Lois felt quite domestic, picking up Kristin and heading over to the Whites' apartment, where she grabbed the mail and somehow managed to get herself and Kristin and Kristin's backpack in the door without letting an overexcited beagle out. Narcissa stood in the hallway, a few paces back from the door, and as Lois walked in the Doberman retreated. "Hi, Cissa," Lois said, putting her stuff down on the nearest table. "Dusty, settle down!" As if in defiance, the red and white beagle jumped up to almost chest height, yodeling with joy.
"Mommy says we can't pay attention to Dusty until he stops being a spaz," Kristin volunteered. "She says even yelling at him is a kind of attention."
Lois privately felt that 'spaz' came from Richard's vocabulary, but she didn't call Kristin on it. "Okay, so let's ignore him," she said, though it was easier said than done. Lois decided to let both dogs out on the terrace; it was the best way of coping with Bagel and Chewie when they got excited, too. Then she returned her attention to Kristin. "Got any homework?"
"Science, English, and Social Studies," Kristin said, setting her backpack down on a window seat in the living room. "Can I have a snack first?"
The twins had always been ravenous in the afternoons at that age, and Lois fondly remembered making their afternoon snacks. Luckily for her, sandwiches, veggies and dip, and a variety of microwavable munchies were well within her culinary skills. "Sure thing. What are you hungry for?"
"PB&J?" Kristin said hopefully. Lois readily agreed, and was unsurprised to find that Lana had been hoarding some of the more unusual jams and jellies they found at farmers' markets on their trips to the mountains. At the sight of mayhaw jelly, which had a pleasant tartness she really enjoyed, Lois decided to join Kristin for the snack. The little redhead got the peanut butter and a knife, helping her make the sandwiches.
This was entirely too familiar, and very welcome. Thank God, there was still one kid around between the four of them. Lois sighed quietly. Sometimes she loved having Kala and Jason more or less out of the house; little things like knowing her leftovers would still be in the fridge the next day were quite welcome, as was the freedom from nearly-constant twin-related distractions and interruptions. Not to mention the squabbling. But then sometimes she missed bitterly the days when she had been able to tuck her babies in at night, or see their delighted smiles at something so simple as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The memories had her biting her lower lip at the sudden ache of loss.
There were other joys these days, including the happiness at seeing them both become successful in their differing ways. Kala's band had a following in and around Metropolis, and they even had an album out, though it was self-produced and promoted. Whether her daughter became a household name or not, she was doing what she loved, and Lois had realized that Kala loved singing the way she herself loved writing a blazing good story. Meanwhile Jason was moving steadily toward his degree, constantly fascinated by the things he was learning and still in love with science.
Although … Jason hadn't yet sorted out the issue of his powers, and that worried Lois. Kal-El had never been de-powered for longer than a handful of days, and she wondered what the long-term effects were. She found herself beginning to wonder if it would be permanent—a fear that the entire family had felt, but none had voiced aloud to each other yet. If that was so, of course he would still be her son, her Buddha-boy, but Lois feared what it would mean to Jason. And to Kala. Something like this couldn't help rippling between both twins. They might be farther apart than ever in terms of miles much of the time, but the bond between them was as strong as ever.
Cissa called Lois out of her reverie by barking at the door, just two low woofs. Kristin, who had almost finished eating, bounced down off the bar stool at the breakfast nook and let both dogs in, where Dusty sat in the doorway and wagged hopefully at Lois and Kristin while they finished the sandwiches. Cissa went to get a drink and then disappeared, though once Lois got Kristin settled at the table and started on her homework, the Doberman reappeared to sit right beneath her seat. Kristin rested her bare toes on the big dog's back, and Cissa gave a sigh that even Lois could read as contented.
With everything squared away, she strolled toward the living room, pausing in the doorway to look back. Every once in a great while, she would remember why Lana had adopted the Dobie, and why she had that small scar on both the back and palm of her left hand. Looking at the bright, sunlit kitchen with the little girl studious working on her essay for English and the big dog lying on the spotless tile floor, it was hard to remember how this kitchen had once looked. Lois could go months without thinking about it, but she would never forget how obscene the blood had looked splashed around this cheerful space, how out of place the body on the floor had been. And how chilled she was to think that Lana might not have been the one to walk away.
