Eight: More Anomalies
The week passed by like any other week; school, bus, homework, fencing lessons for me, choir for Oesha, soccer for Marca. Michel and Kelsa didn't have any after-school activities outside of their homework and art stuff. Aunt Sully had taught them a little about painting, so one of the empty rooms in our wing was dubbed a studio, and had easels and work tables in it, along with some fancy rolling carts with stacks of drawers for paints and charcoal and colored pencils.
On Friday afternoon it was raining so hard that the lower parts of the city were having flooding problems, and the school's parking lot looked like a small lake. The principal decided to send us all home early. I called home and made sure there would be someone at the end of the lane to pick us up from the bus, while Marca raged that there would be no soccer practice. "You can do your wind sprints in the ballroom," I told her. "And just pretend boys are watching you." She slapped my shoulder forcefully with an open hand, earning a reprimand from the driver.
"It's okay, he's my brother," she growled, folding her arms.
"Okay with who?" I turned to the driver, who was still glaring at her. "The last time she did that, she broke three of my clavicles."
The driver looked puzzled and alarmed, and said, "I don't care who is what, just knock it off," then honked the horn twice to alert students she was ready to leave. Marca and Oesha moved to the back of the bus, found an empty seat. I sat just behind the driver, the least popular seat on the bus, and the one which I was least likely to have to share with someone. It wasn't that I was anti-social, I just didn't want to be crowded. Alone on the seat, I could sit sideways and stretch out my legs. Four boys from the varsity football team clambered up the steps and noisily claimed seats in the front, one beside me, all of them sitting sideways with their knees in the aisle, shouting and cursing about the cancelled game as though everyone on the bus needed to hear them.
Perhaps it wasn't just me who was thinking, Why don't you shut up and stop acting like assholes? My guess was that the driver was thinking the same thing, but she, like me, was not about to take chances with boys so big and so aggressive that they might as well have had "I take steroids" tattooed on their foreheads. I just sighed and pressed against the side of the bus and looked out the window. With the bellowed jock-talk and the smell of wet hair and coats, the ride home seemed longer than usual.
When we finally pulled up to the bus-stop across the road from our lane, David crossed the street with umbrellas to greet us as we stepped off the bus. Marca and Oesha shared one, running to the van shoulder to shoulder. I waited a moment; I wanted to make sure Kelsa and Michel were out. "Hey, short stuff," said one of the football boys to Kelsa, pulling a strand of her curly red hair.
She rounded on him and yanked her hair from his fingers. "Keep your hands to yourself, you pimply child-molester!" she hissed venomously. The big boy's jaw swung open and his comrades fell silent.
That was when I stood up, and silently waited for the lout beside me to stop gaping at his friend. A flicker of another boy's eyes at me cued him to look over his shoulder. I stared down at him, keeping my face immobile. He glanced from me to David, who stood by the bus door, and back to me. He jumped to his feet to let me pass. I walked past him and off the bus, opening the umbrella David was holding out and thanking him for it. The rain was still coming down like a cosmic fire hose.
David waved to the bus driver as he opened the front passenger door for me, and took the umbrella. I waited until the bus had left, and our van had started up the lane before I turned to look at Kelsa in the seat behind me. She tapped one ear with an index finger in our sign for "Talk later," so I returned to the view out the windshield. "Did the weather forecast call for this?" I asked David.
"Last night they were calling for showers, this morning they were calling for steady rain, and by lunch they were issuing flood warnings. Now there's a flood watch until Sunday morning. How was school today?"
"Excellent, as getting out early means no math homework over the weekend. I got my English homework done in morning study hall, so I am practically a free agent until Monday."
"That's good," David said. "Why so many books in your backpack, then?"
Grinning, I told him, "I like to read ahead so that I have the answers before the teacher covers a chapter."
David laughed, and slowed the van to skirt a big puddle that covered half the lane. "If it keeps raining like this, by tomorrow there'll be a creek flowing down the side of the hill there. If you kids go roaming tomorrow, stay out of the gully at the bottom of the hill, all right? The runoff is going to be wicked. It'll be heavy with mud and fast moving, nothing for wading in."
"Got it," I said. "We were going to play posse and ride out with Aunt Sully, but not in the rain. I'll probably read and think about writing some poetry, the little ones will probably paint, Oesha will talk on the phone, and Marca will set fire to the house by the friction of her feet pacing back and forth."
