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Never a Frown

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Jane Crocker sat in her bedroom, looking at her CrockerTech (TM) phone, trying to figure out when her package with the book she had ordered was going to arrive. It was a blustery New England winter's morning in January, and she was hoping to get the novel before the snow arrived and they would maybe have a few days off. The polar vortex, or so the weathermen were naming it, was set to bring cold, wet air from the Great Lakes across New York down into Massachusetts and finally into her area of Connecticut. Roxy and her mother, northwest of Jane in upstate New York, had already begun to secure food and firewood and were readying to weather the storm inside, possibly without power.

She wasn't sure how her own family was going to fare - her father seemed prepared enough, and had stocked up on canned goods. Their heat and stove were gas-powered, not connected to the electricity and recently refilled, so cooking food wouldn't be an issue. Jane was prepared to make some homemade bread in her Dutch oven or some recipes that didn't rely on refrigerated materials to get them through a power outage as well.

However. What stood to be a tipping point was that Jane's Grandmother was visiting this week for the first time since Jane had left Washington State, and it was beginning to look as though she'd be stuck in the house while Jane and her father were snowed in. Rather, Jane, her father, and her Grandmother would all be snowed in together. Jane had to phrase it like that to make sure she faced it head on - she would be spending possibly more than five days in the same house as her Grandmother, uninterrupted.

Jane didn't really want to think about it right now, though. She looked back down at her phone. The webpage on her phone had loaded, and she scrolled down. The USPS tracking info displayed that the package with her book was "Out for Delivery," but the flappy dealio on her mailbox wasn't up last she checked! She had just sat down from looking out of the window. It was too early to jump back up and look again. She kicked her legs a little.

She was again torn away from her train of thought as a notification dropped down from the top of her screen - a Betty Bother chat from Roxy! Two more followed in quick succession.

"hey bby - just wanted 2 check in 2 see if u'd gotten thot book yet!!
not that i think ur a thot lmao ilu"

Jane smiled. Her best friend was really sweet.

The book Roxy had in mind, and the book Jane was waiting on, was the latest in a young adult series, "Mechanical Lilith," she and Roxy had been following avidly over the past few years.  It was a fast-paced, magic-filled tale of a girl plunged into an otherworld full of monsters to hunt and supernatural weapons to wield. Oddly enough, the author had some sort of recurring, flip-flopping plot point regarding the main characters potential to be siblings with her love interest that was beginning to leave a bad taste in Jane's mouth. She hoped this book ended it once and for all.

Roxy was similarly opinioned, and she had taken the further step of writing a lot of fanfiction about who she would prefer the main character be matched up with. Jane wasn't quite as creative as she was, and participated in transformative works solely from the reading standpoint. Regardless, Roxy and Jane both stayed up late at night IMing about their favorite fics, and Jane had been known to sneak-read fanfiction in the back of her school lessons instead of paying attention. It didn't matter too much, or at least that's what she kept telling herself. She had already read all the material ahead at home when she was taking her notes, unlike most of her other unprepared classmates, and she'd already sorted the material and vocabulary into color-coded notes and flashcards (Her study blog was pretty popular!!). It was fine if she didn't pay attention during class all the time - she wasn't missing anything.

Her and Roxy's favorite pairing at the moment was between Chrissy, the main character, and the accomplished assassin Marleen ("Marlie," if Roxy was writing), who had been Chrissy's biggest rival during training and who competed with her constantly. Chrissy had the protagonist power of always overcoming her challenges with almost superhuman ease in the novels. This usually left Marleen fuming and vengeful. In the sort of fiction that a dedicated community of Mechanical Lilith series fans had carved out, there was a lot of femslash that fans could enjoy without being subject to the boring, heterosexual tropes of the main series.

