The laboratory‟s only resident jolted from her unintended nap,scattering books everywhere, and flailed for her alarm clockunsuccessfully before realizing that not only had she been asleep on thecouch, the strident klaxon was coming from a different kind of alarm.Her eyes flew wide, all traces of sleep forgotten, as her eyes fell on therow of machines lining one wall.
“Oh no,” she breathed, “this cannot be happening. Not again!” She dashed to the computers and started to type and mouse furiously. “Override!” she yelled at the apparatus hooked to the computers,“Override!”
All she achieved was a shrill whine from the machine as she franticallyflipped open all of the safety valves, cut power to all but the most essentialcircuitry, and initiated the failsafe procedure. The screen was scrolling throughdata at a lightning pace, but she didn‟t have to look at the incomprehensiblesquiggling graphs to know that what they showed was no good news.
There was an irritated banging from the far side of the wall. “Keep it down in there!” yelled a voice, “It‟s two A.M.!” the voice wentcompletely ignored as she hunched over her computers. “Come on,” she muttered, “come on, nearly there – what? NO!” She had about ten seconds warning before the apparatus on the far wallexploded into a shower of sparks, throwing her across the room.
Oh dear,” she said, looking at the gaping hole in the wall, through whichthe glow of an unnatural aurora could be seen, “That‟s never a good sign.” Amoment later, collected herself, she became aware of a pounding on the outerdoor. She sighed. “They‟re going to charge me for damaging the room, aren‟t they?” * * *
Haldir would never be entirely certain, but he was prepared to swear thateverything about his life looked different now. The last party in his house had been afull nine months ago, and that had been in what was, to all intents and purposes, adifferent house. It would be months before they were fully moved in: there were stillboxes everywhere. Nine months ago Ariadne had been barely more than a newborn. Aranel had stillonly been looking at colleges, not accepted to Sim State with full honors and ready tothrow everything in a suitcase and leave as soon as possible, already thinking aheadpast graduation. Achenar had barely been old enough to drive, and Ana had been justa little girl.
This is going to be the dining room,” Viridia was saying to Chalimyra,Eluisa and Midina, who were playing the part of appreciative audience membersfor the tour of the new house, while Haldir, Talon and Makir tagged along, “assoon as I can find a big enough table.”
She caught Haldir‟s eye from across the room and smiled. Haldir smiledback, happy that she was taking all of this so well. Learning that the old househad been unsafe for habitation had been a shock to them all, but Viridia alwaysworried far too much. She would lie awake at night unable to stop thinkingabout what could have happened, and everything that could have happenedwas grounds for worry. He didn‟t know how she‟d survived that latestearthquake, especially with everything that had happened during the last one.
It had been a good thing that the earthquake had come when it had,though, because that was the only reason that they had learned that a flaw inthe foundation had led to enormous structural damage during the lastearthquake. They had decided to start fresh, and though it had been hard oneveryone‟s nerves while the house was literally going up around their ears, theresults had been worth it. Haldir yawned. “Kids wearing you out?” Talon asked from where the two of them werestanding in the doorway.
Haldir just shook his head. “Extra shifts at the hospital,” he explained,“We‟re just finishing up all of the non-essential surgery that was put off untilwe could sort out all the storm and earthquake victims – people had toreschedule when the hospital was flooded with patients, and we‟re finallygetting the last of them done now. I replaced four hips yesterday. It‟s finallythe end of all this chaos.” Maybe he‟d finally get a decent night‟s sleep. Andmaybe it would actually be at his home, in his bed, with his wife.
Talon shook his head sympathetically. “Tell me about it. I‟ve beenrebuilding the Elkthorn Inn from the ground up,” he said. “In a new building,of course – everything on this side of the road was damaged, and there wasn‟tenough left to rebuild out here in Lake Valley – and it‟s as if they had to putthe whole town back together down in Riverblossom Heights.” “Hmmm.” Haldir really was tired, but Talon, as ever, was filled withenergy.
“You should come by some time, when you manage to be off work,”Talon continued, “The new store is bigger – we have some differentmerchandise now – and to top it all off, Elirand and Calla have turned out to benaturals at sales. Achenar‟s not bad either. Of course, the three of them arevery good at distracting each other from the work, but you‟re only youngonce.” “That‟s true,” Haldir replied tiredly. There was a moment before hemanaged to pick up a new thread of conversation. “We should call them in forlunch soon.”
“You want to do what?” Calla asked. “Well, it‟s not really a big deal, it‟s just that we‟ll be in our senior year soonand we haven‟t done anything too exciting since… well, since forever, at leastsince freshman year.” “We‟ve been a bit busy, haven‟t we?” Elirand replied, “What with working atthe store and everything else.” “Come on, Elir, you know your dad will let us off for a weekend or so. Evenif it is a long weekend.”
“Yeah, he probably will,” Elirand admitted, “And don‟t get me wrong, Ilike the idea, it‟s just -” “Strange coming from you,” Calla put in. Elirand made a face at her forfinishing his sentence. “But the more I think about it, the more that I like it.This could be the best idea you‟ve had all year. It‟s certainly better than whenElirand thought we could get out of personal finance by -” “Hey, I thought we agreed not to discuss that!” Achenar rolled his eyes at his two best friends. “It‟s not like we‟d behitchiking to Strangetown or anything,” he said. “But both of you like it?”
“We,” said Calla, definitively, “are in. You know that these mountains arepart of the same chain that goes through Three Lakes?” “As long as we don‟t meet a sasquatch, Calla, I could care less,” Elirandreplied, prompting his sister to display her maturity by sticking her tongue outat him. “This is going to be great – just the three of us again and no worriesabout anything.” “Besides the centipedes in your sleeping bag, that is.” “Oh, shut up Calla. Anyhow, yes, I am definitely in. If this is going to beour last big thing before college, we need to go out with a bang.”
“So, all we need to do now is ask permission,” Achenar said. He looked atCalla with a smile, “I think that if our secret weapon goes around to ask…Hardest one is going to be my mom.” “Don‟t worry about it,” Calla replied, “How hard could it be? And you‟ll bewith us, it‟s not like anything could possibly happen… Oh, don‟t answer that,Elirand, you know that even if sasquatches exist, there‟s none around here.” And Achenar got to listen to the inevitable sibling bickering as they got upand headed outside. It was interrupted only by Elirand‟s announcement that heneeded the bathroom and his subsequent disappearance.
“Wow, I swear your back yard‟s gotten bigger,” Calla said to Achenar whenthey emerged into the bright spring sunlight, “And that‟s even though yourhouse has grown.” “Not all of it‟s ours, exactly,” Achenar replied, “We just moved closer tothe woods… it‟s kind of hard to tell, but the lot line is actually pretty close tous on the other side of the stream, except it‟s lost in all the boulders and trees.” “Well, it‟s beautiful out here anyway.” Calla laughed, suddenly, “You‟llhave to remind Elirand to get interested in building projects, because we‟restarting to feel jealous of all your green woods.”
“What about you?” Achenar asked, “You‟re already plenty interested.” Calla threw up her hands. “Come on, everyone knows that Elirand‟sinheriting the family business,” she said, “he‟s daddy‟s perfect little businessmanand all of that. Besides, he wants it, which is far more than I can say for the goodold Elkthorn Inn. He‟ll be the one who moves back into the house after collegetoo, probably – our parents want to keep it in the family, for the sake of traditionand everything.” Achenar laughed. “It feels really strange to be talking about traditions thathaven‟t even started yet.”
