fancypants: I didn't look around for family tree websites. That one came recommended and I found it easy to use so I stuck with it (pretty computer challenged here, so if I can use it most people should be able to). There were some small annoyances (though it's been a while, so I can't be very specific; there was a problem making people related if they were already on the tree, related in a different way, I think; I did manage eventually). I don't know if I would recommend it for a real family tree, since that's not what I used it for, but for projects like this, definitely.
The kid hadn't managed to get far enough to escape the werewovles. He'd only had a couple of hours and his guitar wasn't the lightest thing around. He made it further out then I thought; we still found him pretty damn fast.
How do we handle this one? I asked Bert and Judy.
You should, Judy decided after a long while. I've tried—I can't find the right thing to say.
He barely knows me, Bert said. But if he needs—I can step in if you start making it worse.
I'm not going to make it worse, I said as I phased back. I'd grabbed the pair of shorts I'd been carrying in my mouth, slipping them on and headed over.
Arthur had found a fallen long deep in the woods; he'd pulled out his guitar and had it resting on his leg, flashlight at his foot. His fingers weren't making music, though; they ghosted over the strings, but didn't make a sound.
"Tag," I said as I came up behind him. He jumped, but there was no surprise on his face. "You're it."
"You go hide and I'll start counting."
"Nice try." I settled down beside him on the log. "You want to tell me what the fuck this is about?"
"Your brothers are going to flip when they find out, you know." I wasn't very good with being ignored. "You talk to me or I throw you over I drag you back and you talk to them. Your sister's waiting for you."
"Could you—" Puberty was a bitch; his voice cracked. He coughed it out. "Can't you order them not to talk about it?"
"You don't want to explain to her that you took advantage of Brian's missing imprint to take off?"
"Ginger said—" He laughed, quietly. "She said even if the world was ending, someone would miss me. It took you guys two whole hours."
"We were a little busy." I kept my annoyance in check. Mostly. "This was a test?"
"It wasn't anything. Did you—you know where she is, right?"
"Ray's?" When the kid nodded, I demanded, "And you couldn't have just told us?"
"She told me not to."
"If someone tells you to jump off a bridge, would you do it?"
"You would," the kid muttered.
"I'm indestructible!" I stood up, pacing. When Judy and Bert crept forward, I waved them off. I had this. I was pissed, but I had this. Besides, they had to make sure the others knew where to find her. "And you're a dumbass."
"She didn't think anyone would worry. I think it'll be good to prove her wrong." Art flinched, like he knew what a stupid thing to say that was.
"Ginger freaked Brian out. You let her freak him out. If I told Brian you were gone on top of everything, he'd have absolutely lost it. Your dad is going to bitch the hell out of all of us for not telling him sooner. This is not cool, kid."
The kid looked miserable; I knew real guilt when I saw it (well, I knew the fake stuff—this wasn't the shit I pulled). It even made me try to pat the kid on the back, even if he jerked away.
"What the hell's the deal between the two of you anyway?"
"I'm her," Art swallowed, "Best friend. She's got a lot of friends but she doesn't—she's good to talk to."
"Clearly she's been helping you."
"Shut up," he muttered. "She has. And she helps Brian."
"Driving him closer to suicide does not count as helping."
"She's been trying to help him improve his game. She's very unimpressed with the way he's going about dating Ester. Says she expected more from an Uley."
I snorted. "Poor Brian. He can't win."
"She's rooting for him. Thinks he'll hover less if he's getting some."
"That's what she said?"
"I can't believe I agree with her about something."
"She's kind of smart, in a way."
"What does she think is wrong with you?"
"She doesn't," the kid said softly. "She'd have called me if Ray'd kicked her out; he wouldn't. He offered cuz...he's good people. She made me promise to wait until tonight to tell you. I cheated. But she made me promise and she's...I promised."
"You're an idiot," I told him. "But I get it. You can do better, though."
"When we broke up, she told me I was never going to do better than her." His smile was fond and even if I didn't get it, it was obviously sincere. I guess I wasn't the person to complain about picking stupid people to be co-dependant with. Not that I let it stop me.
"Ginger's an idiot. I've known a lot of girls like her and—"
"You don't know anything about her," he said sharply.
"I know she made your brother flip out and he doesn't deserve that. I know she's a pain in the ass." But the kid still looked pissed with me. "I don't know her. But I don't like what she did. I don't care why she did it. So, yeah, she's an idiot."
