I woke up in a strange room. It was dark, but there was enough light through the windows to make out the basic details. There was a crib, and from its direction I heard tiny breaths.
What I remembered seemed like it had to be a dream. Nevertheless, I was in a strange room. I got up. I got out my keyring, which had a tiny flashlight, and I investigated. The baby, no surprise, was Hippolyta, so I must be at my Dad's place. But what had happened?
I went back to bed. I wanted to talk with my dad about it, but Dad was never far from Besu or her sisters. Finally I got to talk to him alone late Sunday. I asked, "Dad, is there something, well, strange about Besu?"
"Oh, there's a lot about Bessie that you might think is strange," said my dad. But he was really listening to me. "Are you talking about something stranger than being in circuses? Or coming from far away?"
"Yes," I said, and I told him what I thought I remembered. Then I asked, "Is Besu some kind of witch?"
"Not exactly," said Dad. "She's really more of a soldier like me, in her own way. And what she is is very secret. You must not tell anyone."
"But Mom must know. And Grandpa and Grandma must have seen—"
"They won't remember it that way," said my dad. "Probably all they will remember is that Abby had a fight with Bessie. And that's really all that happened. Bessie wouldn't really have hurt your mother, son." Dad held up a hand to stop me from talking. "It was wrong, anyway, and she knows it, and I've talked to her about it, and so have her friends. It won't happen again."
Dad hesitated. "Well, probably."
When I got home from my eventful weekend with my Dad and Besu, "home" was once again Good Old Fred's apartment in Georgetown. I found my bed was gone, and the room turned into a home office, a lot bigger and more professional-looking than Grandpa's little cubby. I slept on the sofa.
You might think with my stuff gone, I wasn't welcome at Good Old Fred's, but you'd be wrong. Good Old Fred went further out of his way than ever before to be nice to me and my Mom, but especially to me. He took me aside as Mom was gone for awhile and explained that Mom and he had had "difficulties" but that now they had decided to get married. They were going to get a house. It wouldn't make sense to change the office back into a bedroom for me when we would be moving in a short while. Would I mind too much roughing it on the couch in the meantime?
I told him I could sleep on the couch for now. I didn't tell him I thought he was lying, or at least not telling me everything. At eight (almost nine) I knew that adults lied to kids sometimes, and to each other. I also didn't tell him how creepy I thought he was. I hadn't so far. But he seemed even creepier, trying to put on his nice face for me.
Another thing I didn't tell him was about Mom being turned into a badger. I never told him more about Mom than I had to.
I was worried about Mom, but I couldn't talk to her about her badger-hood without breaking my promise to Dad. But I was worried about her. I watched her. I checked on her, even sometimes when she was asleep. One of those times came about a week after I returned to Good Old Fred's apartment. I got up to pee, and I noticed Mom's voice. She sounded like she was talking in her sleep. I saw none of the usual signs that Good Old Fred was home. So, after I finished my business, I went to the bedroom and slowly, quietly opened the door. I'd gotten lots of practice in doing this by the time I was eight (almost nine.) Once again, as when I opened a door to check on things at Dad's, I was quiet enough so no one noticed. I could see the foot of the bed; there didn't look to be more than one set of feet under the covers. Satisisfied that Good Old Fred wasn't there after all, I quietly stepped inside.
At the head of the bed, there was a dark form, bent over Mom. It sure didn't look like Good Old Fred. In fact, I wasn't sure it was human in the dim light. And so, I did a stupid thing. I switched on the light.
Looking back on this, I say it was stupid because I didn't have any way to stop whatever was in that room. If I had, say, a shotgun or something better, turning on the light would have been just the thing. But what I should have done was go for help. Screaming would have been a viable option, but when I am really scared, I can't scream.
What happened next happened so fast I don't really remember. All I was conscious of next was suddenly being elsewhere. I was up in the air, at night, over a city, with lights spreading out everywhere. Someone was holding me around the middle and clamping a hand over my mouth. Whoever it was said, "I'll let you talk if you promise not to scream. Promise?"
Apparently that was the right answer, because my mouth was freed.
"Who are you? What are you doing here? What are you doing up here?" We weren't airliner-high, but we were far enough above the ground to go splat.
"I'm Sarah! Don't you remember me?"
"Sarah? What are you doing here? What--You're a witch like Besu!"
