The snowstorm isn't actually as bad as we were all expecting; no worse than any other snowstorm that's ever come through Massachusetts in December. Once the two cosplayers get a little more adjusted to Storm and I, and Storm's mom, we find ourselves out in the living room, watching one of the Christmas specials on TV; the 'Frosty the Snowman' one. The cosplayers still act a little stiff toward us, Marluxia especially, but they treat us at least like acquaintances by the end of the hour-and-a-half movie. By that time, the snow's pretty much settled down to a routine fall, although it is still pretty windy out there.

"Guess we should walk you guys over to Zane's, huh?" I ask, glancing at Marluxia and Larxene. "The snow's settled down enough for that, I think."

Marluxia nods. "We would appreciate the transportation very much."

"Oh, walking." Mrs. Rose tsks at us in a very matronly manner. She's kind of become like an aunt to me up here, although no one will ever replace my mom, Aunt Sam, Aunt Lindsay or Aunt Barbara.

"No one is walking anywhere. We'll take the car." She stands up and goes into the kitchen to get her car keys, shouting over her shoulder for Storm to go put some snow clothes on, which she promptly hurries off to do.

Marluxia gives me a bit of a weird look when they're gone. "Car?" he asks slowly, as if testing out the word. "I apologize, but… to what was she referring?"

I almost spit out the hot chocolate I'm drinking, managing to swallow it at the last second.

"Um… you know, cars," I say exaggeratedly. "You can drop your character, now, dude. I get it. Great cosplay."

He raises an eyebrow at me. "Excuse me?" I shiver a little, although his tone is not threatening.

"Okay, seriously, enough with the voice acting creepy imitation thing. You can't talk in his voice and be part of normal conversation. It just… it doesn't work." I shake my head.

Now he just looks utterly baffled, as does Larxene. Before anyone has time to say another word, though, Storm and her mom come back, dressed to the ankles and wrists in snow gear.

"Come on, time to go," Storm says. "You guys'll have to ride in back, I hope that's okay."

"… I suppose." Marluxia shrugs, still seeming confused.

I hop up, following Storm to the door and watching the two cosplayers as they follow me. From some other room in the house, I can hear a door slamming; I guess that's Rain doing something or other, but I ignore it, my head still swimming from the odd conversation I just had.

Either he was pretending really well, or he actually doesn't know what cars are.

Maybe they're like, Amish or something, I think to myself as we all step out into the bitingly cold, snowy air. I dismiss that almost immediately, though; Amish people would be just as clueless on Kingdom Hearts and cosplaying as they would be on cars.

Still racking my brains, I slide into the backseat of the Roses' small Toyota, squishing myself against the right window to make room for Marluxia and Larxene, who slide in beside me, gazing around the car's interior curiously.

"Pull the door closed," I say to Larxene, who still hasn't closed the Toyota's left-side door. The cold air from outside is drafting in, and it's freezing my fingers rapidly. I'm slightly irritated that they're taking the pretending this far, but whatever. Let 'em have their fun for awhile. Hopefully, Zane's parents can make some sense out of them.

Larxene leans over and yanks on the door, pulling it shut hard and almost whacking herself in the face with it. She jerks back a little, startled.

"Whoa, sorry," I say apologetically. "Forgot to mention that those are kinda heavy."

"That's… fine," she replies, still a bit surprised.

Storm hops into the passenger's seat up front, disregarding the seatbelt, as usual, even though it's snowing. The only time she ever bothers with a seatbelt is when I'm driving, even though I don't drive any worse than her mom. It's just her little way of ribbing me.

Mrs. Rose slides into the driver's side, shutting the door and starting the engine with a loud sputter-sputter-clunk! Both Marluxia and Larxene look around slightly, startled by the noise.

"Oh, I apologize," Mrs. Rose says, raising her voice over the engine. "This old beater can't start up properly in the winter. We really should get a new car…"

We pull out of the driveway, skidding a little on the icy road, and then start off down the street, crawling toward Zane's house at barely fifteen miles per hour.

Storm twists around in her seat to look at us, glancing at Marluxia and Larxene with raised eyebrows. Both of them are holding onto their seatbelts tightly, and the hands not gripping their seatbelts are wound tightly together, fingers clasped. It'd be kind of cute if it wasn't so puzzling.

"You guys don't ride in cars much, do you?" Storm asks, smirking a little. I reach up, trying to flick her, but she dodges me easily.

"No, we don't," Larxene replies, looking a little green. "How much farther does this thing have to take us?"

"Zane's house is only a couple blocks down from here," I say, peering closely at her. "Hey, are you okay? Are you gonna be carsick or something?"

She doesn't answer me, but her pale cheeks tell me more than words could.

Great… what we really need is cosplayer vomit all over the back seat. "Um… Mrs. Rose?" I say, a little anxiously.

"Yes, dear?" she asks me, glancing in the rearview mirror.

"I think L—um, Arlene might be sick," I say. "She gets carsick sometimes."

