In which our hero turns 19 and gets a few small surprises, with more to come.
"Hey! Stop that! It tickles! Stop licking my face!"
"Yes, yes, I'll get up soon!" Kurt pushes the mostly black cat away and sits up in bed. "You know, PawPrince, a man should be allowed to sleep in on his birthday."
"It's all about you, isn't it, you greedy kitten?"
The floor is cold to his feet, but not unbearably so. It isn't winter yet, for another month or two. The cat bounces ahead of him happily, eager for breakfast. No, PawPrince is not a kitten anymore. The sleek dark shape is fully grown now, or very nearly so. Seen from behind the cat is all black, like some witch's familiar. Only his throat and forepaws are white, and the insides of his ears are also pale for some reason. The rest of him is pitch black, the same color as Kurt's own hair.
As the cat attacks his breakfast, Kurt goes to the bathroom and closes the door behind him. A look in the large mirror reminds him that he is not a kitten anymore himself. 19 years, already. He slips out of the pajamas bottom. In some ways he has already been an adult for years, much good it had done him. He may not be the world's oldest virgin, but certainly the oldest here in Fjordby. At least if he can trust the colorful stories of his classmates; he isn't entirely sure of that, but there is probably no smoke without fire.
Not that he is entirely without fire himself, he thinks as he enters the shower. But it is a fire that only burns himself, heating no one. He shrugs and lets the cold water run over his sinewy body. 19 years old, eh? The best years of his life, spent studying mechanics and electronics at Fjordby Technical College. Is he going to end up like his father?
Kurt has only met his father a few times in his life. Renaud Depiesse lives in another country, in a mostly underground lair far from the nearest farm. Known by the locals as "the mad inventor", Renaud pursues his technological innovations with single minded purpose. The only person who has ever managed to distract him for a while was Megan Wiik, the just as crazy New-Age archaeologist The story of their meeting and wild love was one of the first things Kurt remember hearing (over and over). But wild love or not, his parents only meet once or twice a year. Kurt grew up in his mother's home, although even during his school years she spent most of the time searching around the globe for ancient artifacts. Her mother again had taken care of him during those years. And now, he cannot even take care of her. Professionals keep an eye on her over at the "home", making sure she doesn't run off to feed the chickens. Kurt is alone in the house with his cat. Well, for the most part.
DING-DONG! "KURT? KURT??" He should probably be thankful that PawPrince woke him up, otherwise she might have done it. He quickly steps out of the shower and starts to dry himself off. "KURT! ARE YOU EVEN AWAKE?" There is no mistaking her voice. He can hear the door as she locks herself in. Why his mother ever gave Bodil Sandslie a key to their front door remains a mystery, but she must have done so because he is pretty sure he never did. Of course, she might just have appropriated one for the good cause. She may be his best friend since high school – OK, pretty much his only close friend – but that kind of familiarity is slightly unnerving.
"KURT? ARE YOU THERE?"
"I'm right here, Bodil. Don't come..."
He knew he should have locked that door.
"Kurt, you crazy perv! What was the point of that?"
"Showering naked is a tradition in my family. I don't know about yours..."
"Then why did you call for me?"
"I did not call for you! I called to tell you not to enter!"
"As if I could hear that! You boys are all crazy perverts!"
"Says the girl who runs in on me without even knocking!"
"As if I ever had any interest in seeing you wet and naked!"
"That would sound a lot more believable if it was the first time."
"And after that time, why didn't you learn to lock the doggone door?"
"Because I am alone in the house, is why. Or was until you suddenly showed up."
"Could you please put some clothes on? It feels stupid to talk to a door all day."
"My clothes are still in the bedroom! Could you please hide in the kitchen or something meanwhile?"
"OK OK! But you're doing this on purpose."
A bit later Kurt comes into the kitchen. "So what makes you show up here this early in the morning? You usually come in the afternoon."
"I wanted to give you your birthday present before you go to class."
"Birthday present? From whom?"
"From me, you moron! Who do you think would send me with a present, the King of France?"
"France is a republic these days, in case you hadn't heard."
"That is not the point and you know it! Now unpack your birthday present before I'm too late for school!"
"Wow, a present for me."
"Don't get any ideas. It's just that after the LED brake lights you gave me for my birthday, and with the winter coming on and all that, I just had no choice."
"Winter, eh?" He takes the weirdly packaged object from her hands and starts to open it. There is way too much gift wrap and it is wrapped in strange ways. She has definitely done this alone without her mother's help. Curiouser and curiouser. Finally the wrappings open, and he gazes upon the shortest, ugliest azure knitted scarf known to man or beast.
"Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to YEEOOOW!!"
"Bad kitten! Bad, bad kitten! No surgery on conscious patients!"
"Oww oww oww! How can such a small animal have so long claws?"
"Adamantium skeleton, part of a top secret government project."
"That's not funny!"
Actually, it was, but he does not feel like debating the point. Instead he locks the cat in the living room for the duration.
"I am sure he drew blood."
"We better check out your shoulder. I'll find the med kit while you take off your top. Uh, you do have something under, right?"
"What do you think, pervo boy? Of course I have something under. Unlike some people, I don't particularly enjoy showing my flesh to the opposite sex."
PawPrince had indeed managed to draw a little blood. It was on the back of her shoulder, so Kurt had to help her clean the angry red claw marks and put on antiseptic salve and a light gauze bandage. She cringed to his touch as if his hands were static or something, but did not run away. He did feel a bit of a spark himself. Even though it was just her shoulder, touching a part of her skin that he normally did not even see... so smooth, like a small child. It felt strange, as if barely legal. Why did he have to feel like that, and with a crazy girl like her? Good thing she does not know. Perhaps she is right, and he really is a pervert of sorts. A shoulder? Come on already. Now if the crazy assassin cat had made those claw marks on her butt, that would have been something... but he better not think about that now. And it's not like she would have asked for his assistance in that case... or would she? What if...?
"Do you have to take all day? I am going to be late for class."
"Sorry." Does he have to feel guilty? It's not like he asked PawPrince to do this.
"You'd think he'd know me better by know."
Of course, that might be exactly why he did it, but Kurt knows better than to voice that suspicion. The cat's attitude to the loud visitor seems to have gradually worsened over the time they have known each other. It just might be that cats, unlike toddlers, don't think it is frightfully funny to be thrown into the air and caught again, repeatedly, every time you see them.
"There you go."
He gets a glimpse of her face before she runs away. She is literally red with anger, biting her lip. He did not know she took it that badly. He watches her bound out of the house and jump on her bike, and take off. And then brake like crazy and turn back.
"You're not going anywhere after school! I'm coming to pick you up, just so you know!" And then she's off again.
He looks at the malformed excuse for a scarf, now lying on the kitchen table. It looks like something an 8 year old could have knitted. An 8 year old boy. She has probably worked on it for a month, he realizes. Why does she suddenly now and then pretend to be a girl, when she is so good at being one of the guys? She's more one of the guys than he is, at least. Still, A+ for effort. He's probably never going to wear it, but he sure as shards will never throw it away. He'll still have it around somewhere when he retires, of this he is sure.
Classes were alright. Nobody at the college knew it was his birthday, of course. The Technical College draws students from all over the country, as there are few students in each high school that takes such an exclusive interest in engineering and technology these days. It seems far more popular to study something vague and abstract, like literature or feminism. This has always baffled Kurt, since technology is what makes modern society work. Of course there should always remain a core of sages preserving the knowledge of history, language and the arts. Teachers of the teachers, so to speak. A civilization cannot be truly civilized by technology alone, after all. But it cannot survive without it either, less and less so for each passing year. He is proud of being a technologist, one who understand both the principles behind technology and how to implement it in practice, maintain it and improve upon it. Also, he is pretty much guaranteed a well-paid job. But unfortunately it will make him a morlock, one of the shadowy creatures that makes the machinery function but is no fun to play with.
That isn't to say he doesn't have friends at the college. But they are morlocks themselves. Geeks. Technofreaks. They will cooperate and compete in various projects. Most of them will go out and drink beer from time to time, a habit which Kurt abhors. But there is no reason why he would mention his birthday for any of them, unless they asked. Which they didn't.
On arriving home, he finds a small slip in the mailbox. It informs him that a package is waiting at the post office. As expected, it is from the French Pyrenees. So his father has still not made good on his promise to create a mail-delivery ballistic rocket with a 2-meter accuracy. This is somewhat comforting. Of course, getting a package is not. When your mother is an UFO-chasing New-Age archaeologist and your father is a mad inventor, it doesn't really matter who sends you a package. You know it cannot possibly be a good thing. Of course, ignoring it is probably going to be worse...
When he comes back from the post office with the (still unopened) box, Bodil is waiting in his living room, wearing some of her less boyish clothes. "Where in the world have you been? I told you not to run off!"
