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Chapter 34: Arrival
palladian23 wrote in superwebnovel
Author's Notes/Warnings: Melancholy, mysterious strangers, that feeling of being set up

Many thanks to my wonderful editor-in-chief gwoman for her work on this chapter, and happy Year of the Goat to everyone! Also, I should let everyone know that I've released the first 20 chapters of this serial as an e-book! You can find it at Amazon, iPad iBooks, Nook, and most every other major e-book retailer out there (might not be posted at all of them yet - keep checking!). I'd love it if anyone would like to leave a review anywhere it's being sold, and if you haven't had a chance to check out Snowzapped's awesome cover art yet, you totally should!

UPDATE: Hey, everyone...I mentioned earlier that I'd released the first 20 chapters of this work as an e-book, and I want to thank my commenters for pointing out to me that there are issues in the manuscript with missing words. As it turns out, the word processor I've been using isn't really up to creating a book-length manuscript and messed up the document as a result, so I'm going to be acquiring a new one and releasing a new edition of the book. In the meantime, please see if you can get a refund if you've purchased the book, and I'll let you know when the new edition is ready. If you can't, I'll be adding text into the book so that you can request a free copy of the new edition. Thanks to all of you for your help in the process of making this story better all along the way!

Back to Chapter 33

Lex felt the first week in Brussels pass by in a blur, but everything had been so wonderfully new that she'd even managed to have some fun. Since they'd planned their initial shows centrally, they'd rented a house for the first month. They had shared one wall, but the basement seemed big enough that they hadn’t felt they had to worry about the neighbors complaining when they practiced. When Casey had taken some of her cookies over to the next door neighbor, they found the older woman living there to be hard of hearing anyway.

For the band, the first order of business had been shopping for musical gear that needed to be replaced, and they had been able to find the needed amps and Lou's new bass within the first afternoon of shopping. It had taken another day of searching to replace Lex’s synthesizer and also get a new laptop for Riss.

Since Lex had gotten a different model synthesizer than before, she'd missed out on a couple of sightseeing days while programming the new sounds but insisted on being included when her friends visited the Comic Strip Center museum.

She'd seen the pictures from the days when she hadn’t been able to accompany her friends, and it had seemed like everyone had been having fun. Riss had posted a number of the photos on their website so that their fans could see what the band had been up to.

“Maybe they can feel like they came along, too, even if they can’t afford the airfare,” Riss had commented to Lex as she’d posted another batch online.

Lex had found it interesting that everyone had split up and gone to see the sights they found compelling, but they had all ended up going to the Comic Strip Center together. She hadn’t been able to help but smile wistfully when they passed exhibits centering on superhero comics and felt a lump in her throat as she saw her friends doing the same. They had haunted the exhibits like ghosts for some time, and then all had seemed to want to leave at the same time, meeting on the cobblestones outside, Lex noting that most of her friends had seemed to be examining their shoes

“OK, I want to see the chocolate museum next,” Lex had said with a smile on her face that she didn't feel in her heart. “Who wants to come along?”

As the time drew near to their first show, set for the Tuesday of the second week since they’d arrived in Brussels, the band managed to get in a couple of good practice sessions and everyone seemed to feel good about kicking off the tour. On the night of the show they arrived early to make sure they learned the location, and Lex smiled at how happy Casey seemed to be to find nearby parking.

They disembarked to the cobblestone streets and sidewalks Lex had become used to seeing in most of the city, and she took a moment to appreciate the old stone church they'd parked next to. She found it a nice contrast to the tall townhouses across the street, and she found herself smiling as she caught the scent of the waffle shop they'd passed down the way. Still grinning, Lex began moving at a half-jog to catch up with her friends, now halfway down the block.

When they made their way into the club, Lex smiled to find it large and comfortable, built in the basement of a medium-sized office building. Casey ordered a beer and started talking to the bartender about the best place to set up to sell CDs and download cards, Victor wandered the room, looking at speaker placement, while the other four stared up at the stage.

“How many people do you think will be here?” Kate asked, looking dubiously at the few people sitting at tables, having a drink and chatting.

Riss shrugged. “I made sure to publicize where we are on our site for each show. Hopefully that brings out some people, because a good number of people in Europe have bought our music.”

