Authors: Carrie S. Masek
Tags: #Science Fiction/Fantasy
After class, Greg turned to Lynda. “About Monday evening, sorry I was such a jerk. I feel bad about Mr. Van Tichelt's dog, it's just that—”
Lynda shrugged. “Doesn't matter.”
Greg waited until Lynda stood and threw her backpack over her shoulder. He pushed back his chair and stood beside her. “Yes, it does. You wanted to talk about it, and I wouldn't listen. My only excuse is that Dad goes postal if I'm out after dark. He's European and takes this obedience thing very seriously.” An embarrassed grin flitted across his lips.
Lynda found herself smiling back. “Don't most parents? I've got lunch now, how about you?”
His face lit into a real smile, and Lynda felt her resolve waver. He might hate dogs—and be wimping out of dissections—but she did like his smile.
“I do, too,” he said, opening the door for her. “Want to eat together?”
Reminding herself that she only wanted to talk him into changing lab partners, Lynda nodded. “Sure. Let's eat on the lawn.” She led Greg down the locker-flanked hall-way to the exterior doors.
Lynda always ate outside on nice days, and the first day of school was a beauty. The sun reflected off the stone steps and ivy-covered walls, taking decades off the weathered facades. She stopped and took a deep breath. The late summer air smelled fresh after the musty hallway. The scent of hamburgers from the cafeteria blended with the fragrance of climbing roses and chrysanthemums.
Greg joined her on the stairs. “Smells great, doesn't it?” His stomach rumbled its agreement.
Trying not to giggle, Lynda pointed to a strip of grass and trees that was already dotted with students. “We'd better hurry. Sixth period starts in half an hour.”
Without waiting for a response, she bounded down the steps and selected a shady spot under an oak tree. Greg sat beside her and leaned against the trunk. They spent the next few minutes unpacking their lunches, then Lynda turned to him. “How do you like the Lab school, so far?”
“It's okay,” Greg answered through a mouthful of peanut butter and honey sandwich. “Pullman seems kind of tough, though. Is he as bad as they say?”
Lynda shook her head. “No. Mr. Pullman's a teddy bear.” She smiled when Greg barked a laugh. “Really. He has this terrible reputation, but he's okay as long as he thinks you're listening. He hates to be ignored.”
Greg swallowed and grinned. “I had a teacher like that in Santa Cruz. She slammed her pointer on the desks of kids who were daydreaming in class.”
Lynda started unwrapping her sandwich. “Your dad's a professor at U. C. Santa Cruz?” When Greg nodded, she asked, “Why'd he take his sabbatical in Chicago?”
“The University of Chicago library has original source materials he needs for this book he's writing. He brought Mom and me along for the ride.”
“Do you have any brothers or sisters?” The question jumped out before Lynda could catch it. She wanted to kick herself. The idea was to talk Greg into asking for a different lab partner, not to get to know him better.
Greg popped the rest of the sandwich into his mouth. “No,” he said after swallowing. “How about you?”
Nodding, Lynda took a bite of her sandwich and grimaced. Fat-free cheese, again. She set it down before answering. “I've got two brothers. Tom's older than me, and John's younger.”
Greg sighed. “I wish I had a brother.”
Her brothers were such a pain sometimes. Lynda found herself asking, “Why?” before she remembered she wasn't interested.
He seemed to consider her question. “It'd give me someone to talk to,” he finally said. “And someone else for my parents to worry about.”
Lynda knew what he meant. She'd always wondered what it would be like to have a sister. Someone pretty, like her mother. Someone who'd look good in the dresses her mother bought, but who'd still wear jeans and hang out on the basketball court with her big sister.
Greg reached into his sack and took out a second sandwich. It was really too bad about the labs, Lynda thought. Wasn't it just her luck? The most interesting boy she'd met in a while turned out to be an animal-hater with allergies.
Lynda reminded herself that if she didn't want to spend most of biology by herself, she'd better start persuading Greg to ask for a different lab partner. “I was thinking about what Mr. Pullman said. About the labs, I mean. I don't think—”
A high, penetrating voice cut her off. “Lynda! I've been looking all over for you.” Turning toward the building, Lynda saw Ellen waving to them from the top step. “I can't believe they put us in different biology classes. What am I going to do without you to copy from? Oh, hi Greg,” she said, as if just noticing him.
She glided down the steps and settled on the grass close to him. “Enjoying your first day at the Lab school?”