"A little bit," he said, eventually.
"And you are..."
"Also an idiot. But no one minds if I play here, so...I just, I keep hearing this thing in my head—"
"Sign of mental illness. Or drugs."
"It's just a song," he explained. Like he wasn't weird. "Only I can't—I was hoping coming out here would make it easier to hear."
"What's it about?"
"I don't know yet." But he was lying.
All music was about sex or drugs or dogs and since Art was a Uley... "Is it about Ginger?"
"No," he said, like I was the crazy one.
"There's another girl? Excellent. I was worried that you had crappy taste."
Art squirmed miserably.
"There's definitely someone. You want me to use code names? Like we're in junior high? Call her Minnie Mouse, or something stupid like that?"
"I don't really want to talk about this, Levi."
"Yeah, well, I didn't want to talk about my cousin's dead girlfriend that I spent a year trying to sleep with despite her being probably my cousin. That was an awkward conversation. But apparently it was good for me, so. What are we calling her?"
He hesitated, so I growled. "Lola," he said finally. "L-O-L-A, Lola."
"I can spell," I muttered. "So is she hot? Pretty? At least Funny?"
"Not really funny. Not uptight or anything, just...serious about stuff. A good listener. A good good ear...thinks I'm pretty good, though I should go a little easier on the country influence."
"You are good."
"Thanks." The kid fiddled with his guitar; strumming seemed to help. "Really nice to me. Always feeds me, but doesn't ask about Dad, just...gets it. Shows me these really dumb videos but—"
"You laugh anyway?"
"Yeah. Beautiful eyes, too. And lips." Art was bright red at that point.
"She not like you back?"
"I—I don't know. I hope—but I don't know. I think…Lola wanted to—or—I don't know."
"Well, right here I should probably put in a disclaimer about how you should ask and all that jazz. But, kid, sometimes grabbing the girl and kissing her gets your point across best."
"I don't want to grab..."
"Okay. Well, it might take a little longer, but if you think she's feeling you, just give it time. I have it from a good source that everyone around here wants to date Uleys."
"The thing is, I don't know if..."
"You always know," I insisted. "It may come out in weird ways and you might not want to deal with the whole dating them afterwards thing, but you always know. The obsessing over her lips is a clue."
"And if I phase..."
"It gets complicated," I admitted. Though it wasn't bad enough to justify the terror in his voice. "But the chances of you phasing are slim to none, kid."
"You guys don't know why it happens."
"It's something to do with vampires. We won't go looking for them," I promised the kid right then. I had to, seeing how scared he was. "And they aren't dumb enough to come here. Not on our land. So you won't phase. Okay?"
"You mind waiting out here until everything back there calms down?"
Since it was what he wanted, the kid agreed fast enough. He even asked, "You want me to play for you?"
"If you want to."
He started playing something vaguely familiar, though I couldn't place it without hearing the words. He could talk and play at the same time. "Ginger said you went with Mel for a while."
"I dated her for a couple months. Well, sort of dated. We got along really well and were sort of exclusive." Sort of. Didn't stop her from bringing the drama, though. But it had been...we'd had a lot of good times, actually, me and Mel.
"She said Mel said...that one time Will was..."
"Dead to the world." It was the truth. "He was a mess that night. On painkillers 'cuz of his arm, so I probably shouldn't have spiked his drink. It made him a little...I had to keep an eye on him. But Mel...have you ever met her?"
"A few times."
"Yeah. Why would I turn that down? Will doesn't remember a thing about that night." I was mad at the kid, but I didn't want him dead. I warned him: "He gets really bitchy when people bring it up."
"He gets bitchy when people bring up a lot of things."
I snorted. "You going to say that to his face?"
The fear that flashed in Art's eyes would have made Will happy, I think. Less bitchy, at any rate.
So I was surprised when he didn't let it go. "So despite what everyone says about you guys...?"
"That's fucking weird, kid. I mean, we have gone one-two a few times and there was that one chick we—and I should probably shut up right about now." Will was going to kill me. If the Uleys didn't do it first. "Don't tell your family—"
"We're not as close as your family," Art said prissily.
Considering I'd tracked him down in a forest, the guy could have been a little bit nicer to me.
By the time we got back to the house, it was dark. I carried the guitar, which he was very thankful for.
"I thought drums were your thing."
