At breakfast, the day I was going to visit Dad and Besu, Grandpa asked, "Were you using my computer yesterday while I was gone?"
"Yes. Am I in trouble?"
"Lee," he said, "You know you are not supposed to give anyone our email addresses, or our phone number, or where we live without permission, don't you?"
"And you've never done that?"
"Are you sure that's what you want to say?"
"I haven't done any of those things."
He shook his head. "Then why do I have email for you?"
"I dunno," I'm sure I replied. "Who sent it?"
"Somebody who calls himself 'Big Al.' Do you have a friend who calls himself that? Do you know anyone at all who calls himself that?"
I shook my head. "What did he say? Something bad?"
Grandpa swiveled around and brought up the message on his screen, and let me read it, or try to read it. I didn't understand a lot of it. In fact, I probably wouldn't understand it today. Big Al's technospeak is hard even for other geeks to decipher sometimes. But I'm getting ahead of the story again; I didn't know who 'Big Al' was, yet.
However, I was able to get something out of it, once I got past the bits where Big Al explained how she got the files she sent me and what she did to them. There were pictures, and even a little video.
Grandpa muttered, "You've never told me about anyone called 'Liliput' or 'Screaming Mimi' or 'Hairy Neri'--"
"Neri? That's Nereid." I figured that one out because it was the title of a picture with just her in it.
"Oh? Who is she?" my grandfather asked.
"She came with my stepmom and her sisters when they visited. They can't speak very good English, so she came along to help."
"This one?" He pointed.
"She's about your age, isn't she . . . does she belong to your stepmother or her sisters?"
"No," I said. "Her mother is Michiru."
"So that's the one . . . and
My Mom didn't come back until just before I saw the family court judge. Grandpa said he had found a good lawyer before the hearing, but the lady who was working for my father didn't take very long to swat down everything Grandpa's lawyer said. Soon there was a lot of whispering, to Mom and Grandma (Grandpa wasn't there) and to the judge, and then I went into the judge's office alone. He asked me if I wanted to stay with my Dad or my Mom. I said I'd like to stay with both of them.
"That's not possible," the judge said. "Your father and mother aren't going to live together any more."
"I know that," I told him. "I mean, I'd like to stay with Dad for awhile. I haven't seen him in a long time."
"Oh. Well, let's start out with this weekend.
Mom wasn't too happy about that, when she found out.
I went back to Grandma and Grandpa's after that, which was only a couple of days. My Mom stayed over. The next day, I guess when she was calmed down enough, she talked to me about Dad and his new wife.
My grandfather drove us down, Mom, Grandma, and me. I think if Mom had still had her car and any money, she would have taken me—that is, taken me somewhere else, so I wouldn't have gone. But then, Besu would have come looking, and maybe that would have been worse.
But it started out as a pretty good day for me. Grandma and Grandma lived in Laurel then, which is north of Washington. My Dad's housing was far down a peninsula. Traffic was about as bad as usual for a Friday afternoon, so I got bored and went to sleep. When I woke up, we still weren't there, but we were in some town I'd never been in before and we stopped at a restaurant for a "pit stop," if you know what I mean. Grandma and Grandpa and Mom had coffee and I had a small root beer float. Maybe it was a Dairy Queen, but I'm not sure. Anyway, any day when I could get ice cream without something like Brussels sprouts before it was a good day when I was eight (almost nine.)
It was still a pretty long time before we got to where we were going. Mom had been pretty quiet until then, but when she saw Luxor, the town outside the old base, she started making remarks. Grandpa started to say something about the Philippines but Grandma stopped him.
There wasn't a lot of Luxor before we were on the old base. There wasn't anyone at the gate, so we drove around until Grandma made Grandpa stop and ask directions. Then we found Intrepid Drive, where Besu was living with my Dad. Out in front of the house, there was quite a collection of people. I recognized Sere, Juno and Nereid, but none of the others. I stayed outside to see who these people were while Grandma, Grandpa and Mom more or less ran into the house, probably to get rid of the coffee. I didn't need to use the bathroom yet.
"Hi, I'm Big Al," one of them said, shaking my hand. Big Al was shorter than Besu and was wearing a big sweatshirt.
"Her name is really ‘Alcyone,'" said Nereid, sounding a tiny big annoyed, maybe.
"Alcyone Umino," said Big Al.
"You're a girl!" I said.
"Yeah. I'm a girl," said Big Al, sounding a little more than a tiny bit annoyed, definitely.
It seemed like a good time to go inside.
The house was laid out with the living room in front, the kitchen and dining area in back, and bedrooms upstairs. I navigated with Nereid through the living room, where I could smell tension. Mom was being quiet; my grandparents seemed to be doing most of the talking when I came in. Dad wasn't there. Besu was flanked by ParaPara and a woman who had to be Al's mother. I would get to know Naru very well indeed later, but all I got at this time was a short introduction by Al, who had trailed us. We went into the kitchen, where Sarah was cooking. Nereid introduced me, explaining her relationship--they had half sisters in common. It was an odd relationship, but I knew other kids with approximately the same kind of family blending.
Meanwhile, from outside the room, I heard the sound of voices rising—not the words, but the tone of the voices: angry tones, disturbed tones. I didn't want to hear the words. I didn't want to think about another fight, the fight I had been waiting for ever since the judge spoke with me. I wanted to think of something else, anything else. So maybe that's why I took a closer look at Sarah. Before long I said, "I think I saw you on TV."
Sarah stopped working on the dinner for a moment. "Yes. I suppose you did."
Nereid whispered to me, "From the White House."
<White House?> "You were at the White House?"
"Yes," said Sarah. "I was one of the first hostages they let go."
Nereid started to add, "My father—"
The voices rose while she spoke, and suddenly it was very quiet, except for Hippolyta crying and the thump of footsteps. Besu burst through the door to the living room with Hippolyta in one arm and holding a squirming animal in the other. It was just a little bigger than a cat, but it had nasty-looking claws, and it was trying to dig them into Besu. But its legs were too short. It was a badger.
What was Besu doing holding a badger, and why was she mad at it?
Besu certainly was mad at it. She marched past me and Nereid and held the badger over a boiling kettle.
Sarah said something to her in a very sharp way. I couldn't understand it, of course, it was in Japanese. Neither could I understand Besu's answer, nor what Sarah barked out after that. Whatever it was, Besu moved back from the stove.
My petite stepmother, not that much taller than I was at eight (almost nine) turned to me, and the wild look in her eyes went out. She said, "Sorry. Lost temper."
Then she held up the badger higher than her head, and her cherry-red eyes flashed. The badger melted, and poured itself out into a new form, a taller form, a different form. Or rather, the form it had had before: my mom.
Mom passed out. So did I.