Lou had gone to speak with Casey and now rejoined the rest of the band. “The bartender said we can bring our gear in and store it behind the stage until we go on.”

Lex nodded and followed her friends as they all brought their things inside. She and the other band members began to notice people arriving for the show in the half-hour that followed, but when they started to set up their instruments shortly thereafter, Lex glanced out at the big room to see that it had almost filled up. She noted that all of the tables had been taken and some people had begun standing in groups in any open spot. Some of them applauded as the sound check began, and Lex felt her cheeks flame in response.

Lex smiled and thanked them, then sang some new lyrics for her vocal sound check.

Counting the days to come ahead are nothing to those remaining behind
Wild silences envelop all of the time around
And yet all of us come to the ground unheard, changing silences into words

She ducked her head as people clapped again when she finished her sound check, but smiled anyway and bowed to the crowd. Not long afterwards, they began the show. By the time they played the first few bars of the first song, the room had filled to the point that those standing had little room to maneuver and those sitting couldn't easily stand. Lex took a few deep breaths, playing the long introduction to the first song, and smiled just before she started to sing. She'd decided that she would give these people the kind of show that they'd put on just before they'd left Phoenix and not try to rein her singing in at all.

The silence that greeted end of the first song caused to Lex open her eyes to look at the crowd, almost at the same time the thunderous applause started. The crowd continued to become more enthusiastic as the band played, eventually requesting multiple encores. Finally, they wrapped up the show and moved their gear off stage. Afterwards, they chatted with fans as the second band set up, discussing the performance and signing CDs or posters offered to them. Once the next band started to play, however, the four band members excused themselves and began moving their gear outside. As they went into the long hallway that led to street level, however, they stopped due to the man standing in front of them, blocking their way.

Lex had been leading the group and now stood face-to-face with him. He stood only a few inches taller than her, but as Lex studied his broad shoulders and solid look, she decided he must be a weightlifter. The dark business suit and silk tie made him stand out, in Lex's opinion, since most of the other people who'd attended the show had seemed to have dressed fairly casually, but she felt something else emanating from him that sent a chill down her spine. A feeling of power came from him and it made Lex's companions also stop in place and pay attention.

“Hello, Lex,” he said as he brought his eyes to meet hers. Suddenly, she shivered as she met his gaze, noticing his eyes—a dark, rich gold, like an old piece of brass that had come to life—and that the way he stood, preternaturally still, unnerved her. “I'd like to talk to you. To all of you, really.”

A moment later, Lex looked up as Lou stepped in front of her, half blocking her from the man in front of them. “What is it that you want?” Lou asked, his voice as calm and sonorous as always.

Then Kate flanked Lex's other side, leaving her plenty of room to see, but making it clear to the man in front of them that their group had been prepared for a confrontation. “Yeah, what do you want?” she echoed, her hands by her sides but not relaxed.

The man held his hands out in front of him in a friendly way, and Lex could feel everyone around her relax, just a little. “Please, I am not here to harm anyone. I am here to convey an offer to your group, so I was hoping that I could treat you to something to eat and that we could discuss it over a meal.”

The four of them exchanged looks then, with Lou shrugging very slightly, seeming to mean that he didn't mind hearing the man out, Kate raising an eyebrow as if she didn't know what to think yet, and Riss nodding slightly, obviously willing to listen.

“All right,” Lex said, looking cautiously at the man in the suit. “We'll need to consult with the rest of our friends and see what they think, but I think we'll be able to hear what you have to say.”

“Excellent,” he said with a small, reassuring smile. “I don't think you'll regret it.”

They went back into the club and Kate went to round up and talk to Casey and Victor. A few minutes later, all three had joined the rest of the group.

“All right,” Casey said, looking a little suspiciously at the man in the suit. “Let's get the gear and pack it up and then we can listen what this guy has to say.”

Once they'd stowed the gear in the van, the man mentioned that the cafe he'd been thinking of taking them to was around the corner, so they walked over there. The stars shone brightly overhead with the crispness of early fall, and Lex glanced up at them once or twice, wanting to appreciate them but still worried about the newcomer.