"Bishoujo senshi," she retorted. "Like Besu. I thought--Jeez, didn't your Dad tell you? Besu? Nereid?"
"Why would Nereid--" I let that question go for a better one. "Can we get down on the ground now?"
"Yeah, good idea."
We went down. I could see that Sarah had wings now, but she wasn't flapping them much. We set down at some kind of parking lot, but it was on a roof. "Where are we?" asked Sarah when she had set me down.
"I don't know," I said. "Somewhere in Washington." I had seen some of the lighted landmarks on the way down. I added, "You brought us here. Don't you know?"
"I had a lot on my mind, Leon," she replied. She got out something and began fooling with it. I didn't know what it was, or where she got it from. I could see that she was wearing a costume that didn't seem to have pockets or a utility belt or anything, just tight boots, tight gloves, and a tight-fitting outfit featuring an extremely short skirt. "I didn't aim for anyplace . . . hey, we're in luck. We are maybe half a click away. I think I can see your place from the other side. Come on."
I followed her, but I protested, "How do you expect to see anything? Magic? I don't remember seeing this place."
When we got to the other side, she had put away her whatever it was and gotten out something else from wherever. I lifted the back flap of her sailor-style color, but there was nothing under it. Meanwhile, I saw the "something else" was a pair of binoculars. Sarah explained, "I've got great night vision, we all do, and with these, I should be able to see if there is something up in your place."
"Why don't we just go back?"
"Because your mother is probably up. The lights are on in your apartment now."
"Mr. Farnham's apartment," I said. "Mom will be worried. If you don't take me home, she will probably call the police."
"That's a good point, Leon."
"Why did you come, anyway?"
"The same reason you came into your mom's room, Leon. I came to check on her."
"I read minds, too . . . Listen, try this for now. I'm going to take you as close to your--to Mr. Farnham's apartment building as I can get away with. Then you go there, ring until someone answers, and tell your Mom you were sleepwalking. I'll keep an eye on you until you get inside. Okay?"
"Okay, I guess."
It turned out Mom hadn’t seen Sarah, really. Later on—years later, actually—Sarah explained that she had tried to put out the light and suggest to Mom that the “angel” was a dream, all just before she teleported out with me. I guess it all worked, or worked well enough. My ringing woke her up. She wasn’t really convinced I had been sleepwalking, and she said that if I hadn’t, it was a very foolish thing to do, going outside in my pajamas at night.
Later on I heard from Nereid that Sarah had gotten into a lot of trouble with her mom. It turned out her mom could read minds, too. That was not long at all after Sarah’s uninvited visit. It was when I went to Orlando again with Dad, this time with Besu and my little sister.
My dad, my stepmom, and I flew space available on an ancient plane called a C-141 which made short hops on the way to Jacksonville. Besu’s sister’s all just teleported there, but Dad (and his superiors) felt it would be best that we have a reasonable explanation for how we got to Orlando, in case someone (like a reporter) asked. Flying in the C-141 was not exactly first class travel, or even tourist; we sat on nylon webbing along the windowless walls of the cargo bay. Even thought it was August, it got cold in there, once the plane was at cruising altitude.
When we finally got to Orlando, Sere, Junjun (Juno allowed me to call her that, a rare-privilege I later discovered) and Parapara were waiting for us. They didn't have to keep up appearances; they had teleported.
They did not have to be accounted for, apparently—though I was sure I saw Dad grimace for a moment before he went up to meet them. Sarah was with them, again; and so was Nereid, again. There were also three other girls I hadn’t met before, two little ones and one who was mid-sized between them and Sarah and Besu and her sisters. Sarah said, “This is my sister Kimi. She can talk, sometimes.”
“Short for ‘Kimberly,’” said the mid-sized girl
My father knew who they were, although the little girls didn’t really know him, I could tell. is Mimi,” he said, indicating the one with black hair and very deep blue eyes—and a very impressive nose on such a little girl—“and this is Mimi.” Mimi had golden hair and eyes. Lily extended her hand, which I shook. Mimi somehow stretched up on her toes and kissed me. “Domo arigato, Leon-san,” she said. “Hello, I am very, very pleased to meet you.” It came out something like “Her-ro, hai an beri, beri prease to meet-u you.”
“That’s very good, Mimi-chan,” said Sarah brightly, reaching down ruffle her hair a little. “Mimi didn’t know any English at all a year ago.”
