Virgil dared not sleep the entire night.
The next morning he meandered through his routine like a zombie. He could hear his mother on the phone as he walked through the hallway. He stood on the landing and listened.
“No, we already talked about this,” said Pam, sounding frustrated. “I told you…that won’t be necessary. Mr. Goodman, my son does not need to see a psychiatrist.”
“Mom,” Virgil called down to her. His mother looked up at him. “It’s okay. I’ll go.”
She shook her head. She took the phone from her ear and placed her hand over the receiver. “You don’t have to go.
“I want to. Tell him I’ll go.”
His mother looked worried but she obliged then sat down on the couch. Virgil sat down next to her.
“Your appointment’s at 10:00,” said Pam. “I took the day off work. I’ll go with you.”
“No, Mom. I want to go by myself.”
“Is everything okay?” asked Pam, placing an affectionate hand on her son’s face.
“Everything is fine. I just…I think it would be good for me…to talk to someone.”
“Okay,” said Pam with a weak smile. She began walking towards the kitchen. “I’m going to make some coffee.”
“And, Mom. I think that maybe military school might be good for me.”
Pam stopped in her tracks. She turned around and stared at Virgil, her face a mixture of confusion and worry. “Why? Did your father…”
“No, it wasn’t him. I just think that maybe I should get away for a while.”
“Is something the matter? You don’t seem like yourself, today.”
“Nothing is wrong.”
“If there was something wrong, you would tell me, right?
“Of course,” said Virgil, forcing a smile.
“Wake up, sleepy head.”
“Ugh, go away.”
“No, you’ve got to get up. We’re gonna’ to be late.”
“I don’t want to.”
Brittany attempted to wrestle the covers from Rona’s grasp but it was to no avail. “OMG! You’re really strong!”
“What time is it?” said Rona, the blanket still covering her head.
“Time for school. You don’t want to be late on the first day, do you?” said Brittany. Ashley walked in on the commotion. “Help me,” beckoned Brittany. Ashley obliged by grabbing Rona’s legs, while Brittany grabbed her around the torso. The two of them hoisted the blanket-wrapped Rona off of the bed and carried her towards the bathroom.
“No,” protested Rona from beneath the blanket. They set her on the bathroom floor.
“Hurry!” said Brittany as she closed the bathroom door, leaving the heap of Rona and blanket alone.
Eventually, Rona mustered the willpower to climb into the bathtub and turn on the water. When she was done with the morning routine, she slipped into a pair of sweatpants and a loose-fitting t-shirt. She didn’t know what today was going to bring and had to be sure that she was dressed for battle. Literal, actual, bone-breaking battle. She stretched out her muscles before going down stairs. Brittany and Ashley sat at the kitchen table, while Claire made breakfast. It smelled wonderful—pancakes! Rona took a seat between the two girls. Brittany stared at her, puzzled.
“Are you going to the gym after school?” she asked.
“Um, yeah,” said Rona.
“Okay,” said Brittany.
“Was that you doing all of that snoring last night?” Ashley asked Rona.
“I don’t know. I was asleep. Was it bad?” asked Rona as she ate her pancakes hungrily. Brittany didn’t say anything.
“Hell yeah, it was bad. I could hear you from down the hall,” said Ashley.
“Ashley! Stop it. Some people have…a condition,” said Claire as she flipped more pancakes.
“That’s right. I have a condition. And I’m very sensitive about it,” said Rona.
“You should get it checked out. It sounded like a bear raping a moose,” said Ashley.
“No more Discovery Channel for you,” said Rona. They all laughed.
Rona downed as many pancakes as Claire could make. She even finished half of Brittany’s food. Claire gave them all lunch money and Brittany thanked her mom with a hug. Ashley waved goodbye. Claire squeezed Rona tight in a motherly hug. She looked almost proud to see Rona going off on her first day of school. The doorbell rang and Brittany ran to answer it. Rona and Ashley followed, less enthusiastically.
“Julio!” exclaimed Brittany as she opened the door and jumped into the arms of a tall, thin, brown-skinned boy. His features were somewhat lupine, yet handsome.
“Hey baby,” said Julio as he kissed Brittany. Brittany broke the kiss suddenly and turned to Rona, beckoning her to come over.
“Julio, this is Rona, the foreign exchange student I was telling you about. This is her first day of school in America,” said Brittany excitedly.