It wasn't until everyone had a warm drink and had ordered something to eat that the stranger started talking. Lex noted his excellent English and that she also heard a slight German accent as he spoke.

“Thanks to all of you for hearing me out,” he said, glancing around the table. “To begin with, my name is Rolf Kaiser. I should also add that I know it's probably surprising to get to a foreign country and have a strange person wanting to speak with you like this.”

“How do you know the name Lex?” Kate asked in a hard voice, and Lex could hear the distrust in it.

The man sighed almost imperceptibly and then returned Kate's gaze. “Actually, we've had people watching you since you arrived.”

“Watching us? What is it that we've done?” Casey asked, almost standing up in her anger.

He shook his head in response. “It's not anything that you've done, but what you are capable of doing. We don't often get visitors from America like yourselves.”

“Yeah, they like to keep us pretty locked up,” Kate murmured. Lex elbowed her friend, hoping that the man in front of them wouldn't notice.

“What is it you're getting at?” Lex said, meeting the man's gaze.

“I mean that it's very rare for any American who can do the types of things all of you can do to be seen outside America. That being the case, if anyone like you manages to make it here, we usually tail them for a time to find out more about them.” He paused, surveying the faces at the table, and whatever he saw in their eyes seemed to be enough to make him continue.

“A lot of the time we simply keep an eye on things and just note where people are traveling as a precaution. The normal channels are set up to handle average people, but I think everyone at this table knows that no one sitting here is average.”

He challenged them with a look to disagree, but no one spoke up. Nodding to himself as if he'd received a confirmation, he continued. “However, it was determined that I should come to speak to you for a couple of reasons. For one, we think that one of you–” here, he broke off and looked directly at Riss, “has been accessing some computer networks here without authorization, and I was asked to request that you stop that.”

Riss' eyebrows were both raised as she returned the man's look, but she said nothing.

“In the second place,” he continued, looking at all of them, “due to what we've been able to find out about all of you, as a representative of the European Union, I'd like to pass this offer along to you.”

He took a small briefcase off the floor and opened it, then put a file folder in the middle of the table. “You'll find a contract in there. Please review it; hire a lawyer to review it as well, if you like.”

Lex reached forward to take the folder, but looked up at the man, her eyebrows drawn down. “What is this for?” she asked dubiously.

Rolf answered, “We'd like to offer all of you spots on our Special Forces teams here in Europe. From what we've been able to tell, it seems a few of you have skills that we've never seen before, and the rest have a level of skill that would be a valuable addition to any team you might be placed on. The contract explains a bit more about what would be expected and the level of pay, but please let me assure you that there is nothing underhanded in it. Everything you would be expected to do is contained there; there are no hidden expectations.”

“You say that like you've had to say it before,” Kate said, and although Lex could hear that her friend had begun to feel more comfortable, it seemed Kate still didn't fully trust Rolf.

“Yes. I've learned to add that because people that we choose to extend an offer to that have come from America get very nervous once I hand them a contract,” he said, giving all of them a curious glance.

“There's good reason for that,” Lex said as she put the folder in front of her. “How long do we have to review this?”

“Take as long as you like,” Rolf said as he leaned back in his chair. “You'll find my card inside; you can call me if you have questions. If you want to, I can get you the contact information for some other American expatriates who have accepted our offer, and you can see firsthand what they think.”

“OK, thanks,” Lex said, wondering if she was missing something. She looked at him hesitantly, suddenly noticing the man's thick black hair, so dark that his highlights shone blue. The look on his face seemed kind as he met her gaze a moment later, but Lex dragged her eyes away, trying to think of anything that still needed to be asked. As something occurred to her, she spoke up again.

“So, can we continue our tour?” she asked, meeting Rolf's eyes once more.

He looked surprised. “Yes, certainly. I understand you're all here legally, because otherwise someone else entirely would have been sent to speak to you. No one is trying to impede your movements. The only thing I would ask is that you contact me when you've made a decision, one way or the other.”

“All right,” Lex said quietly, then looked around the table to see if anyone had anything else to add. Riss spoke up after a moment.

“If we decide to join,” she asked, “do we get citizenship here?”