“Yes. The schools in Singapore teach everyone in English,” said Lily, in good English with a touch of an East Coast Urban accent. “That’s where we’ve been living with Grandma and Grandpa the last year.”
“Singapore? Your grandparents are from Singapore?”
“No, from here,” said Lily.
“They work in Singapore,” said Mimi. “Singapore is nice place. School hard for me because Eigo—English so hard for me.”
Nereid said something to her in Japanese, and they started arguing, in Japanese. But Sarah said something in Japanese that had to be an order, and Besu and all her sisters said things which must have backed her up. I could tell from the tone that part of it meant, “Shame on you for acting this way.”
Once we were out of earshot of anyone official besides Dad, I asked Sarah how she’d gotten onto the base without ID—Besu and all her sisters had dependent ID’s, but Sarah couldn’t have.
“No one checks IDs once we are inside,” she said, “Unless we do something really stupid.”
“You mean you just popped in?”
“No. We popped in over the base first and scoped out a place to pop in.”
“But we will be leaving the base before we pop out, ladies,” said my father. There was no mistaking; that was an order.
Like most bases, there was a free shuttle bus which went to the gates, among other places. Being an Air Force base, it was as big as an international airport, so it was a long walk to the gate. So we waited for the bus, along with some people who had no magic as far as I knew. Three of them were young guys in the services, one was a female Airman, and there was also a family traveling space available like us who’d come in on a different plane. They were on their way to Orlando, too. They were also on their way to Heaven and wanted to take me along. When my dad asked them what path to heaven they were following, they said, “We belong to the New Gospel Church.”
Dad stiffened a little, but Sarah, who had been flirting with the guys along with Sere, Junjun, and Parapara, got a look on her face I hadn’t seen before. Sarah’s smile vanished, and her eyes tightened. Lily said something to Mimi in Japanese.
“What say?” said Mrs. Quintley, bending down to Lily.
“Nothing,” said Lily, taking a step back. “I was just telling Mimi about your church.”
“Oh? Well, child—”
“We are being raised as Jews, Mrs. Quintley,” said Lily, with very much force for such a small person.
“Oh. Well, our Lord himself was born a Jew.”
“Are you interested in converting?” said Sarah. “I can find you a rabbi who will do it. Mr. Quintley, I presume you are already circumcised, so all the mohel would have to do is draw a drop of blood for the ceremony.”
Besu said something, but my father said something to her. All in Japanese, again.
Mr. Quintley’s ears perked—some people can do that, like a cat or a dog, and he was one of them. “You speak the lingo?” he asked my father.
“Yes,” said Dad.
“You the sponsor for this whole bunch? I didn’t catch your name or your rank. I’m Major Quintley. Air Force. And you?”
“Lieutenant Colonel Verhofen,” said Dad. “USA.” (In the context, that’s military-speak for “United States Army.”)
“Colonel?” said the major. “I don’t suppose you would mind showing me an ID.”
Dad gave his ID to the puffed-up man. He looked at it closely. “You are kind of young to be a colonel, aren’t you, son?” Quintley said in the tone every cop in the universe uses when they think someone is lying.
“My dad is a Green Beret,” I interjected. As usual, it was the worst thing to say. Quintley’s ears perked again.
“Not many of those. I wonder—”
Quigley did not get to finish his sentence because he suddenly cut loose with a fart louder and smellier than I could imagine before it was upon us. Lily giggled and whispered to Mimi, cluing me in that the fart might not be just a happy accident. Major Quintley turned beet red, and was so flustered he didn’t protest when my dad took his ID back. Dad said something he probably shouldn’t have then. “You wouldn’t be in the Chemical Warfare branch, would you, Major?”
Like father, like son.
Fortunately the bus showed up just when the fart was dissipated. Otherwise, Quintley might have tried to make more trouble. But once on the shuttle bus, going out the gate, I guess his mind switched back into civilian mode. I’ve seen that a lot. Soldiers wear one hat on duty, and another off, and there are often completely different thoughts under those hats. As little as I’d seen of Dad up until then, I already understood some of that.
The bus got to the gate pretty quickly. Like most route
drivers, the one in charge of this bus wanted to make her run as quickly as
possible so to have more break time before the next run. We went scooting off
the slick plastic seats as the bus braked to a stop. Neither us nor the
Quintleys had much conversation in us, although the young men and women used to
riding this shuttle seemed to have no problem talking.