“Hi,” said Rona.
“Well, hello,” said Julio, dragging out the last syllable a little too long. He took her hand and kissed it. “I’m old fashion.”
They settled into Julio’s car, Rona and Ashley in the back, and Brittany in the passenger’s seat. Brittany and Julio necked Julio started the ignition and backed out of the driveway, stopped abruptly to throw it in gear, then took off at breakneck speed. Rona was sucked to her seat. She gave Ashley a perplexed look. Ashley, apparently used to Julio’s driving habits, just shook her head in acknowledgement. Once she had gathered herself, Rona took out a pen and notebook from her backpack. If she was going to find this kid she would have to be diligent. Angelica had told her that the kid would be the first one that she ran into. Since she was looking for a boy, that meant that Ashley and Brittany didn’t count. Why was it always a boy, anyway? A girl could be just as good of a savior if not better! But she was getting ahead of herself. She still didn’t know if this boy was supposed to be a savior or not. All she knew was that he was someone special. She had to start somewhere, so it might as well be with the kids that stood out the most. The exceptional. Besides Ashley and Brittany, Julio was the first kid that she had run into. Although she highly doubted he was exceptional in any meaningful way, he was a starting point.
“So what are you into, Julio?” said Rona as she discreetly wrote his name down in her notebook.
“Me? Mostly just chicks,” said Julio. Brittany punched his arm. “Ouch, babe! You know when I say ‘chicks,’ I mean you. Jeez!”
Rona made a quick profile of Julio in her notebook: Pretty boy, dumb as a bag of skittles, horn dog. Probability that he’s the one: slim.
He had been the first kid Rona had run into, just like Angelica had said, but she was pretty convinced that he wasn’t the one. So what the hell was Angelica talking about? Angelica worked in mysterious ways—not to mention frustrating. She needed to keep looking.
“So…who’s hot? I mean are there any hot guys at your school. Give me a name and brief description, beginning with physical appearance and where I might find them,” said Rona.
Ashley shot her a look.
“Please,” added Rona with a shrugged.
“You’re looking for a boyfriend?” said Brittany ecstatically. “Julio, hook Rona up with one of your friends! We can doubled date! What kind of guys do you like?”
Rona thought for a second. “Um, ya’ know, guys that everyone wants to be around because they’re, like, super amazing…and stuff. Guys that stand out for some reason. Either their super-smart or they exhibit some kind of supernatural magnetism. Ya’ know, guys that are really really exceptional in some way. I’m looking for somebody awesome.”
“You like smart guys?” asked Brittany.
“We should hook her up with Droidz,” said Julio with a laugh.
“That’s mean!” said Brittany, punching Julio in the arm.
“Who’s Droidz?” said Rona, writing the name down.
“His real name is Dale. They just call him that because he’s really smart, and Julio and his friends are jerks. Dale is nice. I wouldn’t consider him hot, though,” said Brittany.
Rona made a note: Droids, Dale: smart, nice. Probability he’s the one: High.
“Okay, who else? Who’s the quarter-guy who always dunks the ball?” said Rona, feeling like she might be getting somewhere.
“I think you’re confusing basketball and football,” said Brittany. “Both of our teams suck.
Ashley nodded in agreement.
“Who’s the most popular kid in school?” asked Rona.
“I’m pretty popular,” said Julio.
Ashley looked at Rona and shook her head.
“Popular? I don’t really know,” said Brittany.
“Isn’t there anything better to talk about?” said Ashley.
“Who do you think is hot, Ashley?” asked Rona.
“I think that—are you writing this down, Rona. That’s kinda creepy—I think that Andy Mowry is kinda cute,” said Ashley, looking out the window.
Julio laughed. “You like Andy? Wow! I always thought you were a lesbi–”
“Julio!” said Brittany, pinching Julio’s arm.
“Ouch! I’m sorry, Ashley. I didn’t mean anything by that. Uh…if you want I could try to talk to him for you. But be warned he also thought you were–”
“Why don’t you just shut your idiot-mouth,” said Ashley, seething.
There was an awkward silence as they drove along.
“Soooo, who else is awesome?” said Rona.
Van, Jen, and Charlie were standing outside of the school when Virgil arrived.
“Hey guys. What are you guys doing here during the day? Where’s Lee? He won’t answer my texts?” said Virgil.
