Author's Note: Mm…brownies…I’m hungry.
High 'n Low Beginnings
Chapter Five - Brownies and Seifer
The smell of brownies assaulted Squall’s senses the moment he stepped into the apartment. Though he could have sworn that he hadn’t been hungry a moment ago, his stomach suddenly growled at him and his mouth watered.
“Hey, the Ice Prince is back.” A voice hailed him from the kitchen. Squall dropped his backpack near the door and stared at the blond behind the counter. Seifer frowned at him. “What?”
“You…you’re cooking.” Squall said dumbly. The blond snorted and smirked.
“No, actually I’m baking. But I do cook, and quite well.” He waved at the plate of brownies on the counter, “I just finished these. Help yourself- I did use your supplies, after all.”
Squall eyed the brown confections suspiciously. They looked fine, but who knew what the smirking blond had put in them? The man in question bent down and opened the oven, pulling out a cookie sheet with chocolate chip cookies. Squall’s mouth watered some more. Giving into temptation, he gingerly picked up a still steaming brownie from the plate and bit into it cautiously, burning his tongue in the process.
“This is good,” he said in surprise, staring at Seifer. The blond man let out a deep laugh and went back to lifting cookies from the sheet with a spatula. Squall quickly ate the rest of the brownie. It was perfect. The rich chocolate flavor filled his mouth and melted on his tongue. The brownie was soft and fudge-like, just the way Squall liked it. While Squall didn’t really care for sugar, he had a huge weakness for chocolate. In short, he was in heaven.
Seifer grinned at him as his eyes closed in pleasure. He licked his fingers to get the remaining crumbs and then licked his lips for good measure, unaware of the green eyes that were fixed on his flickering tongue.
“I take it you liked them.” Seifer smiled, “You want to try a cookie?”
Despite his misgivings, Squall nodded eagerly, holding out one hand like a child waiting for a treat. Seifer picked up one of the cookies and placed it in his palm.
“Careful,” he warned, “The chocolate is really hot.”
Squall fanned at his mouth frantically, having already bitten into the cookie.
“Hot hot hot!” the brunette panted. He took the glass of milk that the smirking Seifer handed to him and drank it quickly. Seifer chuckled.
“Can’t say I didn’t warn you.” Squall glared at him. A small smile crept across his face and he ducked his head, covering his mouth with one slender hand. His shoulders shook silently with laughter. The blond lifted one golden eyebrow. “And just what is so funny?”
Squall shook his head and pointed to Seifer. The tall man looked down. He saw nothing wrong- there wasn’t any flour on his pants, or cookie dough on his impeccably clean apron-
“Hello Kitty?” Squall finally managed to say, “You have a Hello Kitty apron?”
Seifer scowled at him. Squall looked back impudently, a trace of his former smile still hovering about his lips.
“I found it in a drawer. I didn’t have one myself, and there’s no way I wanted to get cookie dough off of my shirt. As you and your dad don’t cook, I didn’t think you’d mind my taking over the kitchen.”
Whatever remained of Squall’s smile disappeared at Seifer’s words. He stared at Seifer, his face suddenly deathly pale. The green-eyed man was nonplussed by Squall’s sudden change in attitude.
“What is it? You like my face? It’s understandable. I mean, who else is as handsome as me?” Seifer grinned, trying to get Squall to respond. The brunette glared.
“Where did you get that?” he said in a low, flat voice.
“My face? I was born with it. Though I guess you could say my parents gave it to me.”
“No, the apron.” Squall growled.
“I thought I told you. In a drawer.”
“In my room.” Seifer frowned, “It was the only thing in there. Why?”
“Take it off.” Squall hissed, “Now.”
Seifer slowly began to untie the apron, staring at Squall with a puzzled expression. Not a moment ago, the brunette had been ecstatically eating brownies. Now he looked as if he wanted to kill Seifer. Squall growled in frustration at Seifer’s slow speed. Unexpectedly, he went around to counter to Seifer and began to yank at the apron strings impatiently, trying to pull it off. Seifer swore as the apron tightened around his waist and yanked the strings from Squall’s hands.
“Bloody hell, what are you trying to do? Strangle me? They say patience is a virtue, Squallie.” If possible, Squall’s expression grew darker. He thrust out his hand for the apron as Seifer took it off. Frowning, the blond gave it to him. Immediately, the brunette turned around and stalked out of the kitchen, picked up his bookbag, and stormed into his room. Seifer expected him to slam the door, but he closed it quietly behind him. The blond man frowned, rubbing his forehead wearily.
“What is his problem?” he muttered to himself. He looked at his flour and cookie dough-covered hand and sighed, “Fuck.”