Almost unwillingly, Lois turned to glance at the knife block. Lana had replaced her favorite chef's knife with an identical model. The original was still in police custody, even though the case had been resolved without any question of Lana's motive. Self-defense, plain and simple, and she had plenty of defensive wounds to prove it. The case was closed; she'd been attacked in her own home and fought back with the only weapon handy. That said weapon had been a ten-inch German-steel blade that had nearly decapitated her attacker was just circumstance.
Although Lois knew it wasn't as clear-cut as all that. Lana had only found her courage when she realized her daughter might be in danger. And then she'd been as fierce and unforgiving as Lois herself could be.
Never underestimate a mother protecting her child, Lois thought, with an extra dose of vehemence toward Luthor. If only that full-length mirror on the yacht hadn't fooled her, she could've ended all of this while the twins were still babies, and that bastard wouldn't be lurking around the fringes of their lives still. L-Tech was still in existence, though it had undergone a complete change in management. And Lois had a few things in place to alert her of any unusual activity that might trace back to Luthor. He seemed to be lying low, according to her searches and contacts, but you never knew with him. Luthor would plot and plan and stay away for long periods, and then unleash something meant to destroy them all. Like Bizarro, for example, and Lois still couldn't help pitying that poor creature.
Lois shook the dark thoughts away and stepped into the living room, plopping down on Lana's leather sofa and taking out her phone. There was one guaranteed cure for her megrims, and she dialed him. "Hello, honey," Kal-El said warmly.
"Hey," Lois said, already smiling just from his tone. "So me and the munchkin are here at chez White, and everything's cool. Haven't heard from Red or Richard yet, but I expect they'll get back to me. I'm planning on staying here tonight. Don't want to shake up Kristin's routine too much, and I really don't want to bring both dogs to our place. You know how Dusty and Chewie are." Dusty had grown up respecting Bagel, but he felt he had to put Chewie in her place, and the younger beagle didn't take kindly to that. Not that they actually fought, Lois had never seen more than a momentary flash of teeth, but it was startling how much noise could come from two twenty-five-pound dogs disagreeing on something like whose bed was whose.
"All right. I figure I'll go by our place and then head over there around dinnertime," he replied easily.
"Hmm, maybe tonight I'll just order pizza and we'll just have girl's night," Lois said thoughtfully.
Kal-El paused, and then said in mournful tones, "Are you throwing me over for pizza with a redhead? Lois, I'm crushed."
"Relax, you," she laughed. And then Lois lowered her voice. "You've got to be careful about how often and how easily you show up here. Kristin doesn't know, remember? You can't exactly touch down on the balcony over here." They'd already had one amusing incident a few years back where one of Kristin's teachers called up Lana, worried about her daughter's apparent inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality. Lana had had to explain that no, she really did make an extra mug of coffee for Superman most mornings, hastily inventing the excuse that their apartment was on one of his regular flight routes and it was the least she could do for someone who spent so much of his time protecting the city.
Kristin had been warned not to talk about Superman's involvement with the family, and luckily she'd been old enough to understand that bad people would hurt Superman's friends when they couldn't hurt the man himself. Kristin's furious response had been that she would grow up to track down bad people so they would stop bothering Superman.
On the phone, Kal-El sighed. "Yes, but it's not inconceivable that a man would drive across town to see his beautiful wife and his youngest daughter, is it?"
"Maybe tomorrow," Lois teased. This was her perfect opportunity to play hard-to-get, something she hadn't been able to do in years. And it was always fun to spice things up a bit.
Kal-El chuckled, catching on. "I see. Well, if that's how you want to play it, I'll just kick back here and watch the Monarchs game. You'll have to make your own coffee in the morning, you know."
Lois scowled at the phone. "Very funny. I'll just train Cissa to work the coffeemaker. To listen to Lana talk, she'd be smart enough."
"Yes, but she doesn't have opposable thumbs," he countered. "You'll be fine. You managed for years without me catering to your every whim."
"Ha," Lois said flatly. Now she was definitely going to make him work for it.
"I'll see you at work, though, for sure," Kal-El continued blithely. "And Lois?"
"I love you."
Those three little words never failed to put a smile on her face, and it showed in her voice when Lois replied, "I love you, too."
She disconnected the call with a wistful sigh and a wicked grin, just in time for Kristin to call out from the kitchen, "Lolo, how do you spell 'disastrous'?"