“You tell us where he is,” said Charlie.
Virgil was taken aback. “I don’t know where he is.”
“He never came home that night. No one has seen him since the construction site,” said Jen.
“I texted my uncle, he told me there were no missing persons reports filed in the last few days. Did you go by his house?” said Virgil.
“His drunken father doesn’t care enough about him to file a police report. He’s probably happy his son is gone,” said Jen.
“This is your fault!” said Charlie, walking towards Virgil menacingly.
“Slow down there, Sherlock. How do you figure this is my fault?” said Virgil, standing his grown as Charlie advanced.
“How did you get away?” asked Van.
“I got on my bike and rode like hell! I could barely move the next day! How did you get away?”
“They let us go,” said Jen. The others nodded in agreement.
“He trusted you! And you expect us to believe that it’s a coincidence that you talk to the cops and then a cop shows up and tries to kidnap us? You defended that bum in the alley and he’s probably involved! You expect us to believe that you and your uncle are not somehow in on this? Your uncle is probably crooked,” said Charlie.
“First off, watch what you say about my uncle!” said Virgil pointing a threatening finger at Charlie. “He had nothing to do with this. Second, that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. It was you guys that wanted to go looking for these kids, not me. And third, we’ll find Lee, so everybody just calm the hell down! Take your meds. Jen, give me your number. I’ll be in touch.”
Virgil made his way to the guidance office, being careful to avoid anyone he knew. The guidance office took up a wing of the school. It was a large room with a reception desk and several separate offices within it. Virgil signed in and walked to the psychiatrist’s office. There was a girl named Stacy walking out of the office. Virgil had known her since elementary school. Though she wasn’t someone he considered a friend, she was a cool person and he liked her well enough.
“Hey Stacy,” said Virgil.
“Hi,” said Stacy. She looked like she’d seen better days. Her usually tan complexion was going pale and she looked like she’d lost a bit too much weight.
“You doing okay?” asked Virgil.
“I’m okay,” said Stacy. “I just had a meeting with Mrs. Vale, the psychiatrist. Is that where you’re headed?”
“Yeah. I guess we’re both crazy, huh?”
“I hope you’re not as crazy as I am,” said Stacy, a very distant look in her eyes. “Mrs. Vale is helping me out a lot. She can help you too. I gotta’ run. Take care.”
“You too. Cheer up,” said Virgil with a smile. Stacy didn’t return it, she hung her head and walked away.
Virgil knocked on Mrs. Vale’s door.
“Come in,” said a warm female voice. Virgil entered the office and the scent of jasmine entered his nostrils. It wasn’t a pleasant smell, but inoffensive. In the far side of the office, behind a desk, sat a short, plump woman with greying hair. She had a welcoming smile. “You must be Virgil Mcfeeney. Have a seat.”
Virgil did. “Nice office.”
“Why, thank you. It’s one of many that I have in different schools,” said Mrs. Vale. “So I’ve read your profile. It seems you’ve been having some trouble at school. What’s going on?”
“It’s just boring, is all. There’s a lot of douchebags in this school, too.”
“There are what you refer to as ‘douchebags’ in every school,” said Mrs. Vale. “I’ll let you in on a little secret,” leaning closer to Virgil she whispered, “Some of them work here.”
“I’m going to ask you a series of questions and I want you to feel free to answer them honestly,” said Mrs. Vale. “This won’t go on any permanent record and will be strictly between you and me. Keep in mind that I have to report any serious crimes or suicidal intent.”
“Do you ever have thoughts of harming yourself or others?”
“Have you been feeling depressed lately?”
Virgil thought for a moment before answering. “A little. I broke up with my girlfriend a month ago and now she won’t even talk to me. She’s the reason I’m here in the first place. I tried to get her back, but it didn’t work. She’s mad at me now. She’s my favorite person in the whole world and now…now…”
“That’s really crummy,” said Mrs. Vale. “Do you have any other friends?”
“Yeah, my two best friends are Erk and Ali. I talk to a lot of other people also, but I wouldn’t consider them friends necessarily. There’s a new girl named Heather who I just met. She seems cool.”
“A new girl in your life might make the old one jealous,” said Mrs. Vale with a wink. “Do you use alcohol or any recreational drugs?”
“I don’t drink. I do smoke weed every once in a while,” said Virgil.
