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Friday, July 26, 2013

Cheri - Epilogue

As I stated in the final chapter, I omitted the epilogue. The last chapter ended on a note of hope, and that's exactly where I wanted to leave it, however, I was watching a video by Lindsey Stirling, and it occurred to me that one of the magical things about Cheri is that she loves to play the violin (fiddle) and takes such joy in it. It inspired me to write an entirely new epilogue which I am posting here for you all to enjoy :-)


Mama, what's that?” Princess Shurin – now six years old – asked her mother.
Chèri, Reiki, and their older children all looked up to see what she was referring to.
That's her fiddle, silly!” Princess Leelee chided almost impatiently.
What's a fiddle?” Shurin wondered curiously.
Reiki hummed in speculation. “When's the last time you played that?”
Forever ago,” Chèri murmured to her husband sadly. She hadn't had the time since Shurin was a toddler and Chèri started helping her husband with his duties more. She gestured for the young princess to bring the fiddle to her.
As soon as Shurin was settled in her lap, Chèri kissed her cheek, and then held up the instrument. “This is a magical device that brings joy to all who hear it. When played with love, this fiddle could bring tears to an old man's eyes. It could make a new bride burst with happiness. It could stop a war!”
Prince Reiki snorted in amusement, not bothering to look up from his studies. “No it can't!”
Yes it can,” his mother assured him. She looked around at her family, a frown tugging at her lips. The Emperor was busy working, her son and older daughter were both studying, she was helping her husband, and Shurin was obviously bored with the book she had been reading. Even Ran and Ko looked like they wished they were somewhere else on such a beautiful day.
A smile spread across Chèri's lips. “Hmm... why don't we all take a break. It's a beautiful day out; why not go for a palanquin ride?”
That's a brilliant idea!” Emperor Reiki agreed immediately. Ko responded by sending a servant to have the palanquin readied. The Imperial family prepared themselves for an impromptu trip, then departed when everything was ready.
Chèri ordered the palanquin bearers to take them into Nortown. She tuned her fiddle as they went, humming absently. Her children stared out the veils of the palanquin with interest; no one could see in but they could see out.
The center of town was busy as usual. People went about their lives – selling food and wares in the market or buying what they needed to cook dinner. Children from the temple ran around playfully under the watchful eye of their priestesses. All in all, it was noisy and utterly different than life in the Inner Palace.
Chèri spotted several people she knew and felt compelled to call out a command to stop. “Stay here, my loves,” she bade her children, giving each a kiss on the cheek. Her husband smiled wistfully, knowing that she would be treated far more to her liking if the people believed that she traveled alone.
Salya!” Chèri called out with a genuine smile.
Lady Chèri!” Salya cried happily. “It's been ages since I saw you!”
Lady Chèri!” The people of Nortown murmured, pleased to see her. Those that had been close to her back when she was a young woman living with her father circled around her so that she could hug them and greet them as if they were her dearest friends.
What brings you here today?” They all asked, proud that the First Queen paid them a visit.
Chèri held up her fiddle as she slowly twirled in a circle, grinning wider than she could remember doing in a long time. “I just wanted to play my fiddle, and what good is playing without an audience?”
Word of this quickly spread, and soon there was an enormous crowd piled into the center of town. They gave her plenty of room, circling around her like children listening to a storyteller. The excitement made everyone chatter while they waited, but suddenly they all fell silent.
Chèri strode to the center of her “stage” and smiled at as many people as she could before closing her eyes. She took a deep breath and prayed that she remembered what she was doing. A moment later, she began to play one of the hauntingly beautiful tunes she had learned as a child in a foreign country. It started out slowly, almost heartbreakingly.
And then it picked up until it was as lively as a wedding celebration. She hopped in time with the music for a few seconds, but the urge to dance was too strong. She was light on her feet, dancing back and forth across her stage to the rhythmic clapping of her audience. A couple of women gathered the courage to dance with her, priding themselves on their graceful footwork.
The song went on and on because Chèri just did not want to stop. She was having too much fun! It was well deserved fun too!
The crowd parted when prompted to by the Imperial Guards. A moment later, Leelee was also dancing with her mother, but Shurin merely bounced and clapped a few feet in front of her mother. She didn't know how to dance yet, even so, she was determined to learn one day. She also vowed to learn to play the fiddle. Mama was right! It is magic!
The Emperor and his son remained in the palanquin because neither knew how to dance and neither liked the idea of being in front of so many people. Besides, it would likely ruin everyone's fun if they realized that the Emperor was among them. They would feel the need to drop to their knees and bow to him.
Reiki smiled as he watched his wife. With a love-filled sigh, he admitted to his son: “I fell in love with her at first sight. I wasn't sure at first, but the more I saw her, the more I loved her. When I discovered that she could play the fiddle and entertain a crowd, I was lost beyond all hope of recovery.”
Prince Reiki shook his head, grumbling: “I didn't need to know that.” But deep down, he liked hearing such things. In his studies, he learned about the past Emperors and their many wives. Hearing how his father had married for love made him think about the future and what kind of Emperor he wanted to be.
Will I be allowed to marry for love?” The young Prince asked.
Reiki sighed a bit sadly. “Only if you fall in love with a woman from one of the Eight Great Clans. Not even I can change the law to let you take a common bride. Even trying would probably cause a war.”
Squaring his shoulders, the Emperor emerged from his palanquin. As predicted, those closest to him gasped and fell to their knees. Prince Reiki curiously decided to stand next to his father and watch as the entire crowd slowly stopped clapping and knelt to bow to their Emperor. Chèri was oblivious as she continued to play – lost in her own little world.
Emperor Reiki strode confidently to his wife, reaching her just as she finished playing her song. She panted from the exertion – her cheeks flushed from the bliss of playing her beloved instrument. She looked at him, her heart overflowing with her love for him.
To his delight, she flung her arms around him and gave him a kiss like she used to when they were first married. The crowd squealed in joy – gleeful to witness such a rare and spectacular event. Leelee and Shurin gasped in shock – they hadn't really seen their parents kiss before – and then clapped in relief and happiness that their parents still loved each other so much.
Their kiss continued for a long time, both so lost in it that they didn't even notice their audience. To them, time itself melted away, stripping away everything. They were left with nothing but their essence and a love that had withstood the test of time and was now deeper than either had thought possible.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Strawberry Wine

