "What was the water source?" she smirked, pointing her tail at where his jeans were damp from about mid-thigh down.

"The brook, to begin with" he smirked, taking Kyrie out of the carrier and setting her in the high chair with a handful of blueberries. "A certain someone decided that it really needed to be a fountain." He chuckled. "At least the dogs liked it," he laughed, stepping over and setting a hand on her shoulder. "If I hadn't been wet already, I would have been after they got done shaking."

Smiling, she turned around, standing on tiptoe to be able to kiss him. "Love you," she smiled.

"Love you too, Sal," he smiled, wrapping an arm around her, quite content to just stand there several minutes. "I should go find dry pants," he said at last.

"Likely," she chuckled. "Are Callum and Sarai still out back, playing catch with the ice cream?"

"Yep," he nodded. "Where's Jay?"

"Upstairs, getting a shower," Salome replied. "Poor kid's battered in flour, breadcrumbs, and existential terror," she smirked.

"I remember those days," Raffi chuckled, heading upstairs.

Scarcely five minutes after Salome had sat back down with her grading, the back door slammed again, and Sarai and Callum came scampering in. "Ice cream's done, Mom," Sarai laughed, opening the outer Ziplock bag full of ice and rock salt and extracting an inner bag full of soft-set vanilla ice cream. "Should I put it in a container before it goes into the freezer?"

"Yes, please," Salome nodded. "The blue plastic leftovers box should work great," she added.

"No problem," Sarai nodded, reaching up to the cabinet for the box.

"What can I do, Mommy?" Callum asked.

"Could you feed Justice, Mercy, and Peace, please, Calkins?" Sal asked.

"Okay, Mommy," the kindergartener laughed, scurrying over to get the dog food.

"Thank you, honey," she smiled. "Once you have that in the freezer, Sarai, you wanna go knock on Jayjay's door and tell him that everything's out of the oven, and it's quarter to five?"


Upstairs, Jayjay was resting his hands against the counter, looking at his bare upper body with the towel wrapped around his waist, "Okay, you can do this," he whispered. "Being yourself worked so far." He ran his hands over the inside of his wrists and elbows, wincing as his eyes fell upon an old needle mark. Not his doing, not even tattoos, but a tell-tale mark none-the-less from his rough beginning in life – preemies could be quite difficult to start IVs on. "You are not your birth circumstances…" He whispered, repeating words Raff had told him over the three years he lived with the Stephens.

His reverie was interrupted by the telltale sound of someone dashing up the stairs at fifteen miles an hour.

"Yeah Sis?" Jay called, chuckling, as he heard his sister's footsteps approach the bathroom door.

"How'd you know, Jay?" she laughed. "Mom said to tell you that everything's out of the oven, and it's quarter to five."

"You're the only one in the house that can run up the stairs that quickly – you have a unique foot pattern." Jay was shaken from his thoughts as he processed the time "Oh shi-oot, that late already?" He sighed "Spent too much time in the shower navel-gazing… thanks sis, I appreciate it."

"Uh, Jay? She's not gonna be here until five-thirty – you've got some time," Sarai reminded him. "Relax, you've got this. Oh, and your brisket smells amazing, by the way," she added.

"I just wanna be ready," he laughed as he got dressed, putting on underwear and pants before opening the door so that they didn't have to yell through it. "Thanks. Let's go sneak a taste, yeah? You haven't had fried okra either yet, have you?"

"I haven't," Sarai said, shaking her head. "Looking forward to it, though."

"Don't worry if you don't like it, okra is a sort of acquired taste," he smiled as he hung up his towel and sighed, walking past Sarai – he hadn't put on a shirt yet because he didn't want to get it messy right before JoJo arrived in a half-hour.

"I'll try anything once," Sarai laughed, following him back downstairs. "I've found a few things I don't really like, but not many."

"I'd say 'try some things twice,' but I'm really glad you're so open minded about food," Jacoby smiled. "Have you tried sushi yet?" he asked, grabbing a shirt from his room and draping it over his shoulder.

"Not yet – Mom said we could get some while we're in St. Louis next week," she replied. "There's a really good sushi place up there."

"Awesome. Maybe we should talk to Erik, he's pretty good with fish recipes," Jacoby smiled. "Grew up in Hawai'i and he's talked about sushi before."

"Ooh – the pictures make it look like it'd be fun to make," Sarai nodded. "I've been amazed how many new things there are to try."

