Under the Sea (Part 1)
A Second Generation Whateley Academy Tale
Under the Sea
The place was a dump.
A large Victorian... I think Queen Anne? It sat at the end of the narrow street, upon a hill just slightly apart from the rest of the old neighborhood. Where the other houses were either new or maintained however, this one clearly hadn't seen a hammer, nails, or even paint since the turn of the century.
The steps creaked and dipped alarmingly when I placed any weight on them at all. The door was so ill fitting in it's frame, I could probably just push it open. Every single window in sight was broken, and luckily most were boarded up.
It was hard to believe that someone lived here, yet we had been told they did.
Mom made another shooing motion with her hand, and I rolled my eyes at her as dramatically as possible before turning around and knocking again. Worried about falling through the porch, so she sends her only son to do the dirty work and go talk to what were probably the only rednecks in the entire community.
They were probably inbred cousins from an Appalachian state that didn’t believe in… home repair….
She was a vision in more ways than one. Pale as a ghost, with pitch black hair that seemed to shimmer for a moment in the sunlight, she was thin in a way supermodels might envy, with hints of curve just blossoming out of nowhere. Her face was heart-shaped, with large dark gray eyes blinking up at me over a slim nose with just a hint of tilt, and a mouth full enough to paint words on.
She was clad in an old fashioned dress, a simple dark pink thing with white trim and ruffles at the bottom. It even had full sleeves; I hoped she didn’t wear that sort of thing in school, or I might have to pretend I didn’t know her.
There was also something a little off about her, but I couldn’t tell what. Something about the way she looked made alarm bells go off in my head.
She was also younger than me, if I had to guess, and so she was off limits.
Her voice matched her form; all mellowy and rich, with just a hint of gravel to it.
"Hello? May I help you, Sir?”
"Um, yeah. My mom and I are new in the area, we’re moving into that house today,” I pointed to a small of the area but still large for two people Victorian just off the hill, the next closest house over. “And we wanted to say hi, as your new neighbors.”
I gave the girl an extra eye roll, to let her know whose idea this old fashioned b.s. really was.
She smiled; her teeth looked a little – there was something, but she stopped quickly, before I could see.
"Well, hello. I’m Anise Pickman.”
I was closer so I held out a hand. “I’m Theo Waite.”
Her hand was a little cold. Odd, for this weather.
My Mom stepped forward, ignoring the porch creaking. “I’m Eleanor Waite. It’s nice to meet you.”
Mom holding out her hand rescued mine; Anise seemed to be the clingy type.
"It is nice to meet you as well,” the girl returned. “Are those cookies I spy in your hand?”
"Yes they are dear,” My Mom replied, handing them over. “Store bought I’m afraid, but I just don’t have the time to bake I used to.”
"A fact which the world mourns daily.” I assured her, earning a smile.
"The world, or you?”
"Why can’t it be both?”
"Store bought is fine,” Anise told us. I did not jump of course, having not forgotten she was there for a second.
"I’m glad. Anyway, we are just at the bottom of the hill, should you need anything.”
Mom led the way off the porch as the door slammed shut behind us. A little sudden, but maybe she had something to do, or the oven on, or something. Maybe she was embarrassed to be seen in public in that dress.
"So what do you think, kiddo?”
"I think the house is a wreck, and she’s weird.”
"Right for the throat, huh?” Mom replied, smiling. “Yep, the house is a wreck alright. But Anise seemed nice.”
"Yeah, nice and weird.” I wasn’t being fooled that easily. “What’s up?”
"Would you hang out with her, you think? Get along?”
Mom still had the power to shock me, it seemed. She stopped when she noticed I wasn’t following.
"Are you trying to set me up? With a younger woman, no less? Next you’ll be looking in cradles and strollers….”
"Oh ha ha.” she deadpanned, slapping me in the arm. “Not pushing for that, and you know it. Just asking.”
I felt a different kind of set up in the works. Best to head this one off at the pass, Wile E style. Only, without the face plant into the rock wall.
"I’m not going to be a jerk or anything, but I probably won’t make any super huge effort either direction; it’ll ruin my slacker image.”
Mom gave me a pointed once-over. “Well, we can’t have that, can we?”
"I’m glad you understand,” I informed her as gravely as I could. “So, what’s next?”
"The next house, of course. We need to go back home and grab the next basket.”
There were other baskets? Where had she stashed them? “Why didn’t we go to the other houses first then? They were closer.”
"Because I wanted to do it this way,” Mom replied as haughtily as she could, buffing her nails for effect.
And she wondered where I got it from.
Mom got back to the point after we delivered the four baskets. Not many meet and greet baskets for this neighborhood, but the place seemed to be one of those run down living areas that no one lived in anymore, like inner city Detroit. Not that I'd seen inner city Detroit, but some places had a legend all their own.
"Anise Pickman is your cousin, and she recently lost her grandfather. The estate contacted us, we're her last living relatives. The house was part of the estate, and since we needed a fresh start..."
The divorce had been messy, and right in the middle of it, as Dad was accusing Mom of all kinds of horrible things, he died from a weak heart and sudden stroke no one saw coming. We'd been without money or a place to stay before of course, but not like this.
That Mom would jump at a chance to own a house, even one as old as this one, was no surprise. Especially if Mom got some money to settle besides. But the drawback was to take care of Anise, and that wasn't something to take lightly.
"Why aren't we living with her, or she with us?" Something was odd about that girl.
"Because she requested it that way. She wants her privacy, and she doesn't really know us. Since the estate has 2 houses on this block, it was easy enough. Besides, you think she's weird, so you want your privacy too, right?"
"Darn right," I agreed, taking in the faded paintings on the living room wall for the second time. Some of them looked expensive. I knew I was supposed to make the best situation, but even with the creepy it really didn't seem that bad.
The front room was a match for the paintings, all faded wallpaper and a ratty rug. The wiring was a little modern at least, with electric lights and chandeliers rather than candles. There were no holes in the wall or wallpaper, the floor underneath was solid wood, and I'd already been informed I'd be moving the ratty rug to the garbage pile later today at worst. All in all the place was in great shape and well maintained, just with old furnishings.
The coffee table was scuffed a bit, but the finish was nice. It was really odd because this was the house no one had lived in for some time, according to the executor. The house you'd expect to be in bad repair.
"You know those paintings on the walls?" Mom asked. "The ones you keep staring at?"
"What about em?"
"Some of them may be from your great great grandfather, Richard Pickman. His work had an odd habit of turning up in our homes. You never knew when you'd turn a corner and run smack dab into something that shocked and disturbed."
My ancestor was famous for his horrible paintings. Not horrible as in bad, but horrible as in horror filled. He did with paint what Romero did with film, and well before such things were accepted by the mainstream.
Of course, that made him quite a bit of money that he banked, but later relatives blew it all, not the least of which was my grandfather, who I'm told drank enough for ten people.
"We should check then."
Mom nodded but then said. "To restore maybe; we have enough money now."
Right, no rush then.
"Have the movers shown up yet?"
That was a little joke, since we knew they would likely be as lost as Mom had been.
"Nope. Want me to keep an eye out for them?" Old or not, this leather chair was in good shape. No cracks, and very comfortable.
"Yep. I'm going to see if I can make a dinner out of what we brought and that archaic stove. Wish me luck, okay?"
"I'll keep the fire department on speed dial," I shot back, my hand on my phone. It was unlikely anything would go wrong, as we'd had utility people here before we even moved in; old or not, everything should work.
Mom, being who she was, wouldn't have stepped one foot inside this place without that all clear.
Mom returned to wake me up and rush me out of the chair before the moving van pulled up. By which I mean we were in the dining room sitting at the large and and very sturdy looking wooden table. Mom was at one side and I was all the way down at the other end just to spite her, when the ancient doorbell rang.
Of course that meant I was really the one spited, since I was now closer to the door. Or saved, potentially, since Mom was not the best cook in the world.
"I'll get it," I told her.
She'd already taken her first bite, so my response was something like a moan. Pain or pleasure, I couldn't tell.
The man at the door was tall, almost equally as fat, and had a face that might rival Santa's for being jolly. He was also very bald up top and had a beard that a ZZ top fan would envy. How could he even carry things around and not pull that? He was dressed in dark blue overalls with his name, 'Hans' on a tag in front.
I stared up at him, then shot a glance past him. Yep, that was the moving van, and yep, I recognized those two big dudes who were in much better shape than Hans here was.
"Hi kid. This 1210 Ocean way?"
No accent. Now I felt cheated. "Yep. Come on in. Mom, movers are finally here!"
Nothing like a faint dig at a Santa look alike.
We swapped places, I took my seat at dinner briefly while Mom decided to power whisper at Hans, no doubt tearing into him somehow.
A quick bite or two as the actual movers, both guys I'd met earlier this week, or I guess a full week ago now, just be-bopped their way inside, ignoring all else, with boxes in their hands. They were both easy boxes, the first was dishes from our former kitchen, and the second was our coffee maker, food processor, and other such things.
Hm, Mom had done good, this meatloaf was alright. I was a little less happy about the green beans, because the canning process really added something, but the cheesy bread had turned out alright. A little overdone, maybe.
"In here, guys."
The two working guys came in and placed the boxes next to the sink. "Thanks, kid," the first, 'CC' by his name tag replied.
"No problem. You guys go grab stuff, and I'll tell you where to put it, okay? Mom trusts me."
"Sure thing." The other said. I'd forgotten what his name was, but it didn't matter. He didn't care about me either, really. It was clear that he just wanted to be done and out of here.
I could sympathize.
The next thing grabbed was the microwave and other kitchen crap. When we all returned Mom was still arguing with ZZ top dude. Probably about how much money he was owed. Did being late affect the hourly rate of movers?
I wasn't a mover, nor was I ever going to be, so I shoved the question aside.
Next, we brought the beds in one at a time.
