a/n: Wow, it's been awhile! Sorry that this chapter took so long get out. I couldn't decide what to write about. Hope you enjoy!
I walked past Mom and Dad's room on the way to bed, then backpedaled. Their door was open, weird in itself, but the fascination for me was the piles of paper and pictures that were flung across their bed.
"What are you guys doing?" I asked. Mom sat cross-legged against the headboard, Dad beside her but with his legs stretched out, their heads bent together over whatever photograph was so interesting.
Mom glanced up. "Drowning in nostalgia."
Dad's answer was more satisfying: "Looking at old stuff."
"Wicked," I said, and walked inside to shove a few piles out of the way. I laid down in the path I had made over their blanket. Mom and Dad narrowed their eyes at me. "What? They say it in the Rusty book I'm reading."
"Fabulous." Mom rolled her eyes. I propped my head in my hand, reaching out to turn what they were holding to face me.
"Ew!" I shrieked, and thrust it away again. I hid my face in both hands. "That's me."
"We know," Dad said, nudging my side with his foot. "Move over, that pile you're half on top of happens to be organized."
I groaned, rolled onto my back, and was greeted with an upside-down Mom. "Hi."
"You were cute," she defended, flipping the picture again so I could see it right-side up.
"Are," she amended, leaning into Dad's shoulder. How vomit-making. "I think this is one Shay took. You were scared of the capture on the wallscreen when you were a baby."
"You used to scream whenever we put you near it," Dad added.
"I was such a good littlie."
"Are," Mom mimicked me.
They both laughed. How mature.
Mom finally put the ew-faced picture of me down. "Hey David, hand me those other ones, would you?"
"Could you be a little more vague, thanks?"
"Okay, those other ones besidethat one. Better?"
"Much." But Dad gave her the ones she wanted, anyway. How does he do that?
"It's creepy when you guys call each other by your names," I announced. Mom shuffled through the pile in her lap.
"Yeah. I mean… just, ugh," I said, punctuating it with a shiver for effect. "You're Mom and Dad. It's even weird when Shay calls you Tally and David."
"So basically, in your mind we don't exist beyond the realm of being your parents?" Dad wanted to know. He smiled a little.
"Well… no." I stretched out on the bed, crinkling papers underneath me. Whoops. "I mean, I'm sure you're pretty icy when you're not being my parents," I hurried to add. "I just wouldn't want to hear people using your actual names all the time."
"Then school would suck for you," Mom muttered under her breath.
"What?" I let my elbow take the weight of my head again. Mom's eyes snapped to Dad's. Okay… "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Noth-ing," Mom enunciated. "Inside joke."
"You and Dad get annoying when you talk with inside jokes," I told her. "I still don't get what Barbie dolls are. But quit trying to distract me."
"We aren't doing that," Dad said. "Hey, more pictures of you. Look."
"Uh-huh," I giggled. "Right. So, school would suck 'cause I'd hear your names every day?" I laughed again. "What, because you guys are in the history texts or something?"
But Mom wasn't paying attention to me. "Are you serious?" she demanded, of apparently no one, and reached over Dad to grab at something clinging to the very edge of the bed. She held it up in front of her; I wrinkled my nose.
"It's my old dorm uniform," she explained, shaking out the ugliest skirt I'd ever seen. And that included all the ones Grandma Ellie and Grandpa Sol gave me. "Well, half of it. Wonder where the shirt went."
"Wonder why you still have that," Dad laughed. Mom looked mock-offended.
"Because," she said, "what do you think I was wearing most of my adolescence?" She didn't give him any time to answer. "Yeah, that's what I thought."
"You lived in the dorms?" I asked, curious. Kina told me that there were dorms where non-littlies used to go live until they got to sixteen, but now it was just a bunch of buildings they held older-kid classes in; nobody lived there. And they definitely didn't have uniforms. At least, that's what Kina said.
"Yep," Mom said, still playing with the totally bogus skirt. "Oh, the memories…"
"Kina said they just have school there now."
"Weird," Mom said, dovetailing the end of my sentence. "Hey, you want to see something?"
My brain blinked the word distraction for a second, but then Dad handed her a pile of wallscreen-captures like he had been waiting for her to ask. They worked like that— like they always knew what the other one was going to do two seconds before they did it. Very confusion-making sometimes.
Mom fanned out the captures in the space between her and Dad's legs. I leant forward to see. "Um, I don't know these people."
"Which is why we're showing you these," Dad said.
"And just because you don't know them doesn't mean we don't," Mom pointed out. I rolled my eyes.
"How was I supposed to know you randomly have friends in China?"
"Japan," they corrected in unison. "They aren't random," Mom continued on her own. "We happen to have met them before you were born. Thank you very much."
I raised my eyebrows. "That's… a long time ago."
"Tell me about it," Mom said dryly.
"Yes, Grace, because you're so incredibly old," Dad added.
"I'm almost twelve!"
"I don't think five months counts as almost," Mom commented to Dad. He nodded. I groaned.
"You guys are annoying. I bet Shay thinks so too."
"Trust me, we know Shay thinks so," Mom told me.
I didn't bother answering that one, mostly 'cause it was true. Shay sometimes loud-whispered to me about how annoying my parents were while they were standing right there. "So, are you guys gonna tell me about the pictures, or what?"