“How often is ‘every once in a while’?”
“Several times a day.”
Mrs. Vale gave him a look. “Is it interfering with schoolwork, relationships or giving you nightmares?”
Virgil’s mind drifted off and Mrs. Vale’s voice faded out. He could feel Ms. Tilley’s hand around his throat. He could hear the chanting of the cop echoing through the construction building. And the eyes—the floating eyes!—peering at him. Piercing his soul. It wasn’t because of the weed, unless he’d gotten laced with something harder. And that wouldn’t explain why Lee was still missing.
“If I told you something, would you promise not to think I was crazy?” said Virgil, leaning in closer to Mrs. Vale.
“If you are crazy, then you’re in the right place,” said Mrs. Vale.
“I’ve been seeing things lately—in my dreams—eyes that float in the air. I thought I saw those same eyes in people the other day,” said Virgil.
Mrs. Vale’s eyes grew wide with amazement. “That is interesting.”
“I can’t stop the dreams. Last night I didn’t even bother sleeping. I feel like someone is trying to kill me,” said Virgil. “I know it sounds crazy but I can’t shake the feeling.”
“Mmmmm,” said Mrs. Vale. “
“Am I crazy, Doc?” asked Virgil.
“We’ll have to schedule a follow-up appointment,” said Mrs. Vale. “I’m a bit concerned about your marijuana consumption. Also, you’re showing some signs of depression. I want you to do me a favor.” She reached into her desk and pulled out a bottle of prescription pills. “Take these.”
Virgil arched an eyebrow. His first instinct was to protest, but Mrs. Vale gave him a disarming smile.
“You can trust me, I’m a professional,” said Mrs. Vale, as she placed the bottle in Virgil’s hands. “These are over-the-counter; no prescription necessary. Take two a day, one at night and one in the morning. It’s just something to treat your depression in the meantime until I can get a full evaluation.”
“Thank you,” said Virgil.
“See you soon.”
The unsettling scowl of the Les Freakly Lemur greeted Rona at the door of the school. The painting of the school mascot, a Lemur clad in Roman-style body armor, stood over the main entrance of the school like a gatekeeper. The school was a madhouse inside; teenagers everywhere, moving through the hallways like a herd of stray cats. Rona felt like she was drowning in a sea of people. Brittany waded through, leading Rona to her group of friends. She introduced Rona as her “new sister.” All of her friends welcomed Rona and studied her as if she were a recently discovered life form. Brittany’s friend, Jocelyn gave Rona a hug. She had an artificial tan and very expensive-looking clothes. She carried herself with the grace of a princess, flipping her hair back to reveal a million-dollar smile. Another friend, Larry gave Rona a slight hug. He was a short dark-skinned boy with short hair. Vanessa, a short, thick girl, with a heart-shaped face and a pear-shaped body, greeted Rona with a hug. Lastly, an amazon of a girl named Charlene gave Rona a hug. She was a big and tall natural blonde.
“So are you, like, a Samoan, or something?” asked Jocelyn.
“No,” said Rona.
“OMG, I love your hair!” said Jocelyn. “How do you get it like that? You have a perfect body; a really nice shape. All of the boys are going to want you. You’re so hot!” said Jocelyn.
“Thank you,” said Rona. “I’m sure they also want you.”
Jocelyn placed her hands on her hips, tilted her head to the side and fluttered her eyelids.
“You look pretty athletic. Do you play sports?” asked Charlene.
“OMG, she is not going to try out for the football team with you. Give it a rest,” said Jocelyn.
“One of you guys should. If enough of us did they would have to take us seriously,” said Charlene.
“Rona wants to know where all of the hot guys are,” said Brittany. This was apparently the perfect conversation topic. All of Brittany’s friends chimed in at once. Rona tried to keep track of it all in her brain since she couldn’t start writing in front of everyone. She excused herself to the bathroom, and although Brittany volunteered to go with her, Rona firmly insisted that this was something she could handle on her own, and that she’d meet up with her later. She sat in the stall and jotted down what she could remember: Darren: a good soccer player, Probability: High; Michael: a good musician, named after an Archangel, Probability: High. She had a pretty good list by the time she left the bathroom.
“Hey could you tell me how to get to the guidance office?” Rona asked the first kid she saw upon leaving the bathroom.