Mom's was first and I led them to the old master bedroom, which was probably the room in the best condition in the place: The weird off yellow diamond wallpaper was well-preserved, even in the humidity. The carpeting was also intact and free of stains, some kind of shag stuff that no one made anymore in a rather unfortunate brown.
There were paintings here too, mixed in with the black and white photos, and both were still vibrant. Those paintings would have to be checked too, probably.
Mom's bed was an old oak thing stained a shade just short of black. It was all metal and wood, and heavy as hell, but it made one thing easy. All her stuff matched.
"The next pieces that look like this also go up here," I told my new temporary buddy. "When you're done with that, I'll be in that room there. The first right past the stairs, facing this way."
"Sure thing, kid. The red stuff is yours, right?"
"That's right." My stuff was cherry, stained a dark red, and it was all fitting slats of wood. Mom said it was made by amish people. She was a fan of such stuff, and I couldn't really complain since my set had lasted pretty much all my life.
When I was 18 though, that crap was gone. I liked that color once, but it's just too bright now. Something more like Mom's stuff, or maybe a dark green.
The day was still a bit nice, and the room I'd picked had one of those nice large windows that opened more or less directly over the front door and porch. If I was careful, I could sit out on top of the porch, but if Mom caught me I was dead.
Either way the window also faced the sea... and the house on the hill that we'd gone to; the Pickman place. With the sun going down behind it, the problems with the house were faded away and the view made... splendid? Yeah, that was a word for it, with the horizon painted like that, and the sea rolling in the way it did. The sun on the water was just shy of blinding however, so it was time to clean.
The floorboards creaked, but didn't dip, which was more than I'd expected. I think all the houses around here were the same age or near enough. I'd read a bit about the area before we moved. It had been a place where a bunch of sailors and their families had moved, from one coast to the other, from some ruined coastal town where over fishing had screwed the area to here, where the remainder had retired.
There had been some odd stories in the local papers before the end of that town, some sort of police smuggling bust or something, but none of the articles had been scanned in, so I couldn't look that up in more detail. Maybe later, if I could get Mom interested.
It was too bad I couldn't ask Dad. He'd probably have known; things like that had a way of spreading in families from parent to kid. Just another thing to miss.
Across the street a very large circular window at the top of the old house, what had to be the attic window, opened. I briefly saw a flash of white face and dark hair and eyes that seemed to meet my own, even from this distance, before Anise pulled back inside.
Huh. So her attic window could look down into my new bedroom. I'd have to invest in heavier curtains. Or full blinds.
Wait. The other houses, the way they were placed on the street, the street itself, the way it wound a bit around the hill... all the houses on this end faced the Pickman place. That had to be on purpose, as there was space to put houses between this and that one. So why? Who even designs a road like a fishhook anyway?
Duh. Fishermen, of course. I was probably reading too much into things... probably.
Whatever the reason, I bet Anise knew it.
Not a rational thought, but I couldn't shake the fact that Anise knew more than she had a chance to tell, especially about the history of this place. I bet she knew all about the Waite's and Pickman's too.
If I could stand to be near her. All I can say on that is: she better have a great personality, and just been hiding it from me before.
I'd know when I met her without parental units near.
"Hey kid." CC muttered as he brought the first pieces of my bed in. For now it was time to get back to work.
Mornings sucked. This was a true unshakable law of nature, the world over, and widely accepted by a consensus of scientists of all stripes. Who could argue with all of that?
At least I was in my own bed, in my own warm clothes, and I could smell pancakes and sausage downstairs. A glance at my clock told me I had time to take a quick shower - which meant I should take one. If I didn't the parental unit would just order me to, and that would be annoying.
So I did the thing and dressed, hitting the creaky staircase at a nice run - and turned the corner to the dining room only to almost run into a guest. A guest I did not want to see this early.
"Good morning," Anise Pickman monotoned at me after swallowing a bite of pancake large enough to make her throat bump. I watched the mass slide down, and managed to find a smile.
"Good morning. How are you?" She was in my chair, the one farthest from Mom. Which meant I had to sit closer... in slapping range. This was not cool at all, since now I'd have to mind my manners and other horrible things. I sat with the unease of the condemned.
Mom didn't notice. "Good morning Honey."
"Good morning, Mom."
"To answer your question, I am well. Thank you for asking." Anise said.
She talked weird. The more I heard, the weirder it got. I mean who actually answered the question, really? Everyone was bad nowadays, it was a meme.
Mom slammed down a plate of pancakes and sausage with one hand, and with the other she placed the syrup next to it. Her own plate had so far been untouched, but Anise, even with her manners, had started without us. Eating with big bites... almost as if starving. How long had she been alone?
Mom and I shared a glance while she wasn't looking.
I poured syrup and decided I'd start us off. "So, Anise. What's school here like? Think I'll have a problem transferring in?"
Anise took a moment to clear her throat again, something I was grateful for. "It is unlikely you will have any trouble. The public school in this area is dull and filled with plebeian."
Well. Mom raised an eyebrow. "That bad, huh?"
Anise nodded firmly. "It is highly doubtful most of the instructors would be able to find the capital on a map, the students aside."
That was pretty harsh. "The state capital?"
"The nation's capital." Anise said just before stuffing her face again.
Wow. Mom looked at me and I shrugged. Girl had some ego in her. Of course, I could point to the nation's capital on a map easily... mostly. It would be close enough!
Then Anise gave me a look... as if I was actually exempted from the insult. I resolved then and there that she should never see my test results.
That brought that list up to two; what Mom didn't know wouldn't hurt me.
"So, you have many friends?" Mom gave me a warning kick under the table for that one, but it had to be said.
Anise simply looked up, swallowed, and admitted: "No, I do not. I am hoping we may be such, however. Blood is thicker, after all."
A part of me wanted to ask what blood was thicker than. Another part of me wanted to deny we were related at all, to wildly shout that idea down with as much scorn as I could draw. I settled instead for staying silent, more than a little shocked at my feelings.
Something wasn't right here.
"Well I won't say no. At any rate we have a few days until the start of school; is there anything around here to do? Anything I should know about?"
Anise looked thoughtful for a second; it actually softened her features some. "There is the beach of course, for both swimming and fishing. One may ride bicycles in the neighborhood without fear, as few live here, and even go down to the library or a shop should one wish."
Curious. I couldn't see Anise doing any of that. "Do you do that?"
Anise shook her head. "My bicycle is broken I am afraid, and walking to many of those places tends to waste more time than I am comfortable with."
Mom threw me under the bus. "Well, Theo here can take a look at it. He sometimes fixes his own when he thinks I'm not looking. And if not, Well you can borrow his spare bike when he doesn't use it."
"That would be a blessing," Anise told us both in a way that would make me feel like an absolute heel if I said no now. "The journey into town itself has long been a chore."
"Sure. I'll take a look when we finish here, unless you have something else to do?"
Anise shook her head again, sending her hair flying wildly. "Oh no, I have no such plans. Your mother invited me to breakfast, and I decided to take the offer. I must say Mrs. Waite, you cook well."
Mom shuffled a bit, embarrassed. I knew the truth - usually it was all she could do not to burn stuff. That said, she always made a decent pancake. Maybe I could convince her to try for that forbidden food french toast again.
Anise's plate was empty; Mom snagged it with a smile. "Spoken like a kid that wants more. Do you want more?"
Anise gave her ghostly smile again. "I would not turn down seconds."
Mom nodded and disappeared into the kitchen with a: "Coming right up."
I doubled down. Even if Mom cooked a lot, giving seconds to Anise meant less for me; if Mom finished before I did, I'd probably get nothing.
"So, what's wrong with your bike, exactly?"
Anise screwed up her face in a way that did something to me. "The chain has broken, the tires have burst, and some of the mechanism has simply fallen off. I do not know why."
Odd. Books or videos on bike repair were a thing at every library, and she'd admitted to going to the place. Maybe she had no tools? Maybe it was interest, but if I was stuck in that house and couldn't go anywhere I'd look for ways to bolt.
Mom returned, handing over another four pancakes and three sausages to my temporary stomach enemy. I finished up and gave her the puppy eyes, and she sighed and took my plate, disappearing into the kitchen again.
"So, what do you do for fun?" I asked. I'd kind of run out of topics of conversation.
Her eyes gleamed as she answered me, gaining this sort of far away look. "Swim,"she said after a quiet moment.
Then she came back to herself with a sort of shudder. Was it cold in here? "I also read, of course."
Of course she did. "Hm, well I don't mind swimming, but I have to admit I don't read much."
Now just what was that smile supposed to mean. "I shall have to convert you then."
Oh, a joking smile? Not a normal type of joking smile, not one I've seen often... as if there was a joke here I wasn't getting.
Anise needed to work on her people skills. That is, unless she wanted to creep everyone out. Maybe she did.
Mom got back again, and there were only two pancakes and two sausages on my plate. Curses!
"Hurry up and finish," she told me. "There's still some unpacking to do."
I looked at Anise, my new best buddy, and wiggled my eyebrows. Mom got the message.
"Fine, but be back before five. We'll unpack then. I need to meet with the executor at noon, and then I'll come back. Anything you want for dinner?"
That was an easy choice. "Takeout."
Mom gave me another sigh, this one as melodramatic as anything Scarlet O'hara could give me. "Fine, be that way. I'll grab some Thai."
Thai was a Mom weakness, which meant I'd had her with me from the start and there was no need to feel guilty.
"Thai?" Anise asked, as if she didn't know who they were... after living in California all her life.
"People from Thailand. They make some decent food - usually its soups and noodle foods, some curry... things like that. You want Mom to get you some?"
Anise answered immediately. "Certainly, if it is not too much trouble. You may order for me the most common dishes and I can repay you this evening, if that is acceptable?"
"Sure," Mom replied in a bit of confusion. "But no need to pay me back. We're neighbors and relatives, after all. I was going to invite you to dinner anyway. Anyway, I've got to go or I risk being late. You have your keys?"
I nodded. They were upstairs, after all.