Once we were out the gate, however, a new problem appeared. Dad and Sarah started arguing in Japanese. I moved away from that, and Nereid followed me. When we were far enough so that a normal person couldn’t have heard our words. However, no one else but us and the Quintleys got off at the gate.
The base was technically inside Jacksonville, but Jacksonville, at least back in 2010, was still mostly empty space--it was a city-and-county, like Los Angeles, but unlike L.A., Jacksonville hadn't grown enough to fill in most of the acreage within the city limits. Outside the gate there was just a bus stop with an awning and a long concrete bench. There had been something else, a wooden building which was just a pile of scorched debris in an empty lot. Otherwise, there were a few cows, and maybe a mile down the road, a single mobile home. Like all of Florida, the country was absolutely flat.
Sarah said something to my dad. It was Japanese, but I could tell whatever it was, wasn't good. My father replied, and soon they were arguing. I decided to put some distance between myself and that. Neried followed me, and when we were maybe a hundred feet away, explained the situation. “We can’t get out of here with the Quintleys watching us. Sarah is telling your father we should have gone from the same place we came in.”
“You can hear them from here?”
“Oui,” said Nereid. “There is no place we could get out of sight for a long way. We can’t just start walking down the road.”
“I guess not,” I murmered back. “Where did you come in, anyway?”
“In a hangar no one is using,” said Nereid.
“How did you know that?”
“I listened, and my sister Kimi looked through the roof. She can see through things.”
“What? She’s your sister?”
“Yes. I’m her sister, too,” said Lily. She’d drifted up along with Mimi.
“What? Wait a minute—”
“We have different mothers,” explained Nereid, getting a little impatient. “But the same father, except for Sarah.”
“I thought your father was named ‘Haruka.’”
“Haruka-papa is my mother’s partner, but maman chose Chiba-san for me. That is why I am Nereid Chiba . . .” She stopped for a moment, obviously listening. “Major Quintley is asking your father questions again.”
"I don't think Dad is afraid of him. Besides, he's a major and Dad's a colonel." I wasn't much interested in any of the Quintleys, yet. “Did Sarah bring all of you?”
“No, we came together. It’s easier if we do it together, we can carry more. And we save energy. Sarah’s mother Chiba-san is always telling her she wastes her powers.”
"We?" I backed up a step. "You mean you're like Sarah and Besu?"
Nereid frowned. “Didn't Besu tell you? Didn't your father?"
"Not about you . . . Uh, oh, here come Rapture and Destiny." The Quintley girls.
Rapture, the older one, about the same as Nereid or I, asked, "Can we stay? Or are you still mad at us?"
"We are not angry with you," said Nereid.
"That's not true!" said Destiny, who was maybe one, maybe two years younger. "You got mad at us when Daddy told you 'bout our church."
"We have had difficulties with your church," said Nereid.
"What kind of 'difficulties?'" asked Rapture.
Before Nereid could speak, little Lily said, "Auntie Makoto."
"'Auntie Makoto,'" echoed Rapture, eyes growing wide. "I know of one lady named 'Makoto.' She took the children away from a Christian family."
"Is that your 'Auntie Makoto?'" asked Destiny.
Nereid nodded, slowly. "I think you should not tell your parents."
"Why?" challenged Rapture.
"Because it would do no good thing and might do something bad," explained Nereid matter-of-factly. "We are going to be together for awhile. Why make trouble for each other?" I didn't really know who Makoto was, and maybe I picked a bad time to ask. Nereid answered, "Auntie Makoto and my parents have been close friends for a long time. We used to live together in the same house."
"So you must know the children," said Rapture.
"Oui," said Nereid. "Tammy is just a year ahead of me in school. Maman used to give her violin lessons along with me."
"Violin?," said Rapture. "Then your mother must be the fiddle player Reverend Swainson talks about. And your mom was in the White House when they took it over?"
"The White House?" I blurted. I knew about the terrorists taking over the White House for a couple of days the summer before, but not this. Nereid answered us both: "Violinist. Yes, Maman was at the White House when that happened. I was there with her."
"I was to," said Lily. "Mama and Papa died then. That's why I live with Grandma and Grandpa now."