Rolf nodded in response. “Yes, that's part of the offer. Citizenship plus a reasonable salary, and access to, in my opinion, some of the finest training facilities in the world, and resources to help you do your job better.”

“Which would be what, exactly?” Kate asked, her voice still sounding a bit suspicious.

Smiling, Rolf responded, “Helping people, usually. What else would a bunch of superheroes want to do?”

The entire table was silent after he said that, examining each other with raised eyebrows and a few silly smiles. After a few moments, Rolf stood.

“Ladies, gentlemen, it's been a pleasure to meet you. Please read through our offer carefully, and, personally, I hope you'll accept. I think you'll find the life is something you can enjoy and feel good about.”

“How do you know?” Lex asked, her brow furrowed in confusion.

Rolf smiled an expansive smile then as he met her gaze. “Because I'm on one of the teams. From what I've heard and seen of all of you, it seems like you'd fit right in with the type of people there and the sorts of things we usually end up doing.”

“What's your special talent?” Kate asked excitedly, her suspicion suddenly gone.

Rolf gave her, then the rest of the table, a considering look. “Ask me that again when you're ready to share the story of how the entire group of you not only managed to make it out of America at all, but together and in style.”

He smiled and gave a bow before going to the counter to pay the check. Lex looked blankly down at the folder in her hands for a moment before she gazed back up to watch him walk out the door.

As they walked back to the van later, Kate moved forward to walk next to Lex, then elbowed her. “Hey, I saw you checking him out.”

Lex turned to look at her friend with wide eyes. “I was not! Would you stop it!” she hissed, looking around to see if anyone else heard.

“Yes, you were,” Casey's voice floated back to the two of them, as the taller woman turned her head to smirk at the two of them. “Why not? He was really cute.”

“Agreed,” Victor said from behind Kate and Lex.

Lex just hung her head for a moment, then looked over at Riss, who gave a gentle smile in return. She forced out a sigh as she put her hands in her coat pockets against the night chill, folder tucked underneath her arm.

“So, I guess this means all of you have made up your minds?” Lex asked as she glanced around at her friends.

Casey glanced backwards before she spoke. “We can talk about it more when we get back home, but yeah, pretty much. I figure that's what we wanted, anyway—citizenship so that we could be safe here. It even involves a job, which is definitely fine by me.”

As she looked around, Lex could see most of her friends nodding. She sighed with exasperation in return. “But we haven't even looked at the contract yet! Maybe there are some terrible things in it,” Lex concluded.

Casey stopped then, turning to look at Lex with a laugh. “Then you should definitely be the person to take a look at it, because you were the one who looked so closely at the last one. Do you think you can review it and let us know so that we can figure out what we're going to do by the time we leave this city for the rest of the tour in two and a half weeks?”

Lex sighed. “That's part of the problem, Casey. The contract we all signed had some bad stuff in it, well, except for you, Lou,” she said, turning a little to look at the man in question. “Maybe there will be things not in the contract like there were before.”

Shrugging, Casey continued walking forward. “If that's the case, I think we can handle it. We did it once before, didn't we?”

“I guess,” Lex said with a sigh, feeling uneasy still but somehow comforted by Casey's words.

A few days later, Lex found herself feeling even easier in her mind about the offer but still worried. She'd read the contract through a couple of times, carefully. The document had been short enough so that it hadn't been too difficult, and it also seemed that whoever had written it up had been trying to be clear in what they'd said. From what she could tell, it seemed much more like a normal employment contract than the one she'd read in America, but she wanted to be sure.

Lex had taken most of a day to find an English-speaking employment contract lawyer, and Riss had helped her find information about some of the lawyers in town to select one that people seemed to think the most highly of. With the contract folder in hand, Lex set out from the house for her appointment. Since no one else had an interest, Lex ascended the stairs of the old building on her own and came to the fourth-floor offices marked for the lawyer she had an appointment with.

“Mr. Mathieu,” announced the young woman in the blue business suit who showed Lex into a small office.

Lex came forward over the well-worn Persian carpet to shake the older man's hand. He'd dressed in a pressed grey pinstripe suit with a white shirt and striped tie, his grey hair short and combed back, not one strand out of place. He looked at Lex over the top of his black plastic framed glasses and smiled.

