There's a Method to This Madness
Ten short stories about friends and family, written for 42_souls.
Part 01: White Pines and Pedicures
Prompt: Dopamine ((troika+friends))
"That's the one," Liz said, pointing to the glossy photograph on the top right corner of the page. "The classic Beretta BM-59. It's got some kickback, but with your upper-body strength I think you'll be fine. It's the aim that I would worry about."
"Can I get one of those laser thingies?" Maka asked, flipping through the pages of the catalog in her lap eagerly. "You know, like they have in the movies? Those laser things that help you aim. What are they called?"
"Sights. They're called sights." Liz flipped her hair over her shoulder. "But those are basically cheating."
"I don't know if I would be comfortable with an automatic," Tsubaki said, taking the catalog from Maka and eyeing the page that she had opened critically. "Maybe not my first time."
"Normally they won't even let anybody start with an automatic, but for Shibusen students they make exceptions," Liz said. "You might as well take advantage of that. Automatics are more fun."
Tsubaki seemed hesitant. "I don't know…"
"I wouldn't recommend the Beretta if I didn't love it," Liz said. "It's Italian, so you know it's good. Patti and I usually go with the Beretta."
"But you said that usually go with Kid, right?" Maka frowned. "How does he even handle an automatic rifle? Wouldn't it make him asymmetrical?"
"No, because he uses a bipod every time he tries out a rifle," Liz said. "As long as he's lying down and using a bipod, he can position himself symmetrically. That wouldn't be true if he needed to look into the sight, but he never uses the sight. It's crazy. His eyesight is crazy good."
"Wait, they let you do that?" Maka asked. "They seriously have shooting range big enough to let Kid lie down with a bipod and an automatic?"
"Maka, please. This is White Pine. They have a grenade range and a rentable rocket launcher. They also stock nearly every kind of automatic or semi-automatic rifle ever made, and Kid has tried out nearly every one by now."
"You sound like you really like this place," Tsubaki commented, handing the gun catalog back to Maka. She shifted her body on top of Liz's bed, re-arranging her legs into a more comfortable position. Her pajama bottoms momentarily slid down her hips, but Tsubaki reached down and re-adjusted them demurely.
"We all do. That's why you guys have got to come with us next weekend," Liz said, pushing her sales pitch once again. She, Patti, and Kid had been taking trips down to White Pines Shooting Range in Ely, Nevada for years. The owner, and enormous bear of a man named Mel, would always let Patti throw as many grenades as she wanted to out on the range, and he never seemed frightened by her maniacal cackling either. Kid never questioned how exactly Mel had procured his vast array of weapons, and Mel never questioned Kid's age before handing him an M-16 Carbine to try out "just for fun." Liz loved the weight and heft of a Beretta in her arms, and she especially loved the relaxed, de-stressed feeling that she got after a good couple of hours spent blowing up targets. She loved being able to shoot at things without having to worry about the threat of monsters or demons trying to eat her.
Liz's two favorite ways to relax were shopping and shooting. She had dragged Maka and Tsubaki on plenty of shopping trips before, but she figured that the three of them – no, the four of them, including Patti – had not yet had a proper Girl's Night Out so long as they hadn't yet experienced the thrill of machine gun fire for fun.
"And Kid definitely won't be coming with us," Liz said again, trying to convince Tsubaki one more time. "I told him. Girl's Night Out. He's not allowed to come with us."
Maka laughed. "Just like how he's not allowed in intrude upon a Girl's Night In?"
"Yes. Just like now." Liz rolled over on her side again, reaching for her cell phone. "What is taking Patti so long?" she muttered to herself, flipping open the phone.
"Are you sure about letting Patti pick the movie?" Maka asked again, re-crossing her legs as she shifted position on top of her sleeping bag. "I mean, I know that we take turns and all, but… Well, Patti is a little…"
Liz stared at Maka.
"Never mind," Maka said.
"Fair's fair," Liz said. It was Patti's turn to go out and rent the movie while the rest of them stayed behind and got into their pajamas. Last month it had been Liz's turn. The night before that, it had been Tsubaki's turn. The four of them only got together for a Girl's Night In sleepover once per month, after all. They had to handle the movie thing in the fairest way possible.
