Chapter Nine: But Needles are Sharp
It was going to be a good day, except Terra was upset.
Starfire could always tell. When Terra was sad, her entire face was sad, not just her frown. Even her hair seemed to droop. Last month, when Terra had woken up to find her goldfish floating dead in his tank, Starfire had known even before she could see Terra's face because her shoulders were rounded, almost wilted.
This wasn't quite so bad because she didn't look precisely wilted yet, but when she slid into the low, plastic cafeteria seat, Starfire could tell that something was wrong. Which wouldn't do.
"What is the matter?" she questioned, offering Terra a cookie.
Her friend took the snack gratefully, shoving the whole thing in her mouth. "Ooo, you didn't say you had peanut butter ones. Got any more?"
"Yes, I have several!" Starfire said, pushing the bag closer to Terra. "And you seemed a bit—distant, in math class today. I could tell because you were focused on the flower garden outside the window and not on our conversation."
"Ugh, sorry, Star; I'm just so mad!"
"But why? I thought you liked Thursdays because you got to see Gar in debate—"
"Shh! Don't say that so loud!" Terra hissed, looking frantically over her shoulder as if Gar would be very angry if he heard. Which didn't make much sense to Starfire because she thought that anyone would be pleased to learn that someone liked them—well, as much as Terra liked Gar.
"I apologize, but I still don't understand why you are upset."
Terra slammed a palm down on the table, just barely missing the bag of cookies. "My retarded dad says that I can't get my ears pierced, so Mom won't go with me to get it done!"
Starfire stared at her for a long moment, trying to understand, then finally shrugged. "Why not go by yourself? Or if you don't wish to do that, I would not mind accompanying—"
"No, that's not the problem—you think I'd really drag my mom with me to the mall like some loser if I had a choice?" She sighed. "If you're my age, you can't get your ears pierced without permission from your parents here, remember?"
"They don't think that is a decision you are capable of making yourself?"
"I guess not—'cos that's totally the rule."
Starfire blinked at her. "That…is very strange," she pronounced at last. Because it was.
"Maybe I should move to Africa. It sounds much cooler than here. Or at least go visit long enough to pierce my ears." She reached into the bag and grabbed another cookie, twirling it fitfully around in a circle on her plate. "My parents don't get it. It's not fair: everybody has earrings except me, and Kitten gave me some at my birthday party last year, but I can't even wear them, and Mom and Dad don't even care!"
Starfire eyed Terra's earlobes critically, leaning back in her seat a little while she thought about it, looked away to stare out the window for a few moments and then finally spinning around and turning back to her friend.
Terra's eyes narrowed. "Whenever you do that kind of stuff, it usually means you have an awesome idea, so I really hope you do."
Starfire grinned. "Oh, I most certainly do. Perhaps we would not have to travel across the ocean in order to pierce your ears."
"Uh, Star, I already said that I can't get it done at the mall without my parents' permiss—"
The grin intensified as Starfire slowly shook her head, arms coming up to cross over her purple shirt. "No, I am not talking about the mall," she sang, voice high-pitched and anticipatory.
Terra grabbed her hands, bouncing excitedly in her seat. "Tell me!"
"When I was six, Koma pierced my ears with a sewing needle. Last year, Rose Wilson needed assistance, and the process went very well. I would be most eager to try the same with you."
"Eww, Rose Wilson like Coach Slade's—uh, wait…needle?"
"Precisely!" Starfire grinned, waiting for her friend to realize what a wonderful idea this was.
Terra choked on what remained of the cookie.
"Uh—you mean like, an actual—but needles are sharp!"
She nodded. "Something which we would find helpful in reaching our goal, I think."
"But, like, you'd stick it in my ear?"
"I could do it after you finish with debate today, if that would be acceptable."
Terra's hands flew to her ears, her face losing most of its usual color, though she made that high-pitched noise that reminded Starfire of the squeaky toys that Kitten's dog, Fang chewed on sometimes—and that was rather usual for Terra.