"Good, lock up when you're done, and see what you can do about that bike, okay?"
Ugh, I was hoping she'd forgotten about that. I'd have to dig out my tool kit too. At least the beach, the only reason to even be in a place like this, wasn't far.
"Right after I'm done, Mom." I made a show of cutting pancakes.
Mom smiled and snagged her purse. "Right. Be good honey, I don't want any phone calls!"
"That was one time!" Get busted for skateboarding on a sidewalk once, and she never let you forget it! I hadn't even kept the skateboard.
The door slammed; Mom was gone, leaving me alone with the weird girl.
Anise turned back to her own food, and I matched her. Somehow, despite her having more than me to go through, she finished first.
I grabbed her plate and carried it to the sink with mine, then cleaned up the table. I'd have to do it sooner or later, might as well do it now.
Anise was lucky we'd just moved, because I knew where my tools were. If she had asked a week from now, I could have put her off by admitted (probably entirely truthfully) that I'd lost my tools in the garage. Instead, they were safely dumped in the front room.
"Wait here a minute, okay?"
Anise nodded, and I raced up the stairs. My key was where I left it, as were my clothes. I broke a speed record or two changing, for sure, then grabbed my keys and hit the stairs again.
Anise was nose deep in an opened box when I got back, looking over the family photo album... which made me incredibly uneasy for some reason. I made a bit more noise than I should clomping up to her. She put the book back when I got close at least. I grabbed my scuffed, dented, and stained metal toolbox and asked if she was ready to go.
There might have been a bit more bite in my tone than should have been there - she was just curious after all, and there was no harm looking at pictures of my father.
"Alright, let's go."
Anise led the way out, and I locked the door before closing it.
Then I tested it to make sure. After all, a door as old as this one might not work like the ones I was used to back home. It stayed shut and the knob didn't turn, so I was good on that score.
The day was already pleasant, which meant that later on it would probably get downright hot. Despite that, the shadows of the old house felt cool, even cold, as we entered them.
Rather than the house proper, she led the way around the side, to the gravel drive and a garage that looked straight out of a movie. What did they call them? carriage houses?
The place was overgrown with weeds and vines were halfway up the sides of the building and tearing the plaster off. The paint was cracked and peeling, and probably wasn't that shade of sky blue when it was applied what looks to be a century ago.
I bet I could find asbestos and other banned substances in here.
Anise pulled a key from somewhere (Was there a hidden pocket in that dress?) and plugged it into the lock. Then she pulled. Then she pulled again, with a grunt of effort and clear strain.
With a screech of a thousand tortured metal souls, the door gave in and all but flew up.
The inside was filled with junk, all with a thick carpeting of dust and grime. I was sure I saw cockroaches scurry away from us. The only clear space was a small deer style trail in between a car that had to be made personally by Henry Ford and a stack of boxes three high, poised just a hair from falling over onto whoever was around and burying them alive.
Oh hey, there was the asbestos, lying loose on the right in the form of old insulation.
Anise disappeared into the mess to the accompaniment of rattling items and the hollow thud boxes make when you run into or slap them. I decided not to follow; once past the door it was black as night and there probably wasn't room.
I wasn't kept waiting long; a bike emerged. A bike that was probably older than Mom. It had that old styling from the fifties, complete with fins and a middle body part like no bike had anymore. If it wasn't made of steel, I would eat my screwdriver.
It was also sporting a broken chain, a bent wheel, two flat tires and the handlebars were pointing the wrong direction.
Anise set it down in front of me. Unfortunately she was not gentle, and bent the wheel even further. I caught it before it could fall over. Was it..? It was, even a gear for the chain was missing. How did that happen? You had to actually work hard to lose one of those.
"Well, I've got good news and bad news. The good news is that I can fix your bike. The bad news is I'll need some parts to do it with, since you're missing some. So, know the location of a good bike shop?"
Anise shook her head. "I do not, or I would have taken my bicycle there instead."
Of course. I grabbed my phone. "Right, then we go to where all the greatest things may be found! To the internet!"
Let's see. According to this, the nearest bike shop was... in the city proper, some seven miles away. It was also suspiciously close to that section of the beach. "Well, this is going to take us a bit. I hope you got money."
Anise looked from the wreckage of the bike to me, her face pinched in suspicion of all things. As if I would steal from her or something.
"We need new tires at the very least, these are rotten and you can't patch them anymore. A new middle gear here, a new wheel probably, I can probably fix the chain but it might be best to get a new one. You're even missing a pedal. The bike has no reflectors or brakes either, and that's illegal as far as I know."
"I believe I have the money to pay for such." Anise admitted grudgingly.
"Good. Better to make sure, because I'm broke for the next few days and I'd hate for this trip to be pointless."
"I shall be but a moment," Anise said, getting the hint. She disappeared in the wreck she called a home (from here I could tell the window sills were rotting out) and came running out a moment later with a rather hideous old lady purse; it was cloth with those weird teardrop designs that people liked in the seventies. It even had that large long strap that grandmas preferred, the kind that could go across a woman's body and still sit on the hip, where it was supposed to.
I straightened my bike, extended the seat so it was a double, and got on. "Alright, hop on back."
Anise gave me a eyebrow hike, but mounted up. Her hands sought a hold, and found it wrapped around me. They were a little clammy, like before.
"I'll go slow. All you need to do is keep your balance."
"Thank you for your consideration," she replied.
I had no intention of going slow, really. Seven miles along city streets was probably already going to take an hour.
So I coasted down the incline, dodging potholes, then started pumping in earnest. Anise took a moment to get used to it, lagging behind me, struggling to balance. Then she caught on and the ride got smooth.
She said something, but standing on the pedals as I was with the wind in my ears, I couldn't hear her. She didn't shout it or pull on me so it couldn't be an emergency, so I ignored it. In no time at all we were out of the little suburb and into the city proper.
The city had good bike paths, especially near the edge where they weren't co-opting yards or sidewalks for them. The few places not covered, I obeyed the law... merging onto the road, using signals, obeying traffic lights.
I still almost got run over twice, but at least I didn't get a ticket. For all its talk, the San Fran area was not Seattle. That was probably a good thing, but it was inconvenient for us at the moment.
Honestly, if not for Mom's ultimatum I'd have just ordered the parts online and called it a day. But one did not argue with Mom once she had... expectations. So after more time pedaling for two than I cared for, I found myself outside "Honest Dave's bike and surf shop". Wonder of wonders, it was open, matching its website.
I waited until Anise took the hint and climbed off first, then stuck my bike in the rack outside and locked it up.
Anise was already studying the new bikes that were hung along one wall. The wall away from the beach. The surf boards were hung at the wall closest the beach, which someone had bothered to think and care about.
I walked right up to the counter and fixed the guy behind it with my best 'I mean business' glare. He was a tanned dark haired bro, with more muscle definition than seemed healthy, so I had to be sure. As I got close, he let out a smile that was blinding, letting me know he whitened those choppers.
"I need some parts. A chain, a pedal, a middle gear for a bicycle."
I waited while he typed that up. "What year?"
"A nineteen fifty-six Schwinn."
He looked up from the monitor.
"Might be time to upgrade, kid."
The cost of the old bike parts in no way came close to the cost of a new bike. That was just silly.
"Its a restoration project. Do you have 'em or not?"
I saw his game now. He was just pissed that he had to get out his catalog in order to check. He looked up the numbers and typed it in again.
Then he grunted in surprise. "Well, we got the chain, and the pedal. The gear we don't...But the chances are Chuck does."
The guy grinned again, blinding me. "Chuck, he owns a shop kinda like this one across town. We swap customers or parts sometimes, when we get a tough order. I can give you his number if you want."
"I do want." I told him, finally recovering enough to see his name tag. He was a Brad.
He passed me a card, then left his place behind the counter. "Let me go get the stuff we do have."
Anise was checking the wet suits now.
She would probably look really good in that one.
I pulled out my phone and called Chuck. He answered on the first ring and I had to ignore his very upbeat and very fake spiel for fear of my sanity.
"How can I help you?" He finally asked.
"I'm looking for a middle gear to a nineteen fifty-six Schwinn bike. Brad of Honest Dave's gave me your number."
"A fifty-six Schwinn, huh? Not too many of those around anymore. I'll have to check; can I call you back?"
"Sure, call back at this number." The prospect for the day was looking grim. Heh, prospect - California humor.
Brad came back as Anise moved on to the surfboards, shaking her head in clear disapproval.
"Okay, got your parts here. One chain and one pedal for a fifty-six Schwinn. That'll be twenty-nine ninety-five."
That... was actually not a bad price. At least going by modern standards. I'm sure, back in the day, the bike itself cost less. Luckily I had enough. Oh, wait.
"You got a set of tires too? sorry, forgot to ask."
Brad's smile fell a bit, but he managed to bring it back to dazzling with a little effort."I'll check."
He didn't bother going to the computer this time; instead he went straight into the back.
Anise moved on to the diver's knives, and I swear I could see her drool on the case.
I walked over for a closer look, and was relieved. She wasn't actually drooling on the display, she was merely acting like a kid in a candy store. I resolved right then to never buy her a knife or anything else that could be used as a weapon.
Brad came back, and he had two boxes with him. "That'll be seven bucks even."
Where there went the rest of my money, and my ice cream for the day. Brad bagged it all up for me, and I promptly handed it to Anise.
"Here. I'm going to need my hands. See you later Brad, and thanks."
Anise followed me outside, and right on cue, my phone rang. "Hello?"
It was Chuck. "Yes. do you have it?"
"Yep, I got one. Want to come over and get it? I'll hold for you."
"Brad told me you deliver; can you deliver to houses too?"
A pause there. He didn't want to do it. "I can, but it costs extra, and I won't be able to do it until three at least. I can deliver it to Honest Dave's if you prefer."
"No, no, my house is fine. I'll pay the fee." Or rather, Mom would since I was broke. Hopefully Mom would have that solved by then; that is what at least one of her trips today was for.