"Maybe if you'd stop going off on tangents," Mom said mildly.
"It's really rude," Dad added in the same tone.
"Very," Mom agreed.
"Guys," I moaned, my voice lilting into a whine. They laughed.
"Friends," Dad finally explained, while I peered at the pictures some more. "Like your mom said. We met them awhile ago."
"Uh-huh…" They were mostly captures of a couple with dark, shiny hair, and a boy who looked maybe my age and must have been their son. "Pretty."
Mom sighed. "Yeah. Even her nose."
"What?" I stared at the woman's nose; it looked fine to me. "Um, yeah Mom, it's a great nose. Are you okay?"
"Icy." She shuffled the pictures again, and when she set them down it was like going back in time. The same couple was there, but the kid had shrunken back to the size of a two year old. "Crap," Mom said. It's her favorite word. She glanced at Dad. "What happened to the one of Gracie and Kaito?"
"Huh?" I said in a moment of great intelligence. "Me and who?"
"You and Kaito," Dad clarified oh-so-helpfully, flicking through the pictures again until he finally pulled one free. "Here, it got mixed up." And then he laid down a picture of me and the little dark-haired boy, except this time I was the two year old and he was maybe a little younger. Somebody's arm was holding my little one out at a crooked angle so I could hold him. My face was peering up at whoever the adult was; probably asking, "Um, why is this thing in my lap?"
I screeched, then grabbed the picture. "Who is this?! When was this?! Mom! Dad!"
Mom rubbed her ear, even though I knew she was just making fun of me. "Calm down, Gracie."
Dad was more informative. "That's you and Kaito."
"Shockingly, I got that part." I sprang up onto my knees, still studying the picture. My hair was wavy, like I'd just ripped it out of a braid (I still do that. It looks nice, but then I can't stand it after awhile and take it down). I was wearing a decent dress, purple, and a shirt underneath with long white sleeves. Actually, I looked pretty adorable. Except for the completely confused look on my face, but whatever.
The baby looked calm enough, though, for being thrust into my incompetent lap. He had the same pale skin and dark hair both his parents had in the other pictures, and his eyes were staring up at little two-year-old-me, wide and dark. He was pretty aw-making, too.
I raised my head to look at Mom and Dad. "I have no memory of this."
"You were two," was Mom's answer. "Of course you don't."
"They're old friends," Dad said, finally deciding to decode some stuff for me. "Aya and Frizz. The baby's Kaito."
"Huh." I tilted the picture slightly, eyes narrowing. "Why haven't they ever come back?"
Dad shrugged. "It's hard. She's a doctor, he's a chemist." Dad must have noticed my confused face. "He makes medicine for the doctors to give people."
"And we have our own stuff going on," Mom threw in. "Keeping you in line, for example."
"Hey! I'm good."
"All the time," I shot back. I tossed the picture of me and Kaito-baby back onto the pile, then glanced something on the one underneath that made me rip it back up. "You didn't tell me about this one!"
It was a more recent picture— or so I figured, since Aya-Mom and Frizz-Dad had Kaito-Kid and a little girl with them. The girl was maybe as old as I'd been in the picture when I was holding Kaito-kid, and had the same long, shiny hair and dark eyes as the rest of her family.
"Oh," Dad said, very clearly unconcerned that they'd forgotten to mention a whole other child. "Tha'ts Mai."
Mom tilted her head and smirked. "Aya-la had her my way."
Dad snorted. "I don't think you get to call the natural way your way, Tally."
"Well, I did it first," Mom protested.
"No, I believe that was the proto-sexually-reproducing-organisms that did it first…"
Mom rolled her eyes. "Shut up, you know what I mean."
Huh. You know, I think I knew what they meant, too. "You're talking about—" I started, then bit my lip, then mimed my stomach expanding in front of me.
"Basically," Mom said. "Ugh, that sucked. I mean, not the part where you were around, Gracie. The part where everyone thought I was just getting fat."
I giggled. "Ha ha. You were fat."
Mom decided to be grown up and threw her pillow at me. "Be quiet! I had to fit you inside me, of course I got fat."
"Stop saying 'fat,'" Dad warned. "That's not nice."
"I'm David, I'm nice," Mom mocked.
"Wow, that was hurtful."
"So Kaito got put in a surge tank?" I asked.
"Unfortunately," Mom said.
"Not that it means he's bad," Dad added.
"They decided to do it a couple months before we found out you'd shown up," Mom chimed in.
"Thanks," I said. "Really. It's not like you guys had anything to do with me."
"Not at all."
Hmm. Now that I thought about it, I hadn't heard a lot about Mom being pregnant with me. "When did you find out I was there?" I asked, leaning forward on my knees again.
She frowned. "Not sure. I think four months. But then, Dad's pretty stupid."
Instead of getting offended like anyone else on the planet, Dad elbowed her softly. "I don't think you're allowed to say that when you were the one who was actually going through it."
Mom sighed noisily. "Fine. We were both stupid. But in my defense, 'child growing inside of me' was not my first guess when I started puking up everything I ate and got a bump on my stomach."
Honestly, it probably wouldn't be my first guess either. I sunk back down onto the bed, peering at the picture with Kaito and Mai in it again. Now that I looked, I could tell: his face was smoother, more symmetrical, like he'd never been sick a day in his life. It was that her face was bad… just different, angular.