"So, uh, what are you sticking in Terra's ear?"
Starfire turned towards the voice, ignoring Terra's look of horror and the blonde tidal wave that accompanied her frenzied head shake. She smiled at Wally, explaining cheerfully, "Terra's parents will not allow her to pierce her ears, so I am offering to find other methods of accomplishing the task."
"Neat; what kind of methods?"
"I have some knowledge of the correct procedure because Koma did it to me, so I told her to come to my house after debate practice was over, and—"
"Hey, since Terra looks kinda freaked about it, you wanna practice on me first?" Wally suddenly asked, looking a great deal more interested than he'd been before.
"Certainly!" Starfire said. "Would you like a cookie?"
It took a moment for her to notice Terra's shocked expression, and the other girl finally managed to close her mouth, then open it enough to sputter, "But—but—you're a boy!"
"Boys can't have earrings!" Terra narrowed her eyes, thinking about it. "Not if they wanna ever come to my house, anyway, 'cos Dad will get really mad."
Wally raised an eyebrow. "Get mad? At me? Naw, don't think so."
Terra blew her breath out in a huge puff of air, reaching for a bottle of juice. "Fine, but just make sure my dad doesn't see it."
"I sorta think you should be more worried about making sure he doesn't see yours, if you do it," Wally said, taking a seat on the other side of Starfire. "And a cookie would be great."
Starfire passed him the bag.
Terra slouched even further in her seat, as if she were trying to slide under the table. "Good point. Maybe I can take it out in front of him or something. Or wear earmuffs!" She grinned.
Starfire shook her head doubtfully. "I believe that might draw even more attention to your ears."
"I'll figure something out! And anyway, I don't care. I want earrings."
"Excellent!" Starfire said. "So you will join us after debate?"
Terra stopped trying to unscrew the cap on her juice, casting a nervous glance at Starfire. "…So the needle. How much does it hurt, exactly?"
Starfire shrugged. "It did not hurt very much when Koma did it. Not nearly as much as the year before that, when she told me that if I jumped into a river with many sharp rocks at the bottom, she would give me one of her dresses." Starfire frowned. "I really ought to have known that she had no intention of doing so."
Terra held up the juice bottle so it was between her and Starfire and hid part of her face. "Somehow, that doesn't make me feel too much better, Star," she moaned. "But…I still want earrings."
"Then it is decided," she said, nodding authoritatively. "I will be at home at seven o'clock after swim practice, waiting for you, and in the meantime I will try to locate a cigarette lighter or match."
If it were possible, Terra seemed even paler than before. "Uh—what are you gonna do with fire that involves my face?"
"It prevents infection," Starfire said. Wally nodded agreement.
"You are not burning my face; I'd rather get an infection!"
"No, it is—" Starfire broke off and sighed because she wasn't sure how it worked herself, to be perfectly honest. "Perhaps Robin could explain sterilization to you after school, if he is not too busy doing extra work for Mr. Luthor."
And it might have been Starfire's imagination, but it seemed that Wally's shoulders looked remarkably wilted in the same way that Terra's always were when something had upset her. She wasn't sure why because Wally seemed to like Robin quite a bit—though he didn't like Mr. Luthor, or chemistry, now that Mr. Luthor was teaching it and wouldn't allow them to create explosions, so that could be it—and she resolved to find out what it was.
"Ooooh, so that's what you meant with the fire—why didn't you just tell me you weren't gonna burn my face off!"
Starfire blinked at her. "Why would I do that?"
"You were talking about matches! What was I supposed to think!"
"I thought you meant that you didn't know why it made the needle clean," Starfire said. "I would have explained this, if you had said something."
"But I did! I was like—ugh, never mind." Terra swung her legs back and forth on the kitchen counter, hair in a low ponytail, hands placed thoughtfully—or perhaps protectively—over her earlobes, holding the ice cubes against the backs. She flinched when Starfire raised herself up on her toes to reach Terra's face. "Heeey, where're you gonna put that?"
