|A Year and Change|
|One of Sarah's Longer Days|
Sarah became aware that the substitute teacher was calling on her now.
"Sarah Ami Usagi Uer?" he said, reading off her full name from a list on his lecturn, mispronouncing three of its four parts. "Are you with us?" He used a "sophisticated" accent that had grated on Sarah's ears with the sour notes of pretension. Perhaps he thought it he sounded English. Sarah had spoken with too many real English people to be fooled by it. "Ms. Uer?" He pronounced it "ooh-er."
"My name is pronounced 'wear,'" said Sarah.
"Oh. Well, Ms. Uer, can you answer my question?"
Sarah said, "I didn't hear it . . . Sorry, I had my mind on something else."
"Apparently . . . " The substitute eyed Sarah a little too long before glancing down to write something. It was then that Sarah broke her usual discipline and read him. She had hoped just to get the question he had asked and she had not heard, but found his mind filled with quite another matter. He finished writing his note, and then called on another student, reading off the name from his list before looking up.
Sarah pulled down her skirt as quietly as she could, glancing over to Pleione, who was giving her I tried to tell you shrug. There was some giggling, but she could not quite catch the culprits by looks alone.
Since her first month of middle school, Sarah had usually shared her lunchtime with Pleione, Pleione's friend Johnny Brown, and three girls: Joline Davis, Paula Chin, and Valentina Petrov. The first year there had also been ZoŽ, who tended to mother everyone like Auntie Makoto (and also menace annoying boys), but she had moved on to high school after that. But ZoŽ's place had been taken by Deja, Auntie Rei's daughter--anything but an improvement, in Sarah's opinion.
Today Sarah had begun her lunch alone. Pleione, Joline, Paula, and Val all had classes that lasted into the first half-hour of her lunch break. Johnny was sitting with another girl, at another table, bashfully enduring jibes from her girlfriends. Sarah tried to watch without being too obvious. Pleione would be asking about it later, because she wouldn't grill Johnny . . .
"I heard about you and Mr. Ossining this morning."
Sarah cringed. Deja had come up while she wasn't paying attention. Sarah turned to her, glared for a moment, and then softened, because Deja was offering her a sashimi and a cup of sauce for it. Sarah took the artfully-sculpted morsel, dipped it in the fiery sauce, and ate it. Then she said, "Tell your father thanks for me."
Deja said, "I will. You know, if you are going to fall asleep all the time, you shouldn't wear a skirt. At least not a short one like that."
Sarah muttered, "You should talk about short skirts."
"I stay awake, and I know how to sit in one." Deja ate a sashimi, and paused. Switching to Japanese, Deja asked Sarah, "Did you have another nightmare last night?" Her tone had changed, and she had a different look on her face.
Sarah replied in Japanese. "Kimi-chan was in this one . . . It was bad. I could not sleep for a long time."
Sarah was waiting for Deja to reply, and feeling warmer toward her usually annoying shadow, when two muscular boys sat themselves down at her table. They were wearing school jackets, but not from Sarah's school. One of them said, "Mind if we sit here?" It wasn't really a question, because they were already making themselves comfortable.
They were also both good-looking.
In fact, they were great-looking. Sarah noticed that Deja was slipping off her glasses, a sure sign that she had noticed how handsome the strange boys were. Sarah thought, <You're just as bad as me!> But when Sarah looked at the boys again, she realized the boys weren't paying attention to anything but their food.
Deja began asking them questions, to which they gave one word answers, or grunts, as they continued to attack their food. Sarah, however, didn't say a thing . . .
There was a reason Sarah Uer had been sitting alone in a pretty crowded lunchroom until Deja Kumada had joined her. It was her third year, and everyone who mattered knew it was not a risk-free proposition to sit with Sarah, especially if she was in a mood . . .
"Sarah Uer, I'll see you now," said the Vice Principal as she walked by and in to her office.
This was a very familiar phrase to Sarah Uer. The Vice Principal—this year it was a woman named Barbara A. Fuhrmann—pronounced Sarah's surname exactly as it should be pronounced, perhaps from practice, perhaps from a briefing she had gotten from her predecessor.
Sarah came in and stood in front of Ms. Fuhrmann's desk. This wasn't a gesture of penitence, feigned or sincere. Sarah was afraid to read this Vice Principal, because she was one of those people who had a touch of power. Not enough power to really do anything, except maybe have some intuition, but enough to feel different when Sarah tried to read her, and enough to sense that that different feeling was not like anything else. But Sarah guessed that this woman was very sensitive to "acts." Therefore, Sarah had never tried any of the techniques that had gotten her out of trouble before. Instead, she would tell as much truth as Ms. Fuhrmann could be trusted to believe.