Now that I have made two versions of Strawberry Wine (see my Strawberry Rhubarb Wine), I have a few tips that I plan to try next time. Here's what I did this time though :-)

First step is the same as making any other wine: gather your material and put it in your primary fermenting container. For me, this meant a 3lb bag of frozen strawberries and a gallon sized glass jar - an ex pickle jar, lol!

Then boil enough water to cover the strawberries. NOTE: If using a glass jar, be VERY careful to pour the boiling water into the strawberries and NOT directly onto the glass!!! Glass shatters easily from temp changes. I haven't had one break on me yet, but I assume that's because I know to be careful :-)

Next, Pour the water over the strawberries and let steep up to 3 days.

To me it's such a shame that the strawberries are still so full of juice, so - and don't ask me why - I got it into my head that I should puree the berries and return them to the juice so that I have all possible flavor.

Which - in all honestly - looks and tastes really good, but (you sensed a but coming right? lol!) It creates a hassle you just don't want to deal with because NOW at some point you have to strain all that out. So here's what I am going to try next time and I recommend you try too. Rather than puree the waterlogged berries, simply scoop them into a colander over a bowl and gently squeeze the excess fluid out. Return that to the jar - straining out any pulp while you are at it. That will make things SO much easier!

Then, once you have the filtered juice back in the jar (you may want or need to filter what was left in the jar after you removed the berries as well), add the citric acid. This time, I used both lemon and lime juices instead of lemon and orange, because that's just what I had on hand. I used the juice of 1 lemon and 2 limes because limes are tiny, lol!

After that, add two to three pounds of sugar, depending on how alcoholic you want the end result. Two pounds will be about perfect IMO, but three can make it a bit more alcohol-y AND potentially sweeter. Stir until fully blended. If you taste it at this point, it probably tastes NASTY sweet, lol!

Then I added the raisins. Most recipes will call for a pound or two of raisins, but all they are really there for is to provide the culture of correct yeasts to make wine. You don't REALLY need that many. I only add a couple of handfuls, HOWEVER, I do have some on hand to add as necessary :-) Cover with a cloth or an actual cover or both to keep out bugs.

The only thing you must do from this point on is just let it sit out somewhere warm where you are fairly sure there are no wild strains of mold so that it can ferment. Mold loves dark and your brew is just fully of goodies, so each morning, check to see if mold took advantage of the night (You could try leaving a light on it, I hadn't thought of that before, lol). IF there's any mold - green, blue, black, etc - scoop if off. A quick taste of your juice will reassure you that there's no mold actually in it. I notice that the completely benign white mold starts to grow just before the brew starts to turn alcoholic. Again, scoop it off. Smell your brew. It'll start to smell like wine. NOTE! There almost certainly will be a brown scum that forms. This is not mold and is in fact the yeast culture that is necessary for fermentation. DO NOT skim it off!

This part of the fermentation process can take mere days of vigorous bubbling or it can take weeks to months of slow bubbles. Both are fine :-) One the bubbling stops completely, the wine can be bottled. Then simply let it age somewhere until you are ready to enjoy it. A good rule of thumb is that a wine should age for a year before drinking it... but there's no harm in sampling it from time to time before that :-D

Lastly, remember that puree (or mash)? It's awesome for making a smoothie or a slushie or adding to items you are baking. Don't just throw it out! It could also be used to make Strawberry Lemonade. Enjoy :-D

Custard Filled Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting

This recipe is a bit involved, but worth it in my opinion :-)

For the cupcakes, I used the honey muffin recipe from Cooking with Coconut by Bruce Fife.