"Don't worry; it is only a marker," Starfire said, moving Terra's hands away and carefully making a black dot on each ear, then stepping back to make sure they were at the same level.
"I don't know about this," Terra murmured, eyeing the needles. The first of which Starfire was currently running through the flame of a match she'd stolen out of Koma's room (her sister loved candles, especially dreary, black ones).
"Honestly, there is no need to be concerned," Starfire said, smiling. "I have done this before, as I said, and no problems should arise, provided that you observe proper hygienic precautions afterwards."
Terra did not appear convinced.
"Well, if she's not ready, I am," Wally said, moving to sit on one of the wooden stools by the refrigerator and tossing his ice cube at the sink. "That way you can see that it's not a big deal, Terra."
"She has a needle. In her hand. And you're gonna let her. Put it. In your face. That's a big deal!"
"But you want your ears pierced," he pointed out calmly.
"The 'piercing' part sorta comes with the territory, then, I think. But seriously, just watch, and if you decide you don't want to, then you can go back to begging your dad to let you go to the mall."
Terra leaned back against a wooden cupboard and nodded slowly, not taking her eyes off the needle. Starfire wasn't able to watch her anymore, however, because Wally was looking up at her expectantly, and she needed to concentrate to do a good job.
"You're quite sure that the positioning is satisfactory?" she asked, leaning down and nudging her hair out of her face. "Do you need to check the mirror again?"
"No, it's fine," he answered. "Even if it's not, worst case scenario, it'll close eventually. Besides." He grinned. "I've never done it this way before, and I think it's cool."
"Wait, you've done this before?" Terra piped up from the counter, though Starfire didn't look at her because she had to make sure she put the needle in correctly. From Terra's audible wince, it seemed that watching wasn't helping her too much.
Wally didn't answer for a moment because Starfire had poked the needle through at the exact moment that Terra asked the question—he was still and silent, face focused straight ahead at the refrigerator, and it occurred to Starfire that this was one of the few times when she'd seen Wally relatively calm. She wondered briefly what it said about him that it took a sharp object piercing his flesh to make him calm, and had to stop the giggle that nearly resulted because she needed to keep her hands steady.
And then the moment passed, and he answered with no indication that there had been a pause, "Yeah, awhile back I did."
"Only one?" Starfire asked him again, for the third time, as she removed the needle and replaced it with the gold hoop. "Because I am happy to do another—"
"One's good," Wally said.
"Uh." Terra tilted her head inquisitively, still rubbing the ice cubes over her ears—her entire ear, it seemed like, and possibly some of her neck as well—which struck Starfire as rather unnecessary, but she didn't mention it. "Don't tell me you decided to let it close just so Starfire could pierce it again? 'Cos that's kind of a lot of trouble just to be able to say that you let your friend stick a needle in your ear."
Wally's expression changed again, in a way that was similar to the strange calm that he'd exhibited earlier, though this was different, somehow—there was a serious, almost shadowed edge to it, his eyes focused on something far away, and then it was over, and he shrugged. "Got a little hurt awhile back, so it wasn't good to really mess with it, but now it's healed—I was planning on doing it soon, anyway, but then Starfire offered." He took the towel that she held out to him and pressed it against his ear. "Anyway, your turn, right, Terra?"
Terra leaned forward, elbows coming to rest on her knees. "How much blood is there?" she asked, nose wrinkling.
"Like, none. It's fine, trust me. Starfire knows what she's doing."
"Thank you!" Starfire beamed as she went to dispose of the needle and wash her hands. "Are you ready now, Terra?" she asked, squeezing a substantial amount of soap into her palms.
Starfire had finished washing her hands and preparing the second needle by the time Terra had decided that she was ready, but in the end, she took Wally's place on the stool, holding the ice cubes to her earlobes until the last moment, eyes tightly closed and chin pointed down.