“Well, young lady,” he said, the smile carrying over to his voice, “what is it that I can help you with?”

His English had a slight accent that Lex hadn't heard before but assumed was Flemish. She smiled in return, still feeling somewhat off-balance, but sat in the chair in front of his desk and slid the folder she carried across the desk at him.

“My friends and I received this employment offer. I was hoping you could take a look at it and let me know if there are any hidden surprises in the contract and whether it looks like it's on the level or not.”

She waited while he opened the folder and noted when his eyebrow went up as he saw the first page. He took it and held it up to the light, then nodded.

“It passes the first test of actually being an official EU contract,” he said, holding the page up for her to see the back of it overhead. “If you take a look here, you can see the watermark. With these types of contracts, they're supposed to have this mark.”

Lex eyed the complex of letters on a shield over twined vines and then noted the swords on either side of the shield. She nodded as she looked back at the lawyer.

“It sounds like you've seen these types of contracts before?” she asked, her own eyebrow rising as she let the question settle in the air.

He nodded at her, his smile broadening a bit. “Oh, yes. It seems that the Special Forces like to catch you Americans as you visit Brussels, so I've seen a few of these before.”

Her eyes widened. “What do you–” she stopped, not certain what she wanted to say. “I guess I figured this sort of thing was secret.” She knew her confusion showed in her face as she looked at the older man, but his smile held steady.

“Certainly their business isn't well known to the general public, but I have a young relative who's in the Special Forces. When I see her at family events we sometimes get to talking about business, and she's not shy about telling me things that aren't supposed to be secret.”

“I see,” Lex said, feeling even more confused.

The lawyer's smile seemed unwavering, however, as he continued. “I won't charge you my full fee for reviewing this, since from just glancing at the document I can tell that it's the same contract I've seen before but customized for your group, so it won't be as much work for me as a new contract review. I will review it thoroughly, however, and I'll let you know if I find anything strange. Is the beginning of next week soon enough for you?”

Lex nodded, smiling. “That would be really great, Mr. Mathieu. Thank you for being willing to take care of this so quickly.”

“Not at all,” he said, standing to shake her hand again as she rose to go. “I welcome the chance to help, and I hope that you enjoy your time here in Brussels.”

Lex thought about her meeting with the lawyer on the subway ride home but decided that she probably just shouldn't worry unless her final meeting with the lawyer turned up something odd. The days in between seemed to fly by, especially since they had a show to play over the weekend, which the entire band agreed went better than anticipated. Having Casey inform everyone that they'd probably need to order more CDs sooner than expected, since they continued to sell well at shows, had definitely been a bonus.

So, in what felt sooner than she'd anticipated, Lex sat in front of the lawyer’s desk again, watching a beam of late day sunlight find its way across his desk.

“As expected,” he began, “the contract is standard for others I’ve examined before, with the exception that it covers six people. The terms of employment seem normal: citizenship, a position, salary, expectations, etc. You can get further details within the contact, but as an overview, the standard schedule is a five day, thirty-five hour week to actually be on the premises of the central headquarters buildings of the area where you’re assigned, and to be on call to some extent when you’re not actually working normal hours. I assume this has to do with utilizing everyone’s special talents as needed.

“As you requested, I tried to find anything that seems ambiguous or would leave open large holes as to intent or expectations, but the contract is worded straightforwardly for the most part, and I don’t legally see any way they could get around that.”

He looked at Lex then, and she smiled at him in return. “I know you haven’t requested me to advise you about this choice, but if you had I would encourage you to accept this offer, since it seems fair and aboveboard. Of course, my opinion may not suit you, so you must determine for yourselves what you wish to do. If you take a quick look at the contract, I’ve tried to identify any areas you might want to ask your contact for more information about.”

Lex smiled at him, feeling her shoulders descend a few inches after hearing Mr. Mathieu's opinion on the contract. She flipped through the papers to glance at his notes (on sticky papers, attached to the relevant sections), closed the folder and met his eyes again.

“Thanks so much for reviewing this, and for your advice,” Lex said, standing to leave and shaking his hand. “I’ll be sure to think it all over before the next time I talk to our contact.”