"You can sit down," said Ms. Fuhrmann.
"Is this going to take a long time?" Sarah asked. "My mom is waiting for me."
Ms Fuhrmann looked up from the folder she was looking through, straight into Sarah's eyes. "I know about your mother's disability. Now, first, would you tell me what happened in the lunchroom today?"
Sarah sucked in her breath, and said, "I started it."
"Explain?" insisted the Vice Principal.
Sarah said, "A couple of jocks from the visiting team sat at our table. I was with my friend Deja. Deja tried to talk to them but they didn't really want to talk to her. So, I didn't try to talk to them myself. I was trying to see how Johnny was doing at another table, because I knew my friend Pleione would want to know . . . anyway, I got really p—really mad at the two jocks when they wouldn't pay any attention to us. Deja was being really sweet, you know, and they were acting like pigs, even sounding like pigs. So I played a joke on them. I kept touching one of them on his butt. He thought the other jock was doing it. Anyway, after a few minutes, they started arguing with each other, and then they started throwing punches at each other. Johnny Brown and some other guys tried to break up the fight. One of them started hitting Johnny just when Pleione came in. Pleione saw that and she ran over and whipped on that guy. Johnny and I pulled her off."
The Vice Principal said, "You didn't hit the boy who struck your friend Johnny?"
Sarah said, "No, Johnny was handling him pretty well. If he had really hurt Johnny, I would have cleaned his clock worse than Pelly did."
"Pelly?" asked Ms. Fuhrmann.
"Pleione," Sarah explained. "We've been friends since we were babies . . . anyway, that's what happened. So do whatever you want to do to me. Pelly just saw someone beating on Johnny and hulked out for a few seconds, but I started the whole thing."
The Vice Principal did not look away. She said, "I just watched the tape. I didn't see you do anything to either of the Stanislaus boys before the fight started."
"Well, I'm pretty good at that joke. But I did it." Sarah looked very deeply into Ms. Fuhrmann's eyes. "I'm telling the truth."
The Vice Principal said, "I believe you." Then she swiveled in her chair, putting her back to Sarah. After a pause, she said, "Some people were asking questions about you a this morning."
"Some people from the FBI."
Sarah could not but help read for a moment, getting an image of two stonefaced men in dull suits. She saw the Vice Principal shiver slightly. "Was it about my sister?"
Ms. Fuhrmann said warily, "Some of it . . . They asked me what you thought of the President."
Sarah thought a moment, forcing herself not to read. "I think I know what that's about."
Ms. Fuhrmann turned back to face her. "Really?" She did not sound very credulous.
Sarah said, "It's about Auntie Michiru. She's going to perform at the White House this summer sometime. She told us she would try to get us invitations. I guess they are checking up on us all because of that. Did they ask about Pelly? Pleione?"
The Vice Principal said, "They asked a few questions about her. And a few about Ms. Kumada."
"Deja?" Sarah shook her head. "Paranoid."
Ms. Fuhrmann looked to Sarah as if she wanted to ask many more questions. But, instead, she wrote out a slip and handed it to Sarah. "Give this to your parents, Ms. Uer. I want to see your mother and your father as soon as they can arrange it. But I won't keep your mother waiting any longer today."
Paula, Val, and Joline used to ride home a lot with Sarah and Pleione. Now they usually didn't. Of course today, Sarah's mother was picking Sarah and Pelly up. Her mother's van was too small to fit the whole gang, really, along with Auntie Naru's and Auntie Mako's kids from their primary schools. But her friends had been happy enough to shoe-horn in before, thought Sarah, as she walked up to the van, and into her mother's eyes. <Before Kimi was hurt.> Sarah couldn't find a good word, so she simply handed to her mother the slip Ms. Fuhrmann the Vice Principal had written out, and waited for her mother to say something.
Her mother took a moment to read the slip, then tucked it away. She said, quietly, "Would you like to stay for the soccer game and come back with Pleione? I have to come back for her, anyway."
Plain Pleione was, somewhat incredibly, a cheerleader. She had become one so she could follow Johnny Brown to all his games. <And she never tells Johnny why she really does it,> thought Sarah. Sarah answered, "No, I'd better come home. I don't want to see those boys from the other school now."
Maia Umino, the next-oldest of Naru's brood, leaned out from the back behind Sarah's mother's seat and said, "Please, take me? I want to see Pelly." Maia went to a different school, one of the very few with a decent art program; otherwise she would have been in Deja's class. As if to remind Sarah of that, Deja somehow squeezed up behind Maia, and echoed her. "Please? I want to stay, too."