I rattled off the address and gave my name. Chuck said he'd be there.
"Alright, we should head back." Luckily my bike was still in the rack. I unlocked it and got it pointed in the right direction.
Anise didn't argue, she simply hopped on and grabbed me again.
Right. I should have angled for more resting time. Nothing for it - I bore down and got us moving.
About forty-five minutes later I was done, staring up a hill I needed to go up. It hadn't been that bad on the way, but now it looked like a mountain.
"Okay, I need a break. Can we walk a bit?"
Anise hopped off immediately. She seemed subdued, looking down at the concrete as if it were actually interesting. "Certainly. I apologize."
"Not your fault. My Mom's, if anything. She tends to take things like transportation seriously. She's kind of a stickler for independence."
"With your help and expertise I shall be more so. You have my gratitude."
There she was, talking weird again. "Don't worry about it. For now, let's just walk a bit."
I started off walking the bike and she followed me, what seemed like exactly three steps behind. Not only was that a little odd, but it made it harder to talk to her. On the other hand, it did make it easier for us to pass people on the sidewalk, especially that old woman who weighed four hundred pounds if she weighed an ounce. The sidewalk certainly seemed to bounce in place a bit as she passed.
We walked in silence while I caught my breath. It wasn't an easy silence, but I'd take it. Once at the top of the hill, I held the bike out for her while she got on, then mounted and let us coast.
I probably should have used the brakes a bit, but that just meant more resting and walking later, so I didn't. At least the car drivers were paying attention today.
Still, I was sweating bullets and my legs were falling off by the time we turned up the final hill to Anise's door. Even with rest breaks, it was more exercise than I was used to, strictly speaking. Not the cycling itself, the extra eighty to a hundred pounds on the back.
I sat on the porch and blew air until my legs stopped feeling like jello, with Anise next to me the entire time. Then I dragged my tools out and fixed what I could.
It ended up costing me an entire can of wd40. I could have used a pneumatic screwdriver on some of these bolts, but I had to settle for soaking them instead. Then I sprinted to my house, got my hidden emergency stash out, and ran back to the Pickman place.
Then it was a waiting game.
An old guy pulled up in a truck even older than he was... and it was in much better shape than he was too. I could appreciate that. "You Waite?"
I nodded. "You Chuck?"
He nodded, and dangled a bag out of his window. "You made good time. That's anice bike you got there."
"You also made good time, and that's a nice truck you got there." His truck was a fifty-six or I'd eat his grimy hat.
We matched grins for a moment before I approached the truck. "That'll be twenty-five even."
A little steep, but not unexpected. I forked the cash over. "Pleasure doing business with ya," he told me. "If you ever need anything else for that bike let me know, I'll order them for ya."
"I will sir, thanks."
We shook and I backed up while he pulled out.
The gear fit, and once it was in place, everything worked. "Well, that's it. Everything fixed, the bike should work."
I put pressure on the wheels, and pedaled a bit, The action was smooth, and the ride seemed okay.
"Thank you," Anise said. Then she smiled, another small one that gave me just a glimpse of her teeth. "Now we may journey to the beach, as promised."
It was close enough to walk, and I didn't want to trust my bike to the sands alone. "Alright, you go ahead and get ready, and I'll go get ready on my end."
Anise nodded primly, got up, unlocked her house, and slipped in.
I went back across the street and followed suit. The first thing on the agenda was lunch. I didn't really want to feed our neighbor, but she hadn't made any mention of food since breakfast, and if I was going to fill myself I'd have to just suck it up and bring something for her.
So, what to get for a picnic? All we had was sandwich stuff and chips, so I grabbed it all and some plastic silverware, then threw in some paper plates as an afterthought. It all went into my cooler lunchbox (at least when I jammed it in extra hard) and then I dug my swim trunks out. I didn't plan to go into the water, but I liked to be prepared.
Speaking of, I made sure my key ring bottle of pepper spray was ready. It was one use, but one use was enough. I also grabbed a few towels. Hm, Mom and I should probably invest in beach towels.
Back outside, I was locking my door when Anise strode into view. She was a vision... much the way that a mime was. She wore a bathing suit that was a one piece, black with polka dots, and probably older than my Mom was judging by the style. It might even be as old as her bike, because it had a skirt thing and almost completely covered her thighs.
She also had a floppy sun hat on her head, a ratty towel in her arm, and sunglasses on her face; big round ones of dark plastic that were the opposite of stylish. It was odd. Maybe they were retro and therefore considered 'in'? I didn't know Cali fashion.
Whatever, I wasn't going to sweat it. At least not now.
"Alright, let's go."
"Certainly. The best route to take to the beach lies this way."
Anise led me back past her house, to a winding crushed gravel path that led around the back and other side of her house, down under both it and the cliff it stood upon. I looked up once, as we neared the bottom. We were better than a hundred feet down; not bad for no steps being involved.
Eventually we hit the sand, and it was empty. Wait - was this part private? Did Anise own it?
"We may set up here, if you wish." Anise said, moving past the sign that did in fact declare this a private beach.
"Let's go a bit farther south. I like to people watch." I'd seen people on the beach to the south yesterday, doing the standard beach things. Anise didn't own much of the beach - she couldn't.
She gave in easily, but seemed uneasy. "As you wish."
I didn't think being alone with her was a good idea. Bad things could happen or be implied. Where there were people on a beach, there were lifeguards. That was also a plus, because I wasn't sure I was Micheal Phelps enough for the ocean just yet. I'd heard some things about riptides and killer currents.
Right now the water seemed to put the lie to the rumors; it was gentle and an ever so deep blue, gently lapping on the sand as we walked down the length of the place.
There was no glass, no needles, and no Styrofoam coffee cups. This wasn't like a riverside beach at all. Score one for Cali. Even the public part of the beach, ahead, was clean.
We hit the edge of the public beach; the was the marker, and this was close enough. I spread my blanket and plunked right down. Despite what Anise may have thought, I wasn't in any hurry to surround myself with people.
Anise plunked beside me in clear relief that she was trying very badly to hide. She spread her towel after the fact.
I spread my other towel, then moved over and put the lunchbox between us.
"What lies hidden in this bag?" Anise asked.
"Food, mostly. The bag will keep it cold until we're ready to eat."
Anise poked it. "Truly? Far more efficient than a simple basket, then."
"I don't think people use baskets anymore. Its all chemically treated canvas now."
Anise poked it again. "How curious. Might I borrow it?"
Did she want to learn how my bag worked? "Perhaps later. But if you want to know how the bag works, you can look it up online. Or failing anything else, I'll look it up for you. I'll even help you find one of your own, if you want."
Anise thought. "That would be preferable. Would you like to enjoy the water? The sun is setting, and soon it will be too cold."
I didn't want to. "I guess we should. I won't be going too far however, I don't want to run into a shark or something."
"You should have no fear of sharks," Anise scoffed. "They should only attack if you act as a fat baby seal."
Was that.... was that a joke? Anise was smiling, so maybe it was.
"That was a joke, wasn't it? Somehow I don't imagine you tell those often."
Anise shrugged, heading into the surf. "It is true. There has been little to jest of in my life."
Well, that brought down the mood.
With a rather beautiful arc, Anise dove into the water and wiggled her way under the deeper waters. I was no critic, but that seemed like professional level water sports.
She came up for air a good fifty feet or so past her dive point. Meanwhile I was still fumbling around, doing my best sidestroke to catch up and trying not to inhale any saltwater.
Honestly, if she hadn't bothered to wait for me, I never would have come out to wait for me. But now I was out here, where the water was indeed cold, the chill seeping into me.
"You swim very well," Anise informed me.
"Clearly not. Before I saw you in action I might have agreed. But you're much better than I am."
"I have been told so. There is no shame in being less skilled than I in the water. I come from a long line of natural mariners, whose second home was the ocean. Your own skill is naught to scoff at."
That was... actually a pretty good point. "Well thanks for the pep talk. I'll take your word for it, for now."
I started back. With only a whisper of a splash behind me, I turned to find Anise keeping pace. Keeping pace while looking directly into my eyes.
For a moment, those eyes seemed to mimic the waves of the ocean itself, placidly changing colors to and fro. But it was only a moment, broken when I swallowed more water than I wanted to.
I managed to reach land, still hacking up a lung and with my stomach already roiling.
"Are you alright? Is aught amiss?"
I waved Anise off. "Just not used to the salt water yet. You go have fun, I'll be here."
Anise shrugged once then darted off, moving through the water with the speed of a sprinter off the block. I watched her for a bit, then cleaned the sand off and made my way back to my towels. I was sure I'd be hungry again, once my stomach stopped tying itself in knots.
The sun was warm, and that warmth was welcome after the cold water.
"Hey." A deep voice called from right by me.
"Hey." I cracked an eye; the boy was bigger than me, probably older by a year or more, and with some muscle to him. Either a runner or swimmer's build. His white and red striped trunks ensured that his tanned body wouldn't be overlooked, and his hair was bleached by the sun into a washed out yellow.
"You're new here, aren't you? Not just passing through?"
Ah, he didn't want to talk to some tourist. Made sense, I wouldn't either.
"Yeah I'm new. Just moved in yesterday; my name is Theo."'
I held a hand up. The boy took it. "Alan."
"Pleased to meet you."
"Same," he replied. His eyes were on the ocean... no, on Anise.
"Let me guess. She's weird, and if I hang with her I'll be considered weird too."
Alan turned back to me, his face serious. "She's dangerous. She knifed a kid in school last year. So, yeah, you should be careful. Weird is practically a way of life down here, but there is weird, and then there is dangerous weird."
Well, that put an entirely new spin on things. "She really knifed a kid?"
Alan nodded. "A friend of mine who asked her out. He was nice about it, and she screamed, pulled a knife right there in the school, and stabbed him in the arm. Went all the way through. Ask her, she won't deny it. She got suspended by a month, but somehow avoided expulsion."