That brought some clucks of sympathy from the Quintley girls, and maybe the subject would have stayed less dangerous. But I was really surprised to hear about Nereid's mom. "Your mom must be really famous," I said lamely.
"Oui," said Nereid. "I saw that your grandparents have several of her CDs."
"So that was why Grandpa was so interested in you and your Mom," I mused. "You never told me about the White House."
"It is not something we like to remember, Leon-san."
"Did you lose anyone?" I finally thought to ask.
"I lost my father, Leon-san."
"No, Chiba-san," explained Nereid. "Who is Lily's father too. Maman chose Chiba-san to be my biological father. But he was more than that. We lived together, before Maman moved to Paris to be with Haruka-san and her husband."
Rapture knew most of the details already. "So your mom lives in France with a French piano player and with this Haruka, too. And your mom had a baby with him?"
"Amphritrite," said Nereid. "Ama-chan. Haruka-san's children are Titania and Hecate Descartes. But I am Nereid Usako Chiba."
"I'm Lilit Usagi Mei Chiba."
The Quintley girls absorbed that, and then Rapture said, "I heard that Doctor Chiba had children by lots of women."
"That is truth," said Nereid, "But not the whole truth. There are three by his wife--Kimi is one of them. There is me and two more babies that my father donated his sperm to make. There is Lily, but Auntie Ginger was going to marry my father. And there is Ishtar. Auntie Minako is her mother. But they were engaged a long time before they made Ishtar. Whatever the Reverend Swainson and the other people who run your church have told you, my father did not sleep around!" Nereid sounded very righteous then.
The Quintley girls, and everybody, was quiet for a little bit after that, but Destiny finally said, "It was still wrong to take them away from their real parents."
I didn't really know what she was talking about, but this time I was smart enough to let Nereid do the talking. But Lily replied first: "I know Philip didn't want to go back to his old mom. He was afraid of her. And he starts crying every time Auntie Makoto is away for too long."
"It was still wrong," insisted Destiny. "Their real mom killed herself when she couldn't get them back from your Auntie Makoto."
Nereid stiffened. "I am very sorry Madam Yount died. But it was not our fault. Auntie Makoto tried again and again to work something out. But Madam Yount wouldn't let her. And Philip and Tammy did not want to have anything to do with her. They were afraid of her. I don't blame them. When we found them, they had been locked in a bathroom for almost a week. Just left all alone there, with no one to check on them. Their food was used up, and the toilet had stopped working."
"That's what your folks say," said Rapture. "But--"
"I was there! I saw them!"
This was the first time I had ever seen Nereid close to losing control. It was more than a little scary, and I think the Quintley girls thought so, too. But Rapture challenged Nereid after a little wait. "How could you be there? That happened a long time ago."
Nereid explained carefully, "I was four, but I remember very well. It was me. I was the one who heard them. The way they were crying, I knew something was very, very wrong. So . . . " She paused.
"So? What happened?" prompted Rapture.
"So I got Maman and Haruka-papa and all the friends who were with us to follow me to where the crying was coming from. Auntie Makoto broke down the doors. When we found them, it was just like I told you. It wasn't hard to get a judge to take them away from Mr. and Mrs. Yount after that."
"And then your Auntie Makoto got them?" asked Destiny.
Nereid nodded. "Auntie Makoto already had adopted Zoë and was helping to raise Uncle Ryo's Zara then. Maman and Haruka-papa and all my Aunties wanted to adopt them, especially Auntie Usagi, but they chose Auntie Makote. And that is the real truth."
Rapture nodded slowly. "Well, I guess that could be true . . . How did you hear them? I mean--"
"I have very good hearing."
Rapture mulled that over, I think, and then she turned to Mimi and asked, "Who do you belong to?"
"I with Lily-san."
"I mean, who are your parents?"
"I not know."
"My grandma and grandpa adopted Mimi," said Lily.
"Are you still in kindergarten?" They were very small.
"No, we are second grade now."
"They are six," said Nereid, "But they are both very smart."
About then we noticed a bus approaching. We could see it from a very long way away, but it raced up to the gate. We were running by the time it arrived, and got there just as the doors opened. Two big signs just on the other side of our bus stop announced that the speed limit was 45 mph (about 70 mph for you modern Americans who grew up with the metric system) but that bus had to be moving a lot fater than that!