"Sorry, but I had to go to the post office and fetch the gift from my dad. Don't want him to deliver it by intercontinental ballistic missile next year, after all!"
"Okay, that makes sense, although you could have left a message for me. After all, I told you I was coming to pick you up."
"Yeah, what was that all about? What except be do you mean by picking up?"
"Obviously I mean what I say! I am coming to pick you up."
"That's not a very good pickup line, you know..."
"As in,we are going somewhere. For your birthday party. Speaking of which, I have something for you."
"You already gave it to me this morning, remember?"
"That was from me. This is from your mom."
And indeed, the box is neatly wrapped, an art Bodil is not likely to master until she has grandchildren herself. It is cubic, a little less than a foot each way. Curiously, that is the same dimension as the box from his father, although it is unlikely that they have cooperated in this. After all, they don't see each other often, and when they do he gets the impression that they have very little time for anything except each other. Theirs is a crazy romance for crazy people. Then again, as far as he is concerned, romance is always for crazy people.
"We should go" says Bodil decisively. "It's a bit of a walk to the Red Lobster. Oh, and you should probably put on some Sunday clothes or something."
"I guess. Where is PawPrince, by the way?"
"He is not going with us."
"I know. I just wondered where he was."
"In your bedroom. I don't let him sneak up on me twice in the same day."
"You're lucky. If you had chosen any other room than the bedroom, I would have heard the howls from the street."
"Funny, with me it's exactly the other way around."
Kurt is impressed. Bodil may look just as dorky as him, only in a different way; but there are times when he realizes the difference. Somehow she has managed to gather half a dozen of his buddies from high school, some of whom he has barely seen since he started college. One of them actually goes to the same college, even some of the same classes, but still hasn't given away the party with a word. Kurt had been nervous about it looking like a date, but she had meant it literally when she said a birthday party. While they don't actually have lobster, the food is excellent, and he finds himself more relaxed than he had expected.
"Bodil said it was top secret, that's why I never told anyone" says Olaf, his friend from college. "You didn't know anything until this afternoon, did you?"
"To be honest, I wasn't sure until we arrived. She did mention a birthday party, but she can be pretty creative with words sometimes."
"I heard that!"
"So you thought she might be taking you here to wash dishes because she had skipped the bill?"
"Olaf, you should take better care of your health..."
Actually, he had been worried that it might be just the two of them, and people would mistake it for a date. But he can't say that. People would mistake that too.
"So," says Uwe, who Kurt hasn't talked to in a couple months, "how are things going? Is there love in the air yet?"
"No, we're just friends" replies Kurt, still stuck in his previous thoughts.
At the exact same time, he hears Bodil saying, a bit too loudly: "Are you crazy? We're just good friends." Kurt really wish they hadn't both said it.
Uwe laughs. "I know that! I was thinking about you, Kurt, if you had found a special someone. There are some things a cat can't do, you know."
"Still studying all the time. Are things still going well with you two?"
"Never better. You can laugh and say I'm a hopeless romantic, but Linda is The One for me. I've known since before we graduated that we were meant for each other. Of course that doesn't stop me from sneaking a peek at other girls, you know, boys will be boys, right? But that's all. I've never seriously thought about anyone else after our first kiss."
"Must be nice, to find the love of your life so early."
"Well, yeah. But it's not all roses, you know. I won't get a job before I'm 22 probably. She doesn't want us to live together before we marry because of her religious parents, even though we do, you know, the things we do. And they of course don't want her to marry a student. Why do girls listen so much to their parents?"
"No idea. I guess they just aren't raised to be as independent as us."
"Well, not many people are as independent as you. Taking care of a whole house alone, and your grandma too."
"Actually she had to go to the Sunset. She was starting to wander off in the night, to feed the chickens. I had to put bells on all the doors and baby alarms, but she still managed to get lost once and I had to run all over the neighborhood trying to find her. Scary."
"Oh man. That's bad."
"That, and she had no idea who I was anymore. She thought I was her older brother."
"Well, you did the right thing then."
"Yeah, but it still sucks."
"Hey guys, how about dessert now?"
"Already?" Uwe shakes his head. "Bodil, how can you eat like that and still not get fat?"
Actually she has put on a few pounds over the last year, but it's all in the right places yet.
"Active lifestyle! Never walk when you can run, that's my principle. Also I bike a lot. It's really good for your ass muscles. Look!" Bodil stands up, turns her backside to the boys and slaps it dramatically. "I have a dream ass, but I've worked hard for it! I do all kinds of exercises."