Liz dialed Patti's number, and her sister answered on the second ring. "Hiiii, Liiiiiiiiiz!"
Liz imagined her sister waving enthusiastically, even though they were talking on the phone. "Patti, did you get the movie yet?"
"Are you at the rental store yet?"
"Yeah, but, ummmmm, I gotta question."
Liz sighed. "Yes, Patti?"
"Liz doesn't like scary movies, sooooooo…." Patti hummed to herself for a moment, before continuing. "Should Patti get a funny movie?"
"Yes, Patti, that would be great."
"Hey Liz, what's your favorite funny movie?"
"It's your choice tonight, Patti. It doesn't matter what my favorite comedy is."
"Oh. Okay! So Patti can get Patti's favorite funny movie!"
Liz suddenly realized that she didn't know what Patti's favorite funny movie was. Patti usually declared that every single movie that they watched was her favorite movie. "Patti, what exactly is-?"
"Aye aye, captain, roger over and out!" Patti suddenly hung up the phone.
Liz clicked her phone closed, then turned toward Maka, who was thumbing through the gun catalog again. "Okay, so, I was meaning to ask you," Maka said. "I need a new bookshelf in my room, and I want one like the one that Kid's got in the tea room downstairs-"
"Oh, that's German. I can get you the catalog. You'll have to put it together yourself, though. Unless you want to spend a fortune having an already-assembled one shipped from Europe."
"Can I borrow your tools?"
"You ought to see the power screwdriver that Kid used to put ours together. It's a Black and Decker and it is freakin' amazing," Liz said. "180 RPM, 6-position clutch, and it's got a torque of 70 inches per pound."
"In other words, Kid isn't going to let me borrow it," Maka said.
"He's not going to know that I let you borrow it," Liz countered.
"Thanks. I appreciate it."
"Well, as long as we're borrowing some of Kid's nice things…" Tsubaki was brushing her hair as she spoke. "Liz, would he mind terribly if I borrowed your power sharpener?"
"For your kitchen knives?" Liz asked.
"No, actually. For me." Tsubaki flexed her arms. "Black Star always uses a sharpening block for me, but I've always wondered what a power sharpener would feel like."
"Wow," said Maka. "That sounds kind of kinky. Tsubaki, that might very well be the kinkiest thing that I have ever heard you say." She tapped her chin thoughtfully. "Now I kind of wonder what Soul would think about trying that."
Tsubaki blushed bright red. "Maka, I don't think-"
"I GOT A FUNNY MOVIE!" Patti exclaimed, suddenly bursting into the bedroom. Her cheeks and nose were bright red, and she was still wearing her shoes and coat. She had apparently run straight from the video store all the way back to Kid's house, then through the house, up the stairs, and all the way into Liz's bedroom without even pausing for a single breath. "I got the funniest movie ever ever!" Patti boasted, waving her prize around and grinning maniacally.
"Patti, shoes," Liz said.
"Oh. So~o~rry," Patti said, reaching down to remove her muddy shoes. Then she tossed them carelessly onto the carpet in Liz's room.
"Patti, coat," Liz added.
"Liiiiiiiz, you're worse than Kid!" Patti pouted.
"The sleepover's in my room," Liz said, "and you know the rules. No shoes and no coat in Liz's room."
Patti stuck her tongue out at her sister, even as she removed her coat.
"By the way, I invited Tsubaki and Maka to White Pines with us next weekend," Liz informed her sister, as Patti threw her coat on the floor of the hallway outside the door to Liz's room, then reached for her shoes to do the same. "No Kid. Girl's Day Out. Tsubaki and Maka are both coming, right?"
"I'll come," Tsubaki said.
"Count me in," Maka said. "Sounds like fun. If I'm going to get a Nevada driver's license then I probably need to get in touch with my inner redneck, anyway."
"Yaaaaaaaay!" Patti laughed, jumping up and down and clapping her hands. "We can all throw grenades with Patti! Yaaaaaaaaay!"
"You're getting a driver's license?" Liz asked Maka.
"Yup. Learner's permit. By the way, Liz…?"
