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The Beast in Me (completed)
I don't know what was happening; she had me mesmerized. I couldn't take my eyes off her somehow. In the lunch break, I watched her in the food line while Jim was bugging me about my science class bravado,
“So now you suddenly turn out to be an Einstein, too, huh?! What's going on, Ron, you're really not yourself lately?”
I gave him short a side look, still following Sheena's moves as she took her tray and seemed to follow Mandy towards the stairway to the upper level of the school cafeteria. That was an unlikely combination, I wondered. What could those two possibly have in common, the most popular girl at school and the mousy newcomer?
“I... I did some extra studying...” I lied, not really sure if the truth was the best thing to share. For I could not believe other than that all my new capabilities somehow were connected. At night I was a monster and at day I was a “superman” in disguise, was my latest theory. Nothing of which I was going to confess and blurt out even to my best buddy. I decided I had to conceal the origin of these traits from everybody at least as long as I couldn't control my dark side, the angry side.
Now the girls were almost at the top of the stairs. Jim saw my look,
“Oh, I see...” he chuckled, “...a new approach, huh? Trying to impress the queen with intellectual prowess now. Nice move. I actually heard Mandy make some positive comments about you to Dodo and Nada, back in class.”
As if I hadn't picked it up myself with my amplified hearing ability.
“Finally somebody stuffed that egghead's mouth... at least temporarily.”
“What? Did Frank pull off his call and put-on-hold trick on Branagan now too?” Dalia looked up and asked. Mandy sighed,
“No stupid! I meant Byron who completely baffled Branagan with his solving skills! He's still sitting there brooding about it and hasn't given us any assignment.”
“So how'd'ya think he pulled it off? Use transmitter and earplugs?” Narnia asked.
“...or he downloaded all the solutions from the internet!” Dalia suggested.
“...and learned them by heart?! Don't think so! Although that would be equally impressive, I suppose.” Mandy said.
“Maybe we can find out how he cheated and tell on him and get a reward from Branagan!” Narnia said with glowing eyes.
“...or keep it for us and use it on the next test!” Dalia threw in hoping to earn points from Mandy.
“Some people actually don't need to cheat to be good at this...” Mandy revealed. The other two looked at her as if she had just told them that Hogwarts and Harry Potter existed for real,
“They don't? But how?” Narnia asked. Mandy rolled her eyes,
“They study hard.” Mandy said dryly.
“Ew!” It came in unison from Dalia and Narnia.
“Maybe we should keep an eye on Byron from now on...” They looked at Mandy in amazement.
Jim jabbed my arm,
“She said something about keeping an eye on you or something like that. Looks like not all hope is lost for your case.” Jim guffawed. Yeah, but Jim had pulled out his ears from the conversation a bit too early, if I recall correctly.
“...maybe Frank should recruit him. Might turn out to be a useful resource for him. My Frankie boy, you'll love me for this.” Mandy said. I had seen how Narnia and Dalia tried figuring out what she could mean but quickly gave up lest the creases were to give them permanent wrinkles on their foreheads. Jim had quite fittingly nicknamed them Dodo and Nada.
But I wasn't paying much attention to Mandy, my eyes were on Sheena now. One last step and she would reach the upper sitting level of the cafeteria. It was like a huge balcony that looked out over the lower level. But then I saw how her shoe got caught on the edge of the step, sending her diving forwards and the items on the tray splattering around on the floor. The clattering of the plate and silverware hitting the floor drew immediate attention from everyone, interrupting the chatting instantaneously. It became so quiet my ears hurt. Sheena had fallen to her knees and was in the middle of the embarrassing mess. Mandy had already placed her tray on the table where Narnia and Dalia were sitting. She covered her giggling mouth while her servants openly showed their glee about the mishap. Before anyone else set foot in Sheena's direction for help, I had already zoomed up the stairs in my turbo-fashion.
Sheena had started plucking up the largest pieces of debris when I helped her to her feet.
“I'm so clumsy...” Sheena began, looking droopily up to me.
“Nah, you're just another poor victim of that terribly designed staircase... here let me help you. See, the steps hang over a bit so if you happen to have open-toe shoes like you it's easy to trip. -- Don't worry about that. And you don't need to clean up that mess yourself. We'll ask the kitchen maids for help. Better just get a new tray with food as long as the supplies last.”
Sheena gave me one of her two-dimpled smiles again. I was fascinated by the strange mix of childish and mature features in her personality. Her voice sounded high-pitched and childish but it had a pleasant melody to it that was caressing my ears.
I walked down the stairs with her.
“Thanks!” Sheena said and beamed at me. “Byron.”
“Oh, don't mention it. My friends call me Ron.” It suddenly felt as if the temperature of my ears had gone up by ten degrees when I caught myself referring to Jim in plural form. “Uhmm... by the way, if you're not busy after school... I could show you around a bit in the area.” My ears had picked up gossip about her background, telling me that she was new in town and that she had moved here from Calgary with her father just after her mother had passed away.