The recipe is:

3 eggs
2 TBSP butter, melted
2 TBSP milk
3 TBSP honey (more or less to taste)
1/4 Tsp salt
1/4 Tsp Vanilla (more to taste)
1/4 Cup Coconut Flour
1/4 Tsp Baking Powder

Mix well and then bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. NOTE: I doubled the recipe! That means 6 eggs, 4 TBSP butter, etc.


If you are going to make the custard filling, You need to separate 12 eggs into a bowl and a medium or small pot, put the whites in the bowl and the yolks in the pot. The 12 egg whites is the equivalent of 6 whole eggs that you need for the cupcakes, so add the rest of those ingredients to the bowl, mix the entire thing, and then scoop the batter into a silicon muffin pan or into cupcake papers - whichever you like :-) Bake according to the instructions. 
OR if you have a toaster oven like me, I needed to bake it at 450 for almost 40 minutes for it to fully bake. While that is baking, make the custard.


To the 12 egg yolks in the pot, add a splash of vanilla - I actually add quite a bit but I suggest starting with a tablespoon, adding the rest of the ingredients, mixing, tasting, and then adding more if you think it's not vanilla-y enough, lol! Next, add to taste maple syrup or your choice of sweetener such as honey. Lastly, add 1 cup of cream.
Turn the heat on, you can start with a higher heat to get it up to temp a bit quicker, but as it starts to thicken, you need to turn it down low, really low so that it doesn't scald, burn, or curdle while you are stirring stirring stirring! Stir continuously until it thickens. I prefer mine less sweet, so mine ends up tasting a bit eggy. If you like yours sweeter, add more sweetener and or vanilla while it is still thickening, which means tasting it at least once while you are stirring. Once thick, set aside to cool.

Wait until the cupcakes/muffins are done baking, and set them aside to cool a bit. I turned mine onto a rack to help speed cooling, and since you need to cut out the center, you can do that as soon as you can touch them without burning yourself. I used a butter knife to cut a circle from the top to about 1/3 inch from the bottom. Once the circle is complete, sorta pop it out and even out the bottom - inside the cupcake - if necessary. This will help the whole thing cool quicker, but honestly, I didn't wait for mine to cool longer than necessary to touch, and they turned out just fine. The heat will make the custard "melt" a bit, just so you know the consequences if you don't wait, lol!

While your cupcakes are cooling, select a small bowl. I like to use a 1 pint canning jar mostly because I have a lot of them and they work. This is the equivalent of 2 cups - but it will only be about half full. You could also use a baby bowl or something, but the reason small is good is that it's easier to mix. To the bowl add:

2-4 spoons of unsweetened chocolate powder such as this, depending on how "dark" you like it.
2 spoonfuls of maple syrup
Tiny splashes of cream.

Mix the chocolate and maple syrup together until you have a paste or at least something very crumbly. (Depends on the chocolate to syrup ratio.) Add tiny amounts of cream and stir until incorporated, and then add more cream and mix again. Repeat this until you have something the exact consistency of frosting. You can also taste it and add more maple syrup (or honey) until it is the perfect sweetness to you.

Now that everything is cool enough and you have your frosting ready, spoon the custard in the well you dug out of your cupcake. The custard probably formed a crust, but that's fine and doesn't hurt anything. After filling the well - leaving some space at the top! - take the part you cut out of the cupcake and trim the top so that you only have between 1/8th and 1/4th inch, which you then put back onto the top of your cupcake. Once the top is in place, wipe away any custard that oozed out, and then gently frost your cupcake.

Lastly, enjoy! Be careful to have a napkin in case the cupcake oozes as you eat it :-)