There was a child passenger safety law in effect in Florida by 2010. Every child under 16 had to be in a seat with seatbelts fastened, and babies had to be in car seats. The bus had almost a full load, but there was just enough room to fit us in with an extra seat--that is, once the bus driver bitched at the other passengers to move and to put all their stuff in the aisles. This bus was not the Greyhound kind with room for luggage under the floor; it was a city-type bus. Lots of people on it had luggage; I guess they were headed for the airport too.
Anyway, the driver cleared out the two back rows. The very back row was one big bench with room for five across. We sat like this:
Kimi was thirteen, so she was required to sit. Besu got the one seat because she couldn't give it to either Mrs. Quintley or Sarah. Forward of Mrs. Q was some of our luggage together with the Quintley's, then Dad and the Major, then more luggage, and then Sarah and Sere, Parapara and Junjun. Forward of them in the aisle were other people's stuff.
Almost as soon as we started off, Mrs. Q almost fell down, but Besu caught her. Mrs. Q was surprised, maybe because Besu was so strong--as I've said, Besu was not much taller than me at eight (almost nine) and Mrs Q was large in every dimension--or maybe because Besu helped her at all. Besu said, "Maybe better you take seat." Mrs. Q said, "Oh, no, dear, I'll be all right." But it wasn't much longer before Besu had to catch her again.
While their mother tried to keep her feet, Destiny and Rapture asked Nereid some more questions. "What's your stepfather like?"
"He is what you call a pushover," said Nereid. "I can talk him into anything except out of my music lessons."
"How did you all wind up together?"
"Maman met Haruka-san in school. Haruka-san met, uh, my stepfather a little later. She took some special lessons from him, on piano. And that is how my big sister got here. My stepfather did not know about her for a long time, though. When he did find out, he offered to marry Haruka-san, and she decided to accept. Later Maman moved in with them."
"And your stepfather had children with both," prompted Rapture. "Which one first?"
"Ama-chan," said Nereid. "She is nine minutes older than Heka-chan."
We stopped for a few seconds at a crossroads, where someone got off. By this time Mrs. Q was more than willing to take the seat. But about two seconds after we started moving again, Hippolyta started screaming, and kept on screaming. Mrs. Q was one of those people Hippolyta did not like. It wasn't a big surprise to me. In fact, it was kind of satisfying. But it was also deafening.
We came to a thrilling halt a few minutes later when the driver decided that he would not, after all, beat a railroad train across a level crossing. Mrs. Q tried switching with Rapture, and that worked. Rapture was interested in Hippolyta, and Hippolyta at least tolerated her.
I had thought Mrs. Q had been too absorbed in keeping her feet to pay attention to what we were talking about, but I was wrong. She said, "My, what a peculiar family you have, Dear. And you, young man?"
"I just met Nereid a couple of weeks ago," I explained. But that sounded lame. I added: "My mom didn't tell me about my dad getting married again, so I didn't know about my stepmom or anything either, not until last month."
"How do you feel about your father leaving your mother?"
"Oh, I don't remember Mom and Dad being together. They got divorced when I was still a baby."
"Oh. That's too bad, dear," Mrs.Q clucked. "So many broken homes in the military. Our church does not condone divorce, though we're not like the Catholics. We do allow a marriage to be dissolved when there is a compelling reason. I suppose in this way we are more like you Jews."
"I suppose." I did not say I wasn't a Jew then for two reasons: I thought Sarah had done a good thing when she defended Lily, and I thought that saying I wasn't a Jew then would seem like I thought it was a shameful thing--and that I would be more like Mrs. Q.
Destiny Quintley rescued me, for awhile, by asking, "Did your dad tell you much 'bout what he does?"
"It's mostly secret stuff," I said. But I added. "He has a lot of medals, though."
"Daddy has medals," Destiny said, "but he's never been in wars like Green Berets."
"Well, all I know for sure is that he has two purple hearts. That means he's been wounded twice."
"What does your mom do?" asked Destiny.
"Oh, Besu was in the circus."
"I meant your real mom."
"Nothing, now. She does secretary stuff sometimes."
"Oh. Do you have a stepdad?"
"Not yet. Mom's supposed to get married soon." I didn't say that Mom was living with a man she wasn't married to; that smart I was at eight (almost nine.)
"Oh," said Destiny. "So your stepmom was in the circus? What did she do?"