"I can't be the licensed driver who rides around in the car with you, Maka. My license expired years ago."
Maka sighed. "You realize that means that my only other options are to beg Justin or my dad to sit in the shotgun seat while I drive? My dad, Liz. Ugh."
"Doesn't Soul have a license?" Tsubaki asked.
"But he rides a motorcycle."
"Yes, and he doesn't have a license for it. Or for anything. He keeps saying that he's too cool for driving school." Maka curled her lip with annoyance. "I, however, am going to do things properly. And eventually Soul is going to give a damn when he realizes that I have a real driver's license, and he doesn't, and that having a real driver's license makes me that much cooler than him."
"Even if it means driving around with your dad riding shotgun as long as you still have your learner's permit?" Liz asked.
"Or Justin. I could totally ask Justin to do it," Maka said, quickly.
"Patti, which movie did you get?" Tsubaki asked, changing the subject.
"The most funniest movie EVER!" Patti exclaimed again. Then she held out the DVD toward Tsubaki. "TA-DA!"
Liz actually flinched when she saw the DVD cover. "P-P-P-Patti!" she whimpered. "Silence of the Lambs is NOT a comedy!"
"Yes it is!" Patti insisted, laughing. "It puts the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose aga~in!" Patti sing-songed, cheerfully. "It puts the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose aga~in! It puts the lotion on its skin or else it gets-"
"Patti, stop it!" Liz yelled, throwing a pillow at her sister for good measure.
"Yaaaaay, pillow fight!" Patti laughed and tossed the pillow that Liz had just thrown at her straight up into the air. The pillow bounced against the ceiling and somehow managed to smack Liz in the head as it came back down.
"Patti," Liz hissed, clutching the pillow tightly in order to prevent it from ending up back in Patti's hands, "Go back to the store and get a different movie!"
"Put you said that it was Patti's turn to pick the movie!"
"I told you to get a comedy, Patti, not a-"
"But this IS funny!" Patti pouted.
Liz turned to Tsubaki and Maka for help. Tsubaki jumped in to Liz's rescue, diplomatic as usual. "Patti," Tsubaki said, gently, "that movie scares Liz, so you should go return it. You don't want to scare your sister, do you?"
Patti looked down at her feet and frowned deeply, sticking out her tongue as her brow furrowed in deep thought. Liz realized that her sister was apparently deeply pondering whether she did care about whether Liz was scared of the movie or not. Liz sighed as she waited for Patti's answer. Then she heard footsteps from the floor above her bedroom. Liz wondered what exactly the boys were doing up there.
"What do you think the boys are up to?" Maka asked, echoing Liz's thoughts as she cast her eyes toward the ceiling. The boys were sleeping in one of the guest rooms on the floor above Liz's room. "They've been awfully quiet."
"I'm surprised that they didn't go out somewhere," Tsubaki said.
"What do you think they're talking about?" Maka asked.
Liz shrugged. "Meh. Probably stupid macho guy things."
"How do you do it? How do you do it? It's not fair," Soul complained, running his hands through Black Star's spiky hair for the third time this evening. "On most days when I get out of bed my hair looks like a bird's nest. It's so dry and ratty that I have to gel it halfway to hell and back before I can get it shaped into a decent style. How do you do it?" he asked again. "What shampoo do you use?"
"Does it matter what shampoo I use?" Black Star asked. "My hair is always great because I'm great!"
"It's the conditioner," Kid said, reaching out to smooth Black Star's hair that Soul had ruffled back into evenly-sized, perfectly symmetrical spikes. "You condition, don't you?" he asked Black Star. "It feels like you condition."
"Conditioner?" Soul snorted back a laugh. "So uncool. No freakin' way."
"Properly conditioning one's hair is essential in a dry climate like this," Kid insisted. "If you don't use conditioner, Soul, that's probably the reason why your hair is always such a wretched mess."
