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Saturday, June 21st, day 21
I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.
The first thing my mother said to me in the morning was, “Come with me to visit Monica.”
I stared at her. “Why?”
“Because she’s your sister.”
“So, it’d be the nice thing to do.”
I shifted. “Do I have to?”
Mom closed her eyes. “No,” she said. “I just thought it be something nice to do together. Us girls.”
I sucked in a breath. The guilt trick again. but I didn’t care what she said. I was not going to the rehab centre just to see Monica in between therapies. And it’s not like she wouldn’t have a bunch of people crowding around her anyway, with her snooty friends and Steven.
“I don’t want to go, Mom,” I said firmly.
“Fine. But you’ll come next time, right?” she looked at me hopefully.
“I’ll think about it.”
Her face lit up like Christmas. “I know you’ll do the right thing.”
As I scapegoat, I did something I would never have dreamed of doing before: I grabbed Zac’s leash and headed outdoors, Carl and Sam on my heals.
The streets were crowded, but I kept to the inside so Sam and Carl could still see me in the limo. I went around the block, passed the old playground and a rundown warehouse, before I decided to go see Blair.
I figured he would be hiding, since there were so many people around, so I cut straight to his cave. The little stream smelled like rain, and the walls dripped like they always did. There was a new painting there now, of a fluffy Australian shepherd. Scrawled across the bottom in chicken scratch were the words Blair, Hanuara, Jada, Araunah, and Gary. But other than that, the cave was vacant.
Maybe he went home, finally. I breathed a sigh of relief and disappointment. I was about to leave when something shiny caught my eye. I stepped closer, trying to see what it was. A hand clamped down on my arm.
I shrieked and jumped three feet in the air. Zac yelped when I landed on his foot. Mischievous blue eyes sparkled up at me. “Blair!” I exclaimed. “You scared me.”
He dropped to his knees giggling, clutching Cuddles. “That was the point. You should have seen your face.” he cackled. “What are you doing here?”
“I was looking for you. Is that any way to greet me, Blair?” I put on a falsely stern expression.
“Please pardon me,” he said in a British accent. “How do you do, milady?”
I curtsied. “Quite well, quite well, fair gent. And how do you do?”
“Exterbigantly,” he said gallantly.
“You mean extravagantly, Mr Blair?”
We made our way back to the rocks. Cuddles manoeuvred them with ease. Zac, on the other hand, slipped and slid until I finally just let him go to make his own way. he went back to the mouth of the cave and laid down, promptly falling asleep.
“Lazy dog,” I muttered. Blair was back to his old silent self. We watched a lazy parasailer drift across the irony ocean. This was a really yucky day to go to the beach.
“Hanuara?” Blair stroked Cuddles’s fur thoughtfully. “What happens when Cuddles runs out of food?”
I shrugged. “Than tell me, and I’ll get you more.”
He nodded, like he had been expecting that answer. “Do you want to see the tricks I taught him?”
He insisted we go to the edge of the water, on the west side of the rocks. Technically, we were on Falder’s Beach now. Nobody ever went there. “Okay, Cuddles, sit!” Blair ordered. Zac’s ears pricked up. He galloped over, and in unison, they both sank to their haunches. Blair pulled out an apple treat and tossed one to each of them. Cuddles caught his on the fly, but Zac watched his drop before picking it up daintily with his lips. “Lay down!” they both did. “Good dogs,” Blair praised.
“Pretty good, Blair.” And pretty standard, but they were both so young. Cuddles and Blair, I mean.
“But I’m not done yet.” He turned back to Cuddles. “You remember this one, Cuddles?” To my surprise, the pup nodded his head. Blair took out a treat and held it above Cuddles’s head. He pointed his nose straight up in the air, and Blair set the treat on his lips. Cuddles wagged his tail. As I watched, Blair circled around him, and Cuddles didn’t make one move to eat the biscuit. And then Blair said, “Dance, Cuddles! Dance.”
Cuddles slowly rose up, balancing on his back legs. The treat never tilted. Blair continued circling, and Cuddles rotated, keeping himself turned toward his young master. They went a little bit faster, and when Blair gave the command, he flipped the treat up, where it did a lazy flip about a foot in the air, and then he opened his mouth and swallowed it whole.