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Hero's Son - Part X

Part X

After working from midnight to 8AM and then 4PM to midnight, Rip and R.J. were tired enough that they fell asleep the moment their heads hit their pillows. They slept well and woke up feeling refreshed. Of course, it was only 6AM, which made them wonder why they couldn't sleep in when they wanted to.
They ate breakfast and then went to sparring. After that, they had the entire day off... the night too! R.J. thought about this quietly for a few minutes, and then lightly smacked Rip on the arm.
You did this on purpose, didn't you!” He accused as they changed out of their sparring clothes in the men's locker room. Almost everyone else had decided to take a shower, and the room was fairly loud at the moment.
What?” Rip asked, feigning both innocence and confusion.
You arranged it so that we'd have my birthday off even though I said I didn't want to do anything special,” R.J. explained.
We aren't really going to be doing anything special,” Rip stated. By this time, they had dressed up in normal clothes, which was actually pretty rare because they almost always had on either their sparring clothes – which doubled as their phone duty uniform – or their Hero uniform. He led the way out of the locker room.
Then why do we need the day off?” R.J. asked with a tone of challenge.
Rip shrugged. “Because I thought it would be nice to just hang out and do nothing.”
R.J. sighed. “You're not planning a surprise party, are you?”
Rip shook his head. “No, I wouldn't do that to you.”
Because I know how disappointed Renee is that I didn't want a party,” R.J. added, certain that Renee could easily insist on a party anyway.
Rip laughed. “You have no idea what she put into my party! She's actually grateful that you don't want a big gala too!”
R.J. nodded in agreement. “I know, but she loves to throw parties. I know she really wanted me to have a small one.”
R.J.'s main problem was that he usually went to some event with Jenna for her birthday – usually the amusement park because it had become a tradition of sorts – and then went to an extremely huge celebration for Rip. The two of them were only about 3 months apart, so when it came time for R.J.'s birthday just a month after Rip's, he felt that another party or huge event would just be overkill. Besides, he really didn't like when people made a fuss over him.
The fact that Rip and Jenna had already taken him to a concert was more than plenty in his opinion. Anything more would just be annoying. To his relief, Rip was serious. The only thing they did for hours was walk through the park.
They didn't hold hands, nor did they walk close together the way lovers would, but even so, it was pretty romantic. Especially considering that there were no criminals or disturbances to distract them from each other. Everyone that saw them basically ignored them, which was a rare event for Rip – who tended to be recognized everywhere he went.
Eventually, they decided to go to lunch and then to see a movie. To R.J., this felt like a real date, which made him secretly happier than he wanted to admit. After the movie, the wandered the city aimlessly until Rip grinned at R.J., grabbed him by the hand, and ran in a particular direction.
You said there wasn't going to be a surprise party!” R.J. protested.
There's not!” Rip assured him, but still got him to a spendy restaurant by exactly 5:30PM.
Sure enough, they were shown to a table in which Jenna, Renee, and Henry were waiting for them.
No party, just a nice family dinner,” Rip stated with a smile. R.J. sighed and then nodded. If he was completely honest with himself, he loved having a family that cared enough about him to make him have a special dinner for his birthday.
Rip sat next to Jenna with R.J. on his other side. Renee was next to R.J., and Henry filled out the round table by being between Renee and Jenna. The restaurant had a Mediterranean theme complete with a small ethnic band and a woman who belly danced around the entire room, entertaining all the guests equally. A photographer – who actually owned the place – went around asking everyone if they wanted a photo to commemorate their experience.
Rip accepted, so they all sort of crowded one side of the table long enough to get a family picture. Henry and Renee were like book ends squashing the other three together; all of them smiled when prompted. The photographer promised to bring them the picture, and then disappeared to print up all the pictures he had taken during the last few minutes. By the time he returned to their table, he wore an expression of enlightenment.
You're Henry Plantagenet, aren't you?” He asked.
Henry nodded and gave him a friendly smile. It had taken him years to get to the point where he could simply accept attention from fans with a smile and a mental shrug.
Would you mind terribly if I asked to print up another copy for you to sign?” He wondered a bit shyly.
They looked at each other in concern, but all of them knew by now that the man would probably keep a copy whether they wanted him to or not, so they ultimately shrugged and Henry granted him permission. He damn near ran back to his office so that he could print up the copy, and barely gave it time for the ink to dry before returning for Henry to sign it.