Sarah's mother said, "Hotaru-chan is at the game now. She came with Michiru and Haruka. They are showing Mr. Descartes what one of these games is like."
With her mother and Deja being so nice to her, Sarah wanted to scream, <Yell at me! I screwed up and got somebody hurt! Again!> But she said, "All right. Thanks, okasan. Come on, brats!"
High-school soccer, in this year in California, had forty minute games. But there were almost always two games played, one for the girls' team and one for the boys' team, so the two together ran about as long as a professional game. The girls's game was beginning its second half as Sarah Uer shepherded Deja and Maia into the stands. It did not take Sarah any time at all to spot Hotaru-chan, because she was sitting with Michiru and Haruka and the man in their lives. Where else would the Roland Descartes sit but in the front row?
Roland Descartes was not a great fan of spectator sports, but found he thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle of this event. The enthusiasm of the small crowd was exhilerating. Especially amusing was watching Michiru struggling to keep her reserve--to someone who did not know her intimately as he himself did, she looked as notoriously cool as ever. But Roland was close enough, and knew to look for, the tell-tale flush on her neck, and the sweat on the backs of her hands. It was an almost sure indication that she would be receptive later . . . and between anticipation and the wholesome eroticism of the cheerleaders, Roland's attention was entirely diverted until he caught those eyes glaring at him.
It was Sarah, Mrs. Chiba's unsettling oldest child, staring at into him. But only for a moment. The child was polite enough to turn away when noticed. People on the front bench got up and moved over to make room for her and the two latecomers she had brought--the Kumada girl and another Umino girl, considerably more attractive than the one cheerleading. Not favored of face, that one, thought Roland as he moved down. It was crowded now--but at least he was squeezed in between Haruka and Michiru. Roland looked past the cheerleaders and the players to the opposite tier of seats, and saw one girl pointing at him, saying something to the girls around her, bending close to hear.
The next time a cheer began to rise, Roland took Haruka's hand in his right and Michiru's in his left, and raised his arms high as they stood up. There was quite a lot of pointing from the opposite gallery after that . . . and, Roland saw, the big video camera had caught it. <It will be on the news tonight . . . I hope Andrea sees it.> At that thought, Roland chuckled. Then he glanced past Michiru for some reason, some feeling . . . and looked into those eyes again. For a moment, he felt a chill . . . but only a very short moment, before Mrs. Chiba's girl looked away again. Another cheer began, and Roland prepared to repeat his performance, his unsettling intuition already forgotten. The pointer he had first noticed was pointing again.
Sarah Ami Usagi Uer looked into the crowd on the opposite side of the field and waved back to Paula, Val, and Joline. She thought of going over to them, but Hotaru had brought Rhea so moving over would be a big deal if Hotaru came . . . and she did not want to leave Hotaru. So here she was, and there they were.
The people rose to cheer, and Sarah noticed that Mr. Descartes was making a big deal of it. <What a ham,> Sarah thought as she looked at him. <Why do Auntie Haruka and Auntie Michiru put up with him?> He looked at her, and she turned back to watch the game, more or less.
As the crowd flowed off the field after the end of the boys' game, Sarah spotted one of the boys who had fought. It wasn't the one Pleione had given a bloody nose; it was the other one, the one who had hit something with his fist and hurt his hand. Sarah ran up to him. "Hey, wait a minute!"
The boy looked puzzled. "Who are you?"
"You don't remember?" asked Sarah.
He shook his head.
Sarah was tempted to drop the whole thing, but it was her fault--and it would probably get back to the boy or his parents because she had told Ms. Fuhrmann. She said, "I was in the lunchroom today. You sat at my table."
"Oh . . . " He looked at her. "Oh, you were with her." He pointed at Deja, who had come up with her other friends. "Did I hurt you or anything?"
Sarah said, "No . . . I wanted to tell you I'm sorry."
He held up his right hand, which was bandaged. "Oh, it's nothing big. Stupid, but nothing broken."
Hotaru unexpectedly broke in. "Will you miss your next big game?"
"Could I see your hand?" asked Hotaru.
"I guess." He extended it.
Hotaru took it and examined it. Sarah thought she saw a glow under the bandage for a moment. She looked around. Joline had Rhea and was absorbed with her; Paula's face showed nothing special--but Val's eyes were a little too wide. <She caught something.>
Hotaru took her hands away and said, "I hope you won't miss your next game."