“Good boy, Cuddles. Good boy.” Blair ruffled his fur and kissed his nose.
“Wow, Blair. That dog’s got talent. And so do you, to be able to train him like that!”
He smiled shyly. “Thanks, but it wasn’t hard. Cuddles is really smart. Watch this!” He fished one of the last treats out of his pocket, threw it into the ocean. Then he sat in the sand with Cuddles facing the other way.
“Um, was something supposed to happen?” I asked.
“Just three more seconds…okay, go get it, Cuddles!”
The puppy bounded into the ocean, and soon disappeared in the grey swells. I craned my neck, but I couldn’t see him. Blair didn’t seem concerned, though, so I waited.
About a minute later, Cuddles remerged, shook himself off, and trotted back to us. Blair held out his hand, and the puppy dropped the soggy apple treat in it. Grinning at me, Blair flipped the treat back to him.
“Blair, you’re amazing. No other dog in the world can do that, I swear.” My heart swelled with pride. Blair may not be schooled, but he sure is smart. And that dog was a good pick after all.
Zac looked bored. “Yeah, like you could do any better, old man.” I gingerly rumpled his fur. “You should go home and show your mom what Cuddles can do. I’m sure she’d be as amazed as I am.”
He shook his head. “No, I don’t want to.”
“Because. I know she wouldn’t care. And I just wanted to show you, anyway.” His eyes darted from side to side, like he was nervous.
“Blair, there is nothing that can compare to that. of course your mother would care. I don’t know what’s going on with you two, but I’m sure that if you just—”
“You don’t know my mother, Hanuara.” He looked away, suddenly seeming drained. Not something you expect or want to see with a seven-year-old.
I reached out to him. “I know I don’t know your mother, Blair, but mothers in general are usually pleased with their children’s accomplishments. It’s just the way they are.”
He violently pulled away. “No they’re not!” he shouted. “You don’t know her! she doesn’t care about me and she won’t care about Cuddles!” He turned and ran back to the bridge.
I shot after him, calling for him to come back. even though I was twice as tall as he was and could run a three-minute kilometre, I couldn’t catch up to him. children are funny that way. “Blair! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you cry—”
“Just leave me alone!” he sobbed from the dark depths of the cave.
“Blair, please come out. I’m really, really sorry. don’t cry, honey.” I stepped in, only to be stopped by a ripping snarl. Cuddles’s hackles were up, and his teeth were bared. Beside me, Zac growled in response.
“Just. Go.” Blair glared at me, huddled behind Cuddles. I backed out, gripping Zac’s collar. When I had cleared the perilous rocks, I sprinted to the limo, hopped in, and wrapped my arms around my knees.
“Take me home,” I told Sam.
I recognized the silver convertible parked in the drive. My heart leapt. I had completely forgotten about my lesson. Lee and I didn’t really have any set times, but I usually came by late in the morning or in the afternoon.
The house seemed empty, but I could hear dad’s computer clicking in the living room. “Hanuara? Is that you? Your company’s in here.”
“Lee, I’m really sorry I didn’t show up this morning—” I started as I round the corner. But then I stopped. It wasn’t Lee in the La-Z-Boy next to the sofa. “Araunah?”
She grinned her impish grin. “Hey, Hanuara. Hope you don’t mind that I stopped by.”
“No, of course not. But is there a particular reason?” I hovered in the doorway.
“I just wanted to see what your house looked like. I was kind of curious.” She shrugged. “You put my name on the permanent guest list at the gate.”
That had been an impulsive decision. I felt a sort of kinship with Araunah and Jada, one that prompted me to put them on the list.
I was suddenly craving the company of a girl my age. I flopped beside Araunah on an ottoman. “Did you want to do something?” I asked.
“Sure. Do you want to come with me to my aunt’s tee-shirt shop?”
“A tee shirt shop?” I asked incredulously. Why would I go to a tee-shirt shop? But it was something to do, so I pasted on my best smile.
I insisted we take the convertible, just so I could have the satisfaction of making Carl and Sam sit in the back. Araunah took a left at the gates, and continued on to North-East Northern. She handled her car with ease, and I envied her. I had never bothered to learn to drive. It was a pointless thing to do when you had six chauffeurs and twelve stretch-limousines. But I made a mental note to get a license anyway.
