Issue #15: Never Simple

This entry is part 3 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 2: Magic and Machines

Part 5

The high school gym was rather unconvincingly disguised as a ballroom via the questionable magic of crepe paper and a disco ball. Luckily, it wasn’t as if more than one or two of the students had ever seen an actual ballroom, so no one was disappointed.

The dance was already twenty minutes in when Warrick, Cyn, and Juniper entered accompanied by Tina Carlyle. Juniper broke from her friends and sprinted for the bandstand where Snackrifice was already set up and playing an instrumental.

“Late much?” Kay asked, her smile belying any sense that she was annoyed.

“Sorry,” Juniper apologized, “We, uh, ran into bad traffic. Some people just don’t know how to handle their machines at all.” She looked at Adel, who was sitting at his drums and blushed. “Hi Adel.”

“Hey.” He kept his gaze downward. Juniper didn’t try for more. Asking him to the dance in the first place had taken an hour of attempting small talk which failed utterly, forcing her to ask him to go with her in a rather blunt manner.

“No problem.” Lisa shrugged, doing her best to appear as if she hadn’t noticed the exchange. “It isn’t like Principal Walters is paying us.”

“So,” Kay smiled, “I say we open with To the One that Matters Most and then roll into some of the covers we’ve practiced – The Only Roche’s Skip-around, Blinded by Radiance’s Stand Beside Her, SB’s The Episode Where They Finally Kiss, and then we’ll put on a couple recordings so you three can get you Valentine on and I can perpetrate some violence on the snack table. Sound good?”

“Aye-aye, fearless leader.” Lisa laughed.

“Yeah, sounds good.” Juniper nodded, reaching over to adjust her mic.

Adel just nodded and picked up his sticks.

“Right.” Kay said, poising her fingers over her keyboard. She nodded to Adel who started tapping out the beat. Lisa picked up with her bass and was soon joined by Kay.

Juniper closed her eyes for a second, basking in the heat of the spotlight before starting to sing. Every time she was in this position, she was thankful that she’d allowed Kay to pressure her into being Snackrifice’s lead singer.

Being the eternal optimist and near constant pushover was stressful even if that was exactly who she wanted to be. But living with Cyn and being friends with Kay often pushed that to its limits. They didn’t really bother her and she loved even her most domineering friends, but sometimes she just wanted to shout at them until she was hoarse.

But she knew that was a door that could never be closed once it was opened. She wanted them to like her and that was something neither Kay nor Cyn could forgive in her mind.

So singing was her outlet. It let her pour all the passion and emotion she kept folded away into something that not only didn’t hurt her friendships, but made more people like her. And if there was one thing Juniper craved, it was for people to like her.

Filling her lungs, she started on To the One that Matters Most.

When you’re gone so far away…

Even if it’s for a single day…

You know my heart just sinks.

Across the floor, Tina accepted a cup of punch from a visibly harried Warrick. “So,” she teased, “Being late isn’t really a good first impression. Though I guess it’s better than skipping out early.”

“I’m sorry about that; we really got tied up at home.” Warrick hung his head. “And I guess you heard about the whole thing with Liz—it’s not what you think…”

“Well, not what you think I think at any rate.” Tina shrugged. Warrick had to admit that she looked very good in her blouse and skirt. She wore khakis and pullovers to school and a simple change of wardrobe had revealed an entirely different dimension of her attractiveness. She took a sip of the punch. “I heard all the things von Stoker’s said about you. Several versions in fact – all from her. And you pretty much look worse in each one.”

“Oh.” Warrick sighed. “Listen, you don’t have to stay. I know you just decided to go so we’d stop talking about the dance. I’m not going to make you hang around…”

When are you coming back to me?

You’re the one I hope to see.

Feel like my life is a jinx.

Tina grabbed the back of his collar as he started to walk off. “Maybe I will go if you think I’m dumb enough to have believed any of it.”