“Sure,” said the boy. He stuck out his hand for Rona to shake. “My name is Erk. Are you new here?”
“Rona,” she said, shaking Erk’s hand. “Yup. First day of school—in the United States,”
“Oh cool! Welcome to the ol’ US of A. Are you like, Puerto Rican or Dominican, or something?” said Erk.
“No,” said Rona as the two walked down the hall. “ ‘Erk’, is that a nickname?”
“Yup. My real name is—unspeakable. When I was born my great grandmother gave me the nickname ‘Earth’ because it was customary to name the first-born son after an element. But she was from Jamaica and had a thick accent, so everyone thought she was saying ‘Erk.’ No one bothered correcting it, and it just kind of stuck,” explained Erk, holding his hands out as if presenting himself for the first time.
“Oh, okay. Aren’t you late for class?” said Rona.
“I’m fashionably late. And I have a doctor’s note explaining why. Wrote it myself,” said Erk with a sly smile. “The Guidance office is right up there, around that corner.”
“Thank you,” said Rona. She stopped in the middle of the hallway, but motioned for Erk to keep going. He waved goodbye and walked up ahead. Rona took out her notebook and began writing as she walked towards the guidance office. Erk: nice guy, weird name; Probability: medium as she rounded the corner to the guidance office…
Virgil left Mrs. Vale’s office. As he was walking, he saw Erk round the corner up ahead, walking in the opposite direction. Virgil began to run down the hall to catch up with him…
Virgil felt the impact and everything went white for a moment. His head was spinning as he and whoever he had run into both fell to the floor. He sat up off of his back and saw a brown-skinned, blue-haired girl sitting across from him. She was holding her nose with both hands, a tear welling up in one of her eyes.
“Watch where you’re going, Teen-face!” she said.
“ ‘Watch where I’m going?’ You’re the one walking with your head down!” retorted Virgil. The two of them both rose to their feet. “You have an enormous head.”
“Watch it, kid!” said the girl.
Virgil bent down and picked up the notebook she had dropped. He caught a glimpse of some of the names and descriptions and arched an eyebrow at the girl before she snatched the notebook from him without taking her eyes off of him. Virgil motioned for her to keep her eyes forward, by pointing to his eyes with two fingers and then turning those fingers outward repeatedly. She snorted rudely, before walking away.
Rona’s head stopped spinning by the time she finally reached the guidance office. Apparently, she needed to report to the ESL (English as a Second Language) room in order to take the test. She found the room in another one of the buildings that formed Les Freakly High School after getting turned around a couple of times. She walked up to the front desk and presented her paper to take the placement test. The woman behind the desk struck a youthful appearance. She had short-dark hair and big green eyes.
“Oh hi! I’m Miss Tilley” she said “You must be Rona. Glumackin!”
“What?” said Rona.
“Doesn’t that mean ‘hello’ in your native language? Aren’t you from Djaotongosenia?”
Crap, thought Rona. Somebody had heard of it. “Have you been there before?”
“Oh, no, I just looked it up online. I wanted to make you feel at home. I guess my accent is too thick.”
“Oh, glumackin! No, you said it fine. Perfect in fact. I’m just so used to speaking English, that’s all,” said Rona reassuringly. A brief look of triumph came over Miss Tilley. She smiled, wished Rona good luck and handed her the placement test. Rona took her time with the test. At one point she went to Miss Tilley to complain that there were letters in her math problem. Miss Tilley laughed heartily at that. Rona didn’t get the joke, but went back to doing her test. She turned it in to Miss Tilley when she’d finished.
“Well your English skills are very good. Your math, on the other hand…you will need to take remedial math,” said Miss Tilley.
Rona received her schedule just in time for lunch. The food didn’t look all that appetizing. It smelled even worse. There was a piece of meat that Rona couldn’t identify, a pale imitation of macaroni and cheese, and few different types of sandwiches. She loaded her tray with as much fruit as she could. She added an edible-looking cake and a few cartons of chocolate milk. It felt like a robbery when the lunch monitor charged her for the food.
The noise was deafening. Rona considered looking for a nice and quiet closet to eat in, but Brittany spotted her. She was beckoning Rona to come and sit with her and her friends. Rona started walking in her direction, reluctantly. As she got close to the table, she saw Ashley at another table motioning for her to come and join her and her friends’ table. Rona looked back and forth between the two of them. She didn’t want to make any trouble so instead opted to sit at a neutral table between them. There were three girls with varying shades of brown skin at the table. They looked delighted that she had chosen to sit with them.