“Good luck to you, young lady,” Mr. Mathieu said as he let go of her hand. “I’m sure you’ll be successful no matter what you decide.”

That night when she got home, Lex called everyone together so she could discuss her findings. She explained the responsibilities and work structure that she'd confirmed with the lawyer, and the fact that the contract seemed plainly worded enough that it couldn't be assumed to incorporate anything that hadn't been called out. Lex looked around the table when she'd finished speaking in order to see what the rest of the group seemed to think.

“It sounds fair to me,” Kate spoke up. “I think we should take it.”

Riss and Victor both nodded in response to Kate's statement, neither adding anything else. Looking over at Casey and Lou, Lex could see the two looking at each other as if deep in conversation, but neither spoke. After a few moments, Lou smiled subtly and Casey broke out into a grin.

“We agree,” Casey said. “Let's do it.”

“There's one more thing I wanted to talk to all of you about,” Lex said, looking cautiously around the table. “I wanted to get everyone's agreement on this before I talked about it to the people who're making us this offer, though. I want to see if we can get the Chens included—Lily, Mr. Chen, and Lily's little boy. I know that it would be something extra, and that the Chens might not go for it, but I feel I owe it to them to try, at least. I'm not saying that we shouldn't go for it if the people here say no, but I would like to ask and give it a try. What do you all think?”

Lex brought her gaze up for the first time since saying her piece, not sure of her reception. The first person she saw was Kate, nodding fiercely.

“Hell yes,” she said. “I owe her, and I'd like it if I had a chance to pay her back.”

“Well, you know I wouldn't say no to getting the Chens here,” Casey chimed in with a smile. “I'd love to be able to work with Mr. Chen again, and I owe Lily so much for keeping you alive.”

Riss responded, “Yes. Let's try at least, because without what she did for us, we never would have ended up here in the first place.”

“Let's do it,” Victor added. “I think they'd be strong additions to our team.”

Lex looked curiously at him for a moment, but Kate spoke up to answer her unasked question. “We both met Mr. Chen. Do you remember back after you defeated George? He made it a point to find out who trained you, and managed to have Mr. Chen reassigned to giving him lessons instead. Victor and I sat in on a session, and it was funny: I could tell he didn't want to train George. But, that wasn't much of an issue because of how lazy George is.”

Nodding, Lex responded, “Yeah, he's about the last person Mr. Chen would ever want to teach.” She looked over to Lou and asked, “What do you think?”

He nodded in response. “I saw what Lily was able to do for Kate, and I've seen the results of the training that Mr. Chen gave you and Casey. I agree that they would both be good to have around, and that we owe them. Let's give it a try.”

Letting out a breath she hadn't been of holding in, Lex spoke again. “Thanks, you guys. I'll give Rolf a call and set up a meeting to talk about it, then. Who'd like to go with me?”

There were glances around the table as everyone started to rise, then a chorus of “Not me,” and “We trust you, Lex,” followed by a few smug smirks, until she sat at the table alone. She looked after them for a moment as she got out her phone and started dialing. “You guys,” she muttered to herself, feeling her cheeks heating up with a blush as she put the phone to her ear to listen to it ring.

She and Rolf met in a restaurant near the middle of the city for lunch on one of the days the band didn't have a show. In a few days, the group would leave the city to widen their tour, and Lex already felt bad about it. She'd come to like the city, with its beautiful old stone buildings and friendly people, and to her surprise she looked forward to returning.

As she scanned the busy restaurant, full of people who seemed to be on lunch break from their work, Lex spotted Rolf at a corner table. He waved in her direction, which she returned, ducking her head, then headed in his direction.

She felt ridiculous, but she tried to swallow it down and act as if everything seemed normal. It had started a couple of hours ago as she’d stood in front of her small closet, staring at the contents and wishing that she could change them. It's just a lunch meeting, she had tried to tell herself, ignoring the butterflies in her stomach. Due to the quick move and the fact that they hadn't had a lot of time to go clothes shopping, her choices had seemed limited to clothing she wore onstage and a few casual outfits besides.

After a while, Lex had chosen a simple black t-shirt with a v-neck that didn't dip too low and some black jeans paired with boots. She’d looked at herself in the mirror with trepidation, however, not wanting to show up looking completely gothic. At that moment, Riss had walked by and caught sight of Lex looking into the mirror. The other woman had slowed as she passed and then backed up so the doorway framed her slim figure.

