Naomi, Mahender, and Angelina followed Mrs. Sharma down the hall.
“Why can’t Falcon come in?” said Angelina.
“He’ll be safe outside,” said Mrs. Sharma. “I can’t say the same for my useless nephew, or his new friend. Besides, my house has limited space.”
They entered the combined living room and kitchen area, and as Mrs. Sharma moved out of the way, Naomi saw who was standing by the couch, bruised and a bit disheveled, but alive.
Naomi’s relief was the kind that washed every bit of tension and worry from her body so abruptly it left her legs feeling weak; it was a wave that swept over her, threatening to knock her off her feet.
Naomi ran over to her friend, falling into her arms.
“Naomi! Not that I’m not happy to see you, but how are you here?”
“Oh, my God, C! You’re alive! You’re safe! When that woman said she put you here, I thought…” The threat of tears stung the corners of Naomi’s eyes, and she fought them back. “I’m so glad you’re okay!”
“The rest of us are okay too, thanks for asking!” said a familiar voice from behind Chelsea.
Lachlan, who was sitting on one of the two barstools in the kitchen, swiveled around to face her.
One time, Lachlan had video called her the morning after a particularly wild night out, informing her with some extremely misplaced pride in his voice that he’d woken up wrapped in a tarp in his neighbor’s driveway. The bags under his eyes now were twice as dark as they’d been then.
The clothes he wore were very un-Lachlan-like–white slacks that would have been stylish if they had been clean and a size larger, a light blue button-down shirt, and a jacket with red stripes. Each item would have been nice paired with something else, but together, it all clashed horribly.
“What are you wearing?” she asked him.
“What am I wearing?” he said. “Oh, sure. Chelsea gets all your tearful concern, and I get outfit criticism.”
“To be fair,” said Mrs. Sharma, “you and Sam both look horrible.”
“First of all,” said Lachlan, “I’d like to see you try to pull together an outfit in the dark from a stranger’s closet. Secondly, I’ll have you know that I’m handsome enough to pull off a paper sack, and Sam here’s not too hard on the eyes himself for a massive nerd. We make extradimensionally-scavenged chic look good.”
Naomi looked at the boy sitting backwards in the barstool beside Lachlan, arms resting on the stool’s backrest. The other boy’s clothes were equally mismatched; he wore a similar, dirtier pair of white slacks that looked like they’d been tailored for someone just a bit bigger than him and a brown aviator jacket over a white undershirt. The jacket suited him, at least.
Jen sat on the countertop between the two boys, holding onto the unfamiliar boy’s hand, which was bandaged with strips of cloth.
He must have been the boyfriend Jen had been looking for.
“Having to wear scavenged clothes is not an excuse,” said Mrs. Sharma. “All of my clothes were taken from strangers’ houses.”
“Well, some of us have bigger things to worry about than picking out a matching outfit,” said Lachlan. “Excuse us for having our priorities in order.”
“You think I don’t have bigger things to worry about?” said Mrs. Sharma. “You think I don’t have higher priorities? One of the most important things you learn in life is how to handle all of your priorities at once.”
“Doesn’t it make more sense to focus on the most important priorities?” said Lachlan.
“Yeah,” said Sam. “Why not dedicate your energy to the things that matter most and not waste any of it on stuff that really doesn’t affect anything?”
“Exactly,” said Lachlan.
“I don’t have to answer to two children who think they know better than I do,” said Mrs. Sharma.
“Spoken like a true person with no counterargument,” said Lachlan.
“I could come up with a counterargument,” said Mrs. Sharma, “but arguing with teenagers is not one of my priorities.”
“But putting together a swanky outfit is?” said Lachlan.
Mrs. Sharma turned her nose up at him and addressed the rest of the group.
“Anyway.” She cleared her throat. “First thing’s first. Jen, get off of my counter. Sam, if you’re going to use my chair, sit properly. I swear, it’s like all of you were raised by animals.”
“Yes, ma’am!” Jen slid off the counter and landed on the floor. “Sammy, you heard the lady!”
Sam rolled his eyes as he turned around to sit the right way.
“Now,” said Mrs. Sharma, “everyone look at me and pay attention. We need to discuss our way out of the Pit.”