He laughed louder. "Friction!" he exclaimed.
"It's why there are fire extinguishers on every floor," I told him solemnly.
David was still laughing when we arrived at the front door. He opened our doors for us and once again handed us the umbrellas, walking with us so that he could take the dripping accessories away again. Redell himself greeted us at the front door, handing our wet coats to the two maids who accompanied him.
Mother was undoubtedly still at the University, Uncle Bodie would be there waiting for her (he only took classes in the morning) in the big library; Aunt Andersol had a morning and an afternoon class; and it was still too early for Aunt Sully to arrive, if she would come at all on such a miserable day. "Did Aunt Sully call and say she was staying home this weekend?" I asked Redell.
"She hasn't called," he answered, which lifted my heart considerably. Sometimes we would play at poetry-making together, usually silly stuff when we did, which would be perfect on such a rainy weekend.
The five of us ran up the stairs to dump our school stuff in our rooms. I kicked off my damp shoes and took a shower, scrubbing the disgusting smell of classroom from my body. When I was dry, I put on a white cotton tunic and pants Mother had bought for me in India last year (they'd been too big for me then, but now fit like a dream) and thick socks. I had no sooner ventured from my room into the hall when Kelsa pattered out of her room, her eyes alarmed. "Owen," she squeaked, "you have to come see!"
She turned and ran quietly down the hall towards the Garden Suite, where Aunt Andersol's rooms were. I followed her, and when we were near to Aunt Andersol's office, Kelsa ran back to me and grabbed my hand. "Look!"
Sternly, I told her, "We are not going to snoop in Aunt Andersol's office."
"No," she said. "We don't have to. Look, she left the door open. Look on her desk."
There was no need to even poke my head in the door. Her desk was in plain view. "What am I looking for?" I asked.
"Her books! She didn't take any of her books for class today! Or her notebook!"
Surely enough, all Aunt Andersol's textbooks and notebooks were piled in a neat stack on one side of the desk.
"She didn't go to school today!"
"You don't know that," I countered. "Maybe she forgot her books."
"She might have. Maybe she had tests in her classes."
"And the pencil-and-pen pocket thing on top?"
"Kel, it doesn't mean anything."
"Bull shit, it doesn't." Her eyes blazed at me.
"Come on, let's go find the others and tell them, and see what they think. And I want to know why you snotted off to Hampton McIntyre on the bus like that, too." We walked to the corner and turned towards our wing. "You trying to get us all pounded?"
"No," she said sullenly.
"Then what was going on?" I asked her.
She stopped in the hallway. "Don't tell Marca about this, okay? I wouldn't have said that if Marca could hear me."
"What is going on?" I said, lower and with a bit more authority.
"You don't know Elizabeth Billings, a girl in my class?"
"Never heard of her."
"I'm surprised. Hampton McIntyre screwed her, that's what. He asked her for a date, and then got her drunk and stripped and screwed her!" Kelsa's chin jutted out in indignation.
"What?" I gasped.
"Yes," she said angrily. "She was all bragging about it until he pretended he didn't know who she was. He has a girlfriend!"
"But you guys are only ... she's a ... holy shit, Kel, that's just sick." My stomach turned, and I lost my enthusiasm for dinner. "He's a senior, for God's sake."
"Don't let Marca know. She'd try to poison him or something or try to pick a fight with him."
No, I didn't want to tell Marca and risk having her confront him at school. I didn't know that she would, but if she knew that he'd spoken to Kelsa, she might. "Does Michel know about Elizabeth?"
"Duhhh, Owen. The whole class knows about her."
"Then the faculty does, too."
"Maybe. I don't know."
"It's not that big of a school. Someone had to have blurted it to a teacher, or a teacher overheard someone."
"I don't think so, because if anyone told a teacher about it, Elizabeth would beat them up. She cried a lot for a few days after Hammo snubbed her, but after that, she acted like nothing ever happened, and she fought Carla Moore when Carla asked if she was still dating Hammo McIntyre."
"Hammo. That's a stupid nickname."
"He likes it better than 'Hampster' -- Rafael Mendez called him that at lunchtime and got the shit kicked out of him for it."
"How the hell do you know this stuff," I asked her. "You're not even close to being in the same building as the seniors."
"I listen," she said. "I listen to everyone."
"Then what do you hear from Aunt Andersol?"
"Nothing. Nothing anymore. That's what has me scared. She's not talking to any of us."