"Mostly she rode horses or made them do tricks. She could handle elephants too, when that was legal. And lions sometimes."
"Really. I've seen tapes of her and her sisters."
"Up front. Aunt Parapara, Aunt Sere, and Aunt Juno. They were all in the circus." I explained how Parapara juggled and did ball walking, and Junjun's acrobatics, and Sere's trapeze and high wire work. "And they can all do magic tricks, too." I'd seen them all do stage magic by then--or what might be stage magic.
I found myself feeling rather proud of Besu and her sisters, the first time I felt that way. And Besu noticed, though I did not notice her just then. Nereid noticed. She took my hand and squeezed it. I glanced at her and saw admiration in her eyes. That was two more firsts.
"How exciting," Mrs. Q said. "Which circus were they with?"
Besu broke into the conversation then. She'd been squeezed down between Hippolyta and the seat in front, but she got up a bit to talk. "Many circus. We work, circus broke, find another."
Mrs. Q shook her head. "That sounds like a hard life. And there are so few circuses left now, from what I understand."
"Very few." Or "Berry fu-you," as it sounded.
"Did you become a Jew like your husband?"
Besu may not have been facile with English, but she could think on her feet. "Not yet," she said.
"You come from Japan, don't you?"
Besu surprised me with her answer: "We live in Japan long time, but we from somewhere else."
"We not know. Not Japan. Very different Japan."
"So, are you a Buddhist or--what is it--Shinto?"
"Sometimes go Buddhist place, sometimes go Shinto place, sometimes pray to old gods."
"Of place we from."
"Who are these gods?"
"Not remember names. God of sky, goddess of earth, god of horses, goddess of moon and war--same goddess, moon and war."
"You need fight, who better pray to?"
"You must have heard of Jesus by now," said Mrs. Q.
"Christian in Japan, Russia, France, here."
"But you would rather follow all that other stuff than Jesus."
"I not join your church, Quintley-san."
"But if I am right, if my church is right, then you will go to hell when you die. So will your children, and your husband, and your sisters, and all of their friends, from what I understand of their ways."
"But I think you not right."
Mrs. Q was quiet for a moment, and then she turned to me. "You don't look like most Jews I know. Is your mother Jewish?"
I couldn't manage an outright lie then, or think of a way to divert her. "No," I said. "She's not anything, I think. Grandma and Grandpa are Methodists. Grandma goes to church pretty often; Grandpa goes once in awhile." When it was raining and it wasn't football season.
"Do you go to church with them?"
"They don't make me go." That was enough of a truth for me to sell as the whole truth.
"Well, they should, I think." Mrs. Q turned back to Besu. "You won't stop this young man from going to a Christian church if he wants to, will you, dear?"
"Leon-san go if he want."
"Good," said Mrs. Q, and repeated herself. "That's good. Leon-san--Leon is your name?"
"Yes," I confirmed.
"Leon is a child of at least partial Christian heritage. It would be very wrong to deny him a chance for salvation if he has the good sense to seek it, and too keep his Christian family from--"
Mrs. Q. never finished her lecture, because the bus hit a pothole. We were going so fast, the whole wheel broke off. Somehow we managed to stay on the other three wheels and slow down enough so that when we finally did hit something, no one was hurt really bad. But that was the end of our progress toward Orlando for awhile.
When I said that no one was hurt really bad, that did not mean that people weren't hurt pretty bad. There were broken arms, broken legs, a few nasty head-bumps and lots of sprains and cuts and bruises, especially from one of the cars we hit. None of "my" people was hurt, and the major and Mrs. Q came out fine. In fact, the major was pretty darned useful after the crash, before the cops and fire trucks and ambulances showed up and even after. He knew first aid and he sure knew how to bark so people would move right now. He worked together with Dad so well you would have thought they had worked together for years. But military men and women are like that, most of them. They work together when they have to, regardless of how different they might be off the job.
After the ambulances took the really stove-in people away, and after we had all talked to the cops for a long time while they tried to figure out what really happened (I think maybe a lawyer was there too, but I'm not absolutely sure) another bus finally came to pick up the rest of us. I don't think it was even from the same company. It was a Greyhound-type bus with lots of room under the floor for luggage, and tall seats with headrests and armrests instead of the benches on that old city-type bus we'd crashed in.