“It's okay,” Greg mumbled to his sandwich. “Lynda and I have biology together.”
Ellen turned her head toward Lynda and winked. “Lucky Lynda.”
A hot flush crept up Lynda's neck, but Greg just chewed.
Eyes narrowed, Ellen studied him a moment, then shrugged. Turning to Lynda, she said, “Did you find out what happened to that dog yesterday?”
“Yeah. Something attacked it.”
Ellen's eyes grew even larger. “Really? What?”
“Dr. Lopez thinks it was another animal. A big one. She sent a sample of hair she found in the dog's mouth to the Lincoln Park zoo to be identified.”
“What?” Greg's voice sounded tense, strained. “I mean, what difference does it make? The dog's still dead.”
Lynda glared at him. “Dr. Lopez thinks there's a dangerous animal loose that might someday attack a child. Knowing what to look for might help us catch it.”
Ellen looked from Lynda to Greg and changed the subject. “Greg, has Lynda talked you into coming to the try-outs yet?”
Greg swallowed the last bite of his second sandwich, then turned to Lynda. “What tryouts?”
She hurried to answer before Ellen could launch into a full scale sales pitch. “Miss Mendelson, the drama teacher, is holding auditions for the fall play Thursday and Friday after school. The plays take a lot of time and I don't think—”
“Nonsense,” Ellen broke in. “Drama club's a lot of fun and a great way to meet people. You should come, Greg.”
He locked his gaze on Lynda and turned on the full force of his smile. “I will, if you'll be there.” He glanced at the thick black watch on his wrist. “Gotta go. See you to-morrow.”
Greg stood and ran up the stairs into the building. Lynda stared after him.
“If you'll be there,” Greg had said. To her, not to Ellen. The tingly feeling came back and was still humming in her stomach when the bell rang five minutes later.
Forcing Greg from her mind, Lynda said good-bye to Ellen, threw the rest of her sandwich into the trash, and ran for her locker. She didn't think about biology until class the next day, and then it was too late to switch lab stations. Kevin had transferred to a college level course, and everyone else had a partner. Lynda was stuck with Greg.
MOONLIGHT FLOWED through the tree branches and shimmered past her window. Approaching its first quarter, the moon danced overhead and urged him to abandon the alley and explore the wonders of his new home. He followed the call joyfully, and lost track of time until the coming dawn summoned him home.
Birds shifted in their nests. Mice returned to their holes. A faint, distant ringing reminded him that the streets would soon fill with cars and people. The scent of brewing coffee and frying bacon confirmed it.
The knowledge of his dwindling time spurred him to a run. Picking up speed, he lumbered down the deserted Mid-way and raced through the University of Chicago campus. Three blocks to go. Two. One. Home. He flew behind the building, but the sun's first rays touched the rooftops before he reached the back steps. Taking the stairs two at a time, he hit the second floor landing as the back door opened.
“You're late!” his father growled.
Grabbing his son by the scruff of the neck, he hauled him into the apartment.
“BREAKFAST IS ready!”
Even in her sleep, Lynda recognized her mother's voice. Without waking, she snuggled into the comforter and pulled a pillow over her head.
The seductive smell of frying bacon crept under the down and tickled her nose. Lynda sighed and rolled over. The radio clicked on. “A good Thursday morning to you. In the top story today—”
Lynda's nose woke up before her ears. She lay in bed, dreaming of bacon when the commentator's words registered.
Thursday? Tossing the pillow aside, Lynda sat up. Sunlight filled her room, making her eyes water. She blinked and squinted at the clock radio. 8:22. She'd have to hurry if she was going to get to school on time.
“Lynda, are you up yet?”
Jumping out of bed, Lynda ran to her dresser. She grabbed a clean pair of panties and her favorite T-shirt—black with a Siberian tiger on the front—from the top drawer, and threw them on. Hopping into yesterday's jeans, she buckled her watch around her wrist, stuffed her wallet into her back pocket, and started hunting for her shoes. She'd found one of her high-top sneakers under the discarded pillow and was on her hands and knees reaching under the bed for its mate, when her mother called again.
Lynda sat back and shoved on her shoes. “Coming!”
Without waiting to tie them, she darted out of the bed-room and down the stairs. Swinging around the end of the banister, she flew off the last step and sped into the dining room.