And the rest of you? Mrs. Plantagenet, Richard Plantagenet, Hero Jenna and Hero R.J.,” he insisted.
They all chuckled, wondering why people insisted on telling them who they were. Did people think they might forget? Soon, the photo was signed by all of them, and the photographer gushed his thanks before disappearing to find a frame for it so that he could hang it on the wall of the restaurant.
His actions had caused several others to notice their presence, and a couple of people subtly pointed cell phones in their direction. Rip sighed.
I guess we're going to be on the news again tonight,” he commented as if resigned to this fact.
Doesn't matter,” R.J. stated with a grin. “Tonight was still just about perfect!”
And that's all that really matters,” Renee agreed with a smile. She pulled R.J. into a hug, holding it long enough that the gawkers could get a really good picture. Then she kissed him on the cheek. “Maybe now people will realize that this is your special day and leave us alone.”
Henry grabbed hold of her hand and pulled her a tiny bit closer to him so that he could kiss her hand. “I don't know about you, but I'm getting tired. We should go home and let these youngsters have some unsupervised time so that they can wreak some havoc,” he joked.
Renee laughed. “Don't say that! Knowing any one of the Hero kids, that could be far closer to the truth than we care to admit!”
We're not kids anymore,” Rip reminded his mom.
We have a patrol of our own now,” Jenna added. “We know better than to cause trouble.”
R.J. snorted. “Like that would really stop us!”
It was true that the Hero kids tended to be more responsible and well behaved than most others, but when they did decide to break a rule or two, they usually did so in a way that went completely overboard! Such as the time the entire squad of Hero kids decided to sneak some alcohol to a secluded spot in the woods outside Marion City, got completely drunk, and then spent a couple of hours spray painting a bunch of graffiti as they mobbed their way across the city.
Adult Heroes on patrol had caught them, and they'd been severely punished, but it still served as an example how wild they could be when they let their normally repressed bad side shine through for a bit.
With a completely unsubtle grin at each other, Henry and Renee decided to leave so that they could have some time alone at home. Just the two of them.
R.J. indicated that he was full, so the three of them decided to walk around the city. They quietly chatted about this and that, completely ignoring the many people who snuck pictures of them with their cell phones.
So, what happened with James?” Rip asked at one point.
Jenna sighed. “He dumped me. I called to talk to him after my shift, and while he did answer the phone, he wouldn't change his mind. You know, until last night, I didn't think I had any real feelings for him, but now I'm actually hurt.”
R.J. had never quite understood this. “Then why go out with him if you didn't have feelings for him?”
She shrugged. “He made me laugh. It was so much fun being able to hang out with him and not have to think about anything related to Heroes every once in a while. I thought he agreed to be my boyfriend for the same reason – that it was fun to hang out – especially since we argued so much when we were apart – mostly about when we could finally get together again. I think I let myself think he actually liked me for me, but it might have been the fact that I let him... you know,” she blushed and looked away.
Rip made a sympathetic sound and hugged her tight for a moment. “If he was the right guy for you, he would've tried to work things out.”
R.J. wasn't trying to be judgmental, but that's how he sounded. “If you didn't think you loved him, then why have sex?”
Jenna wasn't really shy and had discussed this with them before, but right now, she felt raw. She buried her face in Rip's shirt to hide a blush.
Because it was fun.”
Then maybe you should think of the entire relationship as a fun fling you had,” Rip suggested, patting her on the back.
With a vagrant,” R.J. added with a hint of disapproval.
Vagrant or not, he's a good guy,” Jenna stated defensively, pushing out of Rips arms to glare at R.J. R.J. nodded and opted not to argue with her.
Rip decided to change the subject. “So... have you given any more thought to moving with us?”
Jenna nodded, her excitement returning. “Actually, I'm looking forward to it! I was already thinking about moving into my own apartment, but this is way better. I'll be living with my besties and there might even be enough crime to keep us all on our toes.”
I think we should go to Mega City,” Rip suggested.
Both Jenna and R.J. stared at him in horror. It was Jenna who finally managed to respond.
But Mega City is like one big slum!”
Rip laughed. “Exactly!” And then amended: “And no it's not. It's a city like any other with rich folk and poor folk. Most people fall somewhere in between. The point is that it's huge and known for being full of crime.”
And they have a fairly small Hero Squad,” R.J. added, biting his lip in thought. They resumed walking and Rip kept holding Jenna's hand, intuitively understanding that she needed the emotional support at the moment. R.J. walked on his other side, realizing that for once, he wasn't jealous.
