Authors: Clea Hantman
olly here. I still can’t believe that we’re here on earth. That
here on earth. I keep thinking this whole mess is just a wrenching nightmare and that any second I will wake up and be back home with dear Pegasus
in my arms and my golden slippers on my feet. I can’t stand the thought of the Grove at Helicon not being tendered daily. And who’s talking to the lonely gaggle of geese that wander the royal yards? I daresay they are probably bored silly without my conversation. And I bet you a pile of coins that without my daily disapproval, Cleo
is probably spending all her time swimming in the lake without her clothes! I’ve got so much to do back home. Oh, but I am needed here, too. (And of course, required by Daddy and Hera’s horrible law to stay.)
The same week that the whole Hermes thing
happened, I decided I had no choice but to join Era’s survival class, too. I’m far more knowledgeable about nature, the woods and gardens, than my sister could ever hope to be, and that’s got to count for something in such a course, right? I thought, at the very least, that by being in the class, too, I could save her from a failing grade.
So I went to vice principal Haze and complained of a severe allergic reaction to the oil paint we were using in art class.
But then the vice principal suggested I just use some other kind of paint or pencil or chalk. I told her I was allergic to it all! Luckily I’d had a little foresight. I’d found some familiar, itch-producing herbs on the edge of our woods and made a recipe that I rubbed on my skin to produce a temporary red rash. Now I showed my infected hands to Mrs. Haze, who quickly transferred me into survival class and threw the approval slip at me as if she was scared she’d catch something.
I got to class a touch early, but Era was already inside. I spotted her before she caught my eye. She was sitting perfectly upright in a chair in front, every hair in place, a smile affixed on her face. She practically glowed. Nobody glows like Era. Even for a goddess, she is particularly luminescent.
But when she saw me, the glow disappeared.
“Now,” she whined. “Why are you here?” She said
it with such pointed anger, you’d think I was a Fury and not her own flesh and blood.
“Listen, Era, this is for your own good. You’re going to need help. You need to pass this class, and you’re not cut out for such physical work, and, well—” but she interrupted me.
“What are you doing?” she hissed. “How dare you? I’m trying very hard to overcome my faults, to meet my challenge, but you! You’re here meddling. Again! I mean, just because you are one year older than I, you think that somehow you have aeons more knowledge and nerve and, well, ptooey!”
She had a point, albeit a small one, and I had half expected her to be a little angry with me, but not like this. “I’m sorry, Era. But I think this is for your own good. How do you expect to get through such a class?” I snapped.
“The same way you would. Day by day, learning and listening,” said my sister, still with a scowl pasted on her face. Her eyebrows were pointed inward and downward, scrunching her face into a wrinkled mess. She was still gorgeous.
“Yes, I suppose that is a good start.” I had to admit that was a reasonable answer. “I’m glad you’ve given it a lot of thought, Era, but the hard-and-fast reality is…” But Era wasn’t looking at me any longer. Her face had softened, her eyes had widened, and they were following a silhouette outside the door.
“Era, are you paying attention to me?” Really, this was too much. I’d come here to do her a favor and…
My eyes followed Era’s eyes. And then the silhouette became a person. The teacher, to be exact. One Mr. Josh Hawkins, a stunning example of six-foot-plus maleness decked out in camouflage and army green. My sister was hypnotized.
“Oh my goddess!” I quietly announced. “I can’t believe I almost thought you were serious—how silly of me! You’re the same foolish little sister, driven by heart and hormones!”
“Uh-huh,” she said, not listening to me at all, still staring at “Josh.” All the usual signs, the ones I’d seen literally hundreds of times before, were there. She was fluttering her eyelashes. She was pouting her lips as if she were about to eat a ripe, juicy pomegranate. She was flirting outrageously.
Josh then spoke. “Okay, you bunch of pansies! So, no doubt you’ve all gotten your supplies for the big course. The runs we’ve been doing every day will help your endurance and stamina on this next set of obstacles.” I tried to concentrate on Josh, but I realized I hadn’t planned this whole thing out very well. I didn’t even have any supplies. And more important, this man truly frightened me. “You’d better get your butts in gear if you haven’t already,” continued Josh, “because next week is your first test.”
I like tests,
Perhaps this won’t be so bad.
And then, as if he were reading my mind, Josh continued, “And this isn’t like the test little Ms. So-and-so down the hall might give you. No paper, no pencil. Just you and the elements. This is a grueling, five-mile military-approved survival obstacle course. You’re going to start out on a fast-paced 1.5-mile run, scale the twelve-foot wall, swing over the swamp pond, and then it’s hit-the-ground time. You’ll crawl on your bellies under the rope nets and through the mud, and then it’s uphill for one mile and down the back side to the finish.”