That's what the mods of the Marsy boards on LimeDiary and other related communities centered around the blogging platform Plumblr seemed to unlitaterally agree on, at least. Jane was happy to read whatever Roxy forwarded her, but couldn't help but indulge in some of the het pairings on sample. Not the pairing between Chrissy and Denson that the novel would have you be lead to - no, Jane was a little more interested in a rare pairing between two minor characters that she and a small community of other fans read and contributed to. She had been brave enough to write a few short fills in a recent big bang event for that team's pairing, but she couldn't bring herself to use her main account to post the short fics, or tell Roxy she had participated.

All-in-all, three and a half years since she left Washington State, Jane did not need her Grandmother Elizabeth Crocker butting her head back into her business for almost a week.

It had been bad enough living with her during middle school while her father moved to New England to look for a job and a house. Grandmother Elizabeth, or "just Granny, dear," as she had told Jane many times previously, had a solid idea of how little girls should behave. Jane was always to spend her time after school doing homework, preparing dinner with her Grandmother, then participating in some sort of "enriching activity" until bedtime. This usually consisted of sewing, knitting, quilting, or some other "creative endeavor" along with her Grandmother while they watched her horridly conservative police procedurals. Weekends passed much the same, but television still was not permitted until after six o'clock in the evening, so Jane spent her mornings and afternoons reading the dusty old books in her Grandmother's library until evening rolled around and she could indulge in gory mystery. You know, because Jane was never allowed to choose the television programs, except on her birthday. By the time the third year of middle school had rolled around, Jane had convinced her guardian to add the "Crime Scene Investigations" shows and "Bones" to her rotation, but the melodrama and lack of taste in storytelling still persisted. At least the stories in the later years were more interesting.

Jane had long since left the period of her life where she was willing to put up with that sort of high-fallutin' nonsense, excuse her language. She was not going to sit around her whole life sewing and crafting and cooking and otherwise being prepared to be the best little housewife ever; she was an accomplished and intentional woman who was going to go to college, work, and be the breadwinner! Like her father! She wasn't content just being the mantelpiece doll of some man who she'd see for a few hours a week when he wasn't working.

Her Grandmother Crocker was the same woman who founded the company Jane was supposedly set to inherit, but she had long since turned over control of the company to a board that managed its global footprint. She had no intention of getting her manicured hands too dirty; instead, she luxuriated in the money she had "made" and attempted to get her granddaughter to lead the same lifestyle. Jane had only started taking the title of "Heiress" seriously at the age of fifteen. Before that, she hadn't even considered that she would do anything else besides be the sort of girl her grandmother wanted her to be. Her father had been forced to move when she was eleven, and for a while there she wasn't sure if her new guardian would allow her to leave across the country. She still wasn't positive she would be able to participate in the inner workings and high-up goings on of her family business because of her Grandmother's stance on doing actual work at her age and net worth. Who'd allow the granddaughter of the famously absent Foundress into their company, unless she was spectacularly qualified already?

Eventually, her father found a small old house, and she was released and went to live in a similarly small town. She was suddenly much, much closer to Roxy, and the next year met her at an anime convention.They spent two glorious days together in homemade cosplay, traipsing around the artists' alley and food court together laughing and stuffing their faces with bad food. Jane's father seemed to approve of Roxy, too, and let her stay over once or twice when Roxy's mom let her ride the train down from their mansion in upstate New York. There were still photo booth strips from that convention pinned up on the bulletin board over Jane's desk.

Jane was shaken from her reminiscing by a knock on her bedroom door.

"Come in!" she said, brightly.

Her father opened the door, holding a brown cardboard package in his hand. "Were you waiting on a package?"

Jane stood up. "Oh! Yes, I was expecting it to be delivered to the mailbox! I'm so glad it got here before that dreadful storm that's approaching."

With a smile, Jane's dad handed her the folded cardboard package and produced the kitchen scissors to cut it open with from behind his back. Let it never be said that James "Dad' Crocker was never prepared. "The delivery person put it directly on our front stoop. I'm glad you didn't miss it either!"