“Hey, you‟re the one whose family is so big on tradition.” “I never said they weren‟t.” “Achenar,” Calla said, suddenly serious, “I wanted to know – have youbeen considering being heir? I mean, I know you have three sisters who mightwant the position, but…” “Anariel won‟t want it, I can already tell you that.” “You never know, she might grow up – she‟s not that far from being a teen.Ariadne‟s probably way too young…” “Unless my parents want to wait another twenty years until the heir comeshome from college, then yeah, probably.”
“It‟s really just between you and Ara, isn‟t it?” “Yeah, most likely,” Achenar replied, a little awkwardly, “I haven‟t reallythought about it like that before – I mean, it‟s always been something that wasa possibility -” “Yeah, and I really shouldn‟t have pried -” Calla began, trying to wrap theconversation up quickly. “No, it‟s ok,” Achenar said, “I mean, you‟d want to know, especially if bothme and your brother were inheriting -” “But, like you said, it‟s all in the future, right?” There was a moment‟sawkward pause.
“So,” Achenar said brightly, “Camping. It‟s going to be fun. And, youknow, everything else that‟s going to happen this spring… like…. Um…Prom… and stuff.” “Oh, yeah,” Calla agreed, far too quickly. “Prom. We‟re going, right?” “Well yeah, probably. We‟d have to get Elirand on board, but if he canmanage to not get shot down by Meadow, I‟m sure he‟d be all over the idea.And we can go in a really big group or something, just in case people don‟thave dates.” “…Yeah, a big group.”
“You don‟t want to go with a big group?” Calla‟s enthusiasm was less than breathtaking. “Prom is something of adate dance, Achenar.” “Yeah, but nobody should be left out if they don‟t have one, right? I mean,it‟s not like they have prom every year…” “I never said that a group was a bad idea.” “I never thought that you did.” “Right.” Achenar seized on the one idea left in his head that might explain Calla‟ssudden lack of enthusiasm.
“Calla, I‟m sure that you‟ll be able to find a date,” he said generously,“You‟re pretty, you‟re funny – there‟s a lot of guys at school that think you‟regreat. If anything, there‟s going to be a line of guys waiting to ask you out.” Instead of cheering her up, however, the words seemed to make her evenless happy. She looked as if she were about to say something, but at thatmoment, Elirand came strolling out the door. “Hey guys, what did I miss?” he asked, “And what‟s this about a line ofguys waiting to ask out my sister?”
“You have no idea how good it is to not have screaming kids around,” Aradeclared to Rean the moment they‟d managed to find a secluded corner of thehouse. “Twelve and two are not good ages.” “I thought that Ariadne wasn‟t two yet?” “Okay, same difference. And Ana‟s thirteen, almost fourteen but I‟mbeginning to doubt that she‟ll ever act older than twelve. She just keeps sayingthat everything‟s “not fair,” even though she‟s the one who hasn‟t been gettingany extra chores and is allowed to go over to her best friend‟s house wheneverthe heck she feels like it. I‟m certain that I wasn‟t that self-centered in middleschool.”
Rean gave a crooked smile. “Actually…” “All right, all right, don‟t give me specifics,” Aranel replied hastily, “Iknow that me and the princess of disdain were probably holy terrors. My pointbeing, I‟ve been thirteen, and nothing is that big of a deal, but Ana doesn‟tknow how lucky she has it.” “You didn‟t get in a big fight with her again, did you?” “Well, if she keeps it up, I probably will. Having separate bedrooms is theonly thing that‟s keeping me from dunking her in some good cold commonsense.”
“Aranel Elvensong, a campaign slogan every minute.” “And don‟t you forget it. Though really, we should have one discussion at atime, and trust me, you do not want me to get started on the Llama party today.Or the Status Quo‟s.” “I actually do read the newspaper now.” “They‟re acting like morons! Religion should not be a political platform,it‟s like grabbing a time machine and throwing everyone back into the middleages! They don‟t need a bucket of good cold common sense, they need a lake!” “Keep extending that metaphor and you could write an opinion column.”
“Yeah, well, I might. The only good thing the Changeists are doing rightnow is keeping their heads down among all this silliness. It‟s not even electionyear yet!” There was a moment‟s silence as Aranel changed gears. “Anyhow,you never told me what that thing with your sister was about last week.” Rean brushed some nonexistent dust off his knee. “Oh, Ida just wanted -” “I meant, she of the ridiculously large rumor mill, not she of the reallystrange circle of friends.”
“Oh,” Rean‟s face fell, “That.” “Yeah, „that.‟ Don‟t think I didn‟t notice that your own sister stole yourlunch money.” “Eh… it was more of blackmail than theft, really.” “What could she possibly have to blackmail you about?” Rean smiled sheepishly. “Well… I mean, it‟s not like the whole schooldoesn‟t already know. So it shouldn‟t be a really big deal, except… well, myparents are pretty old fashioned. And what am I supposed to do, announce atdinner „hey, the family name isn‟t going to get carried on, because I‟m youronly son and I just don‟t like girls that way?‟ That‟ll go over well.”
“All right,” Aranel said, “let me get this straight: you haven‟t told yourparents yet, so your own sister is blackmailing you in installments of aboutseven simoleons apiece.” “… More or less.” “She really does need a good punch to the face, you know.” “My dear Aranel, I happen to be a pacifist, and even if you aren‟t I‟d hate toexplain that one.” “Last time I checked, the dictionary definition of „pacifist‟ wasn‟t „doormat.‟And all you really need to do is tell her to take a hike. Actually -” a sudden ideacame to Aranel, and she couldn‟t help but grin, “I know what‟ll take the windout of her sails. You tell them first.”
“Yeah. Ara? Bad plan.” “Why? Once they know – and Rean, I‟m not entirely certain they‟ll besurprised – you can stop worrying about it, your sister won‟t have a chance tospin it, and even if she tries they‟ll believe you because you told them the truthfirst. So, once the initial shock is over, everyone goes back to their lives, and Ino longer bring two sandwiches in my bag. Everybody wins, except Nymea.” “You don‟t know my parents,” Rean began. “Ara, they‟re not really likeyour mom and dad at all. I mean, your mom‟s strict and all, and it‟s not likeshe‟s going to let any of you run wild in the streets, but she at least respectsyour views.”
“Every time the news is on the radio or my parents read the newspaper, I‟msupposed to agree with them whether or not I really think that way. They keeptalking about sometime way back in Elphemerea, when our family was richand important and all that – maybe my dad was head dog catcher, I don‟tknow. The important thing is, even though we‟re doing decently now, myparents don‟t see it that way. They think that all this „modern thinking‟ isholding us back from everything we could have, and that the world is fallingapart because so many people don‟t follow their „traditional values.‟” Rean took a breath, and Aranel nodded.
“Anyway, ever since I could remember – keep in mind that I‟m the onlyson – my dad has been really fond of pointing things out in the newspaper tous, and giving us his opinion, and expecting us to agree. Mom‟s more or lessthe same, because anyone who was „raised right‟ should have the same valuesas her and anyone else was „raised wrong,‟ and that‟s really all there is to it.Religion, political views, whatever – you‟re in the wrong, but it‟s not yourfault, because your parents were in the wrong and they taught you the wrongthings.” Aranel snorted.