His voice was deep and menacing. He more bellowed than spoke.
“Now, if I had it my way, every student in this school would have to take this class. You students don’t take life seriously enough. Well, you will take my class seriously. And that means participating in my after-school workouts and some weekends. That’s right, weekends. Those of you who’ve only been going to these workouts
every now and then
should not be surprised when I fail you right out of this class. Think of this after-school stuff as your ‘homework,’ people, from now on. Got it?”
“Yes, sir,” said the class in unison. I even heard my little sister’s perky voice in the crowd.
My knees were shaking so hard that I thought maybe others in the class might hear. Why on earth would anyone take this class voluntarily…besides
my lovesick sister, of course? This sounded like pure Hades.
Fortunately, I looked over at Era and she did look a little scared underneath all that blind adoration. I was sure she would wise up. Then she’d simply quit and I’d quit and this would be behind us by lunch.
Josh was grabbing his bag and heading for the door as he spoke. “Today we’re going to go outside and I’m going to show you all how to scale the wall. So grab your gear—we’ll be out there for the rest of the hour.” He was already out the door when he called back, “C’mon, you babies, get a move on out to the fields!”
“Excuse me,” I called, my voice coming out as little more than a whisper. Josh stopped and walked back to where I stood just inside the classroom door. Era shot me a death look. “Um,” I said, “I’m wearing a dress. What about those of us, um, in skirts and dresses, um, sir?”
“Who are you?” he asked, his eyes piercing a hole in my forehead.
“Um, sir, I’m Polly,” I said, and then I sort of whispered, “I just joined this class.”
He still looked confused. “Why?” he asked loudly.
“Well, because I’m wearing a skirt today and climbing a wall…”
“No, why did you join my class?”
“Um, I was allergic to, um…” But he didn’t wait
for an answer. He just shook his head and went back out the door. The class followed.
I grabbed Era and stopped her from following. “Please, we’ve got to get out of this class—this isn’t for us. Be real, Era.” I was begging.
“Well, I dunno.” She was being wishy-washy. “It does sound hard, but…”
“I demand it, Era—I’m serious. We’re out of here. Now.”
“Fine,” Era said, throwing up her hands. “Jeez, you just shouldn’t have come,” she added, looking off through the window at Josh and the others and pouting.
“Well, I’m glad I came to this class. I’m glad we’re switching back. Just imagine what would have become of you, your grades, our lives had I not stepped in and put a stop to this. Now let’s get out of here, before Sergeant Scary over there sees us!”
I ran straight to the vice principal’s office as fast as I could. Era sulked behind me.
t’s me, Thalia, again.
So Claire and I got out of last period kind of early (I think Mrs. Wing had some sort of hair appointment or something to get to—she was eager to rush us out of class before the bell rang). I walked with Claire to get a soda pop out of the machine, past poser Tim (he couldn’t even look at me), and then out to sit on the grass in the courtyard.
“That sixteen-millimeter camera is totally lame,” said Claire. She was talking about our project for Mrs. Tracy’s media class.
“No, really? I was looking forward to using that camera. Why is it so, um, lame?”
“Well, for one thing, you can’t do any special effects—no zooming, no close-ups. It’s totally Jurassic. I could do this whole thing with my digital camera
and my computer in, like, a day. But no, with this camera everything takes forever and a day.”
I had no idea what Claire was talking about.
I just nodded a lot. And smiled.
“You okay?” she asked.
“Cool. Yeah, I’m cool. That sounds cool. Uh-huh.”
“Thalia, you’re funny sometimes. Is something the matter?”
“Oh, no, it’s just that I’ve got to get a good grade on this film thing. I’m not doing so good in Mrs. Tracy’s class. And I cannot fail.”
“Parents tough about grades, huh?”
“You have no idea,” I said.
Just then our friend Pocky came driving up, honking his horn. It was off-key. “You girls want a ride?” Pocky yelled from inside his bright yellow chariot. Er, car. His Mohawk bobbed up and down to some music I couldn’t hear.
“Yeah, I’ll take one,” said Claire, who popped up and looked at me expectantly.
That’s when I noticed my sisters walking toward us, and I could see from here that they were fighting. “Go ahead, Claire, I’ll see you tomorrow. I’m gonna wait for my sisters.”
“Have it your way. Ciao.” She jumped in the car, and they sped off.
“What’s going on?” I yelled to Era and Polly.
But they didn’t answer. They were too busy bickering.
“Come join me,” I yelled.
So I tried this whistle thing Claire taught me. I stuck my fingers in my mouth, curled my lip, and nothing. They continued to fight. Claire had made it look so easy.