Well that was disturbing. "I thought the schools here were zero tolerance?"
Alan nodded again. "They are. Somehow it didn't matter."
Odd for an orphan. Was her guardian dead before this happened? He had to be, right? Grief or mourning would be the only way I could see her getting a pass for something like that.
After all, that was how it worked for me.
Still, even giving her the benefit of the doubt, that was oddly specific. So chances are it happened just like Alan said it did, and even if she was being harassed by Alan's friend every day that wouldn't excuse anything. Grief would sort of give her a pass, but still - I could see it, being her. Just stabbing someone to get him to shut up.
Still, she didn't have a knife on her now. Nowhere to stash one.
"Anyway, just thought I'd warn you. Good luck, new kid." Alan made his escape, watching all the while as Anise came out of the water and back toward us. He rejoined his friends out of hearing range, two boys and a girl, and they walked off together.
"Hello again," Anise said, plunking down beside me.
Not going right to it, huh? I'd not have figured her one for subtlety. "Hello again. Alan is not a friend of yours, I take it."
Anise shook her head. "I have few friends."
Yeah, I could see that. "He says you stabbed a friend of his, and almost got kicked out of school?"
Anise didn't even hesitate before nodding. "I did. He was most crass about his innuendo, and when I told him I was not interested, he made a comment best forgotten. I was... 'not in a good place' that day."
I could hear the quotes. It was obvious that was slang she had picked up somewhere, and not her own words. Now, did they reflect her true thoughts or not? It really was anyone's guess.
The problem is, mom wouldn't take 'she's psycho' for an answer. Not without proof - and I can get her started in looking for it, but that would end in psych visits and a very pissed off crazy chick. I'd probably have to do it anyway.
I'd waited too long to answer. Anise looked up, then back down. "You need not fear. I'll not harm you, even if you make such statements. It is my hope that we can be friends."
Oh shit, she has the hots for me already? I'm nothing special, did she pull a puppy and imprint on me or something? "Promise?"
Oh double shit, my mouth ran without my brain again.
Anise looked up, right into my eyes. "I swear it. No matter what you say to me, I shall not harm you."
She held out her hand; she learned fast. We shook; her hand was even more cold and clammy than usual. She was still wet.
"Are you cold?"
Anise shook her head and lay back on the towel. "No, the sun is quite warming, even as it sets. In a moment I shall be ready to enter the seas again."
"Well you might want to rethink that, and eat something first. My mom told me you cant go swimming for a half an hour after eating, or you'll cramp."
"An old wives tale," Anise dismissed. "The truth is the motions of your stomach have no effect on cramps in the water, rather it is the warming of the muscles that is at fault. In both our cases, the muscles of our legs are warm and more."
I shrugged and opened the basket I'd brought. "Still I'm hungry, so I'm going to eat something. As for after that, as you pointed out, I'm beyond warm. So sitting on my ass on this blanket and soaking in the sun's warmth. Falling asleep might be in the cards too."
"I would object that you need more exercise, but you clearly do not today," Anise told me, before her eyes roved over my food with a greed too obvious to be feigned. She sat up and reached over, trying to reach across me.
I grabbed the basket and re-set it between us. "It's strictly make your own, but there is a lot in here. Try and keep the sand out as best you can."
"Of course," she muttered. "I dislike grit on my tongue as much as the next person."
Well maybe what I said was obvious, but she went from zero to irritated very fast.
I washed my hands to make sure they had no sand, and snagged a few things. Some wheat bread, some ham, some cheese, a slice of tomato and a few slices of green pepper. I looked up to find Anise had matched me ingredient for ingredient.
She had a bit more ham than I did... by possibly half a pound, but otherwise the sandwich was identical. How was she going to fit all that in... no wait, she had a maw, didn't she?
Just as I thought it, she proved it, stuffing the entire corner of the stack into her mouth before crunching down. The ensuing bite was a little smaller than it looked, but had a curious pattern to it....
No, never mind, I should eat my own stuff before she finishes hers. There was a real threat of not being able to eat my own sandwich.
Thankfully I managed to catch up. Full, I flopped back on my towel. The clouds were the same everywhere you go, it seems. The scudding white marshmallows were moving with speed inland, but were staying intact. That one looked kind of like a horse's head. A thump beside me a minute later let me know Anise had done the same.
That cloud looked like a bird in flight.
Anise's arm came into view, pointing up at the cloud. "That one resembles an airplane."
"I was thinking bird, but yeah that works too."
"Do you cloud watch often?" She asked.
"Sometimes. I'm lazy at heart, but don't often get to relax like I want. There's always something to do."
"I like to cloud watch," Anise volunteered.
An easy silence passed between us as the sun set, setting fire to those interesting clouds right on cue and changing them into other things, even if only for a moment. We pointed out dragons and cars and people to each other with a finger and a word, and understood each other. The entire time there were others around us, but no one bothered us; no one else got close.
Then the sun slipped below the horizon, and it was time to go.
I looked over and the basket was nearly empty. I hadn't even heard the crunch of chips from a couple feet away; where did she put it all?
At least it would be easier to carry now. "Ready to go?"
The girl next to me sighed, and ran fingers through her hair, wincing at the tangles. It was such a human gesture I was shocked - then I couldn't really figure out why I was shocked.
"I am, I suppose. The beach becomes dangerous at night."
I looked around; there were still more than a few people around and most of them seemed to be surfers.
Anise read my look. "They are not the cause, yet they are related to it. More than sharks lurk these waters."
That was... probably true. Besides, Anise had promised. She was already shaking out her loaned towel. I threw the remaining trash in with the food and did the same. The rest of the food was packaged, so no harm no foul.
The walk back was even better than the walk there, nice and relaxing. Once again, no one was around to make noise or piss me off.
The lights in our new house were on.
I headed straight over, and Anise followed. Mom opened the door the minute my shoes hit the porch; I'd need to work on that creaking if I wanted to sneak around.
"Ah good, you're here. Get inside."
"You did say we could go to the beach until dark," I pointed out. That stopped her roll before she got started.
"You're right, I did. But I also tried to call you and tell you I'd been able to wrap things up early. I didn't get an answer."
I put the basket on the table and pulled my phone out of it; dead. "Whoops. Sorry, guess I used it too much today. Out of juice."
"I see. Well, it happens, but try and remember, okay? I was getting worried."
Mom worried too much, really.
Then the smell hit, and Anise was gone.
I pulled Mom close and whispered in her ear. "I don't get it, she just ate. She's already after the thai!"
"Then we better go protect it," Mom returned. "After all if she eats it all, there won't be any left for the other teenage food vacuum in the house."
Oh ha ha. I sprang into action anyway, because I might in fact want a snack later, and if Anise was anything like me, she'd go after the best parts first.
As suspected, she was in the beef salad, just holding the entire bag, not a fork or chopsticks in sight, yet munching on something.
"Drop that bag, miscreant!"
Surprised, she did. She also swallowed whatever it was she was eating with a large noisy gulp.
"The correct way to eat this stuff is to put it all in dishes first, then grab a little bit of everything."
Anise looked at the bag then back to me, guilt clear on her face. "I thought it best to save the cost of cleaning crockery."
Crockery? "Nah, just help me grab the dishes, and it'll go faster."
She fell in behind me and I led the way into the kitchen. I was taller so I grabbed the bowls and handed them down. Then I grabbed some forks and we went back... to find Mom digging into one of the bags with chopsticks, noodles hanging out of her mouth.
Now Anise was giving me the 'oh really?' look. Damn it, Mom.
"Mom, I just got done telling Anise off for that."
"S'ok," Mom spit out. "This is my own order, you kids get the rest."
That wasn't the point. "Never mind her Anise, she's cheating using Mom privilege."
Mom nodded and slurped like an uncultured heathen. I had learned table manners from this woman. I would get punished for not using table manners in front of a guest by this woman.
I arranged the bowls and spread the food in them, all of them were in easy reach between us. Then I sighed, and actually grabbed the plates I'd forgotten, passing one off.
Anise watched as I carefully picked a bit of this and a bit of that, using the spare forks so there was no risk of contamination. It was all still hot enough to steam, if only barely.
I went for the beef salad first, and again, Anise followed suit. By the end the poor bowl looked decimated. It only got worse from there; I'd eaten so I couldn't do more than peck, but Anise went in, clearing out most of the bowls pretty much by herself. Where it all went, I couldn't even begin to guess.
I looked to Mom, but she seemed content to let it go.
Eventually the one girl wrecking crew slowed down, and Mom spoke up. "Well, it's been an eventful day, and I'm tired. You're welcome to stay Anise, but I need to get some sleep; I've got an early day tomorrow."
"No, that is quite all right, Mrs. Waite. I should be getting back home regardless, I've much to do myself."
And with that, my troublesome companion for the day hopped off the chair and got while the getting was good retreating out the door. Mom moved in a hurry, snapping the porch light on and standing in the window.
I moved to her side. The only thing on the street was a young girl, hurrying to her house. She was clearly visible, and the area was quiet. There was nothing to threaten her, even as she unlocked her door and went inside.
Some of the reasons this house was chosen were making sense now: or rather, there were other reasons Mom had chose this house that were clear now.
Anise went inside, and soon a small light burned within. A candle? Whatever, it was enough.
I reached over and locked the door. You could never be too careful.
Mom raised an eyebrow. "You knew. She has a history."
"She's a troubled girl, raised by a terrible man. But she's still family."
Well now that was new. "Terrible how?"
"Mr Waite was... abusive. Known to be abusive, on record as being abusive. But it's not right to speak ill of the dead. So you get up the stairs and don't worry about it.
Oh no, we were going to talk about this later. But it was clear Mom was tired, so I'd let her off for now.
"Well we'll talk later but for now I'll let you off the hook. But if you want me to watch out for her, I need to know."
I was no longer worried that I'd die from her, she had promised me after all, but there were some land mines I didn't want to walk across in her psych.