“Yeah, I know, it‟s crazy,” Rean replied, “but that‟s how it is. You know thewhole marriage debate that‟s going on?” “Which is ridiculous, because denying a person the right is just discriminationand prejudice dressed up as religion – as if one person‟s religion were any excuseto discriminate against someone else or deny them equal rights --” “Yes, that one. It was a rhetorical question, Ara.” “Don‟t ask if you don‟t want an answer.” Rean rolled eyes. “Anyway, long story short, the reason that I know my parentswill have an issue with this is because that came up in the editorial section.”
“Ah. I think I know where this is going.” “You‟d be correct. I had to sit through breakfast one day a few weeks agowith my dad holding court on „deranged perverts,‟ and „against the naturalorder,‟ and „ought not to be in decent society.‟ Of course, I‟ve known for a longtime that he wouldn‟t be exactly pleased with… well…” “The fact that you have no interest in boobs?” “You‟re extremely crude, Ara. But accurate, yes.” “Hey, at least I didn‟t say „prefer –‟” “Anyway,” Rean interrupted. “Alliteration will not be necessary, thank you.”
“For a dude, you‟re an awful prude.” “And for a girl, you‟re very rude. You‟re not the only one who can rhymeamusingly.” “Fair enough. Anyway, your dad and probably your mom won‟t be too pleasedwith that fact, even though it‟s hard to think of something more natural thanhormones, except maybe manure.” “And people would prefer not to deal with manure either. That was actuallythe day that Nymea threatened to tell them – I should have known, the way momwent around that morning saying „absolutely right dear,‟ and „listen to your father,children, this is important,‟ while Nymea just sat there smirking.”
“Nymea smirking is never good.” “Yeah, well, you try living with her.” “No thanks. Though I might trade you Ana for Idalese, if only for somepeace and quiet.” “Thanks, but no. So, fifty something simoleons later, I‟ve figured out thatsooner or later, not ratting me out is going to stop being worth the money forNymea, or I‟m going to run out of cash.” Rean shrugged. “With all of us goingoff to college in a few months, I‟m hoping that I can outlast the summer,but…”
“But if she does tell, your parents will have a cow, not least that you‟vebeen keeping a secret from them this long.” Aranel summarized. “Dude – youhave to tell them sometime.” “No, I really don‟t,” Rean replied, “for one thing, I‟d rather keep thefreedom to actually go out and do things, without them being frantic about whoI‟m doing them with, even if it‟s something as simple as coming up here tohang out with you.” “They‟ll get over it,” Aranel told him wisely, “I mean, how could they not?You‟re their kid.” Rean sighed. “I hope you‟re right, Ara,” he said, as they headed back to theparty.
“Don‟t tip, don‟t tip, don‟t tip… hey, I made it!” “Yay!” Delphina clapped enthusiastically from the far end of the table, andthe three near-teens shared an eye roll. Still, she was only just in kindergarten,and all games fascinated her. “It isn‟t nearly as difficult as you think,” Lydia told Ana, adjusting her newglasses self-consciously. “I know how to play don‟t wake the Llama, Lydia,” Ana replied. “It justlooked chancy for a minute, that‟s all.” “I wasn‟t talking about the game.”
“Then what were you talking about?” “Waiting.” Lydia selected her straw with care. “I mean, we‟re not little kidsany more, a couple of days aren‟t exactly the end of the world -” “It‟s just not fair, that‟s all,” Ana grumbled, “you get to go off to highschool without me and I‟m stuck in middle school for another whole rotation.” “Yes, but it‟s not like we even go to the same school to begin with,” Lydiareplied patiently, “I mean, you‟ll see me every day, or at least as much as wesee each other now, and it‟s only a little while that we won‟t be in the same agegroup.”
“Darn it,” Lydia said, as her inattention to the actual game caused half thetower to fall. “Smooth, Lydia,” said Orion, and she shot her little brother a look ofannoyance. “Don‟t go teaching the kindergartner sarcasm.” “What‟s sarcasm?” asked Delphina, almost immediately. “Ask your brother.” The youngest of the group shrugged. She would put up with a lot in orderto play with the big kids. “Come on, Orion, they‟ve got a tower on theirplayground!”
“Fine,” he said, and followed his little sister out the doors, leaving Ana andLydia at the table. “So,” said Lydia when the others were safely gone and Ana was staring upinto space, “What‟s really the problem?” Ana heaved a huge sigh. “Well, apart from the fact that you‟re going to be ateenager and be having fun for a whole rotation without me…” “And the fact that it‟s not really that long, and that you‟re going to behaving way more fun in private school than I am in the public high school…”
“But it‟s not the same, Lydia! What if you suddenly make new friends, andwhat if you start hanging out with them because they can do teenager stuffwith you and I can‟t? What if we end up with completely differentaspirations?” Lydia tried very hard not to roll her eyes. “It‟s not like becoming a teenagerchanges everything about you,” she said, “I mean, we‟ll still be interested inthe same stuff as we are now, just be able to do more things and we‟ll befiguring out what we want to do with our whole lives. And I‟ve never heard ofaspiration stopping anyone from staying friends.”
“You‟re always so reasonable, Lyds.” “And you say that like it‟s a bad thing? One of us has to be, at any rate.”Lydia picked up a straw and absently put it back on top of the pile. “Ha ha. Lydia, I‟m serious. You‟ll be exploring new places, learning todrive, allowed to go out on your own… and it‟s not going to be the samewithout you.” “Well,” Lydia replied with a smile, “I promise that I‟ll tell you all about it.And besides, I‟m not going to be too free to wander around – my mom andMakir are finally getting married, more or less immediately after my birthday.”
“Besides, have you seen the list of subjects for high school? I guaranteeyou I‟ll be too busy finding my locker and trying to finish my homework to dotoo much before you grow up.” “Yeah, but that‟s school stuff. You‟re going to get to do everything beforeme – drive, go out -” “Get babysitting duty when my parents want to go out…” “Oh come on, at least there‟s no toddler in your house any more. All youhave to do is give „Phina a box of crayons and make sure that Orion doesn‟tfry any circuts.”
“I‟m just saying, it‟s not all fun and games, Ana.” “And I‟m just saying, I wish our birthdays were closer together.” “We‟ll be able to see even more of each other once we‟re both teensand can drive and don‟t have such early curfews – It‟ll be worth thewait.” “Yeah. Ever thought about getting into private school, Lydia?” “Well, yes, but my mom and Makir probably -” “Can‟t afford it for all three of you, I know.”
“Nothing wrong with public school.” “I never said there was. I‟d leave private school to be with you, Lyd, you know Iwould.” “Well,” Lydia paused for a moment, flicking back one of her thick braids.Everything about her was different – the new glasses, growing out her bangs, the braids– and Ana knew that it was about to get even more different, while she‟d be stuck as afreckle-faced little girl. “What do you say to enjoying the days we have, then? I askedfor chocolate cake at my party – you know that one‟s your favorite, and you don‟texactly have to wait long to eat it.” * * *
It was impossible to have a small party, not with the sheer amount ofpeople who were in some way connected to Lydia, her mother, and Makir, butit was, at least, a quick gathering. Most of the people invited were actuallyeither the adults, or friends of Orion and Delphina. She and Anariel werestranded between the teenagers and the little kids. Lydia didn‟t really care. She was all for a good party, but the fact that thisone was swarming with everyone else‟s friends wasn‟t a problem with hereither. There was really only one person whose presence mattered at this party.