“Oh that's so nice of you, Ron! It's just... Mandy invited me for today already. But any other day would be great!”
What's Mandy up to? I wondered for a split second but just said,
“Fine. What about tomorrow afternoon then?”
Happy as a bear who just had found a pot of honey I ate my lunch with Jim forgetting about the worries that I had suffered through this morning. For the time being. Plain denial -- and distraction. To be completely honest: I was a bit confused about Mandy and her gang magnanimously hosting the “new kid in town”. Relax, I told myself, Mandy wasn't like Frank, even if they were together at the moment.
She broke my heart yesterday but I refuse to believe she is a bad person through and through. She'll come around eventually.
And then I was daydreaming again about how things would turn out well between the two of us. That she would give up Frank and that her true personality would shine through if she could only free herself of her servants, Dodo and Nada -- I mean Dalia and Narnia.
Jim was going on about this and that as we sat there at the cafeteria table. School kids buzzing about and creating an almost infernal jumble of noises making it nigh impossible to understand anybody except the closest neighbors. Still, I didn't really pay much attention to my conversation with Jim though. I must have appeared quite incoherent in my replies. My ears were cocked on listening to the conversation one flight of stairs up. Strangely, I had the ability to zoom in on their voices in spite of the wall of noise that was between us.
“...that's terrible! Your poor dad! Hope he'll recover soon. Did they catch the beast yet?” Sheena said.
“Don't think so. The police said they wanted to send a troop of rangers and dogs out to follow his tracks today.”
“I hope they hunt down that creature and kill it!” Narnia said with a shudder. I broke into a sweat but continued listening.
“What a lucky coincidence that you weren't in bed at the time... where were you that late at night anyway?” Dalia asked without thinking. Mandy inhaled sharply.
“Dally, you slopped spaghetti sauce all over your chin again. Why don't you go and get your face fixed right now?” Mandy said gruffly instead of answering. Dalia put down her fork and wiped her chin in disgust.
“I did?! Yikes!” She got up and went away.
“It's awfully nice of you to show me around after my first day at school.”
“Show her around? But you said we... ouch! What did you do that for!?” Narnia rubbed her aching shin and looked angrily at Mandy who smiled her angel smile (I'm sure by the sound of it).
“Sorry, I thought that was the table leg... -- So, Sheena, tell us a bit more about yourself. You said you're from Calgary. What brings you out here, a big town girl like you? What do we owe the great honor to?”
“It's a long story really...” Sheena began tentatively, a bit embarrassed.
“It's OK, we do have a half hour lunch break...” Mandy said, not letting her off the hook. Sheena sighed.
“Sure, if you wanna know. Well, as I told you my mother died this winter. She... she was a bit special. My father loved her beyond death...”
“How touching...” I couldn't tell if Mandy was being sarcastic.
“Anyway... on her deathbed she made dad promise he'd take me back to Baskerville... the place she was brought up in.”
“Wow, so that means your mom was from Baskerville?” Narnia concluded sharply. Sheena looked at her (I suppose) and nodded.
“You're sharp-witted as ever, Narny!” Mandy said.
“Thanks, Mandy! Your hair is so beautiful today, especially with that butterfly clip that Byron fou...”
“Shut up Nada... uhmm Narnia. -- So, why did your mom want your dad and you to live here in the half-wilderness again?” Mandy pried on. Sheena shrugged her shoulders.
“I don't know... but dad was adamant about keeping his promise. -- Actually, I already like it here. It... it somehow reminds me of my mother...” I sensed how droplets formed in her eyes.
“So what's the rest of the story? You said it would be a long one.” Narnia asked and sucked her finger clean. Mandy smirked.
“I suppose it's about her mom being special? But let's not snoop to deeply into private matters... now. We have all afternoon to spend around town.” At that moment Dalia had returned from the ladies' room.
“Around town? Didn't you say your dad grounded you for being out so late last evening?” Dalia blurted out. Mandy fumed,
“Dodo, I think you left your googledazzler in the restroom.” Dalia looked confused at Mandy and felt her face whether something was missing. Sheena started giggling at this term.
“Oh! That's this slang that Frank always uses, isn't it?” Narnia said.
“Mandy, I don't want you to get in trouble because of me. Really, it's OK, I can...” Sheena said, serious again.
“Nonsense. I'm not actually grounded... I just got a six o'clock curfew. Gives us plenty of time to check out town.”
And I had already gotten my hopes up there. By that point, Jim was urging to get back to class. He was always afraid to get in trouble with the teachers. I sighed and followed suit.
But when I got home that afternoon there was a pleasant surprise waiting for me, as Sue had already arrived. I recognized her car on our driveway and pushed open the front door of our house.
