Lila was in the Library last period for study hall, where no one ever studied. Presently, she was staring out the window. There was a war was going on. The school color guard, the ones who would do ROTC in High School were struggling to practice, lifting heavy white-washed wooden guns with sweaty hands and marching in step to music which was considerably better than the High School band. Lila was sure Aaron and Missy were set on the Navy. Aaron was the captain of the team, though, and Lila felt that Missy might just be following him around. Ricky and Tamika, on the other hand, were both clearly interested in the Marines. Curiously, both would have to lose some weight, she thought.
There were also two seventh graders. Lila had to think for a minute before coming up with the names Kate and Warren. She shrugged. They were seventh graders, and they looked it.
Aaron broke off the drill to go to the parking lot. Bob was in the lot, ignoring whatever class he was supposed to be in, blasting gangsta rap, and Celeste was laughing at something. Owen was there with Terry clinging to him like a leech, and Kyle, poor hormone crazy, sex maniac Kyle was right with them. God help the eighth grade.
Lila tried to listen, but since she could not hear through the glass, she had to imagine Aaron was yelling at Bob to turn it down. The hip-hop music was seriously crimping the drill, but Bob and Celeste just laughed. God, how Lila hated the middle school games!
There was an interruption in the war. The three primo seventh graders, Anna, Lisa and Elizabeth were walking by, ignoring everything and everyone, except Kyle was not about to let them pass without making a pass. Lila saw Anna turn toward the other two, and she looked red-faced because of whatever Kyle said. It looked like Lisa responded while Elizabeth stuck her nose up and wanted nothing to do with the eighth grader. Who would? The boy was running amok, Lila decided.
“Ahem!” Lila’s mom was shelving something and Lila snapped to attention, looking at her textbook, though not really focusing. She would recognize that “Ahem!” anywhere. It was not a good thing having your mother as school librarian, at least not very often.
“Kyle is a weirdo.” Ginger whispered.
“What?” Morgan missed it.
“He said something to the seventh grade wannabes.” Lila explained. “Probably something stupid.” She added, though it was unnecessary. Morgan’s mouth was already forming an understanding “O,” when Mary pointed.
“Tom and Rachel.” Mary said, and all heads turned. Mary and Eddie were on again – off again. Donna and Bobby were also a couple, though they were never much together, like they were still checking things out about being a boy and a girl together. Tom and Rachel, on the other hand, seemed to have settled things nicely. They were not holding hands, exactly, but they might as well have been. Morgan sighed. She was interested in Jordan, admitting it one day and denying it the next; but Lila had learned, under strict confidence, that both Morgan and Jordan were coming to the Halloween dance as pirates.
“No place to hide there.” Lila said, half out loud, which solicited another “Ahem!” from the peanut gallery.
“This is study time, not window time.” Lila’s mom reminded the girls, and they got quiet for a minute, though none of them so much as glanced at their books.
“Got it.” Jennifer spoke almost too loud as she came over and sat at the table, a big book in her hand. “The gang at the geek table said this book has everything we need for our project.”
“Great.” Ginger sighed, and Morgan nodded in agreement, but Lila craned her neck to look at the geek table. She trusted George well enough, and Shirley, she supposed. Shirley had been a friend since kindergarten. Ethan was a bit on the crazy side. Maybe he was hormoning, too, just expressing it differently from Kyle. But then there was Lucy. Lucy was the class clown, and not technically one of the geeks. Lila looked at the book and wondered if maybe Lucy had really picked it out. It was not that Lucy was untrustworthy, but she would do anything for a laugh, and that might include making Lila and her friends spend hours in a book which had nothing they needed at all. Lila decided to check it out with her mom, and she snatched up the book and went to the desk. That was OK, because no one was looking at the book just yet. There was too much going on outside the window.
Mary spoke up while Lila was with her mom. “Eddie and I broke up again.” She said.
“Is that good?” Morgan asked. She always asked while Jennifer and Ginger made their usual comments. “Too bad,” and, “Good for you.”
“No, it’s not good.” Mary said. “I got my Princess costume all ready. Eddie was coming as Red Rayder.” They were characters from a video game
“Wear it anyway.” Jennifer insisted.
“Yeah.” Ginger agreed. “Let Red Rayder worry about it.”
“I heard Bobby and Donna broke up, too.” Morgan said.
“Were they ever a couple?” Mary wondered.
Jennifer shrugged while Morgan added a note. “Low class trailer bums.”
“Speaking of low class.” Ginger interrupted and pointed.