Soul glowered at Kid for a moment, angry at him for the backhanded insult. Fortunately, however, Soul appeared less inclined to pick a fight when he was in his boxers and already partially settled into his sleeping bag. Kid watched Soul's inevitable laziness eventually win out, smoothing his glower into a less severe expression of weary consternation. Finally, Soul apparently decided to let Kid's insult pass without comment, as next he decided to change the subject of the conversation. "So I've been meaning to ask you this, Kid, but what did you call that thing that you made for dinner tonight?"
"Yeah, that. Can you give me a copy of the recipe? Maka's always been complaining about how I don't know any interesting ways to cook fish."
"I can make you a copy," Kid said. "I actually got that recipe from Al." He turned toward Black Star. "Do you remember Al?"
"Oh yeah, I think he came around here a few times," Black Star said. "He died what, five, six years ago?"
"Who's Al?" Soul asked.
"Alessandro. He was a Death Scythe. I remember that he only rarely met with Father here in Death City, since he was usually busy taking care of things in Europe. But he was a fantastic cook. I used to beg him to teach me his recipes."
Soul stared at Kid incredulously. "You were cooking six years ago?"
Kid shrugged. "Father was always incompetent in the kitchen. I was forced to take matters into my own hands at an early age."
"So with the brodetto," Soul said, "how did you make the onions that color?"
"The trick is to sauté the onions at the bottom of the pot together with the garlic and the parsley, wait until the onions turn translucent, then add the wine and the tomato paste. The fish is added to the pot last. But you have to start with the onions."
"It was pretty good stuff," Black Star said, as he kicked his legs around inside his sleeping bag, trying to get settled. Eventually he gave up and swung his legs out of the sleeping bag, flopping them down comfortably on top of it. "Not as good as anything that Tsubaki has ever made, but still pretty good. We should do this dinner and sleepover thing more often."
"We don't have to do this at my house every time," Kid pointed out.
"Yes we do," Black Star insisted. "You're the rich guy with the biggest house and the biggest kitchen and the biggest dining room and the biggest flatscreen TV with a DVD player in the biggest guest bedroom out of all of us. We're going to keep doing this at your house."
Kid nodded. "You do have a point," he conceded. He ran his fingers absent-mindedly around the collar of his silk pajamas, making sure that it was properly folded over and perfectly symmetrical. Soul and Black Star were messy, and Kid didn't particularly like having them in his home overnight. As long as he stayed with them both in the guest bedroom on the upper floor, however, he could minimize their potential for destroying the cleanliness and sanctity of his house. Liz liked to get on his case for not allowing Soul and Black Star to sleep in his room – after all, she let the girls sleep over in her bedroom – but Kid still would never allow it. Liz and Patti were the only human beings who were ever allowed into Kid's bedroom, end of story. That was the one rule that Kid absolutely refused to compromise on.
Fortunately, however, neither Soul nor Black Star seemed to mind at all that they slept with Kid in a guest bedroom, especially since the guest bedroom on the upper floor of the mansion was equipped with the enormous flatscreen TV and brand new DVD player, as Black Star had pointed out.
"Speaking of the TV," Soul said, "are you guys ready to start the movie?"
"Absolutely," Kid said, as he reached behind himself to properly center the pillow that would be supporting his back throughout the movie. Then his eyes suddenly fell upon Black Star, and his heart leapt in his chest. "Wait, Soul, wait! Hold on!"
Soul froze in the middle of reaching for the remote control. Kid scrambled over toward Black Star, kneeling at the end of Black Star's sleeping bag and grabbing at Black Star's bare feet. "Black Star, what did you do to your feet?"
Black Star looked as if he suddenly regretted having pulled his legs out of his sleeping bag and exposing his feet to Kid's sight. "Uh, nothing. What's your problem now?"
"Look at this! Just look at this!" Kid pointed angrily at the big toe on Black Star's left foot. "What did you do to your toenail? The curvature is off-center! It's not a symmetrical arc anymore!"
Black Star stared at Kid, his jaw hanging open. Then, finally, he managed to say, "Was it symmetrical before?"
"Yes, it was. You've always had perfectly symmetrical feet, Black Star. And symmetrical toenails. I wouldn't even allow you to be barefoot inside my house if such were not the case."
"How come you noticed this and I didn't?" Black Star asked. "Since when were you looking at my amazing feet?"