She took both items proffered, sitting back down on the bed to carefully open her prize. "It's the next book in that series Roxy and I have been reading! I forget what this book is titled, though; the author usually comes up with something suitably melodramatic. Let's see..." Jane took the hardcover book out of its cradle, setting the cardboard aside on the bed and read the cover. "The Mechanichal Lilith Book 7 - Angels and Falling Spires."

Dad shook his head. "That sounds rather intense."

"I'm sure it will be!" Jane said emphatically, now looking at the inside cover flap. "The ending of the last novel had a cliff hanger in which the protagonist-"

"Cissy, right?"

"Chrissy, but close, Dad! Chrissy was left at the edge of a massive gaping hole where the only remaining portal back to the surface world had stood but moments before! Roxy and I have been waiting to see what happens next for a year and a half now - I have to tell her I have it so we can both start reading!" Jane grabbed at her phone again, and prepared to tell her friend the news.

"I also came up here to let you know your Grandmother is going to get here by dinnertime, so get ready to eat with her this evening."

Jane was silent for a moment. She didn't want to her tell her father she wasn't excited - she hadn't said much at all of how she felt about his mother to his face since she started to realize she was very uncomfortable with a lot of what she had been spoon-fed while she was there.

She eventually settled on, "That's great to hear!" and a beaming smile.

Her dad smiled, too. Was it less assuredly than usual? Jane wasn't sure.

"I'll let you know when she's here. Don't get too lost in that book, now!" He winked, to let Jane know he was kidding, and shut the door.

Jane retrieved her phone from where she had dropped it in her excitement and shuffled back into her pile of pillows to type out a message to Roxy.

"Good morning, Roxy! I'm doing well, how about yourself? I did, in fact, get my copy of 'Angels and Falling Spires' in the mail this morning! My father just delivered it to me. How about you; did you get yours? How is the snow up there? Yours, Jane."

She hit send on the message and smirked. Jane didn't mean to be a pest, but she did like poking fun at her best friend's incredibly informal typing style. She let her phone drop to her chest to wait for a reply, and stared up at the ceiling for a moment.

It was Monday the sixth of January, two thousand and fourteen. Jane was seventeen years old, four months away from her eighteenth birthday. She already had sent all of her college applications in as of December, and was awaiting results to see where she would be going to college. In less than half a year, she would graduate high school. She was so close to leaving her less than idyllic childhood behind and finally getting to see what was really out there, what she really could accomplish on her own two feet without being beholden to whatever her guardians expected of her. Just under six months, and she would be finished with the crushing drudgery of high school and on to some real education! Something that almost assuredly would be like a great adventure, and not at all more of the same. God, she hoped it wouldn't be just more of the same. Her studyblr was gorgeous, yes, but she wanted some fresh, new ideas, something she could actually dig her teeth into, and not the same dusty old novels or the same retreading of boring American history. It was so easy to make your notes pretty when there was almost nothing to think about while you were working on them, not even their contents.

Her phone buzzed on her chest. Jane picked it up and unlocked it, looking at the new notification.

"hell yeah janey!!! lets get 2 readin :3 :3"

Attached was an image of Roxy, holding her copy of the book next to her winking face, her tongue sticking out from between her black-painted lips. Her eyeliner was heavy and black as well, outlining her pink-contact eyes and thick, dark eyebrows. Her hair was hidden under a pink baseball cap with a white cat embroidered onto the front, and Jane could see the top of Roxy's favorite black sweatshirt.

Jane smiled, and held her own copy up next to her face to take an image as well.

The camera opened up, and she looked at her face in the preview image, and her smile faded. She put the book on her lap instead, switched the camera around, and took a picture of it on her legs instead, and sent it over to Roxy with the message, "Ready when you are! :B"

She set her phone down and reached for the book, flipping the front cover open and cracking the spine. Jane had been going to wait until the snow started falling, but Roxy was horrible about spoilers.