How could he be? Rip had spent so much time and effort to give R.J. one of the best birthdays ever! Part of him wished he had the courage to just grab Rip and plant a kiss on him right here in front of everyone who was pretending not to be watching their every move.
Mega City, hmm...?” Jenna murmured speculatively.
Mega City,” R.J. said, considering the idea. He shrugged. “Actually, I suppose that might just be perfect for us. Unlike in a small town, we won't be the entire squad. We'll have other Heroes around to actually run the Squad and we can simply do our job.”
And maybe even be run ragged!” Jenna exclaimed, obviously liking the idea. “With as much crime as there is in Mega City, we might actually be useful!”
We'll only have my car,” Rip reminded them. “But if we continued on rotating shifts as we have been, the three of us shouldn't need a second car.”
And I'm sure that we'll be able to find an apartment we can afford,” Jenna remarked. “Something cheap in what is probably the bad side of the city. I'm sure our neighbors would be grateful to have us there. Maybe our presence would help keep the peace.”
R.J. laughed. “Unless we move in next to a drug lord and he objects!”
Jenna laughed in return. “Then I guess our first project would be to evict the drug lord!”
Or maybe we could find a place in a better neighborhood,” R.J. suggested. “I wouldn't mind paying for most of it if necessary.”
Jenna growled. “We all pay an equal share or it won't work!”
But I can afford it!” R.J. protested.
So what?!” Jenna exclaimed, tempted to yell but not willing to attract even more attention. “Either we're all moving out in an attempt to prove we're responsible adults now, or we're not responsible and need you to take care of us!”
What's wrong with me taking care of you guys for a change?” R.J. wondered.
Rip dropped Jenna's hand and then put his hand on R.J.'s shoulder. “You're not feeling guilty because we took care of you all these years, are you?” He asked in concern.
R.J. looked at the ground evasively. “Not... entirely...” He sighed. “It's more like I owe a debt that needs to be paid by using that money for a good cause, such as supporting us as we move out on our own.”
Rip looked at Jenna for a second and then back at R.J. “I think I agree with Jenna. If we're going to move out, we have to at least try to pay our own way.”
Jenna put an arm around R.J.'s shoulders. “I tell you what, if it will make you feel better, you can pay for all the furniture I pick out!”
R.J. laughed despite himself. “You pick out?!”
You two may be together, but neither of you has a sense of fashion or style. I really think it would be better to let me decorate the apartment,” Jenna stated.
R.J. nodded with a chuckle. “You might be right about that...”
The trio decided to split up so that Jenna could go home and recover from her breakup with ice cream. Rip and R.J. continued their walk home, the sun setting as they walked. Neither was surprised by the news report they heard as they walked through the door.
In case you missed it earlier, world famous Henry Plantagenet was spotted eating dinner with his wife Renee, son Richard, Richard's girlfriend Jenna, and Hero R.J., whom they adopted several years ago.”
Which wasn't entirely true. They'd been given custody of R.J., but never felt the need to actually adopt him. This turned out for the best when Rip and R.J. started going out.
The TV showed several pictures taken by cell phone cameras, all of which were surprisingly good quality. They showed the family having fun. The news alternated pictures with interviews of 2 people who talked about how cool it was to be so close to the family, and how they'd been respectful enough to not bother them for an autograph.
Then, several of the other diners from the restaurant followed young Rip as the trio of Heroes left the restaurant for a leisurely stroll. No matter which angle you look at it, Rip and Jenna look pretty cozy! Here's a picture in which they are clinging together –”
Josh interrupted the news reporter by turning down the volume. He was currently on phone duty and not in a very good mood.
I thought you were going to stage a break up,” Josh stated a bit hostilely.
Nah, that's just a rumor,” Rip assured him airily. “It would be a waste of a media scandal anyway since we're all moving to Mega City soon.”
Mega City? But that's practically on the other side of the country,” Josh stated in confusion.
We all decided that it's the best place to go,” Rip replied with a shrug.
Josh nodded vaguely. He then groaned. “Hey Rip, could you cover my last two hours of phone duty? I think I might be coming down with that flu that's been making the rounds.”
Rip was silent for a moment. R.J. nudged him as if saying go on and Rip sighed. He nodded reluctantly.
Yeah, I can do that,” Rip agreed, and then went to sit down without bothering to change first.
I'll keep you company and use the computer to search for apartments,” R.J. stated, following him to the chairs behind the desk.
Josh thanked them and ran off to the locker room. They both watched him go, wondering if he was about to vomit. A call came in, so both shrugged and focused on the caller.