“I’m home!” Zell crowed as he came through the door. He flashed his million-watt smile at his mother as he passed, leaning forward to give her a peck on the cheek. Mrs. Dincht smiled at her son and patted him affectionately on the head.
“How are you, dear?” she asked, bustling into the kitchen. He flopped down on the sofa and turned on the TV, flipping through the channels. “Was your day at school ok?”
Zell nodded absently, his eyes riveted on the screen.
“Yeah, it was great.” He remembered something, “By the way, do you know when Quisty will be back?”
His mother came out of the kitchen, carrying a tray of freshly-baked cookies and a glass of milk.
“Thanks.” Zell said, then he started half out of his seat, punching a fist into the air in victory. “Yeah! Way to go, Jackie Chan!”
“Quistis said she’d be back by four. There’s a student staying after for help on an essay, but she said it shouldn’t take too long.” His mother said, smiling at him.
“Ok,” the blond boy chewed on a cookie reflectively, “That’s fine. Hey, mom, has Squall called this afternoon?”
The woman looked at him in surprise.
“Why, dear, you know he never calls. You’re always the one calling him.” She said, “Is something wrong?”
“Oh, no, no.” Zell waved his hand carelessly, “It’s nothing. I was just wondering.”
His mother looked at him but said nothing. Zell didn’t want to worry her about Squall, who was like a second son to the maternal woman. Ever since they had been children, Squall and Zell had been friends. The dark-haired boy used to come over to Zell’s house daily, but ever since the accident, he had been distancing himself. It was an estrangement that Zell felt profoundly today. To distract himself and his mother, he suddenly jumped up from his seat with an ecstatic yell.
“Alright! That’s the way to go, Jackie! Kick that guy’s a-“
“Zell-“ his mother said warningly.
“You can watch the movie until it’s finished, dear.” Mrs. Dincht said, rising from the sofa, “Just remember to finish your homework.”
“Ok, thanks, mom.” Zell said, his eyes fixed on the screen. He barely noticed when his mother left, cheering as Jackie Chan took out yet another bad guy with his awesome martial arts skill.
“ALRIGHT! That’s how you kick a-”
If ever Quistis had to explain the difference between “they’re” and “their” one more time, she would scream. It was times like these when she regretted ever becoming a teacher. Rubbing her temples wearily, she looked at her student, who was looking at her anxiously.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Trepe. I just…It’s hard.” He apologized, blushing. Quistis sighed.
“It’s okay, Kevin. You’ll understand them sooner or later. Just remember that the apostrophe ‘-re’ stands for ‘are’, so ‘they are’ is t-h-e-y apostrophe r-e, and t-h-e-i-r means that it belongs to ‘them’.” She said. Kevin still looked rather clueless, but he nodded in agreement and bent his head to his task again. Quistis looked at the clock. It was 3:40. She began to clean up her desk, putting papers in her drawers and writing utensils back in their respective places. Feeling eyes on her, she looked up in time to see Kevin’s eyes slide away from their fascinated examination of her chest back to her paper. Quistis shook her head slightly and went back to her task. It wasn’t the first time that a student had ogled her, and she was sure that it wouldn’t be the last.
She let her mind drift. In twenty minutes, she would finally be able to return home. She still lived with her mother and brother, although she was old enough to find her own apartment. Part of the reason that she stayed at home was because it was cheaper. Mostly, however, she stayed because she loved her family and loved being part of it.
Zell wasn’t her real brother. Like her, he was adopted. Quistis’s biological parents had died in a car accident when she was four years old. She had been placed in an orphanage under the care of a kind woman named Edea Kramer until she was eight years old, when both she and Zell had been adopted. Unlike her, however, Zell hadn’t known who his parents were before adoption. Quistis had wanted to remember her parents as best she could, hence the reason that she kept her last name, “Trepe”. Zell hadn’t had a last name, so he had taken Dincht as his. Despite the fact that they didn’t share a last name, Quistis still felt like Zell was her real little brother, the one she might have had if her parents hadn’t died.
Then there was Squall. Squall was like her second little brother. She had first met the dark-haired little boy when she had come to her new home for the first time. Squall and his family had been living in the apartment next to the Dinchts’ at the time. Quistis could still remember the blue-eyed little boy who had come to greet them when she and Zell arrived.
Quistis stared up at the apartment, biting her lip. The little girl chewed nervously on a tendril of blond hair, a bad habit she had never been able to break. Beside her, a small blond boy bounced on the balls of his feet, his hand damp and warm in hers.
“Mm, Quithty!” he squeaked happily, “Ithn’t it nithe? It’s hooj! I bet they have monsterth in the bathement!”
“Zell, calm down.” She said nervously, eyeing her new mother. Mrs. Dincht just beamed at the two of them maternally, laying a gentle hand on Quistis’s head.
“Come, dear. Do you want to see your new home?”