“See,” she told Anariel, “I told you it would be quick.” It felt strange to be this tall. It especially felt strange to be looking so fardown at Anariel – Ana had always been shorter than her, but she‟d never beenthis much shorter. But Ana wouldn‟t be that much smaller than her for verylong, and it was better not to say anything about how strange this felt. “Are you going to hug me or not?” Yep. Growing up didn‟t seem to change much. She leaned down and gaveAnariel a quick hug.
“Tomorrow,” she promised, “we are definitely going to talk.” Then shepushed back her falling sleeves. “First, though, I have to get changed.”
“I already told you, Gabriella,” Ginger said tiredly, “The answer is no.” “But I‟d be perfectly safe with friends -” “That doesn‟t change the fact that we need you here after school,” Gingertold her. A late dinner, now long cold, sat on the table, but none of the threeteenagers was really hungry anymore. It had been a long day, and Ginger andGavin still had homework waiting for them, long after the kids had gone tobed. “There‟s two whole hours between when my school lets out and when theydo,” Gabriella protested, “That‟s plenty of time, and I promise I‟ll get back.”
Ginger wanted to say yes. In any other family, an afternoon at the rollerskating rink would have been a perfectly harmless request, one that any parentwould have been happy to grant. Of course, those were families with parents,not with just her and Gavin trying to muddle through. “Gabby, now that you‟re a teen, I have to start looking for a job,” she said.“We‟re already dipping into mom‟s trust fund far too much, and until Gavinturns eighteen and can get a full time job, we‟re going to need to stretch everylast simoleon. I‟m not saying you can‟t ever go out -” “Oh really?” Gabriella muttered. “That‟s not what it sounds like.”
Ginger sighed. “Gavin, it wouldn‟t hurt for you to back me up, you know.” “Yeah,” Gabriella piped up, “Tell her that she‟s not being reasonable – I‟llbe home at two thirty, max.” Gavin looked from one sister to the other. “Gabby,” he said, slowly,“money‟s tight. What are you going to use to rent your skates?” “The extra couple of simoleons that I‟ve saved from my lunch money,”Gabriella replied promptly. “That money is for feeding you,” Ginger cut in quickly, “You need thenutrition far more than you need an extra couple of bucks for fun.”
“Everyone‟s got to have a little fun sometimes,” Gabriella protested,“You‟re only stopping me because you‟re jealous. I have the money, I have thetime, and I‟ll be perfectly safe, so there‟s no possible reason that you canjustify saying no.” “That doesn‟t make the answer yes. Those two hours between when highschool lets out and when you have to get the kids from the bus are forstudying. While I‟m looking for a job and Gavin‟s at work, you‟re not going tohave time for homework when the kids are home, because we‟ll be relying onyou to pick up the slack around the apartment.”
“Look,” said Gavin, who couldn‟t bear the look on his younger sister‟sface, “I promise that you‟ll get to go bowling sometime -” “It‟s roller blading.” “Roller blading, then. Just not tomorrow. You‟ll have to wait a bit, untileither we have some extra money or I have a day off work.” Ginger glared at her brother out from under her bangs. “Gavin, youshouldn‟t promise her things that we might not be able to do,” she saidreproachfully. “Promises are hope, Ginge,” he said as he rose from the table and headed into the boy‟s room. “I think we all need some right now.”
There was momentary silence when the door shut behind him. “Now, Gabriella -” “He only said no because you told him to,” Gabriella accused her sister. “Myreasons are as good as yours. You‟re just jealous of me.” “He said no because he knows that we just can‟t afford to let you do thatright now, regardless of whether we want to say yes or not,” Ginger repliedsharply. “You do not want to say yes. You say you do, but you really just want me tobe stuck here with no friends!” Gabriella didn‟t raise her voice – she would havewoke the whole family – but that didn‟t reduce the amount of venom in herwords.
“Oh, now I’m the villain here,” Ginger hissed back, “Just because youdidn‟t get what you wanted. How dare I tell a fourteen year old that thesecurity of this family is more important than her social life?” “You‟re barely seventeen. What gives you the right to decide things forme?” “A court ruling.” “Well, screw the court!” “Do you want to go back to foster care? Because that‟s the alternative tohaving me in charge.”
“Maybe I do! It‟ll get me away from you!” “Of all the ungrateful -!” “Grateful? I‟m supposed to be grateful that we live stacked up on top ofeach other in an apartment where there‟s barely enough space to turn around?I‟m supposed to be grateful to come home to burned dinners and permanentbabysitting duty?” “You‟re supposed to be grateful to have a family and a home!” “Family? Family? You‟re not mom! And you‟re doing a pretty piss-poorjob of replacing her!”
The apartment door rebounded off the wall, leaving a dent in the ancientbrown and tan wallpaper, but Gabriella didn‟t care. She stormed out of theapartment and down the steps, her bony arms folded tight across her ribs. Shewas every bit as grown up as Ginger was, so why was Ginger still treating herlike a child? She‟d always been bossy, even when mom had been alive, but itwasn‟t until Gabriella had become a teenager that she realized that Ginger wasmean as well. And she always had to be right – oh no, god forbid anyone elseever be right, because she‟d just keep ignoring it and insisting that she was theone who was really right – which meant, of course, that Gabriella always hadto be wrong.
“Gabby!” Gabriella ignored it. It was a stupid nickname. How had she gotten it?Because her own family had insisted that she talked too much. Clearly they‟dall rather that she‟d just shut up so that they wouldn‟t have to spend their dayspointing out that she was wrong even when she was clearly right. She continued marching down the steps as fast as possible, still stewing.Her teenage years stretched out in front of her like an inescapable tunnel, onewhere she would never have the kind of life that her friends and her classmatestook for granted.
The reality was that Ginger was never going to let her do anything, becauseit was her turn to suffer or something like that. It wasn‟t like she‟d been adifficult kid. She hadn‟t asked for any of this – none of them had, so why didGinger have to punish her for the fact that none of them got to have a normalchildhood anymore? The idea of being protected, of being provided for, ofbeing safe and loved had been dangled in front of them all just for a few briefyears before being cruelly snatched away. If Gabriella had her way she‟d lockall drunk drivers up for a thousand years – what gave them the right to takeaway the only mother she‟d ever known?
The world was always taking, never giving, only that once which had lastedfor such a short time. The others might be young enough not to rememberorphanages and foster care, but Gabriella knew. She knew that there was a bigdark ugly pit in the center of the world where people got thrown away as easilyas candy wrappers, as easily as dead squirrels on the side of the road. That waswhere her life had been, not because of anything she‟d done but because shehadn‟t been wanted. Nobody really wanted her or ever would, no one exceptmom, and let‟s face it, Mom was dead, run down like a squirrel on the side ofthe road by an asshole too drunk to remember to dial for an ambulance until itwas too late. To Ginger and Gavin she was a responsibility, part and parcel ofthe elusive dream of family that they were trying so hard to grasp.
Anyone who loved you, anyone who was decent – they ended up in a box,leaving you behind. Everybody else just kept throwing you out, while yousank from dumpster to dumpster, unwanted like a pair of ugly socks. You justkept losing – and though Gavin and Ginger might be trying to put a brave faceon it for the kids, the reality was that they were still losing. And safe behind their cozy little windows, the lucky ones who never had tolose mocked her with their saccharine dreams.
Lydia was woken in the morning by the distant ringing of a telephone. Sherolled out of bed, yawning. Judging by the scattering of Delphina‟s toys on thefloor, and her sister‟s unmade bed, she was probably the last one in the houseto wake up. Sure enough, she heard Delphina‟s voice floating in the windowsjust a second later. The telephone rang again. With another yawn, she opened up the door, stepped over the large pile ofmagazines that had somehow drifted away from their proper basket, andcrossed the room, picking up the telephone.
