012

012 Teenage Hierarchy.

The clock was ticking and it was getting alarmingly nearer to midnight.

Tatiana Petrova suddenly knew the full meaning of that old saying. You know. A watched clock never ticks. Her meticulous gaze watched every infinite movement of the second hand as it journeyed across the clock in its continual clockwise procession. And it seemed to be moving too slow for her liking. She almost wanted to murder the clock.

Okay. So Gaia is late. No surprise there. But it seemed that with all the upheaval, she’d at least be in at a decent hour…but then again, it was Gaia Moore. The Queen of Dysfunction, the High Priestess of the Krispy Kreme Donut. Just when you thought you got it down pat, she went and surprised you. She was a talking, walking, breathing ambush/paradox, sans instruction book.

Tatiana’s fingers drummed on the couch arm impatiently. She felt like an overblown balloon, tediously being filled to capacity with air. Without a release, she would explode into a million Tatiana pieces. This was ridiculous. This girl was going to be late to her own funeral at this rate.

Thinking about death almost deflated Tatiana. The ultimate end to life. How could she think of something so horrible? Death, when the world was so filled with killers, muggers, and thousand-dollar-drug dealers?

Tatiana stood, face drawn into a determined mask. She had to do something—something—to keep her from freaking out. She didn’t want to turn all Girl, Interrupted once Gaia finally decided to return. Maybe some Britney Spears would take the edge off of her worry.

Before she could even reach out for her Oops! I Did It Again enhanced CD, there was a click. The click inspired a glimmer of hope to surge through her. Then fear. It could be an intruder, you idiot!!

But then again, did intruders have long extra-silky (okay, sometimes, on a really good day) hair, cargo pants, and hands capable of breaking you in a million different places? Well, Tatiana hoped not, because then they would all look like Gaia.

The held-up air whooshed out of Tatiana, leaving indignant anger inside of her.

“How could you have me worry like this?!” Tatiana demanded, the picture of a primetime soap prima donna with not enough figures on her bankroll. Gaia paused momentarily, not knowing whether to be afraid or super annoyed. Well, she couldn’t be afraid, so she settled for annoyed instead.

“Tatiana,” she muttered, “chill. I’m home.”

Tatiana let out a long, exasperated, I-can’t-believe-she’s-acting-so-blasé sigh and plopped down onto the couch. She held her head in her hands, a major tension headache threatening to take over her sanity, when Gaia spoke…

“Hey, you hungry?”

…But it wasn’t to Tatiana…

“We’ve got all kinds of food.”

…So who was it?

Tatiana raised her head…and found herself face-to-face with a girl with large blue eyes. She was kind of tall for her age, and her eyes had some kind of hard-knock life sort of maturity to them. The sight startled her more than the Showgirls movie, and she jumped to her feet, therefore startling the girl onto her butt on the carpet.

“You!” Tatiana shrieked. If she had a chair to stand on top of and a broom, she would have reminded the girl of the time when her pet mouse had gotten loose in the house and her mother found it. But now she was more focused on the fact that this dainty blonde was glaring at her like she shot J.R. and the deputy.

Gaia drifted back into the living room then, wondering what Tatiana was yelling about. It was kind of amusing seeing Tatiana playing her role as high-strung Queen Bee in the teenage hierarchy. And poor Josie was stuck being the geek peon, only there to make sure Queen Tee got her bottled water from Aquafina and not Dasani. Gaia sighed and decided to rectify the situation before a catfight ensued. That was just what she needed to end the night. A Jerry Springer-knock-down, drag-out fight.

“Tatiana, Josie. Josie, Tatiana.”

Josie stood. She brushed some imaginary specks of dust off of her already grubby pajamas and held out her hand to Tatiana. Gaia guessed that her parents taught her the importance of politeness. Either that or she was a charm school dropout. But whatever the case, Tatiana shook it in quasi-apology, face contrite like a kid that had just spilled chocolate all over her parents’ landlord.

“Sorry,” Tatiana said to Josie. “I got a little freaked in there.”

Josie frowned. “Um, don’t you mean, freaked out?”

Tatiana paused. Then she smiled and nodded. “Um yes…that is what I meant.”

Gaia turned away from the scene and decided to get something to eat. Josie and Tatiana would be alright on their own. When Gaia re-entered the room with some powdered sugar donuts, Josie was crying and Tatiana was consoling her like a Russian version of Sally Jessy Raphael. Josie looked up and saw Gaia, wiping her eyes.

“I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “I was just thinking about home and stuff. You know how it is. I got homesick.”

Gaia nodded, and Tatiana too. Gaia knew the waves of hollowness and despondency that Josie was feeling. She felt it every time the thought of her mother surfaced, with her beauty and warmth. She plopped down in a chair, the heaviness back.

“What was your home like?” Tatiana asked.

Josie sighed. “It was a crazy, fun-filled place,” she admitted. “It could go from calm to crazy in sixty seconds. People would be in and out. Mom was—I mean, is a very popular person…she had friends over all the time.” She smiled, a memory springing to mind. “My favorite was Uncle Tom.”

Gaia gave a start at the sound of her father’s name. Uncle Tom?! No…it can’t be… “Uncle Tom?” she croaked.

“Yeah…you know, um…he was in that movie…um…with, um…that girl from Charlie’s Angels—”

Gaia breathed easier as Tatiana tried to think of the identity of Josie’s “Uncle Tom.” “Um…you mean that movie…what was it called again? Chocolate Sky?”

“Vanilla Sky,” Josie corrected.

Tatiana’s face lit up in recognition as if a lightbulb had just gone bright in her head. “Oh yes…the boys of Russia like his movies…especially the one where he dances around…um, Frisky Business?”

Gaia couldn’t help letting out a snicker. It was so funny hearing Tatiana rattle off some movie that was probably a hit in porn downloads on the Internet than a box-office smash.

“Um, Risky Business, Tatiana,” Josie supplied, trying to contain her laughter. She shook her head and gestured to the powdery donuts sitting in Gaia’s lap. Gaia offered her one and Josie ate it whole. It startled Tatiana to see her new guest have such a skill at gluttony. Gaia suddenly felt like she could get along with the girl. Downing the powdery confection with no manners whatsoever placed Josie in a good light in Gaia’s book.

“So…Josie…” Josie raised an eyebrow at the Russian teen, wondering what her careful attempts at a conversation were going. “Um, why are you in pajamas?”

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