"So how's debate?" Wally suddenly asked as Starfire raised the needle to Terra's ear.
Almost out of surprise, Terra opened one eye—then quickly squeezed it shut again when she saw what Starfire was doing. "Uh—it's—okay," she answered, utterly distracted, hands knotted together in her lap and feet tense and flat on the floor.
"What are you guys doing right now?"
Terra forced a shallow breath. "I'm, um, working on th—this thing—" Two shallow breaths this time. "This poem, and it's really neat but kinda long, so I haven't got it all memor—" She broke off with a gasp as Starfire did the second ear.
"Jeez, not so hard! Gimme a second before you do the next one!"
"Unless you have a third ear that I am unaware of, there is no 'next one'."
One blue eye opened slowly, cautiously, as if expecting an explosion. Then, when no such thing occurred, the second eye. Then Terra turned her head gingerly to stare at Starfire. "You're done?"
"With that part, yes! Now continue looking straight ahead, please, so I can put in the second earring."
Terra's shoulders sagged as she sank down in the stool. "I stressed way too much about this."
"Little bit, yeah," Wally smiled. "You want some water?"
"…Got any pink lemonade?"
Starfire paused from what she was doing to point at one of the cupboards near the kitchen door. "There is powder in there and a pitcher under the sink. If you would not mind beginning, we can all have some after I finish."
Terra's grin grew wider at the words, magnified even further because Starfire was so close to her face. Her shoulders twitched with the effort to stay still. "I can't believe I have pierced ears!" she squealed. "I can't believe I have pierced ears and my parents said no!"
"Yeah, about that." Wally opened one of the packets of pink sugar, a little too roughly, and sneezed when it caught him in the face. It made Starfire smile because he looked very cute. "I'm good at hiding things from parents, so let me know if you have any trouble."
"I'll definitely have trouble," Terra said, rolling her eyes. "Dad's gonna freak. But it was worth it. Can I see them, pleeease?"
After washing her hands and cleaning up the more sensitive items, Starfire held up the black hand mirror in front of Terra's face.
"Yay, they're so pretty! I couldn't decide between pink and blue. Really glad I went with blue."
"Yes, it matches your eyes," Starfire agreed, standing behind her to look at Terra's reflection, some of her own hair falling over her friend's shoulders. Terra looked older, somehow, and Starfire couldn't decide if it was the small rhinestones in her ears or the new, different kind of satisfied smile on her face. Maybe it was both. Or maybe it was just half of her hair being damp because she'd rubbed the ice cube everywhere.
"This was the best thing I've ever done," Terra announced, reaching out to take the glass of lemonade that Wally offered her. The satisfied smile grew a bit smaller, into the familiar, secretive one that Starfire knew very well by now. "Do you guys think that—think that Gar will notice?"
"I am certain that he will," Starfire said, patting her shoulder.
"Well, guys can be kinda—unobservant," Wally mused, studying her, and Terra squirmed slightly in her seat, waiting for the verdict. "But I still think he'll notice."
She hid the magnanimous smile behind an equally-magnanimous gulp of lemonade.
"Y'know," Terra began thoughtfully, once she'd set the glass on the counter. "You'd better be careful about the whole piercing thing, Wally—'cos people might start to think that—" Her eyes darted to the side, a hint of pink coloring her cheeks. "That, y'know, you, like, like boys, or something. Y'know. Like that."
Wally shrugged. "I don't really have a problem with them thinking that. Partially 'cos they'd be right."
Starfire was glad that Terra had already put the glass down, because she had a distinct feeling that if she hadn't, they would have had a rather large mess to clean up.
"You what?" Terra sputtered, hands falling limply to her sides as her mouth fell open and stayed open. "But you didn't say anything!"
"But you didn't ask," Wally said evenly.
"But—but—you've—I mean, I've seen—you can't be gay!" she managed, shaking her head forcefully. "What about right before you moved—you totally thought that Marissa was cute, remember?" Terra reached out with her hands desperately, as if reminding him about Marissa would also remind him that he was not actually attracted to boys.