Lois could only chortle. It just figured. "Dormouse, I am so not the one to ask. Let me look that up in my phone."
Steph rather liked Batgirl—whose real name was Cass Cain, daughter of the assassin David Cain, and wasn't that a head trip. She rarely spoke, and had a habit of trimming all unnecessary words out of a sentence when she did speak. A legacy of her training, which had been early and extensive. She could be incredibly frank, more so than the rest of the Bats who seemed to love their secrets a little too much for Steph's taste. (She would admit, if pressed, that not knowing her own boyfriend's real first name for months was probably a factor in that dislike of secrecy.) And yet Steph got the feeling that there was a lot about Cass that she didn't know. Not so much secrets as questions Steph hadn't figured out how to ask. They'd already bonded over their dads, both of whom sucked in different ways.
Cass was happy to have Spoiler's company most of the time, too, and Steph appreciated that. It seemed like she was always being chased off by Batman and even Tim, sometimes. Batman would tell her she had no place in something, and she'd slink away. Tim would just tell her to stay home, that she had to focus on her real life. She wanted to tell him that dancing across rooftops was way more real than writing essays, but the haunted look in his eyes when he said it stilled her.
Batgirl had been very strictly controlled by both Batman and Oracle, a part of the Gotham City scene but still apart from it in many ways. Steph liked working with her; they weren't allowed to go after the masks, but there was plenty of plainclothes crime in town for them to chase. Steph even managed to convince Batgirl to spar with her, which given the fact that Cass had been in training since she could walk meant that Steph tended to end those sessions puking her guts out. The funny thing was, she got the feeling that Cass was amazed that she came back for more after the first time. Someone really needed to let her know about the famous Brown tenacity—more like thickheaded stubbornness, most of the time, but it served Steph well.
Only … the more time they spent around each other, the more Cass left her out of things. Not sparring, or just hanging out together, perched on a gargoyle over a thirty-story drop noshing on take-out like it was no big deal. But the more dangerous takedowns, the ones were Steph would've thought it made sense to have backup, Cass excluded her. And for once, wouldn't tell her why. Or couldn't. There certainly wasn't a word for the particular mixture of sadness and determination in her eyes when Steph demanded an answer.
The last straw came when Spoiler and Batgirl were investigating one of the Maroni family's side-pursuits, and it looked like they were about to be busted. Cass had turned toward Steph, moving so fast and fluid there was no chance of blocking, and then Steph woke up twenty minutes later with an apologetic Batgirl hovering over her, with five bound crooks just feet away.
Needless to say, Steph had been irate, but nothing she said could wring an explanation from Cass, who disappeared in a swirl of her cape. That had been the last straw. Pissed off and dammit, hurt too, Steph had gone hunting for Batgirl's mentor.
Batman wasn't an easy guy to find, especially for Spoiler—a sidekick's sidekick, if she wanted to cruel about it. But she finally tracked him down. Or he knew she was looking and let himself be found, one or the other. "You need to rein in Batgirl," she said without preamble.
"Why?" he asked. The gruff voice and blank white lenses of his cowl might've been intimidating—hell, they had been intimidating—but Steph was over it.
"Because she just knocked me unconscious right before a fight!" she snapped. "Seriously, I know she's really good, I mean scary good, let's be real, but everyone could use some backup, right?"
He only stared for a long moment. "Batgirl had the situation under control. She kept you out of it so you wouldn't get hurt."
"I can handle myself in a fight," Steph insisted.
"Not like she can."
She blew an irritated breath out of her nose. "Well, yeah, but she's still only one person. There were five of them, and they were armed."
Batman looked away, over the rooftops. Gotham seemed to stretch forever, from this vantage point. At last he answered, "And despite that, she handled them. Batgirl doesn't act lightly, Spoiler. You would have been a liability to her; her efficiency would've been compromised trying to protect you."
Her temper flared. "Protect me? I wanted to help her! That's all I've ever wanted to do, help out the good guys!"
"You try to be a force for good so as to balance out your father's crimes," Batman said flatly. "His sins aren't yours to atone for. It's sentimental, Spoiler, and there's no room for that in what we do."