"Oh, dear," Mrs. Rose says, looking concerned. "Well, Lisi, I'll try to go as fast as I can, but there's ice all over these roads, and I can only use the accelerator so much."

"I know. Thanks," I reply, nodding at her.

"Hey," Storm says, looking at Larxene. "You know what'd make you feel better? Food. Lots of greasy food, and some Jell-O. Green Jell-O. And—"

"Storm, cut it out." I actually do flick her this time, catching her right over the ear. "You're being a jerk."

She snickers. "Aw, come on, I was gonna stop before she actually threw up."

I roll my eyes. "Yeah, whatever. I'm sure your mom would be overjoyed if some cosplayer threw up in her car."

"Eh… true." Storm shrugs, leaning her chin on the seat and looking at Larxene, who's paler than ever now, her bright green eyes closed, leaned against the backseat cushions, her knuckles white on the seatbelt. "Dang, she really is carsick. You okay?" She directs this question at Larxene, looking concerned now, rather than amused.

"She will be fine," Marluxia says, looking a little cross with Storm. "Simply transport us to our destination."

"Jeez, okay," Storm says, holding her hands up in mock-surrender. "Just tryin' to have some fun."

"Sometimes, people don't like it when you mess with them," I say sarcastically, thumping her again.

"Ow! Would you knock that off?!" She rubs the back of her head, sticking her tongue out at me. "I get it, okay?!"

I snicker at her. "Just making sure."

We finally do arrive at Zane's house ten minutes later; any longer, and I think Larxene actually would have thrown up. She looks positively drained of color, and her head is leaned on Marluxia's shoulder, face buried in his coat.

"Shoot… now I kinda feel guilty," Storm says, hopping out of the car and scratching the back of her neck awkwardly, Axel-style. She comes around and pulls the right-side door open, letting me out first.

"Well, you should." I roll my eyes at her. "That was kinda mean."

"Yeah, yeah, okay, Mom," she says, rolling her eyes back. "Save the lecture for later. Let's get them inside."

We go around and open the other door for the cosplayers; Larxene is out almost immediately, wobbling a little on her black heel boots. Marluxia is a little more graceful, standing and slamming the door behind him with a look at Storm.

"Thank you for the transportation," he says quietly; the civil tone, however, carries an undercurrent of steel, and I shiver slightly. He's definitely got the voice down.

"You're welcome," Storm says meekly, backing up a step or two.

Marluxia puts an arm around Larxene's shoulders as Mrs. Rose climbs out of the driver's seat, shivering slightly.

"Oh, hurry," she says, waving her hands at us. "Let's all get inside and out of this cold."

We all walk up the path toward the door, Storm and I in the lead, then the cosplayers, and then finally Mrs. Rose, pulling her coat tightly around her. Storm reaches the door first, knocking on it loudly.

It takes a few seconds, but Zane answers the door, finally, dressed in red flannel pajama pants and a blue T-shirt. Her black hair is in a messy bun, and her blue-grey eyes go wide enough to fill her face when she sees Marluxia and Larxene walking up the walkway behind us.

"Whoa," she breathes. "Are those… them?"

"Yup," I reply quietly. "And to Storm's mom, they're Lu and Arlene, and they've been our friends for a while, so try not to act weird, okay?"

She sticks her tongue out at me. "You make this really not fun sometimes, Lisi."

"Shut up and go inside," Storm says, smacking us both on the shoulders. The three of us quickly hustle inside, letting the two cosplayers and Mrs. Rose in after us.

"Dan! Molly! They're here!" Zane shouts into the back of her house.

Again, her family's weird. Dan
and Molly Scholl are her parents, but she doesn't call them Mom and Dad; she's called them by their first names about since she could talk.

I wait, kicking some of the snow off my boots and glancing around. Zane's house is a little smaller than mine, but it's got that 'cozy' feeling that everyone thinks New England houses should have; the feeling that around every corner is gonna be a fireplace and some cups of cocoa or cider. I love the feeling that I get in Zane's house, especially because it's so opposite to the one I get in my own house.

Zane's parents come out of the kitchen, both smiling widely at the little group of us in the hall. Dan is really tall and has the same black hair and stormy eyes as his daughter, while Molly is shorter and slightly plump, and has dark brown hair and warm brown eyes that sparkle with kindness.

"Welcome," Molly says, waving. "Come on into the kitchen, you all. I have cocoa!"

"Actually, we just had some, Mrs. Scholl," Storm says. "Me and Lisi are gonna go hang with Zane, if that's okay."

"Oh, that's fine," Molly replies cheerfully. "Have fun. And I've told you before, Storm; please call me Molly."

Storm shrugs, looking a little uncomfortable, but she doesn't argue.

Mrs. Rose, Marluxia and Larxene follow Dan and Molly into the kitchen, while Storm, Zane and I head down the back hallway to Zane's room, shutting the door behind us. Her room looks very similar to mine, with a lot of bean bags and pillows and a mess everywhere, her computer chair perpetually pulled out.

"Okay, what?" Zane says, when we've finally got the door bolted. She looks excited, her eyes sparkling.