“Hello.” “Good morning,” said an unfamiliar voice on the other end of the line, “Isthis the Fairmaiden residence?” “Shadeson residence,” Lydia said automatically. Years of being remindedby her mother never to give her real last name when she answered the phonekicked in before she could even think about it. Then, the gears clicked over inher sleepy brain.
“Oh. Well, I‟m calling for a Lydia Fairmaiden -” “That‟s me,” Lydia blurted out quickly, her heart beating fast. Looking forher – her mind leapt immediately to the only conclusion that she couldpossibly reach. This phone call had to have some connection to all the thingsthat her mother would never tell her about. And it was a man‟s voice too –what if…?
“In that case, I am pleased to announce that you have been accepted as afinalist in the Landgrabb memorial scholarship competition,” the man on theother end of the line continued, and Lydia had time to feel a crushing sense ofdisappointment before the real meaning of his words caught up to her brain. She had a chance to go to private school. For free. There was only one problem with that, though: she‟d never entered thecompetition.
She chewed on her lip for a moment, gazing around the room as shethought about it. How many times in her life was an opportunity going to dropinto her lap like this? Private school meant scholarships, scholarships meantcollege would be easier, not just for her but for Orion and Delphina too – andthere was, of course, the fact that the school she had a chance to go to was theone that would, in a few short rotations, contain Ana as well. But… she hadn‟t earned it. She hadn‟t entered the competition, and maybeit was some other Lydia Fairmaiden, or maybe they had the wrong list, or…
Knowing that she was going to regret it, but knowing that she‟d also regretit if she didn‟t say it, she forced her mouth open. “I don‟t think I ever enteredthe scholarship competition,” she said in a quiet voice. “Well, your name is on the list,” the man on the other end of the line said,“and some students were submitted by their teachers for their achievements. Ifyou‟ll hand the phone to one of your parents, I‟ll make an appointment foryour home visit with the deputy headmaster.”
All right,” Lydia said, then, remembering her manners, “Thank you verymuch, please hold for a moment.” She lasted until she‟d hit the hold button andvery carefully hung the phone up before she couldn‟t contain herself anymore.
“… so after that, the plumber says „no, impossible. That would be too muchof a coincidence!‟” There was laughter all the way around the table after Rean finished hisjoke, and he took a long moment to bask in the warm glow of the Elvensongfamily. He‟d been having dinner with them a couple of times a week formonths now, and apart from a brief, but intensely uncomfortable first dinnerwhere Aranel‟s mother had assumed that he was going out with Ara, he‟dnever felt more at ease anywhere than he had in their kitchen, new or old. “Thank you for dinner, by the way, Mrs. Elvensong. It was delicious.”
“Oh, no need to thank me dear, all my recipes feed six. It‟s just nice to haveyou over. It‟s been so hard to get the whole family to one meal in the last fewmonths.” She sighed, looking more than a little lost. Rean really liked Ara‟smother: she was nothing like Ara, which was probably a good thing, as hecouldn‟t see Ara cooking spaghetti, but she was warm and welcoming, and assharp as her daughter was, though less prickly around the edges. “It‟s good to have everyone home,” she said. “Well, they‟re here now,” Rean said brightly. He felt a short, sharp pain inhis shin. “Ow, Ara,” he said, reaching down to rub the spot.
“What my mom‟s too polite to say is that you were included in thatstatement,” Ara said, looking entirely unrepentant for having kicked him. “Andyou‟re invited to dinner again, you know, whenever.” Coming from Ara, who tossed invitations about and generally never made abig deal about anything like this, it was one thing. Coming from her mother…Rean had often felt guilty for wishing that Ara‟s mom was his mom, evenbefore Ara had set her straight about his sexuality in her usual, tactless fashion.But Viridia had been nothing but supportive to him, ever.
Not like his own mother, who was sure to have a cow if – when, hereminded himself, he was going to have to tell them sometime – she found outthat the precious male heir of the family had no interest in girls except asfriends. Ara‟s dad had taken some convincing that Rean and Ara were just friends,but sometime between his third and fourth dinner at the Elvensong house,Viridia had clearly sat him down and explained things to him. By now, bothAra‟s parents were a comfortable spot in Rean‟s routine, and so were herbrother and sister. Anariel was currently rolling her eyes at Ara.
“Ara, you make everything so plain,” she complained. Then she turned toRean with a sunny smile on her face. “Everyone talked about it, and you‟rewelcome here any time,” she said, putting on a voice that was clearly animitation of her mother for the last part. Haldir, sitting in between his daughters, nodded. “We like having youaround the house,” he said. “Yep!” Ana said, “and you‟ve gotta come to my birthday party next week,got it? You‟re like an extra big brother.”
“Hey, I thought I was your only big brother,” Achenar objected, mock-insulted. “I thought you liked me best.” “You‟re always out with Elirand and Calla,” Ana replied, sticking hertongue out at him. “Rean‟s my extra for when you‟re not home.” Aranel quietly snorted into her plate. “And everyone says I’m tactless.” Rean and Achenar turned to look at her. “What?” she asked, “Just wait untilher teen birthday, she‟ll stop being cute enough to get away with it.” Talk turned to Anariel‟s upcoming birthday party as everyone finished upthe last few bites on their plate and Rean and Aranel stacked dishes.
As Rean left, Aranel followed him to the door. “See you at school, then.” “Yeah, you too. Hey, by the way, is everybody going to prom?” Aranel shrugged. “I honestly haven‟t been paying attention. Why, is theresome big group going or something?” “Well, a few people. But it will be a big enough group that we won‟t besmushed by all the couples, since nobody‟s really taking anyone to prom –officially, that is.” “All right, cool. I‟ll make sure to get some tickets.” * * *
Lydia picked at the sash of her dress. It was very warm and sunny, withonly a bit of breeze. Typical late spring weather, really – when a cloud passedover the sun you were cold, and when it left you were hot. She tapped her foot impatiently, shifting her bouquet. It was probably theroses that were making her itch, not the dress. The children were in the front row and kicking their feet – Ana looked tornbetween the indignity of still sitting with the kids and the responsibility ofminding Delphina, which she shared with Orion.
The ceremony itself was quick and simple. The important thing, as Midinahad said, was to have friends there. Lydia couldn‟t stop her mind fromchurning, however, in the short time it took her to watch her mother getmarried. Makir was now officially her stepfather. She didn‟t have a problem withthat, exactly. It still seemed odd that she called him Makir while Orion andDelphina called him “Dad,” but even as a little kid learning to talk she musthave known that he wasn‟t actually her father. Now she was the only person atthe wedding without two parents who were married to each other. On thesurface, it changed nothing, but way down deep, what did that really mean?
Lydia wondered if she‟d feel any different at the wedding if her mother hadbeen marrying her father. Not that she wasn‟t happy for them, but maybe, justmaybe, she‟d have been as enthusiastic about the wedding as her “aunts”Eluisa and Chalimyra were. She just felt that the wedding was simply a showto confirm something that everyone knew anyways, and she felt terrible forthinking it. Shouldn‟t she be deliriously happy for her mom, finally marryingthe man that she loved?