I got up from the grass, walked toward them, and waved my hand in front of their faces. They finally stopped long enough to look my way.
“You are not going to believe what your sister did,” said Polly.
“Last time I looked, we were all related. Now, talk slowly, one at a time,” I said.
Era jumped in. “Polly actually joined the class, my survival class, to check up on me! She hasn’t learned a thing here on earth, still meddling!”
“Well, maybe, but just take a stab at why Era joined this class—take a guess, Thalia, go on, guess.” But she didn’t give me time to guess. “Because the teacher is cute!” cried Polly.
“He’s more than cute, Polly, he’s amazing, and I don’t see what that has to do with anything,” said Era.
“It has everything to do with it! It’s your whole reason for being!”
“Whoa, not fair, Polly,” I said. “Era might be a bit lovesick, and certainly she’s ruled frequently by her heart, but boys are not her whole reason for being.
She’s a caring, thoughtful, sensitive, fun-loving soul. I’m sure she has other motivations for taking this course besides the cute-teacher factor. Like what she said earlier about being a stronger person. Right, Era? So give her a break and drop it, Pol.”
“No, we can’t drop it—that’s the point!” cried Polly. “We just came from the vice principal’s office. Mrs. Haze says she’s through with our allergies and our class switching and she forbids it. Now we’re stuck in that dreaded survival class and we have to do this ridiculous obstacle course, five whole miles, and if we don’t, we fail, and we have to show up after school and on the weekends, not to mention scaling walls in dresses! Argh!”
“What?” I asked. “I’m seriously confused.”
Era explained at lightning speed. “Polly joined the class to check up on me, and she told the vice principal that she was allergic to something to get switched or whatever. So we went in and told her we now had to switch out of survival because we were both deathly allergic to dirt and she kicked us out of her office. She said something about not having any more of our ‘tomfoolery,’ whatever that means. So now Polly’s angry with me. But it will be okay, I know it will. I mean, I don’t want to do that military obstacle course, either, but Josh, that’s the teacher, Thalia, and he is beautiful, and he even calls us pansies, you know—like the little flowers—although I know he must be directing that at
me especially—and, well, Josh seems like he can be reasonable. I’m sure we can talk to him and maybe sit this one out.” Era finally took a breath, and even though the words had come out of her mouth, she didn’t look convinced.
“He’s not reasonable! He’s cruel. A machine!” cried Polly. “He’s a bully, and he has no respect for nature or the outdoors. He’s short-tempered and ill-natured and he wants us to scale walls in dresses!”
“No, he’s not—how can you say that, Polly? Didn’t you notice how kind and beautiful he is? I’m sure he’ll allow us to sit out the obstacle course. Or he’ll at least help us out. Don’t say such horrible things about him, Polly, please—you’re really upsetting me!”
And they went on like this back and forth, Polly trashing the teacher, Era defending his character. There wasn’t anything I could do but tune them out. They were giving me a headache. I sat back down on the grass in protest.
And then I spotted the number fifteen through a bush. My film partner, Dylan from Denver, in full football regalia, wasn’t on the football field with all the other jockos. He was filming something behind the bushes.
Wait a minute, he was filming us! I was livid!
I was all ready to start screaming,
at the top of my lungs, but I stopped myself. (Hey, I watch a lot of
) I took a few deep breaths. I looked
around nonchalantly, like I hadn’t spotted him. And I grabbed my notebook. I ripped a few pieces of paper out of my binder. I grabbed a pen. A fat pen. And I wrote. I held it up for him to see. It read:
I see you
I saw the bush move, but I could tell he was still there. The bush rustled some more. And then a sheet of paper, attached to a fist, came punching through the bush. In big, fat pen it read:
I see you, too
I had to laugh. But inside, so he couldn’t see my amusement. I grabbed another sheet and wrote. I flashed him my sign:
Stop STALKING me!
The bush rustled and then another fist, another piece of paper, and his read:
Stop STALKING ME!
Funny. Very funny. I grabbed a piece of paper and the pen. I scribbled, then held up my sign:
Bush + camera = STALKING
The bush moved some more. And then it revealed another sign:
Dylan + Thalia = A+
I thought. I mean, I could’ve been paired with that Neanderthal Greg Gatsby. He would’ve wanted to shoot girls’ butts and wouldn’t have given a hoot what kind of grade we got.
Then another note came out of the bush:
Dylan + Thalia = dinner tonight
Figures! I don’t think so. I held up my last note again, sans any sort of smile…
Stop STALKING me!
…then I grabbed my bag and my sisters, who were still arguing, and started to walk home.