Shannah and Kylie came in talking up a storm on their cell phones. The seventh graders, Vanessa and Lori followed, in awe of the older rich girls who modeled new outfits every day and acted like they owned the world. In fact, Lila said so to her mother, but with one addition.
“They act like they own everything but have no idea what to do with it.”
“Hush.” Arosa scolded her daughter, softly, and came out from behind the desk, her hand open. Shannah and Kylie acted all put out, but they handed over the cells to be picked up when the day ended. They were not permitted in school, after all. The eighth graders went one direction, and the seventh graders went another, but sat where they could keep an eye on their eighth grade models.
Arosa slipped the phones in a drawer while her daughter went back to her table. Arosa looked at the clock. The day was nearly over, and she had her date with David on her mind. Was she doing the right thing? He was the first man she had been able to get close to, after her adopted dad, of course, but there were things about her that David did not know. Then again, did she want to get close to him? It would mean roots that might be hard to break; but then, she reminded herself for the millionth time that she would probably never be able to go home.
She closed the drawer with the phones in it and had another thought. How might things have turned out differently if she had such devices in her own world? She looked at Lila and was struck with the notion that Lila might never know the world in which she was born. It was sad to think it. She remembered the day Lila came into the world. Those had been happy days.
“And what shall we call this marvel?” Dunovan had asked. He was so proud of her, and she was so happy for him.
“Lila, sweet.” Arosa said.
“Is that one word or two?” Dunovan asked as if serious. They had already discussed names and Lila had already been decided for a girl, but Arosa gladly played along.
“One word.” She said with a serious expression on her face, and he laughed, and that made her laugh, too. She so seldom heard him laugh, and he had such a wonderful, take your breath away, full of joy kind of laughter that she longed to hear again and again. She sighed. While those were happy days, they were short lived. The Empire was bearing down too hard.
Arosa remembered the poverty in the streets of Enteras, the port city and capitol of the land. It was worse outside the city, and no better up the coast in her home of Nova. The Emperor Kzurga was taking every man, weapon and speck of grain he could for wars in the North and West. The poor people were all but killing themselves in the fields and hills only to go hungry in winter. Though they lived far enough in the south to plant winter wheat as well as summer rye and barley, the climate being more like Florida, though not too different from Georgia, it was never enough for either the Emperor’s collectors or the people. They had to do something. Arosa understood that, even if it left her in a self-imposed exile. She knew they had to try.
She recalled Dunovan’s mother, Callista the cold as Arosa had come to think of her. The woman wanted nothing to do with rebellion. The others ignored her. Arosa found that odd because it was not that they distrusted the woman. When Arosa confronted her Mother-in-law, it was because of her lack of understanding. She tried to get the woman to explain herself on three separate occasions, but it was not until they found themselves unexpectedly alone, a condition that both of them had previously tried hard to avoid, that the woman opened up for the first and only time.
“I will do nothing against you all. Technically, I have no power here. It is all vested in the King, my son, your husband. But someone must be free of taint just in case this rebellion of yours should not succeed. I will not see my land under the thumb of some governor appointed by that madman, Kzurga. So tell me nothing of your plans. Tell me nothing at all. Officially, I know nothing, and what I know I must speak against. If we succeed, my words will not matter. If we fail, I may be the only hope for peace in this place. Now I must leave before we are compromised.” And she left, Arosa feeling very uncomfortable about it all.
The Bell rang.
In seconds, the seventh grade geeks came in, loudly, and headed straight for the geek table. Then the boys arrived, and Lila and her friends hurried to pack their books away.
Chris and Peter sat down by Lila and Jennifer. It was a mutually acceptable arrangement of indecisiveness, partly because Lila, and especially Jennifer were both taller than the boys for the present. Nelson sat across from Ginger who ignored him very readily. “I’m coming as Max Man, with my stuffed dog Maxamillian.” Nelson was saying. They were cartoon characters.
“Figures.” Jordan said, nudging his friend as he sat, but neither he nor Morgan would look at each other. It was another unspoken, temporary agreement. At least they never looked at each other when the others were around. Meanwhile, Eddie, alias Red Rayder, sat next to Mary, alias Princess Ashanti. They spoke quietly for a minute and the others had the good sense not to interrupt, though they all listened. The result was, Eddie and Mary became a couple again. Then Lila’s mom came and shooed them out. They were supposed to go home for supper. The Halloween dance was not scheduled until six, and besides, Arosa had plans of her own.