Shouldn‟t she be prouder to be a part of the ceremony? Shouldn‟t she bethinking only of her mother and stepfather‟s happiness, not how wrong it wasthat she was using the moment to analyze her own feelings, comparing Makirto a father that she had never known? Shouldn‟t it all just mean more, afterhow important everyone else seemed to think a wedding was? The way Ana‟smother had talked, it was the single most important moment in her mom‟s life,and she hadn‟t paid attention to the whole first part, because they were almostdone with the vows now.
Maybe, she suspected as Makir slipped the ring onto her mother‟s finger,she was simply too practical and not romantic enough to fully appreciate themoment. The flowers were lovely, even if their smell was very slightly dampand earthy, the air was only chilly when the breeze picked up, and everyonearound her was watching the wedding. Her eyes treacherously sought out Ana,to share a conspiratory glance – even if she didn‟t know what the glance reallysaid, Ana would – but Ana was watching the wedding with rapt attention. Well, it was nice to know that someone found the ceremony absorbing.
After the cake, Lydia was just thinking that she should rescue thecamera from Orion so that someone could take decent pictures whenAna yelled for her to come over for the bouquet toss.
It wasn‟t as if Lydia was going to argue with tradition. Nobody reallybelieved girl to catch the bouquet would be the next to get married. Shealready had flowers, and anyway she wasn‟t getting married any time soon.But she didn‟t try very hard to catch the bouquet, all the same. The other girls,with the possible exception of Ana‟s sister Aranel, were all eager to try.
And with the boquet toss, the wedding was almost over. Some chipperdance song came on the CD player as Calla‟s mom started to congratulate heron having caught the bouquet. Lydia felt Ana tug her wrist. “Dance with me, Lydia? Pleeeease? Nobody else will.” “Nobody‟s dancing except for your parents being sappy,” Lydia replied. “But I like this song. Pleeeeeeease?” “All right,” Lydia said, and she took Ana‟s hands – it still bothered her howmuch shorter Ana was than her now, but it wouldn‟t be for much longer – andthey started to sway more or less to the music.
“Your brother said I had cooties when I wanted to dance,” Ana informedLydia, who laughed. “Clearly, he still has the mind of a six-year old even if he is twelve. Justwait until you‟re a teenager, you won‟t be able to get rid of him then. Hepesters me every day about high school, at least when he‟s not busy trying toget himself killed on Gallagher Newson‟s skateboard.” “When we‟re grown up and get married, I want you to be part of mywedding too,” Ana said, out of the blue. “We can dance too.”
“Don‟t be silly, you‟ll be dancing with your husband,” Lydia replied. “Butyes, I‟ll be maid of honor or something if you want.” “Good,” said Ana, “And I‟ll be your maid of honor at your wedding,right?” “Of course.” “That way even when we get married we can always be together.” “Pfft. As if I‟d let marriage stop us from being friends. Don‟t be such apessimist, Ana.”
“I didn‟t mean it like that. I‟m happy that you‟re going to start privateschool with me as soon as I grow up – it‟s only a couple of days now. But I justwant you to know that you‟ll always be my most important person beforewe‟re both teenagers and all sorts of things start happening.” “What about your family?” Lydia asked practically, even though she couldfeel a smile unrolling inside her. Ana thought for a moment.
“They‟re important too, obviously,” she said, “Family has to be, justbecause. But you I got to pick.” * * *
“Calla, I need your help,” Achenar said, having found her in the back room,“And you can‟t tell Elirand – he‟ll laught at me. Plus, it‟s about girl stuff – Imean, stuff related to girls - so I need your honest opinion and advice as, youknow, a girl who knows what a girl might -” “Achenar,” she interrupted, “You know I‟ll help you with whatever it is.” “Right,” he said, running his hand through his hair nervously, “Well, there‟sthe dance coming up – Prom – and there‟s this girl.”
“Thank you, captain obvious.” “Calla.” “Just get on with it, would you? I can‟t help you if you don‟t explain theproblem.” “Okay. Well, anyhow, I like this girl. A lot.” Achenar started to gesture withhis arms, pacing back and forth a little. “She‟s smart and she‟s funny, and she‟sgot these eyes, just – wow – and all this thick black hair that smells amazing,and legs…”
Suspicion dawned on Calla. “Are you saying what I think you‟re saying?”Achenar stopped waving his arms abruptly. “It‟s that obvious, huh?”Calla smiled. “A little.”“Do you think she knows?”
“Oh, I‟m sure she knows.” “Ah. Well, that‟s good then. So…” “She might,” Calla suggested, “even say yes.” Achenar made up his mind, darting forward to seize Calla by thehand. “Calla,” he said, “would you please get Arcadia Ebadi to say ifshe‟ll go to the dance with me?”
“Yeah, so then the bottle rocket blew up, and Mr. Pfeiffel dove behind thedumpster, while everybody was running around like chickens, screaming theirlungs off. It was great.” Calla just shook her head, “Junior year Geology hasn‟t had an explosionyet.” “That‟s because physics is awesome. Not some of my classmates, though.Two of them were complaining the whole time about getting water and plasticin their hair. Most of the other girls spent the whole time talking about prom.Oh, and getting fake nails, which is kind of disgusting to listen to.”
“So, you‟re not going to prom?” “Well, yeah, but not with a date or anything, just with a bunch of people, Reanand a lot of seniors. We‟re going to eat ourselves silly at the pancake house anddance badly until somebody pukes on the DJ. Nobody in the group‟s really withanyone, so we‟re basically going to swarm the dance floor and annoy thecouples.” “Sounds like fun. I kind of wish all of our friends would do that, buteverybody‟s just pairing up, even though we‟re all going together.” “Yeah, but you‟re not dating anyone and neither are your brother or Achenar.”
Calla let out an irritated sigh. “Yeah, but Elirand‟s spending all his timetrying to pick up Meadow Thayer – don‟t ask me why, he‟s a moron – and sohe‟s either going to be a total moron about her, or pick up some other girl intime for the dance. Oh, yeah, and Achenar is asking Arcadia Ebadi, so thewhole night‟s going to be a disaster.” “Wait, what‟s wrong with Arcadia? She‟s not a giggling moron, or wasn‟tlast time I talked to her. I thought you liked her.” “I liked her better a couple months ago,” Calla said, making a disgustedface.
Calla wasn‟t the only one to be irritated with her brother. “And now Orion doesn‟t wanna play with me because he‟s too big,” Delphinafinished complaining to Ariadne, “But you‟re still little, and you‟ll be my new friendwhen you grow big, won‟t you?” “Wanna play peek-boo!” Delphina sighed, but covered her face with her hands anyway. There was somethingless than ideal about having a playmate who was only a year old. Ariadne giggled, andDelphina got up. “I‟m gonna go find my sister.”
Anariel opened the door to the extra room, having looked everywhere elsefor her best friend. “Hey Lydia, I‟ve been looking for you, I want your opinion on whether Ishould give this bear to Ariadne…”
“That is so stupid,” Lydia was saying, “and he really said that?” “Yup. Apparently, I‟m a different species.” “More like he‟s a sasquatch.” “Yeah, that‟s what Aranel said, but hey, technically none of us are human.Anyway, he apologized for it later, but that was my first day of private school.Yours will be fine.” “I really hope so, it‟s kind of odd growing up during such a long break andnot knowing what to expect.” Lydia finally turned around and noticed Anastanding there. “Oh, is it time for the cake, Ana?”
Getting everyone into the kitchen for the cake turned out to take aridiculous amount of time. In fact, despite the kitchen being much bigger thanbefore the house was remodeled, it seemed like there was even less room forthe guests. Nevertheless, everyone was squeezed into the kitchen behind thecounter, waiting for her to blow out the candles and become a teen.