"You ever try carrying a drum kit on your back?" The kid gave me a smile. "I'm still learning, so I brought it with me."
He was explaining how to play a guitar by the time we got to his street. Brian or Baxter must have heard us because we weren't half way down the block before the door to his house opened. The twins let Sam go first, but they were crowding around him and Baxter was getting in on the action, too, hovering just as badly.
"He just went for a badly timed walk," I said, but Sam glared at me. I was going to be in so much shit with him later. I'd deal.
"We're going for a walk," Francine announced, hooking her arm around her brother's shoulders. When Brian made to step after her, she added, "Some place without werewolves. Please?"
The twins finally had their twin thing back because when Brian nodded, he seemed to understand. "Come on," he said to me. "We've got food. And Ginger."
I could hear her as we got closer to the house.
"So Baxter hates me now, too, and the twins are super pissed and Brian's all mopey."
"Maybe you should try not being a dumbass," Ester's voice barely carried, but she didn't sound mad. She didn't sound like she was paying attention, frankly.
"Harsh, E. I was just having fun; they don't have to be so bitchy about it."
Ester did not start screaming that Ginger had disappeared, crashed on the couch of some guy she barely knew a billion miles away from home and did it all without telling anyone. It was a little bit disappointing. All Ester said was, "Hand me the oven mitt."
"Where's Dinah?" I asked as I walked through the door.
"Ginger doesn't understand why her disappearance was upsetting," Sam said. "Dinah went home."
"We did get thirty minutes of glorious, glorious silence," Baxter muttered. "But Francy wouldn't let us call Dinah back."
Brian growled, but didn't say anything, so I guess my sister hadn't made Ginger cry, just shake a lot.
Will had grabbed his brother and taken off, too. Bert was with the twins in the back and Judy was waiting with Kara on the couch. That was nice. After I kissed Kara I said, "You look tired."
"He doesn't need sugar to be a monster."
I laughed and she pouted and it felt good.
Over her head I watched Ester pull a tray of cookies out of the oven, wearing a wonderfully short little sundress. She'd had a date tonight.
"You made her cook for you instead?" I asked Brian.
"He wanted to make desert since Francy did the rest," Baxter said, even as he elbowed his brother in the side. Brian held out his hands. One was still bright pink. "Cooking while distracted doesn't really work out."
"You can still smell the burning flesh," Ginger said. "It was super gross."
"I didn't notice the top was still hot," Brian said. "I was kicked out of the kitchen."
"Wait until they're cool, Ginger," Ester warned her, "Or you'll burn your tongue."
Ginger held up her hands, waved them around and fooled absolutely no one that she was innocent. Ester was already heading to the door, thanking Sam for having her. Brian followed her out while I collapsed on the couch and let Kara sit on top of me.
"Today was a long day," I said as I buried my head in the crook of Kara's neck.
"Poor baby," she crooned as she snuggled closer. That was very nice.
"I'm really sorry about tonight," Brian was saying. He sounded like he meant it, too. He'd been worried about the whole dating thing but he probably hadn't expected it to go quite this badly.
"I kind of had fun. Ginger's a good date. A little demanding, a little abrasive, but peppy. Definitely entertaining. I would have rather spent time with you, of course, but…"
"I never meant to blow you off. I just—I'm really sorry. You don't deserve that."
"I'm sorry I blew it with you." I would have recommended sounding a little less surprised, but then I wasn't Brian.
"Brian, my little brother and his little girlfriend ran off is a good excuse to cancel a date. It might be the best excuse I've ever heard."
"I've had a really long day," he said gruffly. "So my brain isn't…but I think that wasn't you storming off."
"It feels like I'm still standing here."
"You're not mad?"
"Well, you did forget to actually cancel the date, so I'm not happy. But I'm tired and storming sounds like a lot of effort." Maybe it wasn't a good idea for Brian to date her; he was never going to live this one down.
"Why don't I walk you home then?" Brian offered. "Since you're tired. You might need an arm to lean on."
"That does sound like it would be helpful," Ester said, her voice fading as they walked away.
Possibly my—and Baxter's and Judy's, it wasn't just me—blatant eavesdropping alerted Sam to what was going on with his son.
"That's not a good idea," Sam said to me. I guess he knew this was sort of my fault.
"Brian deserves someone who wants to listen to him," Judy said in her pleading voice that usually worked. Not so much tonight.