“Morning, Lynster.” Her brother Tom sat at their mother's Queen Anne table. He grabbed his glass of orange juice when Lynda started sliding toward him across the polished wood floor. She stopped inches from the table.
He lifted his glass in a mock toast. “Nice entrance.”
Lynda threw herself into her chair. “Thanks.”
Everyone else had eaten. Her plate sat next to an empty juice pitcher and a serving platter with two slices of bacon and a piece of toast on it. Lynda reached for the bacon, but stopped when she heard footsteps on the stairs. She turned and saw her father amble into the dining room, briefcase in hand.
“Morning, Angel,” he said, leaning down to kiss her.
“Hi, Dad.” She pointed to the briefcase. “Leaving early?”
“I've got a dissertation committee meeting this morning.”
Lynda smiled. Every year her father advised several graduate students on their way to earning their doctorate in Economics. He was always going in early or staying late because of them.
She reached up and returned the kiss. “Don't work too hard.”
His ice-blue eyes warmed. “I won't be home for dinner tonight, but I'll see you before bedtime. Have a good day at school. And you,” he turned to Tom, “drive safely.”
He stood, arms dangling by his side, then reached down and pulled his son into a bear hug. “Don't do anything I wouldn't do.” Releasing Tom, he tilted his head up and yelled, “Good-bye, John-John!”
“Bye, Dad!” called an enthusiastic voice from upstairs.
“Have a good day at work, Stephen,” Lynda heard her mom add.
“See you tonight, Carol!” Without waiting for his wife to come downstairs, he headed out the door.
Tom sat down again, but Lynda didn't turn back to the table until after she'd watched her father leave the house. Then she leaned forward and snagged a slice of bacon. “You are so lucky. I can't wait to go to college.” Shoving the bacon into her mouth, she bent over and began lacing up her sneakers.
“You know, Lynster, I'm really going to miss you.”
Lynda tilted her head and studied Tom suspiciously. Tall, with her father's red hair and her mother's green eyes, he gazed at her with heart-warming sincerity. She wondered what he wanted.
“Here, Tom.” Their younger brother, John, ran down the stairs and into the dining room. He held out a rumpled five dollar bill.
“Thanks, John-John.” Tom took the bill and stuck it in the front pocket of his blue jeans. “I'll pay you back when I turn in my airline ticket.”
Lynda sat up. “Tom Malone! I can't believe you'd take money from your baby brother.”
Tom shrugged. “It's a long drive to Cambridge, and I told Jay I'd share the cost. I thought you might loan me a twenty. Just until I turn in the ticket,” he added when Lynda started shaking her head.
She knew from experience it was easier to refuse if she didn't look at him. Staring at the platter, Lynda reached for the toast. It was dark, brittle, and too cold for butter. She spread jam on it instead and took a bite. Crumbs rained over the silk-screened tiger, and she brushed them away, keeping her gaze turned away from her older brother.
But Tom was determined. He reached out and squeezed her arm. “I'll mail the money from school. Promise. Come on Lynda, just twenty bucks? Please.”
He pleaded so well, Lynda had to grin. “Oh, all right. Here.” Reaching into her wallet, she withdrew a twenty-dollar bill.
“Thanks, Lynda, you're the greatest.”
She heard a car horn honk outside, pause a moment, and then honk again.
Tom pushed back from the table. “That's Jay. Bye, guys!”
Tom ruffled his brother's dark hair and gave Lynda a quick kiss on the cheek. Grabbing his black duffel bag from the corner, he ran for the front door.
“Thomas.” A quiet but implacable voice stopped him before he'd left the dining room. “You weren't thinking of leaving without saying good-bye?”
Lynda's mother stood on the stairway. Dressed in a slate gray suit and her grandmother's pearls, every silver hair in place, Carol Malone wore the determined expression she used to extract donations from Hyde Park's social elite.
“Of course not, Mom. I just want to dump my stuff in Jay's car first.”
“There's no time. I'm going to be late for my nine o'clock meeting as it is. Good-bye, dear.” She walked down the final steps and lifted her perfectly rouged cheek for his kiss. “Have fun at Harvard.”
“I will, Mom. I'll call when I get there.” Tom waved to his brother and sister, turned, and ran out of the house.
Lynda's mother entered the dining room and planted a dry peck on her cheek. “You're not going to school looking like that, are you?”
Lynda sighed. “Like what, Mom?” Just once, she'd like to get out of the house without a lecture.