He was so emotionless and cold that her anger flared to make up the difference. "Seriously? When did you double the dose of your grim-dark pills? Everything we do is about heart! Protecting the innocent, sheltering the weak, all of that is sentimental but it doesn't make it any less right!" It had to be true. It had to be. Otherwise what people like her father said about the Bats was the truth: that they were just as bad as any masked criminal, they gloried in fear and intimidation, only they were more selective about their targets.
Of course, with a moment's thought she would've known when his outlook darkened: when the prodigal son returned. When Jason Todd came home with blood on his hands and murder in his heart, seeking vengeance or perhaps just closure. He was in the city again, they all knew it. No one else could've been responsible for the string of murdered pimps and drug dealers. No one else was that precise, no one else destroyed the drugs, and in the case of one pimp, he'd been ID'd by a girl he'd driven to a women's shelter. All those guys had apparently crossed Red Hood's path somehow, though none of the Bats yet knew where he was or what he was planning this time.
"Go home, Spoiler," Batman told her. "You'll only find grief if you continue."
At that, Steph snarled at him. "The hell with you. You're doing it too. Everyone wants me to go home and be a good girl and stop playing capes 'n' robbers. Well I'm not playing! This is the only thing that makes sense to me, the only thing that feels right. I'm not throwing that away because I don't see the world through smog-tinted lenses like the rest of you."
There was no answer, just those blank white lenses and his mouth compressed to a stern line. Steph took a step nearer as another outrage occurred to her. "And how dare any of you tell me I'm not good enough! I was Robin, dammit!"
No one could really read the Bat himself, not with any kind of certainty, but Steph had worked with him enough to get something of a sense for his moods. Plus she had Cass' almost-creepy skill at reading body language to learn from. Just then, he seemed to be holding himself too still, as if the natural movements of breath and pulse would give away something he didn't want her to know.
Of course. Of course. She'd thought it to herself before, but only now did Steph say it aloud. "Or was I? Tell me the truth, Batman. Did you shove me into Robin's tights just to goad him into coming back? Because if that's really what you did, you're a bigger choad than I ever thought. And you were already pretty high on my personal scale of dickitude."
"You're insulting me because you're angry," he said in that flat voice. "The question is, Spoiler, are you angry at me? Or yourself, for not being who you want to be? There aren't many like the current Batgirl, and she's paid a steep price to be who she is. Don't be so eager to wear that mantle. It's heavier than you think." With that he stepped off the edge of the roof and glided into the darkness.
Steph was left panting with rage … and beneath her cowl, her eyes were glassy. I was right. I was right, and he can't even admit it to me. Scalding tears ran down her cheeks, shame and grief and a little pity mixed in. "I'll show you," Steph muttered. "I'll show you all."
With Kala and Dustin at the farmhouse, Jason found it harder to make time for Cassie. He'd hoped that Kala could run a little interference for him, but Dustin seemed to have picked up on the fact that something was wrong, and he didn't want to let his best friend out of sight.
"I am attempting to arrange a meeting with Cassie, but we cannot allow Dustin to know that my girlfriend can fly," Jason muttered to Kala as they washed dishes after lunch, using Kryptonese for an extra layer of security.
"He already thinks the beautiful blonde is out of your league," Kala replied, her eyes sparkling. "He would never believe his favorite lizard-friend dates a demigoddess."
It was completely weird that her command of the language—their mother tongue, after all—was so much more fluid than his, even now. Kala could tease and make jokes lightly in it, whereas his phrasing was rarely that natural. "Cease your taunting," Jason grumbled.
"I believe I can secure a few hours alone for you, brother," Kala said, with a grin. And then as she finished rinsing the last glass, she turned the sink sprayer on him and splashed his face before running away, laughing.
That was Kala through and through, being helpful and a dorky pain in the butt at the same time. Jason rolled his eyes and wiped the water off on his shirtsleeve, putting the last few dishes away. "Thanks for your help," he said sarcastically as he walked into the living room a few minutes later, his hair still damp.
"You're welcome," Kala said with a bright grin. "Hate to tell you this, Lizardbro, but you and Grandpa are on your own for dinner tomorrow night. Dustin's parents want me to come over while we're in town. I expect the third degree."
"They've known you since you were six," Dustin sighed, tousling her hair.
