✨ Chapter 6 ✨

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"But, unlike Marian, Prill's an excellent cook." Maz led with his chin toward the kitchen. "Dinner is ready and waiting."

Marian stuck her tongue out, making both of them laugh. "Funny guy," she muttered. "It's a good thing you're promising food."

Sal's mouth hung open. "Yes, dinner. We'll be right there. We need to, um, freshen up a bit first," she said, pulling Marian toward a door—one that could easily be mistaken for a closet but opened into a staircase that spiraled downward, to an area of the house that held bedrooms for all the children.

Between the spinning of the staircase and her efforts at not toppling over as Sal pulled her along, Marian hadn't noticed the slap of the door shutting behind them.

"Did you hear that, Mari?" Sal squeaked once they were safely hidden inside her bedroom. "Endrik was about to call Prillene gorgeous—and then he didn't deny it when everyone said she looks like you."

Marian returned Sal's moment of panic with a dreamy smile. "I was there, you know." Shaking her head, she sighed. "I'm not sure what to make of it either."

Sal pulled a plush butterfly with heart-spotted wings from her bed and tossed it. Marian swatted before it could bop her on the nose. "What is it with you and pillows, anyway?"

"Do you realize what's happening?" Sal grabbed Marian by the elbows and gave her a good shake. "If you and Endrik get together this summer—get romantically involved—there could be distractions. We could all fail."

Marian frowned. "You wouldn't be happy for us if we were to become a couple?"

With her hands on her head, Sal spun around in circles. "No, no... It's not that. No one wants to see you and Endrik together more than I do. But the timing is wrong. We can't afford to fail." Pink blotches formed across her cheeks and nose. "We just can't..."

"Okay, okay." Marian held out her arms. "I get what you're saying. I won't push it. We'll focus on our assignment. There's always time for romance in the fall."

Sal let out a slow breath and grinned. "You mean it?"

Marian nodded.

Sal frowned as Marian's arms wrapped around her. "I'm sorry."

***

After a second helping of stew, Marian pushed her bowl away and placed her hands on her distended stomach. "That was so good."

Prillene smiled. She stood over a pot with a ladle in hand. "Are you sure that you would not like another bowl?"

"I couldn't eat another bite, honest!"

When everyone at the table laughed, Marian crossed her arms over her waist and stuck her tongue out at Sal, whose bowl of stew—from her first helping—was finally empty.

"What? I'm smaller. My stomach space is limited." Sal's lips formed a tiny smile. "And I'm holding out for the nectar ices."

"You seem to be feeling better, Mari," said Endrik. "I was worried about you earlier, given what happened in class."

Maz tilted his head. "What happened to Marian in class?"

A row of heads, crowned with various lengths of purple hair, turned to Endrik. After looking back and forth between Marian and Maz, he frowned. "Prof. C was mad at us about not being able to transform flowers, so she's forcing the class to do a Last Chance project in order to pass. She temporarily lifted the veil, allowing us to hear a cry for help. As a group, Sal, Mari, and I are supposed to answer a call and help someone."

Maz flinched when Endrik mentioned the professor's name. His gaze darkened. "What happens to those who fail to complete the project?"

"Caustica will prevent them from passing to the next level," Sal squeaked. "They won't be commissioned as Glistens." Her lower lip trembled.

"Okay," said Maz, slowly. "And what part of this concerns Marian?"

Marian opened her mouth, at a loss for words—unsure whether she should mention the strange daydream she had about the buzzing and her classmates frozen in time. Sal and Endrik thought her ridiculous already for having missed most of what had happened between the time Professor Caustica opened and shut the book. She squinted at Endrik, perhaps more intensely than intended.

Endrik gathered his and Marian's empty bowls. "She was shaken up after class, that's all," he said, turning quickly to set the bowls in a sink.

"I'm fine," said Marian. "Just tired. Now that I've had dinner, I feel much better. Don't worry about it." She shrugged. "I wasn't the one who fainted."

Maz groaned. "You three better get yourselves organized before you present your project, because right now you are the worst storytellers ever. Who fainted?"

"Minx did," said Sal with a bright smile. "The Fizzle twins had to carry her to the nurse's office. It was probably the best day of their lives!"

Maz rose from the table so abruptly that he pulled a section of tablecloth with him. Glasses, bowls, and cloth tumbled and gathered to the center of the table. Severity burned in his eyes. "Sal, you know better than to speak ill of other Glistens at the table where we share our meals."

"Wh–what? I think Minx felt the piercing of the veil, and because of that she's way ahead of us on the project. If we finish last we fail." Sal stood up as forcefully as her brother, dragging the tablecloth and its toppled contents in her direction. "Who are you to tell me what to do and embarrass me in front of my friends? You're not Dad, Maz! You'll never replace him." Sal looked down and blinked rapidly before darting out of the room.

Marian cringed at the slamming of a door. "I'm sure she didn't mean it, Maz," she whispered. "Thanks again for dinner. I'll go check on her."

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