Clyde was having a perfectly nice day. The rain was clearing up, he'd had a substitute teacher in class that morning, and there hadn't been a hostile alien attack on earth in over a week. In fact, the last aliens that had come through Ealing had been very polite and just wanted to find a good recipe for rice pudding
It didn't seem fair that his whole day could be ruined with one sentence.
"Mum wants you to come over for dinner," Rani said as they walked to their next class.
Clyde assessed his options. He could run away, but that seemed a shame since he'd only just gotten up the nerve to hold Rani's hand – it was funny, the way she could make him feel shy about silly kid stuff like that. He could laugh, but the look on her face was completely serious, so she might not take it well.
He decided to try for optimism. "Oh, the three of us? Yeah, that sounds nice."
Rani looked at him like she knew he was up to something, which didn't seem entirely fair as he wasn't plotting anything yet. "No, four of us. Dad'll be there too, unless you want take-away."
So much for optimism. Clyde should have known better. He wondered if he could pretend he had something important he had to do, but realized Rani would probably just put dinner off until he was free. He opted for honesty, instead. "I'm not sure that's a good idea."
"I think it'd be nice," Rani said, "you and my parents really getting to talk."
"I've talked to your parents lots of times," Clyde reminded her. "It's never ended well."
"It's not that bad," Rani insisted. "Besides, you won't be running from aliens or anything this time, it'll be perfectly normal."
"I don't think that'll help much," Clyde said. "Trust me, it is that bad. I thought it was bad, back when your dad was just my headmaster, but now he's my girlfriend's dad. That's just another set of reasons for him not to like me, not that he really needed anymore." Clyde sighed dramatically. "What have I done? How could I be so foolish! You must have put a spell on me."
"Yes, I'm very tricky like that," Rani said. "Come here so I can do it again."
With that, Rani tugged him close enough to kiss him, as though they weren't in a hallway full of students. For a moment, Clyde felt like they were the only two people in the world, except it wasn't scary, it was...nice.
The kiss didn't last long, but it left Clyde feeling breathless. He wasn't unprepared for Rani asking, "So you'll be around my place at six tonight, yeah?", though he supposed she had warned him.
"Is that when the execution's scheduled?" he asked.
"Would you relax?" Rani bumped her shoulder. "Yeah, you're not my dad's favorite person in the world, but that's all the more reason for you to get to know each other."
"Do I have to?"
"What are you so scared of?" Rani's expression changed from teasing to surprised. "That's it, isn't it? You're scared of my dad!"
"He's a scary guy!"
"Oh, please. My mum has houseplants that are scarier than my dad."
"He's scary to me, all right?" Clyde said defensively. "Think about it, what would your dad say if he saw us right now?"
Like something out of Clyde's nightmares, Mr. Chandra's voice came from just behind him. "He'd probably remind you that the hallway is not the place for displays of affection."
Clyde dropped Rani's hand and dashed several feet away from her.
"Mr. Chandra!" he said. "Good seeing you."
"Dad!" Rani looked a bit unnerved, though she rallied better than Clyde. "Clyde's coming to dinner tonight, all right?"
Mr. Chandra didn't look to happy about that, though he didn't look angry, either, so Clyde breathed a little easier. Mostly he just looked annoyed. "Does he have to?" he asked Rani. Clyde got the feeling he wasn't supposed to hear that part.
"This is important to me," Rani said. "Please."
"All right." It sounded ominous, the way he said it.
"And don't do your scary, headmaster thing," Rani told him. "Play nice."
"I don't know what you mean," he said.
"Good, then, we'll see you at home." Rani smiled at her dad and turned to go, nodded at Clyde to follow. Clyde hung back for a moment and made eye contact with Mr. Chandra.
"Should be fun," Clyde said boldly, because he was not going to show fear.
Mr. Chandra's eyes flicked over to Rani and back to Clyde. "Absolutely," he said, the happiest Clyde had ever heard him – not that that was saying much. "You should get to class now, Mr. Langer. You wouldn't want to be late."
Clyde knew this truce was tenuous, but he couldn't help poking at it. "Well, sir, you know how seriously I take my schoolwork."
"Yes," Mr. Chandra replied, and muttered something that might have been "Unfortunately."
"Well, this has been fun," Rani said. "I can't wait to see you two behave yourselves at dinner."
Clyde exchanged one last wary look with Mr. Chandra before he and Rani left.
"So, six o'clock, yeah?" he asked Rani.
"What'd you think are the odds of a spaceship landing between now and then?"
"I'm just concerned," he said. "There could be abductions, or explosions, and it would be such a shame, really – "
"You're impossible," Rani told him. "I think I'll go live with Luke at Oxford."
She ignored him for most of the rest class period, but he won her over again. Perhaps it was going to be a good day, after all.