Mom went upstairs, then turned back. "Coming? You got an early morning tomorrow."
"Yeah yeah I'm coming. Want to brush my teeth first." The downstairs bathroom had my toothbrush and other stuff. Mom had a bathroom all to herself upstairs, and that's where she kept her crap.
"Good point." Mom conceded.
I brushed and spit and cleaned up, noting a difference in the water's taste. I wasn't sure what the difference was, but something was different than the stuff back east. It was... sharper somehow.
With a mental shrug I dismissed the thought. It was my policy not to trust drinking water unless it was proven good with tests I could read. Bottled water was a problem, but at least the good stuff was filtered better.
I settled into bed with a random book, opening it to find swords and sorcery within, and a kingdom needing saved.
The house across the street still had a light on too. A small, weak fluttering light that could only be a candle danced its way across the window opposite mine. It wasn't really late, but I found myself wondering what Anise was doing... and why she was doing it by candlelight. Surely Mom had seen to the electricity bill today? That was one of the things she had gone to take care of.
A pale blurry face briefly appeared in the window, and while I couldn't tell for sure I couldn't shake the thought that the eyes were looking directly at me, even with my blinds in the way. I waved just in case and went back to my book.
The book that seemed less interesting by the minute, but I stuck with it.
Morning came, bright and early. Monday morning, the first day of school Monday morning.
I turned my alarm off. Now, would my Mom be awake? I put the odds at fifty-fifty.
I went straight to the source, and opened the master bedroom door a hair; nope, she was still asleep. So did I let her sleep? She didn't need to be up right now, strictly speaking.
I'd let her sleep. If anything I'd call her from the bus to wake her up on time; she needed her sleep as much as I needed mine.
My shower was quick, a tee shirt and jeans were easy to throw on, and breakfast was a couple of energy bars. I was out the door just fifteen minutes later and on the way to the sole bus stop for the area.
It was only used for the local school; I wasn't sure why normal city buses didn't use it, but I thought it might be because there wasn't enough people.
Anise was already waiting at the bus stop herself, in a modest pink dress and matching shoes. The book bag on her back was old, faded, and very torn up. So was the purse in her hands.
As I got closer, I could pick up her smells - perfume of some kind, thick and cloying. Under that, the smell of the sea and musty clothes that were not quite clean. Ouch; that just wasn't going to work. Do I tell her? Does she already know?
"Good morning." No I don't, I decided. I wasn't going to open up with that just yet. She probably didn't have a working washer or something.
"Good morning," Anise replied, one of her not-quite smiles coming easily to her face. "Have no fear, today is but a half a day. Orientation, they call it."
"Well, that seems like a waste of time."
"Oh, so it is. But time is something those who run our school love to waste. That as well as money."
I couldn't argue that, the staff at my old school liked to do the same, even though they had a full day for orientation. Nothing much happened that day, but they still made us stay the entire time.
The bus rattled into view - it was small and looked older than me. The smoke coming from the back was a thick white, and something about the end sounded wrong.
I shook myself out of the surprise as it rolled to a stop. Anise didn't even wait for the doors to fully open before she jumped on, favoring the bus driver with a wave.
The bus driver was old. Very old, and very brittle looking. His smile showed off his teeth, which had the look of really straight dentures - the kind that looked out of place in old people's mouths. His eyes were watery and sunk into his head, and some color between gray and brown I couldn't identify.
I gave him a wave, and he gave me a smile in return. "Well come on, we ain't got all day."
I sidled around him and he shrugged.
The bus was empty save for Anise, sitting all the way in the back. I moved to join her, even though it was probably a mistake.
"We are the first stop," she told me as I sat down. "There will be other children from the surrounding areas, but the bus driver always begins here."
That was kind of cool, but also kind of bad. It meant we probably had a good hour before getting to the school itself, and my bike would be faster. I'd have to learn the route to see.
For now, the only thing I had to do was read textbooks, which would be counterproductive.
Down the single road out of the cul-de-sac and ten minutes later, the bus stopped again.
Two kids, both dressed in what passed for trendy here - except the backwards caps, those had pretty much died everywhere. Two boys, both about my height with lean builds, possibly brothers. Brown hair, brown eyes, very plain. They both got on, looked toward the back and did a double take I could see from here.
They didn't get closer than five seats. I knew it.
The next group to get one, a boy and a girl, were happily chatting away when they got on, and they did a double take when they saw me too. So far Anise had ignored both groups in favor of reading her math text. But they knew her, yes. Conversation stopped, and when the next group sat the whispers began.
It didn't get any better either; no one sat within five seats of us, even when the other seats were full. the conversations got loud again, but there was an undercurrent to them and eyes on us the entire time.
When the bus finally stopped at the school it was a relief. Even after Anise pushed open the back door which was supposed to be for emergencies only and jumped out.
I followed, making sure to close it tightly so the alarm wouldn't sound.
I needed to ditch Anise, at least for a while, family or no. But I needed her first. She was the only one that had been on that bus who would talk to me. The irony of it.
"Can you show me where the office is?"
She'd been about to just leave, without so much as a look back; she turned around and favored me with another of her smiles. It seemed more fake than usual. "Of course. This way."
Then she set a pace that I had to work to match, leading me through the front doors of the rather weirdly named 'Cove high school' in a straight line, while other kids and even teachers parted around her. What part of this area was a cove? Never mind.
Anise's reputation must be worse than I thought if even teachers avoided her. Not even I had gotten the treatment that bad.
The office was the first door on the right in the main hall it seemed. Now her odd behavior made a bit more sense; she must be thinking I'm an idiot or something. I watched her go on as I opened the door and walked in. This school wasn't as large as my last one, but it was big enough. I probably wouldn't see Anise at all, aside from lunch.
The secretary was bright and bubbly, with bleach blonde hair, pink press on nails that were probably too long to type with, and a sculpted face sporting entirely too much make-up. She looked like she was twenty-five going on fifty.
She was still bubbly regardless; annoyingly so. "Good morning cutie! What can I do for you!"
I gave her my name. "I have my schoolbooks already, but I need a schedule and a map."
"Oh, right. Well, its orientation. You'll get both from your first class... but I suppose you don't know where that is. So I'll give you a map early."
She clacked on her keyboard a bit (she flattened her fingers, her nails never touched the keys. That was neat) and started a printer across the room whirring.
She crossed the room, grumbling, grabbed the paper and set it down on top of the counter separating us. Then she grabbed a marker, and put an X on the paper.
"That's your first class, should be just down the hall, past the main intersection, and then to the left. General science with Mr. Martine. You've got a good seven minutes left to get there, that's plenty of time. Oh, and your locker will be along that hall, that's how we do things here. Most students got their first class and the school handbook in the mail."
I had to work fast to stop the verbal onslaught. "Mine must have missed me; I just got here yesterday. Alright, thanks. I better get going then."
I hit the door with a wave and almost at a run; a run that promptly slowed to a walk before I could slam into someone.
Joining the crowd made the walk take longer, but the crowd thinned out at the main intersection, and that let me gain speed. Mr. Mortine's class bore his name instead of just a number, like all the classes here did. It was the fourth class on the left. The door was closed but unlocked, and there were already a good fifteen kids inside.
Anise wasn't here.
I opened the door and went in, grabbing a desk near but not quite at the back. There were papers already on the desk, but I left those alone. My backpack went under my feet rather than to the side; I'd learned school survival with the best of them, at the school of hard knocks.
Well, one of them anyway.
People were staring now though; outside I was a face in the crowd. In here I was a new kid. Yet no one moved to talk to me. Should I do something about that? Take matters into my own hands? Would it be weird, at the beginning of the year?
Screw it; I stood up. "Hi, my name is Theo, I'm new here."
A round of names came back:
"Hi, I'm Brooke."
"Kenneth - or Ken."
I tried to remember all the names and keep them matched to the faces when the door opened again and more kids came in. Figuring out what was going on, they joined in and we all reintroduced ourselves.
The teacher arrived just before the bell. He was tall, older, with silver in his black hair. He had a bit of a gut but was otherwise thin. He was more than sun dark, but quite into black range, and his eyes were a piercing blue as he scanned us. He had a briefcase too, a battered looking thing that might be older than I was.
"Good morning class."
We all answered in chorus. "Good morning Mr. Martine."
He walked over to the chalkboard and wrote his name, then turned back to us. "Since it's the beginning of the year, how about you all stand up in order and introduce yourselves? Left to right."
I couldn't help it - I laughed. I wasn't alone.
"What's so funny?" Mr. Martine asked, focusing on me.
"Nothing sir, it's just that we were just doing that already before you walked in. I'll shut up now."
Mr. Martine raised a bushy eyebrow. "Is that so? Normally kids wait, in my experience."
Then he pointed to the first desk on the left most row. "Go. Even if you're all friends now, I don't know many of you. So its time for a repeat."
We dutifully repeated ourselves, then Mr. Martine explained how the school worked. The papers on our desks were ours, complete with locker assignments. The maps and other assorted printouts were not tied to us. However there were individual lesson plans for each of us, and Mr. Martine had the fun task of handing them all out. Our first assignment was to mark our classes on our new map, by hour and location.
It took a bit, but it was helpful for figuring out how the school was laid out; it was a four winged box and each of the R's plus art was in a wing. At least, for the most part - reading and writing was counted as one R, and as the place had grown, some classrooms had ended up in the wrong place for various reasons. There was also a gym wing, with the auditorium where the indoor sports were played.
Most of my classes were in the science wing, oddly enough. Science one was basic physics, and math one was pre-algebra stuff, according to the syllabus. It was too bad they were separated by hour, because the classrooms were quite close.
I'd no sooner got my last class marked, which was P.E. of all things, then the bell rang. It had only been a half-hour. The staff had even reset the bells for today? Weird; at my old school, we just went when we told us and ignored the bells.
But clearly this place is different. "Alright class, time to go to your next hour. Anyone who doesn't know where that is, come see me."