"Food is a wonderful way to learn about different cultures," Jacoby chuckled as he walked downstairs, looking back at his adoptive sister. "So how have you been doing? School, life and all?"

"Busy, but good," Sarai smiled. "School seems a little more normal to me now, and even math is getting easier."

"I imagine it was a big change," Jacoby nodded as he headed for the kitchen. "From where I stand I think you're doing great, sis."

"Thanks, Bro," she smiled.

"Now! Let's do the most important, and fun, part of cooking," he clapped and grinned. "Taste testing!"

"I'm always happy to be your guinea pig, Jayjay," Sarai giggled.

"My … well not my first, that's Mama, but my most eager for sure!" Jacoby chuckled.

"Ah, right on time," Raffi observed, as Justice and Mercy dashed to the front door, barking up a storm.

"Good grief, puppers!" Jacoby laughed, looking up from setting the table and going to answer the door. "Shush already. Justice, Mercy, back. Sit." he told them, trying to squeeze by to open the door.

Ever obedient, Justice and Mercy sat, tails wagging. Peace, not fond of strangers, bolted up the stairs at top speed. *Hi Jacoby,* Jojo signed, her tongue flicking as the faintest trace of a blush showed beneath her scales.

Jacoby, fully dressed now, smiled and signed back, *Hey Jo,* he said, using her sign-name. *Come on in, this is Justice and this is Mercy,* he introduced the St Bernard's to his girlfriend as he moved aside for her, tugging gently on the large pooches to give her enough space to slither past. *And the scaredy cat is Peace,* he laughed. Shadow tendrils were darn useful as he formed hands to sign while his own were busy with the dogs.

*Nice trick,* she giggled sibilantly while she let the dogs sniff at her hand – Sal and Raff regularly walked them on campus, so unlike many animals, they were comfortable around metas. *Yes, you're good doggers, yes you are…*

*They are, and horrible moochers too,* Jay laughed. *Dinner is ready to go, if you are, by the way.*

*Awesome,* she smiled, moving to follow him.

*Got brisket, fried okra, green bean casserole, yeasty rolls, mac and cheese, and pecan pie with homemade vanilla ice cream for dessert,* he signed happily, eagerly.

*Mmm… I haven't had brisket or fried okra in forever…*

*This has been smoking all week and slow-cooking for the last few hour,* Jacoby chuckled. *I think I did good on the fried okra.*

*You'll have to teach me how sometime,* she smiled. *The one time I ever tried to make it myself, it came out all soggy.*

*I think that's the okra's … stuff,* he laughed as he led Jojo to the kitchen and washed his hands from handling the dogs. "Jojo, the family. The family, JoJo," he grinned as he joked, signing as he spoke.

"Good to see you, Jojo," Salome grinned, setting her grading on top of the fridge until the kids were in bed.

"Hi Jojo," Sarai waved.

"Hi guys," Jojo replied, tapping at her tablet – having taken classes with both Raffi and Salome, she was aware that neither signed.

Jacoby whistled absently as he brought over the food – the casserole dish with green beans topped with crispy fried onions, followed by the casserole filled with his mac and cheese, broiled to a light golden brown on top. Then a shallow bowl with the fried okra and lastly on a serving platter what was at least five pounds of smoked, slow cooked barbecue brisket and his quite literal half gallon of homemade barbecue sauce *Okay,* he smiled as he waited for Jojo to find her seat, not wanting to be rude and sit before the ladies. *Who wants what to drink? I brought my soda syrups and some cream if anyone wants,* he added, signing as he spoke.

"Can I have a grape soda?" Callum asked hopefully, suspecting he was about to be told 'milk with dinner, buddy.'

"Sure, Cal," Raffi smiled. "Just this once."

"Yay!" he squealed happily.

"Ooh – have you got your lemon-lime?" Jojo asked hopefully, coiling herself into a loose knot at the table – all too often she had to deal with the awkwardness of either moving a chair out of her way or finding a way to fit all twenty feet of herself in it. Having a spot at the table already exactly as she needed it was a relief.

"I'd be a poor host if I didn't have the guest of honor's favorite flavor," Jacoby grinned, being just a little dramatic. He ruffled Callum's hair. "Sure buddy, grape it is. Remember my stuff isn't gonna be as sweet as the store bought stuff, though." He went to prepare drinks, making a blackberry-cream for himself. "Mom, Dad? Sis?"