Except for Aranel. “Hurry up Ana, I want caaaake.” “It‟s your sister‟s birthday, Aranel,” Viridia scolded her oldest daughter,“Don‟t rush her.” Ana found that she didn‟t actually mind so much. “It‟s okay mom, I‟m justwaiting for everybody to get in here.” She took a look around the room, andfound that one of the guests was staring at the sink, but decided not tocomment on it. She must be someone that one of her parents knew.
There was no delaying any longer, everyone was in the kitchen, shiftingabout and wielding their noisemakers. It seemed kind of childish to Ana, but asshe was only going to be a child for a couple more seconds… Lydia‟s party horn sounded, sharp and tinny, in her ear as she stared into thecandle flames. She had thought that she had a wish, but she‟d forgotten it. Theonly one she could think of was extremely childish.
What did she want more than anything? To be braver? It seemed somehowsmall and hollow, now. She knew that she could speak up, even in front ofstrangers, and she knew now that Aranel‟s teasing didn‟t mean that her sisterhated her, just that she didn‟t know what would upset her. She wasn‟t botheredby the large crowd in the room and saw no reason to be, since it was full ofpeople she knew and who liked her. Trying to carry her childish concerns intoher teenage years suddenly didn‟t strike her as a very good idea. She wouldn‟t wish for bravery. She wouldn‟t wish to change herself.
As soon as cake had been eaten, Anariel dragged Lydia up to her room totalk. Lydia perched on Ana‟s pillow, swinging her feet and looking around theroom. It was a little bare still, but Ana knew that Lydia would be helping her tocollect more posters soon enough. “So,” Ana said as soon as she had shut the door, behind her, “how do youtell what your aspiration is?” Lydia shrugged. “I don‟t know. I think you just… know.”
“Well, how did you know that you were a knowledge sim?” Anademanded. “I don‟t really know, I just… I guess I went with what felt right,” Lydiaconfessed, “What mattered to me was, well, knowing that things would turnout, knowing why things happen… maybe I just want to be certain abouteverything.” “It figures that I would get you telling me that you just „knew‟ what to do.” “Hey, what do you want? I don‟t live between your pointy ears, Ana, I can‟ttell you what to do.”
“You could, there‟s just no guarantee I‟d do it,” Anariel said, “And yourears are pointy too.” “Not as pointy as yours, though,” Lydia‟s irritation never lasted long. “You‟re just jealous of the ears,” Ana smirked a little. “Feeling better about joining the world of the near-adults, then?” Lydiaasked, leaning back against the headboard, “sit down, it‟s your bed, not mine.”
“A bit,” Ana confessed, taking the other end of the bed, “Mostly, I‟m gladit‟s all over and I don‟t have to wait any more. I‟ll deal with school when ithappens, but anything‟s better than just waiting to change.” “Mmm,” Lydia replied as she swung her feet up onto the bed, “High schoolwill be fine. We managed elementary, didn‟t we? And we‟ll be in the sameplace for the first time. It‟ll be good. Don‟t worry about it.”
“I‟m not worried, really. Just kind of curious. I mean, both my brother andmy sister go to the school, but I still don‟t have a very good idea of what it‟slike.” “Elementary school, sized extra large, with people sized extra large andlegally allowed to drive.” “Lyds, you know what I mean.” “If you‟re relying on my ESP, the only channel I‟m picking up is the onethat declares that your mom makes one great cake.” “I mean, I don‟t think I know what it‟s like to be a teenager yet.”
“Mmm, cake. Though, I suppose that‟s very reasonable of you, consideringyou‟ve been one for less than half an hour.” “Lyds, I‟m not sure that I‟m ready.” Lydia cracked open an eye. “Of course you‟re ready. Don‟t go doubtingyourself everywhere, Ana. And even if you‟re not, life happens, you‟ll be fine.It‟s not as if you can go back. Just because you haven‟t decided your goals andaspirations yet doesn‟t mean that you‟re not ready, it means that you want tothink about things instead of just jumping into them.”
“Well, like I said, I‟m not worried, because I‟ve got you and we‟re finallygoing to be in the same school and the same classes.” Ana bounced a little onthe bed, “Also, did you know that prom‟s in three weeks? We should go.” “I don‟t know if freshmen are allowed.” “Now who‟s negative? I‟m pretty sure we are, though, and I want to go,so will you come with me?” “All right, I‟ll go if you can get tickets,” Lydia said, “but let‟s not startbuying dresses until we‟re absolutely certain. We‟ve got all of school to getthrough tomorrow.”
“So, do you guys want to hear some good news? Arcadia said yes.”
“Pass me some mojo then,” Elirand replied distractedly, though Achenarwas too excited to notice his friend‟s lack of attention. “And remember to gether ticket, they go on sale soon. Hey Calla,” he said a little louder, calling up tothe top of the play structure, “Do you remember when they‟re selling thetickets?”
“Next week on Thursday,” Calla replied distantly. She didn‟t even turnaround. “Is that for us or the Seniors?” Elirand asked. “Both.” “Good, that way we‟ll be sure of getting tickets,” Achenar said, “I mean,the underclassmen will have another chance to go to prom, but we won‟t, so Iguess selling tickets like this makes sense.” The only response he got out of Calla was a shrug.
“What‟s up with her?” he asked Elirand in an undertone. Elirand shushedhim. “Hey Calla,” he called, “You wanna come down and fish in the pond?” “Not particularly.” “Or we could see if we could bring Don‟t Wake the Llama out of thebasement.” “That game‟s for kids, Elirand.” “All the more reason to enjoy it now.”
“That sucks, that we don‟t have advisory together,” Ana said as she staredat the selection on the snack machine. It was the first day for both of them:Lydia‟s transfer had only just been completed. Unfortunately, being finally inthe same school did not necessarily mean that they had compatible schedules.In fact, it was sort of the opposite. “We‟ve got lunch… and trig.” Lydia wasn‟t entirely happy with the newarrangement either. “We‟ll probably have better luck next semester.”
“Yeah, probably.” Ana didn‟t sound too convinced. Somewhere off in thedistance, the warning bell rang. “I guess I‟ll see you at lunch, then.” “Yeah, see you,” said Ana, waving cheerily as she walked away. Lydia started on down the long hall alone, stopping only when she wasconfronted with a door. Room 108. Her first day of private high school.
Lydia plastered a smile on over her nervousness and chose a seat in the back, nextto a guy who was busily drawing in his notebook. She couldn‟t resist just a peek at thesketch. “Captain Hero, huh?” she asked. He looked up and snapped the notebook shut. “Yeah,” he replied, looking a little embarrassed. “It‟s a pretty cool sketch,” Lydia said, not knowing what else to say. “He doesn‟t flyexactly like that, though, his ankle bends a little…”
The first day, and then the first week, slipped past in a tumult of laughterbefore they knew it. * * *
“So,” said Elirand as he hit his seat, looking very pleased with himself,“She said yes.” “Who said yes?” Achenar asked, while Calla stabbed carrots with her fork. “Elizabeth. She‟s going to prom with me now.” Elirand puffed out his chesta little as he spoke. “Well good job then,” Calla said, a little more forcefully than she neededto.
“Uh, Calla? You‟re kind of making carrot sauce there,” Achenar said,taking the fork out of her hands. She‟d been acting weird the past few days andeating smashed carrots couldn‟t be helping. Instead of speaking or even looking at him, she crossed her arms andleaned back in her chair. It was at that moment that Vince Jalowitz came tobreathe some life into the dying conversation.