“You don’t?—wait, I didn’t mean it that way. It’s just that, well pretty much every girl in school that doesn’t live with me either already hates me for that scene with Lilly in the cafeteria at the beginning of classes, or buys into Liz’s version of what happened.”

“Most girls in our school either try to dress like one another to make fun of conformists—and are completely unaware of irony—or are so ready to buy into a drama queen’s rants that the possibility that high school isn’t just some bizarre soap opera can’t even wriggle into their skulls.” Tina pointed out. “But I’m not them and I’m not Elizabeth von Stoker. I can’t even understand her, really. So she’s a psionic? So she didn’t get the cool powers? So what? They’re not to blame for what’s going on with her. Lilly hates plenty of non-powered people too: me and your friend, Cyn, for example.”

Warrick tried to keep a straight face at hearing Cyn described as ‘non-powered’. “I didn’t know she hated you.”

“It’s less prominent now with Cyn around. Cyn fights back, I don’t care, so I’m less of a challenge and thus I’m not worth it.”

“Oh.” Warrick nodded. “Still, I don’t get why you’re not accepting a chance to jump ship on the whole ‘non-date’ thing.”

Tina shook her head and sighed. “I may have been a little crucial to you with this whole non-date business. See, I’ve never had a date.” She held up a hand when he opened his mouth. “Correction: I’ve never wanted a date. Like Lilly’s empire of popularity, I don’t care. I mean someday, sure. But to me, high school is for learning, not romance, get me?”

In another town…

Or on another coast –

This one goes out

to the one who matters most.

“I guess… I don’t agree with you, but I get you. But really, if you want to hear my opinion, I don’t see why you can’t do both. I’ve probably crashed and burned at more attempts at flirting than any guy in school, but I’m still on the A-B honor roll. Juniper does better than me and she spends most of her free time trying to get Mr. Living Brick on the drums up there to notice her. Just pointing that out…”

To the one that matters most!

Tina grinned. “That’s kind of what I was thinking on the drive over here—you know, less so when I was waiting for you and you were late.” Warrick cringed at that. “But I was thinking it. And now I am here and I’m all dressed up and well, I’m kind of thinking that maybe you’re not such a bad guy to have a first date with.”

“Really?”

She laughed, “Sure, why not?”

“Well, in that case…” Warrick extracted the flower shop bag from his blazer pocket and took the plastic case containing the corsage out. “This is for my date.”

Tina smiled. “So why why’d you go with lilacs?”

“Pure stupid luck and a really pushy old guy named George.” Warrick said truthfully. “Why?”

“That’s pretty good stupid luck then.” Tina took the flowers, “Lilacs are my favorite.”

Even if you’re gone away…

Think about you night and day…

I wish I had you close…

Cause you’re the one that matters most.

Not far away, near the snack tables, Jonas stared goggle-eyed at the impossible pile of finger foods Cyn had managed to pile onto the paper saucer provided. “It’s a lot, isn’t it?” Cyn smirked at him.

“I wasn’t going to say anything,” Jonas admitted, “But damn, you eat like me after a game.”

“I missed dinner.” Cyn wove her excuse as she went. “We were going to hit a fast food place before coming here, but then traffic was so screwed up and… you know the rest—cheese on a toothpick?” she offered the cubed dairy product, all too aware that her hunger would have liked nothing more than to directly absorb the cheese along with the toothpick and the plate they were both sitting on. She hadn’t admitted it to the others, but the shock Dale had given her had taken more out of her than she would like to admit.

“Don’t mind if I do.” Jonas said, taking to proffered bit of food.

Can’t you see I’m missing you?

What do I say, what must I do?

I’m wanting for your touch…

“Look girls.” Cyn and Jonas both knew the high toned voice behind them all too well. They turned to see Lilly and two of her friends—all wearing the exact same green dress—giving them disapproving looks. “It’s our favorite freak and she’s bought a date.”

“Didn’t you hear?” One of Lilly’s personality clones by the name of Alice scoffed, “The in thing is to not bring a date to the V-day dance.”

