"Do I have to wear a dress?"
"Yes, it won't kill you to wear one once every three years or so."
Hana muttered and grumbled some more but eventually dropped the issue. Kim had used her 'determined voice' and Hana knew better than to argue so she tried a different angle.
"I'm not sure I even want to go, you know." She said, trying to sound indifferent. "Shaun might be there and he's a jerk."
Kim looked up from braiding Mabel's hair.
"What have I told you, Hana?"
"That...I should kick is hiney if he was mean?"
"And do you know how to do that?"
"Yeah, I mean, you taught me stuff and so did Mr. Fu and..."
"Good girl. So you can't use that as an excuse. Never let anyone give you grief, Hana. I think your dad and I raised to better."
Hana crossed her arms in surrender.
"Fine." She said with a petulant pout.
Kim smiled to herself.
"Besides, if you don't go you won't be able to meet Joss."
"You know what? I think I do want to go, now that you mention it."
Hana practically grinned with anticipation as she went to help her father pack the last of the suitcases into the trunk of the car.
The drive to Montana was quite lengthy and fairly tiring. Ron was the only one who could suggest going by train without getting in trouble with Kim and he had stopped doing that a long time ago, so drive they did.
The Possible ranch was large enough to hold the many members of the two families and had become the place of choice for the gatherings over the years.
When they arrived they were met by Kim's uncle, Slim.
Slim and Joss had moved to Montana from Texas when Joss' mother had died in the last outbursts of the Spanish Flu in 1920.
Despite having lived in Montana for close to two decades, Slim remained a typical Texan: larger than life, hard working, loud, hearty and hospitable. His greetings were no exception and it was a slightly dazed Hana that went looking for her best friend.
Jocelyn Possible, Joss to friends and family, was Kim's cousin and two years older than Hana. Both Joss and Hana were tomboys, headstrong and prone to get themselves into trouble. At the last family reunion of the Stoppable and Possible families, in 1935, the girls had become the best of friends almost immediately.
Getting yelled at by the grown-ups for managing to fall into a creek while traversing it on a fallen tree had only brought the two girls closer.
Shaun on the other hand was Ron's youngest cousin and had spent most of the previous reunions being a pest and a general nuisance. Hana had no reason to expect anything else from him at this reunion either and mischief was indeed exactly what the sixteen year old boy had his mind set on.
Three years ago he had had a great time teasing Hana, calling her "Hana long-legs" and similar childish things since she had obviously been self conscious about her awkward, lanky, adolescent frame.
It wasn't that Shaun was exactly evil but he was thoughtless, quite selfish and found it hilarious to exercise the power of words and pranks on others. In other words, he was a jerk and a brat.
When he had seen his cousin's Cadillac 60 Special drive up to the house, Shaun had hurried off to the buffet table in preparation for a first prank to play on Hana.
She was so easy to tweak that pranking her was irresistible.
The plan was simple. He'd come up to Hana, offering her a plate of coleslaw and then he would pretend to slip and make it seem like he would toss the coleslaw all over her dress. She would scream and jump back and he'd just hold the totally unspilled plate of food up and laugh at her for falling for the prank.
Actually messing her dress up would be a bad idea. Grownups, especially Ron's wife, could possibly think it bad enough to merit him a thrashing. Although well-deserved, he didn't fancy that at all.
Shaun had his back turned as he loaded the plate up with coleslaw when he heard Hana's voice greeting some of the others by the outdoors table.
He turned around swiftly, ready to put his prank into action and then stopped abruptly.
Standing before him wasn't the skinny, awkward girl from three years ago.
Shaun found himself looking at a fine-limbed, young woman.
There were curves which hadn't been there last time he'd seen her.
Fascinating curves that demanded his attention.
Almond-shaped, brown eyes watched him warily. Soft, enticing lips, faintly moist, turned downwards at the edges, displayed her disapproval of him.
He didn't want Hana to look at him like that nor did he want to embarrass her.
His prank suddenly seemed unimportant.
"What do you want?" The suspicious tone in Hana's voice yanked Shaun back to the real world and he realized he'd been staring.
"I...uh..." What did he want? "Say something that will impress her. Make her like you!" A tiny voice in his head shouted.
"I got you some coleslaw." Was all he managed to come up with and he offered Hana the plate.
To his relief she took the plate. Her look changed from wary and hostile to puzzled.
"Thanks, I guess?"
Just was Shaun was trying to think of something friendly to say, he heard a voice behind him.
"Make like a bee and buzz off, Shaun. No one likes you anyway."
Joss had arrived at the scene.
She was shorter than Hana although the latter was two years her junior, but made up for her petite stature by being confident and occasionally a bit bossy which Shaun had just experienced.
Shaun tried to object but his words of protest faded into nothingness as Joss put an arm around Hana's shoulders and ushered her away from him.
Seeing the two girls walk away, Shaun somehow understood that the simple world of his childhood walked away with them.
He would never look at girls in general, and Hana in particular, the same way ever again and he wasn't sure how he felt about it.
"I just wanted you to smile." he mumbled before he turned and walked off.
"Don't you think that was a bit rough on Shaun?" Hana said after a few moments.
"Pff! You know what he's like! It's not like his actions have cried wolf, is it?"
"I guess not."
Hana put the plate of coleslaw down on the grass.
"Is that a way to say hello after all this time?" She said to Joss, her voice mock-reproachful.
The short redhead laughed and embraced her best friend in a powerful hug. Working on the ranch had made Jocelyn a proverbial 'tough cookie' and Hana went "Oof!" as Joss squeezed the air out of her.
"All right! All right! Let go!" Hana laughed and Joss complied with a grin but also with faint reluctance.
"I really missed you, Hana."
"Hey, didn't you get those letters I wrote?"
"Sure I did but letters aren't the same as seeing you and three years is a long time."
Joss looked up and down Hana.
"Wow! You've grown tall."
"Don't blame me, blame dad."
The girls sat down next to each other. Hana looked around, making sure no one was near enough to eavesdrop.
"Did you read my last letter and what I was thinking about doing?" She said in a hushed voice.
"Uh-hunh, I did."
"I think it's a stupid idea..."
"But I have to do this! I know dad promised not to but I never did!"
Joss held up her hand, quieting Hana who was getting upset.
"You didn't let me finish!"
Joss lay back and looked up at the clouds, drifting past in the blue summer skies.
"I think it's a stupid idea for you to go to China without me."
"You'd go with me?"
"Of course, silly! You didn't think I'd let you run off on some crazy adventure without me, now did you? Besides it'll be easier for us if our folks have to be mad at the two of us at the same time."
Hana grabbed her friend and yanked her back up in a sitting position to give her a tight hug.
"Oh, Joss! Together we can do anything! Now I'm sure we'll find my mother!"
And here, gentle reader, ends this prologue to the sequel to "Captain Stoppable's Revenge".
Stay tuned for upcoming two-fisted pulp action, thrills and adventures in Asia featuring two lovely girls and a bevy of friends and enemies.