"Okay, first of all, I was eleven. Nothing counts when you're eleven. And second of all, I never said I was gay."
"You can't—you can't just—this is totally insane!"
"Not really," Wally said. "So I'm less picky than most people. The way I see it, better odds of finding someone I like."
"Uh. Someone you like?"
"Yeah," Wally said.
"…This wouldn't have anything to do with the rumors that Koma started about you and Robin, would it?" Terra asked slowly, reaching to take another sip of her lemonade.
Starfire sighed. "What rumors has my sister been spreading now? I certainly hope that it is not as slanderous as the one last year about Roy and illegal substances."
Terra blinked at her. "You mean you seriously haven't heard? Starfire, really, how do you go to this school and be friends with everyone and never hear the nasty rumors?"
"Rumors are seldom true, always hurtful, and never interesting," Starfire said, shrugging. "I would much rather find more fun activities to engage in."
"Yeah, sometimes I think you're not from this planet, not just outside this country, but whatever, the point is that now half the school thinks that Robin and Wally are going out—but I never thought that, Wally, just so you know; I just wanted to warn you about the earring thing, since people already think—" She paused, watching one of the ice cubes in her glass swirl around the edge, then gasped. "Oh, god. But you like boys. It isn't true, is it? I mean, you and Robin, y'know."
Wally's eyes flashed with a momentary sadness that Starfire almost thought she imagined, except her vision was, and had always been, superior. "No. Much as I wish it were otherwise."
Terra spent approximately five seconds faltering between absolute shock and her usual reaction to hearing news about prospective couples, before finally settling on the latter. "Oh my god! That's so cute!"
"Nothing's cute because there's nothing to be cute because we're not going out!"
Terra waved a dismissive hand. "Have you even asked him?"
Starfire grinned, beginning to warm up to the discussion now. "Then I hardly see a problem at the moment! Ask him!"
"But why not?" Terra demanded. "And if you say it's 'cos you're shy, I am gonna pour the rest of what's in this glass down your shirt."
Wally started to laugh, but seemed to remember something and didn't quite succeed. "It's—more complicated than that."
"C'mon, what do you have to lose? …Ow." Terra flinched. "Messing with hair and touching ear, bad idea."
"Yeah, don't do that," Wally said. "And a lot. On the losing thing."
This did not seem to discourage Terra. If anything, it had quite the opposite effect. Both hands flew to her chest, ponytail holder hanging free and forgotten from a few stray strands of hair. "That's so adorable! You guys have to be together!"
Wally sighed. "It's not that simple."
Starfire reached over and touched his arm. "In my experience, it seldom is, but that does not mean that you shouldn't try."
"Yeah, well, see, here's the thing: in my experience, it is simple, always was, and this—is totally not, and I'd like to go back to simple if it's all the same."
Starfire tilted her face down, eyes gazing up at him slightly, studying his expression. "Do you truly want that?"
"Yeah, if it means not having Robin and stuff?" Terra chimed in.
He released a long sigh. "No."
Starfire nodded. "Then it has already been decided, I believe."
Wally's gaze flickered to the now half-empty pitcher of lemonade, as if he wanted to hide inside it, which was a very odd look for him. "Can we just—talk about something else?"
"No!" Terra answered immediately.
"Guys, seriously," he said, voice becoming quieter as he stared at the pitcher. "Thanks. And I'm glad things are clear with y'all—crap, sorry, with you guys, about what's going on with us. Or what's not going on. But I don't think this is really something you can help me with."
"At least think about what we said," Terra pleaded, eyes big and blue and shiny.
"Yeah," he answered after a moment's hesitation, and he sounded slightly more like himself when he continued, "Yeah, I will. I promise."
Oh, look at me making my deadline! Thanks to all who are still reading! Let's go with the end of April for the next one.