I want to know if you’re missing me.

Even if you’re gone across a sea.

You’re the one I love so much…

Cyn and Jonas exchanged glances. Moments later, Cyn burst into laughter. “Oh you’ve got to be kidding me.” She stepped close enough to Lilly to cause the other girl to step back. “Jonas didn’t ask you, and instead of getting another date, you rearrange everything you call ‘in’ instead?”

Lilly sniffed and made a face. “Oh please. We’ve all know this for months. Don’t get all upset because once again, you’re a freak.”

In another town…

Or on another coast –

This one goes out

to the one who matters most.

To the one that matters most!

Taking a step back, Cyn mumbled to herself, “Oh my god, I’m stuck on… on… like a mobius strip of moronicness.” She raised her voice to Lilly. “Why does everyone have to seek out the most needlessly complicated way to get things done?! You could have just grabbed another jock at random and declared him the new Mr. Popular with your Queen Bee magic powers.”

She rubbed her temples. “But no. That’s too simple. It makes too much sense. THERE AREN’T ENOUGH CATS RUNNING ON FREAKING CONVEYOR BELTS! So instead of that—which a person slightly less insane would do, because leaving me alone isn’t an option—you ruin Valentine’s Day for all of your friends to get a chance… an outside, dark horse, million-to-one shot that by doing this, you would ruin mine. I say this too often for my own sanity, but what the hell is wrong with you?!”

Lilly snorted and faked whispering to the Alice, “So jealous.”

Cyn’s teeth audibly ground together.

Even if you’re gone away…

Think about you night and day…

I wish I had you close…

Cause you’re the one that matters most.

“You didn’t get your news out to everyone, I see.” Jonas stepped in beside Cyn, putting a hand on her arm to keep her from punching Lilly into the punchbowl.

Lilly rolled her eyes. “What are you talking about, Jonas?”

“Isn’t that Callie over there dancing with Brett?” He pointed. “And I’m sure I saw Stephanie come in with Nathan. They’re still your friends, right?”

He couldn’t help but grin at the look of rage that crossed Lilly’s face as she span to see Callie. Not only was she with a date, but her red skirt was decidedly not identical to the green dresses Lilly, Alice and Kim had worn to the dance.

She gave both Jonas and Cyn a dirty look before stomping in Callie’s direction.

Trying hard to keep my cool,

Feeling like a lonely fool,

Wish I didn’t have to wait so long.

“Nice job.” Cyn chuckled, surreptitiously putting a fistful of cheese and crackers behind her back. She was seriously running on empty, but couldn’t very well jam the whole plate in her maw. There was a barely noticeable wisp of smoke as the nutrients were absorbed into her fist.

“I couldn’t let our unholy alliance be for nothing.” Jonas shrugged, hands in his pockets.

“You’re devious.” Cyn admitted. “I like that.”

“Does that earn me a dance?”

Cyn started to shake her head, but then the teenage girl deep inside made herself known. Here she was, at the Valentine’s Dance, with a date – a handsome date – a popular, handsome date – and she was thinking of blowing him off? For what? There was absolutely no reason not to dance and have fun.

In fact, she deserved it. Juniper was getting the guy she wanted. From where she stood, she could tell that Warrick’s ‘not a date’ was straying into ‘definitely a date’ territory. And they hadn’t had their cells scrambled by a jackass with some exposed wiring. This was clearly God making up for the existence of cyborgs.

And really, if she turned Jonas down, that would make her… well, Melissa. And she didn’t want that.

“Sure.” She finally said, “Let’s show Lilly exactly what she’s missing.”

The song rounded the last lyrical corners with Juniper’s voice carrying over all the dancing couples (plus a trio of identically dress girls berating one of said couples).

Never going to forget,

No matter how I wait and fret,

While I’m writing you this song…

About the one that matters most.

End Issue #15

Series Navigation<< Issue #14: Standing With TitansIssue #16: Psalm of a Soul >>

About Vaal

Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.

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