“Hi, I’m Kathy,” said one of the girls with beautiful long braids.
“Stephanie,” said another girl. She was a little chubbier than the other two.
“I’m Daphne,” said another girl. She had high cheek bones and dark brown eyes.
“Rona. I’m new here.”
“You a freshmen?” asked Daphne. Rona took out her schedule and read the top.
“Uh…yup,” said Rona.
“Where are you from?” asked Kathy.
“Far away,” said Rona as she took a sip of chocolate milk.
“So…what are you?” asked Daphne.
Rona stopped sipping her milk. She read the subtext in the young girl’s eyes. She wasn’t asking “What are you,” she was asking “Are you one of us?”
Angels were all different colors. That was what had made them all so beautiful. When Rona had first fallen to Earth, that question was never asked of her. When she would travel to new places, there were times when she’d be met with an initial puzzled look, but that was it. Her appearance was hardly ever a topic of conversation. It was in the last few centuries that her skin tone had become something that she needed to answer for. She had once thought her physical characteristics irrelevant but that was no longer the case. Race had been thrust upon her. It, and its consequences. European colonists had diced up the world she had once known and she could no longer move freely through it. They had set up a caste system by which the color of your skin dictated the outcome of your life. Rona couldn’t ignore it. She couldn’t hide from it, no matter what corner of the globe she fled to. Her skin, like the skin of so many others had become a prison from which there was no escape. She was an immortal being now confined to a race. She had seen firsthand the atrocities committed in the name of “god” and the idea of Christianity; She’d beheld the genocide wreaked on the human beings of Africa and the Americas, all under the banner of patriotic supremacy; although she had never been a slave she had witnessed the horrors of the institution—even through tightly shut eyes—perpetrated in the ideology of race. Pain inflicted by human beings onto other human beings because of the color of their skin. Rona had seen it all. She had lived through it all. Questions of “what are you” were only the beginning. She might pass the “Brown Paper Bag Test” depending on the bag; but she had broken the “One Drop Rule” several score too many times. A comb wouldn’t fall through her hair without snagging; her body was too curvy, her lips too full, her skin too dark. She couldn’t pass, she didn’t try. And so a race had been assigned to her. Oh sure, she had tussled with the Ku Klux Klan, when she’d lived south of the Mason Dixon, she’d given them a beating too. But she didn’t dare venture to their part of town. She drank from her separate water fountains, rode in her designated spot of the bus, and stayed out of their stores. She’d taken it all in stride—in silence. She had pretended that she was above it all because she wasn’t human. She had pretended that it had no effect on her because she was too strong. She could still hear the voices: Where you goin’ nigger? Rona hid her pain and rage. She detested white supremacy and the inferiority of non-whiteness. If Angelica had offered her this proposition sixty years ago, she would have laughed. She would let this world burn—and she would’ve roasted marshmallows.
And then the world changed. Not completely, but it did change. But how did that old adage go? The more things change the more they stay the same? Here she was decades later still being asked about her race.
But it was okay.
Perhaps progress meant being able to ask; being able to answer.
It was a sin to pretend not to see differences…and a bigger sin not to have them.
She rose to her feet and addressed the entire cafeteria, answering the question the way she always had: “Yes, I am black! That is all. Thank you.”
The whole cafeteria was silent for a few seconds. Then the students erupted with cheers and clapping.
“You go girl! Say it louder!” Rona heard Brittany say over the cheering. Rona couldn’t help but smile. She hadn’t expected that! The world still had a ways to go, but perhaps it was on the right track. She sat back down at her table. The girls at her table weren’t cheering but they smiled at her.
“Any questions?” asked Rona, through her own widening smile.
“Um…I’ve got one,” said Stephanie. “How do you get your hair like that?”
“That chick is so weird,” said Virgil.
“She’s pretty cool,” said Erk.
“Whatever. Anyway, now I have to find Lee and I have no idea where to start looking.”
“Damn, V-man. I wish I could help, but I’m still grounded,” said Erk, stirring his mac and cheese. “What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know. I’m not going back to that construction site, I’ll tell you that,” said Virgil.