I guess there was no big reason for us to sit close to the Quintleys this time, but we wound up sitting pretty close to them anyway. I sat by a window with Dad; Besu and Hippy were across the aisle. The sun was going down by that time. I could hear Mrs. Q and her husband the major talking about something, but not well enough to understand it. I didn't care enough to scrunch close to the window to hear around the seat.
I fell asleep.
"Time get up," Besu said.
Dad was out of his seat. I could see him through the window talking with the major. It was dark. Maybe I asked what time it was as I stumbled out with Besu and Hippy, but I remember what time it was because of what I caught on the monitors inside the terminal. Leno was on, telling jokes about O.J.--a famous guy who may or may not have murdered his wife years before that. Anyway, there was this ad campaign then, and O.J. sued. What made the joke particularly memorable for me was that right next to one of the monitors was a huge advertising poster. It showed a picture of a man wearing a black ski mask holding up an orange bottle and bore the motto: "Not just another OJ."
By that time the Quintleys were all inside, including the major, but Mrs. Q. was off from us with her girls. She kept gesturing to her husband, and actually seemed to be holding the girls back. It was only after I noticed that that I started paying attention to what the major and Dad were talking about. The major kept mentioning "Mrs. Urawa," so I guess he knew about what we had been talking about with his kids. But he also kept saying "Mrs. Chiba" a lot, in fact, more than he mentioned Mrs. Urawa. I knew "Mrs. Chiba" was Sarah and Kimi's mom, but I was to dense just then to remember what else was so important about Mrs. Chiba. Rapture and probably even Destiny would have known, but they hadn't said anything to Nereid. And Dad hadn't told me, for sure. And not Besu . . . not yet.
Finally, Mrs. Q's gesturing became too insistent, and the major shook hands with my dad and left, making one final loud remark as he moved away. "Keep your butt down the next time, Colonel!"
All the females filed into a ladies room right after that. Dad and I used the men's, but of course we were finished a long time before they were. These things I had learned by the time I was eight (almost nine): Girls went to public restrooms in pairs, at the least, and they always were in any bathroom longer than boys.
While we were waiting, I asked Dad what the major had meant by his last words. Dad paused a bit, and said, "That's where I was wounded, Leon."
I nodded seriously. "Both times?"
Dad took a lot longer to answer that one. He didn't know anything about Besu showing me his medals the first weekend I'd stayed over. Finally he said "Yes. Both times."
Right after that, it seemed, Besu came halfway out of the ladies room, looked around, and gestured to us, saying, "Moshi, moshi!" Dad tried to say something, but Besu gestured more firmly and said "Moshi! Moshi!" more firmly. So Dad got up and began dragging me into the ladies room.
Now, if you are an American boy or used to be one, you would have been taken into many ladies rooms by your mom or whichever female was in charge of you. But at eight (almost nine) I was too old for that. Dad going into the ladies room was, well, that was so far off the scale of should-do-ness I couldn't say anything about it just then.
Once we were inside and the door was closed, I heard a phrase for the first time: "Henshin yo!" Sarah barked those words, and became again the angel I'd seen in my mom's bedroom (well, Good Old Fred's.) I could see her a lot clearer now, or maybe I wasn't so scared. Her pink-blond hair formed very long ponytails with little buns at the top, and on the buns she had silver skulls, with pink jewels set in the eye sockets. She had a smaller skull like that on a pink choker, along with a silver crescent moon, and skulls and moons hanging from each ear. I saw that the sailor collar on her tight top had two pink pinstripes. Her incredibly short skirt was pink, too. She had on long gloves and high-heeled boots, black with a little pink trim at the tops. And, of course, great black wings.
Well, maybe I was a little scared.
Then I noticed that her sister Kimi looked almost the same, except that light blue replaced pink and she wore light blue ballet slippers tied on with long, crossing ribbons, and she had a big rose with a light blue blossom.
Then I noticed little Lily was a magic girl, too. She was dressed in white and gold, with white wings, and a golden-blossomed rose. Mimi was in a similar costume, but with black trim instead of white, no rose, and no wings.
But Nereid had wings, the same turquoise as her eyes, and a rose of the same.
And Besu, and her sisters, they were all magic girls too--well, magic women I guess. They had wings, too, except for Parapara.
After noticing all this, noticing that we were no longer in the ladies room was not so great a shock.