Jason sat down across from them, wondering how Kala had managed this so quickly—or if she'd already known about it even before he complained. "They've known Kala that long, and they still haven't checked you into an asylum for dating her," he sighed, shaking his head at Dustin. "I dunno, man. They can't be happy to have Emily the Strange over for dinner."
Dustin scoffed, Kala stuck her tongue out, and they gave each other hell for a while. Things felt almost normal … but Jason was constantly reminded that they weren't.
Still, he ended up with a few uncluttered hours the next day in which to meet Cassie and Donna. The property was large enough that Jason picked a fairly secluded stream to meet by, pointing it out on a satellite image map online; the girls couldn't just come to the house given the chances of a neighbor or acquaintance dropping in.
Jason was a little nervous, actually. Donna had been an original Teen Titan, and she was Wonder Woman's sister—a twin, too, in a different way. Amazons had a much closer relationship with magic than Kryptonians, and a set of twins who were years apart in age was no big deal.
He thought of trying to make a good impression, and then realized Cassie would immediately notice and probably laugh at him. She did adore his earnestness, but she twitted him about it almost as much as Kala. So instead Jason went for the casual look, strolling out in jeans and a flannel shirt, still disturbed that the cool air of the spring evening made the long sleeves necessary. It had been years since he wore warm clothes for anything other than camouflage.
In town, Kala was sitting down to dinner with the Carmichaels, and out here on the farm, Jason was carefully skirting brambles to find the spot he'd chosen. Young willow trees followed the stream that divided the Kents' plot from the Hubbards'; this whole area was almost marshy, and had been left essentially wild with cultivated fields on either side. Grandpa Ben loved it, as it was excellent habitat for the rabbits and hares that he hunted with his beagles. The stream itself was also a good fishing stream, and of course the brambles would be heavy with berries in season. Deer also used the cover to move between fields, feeding on crops and in turn being hunted come fall.
At last Jason came to his designated meeting spot, where the stream briefly deepened into a pool and an enormous cottonwood tree offered its shade. On the other side of the water was a large pink boulder that had been called the Kissing Rock since at least his great-grandparents' generation. Jason knew from his childhood explorations of the farm that the stone was Sioux quartzite, rolled all the way here from Minnesota by prehistoric glaciers.
Cassie was currently sitting on top of the rock, looking over at Jason with a faintly long-suffering expression. Beside her was Donna, holding a camera and leaning out at a precarious angle to photograph something on or in the pool. "Hi, Jase," Cassie called, waving. He waved back, not wanting to spoil the shot for Donna.
The camera clicked, and Donna finally sat up, looking over at him. He'd never seen her in person before, and her resemblance to Diana was very strong. The same wavy black hair, the same classical Greek beauty, but the blue eyes were completely different for all they had the same shade. Jason knew at fifty feet that Donna had none of her big sister's tranquility. Wonder Woman was a princess, a politician, and a warrior; with one look she could give the impression that she had any given situation under control. Donna's gaze held a different, hard-won serenity, one that Jason found familiar from Lana of all people. His stepmother had gone through some very trying times, and the peace she carried with her was a balancing act she'd fought to sustain. Donna had much the same look, a survivor's gaze.
"Hi," he said, strolling forward. There were stepping stones set here, and fortunately the spring rains hadn't raised the creek above them yet. Technically the two girls were on the Hubbards' land, but the families had never made too much of a fuss about property lines, especially not since Ben and Martha had married.
Once he reached them, he held out his hand to Donna. "I guess you already heard I'm Jason Kent."
She shook with him, smiling. "And I guess you've heard about me, too. Cassie wanted me to talk to you—but I know she wants to talk to you, too, and I want to photograph that tree in this light, so I'll give you two a minute."
Donna hopped off the boulder and set about capturing the tree in film. Cassie shrugged, but Jason understood. He sometimes had bits of melodies occur to him that simply had to be written down to be played later, and he was less driven by art than Kala, who had committed two years and a whole lot of money just for the chance of singing professionally.
He scrambled up beside Cassie, and she kissed him. "And that's why they call this the kissing rock," he chuckled, returning the kiss. "What's up?"
"Nothing new," she admitted. "I just miss seeing you in person. Online is a good way to keep in touch, but it doesn't replace the real thing."
"No, it doesn't," he agreed, slipping his arm her shoulders.
They spent a little time in quiet small talk, though it seemed to falter here and there. Jason was amazed at how much he could miss in just a week of being out of the loop on the Titans' latest news.