I can't believe you found a place already!” Jenna squealed happily a couple of days later. Between the three of them, they had applied for the apartment online, and put the deposit and first month's rent on a credit card that belonged to Henry and Renee. This was a gift from them and their way of wishing the young adults good luck.
They were assured a move in date of the first of the month, which was only three days away. This gave them just enough time to pack and drive all the way to Mega City. All three were in a state of semi-shock at how quickly things were happening.
Jenna hugged Rip so that she could hide her face in his chest. She chuckled nervously. Then she took a deep breath to steady her nerves.
Uh... um... Josh asked to come with me and I kind of told him he could...”
What?!” Both Rip and R.J. demanded incredulously. Rip gripped both of Jenna's shoulders and forced her to take a step back so that he could see if she was serious. She looked at the floor with a goofy and embarrassed grin on her face.
He... He'll be sharing my room...”
R.J. laughed, finding this pretty hilarious, but Rip groaned. “Jenna... I was finally getting away from him!” He sighed. “But I suppose that 4 people splitting the rent is even better than three...”
Aha!” R.J. burst out. “No wonder you suddenly agreed to a fairly big apartment with plenty of space in each bedroom. I was prepared to argue until I was blue in the face, and you just caved in even though the rent would make our budget incredibly tight.”
Rip tilted his head to the side. “Um... does this mean that you two plan to be a couple working towards a solid relationship including marriage and, you know, kids?”
Jenna shrugged. “Maybe. All I know for sure right now is that he wants to be with me, and I don't have to hide anything from him. He's probably just a rebound... Even so, I do actually hope we can make this work.”
Rip thought all this through carefully, and then nodded. Unexpectedly, a chuckle erupted from him. “I guess Mega City is in for a real treat. They're about to get not just one or two but four fully trained and ready to work Heroes!”
The interesting thing about the entire Hero organization was that they were entirely voluntary and funded by private citizen donations. Even if the current squad in Mega City didn't want or couldn't afford them, they could easily start a second branch. Even so, they all rather hoped that they could simply meld into the current squad.
I guess we'd better get packing!” Jenna exclaimed, her excitement suddenly much too intense to contain. She flung her arms around both of them and hugged them tight.
Right after phone duty!” R.J. assured her. Rip and Jenna could start now, but he had another hour to go.
Joe had just walked in at that moment and overheard her statement. “Packing?”
Yep, we're moving!” Jenna announced, jumping up and down like she tended to do whenever she was excited. “To Mega City! Land of crime just waiting to be stopped!”
Joe sighed in depression, mentally grumbling at how unfair it was for him to start training as a Hero just when she was ready to move on.
Rip and R.J. chuckled at his grumpy expression and correctly guessed what he was thinking.
Josh is bringing his Hero car too, so I think it'll be easier for all of us if I pack my stuff into his car. I'm not really bringing much, so it should all fit in his trunk,” Jenna informed them, referring to the Hero car that Josh had bought and paid for all on his own with just a little bit of help from the organization.
Well we're bringing our bed at least, so we're going to need something to haul it,” Rip remarked, giving it a bit of thought. “I think I'll go rent a small U-haul trailer. I should be back by the time you're off duty.”
R.J. nodded in agreement. “That's a great idea.”
Oh God; a bed!” Jenna cried out. “Mine's tiny! I hope Josh has one big enough, or else that'll have to be the first thing we buy. I guess we might need a trailer too. I should go talk to him!” She raced out of the building.
Rip laughed. “She's still exhausting to be around!”
R.J. nodded with a grin. Rip waited for Joe to finish moping towards the locker room. The moment no one was looking, he kissed R.J.
I'll be back as soon as I can!” Rip promised, and then rushed off to the rental store.
Renee emerged from the kitchen a minute later and hugged R.J., ruffling his hair affectionately. “I managed to fix the schedule so that the three of you are officially off it.”
R.J. chuckled, thoroughly enjoying that he was the one who got to tell her this. “Well, now you'd probably better go rearrange it again. Apparently Josh refuses to let Jenna leave without him. He's coming with us.”
Are you serious?!” Renee shouted in disbelief. “Why didn't he think to call and tell me?!” She immediately rushed off to call and confirm before rearranging the schedule to remove him too. She stopped abruptly and looked at R.J. again. “Wait, Josh and Jenna?
R.J. nodded.
When did that happen?” Renee wondered.
Just after her boyfriend broke up with her, apparently,” R.J. explained.
I see...” Renee replied with a thoughtful nod, and then continued on to the kitchen – which doubled as her office.