“Nice car,” I complimented her.
“Thanks.” She patted the steering wheel. “It’s a hand-me-down from Lee. He abandoned it for an old purple Chevy.” She rolled her eyes. “Boys.”
I tried to picture Lee driving a silver convertible. The picture was fuzzy, though he did have that California-look that merited a sports car. A purple Chevrolet didn’t seem his style either, but you never know.
“Oh, dang!” I exclaimed suddenly.
“I was supposed to meet him today, but I totally forgot, and then I remembered, but then you showed up—”
She laughed. “Relax! I was supposed to tell you that he couldn’t do it today, because he’s working. He has a sort of apprenticeship with Milo Sevence at Harlan Hospital. He was going to call you, but like I said, I was curious about your neighbourhood, so I came instead.”
“Well, thanks for telling me,” I said sourly. “You know, before I started freaking out.”
We came to a lane with trees on either side that touched in the middle, creating a tunnel, and to the side was a small white brick building with the words “Diana’s Palace” scrawled across the top in big light-up letters. A bell rang when Araunah opened the door.
The store was completely empty, and no one was behind the cash counter. It was a bright cheery shop, with pink, white, and daisy yellow painted walls. Or at least the parts of the walls that you could see. The rest was covered in tee shirts, hats, scarves, and other accessories. “Tia,” Araunah called out. “Where are you?”
“Araunah? Is that you?”
From a back room, a plump woman carrying a large cardboard box emerged. She had greying brown hair, and glasses with those old-fashioned chains attached. When she saw Araunah, she bustled forward and wrapped her in her thick pale arms.
“Tia, buenos dias.” Araunah pecked the woman on the cheek. “I’m assuming you know this person?” She motioned to me.
“You’re that model, aren’t you? You are! I’m very pleased to meet you. But how did my Araunah manage to get her hold on you?”
“What? I’m just saying.”
From behind the counter, which wasn’t empty after all, a girl straightened from where she had bent down. her hair was pulled back in a smooth dark blond ponytail, and her belly protruded from her narrow hips like she had shoved a basketball under her shirt. She was at least seven months pregnant, though she couldn’t have been older than I was. instead of surprise or awe, when her eyes fell on me she looked almost…angry.
I stared back, shocked. “Oh, and this is Julia, my assistant. Come say hi, Julia, we have a real celebrity in our store.” Diana smiled at the girl and motioned her forward until she was standing in front of me.
I smiled at her as brightly as I could, trying to ignore the contempt that radiated from her. “Hey, Julia.”
There was an awkward silence when she didn’t say anything back. I shifted uncomfortably and looked around, as if a topic of conversation would suddenly appear. Finally, I just asked, “Do you know when you’re due?”
Her hands rested on her stomach, cradling it, as though to protect it. From me? “Beginning of August. It’s going to be a boy.” Her voice was flat.
She went back to the counter, and Diana began unpacking from her box. I followed Araunah to the back of the store, where we were hidden by racks. I held out a tee-shirt. It had a picture of a cow grazing in a meadow. “Milk builds bones. God builds character,” I read aloud.
“Yeah, and check this one out: ‘Proud To Be A Fruitcake’.” She giggled. She held out another. “‘ I only take change’.”
“‘The mathematics of evolutionists: Nothing+nobody=everything.’”
“Lee made that one. it all ties in with his art philosophies. This one means ‘Art is creation’.” She rolled her eyes, and I smiled a secret smile. Even if he wasn’t here, he was still here. “‘Art is making something out of nothing,” she went on, in a bad imitation of Lee’s deep voice. “Taking nothing and making it beautiful. Blah, blah, blah. I know he loves art and all, but sheesh. Does anybody smell an obsession here? You’d think he was siding with the evolutionists.”
We continued reading the tee-shirts out loud. Only a handful of them were actually serious. Those ones Araunah glanced over with barely a bored sigh. When I thought we were far enough away, I glanced over my shoulder to where Julia was reading a magazine.
“Araunah?” I whispered. “Why does Julia not like me?”