The real reason he'd borrowed this time, though, was to talk to Donna, and she signaled her return by snapping their picture. "You two are adorable," she chuckled.
"Donna," Cassie laughed back, just shaking her head. "All right, I guess it's my turn to disappear for a while. I'll see you both later." And with that, she kissed Jason one more time and flew off.
They both watched her go. "You never had flight, did you?" Donna asked.
Jason scoffed. "Never wanted it. My sister was obsessed from about age eight, and she finally got it. Me, I like my feet on the ground."
Donna looked at him then, the quick look of piercing intelligence that he'd gotten more than once from the veteran heroes. "You sound like me. I liked the flying, though. But I always wanted, well, a normal life."
"I know that feeling," Jason agreed, and patted the smooth, flat top of the rock. "C'mon up. I don't like looking down at people."
"No wonder you're not a flier, then," Donna said with a smirk.
Elise still had two years of college, minimum, before she attained her bachelor's degree, but it was never too soon to think about the future. And her own future was beginning to look a lot hazier than ever before.
This semester's course load was heavy on the hard chemistry, which she'd always liked in school. Except … it turned out she liked the lab part a whole lot more than memorizing lots of complicated chemical reactions. Elise preferred to get hands-on experience wherever possible, and while the labs for her advanced chem courses were fascinating, she found herself lagging in the lectures.
Her favorite class was actually biochemistry. And the professor who taught it was really good at his job; Dr. Chisholm made the driest information seem fascinating. Technically he belonged to the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, not the Department of Chemistry from which Elise had planned to get her degree. The notion of tweaking her major had already begun to occur to her before Dr. Chisholm decided to talk to her.
A slim, dark-skinned man of about her own height, Dr. Chisholm wore bifocals and dressed more like a businessman than a typical college professor. He caught her leaving class one day and asked her what seemed like a simple question. "What are you planning to do after college, Ms. Thorne?"
Elise shrugged. "There are always research jobs for chemists."
"Research," he said, nodding. "I'm not surprised. You have a feel for the lab work, and an inquisitive mind. Although, considering how well you've done in my class, I was also wondering if you had a particular reason for choosing chemistry over biomolecular engineering…?"
She sighed. "Chemistry was my favorite class in high school. I didn't really look at all the broader options when I signed up. I've actually been thinking about the same thing, myself. I want to work in a lab, I want to discover new things, I want to be able to really help people."
"And you're realizing that biochem and its related fields are the wave of the future," Dr. Chisholm said, his dark eyes shrewd behind the glasses. "You know, of course, that we have a highly recognized post-grad program here on clinical research protocols. And once you get through your bachelor's, the research possibilities are endless."
"Oh, I know," Elise admitted. She'd seen the research facilities on the first-day tour, and couldn't help imagining herself in those labs.
"Hmm. Well, I may have an opportunity for you, whether you stick to chemistry or switch to biochem. Although of course I'd love to see you come over to my department. There's an internship opening up this summer, extremely limited. In fact they're only seeking one student, on my personal recommendation. It could be a foot in the door for major research opportunities after you graduate."
Elise bit her lip. She'd planned to take a few extra courses this summer, but that sounded like a great offer. Almost too good, in fact. "Why would they want a sophomore for this kind of thing?" she asked.
Dr. Chisholm shrugged. "I imagine it's going to be more along the lines of taking notes than anything truly exciting, honestly. Exactly the sort of grunt work an undergrad will take on in hopes of better offers later."
That sounded more reasonable, and Elise nodded slowly. There was no glamour in being a secretary, basically, but he was right. An underclassman would jump at the chance just to be around real research. Even knowing the situation didn't rein in her interest.
Apparently she didn't seem enthusiastic enough. Dr. Chisholm continued, "This is one of the largest, strongest, and most reputable companies around. You should at least give it a look. I can give you the card and let you think it over this week, then you can meet them on the weekend … or give me back the card Monday and I'll try to find someone else."
"I'll definitely give it a look," Elise said, and Dr. Chisholm handed her the card with a smile before moving on to his next class.
Elise turned it over curiously. No fancy graphics here, just fine card stock with the name printed in simple, elegant font. But then, even she recognized that name, and her eyebrows shot up. "Wow," she muttered.