"Grape for me too, please," Salome grinned, getting a sippy cup of water for Kyrie. "I don't think Cal's ever tried a canned grape soda," she laughed. "Your sodas are usually the only ones we let him have because they're not full of caffeine and high fructose corn syrup."

"Blackberry-cream, please, Jay," Sarai requested.

"And I think I'll go for the cranberry ginger," Raffi grinned, going to get a few more glasses down for Jacoby.

"Coming up, thanks Dad," he smiled as he filled up the glasses with syrups, ice and club soda, stirring gently, before adding a splash of cream to his own and Sarai's, then using his tendrils to serve everyone their drinks before sitting down with a smile.

"No problem, Son," Raffi grinned, taking a seat.

"Your lemon-lime is the best, Jay," Jojo observed, sipping it. "Everything else is just too sweet."

"Plus you get flavors you normally couldn't, or like, only from a specialty store." He raised his blackberry soda. "Hey Cal, bud. Can you do me a big favor?" he asked his younger brother.

"Sure, Jayjay," Callum nodded eagerly. "What do you need?"

"I just wanted to ask you to try something for me." He used a shadow tendril to take the spoon from the okra and put two on his younger brother's plate. "Just two little fried okra, buddy."

The kindergartener looked dubious… but he had agreed. "Okay…" he said, spearing one with a Tucker Truck fork. He pulled his soda cup a little closer just in case before putting it in his mouth. "It's okay," he said, smiling slightly before putting the other piece in his mouth. "But your green beans are better."

"Can't imagine where you ever learned that trick, Jay," Salome giggled.

"Hey, at least you tried it, buddy," Jay pointed out. "And trying something new and different are important." He spooned some green bean casserole onto Callum's plate, "No chance I could get you to try a couple more if you had some of my barbecue sauce to dip them in?"

He brightened at that. "Barbecue fried okra?" he laughed. "Okay!"

"Like watching a master," Salome chuckled, having patiently coaxed a lot of new foods into a lot of kids over the years.

"Thanks Buddy." He put four okra on Callum's plate and spooned some barbecue sauce on the side, before serving him some mac and cheese and brisket too.

"Well, I'm excited to try your okra, Jay," Jojo laughed, spooning some onto her plate.

"Me too," Sarai giggled, eagerly spooning some green beans onto her plate, followed by okra once the snake-girl was done with the spoon.

"Fun fact, I recently bought an air-fryer, less oil than deep frying but the results are close enough, yeah?" He grabbed some himself and a small bit of green bean casserole before grabbing some mac and cheese and brisket. Suddenly, he facepalmed. "The rolls!" He used two shadow tendrils to get the basket of rolls and a dish of butter, setting those on the table.

"We won't get into how often I envy your ability to do that, Jay," Salome laughed, setting a couple of fried okra and some other goodies on Kyrie's plate and putting it on the high chair tray for her.

"Well, it looks like Kyrie sure likes your okra, Jay," Raffi laughed as she went straight for the fried veggie, giggling.

"Hooray!" Jay grinned. "Yeah. Zach and Erik both have said the same about my tendrils," he chuckled. "Thanks, Everyone, for being here and I hope you enjoy."

"Mmm, I like the air fryer version way better," Jojo observed. "Less greasy."

"Mmm… fried okra is amazing," Sarai giggled, eagerly digging in.

"Right? Plus that much oil is a pain to deal with when you're done." Jacoby sighed happily as he chewed on a bite of his brisket. "... Oh God…" he sighed, smiling.

"Mmmm," Raffi sighed. "Best brisket I've had in a long time, Jay."

Jay sighed as he sat down after passing out plates with generous slices of pecan pie and healthy scoops of his homemade ice cream – they had moved to the living room to relax and be more comfortable, with Jacoby sitting on the edge of the couch to be next to Jojo. "Gotta thank you Cal, Sarai, you did great on the ice cream."

"Any time, Jay," Sarai laughed, imitating Sal's cheeky two-fingered salute.

"Hey, Jojo," Callum said excitedly. "My friend Hunter says you know sign language?"

*Yeah, I do,* Jojo signed, setting down her fork.

"We're all learning it at school," Callum smiled. "That way, we can talk to Hunter. It's really fun. And Hunter's really nice."

"I met Hunter at the Back to School fair," Jojo nodded. "He is really nice."

"Kinda reminds me of someone else I know who learned sign language to talk to someone they thought was really nice." Sarai chuckled.