Quistis nodded slowly, her pigtails bobbing with the movement. The large woman held out her hand, her eyes questioning. Hesitantly, the little girl reached up and placed her own hand in her adopted mother’s. A smile spread across Mrs. Dincht’s face and she squeezed Quistis’s hand slightly before walking towards the building. Zell hopped across the pavement, chanting some children’s song as he jumped across cracks and stones, pulling Quistis’s arm painfully whenever he did. She yanked at his arm when he went to jump over another crack, causing him to fall against her. She glared down at him when he stared at her with wide blue eyes.
“Quithty? What you do that for?” he said indignantly. Quistis squeezed his hand tightly.
“Stop jumping around, Zell.” She said bossily, “It’s inmater.”
“What’th inmater?” Zell asked, his indignation giving way to curiosity. The blond girl struggled to think of a definition.
“It’s…uh…inmater is…when you act like a baby!” she said, nodding decisively. Zell blinked.
“I’m not actin’ like a baby!” he scowled, “I’th four! Babieth don’t jump ‘round! They crawl and go ‘wah wah!’”
“Stop it, Zell! You’re so annoying!” she hissed. Mrs. Dincht looked at them when Zell started crying.
“Oh, Zell, what’s wrong?” she asked, concerned. She had missed the entire exchange, busy conversing with the doorman. Zell sniffled loudly and wiped his nose on the sleeve of his T-shirt, leaving a trail of snot behind. Mrs. Dincht pulled out her handkerchief and squatted in front of Zell, taking his chin firmly in her hand and wiping his face clean.
“Quithty called me annoyin’.” Zell pouted. Quistis yanked her hand from Zell’s and crossed her arms stubbornly, turning her face away. Mrs. Dincht sighed and patted Zell on the head.
“You’re not annoying, dear.” She said, “Just…excited.”
“Yeah!” he said defiantly to Quistis, “Jutht exthited!”
Quistis glared at him, setting her hands on her hips and leaning forward to stare him in the face.
“Well, I think you’re annoying!” she snapped. Zell’s face scrunched up.
“You’re a bothy meanie!”
“I’m not bossy!”
“You ith too!”
Both stopped and stared guiltily at their new mother. She smiled at them both and pulled them into a hug. Quistis complied grumpily, still glaring at Zell, and promptly began chewing on her hair again. Zell eagerly cuddled into Mrs. Dincht’s warmth, little arms wrapping around her neck.
“Quistis, you are not a bossy meanie. Zell, you are not annoying. I love you both, so please, for my sake, don’t argue anymore?”
“Ok, mommy.” Zell said instantly. He had taken to the idea of having a mother immediately and was already used to calling Mrs. Dincht “mommy”. Quistis pouted.
“…yes, ma’am.” She said sullenly. Mrs. Dincht sighed and stood up, taking both of their hands.
“Let’s go, dears.”
Quistis was fascinated by the elevator, though she would never admit it out loud. She pressed her hands and face to the glass walls and watched as the ground floor of the apartment fell away. Mrs. Dincht had let her press the button to call the elevator, and Zell had pressed the button for the sixth floor, proudly showing his knowledge of numbers. Too soon for Quistis’s opinion, the elevator bell dinged and a female voice said “Sixth floor- Dincht, Loire, Waldermann”. Mrs. Dincht held their hands again and led them off of the elevator into a well-lit hallway with beige walls. To Quistis and Zell’s surprise, a little boy stood in the doorway to one of the apartments, watching them with large blue-gray eyes. He sucked on his thumb, a light blue blankie clutched tightly in his unoccupied hand.
“Hello, Squall, dear.” Mrs. Dincht said warmly. The little boy said nothing, but his sucking stopped momentarily. He disappeared in the apartment and they heard the sound of little running footsteps from the still-open door. Zell craned his neck, trying to look around the door for a glance at the small brunette.
“Who wath that, mommy?” Zell asked, looking up at Mrs. Dincht. The woman smiled at him fondly.
“That was Squall, dear. He’s one of our neighbors. Maybe you can make friends with him.”
They started down the hallway again, past the open doorway. Quistis heard light footsteps behind them and stopped, turning around. The little boy from the doorway stood behind her, something held behind his back. He was still sucking his thumb. He brought out the object he was holding shyly, eyes fixed on her face.
“Hewe…” he said softly. Quistis looked at the proffered gift. It was a small stuffed lion. It looked worn, and one of its button black eyes was missing. It looked like as if it had been slept on and dropped many times before and obviously meant a lot to the boy.
“Don’t you want him anymore?” she asked, at a loss. Squall shook his head and held out the lion adamantly.
“Gwievew wants to go with you.” He explained and sucked his thumb harder. Quistis took it, smiling at him.