With a shrug I joined the line to leave. It wasn't like I couldn't read a map.
One Mrs. Hanson's class for my next target, for English. The opposite wing and all the way at the end. My locker was on the way, two-ten, right near the main intersection. I dropped my new but actually old math book but kept the papers.
The next class was more of the same, only with a kindly grandmother than a stern uncle. That was two for two on the teachers.
Anise was in the class. So was Alan, from yesterday's fame. He was even sitting next to a kid who was small and shivering, hunched in on himself while staring a hole at Anise.
Well, this was awkward.
Anise saw me, and that made it more so. I went ahead and surrendered to the inevitable, sitting next to her in the highly unattractive inner wall on the first row. As in most schools, the best seats were near the windows. It was rather odd that Anise didn't know that - that she would sit almost up front in the second row willingly, one of the worst spots a student could be placed.
Whatever, I'd deal.
Mrs. Hanson was as her looks advertised; kind and soft-spoken. Her assignment for us was group discussion... which Anise didn't really get involved in. No one talked to her, either, except for my muttered jokes and questions.
I made her smile more than once.
The other kids just watched and whispered.
Once again, I had time to drop my new book off - a brand-new book this time - and go to my next class. Social studies, with Mr. Reynolds. Anise was in this class too, but she hadn't sat down yet. I led her to the other side of class, into the back, where the windows were. The view was of a strip of grass and another wing of the school, but it was better than nothing.
Anise was not in computer science with Mrs. Gerr, and fresh faced woman from the UK by way of India, if I was reading the accent right. She probably needed it, truth told; I'd seen the glances she'd sent my phone and I doubted she had ever seen a computer.
Mrs. Gerr's assignment was actual homework; to read chapter one in the textbook for tomorrow. In class or out if we didn't finish. That was was enough, but it signaled bad things to come from this class. The good news is, chapter one was all about the basics.
Lunch was my next 'class', a full thirty minutes of standard zoo interaction. But of course, we weren't using the normal schedule, so lunch would be the last thing I would do today. Next was... back to Mrs. Hanson's class for study hall.
That class had no assignment; Mrs. Hanson took roll and that was it, we had a half an hour to do nothing at all. We couldn't talk to each other this time, since talking in study hall was considered a bad habit.
I spent the time - well five minutes of it anyway - memorizing the map more. Then it was an exercise in patience. I failed it, reverting to folding paper airplanes out of the notebook paper I'd brought in class, but I didn't fail it as bad as the guy and girl who got caught passing notes. Probably because I didn't launch any of my new craft, just made them.
Then it was off to Spanish one, where Mrs. Rodriguez greeted us. She was small, smaller than most of us, barely five feet if she reached that far. She was a a little on the plump side too, which made her look a little odd too, and perhaps cute rather than oh-my-god stunning. The tan she had made her look darker than she was, but she wasn't tanned everywhere; you could see the original light brown of her skin around her eyes.
She sort of looked like a pudgy reverse raccoon.
Then she belted out perfect Spanish at us. Some few of us answered back, and she nodded to those. The rest of us got the assignment to look up what she'd just said in the book and come up with a response.
This was going to be another one of those troublesome classes. At least the answers were easy to find.
Last class was ruled by Mr. Sillet, a stereotypical looking gym coach who made Mrs. Rodriguez look thin, if not emaciated, and had more hair on his body than his head. He did not have a smile, or a pleasant disposition, and his skin was white enough his veins stood out, including the one on his forehead.
He immediately had us all jogging laps; no time to talk, rest, or greet each other or him. We got locker assignments and gym clothes, but no time to change into them - just straight to laps.
One guy matched my stride. He was brown haired with muddy eyes and a large build.
"You with her?
Well that was blunt. "Dude, I just moved here. What are you even talking about?"
Who was this guy?
"That's good. Name is Riley, nice to meet you."
"My name is Theo."
"Anyway, if you haven't been warned yet, that girl is bad news." Another concerned citizen it seemed.
"Yeah I'm aware. I don't intend to get caught up, but she lives next door to me, so I got to be polite." And an increase in speed left the well wisher in the dust. There wasn't time for talk like this, with the new coach watching us.
There was plenty of time for socialization after we collapsed from exhaustion. Some of these faces I'd seen before. Anise was the last of us to go down, and it looked to me like her collapse was optional. Once she sat down next to me, all hope of socializing with anyone else stopped.
The showers weren't on yet, so we couldn't do anything about that either. It seemed Mr. Sillet was going to be the most troublesome of all.
Anise moved into view, a bit too close for comfort, her face inches from mine. "Are you unwell?"
"Nah I'll be fine," I was exactly out of shape, I'd been sandbagging a bit too. "I just wanted to take it easy the first day and instead I got... this."
"Ah. I understand; I too did not wish for this."
Anise saying that sounded like she was going through the motions... and all the while she was staring at me as if she were starving and I were a steak or something. Hungry.
It was unnerving, and reminded me more of a jackal on the African plain giving the eyes to a gazelle than anything else. I got up and ducked into the bathroom with a muttered 'be right back'.
Some paper towels and water from the sink later I was as fresh as I was going to be for the ride home. A few others had the same idea I had, so I had to force my way past the door.
Anise was waiting there for me. At least the hungry look was gone. How long had she been out here? Her own smell was... present, but not stronger than it had been this morning.
It certainly wasn't worse than the smell of sweat pervading the hall in general, and from the girls shuffling past her in particular.
I joined the throng, taking steps as large as I could manage as fast as I could manage, and Anise was right behind me.
The buses were waiting for us out front, all lined up. Our bus was of course the last one in that line. I was first on board, going past several groups of kids I dare not try to talk to. It was obvious most of the social cliques got together after school for a bit while the buses loaded, but with my little limpet attached, it was clear none of them would talk to me. I might need an after school club or a sport so I would have a valid excuse to stay. It was something to think about.
The back of the bus was where I'd left it, and once there my book came out. I had to read at least one chapter, so I might as well do it while the bus was taking us home.
At least, that was the plan; but surprise surprise, the bus went to our stop first. A little curious.
No, I wasn't going to let it pass. The old bus driver was right there, grinning at me to show the gaps between his teeth. "Hey, why did you come here first?"
"Because I came here first in the morning. Doing it this way makes the time you kids spend on the bus even. Something the school board decided on, years ago."
Huh. My old school had just reversed the route. They hadn't cared if kids spent an hour or two hours on the bus.
That left me with reading my book at home - which sounded too much like work.
"Would you like to go to the beach with me?" Anise asked.
"Sure, why not?" I wouldn't say no to a little swim. "Just let me get my trunks again."
"I hadn't meant to swim... but if you like we can."
What had she been planning? "A walk then?"
"Yes," she held out a hand. It was just as clammy as it had been the first time.
Anise dropped her ratty pack on the porch, so I left my bag too. When she started off I followed.
She kicked off her shoes when she reached the edge, her feet were sock-less. I just left mine on. The shoes made the going a little tougher but I endured.
We tread along the private part of the beach, silently.
The sun was setting, and the skies were painted in reds and golds. the light reflected off the water as a thousand shards of different light. It was a great moment, and not spoiled at all by the company beside me.
"Now that we are alone, and there is little chance of being overheard... I have a proposition for you."
Uh oh. I didn't like the sound of this. "It depends on what it is."
Anise jumped and turned in front of me, arms behind her back and that not-quite-full smile of hers on her face. "How would you... like to learn magic?"
Magic? Magic magic?
Magic was a known thing, like mutants were. In fact there were mutant magicians. Many of them were even in high demand and well-known. But magic, that was something anyone could learn. At least, that's what I heard.
But still... "You're saying you know magic?"
In response, Anise held up a hand. A small glow started within, just barely visible in the deepening gloom. A flourish, and the light was gone, only to appear again as she said the word and held her hand up again.
That was... magic. Had her grandfather taught her? Was that a touchy subject?
"You can teach me?"
Anise nodded. "I would like to, yes."
I looked around. There was no one else near. "Does anyone else know?"
She looked me right in the eyes. "No, and I'd rather they not. Just you, and me; family. We share the talent, you and I. The power sleeps within us both."
What? "What are you saying?"
"You are, as I am," Anise responded. "We are more than common man. The power runs in our family."
Wait, was she saying I was a mutant? "You're saying I'm a mutant? We both are?"
Anise stepped forward, her eyes glowing just a little. "That is... one interpretation, yes."
I... "Sure, if I can learn then teach me."
"We shall see, at least. I am gladdened beyond words that you chose me," Anise replied, turning around and heading back with even more speed than before. "Come with me, we've not much time."
I chose her? "What do you mean, you're glad I chose you?"
"Instruction in magic will be rime consuming. In order to learn, you must spend much more time with me than on other pursuits - or with other people."
Urk. Yeah me and my big mouth there. "Can't I just learn things a little slower? You know, take it easy? My brain is going to overload if I try to learn too much."
Anise turned and gave me a mild glare. "While you might desire to 'take it easy', your brain will survive the pace I will set. However, we must rush, as I am unsure when the current situation might change."
What did she mean?
She caught my look and explained. "I might end up sent to foster parents. I might end up in your home, which would mean much of the material we need in order to do magic as we might will end up sold, as it is in my house. We might all three move away from here, which would be unfortunate since this is a place of power. I do not expect all three of us to move away since you are now enrolled in school, but with just a few short months before that changes, we have little time."
....She had a point. "Alright, but I reserve the right to pull the plug if I can't do it all. I don't want to summon an eldritch horror or something by mistake."
I could hear the smile but she didn't turn around. "There is little chance of such an occurrence. Any and all summonings shall be at my discretion, not at some whim."
"That... was that a joke?" I hoped it was a joke.
"You need not fear. I am quite well versed in the mysteries, and as long as you follow my instructions, no harm shall come to you."
How well versed could Anise be? She was younger than I was. Even if she learned since she could remember, she was far from the wizened old master one normally thought of.