“Dude, there’s no way you could have seen what you think you saw. That kind of stuff doesn’t happen.”
“I know! That’s why it’s so weird. Ben, this homeless guy that I know said he’d seen the same thing.”
“He’s a crazy homeless guy. You haven’t been sleeping good, so maybe it’s starting to take its toll on you. Just go home, man. Get some rest and don’t think about these things. I’m sure Lee will turn up eventually.”
Virgil heeded his friend’s advice. He skipped gym class as usual, and after school he decided to walk home in order to clear his mind a little. Even though he was tired, the walk seemed to be giving him energy. He walked past the bus stop, and made a left onto Colorado Blvd. when he turned the corner, he heard a familiar voice.
“Virgil!” said Heather as she ran to catch up with him.
“Hey,” said Virgil.
He offered to walk her home and she accepted. He explained a little about the Lee situation—leaving out all of the crazy stuff, of course.
“I can’t ask you to help,” said Virgil.
“You didn’t,” said Heather. “I’m offering. You shouldn’t have to search alone. Two heads are better than one. What are you doing tonight?”
“Um…probably nothing,” said Virgil.
“Well, we could meet up and go searching tonight if you want.”
“I think that sounds good,” said Virgil.
“I never did get your number…” said Heather, taking out her phone and holding it at the ready.
“Oh, it’s–” began Virgil.
“Excuse me, young man.” Virgil turned to see a little old lady holding two big handfuls of groceries in each hand. “Would you mind giving me a hand?” she asked. “These bags are really heavy. I only live a couple of blocks over thata’ way.”
“Um, okay,” said Virgil. He turned to Heather. “Do you want to give her a hand with me?”
“No, I should probably get going,” said Heather.
“But I wanted to walk you home,” said Virgil.
“You still could,” said Heather.
Virgil frowned. He motioned at the old lady.
“Ma’am, perhaps someone else could help you. There’s a few guys coming this way that might be able to,” said Heather as she stared down at the old lady. The old lady stared at Heather and a slow smile crept across her face. Heather didn’t return the smile. “Ma’am, are you listening to me?” she said in a more forceful tone. The old lady’s smile widened into an all-out grin. Heather glared at the haggard old woman.
“I think she’s on drugs, Virgil. Let’s just go,” said Heather, grabbing Virgil by the arm.
Virgil pulled his arm away. “I already told her I’d help. You go ahead. I’ll just see you tomorrow.”
A look of disappointment flashed over Heather’s face. “You’re a nice guy, Virgil. Maybe too nice.” She stared daggers at the old woman before walking away.
Virgil seethed as he helped the old lady carry her groceries. He wasn’t listening to a word she was saying. Instead, his thought of Heather and how much better a time he would be having walking her home instead of this lady. He did have to admit though, the bags were heavy.
“Do you believe in God?” asked the old woman.
“Nope,” said Virgil.
“That’s interesting…” said the old lady. She turned to Virgil and grabbed him by both arms. The motion happened so fast that Virgil couldn’t react. The old woman was strong. At first, visions of glowing eyes overtook Virgil. He felt the fear rising in him. But the old woman’s eyes didn’t glow. Her hands were warm and he felt his fear subside. She stared at him with an intense look in her eyes.
“Stay on the right path,” she said intently. “Stay on the right path, okay?”
“Good boy,” said the old lady. Her smile opened widely. She released Virgil’s arms and patted his face affectionately. She smiled, grabbed her groceries and disappeared into the house.
“Hey beautiful,” said a husky kid with a chipped tooth. “My name’s Andy.”
“I’m on the wrestling team.”
“You’re sexy, in an exotic sorta’ way.”
Andy tossed a basketball, hitting a smaller, skinny kid with a mushroom-shaped haircut in the face.
Andy shrugged. “What? That was a perfect shot.”
Rona took out her notebook as Andy walked away.
Andy: creep, Probability: No, no, no, oh please, no.
After school Jocelyn’s older sister took Rona and the others on a tour of downtown. Rona made notes on her map, being sure to remember all of the key spots just in case her mission brought her here at some point.
Also, it looked like a good place to shop.
The girls giggled and blasted obnoxious music, but all and all it was somewhat productive. But was it enough? She had to fortify herself for more days of irresolute monotony. She consoled herself to sleep by fantasizing about being back in Heaven.
Keep your eyes on the prize, she told herself.