"Alice c'mon; get your butt in gear or I'll go without you!"

Alice heard her father holler up the stairs and jumped. She'd been sunk deep in the book she was reading and hadn't been aware of the time passing. She now looked at the clock and realised that if she wasn't careful, they'd all be late. "You wouldn't dare!" she yelled back, rolling off her bed and hurriedly getting changed.

"Don't try me," came the response.

Alice snickered. When it came to her dad, she knew full well that she had him wrapped around her little finger, but just occasionally, he'd put his foot down and down it stayed. She put the finishing touches to her outfit and dashed down the stairs to find her father rather pointedly looking at his watch.

"We'll be late," he said.

"Not the way you drive," Alice shot back. "Besides, it's only the brats birthday – I'm sure they don't care if I'm there or not."

"Maybe they will and maybe they won't," retorted her father, "but your mother does. And if we're late…"

"She'll string us both up," Alice finished with a sigh. "All right, let's go." But for all her couldn't care less attitude, she was secretly looking forward to it. After all, it wasn't every day that she got to hang out with her parents' friends.

The park, as the only place for a bunch of ten-year-olds to run around without damaging anything, was their destination and true to Alice's predictions, they made it with plenty of time to spare. As Alice climbed out of the car, she could see her brevet uncle, Wes, playing referee to a horde of small boys who were tearing around after a soccer ball. She guessed that the birthday boys and her brother were in there somewhere, but from this distance, she couldn't tell.

"There you are!" Alice looked up to see her mother heading towards them.

"Don't blame me," said her father. "Blame your daughter."

"Oh, I know who to blame."

"Mom!" Alice rolled her eyes. "I'm not that bad."

"Sure you're not," her mother replied. "This way." And she led them towards a picnic blanket were a bunch of adults were seated in various comfortable poses.

"Eric – was beginning to think you weren't going to make it," observed one, a tall, dark-skinned woman wearing yellow. "And Alice, too. Good to see you again."

Alice grinned, even as her father repeated his excuse for their lateness. "Nice to see you again, too, Katie," she answered. "Where's Alex?"

Katie inclined her head in the direction of the would-be soccer players. "Helping your uncle keep track of things over there."

Sure enough, Alice spotted Alex, getting back to his feet. "He doesn't look as if he's doing so good."

Katie chuckled. "Don't let that fool you. Though he'll deny it if you ask him, he's having fun."

Alice giggled.

But no sooner had Katie said that than Alex came over to join them. "Ouf – who thought that was a good idea?" he groused, flopping down onto rug.

Katie rolled her eyes. "You're fooling no-one," she said. Alex grimaced at her. "You want a drink?"



"I'm fine, thanks."

Katie went over to where the picnic was being set out to find a drink.

"Have you figured out what you're gonna do when you graduate high school?" Alex asked.

Alice shook her head. "College, I guess," she answered.

"Have you thought about joining the Silver Guardians?" he asked.

"Over my dead body!" came the automatic response from Eric, breaking off the conversation he was having with Lucas and Rocky.

"Mine too!" Kimberly added.

"Me three," said Alice with a grin. "It's OK for dad and mom but I think I wanna do something where people aren't gonna try to kill me."

Alex laughed. Whether he would have said anything further or not Alice never learned as at that moment, the two birthday boys, Rick and Namir, came over and grabbed her hands.

"Y'gotta come play!" Rick demanded.

"Yeah!" Namir agreed, tugging. "It's a rule."

"You can be on John's team," Rick added kindly.

"All right, all right." Alice rolled her eyes. "I'm coming." And she allowed the two ten year olds to pull her to her feet.

Alex watched the trio join the soccer game and smiled. This was how it should have been.

"Penny for your thoughts?" Katie asked as she rejoined him.

"Just thinking."


"The past, the present, the future." Alex grinned. "Stuff. You know."

"This had better not be work, Alex Collins," Katie warned, drink poised. "You promised, no work for the whole trip."

Alex grinned. "Old work."

"Then forget about it. Whatever it is it's over and done with now."

Alex nodded. "It certainly is."