Renee hugged Rip for at least 10 minutes – or rather she would have if Rip let her. He pushed her away after a minute with a laugh. She then hugged R.J. and returned to Rip, repeating this several times until they finally forbade her from hugging either one of them again.
Henry managed to squeeze in a couple of hugs when his wife wasn't monopolizing them.
Josh and Jenna arrived in his car – a small trailer packed full of their stuff.
I didn't think my mom was ever going to let me go!” She announced.
Josh was actually 20, and he laughed with a smirk. “My parents couldn't wait to be rid of me! They said that it was about time I tried being an adult.”
Renee smiled at him, knowing full well that Josh's mom was probably at home crying her eyes out right now.
Rip consented to one last hug, and then rushed to get in his car before his mom delayed them any longer. R.J. held her tight, savoring the touch of the only mom he had ever known. She pressed several kisses to his cheek, but finally let him go. Her eyes could no longer hold back her tears over how proud and sad she was.
Jenna laughed and hugged Renee, kissing her on the cheek. “I'm going to miss you pushing me each morning to be a better and stronger Hero.”
Renee laughed even as her tears started flowing even more. Jenna turned to hug Henry as Josh gave Renee a quick hug and kiss on the cheek. She wasn't just Rip's mom, she was mom to the entire squad! Josh then shook Henry's hand.
Mega City might just be getting the best of our squad,” Henry informed Josh, referring to all four of them.
Thanks,” they all murmured. That shaky, half-shocked feeling was returning, and they decided that it was time to leave before they changed their minds.
They took turns driving – the passenger in each car taking naps as needed – and kept going until they arrived at their new apartment just after 2PM on the day they were allowed to move in.
They stared at the building in awe. It was a good 20 stories tall, and quite possibly the tallest building they had ever been in. Apartment buildings in Marion City tended to average between 3 and 6 stories, and even the “sky scrapers” only had 10 or 12 stories. There was a man in front of the door whose job was to let the tenants in and provide a bit of security against break ins.
Can I help you?” He asked even though he figured – based on their U-hauls – that they were moving in. The fact that both of their cars were easily recognized as Hero cars threw him a bit.
Jenna decided to take the lead and spare Rip the inevitable. “We're moving into today.”
The doorman used his cell phone to call the landlord, but was surprised to hear: “I'll be right there!” Usually, the landlord had the newbie's come to him in his office.
Less than a full minute later, the landlord appeared looking flushed.
Richard Plantagenet!” He exclaimed in an enthusiastically warm welcome. “I can't tell you how thrilled I am to have you young Heroes living in my building! Come in, come in! I have the keys to your new apartment right here.”
Rip muttered in R.J.'s ear. “I really thought I could escape that here.”
Their landlord heard him anyway. “Please forgive me. When I ran a credit card that said Henry Plantagenet, I thought that there was no way that it could be the Henry Plantagenet, you know? So, I did some research and discovered that it's true. Don't worry, as far as most people around here are concerned, HE is famous and has a son, but they don't really know too much more than that.” Little did he know...
Good!” Rip stated with a smile, deciding to finally follow his new landlord.
Wait... you mean this is Henry Plantagenet's son?!?!” The doorman asked incredulously.
Pleased to meet you,” Rip murmured, accepting that there was no way around the fact that everyone in the world loved his dad. Well... unless they were criminals.
My daughter is going to kill me when she find's out that I got to meet you and she didn't! Now that I think about it, she has a poster of you in her bedroom.”
Rip blushed. He'd known that there was a website dedicated to keeping track of him, and that pictures of him were turned into backgrounds for computers, but he hadn't realized that fans also apparently printed up his picture and made them into posters.
R.J. laughed almost evilly. “I wonder what she thinks about when she looks at your poster.”
Rip gaped at him as it occurred to him to wonder the same thing. Jenna laughed and linked her arm through his. She pushed in the tip of his nose playfully.
Didn't you know that every girl who sees you wants to get in your pants?!”
Good luck with that!” R.J. laughed, and even Josh was finding this humorous now that he knew the truth.
They took turns heckling Rip as they followed their landlord onto an elevator and all the way up to the 18th floor. They all grew quiet as nausea threatened them on the way up. Their landlord took this as his cue to start talking.
I truly am honored to have Heroes living in my building. We aren't in the bad neighborhood or anything, but even so, things happen. I'm hoping that just knowing you all are here, crime will go down a bit.”
Josh chuckled. “Or it might go up for a bit as they try to annoy us and make us move out.”
I hadn't thought of that...”
They let the poor landlord dwell on that until the elevator finally stopped.
Each floor has only 4 apartments. You'll be able to park your cars in the underground garage, and you have spots assigned to you. Your neighbors are generally quiet and keep to themselves. The people under you have a couple of screaming brats, so they shouldn't be too bothered if you get loud from time to time. You have a piano teacher above you; she's actually part of the Philharmonic, so don't be surprised if you suddenly find yourself in the middle of a loud practice concert. Thankfully, she respects the noise ordinance.”
The four young Heroes stood just inside their apartment just staring at it. It was even bigger than it looked in the pictures online, but even so, it wasn't huge. Once they had some furniture, they were probably going to feel cramped.
The kitchen, dining room, and living room are all this big open area,” the landlord reminded them. “There's a bedroom on either side and each one has it's own bathroom. The bathroom and walk-in closets buffer the bedroom from your neighbor, so you shouldn't have to worry about noise... except from above and below.”
Jenna gripped Rip by the arms. “I get whichever bedroom has the bigger closet!”
Rip and R.J. laughed and chorused: “Who says?!”
I do! Have you seen my wardrobe? Unless I have a big closet, Josh here won't have any room for his clothes!” Jenna insisted. “Besides, you two have shared a positively tiny room forever. Even the smaller closet here will be bigger than what you had.”
Rip looked to R.J. who shrugged. He rolled his eyes and sighed. “Fine.”
Jenna squealed, hugged him happily, and then dragged Josh by the hand to go measure the closets in each room.
There both the same size!” The landlord called after her uselessly. With an amused shake of his head, he handed the keys to Rip. “There's only two but you can make extras if you need to. You can't make extras of your garage opener – which are these electronic pad things here – so I suggest you guard these with your life.”
Thank you,” Rip said as he accepted them.
I take it I need to add that other Hero to the lease?”
Rip nodded as R.J. called out: “Hey Josh! You need to go sign some papers!”
They reappeared. “This bedroom is ours!” Jenna yelled as if they weren't standing just 20 feet away. She then kissed Josh quickly. “I'll go park our car and start carrying up our stuff.”
Rip held out one of the electronic garage keys to her as she ran passed. Josh followed the landlord and Rip and R.J. migrated to their new bedroom to check it out before they went to get their stuff. They heard the landlord murmur to Josh as they left.
So... those two...?”
Josh laughed and stated. “Yep.”
I see...”
It took them almost a week to unpack and buy everything they needed to move in fully. Each time they left and returned, there would be a couple of girls loitering in the garage or near the elevator. They were different each time, and always giggled as they watched Rip and his friends.
You know,” R.J. whispered in Rip's ear as they passed one such crowd. “I bet your parents are secretly glad that you're not into girls. You could have easily impregnated most of Marion City by now if you were!”
Rip laughed. “Only most?!” He then tilted his head as a thought occurred to him. “Nah! Jenna would have killed me had I tried.”
R.J. laughed. “That's true!”
Eventually, they were fully moved in, and in their exhaustion, they all went to bed early to get a good night's sleep... more or less...

Charts and Readings