Kurt looks at his fork. To stab eyes or not to stab eyes, that's the question. Just when he thought she was grown up, she does this. A couple guys at the table behind them whistle and cheer.
Uwe laughs. "No doubt you do. I take it you haven't found the love of your life yet either, since you have so much free time?"
"Hello? I'm not even legal in California yet!"
"But that's on another continent. And besides, you could always spend the remaining months just kissing. I bet that's legal in California."
"You know what I mean! I have plenty of time. Sooner or later the right guy will discover me."
"Or you him."
"Well, that goes without saying. Guys are so transparent."
"I'm not sure I got that. But what if you discover the right guy and he doesn't discover you? What then?"
"That ... would be ... a problem. But we should order dessert now, or it won't arrive until we are gone!"
"I think we deserve our just desserts by now" agrees Kurt, and nobody mentions love or ass anymore, or any combination of the above. Thank goodness that there are not muscles in the breasts... or are there? Probably not, or she would have mentioned it.
Not long after, they have to leave. Uwe has a long drive tomorrow morning ... he studies in the nearest city and drives every day back and forth. But first, he drives Kurt home, "since it's your birthday". Not that Kurt couldn't have walked easily. His house is on the outskirts of the town proper, but no more than that. School, shops, everything is within walking distance, except the mall, and he can take the bus if he wants to go there.
"Quite a friend you have in Bodil" says Uwe as they are driving.
"Well, she isn't half bad at organizing things. But let me warn you, don't ever let her try to do any kind of housework. She could probably burn water. I know for certain that she burns ramen noodles. Don't let her do the dishes unless you have spares. And for the love of all that is ancient and worth preserving, don't let her dust off things. She has the delicate touch of a polar bear."
"She tries to do all that in your house?"
"I think it is because her mother doesn't let her do anything at home. Her mother is the perfect housewife, evidently she has even won prizes, although I have no idea who is giving out prizes for such things. Everything is in the right place and sparkly clean, and Bodil mostly stays out of the house except to sleep. So she tries to compensate by 'helping' me. As if I don't know how to keep a house after all these years."
"So that's why she does it, eh?"
"I guess she is lucky too, to have a friend where she can play house."
"Actually I think she takes it for granted."
"We often do take things for granted while we have them, I guess. Although I try to tell Linda as often as I can that I love her and how much she means to me."
"Good for her."
"Yeah. And good for me."
"You sure have grown up lately. I mean, I used to be the serious one of us two, and look at us now."
"Oh, I think you are serious too, about what you love. It is just not the same things. Here we are, now."
Before going to bed, Kurt opens his gifts. First the one from his mother. There is a small letter inside.
I felt some awesome vibes from this ancient statuette. It depicts the immortal Bastet, goddess of cats and protector of the home. I am sure this statuette is imbued with cosmic powers by a higher race that visited our planet in the distant past! I want you to place it in your bedroom so that its protective rays can illuminate your dreams. I will probably be home before Yule. Until then I send you all my love.
Bastet, huh? It's a bronze figurine of a woman with a cat's head, or perhaps some less domesticated feline. She certainly seems to be in good shape for an ancient goddess. Didn't the "home" goddesses of the Bronze Age tend to be chubby and with overly large hips and breasts? This one looks sleek and athletic. Well, it probably can't hurt to have it in the bedroom. He certainly can't feel any vibes, or anything else peculiar about it.
The other box contains a weird little device, looking vaguely reminiscent of an old alarm clock but with strange protrusions at weird angles, made from some material which may be either an alloy or some kind of silvery plastic. Probably metal, judging from the weight.
I present you with my most awesome invention yet. The Elevatron DX9 selectively raises the lower frequencies of the probability spectrum, but only after several hours of ambient Kirlian radiaton. In other words, it will not react to random thoughts, but to the prevailing, deepest wishes of its owner, and make these more likely to manifest in consensus reality. You should keep it close to you so that it can absorb the electromagnetic radiation from your central nervous system. It will not immediately make all your dreams come true, but will gradually heighten their probability. Do not under any circumstance let this fall into the wrong hands! Destroy this letter after reading it."
Uhm, yes. Kirlian radiation from the central nervous system. This seems equally realistic as the protective cat goddess. The two of them belong together. He puts them both on the bookshelf in his bedroom. There is a kind of poetic beauty to this: Even though his parents can not stay together, now at least their gifts can stay at each other's side every day. He sighs, and turns off the light.