IT WAS A MORNING when Sue had distanced herself from Jimmy for a few weeks because she wasn't sure where her feelings were taking her, and she was having some fresh difficulties at school. With a lot on her mind, Sue was almost out the door when her foster mother took her arm. "You forgot to take out the trash last night."
"But I'll be late—"
"I don't care. Do it now!" Her foster mother squeezed her arm hard enough to hurt before letting go.
She nodded, put down her pack, and went out the back way instead. She groaned when she saw what she had to do—something had gotten into the garbage bags, and there was trash scattered all around. She got some more bags and was as careful as she could, but she still got some stinking drippings on her clothes. And, if that weren't enough, she heard the bus going by—she was going to be late!
Sue sat down on the back step and cried. Now she had too many tardy slips; the school would ask her foster parents to come for counseling—something that would make them very angry. She started going through the papers that had drifted up by the porch, crumpling them up and throwing them at, sometimes into, a half-filled bag. Then she noticed one of them. It was a flyer.
The flyer read:
"Dinosaurs! Dr. Argent Goodman, paleontologist, will be speaking . . ." Much of the flyer was greasy, but it had a couple of good pictures of dinosaurs.
Sue thought, <maybe I can learn enough from this lecture to do a good Science paper. I sure need to bring my grade up . . .>
Sue tore off the part that showed how to get to the lecture (fortunately in a mostly clean part) and put it in her pocket.
The lecture was given in an odd place, an old movie theater that hadn't shown regular movies for a long time. There weren't nearly enough other people there to fill up the place, although she was surprised to see Jimmy, who immediately asked her to sit with him, up front. She gave him a look—she'd made it clear she wanted to cool things down—but said "yes."
Jimmy knew quite a lot about dinosaurs, and he talked about them while they were waiting for the lecture to begin. She was reminded of Umino Gurio, although Jimmy was not homely like poor Umino—odd how she had discovered she missed even Umino. If there really was an Umino . . .
Announcements kept coming from the P.A. about delays. People began to leave. Sue wondered about leaving and asked Jimmy about it.
"No, I'm not giving up yet. I've read about her. I want to meet her."
"Yes, Dr. Goodman is a woman."
"How much do you know about her?"
"Not much. I just know a little about her ideas. She makes reconstructions of dinosaurs that are really different from most others. But almost none of the other paleontologists seem to agree with her."
"I don't really know. Jealousy, maybe. Anyway—"
Jimmy stopped as a woman appeared on the narrow stage before the screen. Sue was startled at her appearance. The woman had silvery gray hair, and yet looked very young—in fact, though she was tall, she looked no older than herself, except for the hair. And the color was not the only thing odd about her hair—it was very long, mostly loose but with a number of thin braids—and feathers. She wore colored feathers amid her hair, a spray of them on each side that obscured her ears.
Her dress wasn't outlandish: a gray woman's suit with a white blouse, the skirt hanging below her knees; blue pumps and a scarf in the same shade.
She took the lectern and bent to the mike. "Sorry I'm so late . . ." And then she launched into her lecture, which turned out to be illustrated with slides of her sketches, paintings, and sculptures—which were very good.
Jimmy was obviously fascinated by Dr. Goodman. In fact, Sue thought he was a little too interested—something that surprised her, because she realized she was feeling jealousy. That got her to thinking about Mamoru, and wondering if her memories were real. Those memories were still vivid, and she was lost in them through most of the lecture.
After the lecture, Jimmy wanted to speak with Dr. Goodman. So did Sue, but she probably wouldn't have without Jimmy—there was something odd about the woman, beyond her appearance. As they approached her, Sue noticed that she was staring at her, not Jimmy, even though Jimmy was doing the talking. "Could we talk with you for a few minutes?" Jimmy asked as they came up to the narrow stage."
"Since you had the courtesy to wait so long for me, yes . . . Just let me get down from this sorry excuse for a stage first." She packed her notes back into her attaché case, and took out a cellphone. She made a call, speaking as she made her way off the stage, motioning to Sue and Jimmy to follow her as she continued, leisurely, to move up the aisle toward the lobby.
When Jimmy began to speed up, Sue held him back. "Wait, she's on the phone," Sue said lowly—but a knowing glance back showed that Dr. Goodman had heard her.
They were the very last in the theater. A man was waiting at the doors, keys in hand, as they came out into the small lobby, and he unlocked one of them and held it open—silently indicating that they should leave now.
And then Sue realized that it was late—looking at her watch, at last, she saw that it was past midnight. The house would be locked up. She was in trouble again.
"We're out too late?" Jimmy asked.
Sue looked up from her watch. Jimmy knew her well enough to guess what was wrong, so she didn't bother to deny it. "Hai."
"Maybe you could stay at my place tonight."
"No, that is not a good idea . . . I don't want to get you in trouble, too." She gave his hand a comforting squeeze; whatever she felt for him, he was a good person, and his offer was at least mostly out of concern.
"Well, I seem to have gotten you two young lovers into trouble." It was Dr. Goodman. She had glided up to them unnoticed in the few moments Sue was distracted.
"We are not lovers," said Sue, and then quickly added, "But we are very good friends . . ." She gave his hand another squeeze before releasing it.
"Do you need a ride? I have a cab coming."
"No, I have a car," said Jimmy, who had borrowed his parents' again. "But thank you."
"Well, what about you? I could put you up for the night if you'd rather not go home tonight."
"Thank you, but—" <How did she know that?>
"I heard your friend make the offer." The woman had removed her shaded glasses. The marquee lights had just gone off, so it was hard to see, but still, her eyes seemed to hold Sue.
"Where do you live?"
"I'm sort of between homes now. I'm staying at a motel in Redwood City. About ten minutes from here. With my daughter and my aunt—that's who I was talking to."
"You'd have room for me?"
"Yes. We had to take a room with three beds, and Aura still sleeps in a bassinet. She's only four months."
"And your husband?"
"Oh, I've never had a husband—of my own." She held up her left hand as a passing car lit up the sidewalk. "Where would I put a wedding ring?"
She had six fingers on her left hand, something Sue hadn't noticed.