Anise slipped her shoes on and we continued in silence. She retrieved her bag and then grabbed my hand on the way by, drawing me across the street and up her porch. A muttered word and she inserted an ancient looking key to open the door one-handed.
She drew me inside with a quick motion and strength which surprised me. The slamming door sounded more like a prison cell locking than anything else; I needed to make sure she didn't lock that door behind us.
The house was dark, somehow even darker than outside, seeming to drink in the light and spit out gloom. The air smelled strongly of mold, salt, and rot. The nearest piece of furniture was a living room couch that I could see past the foyer, and it was bowed in the middle so bad the center was touching the floor.
Speaking of the floor, it would be best if I kept my shoes on, even if Anise kicked hers off without even bothering to see where they went. A step farther into the house only cemented the choice for me.
There was crap everywhere; old newspapers, old books, old clothes, old bits of food. The floors dropped under my weight far more than they should, but luckily didn't break.
That television was an old one, a huge wooden box with now bad finish and a curved screen. The chairs to the side of it were even more broken than the couch was, they were almost puddles of padding and springs.
The only chair that still looked alright was a wooden rocking chair which was peeling gaudy yellow paint on the floor.
I flicked the light switch next to me more for a confirmation than anything else. Of course it didn't work. I flicked it back with a sigh.
Light hung in the air, showing off Anise's smirk.
The rest of the house... was that the kitchen? "You're not very good at housecleaning, are you?"
Anise's mood turned serious. "Indeed, I am not. Housework is not one of my many learned skills. We did have a maid, once. She is currently on leave."
"Not even with magic?" I asked, wiggling my fingers at her. That kitchen was full of old food and truly nasty dishes. That fridge... if it was plugged in, it likely wasn't getting any power. If the maid was on leave, she'd been on leave for at least a couple months.
"I know of no 'women's work' spell." Anise answered.
What an odd response. An odd phrasing. "You can't make one?"
Anise cocked her head and thought a moment as the light grew brighter. "I've not tried. The idea did not occur to me."
"Well, I can teach you how to clean. No one should live like this."
Cleaning wasn't even hard, except in a place like this. I felt like I needed a hazmat suit. This wasn't as bad as those homes on 'hoarders', but it was very close to it.
"Come, this way," Anise beckoned at the staircase. "We may discuss cleaning later."
I followed her; the upstairs was marginally better; I could see the color of the carpets, and there was less garbage on the floor. She took the first right at the hall, and the room... while it was in bad shape, it wasn't as bad as the living room.
There was a bed in the center, the sheets a little stained and blankets thrown to one side. There was a desk on one side near the window, which hung over the garage and gave a good view of the street out. Both the desk and chair that matched it were massive and old, but in great shape. The desk was covered with books and papers, none of which I recognized.
One the other side was a bureau, in worse shape than the bed. Was that a hole? It was - she stored her clothes in it, clearly. Well that wasn't entirely true, it was pretty obvious the floor did its fair job of storing her clothes too.
This needed to change.
"Do you have a washing machine?"
"I do, yet there is no power to the circuits which power it."
I fought the urge to ask her if she could power it with magic. She'd just stare at me in that way she did.
"Well that can't stand. Help me gather this stuff up, and we will wash it." I reached for an item, and thought better of it when I realized where she normally wore it.
"How surprisingly domestic of you," She told me. "I thought you desired magic instruction?"
"After, then. You shouldn't be living in filth this way."
She turned back to me. "Your kindness startles me at the odd moment."
I wasn't sure what she meant, but the look in her eyes had lost much of its edge. It was something hard to explain, and it made me feel... squirmy.
Anise went to inspecting the stuff on her desk, back to normal just like that.
"Ah, it is not here. Of course it is not... it must be in the library. But which library? Hmm...."
"You have more than one library?" Was she crazy?
"Of course. One was my Grandfather's, and therefore off limits to myself until he died. That is where most of the advanced works are stored. However, you do not need advanced works... Never mind. I shall look for the book I wish you to read another time. For now, let us instead work on concentration."
Oh crap, here it comes. I knew it, a long boring session of meditation, staring into space without doing anything cool.
"Come, sit on the bed."
Anise just shook her head and sighed at me when I picked a clean spot. "You are a fastidious child."
I wasn't sure what that was, but it sounded like an insult. I was going to look it up later and call her on it.
I sat and she grabbed me instantly, moving me around until I was sitting near the edge, Indian style.
Her breath tickled my ear as her hands placed themselves on my back. "Now, pay attention."
Instantly something in me lurched; I had to grab the bedpost to avoid just falling over.
"What the hell was that?"
Another sigh from behind me. "Your mana, for lack of a better term. The power which flows within you. Now please, reseat yourself. You must feel and recognize the presence, the ebb and flow of your power in order to make best use of it. This method is the quickest way to accomplish such goals."
The quickest, huh? I could get behind that. "How quick?"
"The process can take as little as two days. It will be a good test of how talented you are," Anise admitted, placing her hands on my back again. "For you it will likely take longer, as we will have far less time to devote to the practice. Yet, you might surprise me."
It was easy to tell she wanted me to surprise her.
"Why are you doing this? I mean, we only just met."
Anise leaned over to look me in the eye. "Magic is a family occupation; I was taught by my father and grandfather, but you were not taught by yours. All Waite's should know the mysteries, without exception. It is my happy duty to teach you, as the sole remaining member who knows our family art."
It would be a shame if something bad happened and no one knew the family business. "Do we have special spells that only we know? Or spells our ancestors have invented?"
"We do. In time you shall learn them, but for now please focus."
The sensation hit again, the feel something lurching, but this time I held on and concentrated on it. It was almost like a river, spiraling around inside me, sending eddies into my limbs as it went. It was also mildly painful, almost like when you puked and your stomach acid burned your wind pipe, only everywhere. I stood it as long as I could.
But Anise stopped just before I could say something. The removal of her hands almost caused me to fall again. "It is time you return to your home. Your mother shall worry if she arrives and you are not there, will she not?"
I stretched my legs out. "Yeah probably. Though she'd call me first."
"It is unlikely your phone will work in this house. There are... items here which tend to have deleterious effects on technology."
I checked, and sure enough there was no signal. "Good to know."
My phone also revealed the time... and the time was six. Mom would be home in a matter of minutes. There wasn't even time to help Anise clean up a bit. "Shit, I need to go. Gather up your clothes and I'll wash them in our machine. I'll also bring some cleaning stuff tomorrow and help you clean this sty up. No one should live like this."
"As you wish. I will consider it repayment for our studies together." Anise said, her voice fading as I all but threw myself down the stairs. I slowed down so I wouldn't go through the floor but once out the door it was run time again.
I grabbed my stuff, unlocked the door and bolted inside. Mom was on her way, but I might still have time to make it look like I'd done something. I made for the kitchen and grabbed the makings of a quick dinner; mac and cheese, some veggies to steam, and a couple of small steaks to fry up in skillet.
I also took a moment to grab my new textbook on computer science and open it to the end of the first chapter. I'd need it, I was sure.
Dinner was almost done by the time Mom got home; she was six minutes later than I expected. She also gave me a hard look as she came into the kitchen.
"Where were you?" She asked. She must have been checking up on me after all.
"School, the beach, and then here. Why?" I kept my tone light, uninterested. Bored even.
"You didn't receive my texts?"
"No, I don't think so." I pulled my phone out and showed her. There were texts now that I looked, but they must have popped up after I left the other house. The time stamp was all wrong otherwise. I should have heard the chime telling me I had texts, but I had been busy running for my life at the time.
Dinner was close to done, but not done. Mom noticed. "What time did you get back?"
I planned for this. There was much I could do without lying. "A bit after sunset. Dinner is late because I got caught up in some homework." I crooked my head toward the book I'd placed open on the table. she took a look, as I'd planned.
"I'd go to sleep reading this," she told me as her eyes crossed.
"Good thing you're not me then," I replied. "Though it was a near thing for me. They purposefully make those books as dry and boring and hard to understand as possible.
Mom took her shoes off with a sigh and threw them across the room toward the door. I bet she'd forgotten her other stuff in the car again, she'd walked in empty-handed.
I pulled everything off the stove and plated it. "Its a little hot."
Mom already had a bite in her mouth, but I still understood her when she told me: "You're a lifesaver."
"Yeah well, don't keep expecting it. You're the parent after all."
"Yeah yeah," she waved me off. "I'll take over tomorrow. Today was just exhausting, trying to track everything down. I had to hire a private detective to look into the Pickman's. There might be some skeletons in that closet. "
"Neat." I muttered. We already knew the skeletons in our own family closet; our ancestors used to be bother fisherman and pirates, back when pirates could work in the United States. They worked on the other coast, then their descendants moved when the fisheries closed down or something.
"The Pickmans are artists or business people it seems, very little middle ground. A while back Anise's grandfather made some shady dealings while back with some shady characters just before those shady characters got arrested for charges like racketeering. Some people today are still a little sore about that."
So, mob? Cool, but how far back were we talking? "I'd like to hear more, when you get it."
"Sure honey," she told me in a way that said 'no way in hell would that happen'. What was she hiding? I was a big boy, I could take it. If there were enemies to our family, justified or not, they might decide to do something. I would need to know who they were; maybe Anise would know. I'd ask her tomorrow.
Mom finished before me, and headed to a cabinet, fishing out a bottle.
"I know. But one won't hurt me."
She was right, one wouldn't hurt her. But she'd celebrated last night over the move itself, and here she was again.
"Alright, you know how I feel about it. Dishes are yours, or I'll do them tomorrow."
I grabbed my book and took it upstairs. I wasn't about to watch her backslide.
A light was on across the street; Anise was framed in the window and I could just barely make out the smile in the light I knew was from magic when she waved. A less ominous seeming smile tonight.
I waved back, then closed the blinds and settled in. I still had to actually do my homework, but the day had turned out better - more interesting - than expected.
To Be Continued