“Isn't today the day you're having lunch with Rolf?” Riss had asked, smiling one of her barely-there smiles.

“Yeah,” Lex had muttered, shooting Riss a glare from under her lids.

“Hey, there's no need to be all defensive,” Riss had said as she had entered Lex's room and stood to the side, looking at Lex's reflection as well. “That's really, uh, dark, you know.”

“I know,” Lex had said, an edge of despair in her voice. “I don't have a lot of choice, though. I guess I should have packed more clothes, but there's no time to go shopping right now or anything.”

“No, but,” Riss had trailed off, looking at Lex's reflection thoughtfully. After a moment she’d smiled, the effect more pronounced.

“I'll be right back,” Riss had said finally, darting out of Lex's door only to reappear seconds later with a small, dark green jacket.

Lex had looked it over as Riss had handed it to her, shaking it out and holding it up in front of her. It had had almost a military style cut but with simpler lines. She’d put it on and buttoned the cuffs at her wrists, then checked the collar, making sure she'd folded it over properly. The jacket had fallen to her hipbones, and as Lex had looked at it in the mirror, she’d found herself smiling because it had seemed like the perfect thing to add. Her outfit now had looked put together instead of like something scraped out of the bottom of her closet.

“Thank you, Riss! So you don't mind if I borrow this?” Lex had asked, fingering the jacket as she looked at her friend.

“That's what I brought it over here for. I could tell you wanted to look good for your date,” Riss had said, her smile a bit sly this time.

“Riss, it's not a date,” Lex had replied as she looked away, able to see her blush in the mirror out of the corner of her eye.

“For you, I wish it was,” her friend had said. “The entire time I’ve known you I've never seen you look at a guy like you looked at him. Don't you think it's time to forget about what happened with your fiancé and move on?”

Lex had stared at Riss in the mirror for a moment, her wide eyes showing her surprise. Finally she had turned to look at her friend, and Riss had continued.

“I wasn't there for the whole moving adventure, but Casey told me all about it. I wish Serena had taken him to the North Pole and left him there, the jackass. You spend all your time worrying about everyone else, but I think you should think about yourself sometimes, too. There's a lot of guys out there who'd be smart enough to treat you right. and I don't think it'll be too hard for you to find one.”

Ducking her head for a moment, Lex had then turned to look at Riss. “Thanks,” she’d said as she’d impulsively turned to hug her friend.

She had heard Riss chuckle near her ear, then Lex had pulled back. “Have a good time today and don’t just be all business,” Riss had replied.

Nodding, Lex had turned back to the mirror when a question had come to her mind. She had caught Riss’ gaze in the reflection and asked, “So, what about you?”

Riss’ eyes had widened before she laughed. Lex had watched as Riss had looked thoughtfully into the middle distance, and then the other woman had locked gazes with her again. “Don’t worry about me, I’m already spoken for.”

Lex’s mouth had fallen open as she’d looked at her friend. “Why didn’t you mention this before? Who is he? Or she?” Lex had quickly amended, mentally thanking Serena.

Laughing, Riss had answered, “He. And I haven’t mentioned him before because, well…it’s hard to explain. I promise I’ll introduce you all soon, I just need some more time to figure out how.”

Brow furrowed, Lex had spoken up as something had occurred to her. “Do you see each other online?” she’d asked.

“Yeah, something like that,” Riss had said, her cryptic smile in evidence again. “Soon, Lex. But you’d better get going to your lunch or you’ll be late.”

Seeing that Riss was right, Lex had grabbed her bag and run out the door, just pausing to stick her head back around the doorjamb to say, “Thanks again, Riss!” Her grin had kept up all the way to the meeting place, at least until she'd spotted Rolf across the room and her nervousness took over.

Forward to Chapter 35
Comments about anything you liked or that you thought could be improved are extremely welcome! The next installment will be posted on 19 March, 2015.

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what the ban had been

ban = band

Thank you for reading and commenting, and this has now been updated. Another set of eyes is always appreciated, and I hope you liked the chapter.

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