“Thank you, Squall.” She said. He nodded. A blond blur ran past her and suddenly the little brunette found himself face-to-face with Zell. He blinked.
“Hiya! My name is Zell!” Zell said enthusiastically, “Do you want to be my friend?”
Squall blinked some more and a shy smile crept across his face.
“Okay.” He said, “Hewwo, fwiend.”
From that day on, the trio had been inseparable.
That had been before the accident. The Dinchts had moved away a few months before to a house, although Squall still visited often. After the accident, Squall’s visits had become fewer and farther between, until they finally stopped. That had also been when Squall's smiles had disappeared.
"Excuse me, Ms. Trepe? Ms Trepe!"
Quistis was brought back to the present with an unpleasant bump. She blinked several times at Kevin, who was waving his hand in front of her face.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I was just thinking about something." She folded her hands in front of her. "How can I help you, Kevin?"
“Er, Ms. Trepe, could you explain the difference between ‘they’re’ and ‘their’ again?”
Zell was just finishing his math homework when he heard the front door close. He knew it wasn't his mother, as she had left half an hour ago to attend a sewing class. Soon afterwards, he heard a heavy sigh from downstairs, followed by the sound of footsteps on the stairs. Quickly jotting down the answer to the last question, the blond boy shoved back from his chair and went to the doorway of his room in time to meet his sister.
The young woman jumped slightly, pressing a hand to her heart. Zell grinned at her impishly.
"Hyne on a stick, Zell! Don't do that to me!" she exclaimed, "You scared me!"
"Heh," Zell grabbed her arm and dragged her into his room. Quistis looked at him strangely but closed the door at his nod.
"What is it, Zell?" she asked, though she already suspected what he wanted to talk about. Her brother turned his chair around and straddled it, resting his chin on top of his arms on the seatback. Sedately, she seated herself on his bed and folded her hands.
"It's Squall." Quistis almost smiled at the intent look on Zell's face. He looked adorable whenever he actually got serious about something.
"What about him?" she asked innocently. Zell scowled at her, the stark tattoo on his face wrinkling.
"You know. He was late to Ceramics." He said pointedly. Quistis continued to look steadily at him.
"Perhaps his locker was jammed." Zell gritted his teeth and glared.
"He had a pass. From you." Zell beat upon the seat back with one gloved fist, "I know he stayed after English to talk to you, Quisty! Tell me what's wrong with him!"
"It's typical Squall, dear." Quistis sighed, giving in to his demands, "But you know Squall. He always reacts strongly to things that brings change to his life."
Zell picked at the back of his glove absently, frowning.
"But…he was really pissed off. He was ok, but then Selphie said mentioned his parents and he completely shut himself off. A bit worse than usual…" he sighed, "Just stormed off without waiting for me or Selphie."
Quistis gave him a blank look.
"Selphie?" she asked, "Who's that?"
"Oh, that's the new girl. She's cool." Zell shrugged, "I think Irvine likes her. But anyways, about Squall…"
"Remember how Laguna said he was going to rent out their extra room?" Quistis said. She waited for Zell to nod before continuing. "Well, someone took up the offer and moved in yesterday. That's why Squall's pissed off. Apparently, he really doesn't like the renter. I think it also has to do with the fact that the poor, hapless renter is throwing off Squall's routine."
"Oh, yeah. I forgot that he was moving in yesterday." Zell frowned, "I'm not surprised that Squall doesn't like the renter. He doesn't like a lot of people, does he?"
Quistis shook her head.
"He's changed." She said sadly, "When we were kids…"
"He used to love people," Zell muttered, "But then the accident…" he stopped. Neither of them spoke for a while.
Abruptly, Zell ducked his head and stared the carpet.
"Does he still go into the room?" he asked, his voice rough, "I mean, when he…when he breaks?"
With a small shrug of her shoulders, Quistis sighed.
"I really don't know. I wouldn't be surprised…you know how much that room means to him." Quistis shook her head, "I wish he could just forget about the past."
"Don't I agree," Zell said unhappily, "After what happened last year, I freaked out. I'm so afraid that one day he's going to try to do it again."
Quistis winced and rose from the bed where she had been sitting. She placed her hand on Zell's shoulder comfortingly.
"Dear, I'm sure that Squall won't. You showed him how much he means to you. If he cares about you even a little bit, he won't try to hurt himself like that again." Quistis bent down and placed a sisterly kiss on his forehead. "If you're finished with your homework, why don't you come downstairs and watch a Jackie Chan movie with me? We'll eat popcorn and laugh at the bloopers together, just like good old times."
"Just like good old times," Zell echoed. He stared morbidly at the carpet for a few more seconds before bouncing up from his seat, a wry smile on his lips. "Ah, why not? You know I can't resist Jackie Chan movies. Let's go!"
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