“Calla,” he said with a smile and a very British accent, “Would you mindtalking to me in private for a moment?” “Got something to say to her that we can‟t hear, Jalowitz?” Elirand asked. “As a matter of fact, yes.” “Shut up, Elir. Yes, of course, Vince.” She got up without sparing the boysa backward glance.
“Wonder what that‟s all about?” Elirand asked, but since Calla‟s badmood was infectious, Achenar didn‟t answer except in a shrug. Hedidn‟t much care, really, what it was about – probably some notes orsomething. He took Calla‟s fork and started murdering more carrots,but couldn‟t focus on them. He looked up. There was a long momentwhere he watched Calla through the glass of the door.
“So, what was that about?” Elirand asked immediately as she returned tothe table and Vince strutted off into the cafeteria like some sort of peacock.
“Oh, nothing,” Calla replied arily, “Vince just asked me to prom, that‟s all.”
Lydia made a beeline for the usual table, getting there long before any ofthe other girls, and dropped her tray with a sigh. It was strange that no one elsewas there yet, but then, she‟d been at the front of the lunch line. She waved at Briar, who was passing by with his own tray. When hecaught sight of her, he swerved over towards her table.
“Hey, Lydia,” he said as he approached, “I was wondering something.” Hedidn‟t say what he‟d been wondering, however, just left it hanging there. “Well?” Lydia prompted, “What were you wondering?” “I… Well I was wondering if…” Lydia stared at him, unblinking, waitingfor him to finish, while he shifted from foot to foot. “I was wondering if youthought that the biology test was easy,” he finally blurted out. Lydia shrugged, “Well, as long as you remembered which ones theEukaryotes were, I dunno, it should be okay…”
“Yeah, Eukaryotes,” Briar replied with a forced laugh, “It‟s actually theprophase and anaphase that always confuses me, really.” He spotted the girlsarriving out of the corner of his eye, and he changed tracks abruptly. “Well, Ishould get going, I guess. Are you doing anything next weekend?” “Probably studying for the memorization test in English,” Lydia repliedabsently. “Why? Is there something going on?”
“Oh, nothing, nothing…” Briar disappeared across the lunchroom asLydia‟s usual table mates closed in. As usual, Christy came flying in first, already talking, but in this case, shewas leading a pleased-looking but very red Anariel and talking full speed. “Lyds! You‟ll never guess what happened in the lunch line!”Christycrowed, turning Ana an even brighter shade.
“Dinosaurs attacked,” Lydia replied, “And you stoned them to death withthe hamburgers.” “No! Not that! Tell her, Ana!”
Ana shrugged a bit, very pink in the face. “I just got asked to prom,” shesaid, unable to wipe the stupid grin off of her face.
Viridia looked into the bedroom and saw, much to her surprise, that Haldirwas already asleep, though it was less than an hour after dinner. She would havehad to be blind to not have seen how tired he was during the last few weeks, asthings at the hospital finally settled down and returned to normal, but she hadnever thought that he would still be this exhausted. Fervently, she hoped that hehadn‟t caught anything. Although, if he had, or even if he hadn‟t, taking sometime off of work would be good for him. He didn‟t get to spend as much timewith Ariadne as he ought to, and Aranel would be off to college before long.
They hadn‟t spent much time together since the earthquake – he had beenat the clinic night and day at first, and she had been busy enough witheverything, including the building of the new house and fulfilling her duties asDean of Students at SSU. So many people had been afraid of the aurora storm,and the damage that both it and the tremors had caused, that she‟d hardly hadtime to worry about her own concerns. Then there had been Midina‟s wedding,which had been put off by the earthquake after being delayed so many years.
Everyone, it seemed, was moving on or growing up, and all of the constantthings in her life were settling quietly into their age, like rocks sinking into themud of a riverbed. She wondered if she too, had settled, become a part of thescenery that pushed quietly on from day to day. If she was starting to fade intomemories, or maybe just into her husband‟s well-deserved dreams. With a smile, she turned and shut the door behind her.
Author‟s Note Yeah, so everything looks different now. For those of you who don‟t know,I had a pretty massive rebuild – extracting lots, installing a clean version ofRiverblossom, the whole nine yards – and I got some new CC while, in theprocess, dumping some really old stuff, mostly stuff I found on the exchange. You may have noticed:- Shiny new Enalya skins that I really ought to geneticize soon on the elves.- Hairstyles. I need to fix for recessives, but people at least got their rightvisible color genes this time around. Of course, I had a lot of hairstyles thatwent because of mesh issues or colors (xmsims colors, anyone? The only thingworse is helga‟s poster paint red.)- New plantsim default! Gorgeous, no? „tis from Garden of Shadows(specifically, Almighty Hat) and it‟s my new favorite. Well, that and havingplantsims with real hair. Now they look a little more dryad-ish.- People grew up while you weren‟t looking. This is because they needed tobe exported (Ariadne) or were close enough to their next age that it didn‟tmatter (Delphina, the Greenmans) Oh, yeah, and because I am thoroughly sickof going into extensive detail about birthdays, because there are too frigginmany of them.- I got Pets and M&G. Now the only remotely useful things I don‟t have arethree or so stuff packs. Okay, technically I bought Pets in September, but Ifigured if I was already rebuilding, why not just mix everything up?
Oh yeah, and the house. I hated the old Elvensong house very, very much. It once took Aranel 45 simminutes to get from the dining room to the bus, because routing was a spaghettimess and the bridge… oh, the bridge. People did laps around the house to getinto the next room. The moral of the story is to never make a house around alake, or one with two or more staircases. Ever. The router immediately drops 40IQ points. Anyhow, a much more modern, rather better looking house, which will get alot more interior paint eventually, but for now doesn‟t look too bad, especiallythe kitchen. And everyone has their own bedroom, for which I‟m sure all thekids will thank me. Also, does anyone know how to stop the ceiling tiles beingblue? It‟s annoying the heck out of me. I‟ve replaced them 20+ times.
Oh yeah, Ariadne‟s age is something that‟s going to require constantfudging from here on in. She gets to stay a tot for a little longer than usualbecause of the rebuild shennanigans. Canonically, the ages of the Elvensongkids are as follows right now: Aranel : just turned 18 (Rean‟s seventeen but a senior.) Achenar: 16 (something like a year and a half in between the oldest two) Anariel: 14 Ariadne: About 18 months. Fortunately, I learned to tweak an aging hack, so game ages will line upbetter with canon, and my version gives seniors a hugely variable age range,with deaths between 60 and 90. It hits everyone at their next age transition, soit won‟t be very visible for a while.
And thank you to the makers of GIMP, which is free and pretty much my bestfriend right now. Broken glass was easy in concept, but required a lot of tweakingin the end. The version to your left came out too chalky with lighting that was toobright. Not making a tutorial right now, but anyone who likes can pick my brainon the process for any of the chapter‟s broken glass if they PM me, or on the(almost invisible) tears from Gabriella‟s scene, or the lightning/sparks, which wasalso really fun to draw. Heck, I just like to draw, but anyone with a fairly steady hand and a wirelessmouse can manage the lightning and glass. Actually, I did it with an attachedmouse. There‟s more I could say, given that it‟s been months since my last update, butI‟ll save it for the spam, yes? No, I‟m not going to tell you what‟s going on in the end yet. Figure it outyourselves.