She shrugged, thinking. “I don’t know. It’s not like she has a reason to. Maybe she’s jealous, because you’re famous and a trillionaire and all. While she’s stuck making minimum wage here. her mom and dad kicked her out when she got pregnant, and her good-for-nothing boyfriend—”
“Thank you, Araunah, that’s quite enough.”
Our heads snapped up, our expressions horrified. Julia was standing directly in front of us, arms crossed over her stomach. “Julia!” Araunah squeaked.
Julia smiled mirthlessly. “I didn’t know that’s the way you thought of me, Raun. Of course I don’t care that she’s a trillionaire. And I like my job with Diana and you. But, Hanuara, do you want to know the real reason my ex-boyfriend, David, walked away from my baby and me?” Judging by her pained expression, I really didn’t want to know, but I nodded for her to go on anyway. “He got it in his head, bless that crazy fool, that he could make you fall in love with him. He thought the world of you. You’re beautiful, rich and famous. And he was callous, conceited, and vain. A perfect match,” she sneered.
Why did that name sound so familiar? I racked my brains but came up blank. “Is that why you don’t like me? Because I didn’t fall in love with him. I have a boyfriend, and his name isn’t David. That was probably just a celebrity crush.”
She pulled out the magazine she had been reading. “Except that it was more.”
On the cover was the picture of me at Carol’s party, making out with him.
Oh. That David.
“That’s your boyfriend?” I gasped. “I—I didn’t know! That was nothing serious at all, just a stupid hook-up…”
“Oh, okay. That makes so much more sense. You hooked up with my baby’s father, just for the fun of it. I don’t have a reason to hate you at all.”
I held out my hands helplessly. “Julia, I’m sorry. I know it was wrong. But I’m seriously dating someone else, and I’m totally in love. I didn’t even remember this David until you showed me the picture.”
Araunah glanced back and forth between us, like she was watching a tennis game. “Men are crazy,” she quipped lightly. “Don’t trust them.”
Julia and I looked at her. And then, in unison, said, “Amen to that!”
I jumped out of my skin when there was a tap at my balcony door. It wasn’t quite dark yet, so I could see the shadowy figure through the glass quite clearly. It was just Julius.
“Julius, what are you doing? You nearly scared me to death.” I carefully opened the door for him. “Are you just waiting for my father to call the cops on you? Be quiet, there are guards outside my door.”
“I really wanted to see you,” he murmured, slipping his arms around me. “You were gone all day.”
“You can’t just hang around in the backyard all the time. do you know how unsophisticated that is?” I giggled. I really was glad to see him. he perched on the edge of the bed, looking around my room. Downstairs, my father and mother were watching TV, and Sam and Carl were at the little table in the hall, probably playing cards or something. It was really a good thing that I hadn’t screamed.
“It’s not like I stay there all day. Just at night, when you’re unsuspecting, just waiting to pounce…” he grazed his teeth on my throat.
“Oooh, I’m so scared.” But I did shiver. His tone was so ominous. Pulling him down so that he was lying beside me, I curled into his arm. “You’re not all that dangerous, you know. You read Shakespeare.”
“Thanks for that awesome blow to my confidence. See if I’ll kiss you after that.”
We laughed and talked like that, trying to one up each other, until I grew quiet. He asked me what was wrong, stroking my hair away from my face. having a man in my bed had a blush-factor so high it shamed the Empire State Building, but it wasn’t like we were doing anything bad. Still, I waited for the moment when my mom, dad, or even Sam or Carl burst through the door and saw me entangled with him.
“I’m just getting worried about Blair. You remember him, right?” I told him about what happened on the beach. “I don’t want to pry, but I don’t think it’s very healthy, the way he lives.”
Julius was silent, staring up at the ceiling. “I don’t know what to tell you,” he said finally.
I sighed. “It’s okay. It’s just nice to have someone to talk to.”
He kissed me then, in a way that was sweet and soothing. “Do you want to go on a date tomorrow?” he asked.
“If you talk to my father.”
He scowled. “Can’t you just sneak away?” Half-hopefully he gripped my hands.
“Nope. You wanna date me, you’ll have to get on my father’s good side.” I tapped his nose. “Just be thankful he’s not the lawyer.”
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~ Romans 15:13