Lina and Jackson got to the parking lot, or, rather, they got to the campground side of the parking lot — a strange stretch with some Uhauls and vans, box trucks and the like cheek to jowl with Bentlies and Beemers, Mercedes and Corvettes.
Another woman in a robe stopped them. “Sorry, kids. Nobody in, nobody out, we’re locking down. The boss got a bug in his bonnet and we’re getting ready for the final — well, you know.
Lina didn’t know at all, but she looked at Jackson, who looked guilty and huffed. “We just want to go into town for a couple hours?” he wheedled. “It’s not like town is dangerous. It’s barely downhill from here.”
“Sorry, no exceptions. Go to the water if you want some recreation. If you want some recreation, I won’t notice if the pavilion behind the food storage gets its lock picked. Just lock it again behind you if you can.”
Lina’s eyebrows went up and she found herself taking Jackson’s arm and pulling him back away from the woman. “Thanks, ma’am. Good luck with your, uh, border guarding.”
“Good luck with your recreation, kids. Don’t forget the condoms.”
Lina didn’t quite look at Jackson, but she made herself not drop his arm and not pull away from him. What did she care if some stranger thought they were — recreating — together? It wasn’t like—
She leaned against a tree as a whole pile of it wasn’t like thudded into her.
“What?” Jackson patted her shoulder, then looked as if maybe he shouldn’t have. But she still hadn’t let go of his arm, either.
“This — this isn’t a vacation. Or maybe it is, but it could be the end of the world, which means those assholes are our new social group.”
“I thought the enforcer was pretty nice.”
“Not her. Dylan and his asshole friend.” She wrinkled her nose. “If the world ends, then we’re stuck with them.”
“If the world doesn’t end, we might be stuck with them anyway. I don’t think the Organization is going to stop or anything, just fold up, if their math turns out to be wrong. They’ll just figure out new math.” Jackson made a face. “They like the power.”
“At least, if the world doesn’t end, I can go back to school and hang out with different assholes there,” Lina countered.
“Or you could just hang out with me.” Jackson’s smile was surprisingly bright.
She found herself smiling back. “Or I could do that, yeah. I like that option better.”
There was no curfew, because there was nothing to do the next day. There wasn’t an alarm clock – except her brothers throwing a fit, of course, but that went without saying — and there wasn’t anything for Lina to focus on the next day except small annoying boys and, occasionally, taller annoying boys.
She took her brothers to the little playground, down to the water, up to the top of the hill, and back to the playground. By the time she’d finally tired them out, she was exhausted herself — and a bit of a hangover was not helping matters.
She found a nice big flat rock in the sun, left her sunglasses on, and sprawled out for a little nap.
She dozed, dreaming of castles and explosions, walls and cannons, monsters and fighter planes.
A hand on her shoulder woke her out of building a very tall wall. She sat up with a gasp.
The sun was dim, almost set. Jackson was smiling crookedly at her. “Thought you might want some water? And, I don’t know, maybe some dinner? Not take-out this time. The place is still locked down. I talked to my parents, and they’re pretty sure it’s going to stay that way until the world ends or, well, people decide it’s not going to.”
“Lovely.” She wrinkled her nose but took the offered bottle of water. She drank it all in three gulps, then stared at it. “Shit, I hope we weren’t supposed to be sharing that.”
“No worries, I brought three more.” He smiled gently at her. “I already went through two. Look, if you want to, after we get something to eat, there’s going to be a party down at the grotto. I hear there’s something of a concert — a few of the Organization are in a band, did you know that?”
“I definitely did not know that.” She swung her feet down and got to her feet. “Let’s eat, then. What are you offering?”
“It’s a pretty decent campfire mac-n-cheese if I do say so myself. Some good chicken breast in there and a little prosciutto.”
“Marry me and have my children.”
He blinked at her, then grinned. “If you can figure out how to do it, I’ll be down with it. My mother always has wanted me to marry a nice Organization woman with some powers. Someone to keep our family in the good graces, you know.”
“I definitely did not know that,” she repeated, winking at him. “If you do the cooking, I’ll figure out the income. I mean, if the world doesn’t end. If it does, I guess I’ll do the hunting and gathering and you can raise the kids.”
He bowed and offered her a hand. “I ought to be hurt that you think I can’t do the hunting and gathering, but let’s be honest, I’d be better at writing a book about the subject. Shall we? Dinner is at my family’s campsite.”
“They won’t mind…?” She put her hand into his, because it seemed the thing to do. Were they flirting? Lina had absolutely no idea.
On the other hand, mac-n-cheese with prosciutto. And someone who was willing to tell her things. “I mean. A stranger? You bringing someone else to dinner?”
“Nah. Mom’s at a meeting. One of those high-muckity-muck meetings, you know.”
She snorted. “I definitely did not know.”
She managed to get him to laugh that time, and he squeezed her hand lightly. “It’s going to be you and I at dinner, is what I’m saying, and Mom won’t be back until late. So we’ll be gone to the grotto — if you want, before it’s an issue.”
She looked at him, assessing. She’d heard things like that before, but she got a feeling — not that she couldn’t be wrong, that he didn’t mean before my mother might realize I brought *you* home but more before you have to cope with my mother.
Lina smiled a little. “Then bring on the mac-n-cheese.”
“As my lady commands.” His bow was deep and somewhere past over-the-top and she was grinning wildly by the time he straightened up. Even if it had started as store-brand powdered cheese product, she decided, she was going to love his mac-n-cheese.
An hour later, she was: full, content that it had started life as proper cheeses and not the box stuff, happy, and trying to make fireworks with her shields.
“This is the best I can do.” She wrinkled her nose in concentration and sent up a stream of brightly colored bubbles, tiny force-shields smaller around than the tip of her pinkie finger. “It doesn’t look much like fireworks.”
“No, but it kind of looks like the best soap bubbles in the world.” Jackson batted at one lightly. “You’ve really never experimented with your power? If I had one, I’d be — I don’t know, but I bet it would be wild.”
“I mean, a little here and there, catching spills, how to funnel things with the least waste, can you keep your brother from spilling on the floor without him noticing? That sort of thing. But I was really trying to keep it all buttoned up.”
“Imagine how surprised your parents will be.”Want more?