“Sue!” I rushed to hug my sister when I saw her sitting in the living room and talking with mom. When I let her go again Sue gasped in pain,
“Jesus, Ron! You don't need to be so violent! You almost broke my ribs!” I looked upset at her. I had forgotten about my enhaced physical strength again. Sue smiled, “Nevermind! Happy Birthday, little brother!” She pinched my cheek. “Big brother! You must have grown taller by two inches since last time!”
“He has grown, hasn't he? -- Look at your pants... they look like they've shrunk on you!”
I didn't want to talk about me.
“So what's going on in the big city? What's in nowadays?”
“Can't you tell?” Sue asked rhetorically and moved about in a strange way. I looked confused. Mom helped me out,
“Look at her ankles, Ron.” When I looked down I saw that Sue had a number of golden bracelets around her ankles.
“Whaddya think?” Sue asked. I shrugged my shoulders. I knew nothing about fashion.
“Fine. But doesn't that dangling annoy you?”
“Boys,” she mumbled.
“So how's it going on the job front? Mom said you had some kind of interview coming up.”
“Imagine! I met this really nice guy at the ba... diner where I work. We starting chatting and I told him I'm looking to be an actress. He was really nice and all... well, anyway, he said he works in the business - like an agent - and that they are looking for new talent and said he might be able to arrange an audition with one of his clients. He even asked what kind of roles I prefer! I told him anything I can get - I'll work myself up the credit list if I have to. That impressed him - I think. I was sooo excited when he left and two days later he called and told me that they're looking for someone like me in a small production at a local theater. Auditions are next week! I'm soo nervous and excited and... this could be it! All I need is a start!”
“That's really great, honey! I'm also so excited for you.” Mom said.
“Uh - any idea what kind of role you're auditioning for?” I asked.
“Sure... it's... I think it's a kind of a love story - maybe some Shakespeare thing, I don't know we talked so much my head was spinning. It's not really that important, is it. All I need is a chance to show my talent. There'll be talent hunters in the audience for sure. Mom, I can hardly wait!” Sue was beaming and glowing with excitement.
“Did he - whatshisname - tell you that?” I inquired.
“Morgan Riley, my agent? - Well, sort of. We talked a lot. I don't know his exact words. He thinks I have talent. Why would he help me like this if he thought I wasn't worth it? This is perfect, I know it!” Sue could hardly sit still on her chair, her eyes darting back and forth between us,
“Great!” I said but it came out in a tone that better had fit with the word “cheesy”, so I tried to beef it up, “It's cool! Hope you get the lead role!” I don't know why my enthusiasm for her opportunity was failing me when all the time I had been hoping for her to make a breakthrough. I felt protective of my sister, even if she was - or ought to be - old enough to take care of herself by now. I hoped I wasn't going to follow mom's footsteps and get worked up about every little detail. So I told me to relax.
“Well just take care you don't go with the wrong people, Susan, dear.” Mom began.
“Ugh, mom! Don't spoil this for me now!” Sue suddenly snapped into a defensive stance.
“All I'm saying is...”
“Mom, you always say that, regardless.”
“Well, better safe than sorry. Young girls like you...”
“Mom please, not that again! If I hadn't made a move and gotten out of this rat hole...”
“That's enough young lady!” Mom was sore now and I sort of sympathized with her anxiety. Sue had the tendency to see things through rosy colored glasses at times. “Baskerville is a fine little town and I don't want you...”
“Mom can't you see what you're doing? This place is a dead end. Dad knew that. I can't even blame him for leaving us.”
“Don't you dare drag in your father in this discussion. If he'd still be here he would never have...”
“Mom, you talk as if he died. He left us. He was fed up with this life, can't you see. There is a whole world out there and you...” Mom popped to her feet and went away. I sighed,
“Nice job, sis...” I said sarcastically. “Why did you have to get so upset and start an argument? You know mom will now probably get her stomach problems again.”
“Whose side are you actually on, Ron?” Sue demanded exasperated.
“Side? I don't know of any sides. We're all in the same boat. That's the way I see it. I care for you. So does mom. She's just easy to get worried.”
“Ron, I don't know about you but got plans for my life. Someday I want to see my names in neon lights.” Her eyes started glowing again.
“You know they actually don't fill fluorescence lights with neon any more...” My success in Branagan's science class had triggered a sudden genuine interest about the subject in me. After school I had hung back to look into a science book at the library. I actually almost read it cover to cover in half an hour. Strange how my mental abilities also had peaked. But as a typical junkie I merely enjoyed the ride and tried not to see the reverse side of the development. Nevertheless, back in my head somewhere a voice told me I was going to crash and burn sooner are later. The rest of me switched to complete denial.
“I got you some presents, by the way.” Sue changed the subject to something less sensitive. I sat up straight in expectation. Something from the city.
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