"You can't think she's a good idea," Baxter said, gesturing to the brat at the counter.
"It's just a conversation where he doesn't want to stab himself in the eye," I promised. "That's all."
"Seriously?" Ginger demanded, mouth full. "Because these are like the best cookies ever."
Sam ignored her and spent however long it took Brian to duck down the street and come back lecturing me on blah blah blah. Even Baxter's eyes were glazed over. Brian looked at us all, but didn't say anything. There wasn't much he could add to the conversation.
"You ready to go home?" Brian asked Ginger, exhaustion evident in his voice.
Somehow, while we weren't paying attention, Ginger had gathered up half the cookies and some of the night's leftovers into a dishcloth. Clutching her bounty to her chest, she slid off the counter. Having everyone pay attention to her finally made her flinch (or maybe it was Brian's disappointed face—I'd heard it was very effective).
"I thought I'd be back before you noticed," she said quietly. "Nobody cares where I go."
"They do now."
If I announced it loud enough to make her jump, well, I wanted her to remember. All she did was clutch the food tighter.
"You knew Art would care," Brian said just as quietly.
"He's got your stupid family curse to worry about."
Baxter started from his seat, but Judy kept him down. Brian said calmly, "He's not becoming a wolf."
"Right," Ginger said. She chanced a look at Sam and must not have liked what she saw. Her voice was small: "Can I go home now?"
"Come on," Brian said. She let him wrap an arm around her shoulders and he hugged her lightly as they headed to the car.
When they were gone Sam took a seat beside me on the couch. Bert brought the twins in; Will and Dinah promised they'd be over in five. We had to figure out what to do about Ginger.
"Her mother's still not home," Brian complained when we got back. "Vick's there, for now, but she's got work tomorrow and her own life."
Brian didn't get it, of course. None of us really did. How could you not look after your siblings? Even, especially, if your parents weren't going to do it? But Vick wouldn't stick around for long and I doubted Mel remembered she had a younger sister most days.
"You can't just go around adopting thirteen year old girls," Will said. He'd come back after Benji went to bed and was now comfortably sitting on the floor with Bert.
"If she moved in here, they wouldn't notice," Brian said angrily. Well, it was probably true.
"She can't live in a house full of boys, Brian," Dinah said. "There's barely room for Francy, right now. Where would she sleep?" The twins made gagging noises; Francy told them to knock it off. My sister continued, "There's child services. That would be the normal person response, right?"
"And she'll end up where?" Francy said.
Art was the one who quietly suggested, "There's her aunt. Her mom won't talk to her and Ginger doesn't get along with her but..."
Her aunt lived in La Push. All we needed was a room close to Brian and he'd look after her.
"Maybe if Ginger asked her really nicely?"
I started cracking up at that; I wasn't the only one. Ginger wouldn't, couldn't, do that. It was an idea, though. Collin's wife might do something if I asked really, really nicely. Taking care of a kid? That was a bit extreme, sure, but maybe we could somehow manage it...
"She doesn't need much," Brian said. Kid was scrappy.
"Have we considered that it's not our responsibility to step in?" Dinah asked.
"You want to leave her there?" I don't think I'd ever really seen Brian get that angry with Di before. It was mostly just weird, though Francy was not too subtly ordering us wolves to get between Brian and the brothers who were breakable.
"I think it sounds like you're the only one who wants to raise her, Brian, and I think that's a bad idea. And I think you agree with me, even if you don't like it."
"I don't—someone has to look after her."
"And it can't be you. Not if you're going to—Brian, have you listened to her talk about boys? Do you really think she needs the guy she's eventually going to live happily ever after with to show up at her parent teacher interviews?"
The twins were scowling. For all that they complained about her, I don't think the twins much liked listening to people talk about Ginger like that.
I think I took my cue from them.
"We're done for the night," I decided. "We'll keep a close eye on her for a while. Maybe come up with a few plans. If her mom doesn't come home...we'll deal with that then. Art, you talk to Ginger, see what the hell she wants us to do. But if her answer is run away again—"
"Tell her she's an idiot," Art said without prompting. I grinned at him; I guess our little talk had worked.
"Good. And, kid, get laid. It'll make you less moody. Help the music, too."
"Or not," Brian snapped at me.
"But come to us if you have any questions," Francy added quickly.
"If she can't take off her pants herself, you're doing it wrong," Dinah offered.