"This is getting creepy," Soul said. "Also, Kid, it is really uncool for you to be judging our feet like that. Just saying." Suddenly his eyes lit up. "Oh my God. In gym class. Were you looking at our feet while we were showering in gym class?"
"I have to fix your nail," Kid told Black Star feverishly, utterly ignoring Soul's comment. "This is unacceptable. Completely unacceptable. I can't let you ruin the perfect symmetry of your toenails like this!" Kid dropped Black Star's foot and stood up quickly. "Hold still, I'll be right back."
Kid ran out of the room, and returned a few moments later armed with files of varying coarseness as well as several sterilized clippers of various shapes and sizes. Black Star was still sitting on top of his sleeping bag, staring up at Kid with an expression of (ungrateful, thankless) horror on his face. "Are you… Are you seriously going to file my toenail right now?" Black Star asked.
"Of course I am. I can't concentrate on the movie so long as I know that your toenail isn't curved correctly," Kid said, grabbing Black Star's foot again.
Black Star laughed. "If you're going to give me a pedicure, you might as well paint my toenails while you're at it."
Kid stared at Black Star. "Ah, you're right," he said. "What color would you prefer?"
"I was joking."
"You were?" Kid felt confused.
"You know, Black Star," Soul said, a toothy grin on his face, "Tsubaki did say that she wants you to put more effort into your appearance. You should let Kid paint your toenails."
Black Star matched Soul's evil grin with a devilish one of his own. "Only if you get yours painted to, buddy. No way am I going to be the only dude in the locker room with painted toenails."
Kid felt as if he were missing out on some sort of joke, but he didn't care so long as Black Star wasn't struggling as he carefully worked on filing the toenail on Black Star's big toe into a perfectly symmetrical curve. "I can do Soul's toenails, too," Kid said. "What color do you want? Liz has a polish in every shade imaginable."
"I think that you should paint Soul's toenails bright red," Black Star said, "to match his gorgeous eyes."
"I think that you should paint Black Star's signature on every single one of his toenails," Soul quickly added, not to be outdone in the embarrassing suggestion department.
Kid nodded solemnly, agreeing to both ideas. "Black Star, I can do a five-pointed star on each of your toenails, but I would rather not attempt your full signature including your name, as that would render the design asymmetrical. Also, that would be tacky. But ten five-pointed stars on your feet, one on each of your toenails…" Kid sighed dreamily, already imagining the many patterns of gorgeous symmetry that would soon be present on Black Star's already perfectly symmetrical feet. "That would be lovely."
"Holy damn. I can't believe I'm letting you do this to me." Black Star threw up his hands in defeat. "Fine, fine! Paint my toenails! But can you at least do that while we're watching the movie?"
"Now that I've fixed the curvature of your nail, yes, we can start the movie," Kid said.
Black Star turned to Soul. "So what did you choose this time?"
Soul reached for the remote control again. "I got exactly what you told me to get," he said.
Black Star grinned. "So you got a movie that was, and I quote my amazing self here, 'badass awesome' and about martial arts and involving lots of boobs?"
Kid rolled his eyes. "What fine parameters for a movie choice that we've decided upon."
"Check, check, and check," Soul said, as he used the remote to turn on the DVD player. "You guys are going to like this one. Trust me."
Suddenly Kid heard the distinct sound of Liz screaming, and a thudding sound as something – possibly a pillow thrown with extreme force – thumped against the floor below them. Kid supposed that meant that Patti had returned from the video store. He stood up and walked over toward Soul, kneeling down and preparing his supplies to work on Soul's feet. He had to make sure that Soul's toenails were perfectly trimmed and shaped before he could even begin to think about painting them, of course.
"Was that the girls down there?" Soul asked, staring down at the floor.
"That sounded like Liz, yes," Kid agreed.
"What do you think they're talking about?" Soul wondered out loud.
Black Star laced his hands behind his head, leaned back, and said, "Eh, probably just a bunch of stupid girly things."
Soul finally pressed the Play button on the remote control, and the swelling orchestral crescendo of the Universal Pictures sunrise sequence filled the bedroom, immediately followed by the opening of Bring It On.