"Mmhmm," Jojo nodded. *He's really nice, too,* she signed, giggling sibilantly.

Jay blushed at Jo's compliment. "So how far along are you Cal?"

"We still need help from Hunter's ter… terpreter to have really big conversations," Callum said. "But she signs everything Miss Thomson says, so I'm learning about colors and shapes in English and in sign language," he said excitedly. "It's really cool. Yesterday we were talking about our favorite books. My favorite book is Tucker Truck. But Hunter's favorite is Pete the Cat," he said, signing along with Pete the Cat.

"What's your sign name?" Jojo asked him.

"This," Callum said, holding one hand like he would a crayon and moving it in a star shape. "Because I like to draw," he giggled. "What's yours, Jojo?"

"This," she giggled, moving both hands in a slither-y gesture. "Because snek," she giggled.

"What's yours, Jayjay?" Callum asked.

"I use 'shadow' and 'ghost' combined." Jay demonstrated for his little brother. "Wanna come up with names for Mom and Dad and our sisters?"

"Daddy should be this," Callum said, hooking his thumbs to form wings with his hands and giving his fingers a flap.

"I like that, Cal," Raffi chuckled.

"I bet this would work well for Kyrie," Sarai giggled, flicking all five fingers on one hand up. "Like a fountain."

"Yeah, I'd say that fits, all right," Salome laughed. "Hmm… what's the sign for 'flame'?" she asked.

"This," Jojo said, demonstrating. "But I think you need something more like this, Salome," she laughed, showing a modified version.

"What's the other part from?" Raffi asked, curious.

"Holy," Jojo answered, smirking.

"I love it," Salome grinned.

"All very fitting," Jay snickered. "I think these are great."

"Hmm…" Sarai mused. "What about something like this?" she suggested, holding up one hand in a fist, and then rapidly spreading her fingers out while bringing her arm parallel to the floor. "Something… fast," she grinned.

"I love it, Sarai," Jojo nodded.

Jacoby and Jojo had escaped to the front porch to say good night properly without spectation or speculation from the peanut gallery (particularly that part of the peanut gallery which was five years old) and now stood in the glow of the porch light.

"Thanks for coming Jo," Jacoby smiled gently as he held her hand, though he did let it go so she could sign. "I hope you had a good evening."

*That was amazing,* she smiled, taking his hand. *Thank you, Jay.*

*It really was,* Jay smiled. *I think it's safe to say you're welcome any time, too.*"

*Excellent,* she smiled. This had been one of the few places she'd felt right at home immediately on arriving, rather than a friend's family needing time to get past the whole 'snake' thing.

*Just let me know so I can tell Mom to set an extra place setting. And I think Cal likes you a lot too,* he chuckled. *I really enjoyed having you over too.*

*Cal's a sweet little guy,* Jojo smiled. *We'll have to introduce him to Xan when my folks are out for family weekend,* she laughed. *I loved being here.*

*That sounds like a weekend adventure,* Jay laughed before he hugged JoJo. "Thank you so much, Jo." He kissed her cheek gently.

*Thank you, Jay,* she smiled as he found himself in a slightly constrictor-style hug with a tongue flicking his cheek.

*You know… never thought I'd ever be hugged by a snake but…* he grinned as he cupped her cheek. "I think I can get used to it… can I… kiss you?"

*We give the best hugs,* she giggled. *Absolutely,* she smiled at his question.

"You certainly do." Jacoby leaned in and kissed her on the lips, as best he could find them, for a short moment and smiling at her after.

Her tongue flicked as she kissed him back, smiling.

"This… feels good." Jay smiled, blushing.

*It does,* she agreed, the faintest trace of a blush showing through the scales on her face.

As Salome bustled about the living room, rounding up pie plates to go load the dishwasher, she briefly caught a glimpse through the window of Jay and Jojo's 'good night' out on the porch. "Squee," she muttered quietly to herself, smiling and stepping off to the kitchen to leave them some privacy.

"I… um, in the essence of honesty… I'd like to, um, be a serious couple." Jacoby blushed, but felt it important to be honest and forward.

*I would too,* Jojo agreed, blushing slightly deeper. Communication is important, after all. *You're the first person who's ever seen me for… me.*

"Okay, then," Jacoby chuckled. "Okay. Wow." He kissed her softly again, hugging her. "And I promise to never not see the awesome person you are."

*Jacoby… Thanks,* she smiled, kissing him.