"Use a condom or I'll kill you," Will said.
"Enough," Sam said. We all jumped. I'd forgotten the guy was there. "I believe you're finished."
He might not be a werewolf anymore, but sometimes Sam could still pull off the old Alpha magic. We got the fuck out of his house.
There was more than just a certain tone of voice still left in the old timer.
I went to the Uley house after work a few days later. Dinah and the twins were there, the girls teasing Brian about the shirt he'd chosen to wear for his date. It was a shirt. The poor guy. I said as much and then they came after me. Apparently, I wasn't allowed to wear shorts on a date. Who knew?
"So that's why I'm a horrible boyfriend?"
My sister rolled her eyes. "We don't have time to get into why you're a horrible boyfriend."
"Di," Brian chided. "He's been making a real improvement."
"This is the part where Brian gives you a gold star," Francy promised. Except for her glittering eyes, she looked dead serious. I thought Brian was, when he patted me on the shoulder; or I did, until the twins laughed at me.
"This is bullying," I decided. "And I have been improving."
"The fact you need a team of people to help you date is..." My sister thought. "I can't decide between disturbing and sad."
"He's just a diva," Francy declared.
"I swear I've seen Will feed him chocolates." Brian thought just because the girls were between us he was safe; I'd get him later.
"I wish I found that surprising," Dinah complained.
"Do you get fanned with palm leaves?" Francy asked. "Or do you just make them pick out the wrong colour M&Ms?"
"Brian, make the mean girls stop," I whined.
"He can't," Francy said. "He's going to be late."
"Don't do anything Levi would do," Dinah added.
That's when Sam walked in. He was home later than usual, but one sniff and Brian relaxed. At least until his father said, "You're actually going to do this?"
"I think he's old enough to date if he wants to," Dinah said calmly. She was just daring him to fight her on this, though. It was pretty easy to tell.
"Hasn't this family done enough to the Cook girls?"
"Baxter and Ruth are still friends, Dad," Francy said. "One break up doesn't mean we're the Hatfields and McCoys."
"We should keep it that way."
"I'll be home before ten," Brian promised. Dinah booed and Francy rolled her eyes and I just whined, "Seriously? He's earned a few hours where he doesn't have to take care of someone."
Sam didn't have an answer to that because Brian had earned it. He'd earned it more than anyone I knew. But Sam decided to ruin my whole righteous anger thing. He said, "I spoke to Ginger's mother today."
"She wants to be closer to her sister. Leah will arrange things so it's official. They'll move here by the end of the month."
"So she can leave Ginger alone in La Push instead of over there?" Dinah said at last. We had to say something.
"It'll be easier to keep an eye on Ginger. When her mother disappears, we'll know sooner."
"How did you do it?" Brian asked slowly.
"She doesn't want to hurt her daughter," Sam said just as slowly. "She just...doesn't want her. She recognizes that they'll be help for Ginger here."
"If she doesn't want her, then she shouldn't have had her."
"It's too late for that," Sam said. "I hope you'll have better manners when she moves here."
Brian nodded eventually. "Thank you."
"You're officially two minutes late," Dinah said quietly. Far more gently than she would have before she'd heard Sam's news. Brian nodded and though Sam was sill unhappy, he moved out of the way to let Brian pass. Brian left, then, after he'd hugged his dad.
"That still leaves Brian as the one raising her," Dinah said.
"In the interests of fairness, Dinah," Sam said, just a hint of frustration in his voice, "I hope you'll recognize that I was only in charge when Claire was a very young girl. That was your father, helping his friend. Not me. I believe resisting imprinting isn't possible. Or healthy. Or good for the tribe. But I don't think it's permission to hurt young girls."
"Only the older ones." Francy spoke so quietly I barely caught it; Sam didn't. His eyes were on Dinah.
"But if you stand by and let it happen, it's okay?" Dinah asked.
"If your Alpha—"
"Dinah and I are going to the movies," Francy interrupted. "We'll pick up the twins on our way home. Arthur is giving lessons over at the Fuller's. Baxter's on patrol. There are leftovers in the fridge; you're welcome to help yourself. We'll see you later."
She waved goodbye; Dinah did so too, far less pleasantly.
Sam looked tired.
"Thanks," I offered.
"Not enough," he said with a shrug. "Thank your mother. She's the one who's going to have to deal with the paperwork."
I could tell when I wasn't wanted. I took off.