"They're delusional," is the first thing Storm says, shaking her head.

"Storm!" I smack her arm, rolling my eyes.

"They are!" she protests.

"How so?" Zane asks, looking curious.

"They think they're actually Marluxia and Larxene, or something," Storm gripes. "And they won't drop character. It's getting annoying, especially when they pretend not to know what cars are and one of them gets carsick."

"Aw, that sounds bad," Zane says, although her sympathy seems more for Larxene than for Storm and I.

"Yeah. Have fun with 'em," Storm says sarcastically.

"Don't worry." Zane laughs. "My parents will find out who they are. They're good with people. In the meantime, we can find them jobs or get them in school or whatever. They'll be fine here, and you won't have to worry about them."

"Good, cause if I did, I'd probably go insane," Storm mutters. "And Lis couldn't either, she's got enough to worry about."

"Why? What happened?" Zane glances at me in concern.

"Her dad called while she was at my place, and he kind of chewed her out over the phone." Storm shakes her head, clearly irritated. It always touches me, how offended she gets on my behalf. "You could hear him screaming all the way in the other room. It was awful."

Zane reaches over and hugs me tightly. "I'm sorry," she says quietly.

I shrug, inwardly glad to have such good friends. "I'll be fine. He'll cool down eventually; he always does."

"Yeah, but that still sucks." She sighs. "Anyway. You guys can go, if your mom's ready, Storm; we'll take it from here."

"Thanks," Storm says, nodding gratefully at Zane. "And tell your parents thanks, too."

Storm, Mrs. Rose and I all say goodbye to Molly, Dan, Marluxia, Larxene and Zane, waving a couple of times before walking back out and climbing into the Toyota. There's a lot more room without the cosplayers in the back, and I stretch out on the seat, ignoring the seat belt and staring up at the roof of the car.

"Now, I suppose I'd better drive you home, Lisi," Mrs. Rose says, glancing at me in the rearview mirror. Her voice is soft and hesitant.

"Yeah, I guess," I say dully, feeling my gut twist slightly at the thought of walking in my own front door.

"Would you like me to speak to your father?" she asks, after a slight pause.

"No, thanks," I say, sitting up a little and giving her a kind-of smile. "I don't want you to get yelled at, too; you didn't do anything."

"All right…" She sounds unsure, but shrugs and puts the car into gear, backing out of the Scholls' driveway. "Well, if you need me for anything, you call, all right?"

"Okay. Thanks, Mrs. Rose," I say sincerely.

"That's no trouble." She waves it off, turning the car around and starting off toward my house.

We get there a lot faster; I live closer to Zane than I do to Storm, and the snow's lightening up a bit, enough for Mrs. Rose to see clearly enough to drive. The whole time, I'm trying to plan what I'll say to my dad, though I know no explanation or excuse will be good enough for him.

Dad, I'm sorry; I shouldn't have yelled or said the stuff I said. You can punish me, do whatever, just… I'm sorry, okay?

I roll my eyes and flop back down onto the seat, the minutes ticking by too fast as the car creeps along toward its destination.

Too soon, we're pulling into my driveway, the beater's engine idling as Mrs. Rose pulls it to a stop.

"Are you sure you don't want me to come with you?" she asks me softly, as I sit up and open the door, letting in the cold wind.

"I'm sure," I reply, nodding. "Thanks again for driving."

"Anytime," she says, giving me a kind smile. "You tell your father I said that you haven't done anything worth shouting about."

I give a harsh kind of half-laugh. "That'd be suicide. Thanks, though."

She shakes her head and sighs a little as I close the door, waving at them while she pulls away. Storm waves back at me, and then they're driving down the street and disappearing into the snow.

Great… time to go face my doom.

Slowly, I turn around and walk up the front sidewalk, inhaling in preparation for my speech as my hand reaches out to grasp the freezing door handle, pulling the door open.

Dad's waiting for me in the front hallway, sitting on a chair, his arms crossed. His brown eyes are narrowed at me in clear anger, and his brown hair is tied back in its usual neat ponytail, his glasses lowered on the bridge of his nose.

"You're late," is the first thing he says.

"You didn't tell me I was supposed to be back at any specific time," I reply, sticking my own hands into my pockets.

There's a long silence between us, and we stare at each other, brown eyes to vivid blue.

Finally, he says, "When I call you and administer discipline, you do not hang up on me, Liseth. That is a sign of the utmost disrespect."

"Yes, sir." The reply is void of all tone or emotion; completely flat.

"You will, of course, be punished." He looks at me, waiting for me to beg or plead, I guess.

"Yes, sir." I don't do anything, just look at him blankly.

"Go upstairs and unplug your laptop. It's mine until I say otherwise." He raises an eyebrow at me, as if daring me to argue.

I feel a slight surge of panic and anxiety in my gut, but I manage to keep my voice level. "Yes, sir."

"Well? Go." He points a finger at the staircase, tapping one foot impatiently.

Feeling heavy and leaden with utter hopelessness, I turn and ascend the stairs miserably.