"Oh, it's no big thing, not like we can make the playoffs now."
<The idiot doesn't notice he's been healed! Why am I going through with this?> But Sarah had come this far. She drew herself up and said, loudly enough to get his attention back, "No, what I meant is, I'm sorry. I apologize. You see, I started your fight."
"What are you talking about?"
Sarah said, "I . . . played a joke on you. It was me touching you, not your friend."
The tall boy laughed. "Jeez, that was pretty good." Then he turned around, and walked away. Sarah read his thoughts for a moment then. He was thinking about the game that had been played. He had already put Sarah out of his mind.
Suddenly he stopped and whirled around. Then he spotted Sarah looking at him. Sarah smiled, turned around, and said, "Let's go home now. Jo, Val, Paula, you want to come over to my place for awhile?"
Roland Descartes' anticipation had been fulfilled. By all rights, he should be still asleep. He was not, after all, in his youth. But, here he was, awake, while his wives were asleep. They were very soundly asleep, he knew, and it would not be wise to wake them, even if . . . He smiled to himself. He had no third act within him tonight.
But, still, he was awake now.
Stealthily, carefully, he eased himself up. Presently he made out the face of the clock. It was past midnight--not as late as he had guessed. Too early to steal an early start on his day. But he was out of the bed, and fully awake.
He decided to explore the house for awhile. He had crept through many a mansion in the wee hours before, and there had always been something interesting to find, something he would never have found in the day. He slipped on pajamas and a robe, and stealthily left the room.
Sarah was in the theater with her friends--and Kimi, who insisted she had enough energy to sit up for a late show. Joline and Paula had fallen asleep in their chairs, and Kimi was beginning to nod, but she kept waking herself up. And Valentina was awake. Val was awake, and she kept looking at Sarah in an odd way, the way that said, <I want to ask something.> Sarah did not read her thoughts--not so much because reading friends all the time was not polite, but because she suspected that Val could feel her mind being touched. That was common enough, Sarah knew. Few people knew what it meant, but Valentina Petrov was the smartest of her non-senshi friends.
And, besides, Sarah was tired, and reading thoughts was work.
Auntie Naru wheeled in Sarah's mother in her wheelchair. That was a sign her mother was tired; she usually insisted on wheeling herself. Sarah's mother said, "Isn't it about time you should go to bed?"
"I'm all right," said Kimi, sounding very tired. Sarah saw that Kimi did not bother to open her eyes.
Sarah's mother and Auntie Naru waited quietly, as did Sarah. They did not wait long. Kimi fell asleep in her wheelchair.
But Val was wide awake, Sarah saw, still with that unasked question. Sarah spoke in the most appropriate language--the Old Language. "Mama, she saw Hotaru healing someone today."
"She is a sensitive?" asked her mother.
Sarah nodded. "I do not want her to be scared of us. I do not want Valentina to go away."
Auntie Naru could also speak the Old Language, even if she did not know of her old life. "Are you sure you want to do this?"
"Yes, Auntie. Yes Mama."
Auntie Naru made some very slight gestures. "They will stay asleep."
Sarah looked into Valentina's widening eyes, and asked, "You saw something when Hotaru was with that boy today?"
Valentina said, "Yes . . . I think. I don't know."
"Are you starting to believe some of the stories they tell about Sarah?" asked her mother.
Valentina said, "Maybe . . . "
Sarah sighed. <What can I say?> Instead, she looked over at Kimi's slumped form. She went to Kimi, and picked her up. She transformed, and folded Kimi into the safety of her dark wings, and willed some of her energy to flow into her sister. Then she returned Kimi carefully to her wheelchair. She transformed back, and staggered--she had given Kimi more than she'd thought.
But Valentina did exactly the right thing: she ran to Sarah to hold her up.
"Thanks," said Sarah. "Our secret, OK? Pinkie swear?"
Sarah hooked pinkies with her friend. Then she looked back to her mother and Auntie Naru--and beyond them. Standing in the doorway was Mr. Descartes . . .
Andrea Besson found Roland in an unsufferably good mood when he came the next day. She guessed why, and hoped Roland wouldn't force the details into her unwilling ears. But, when they finally had a really private moment in the incredibly busy house, Descartes launched into his story--not of his connubial interlude, but of a dream he had had. "What do you think of it, my friend?"
Besson shrugged. "I am your business manager. Should I hire you a psychiatrist to tell you what it means?"
"I will let you know . . . now, tell me again why you want me to cancel the Sydney performance and go to . . ."
Previous: The Pig Woman
Next: A Mismatched Woman
Story Index Main Index