Authors: Carrie S. Masek
Tags: #Science Fiction/Fantasy
“No problem.” Greg pointed to the book he'd been reading. “How about this one? ‘In some places bears are becoming so rare, mating patterns have been affected. When bear population density falls below required limits, even the male's ability to sense and track the female for miles by her distinctive scent is insufficient to insure he'll find a mate.’ It doesn't say what the required density is, though.” Greg flipped through the rest of the book, then closed it. “Interesting, isn't it? People fall in love at first sight; bears fall in love at first scent.”
Lynda sipped the last of her orange juice and shrugged. “A lot of animals use scent to find a mate. It doesn't have anything to do with love.”
Ignoring her, Greg dropped his voice and waved his hand through the air as if painting a picture. “Imagine a bear sitting alone in the forest. Suddenly, the most wonderful fragrance in the world blows by. He follows it over hills and through dense brush. He fords rivers, roams miles in his search. Sometimes he loses the scent and wanders lost until the fickle breeze blows it back to him. Only with luck and perseverance will he ever reach the end of his quest.”
“A beautifully smelly female?”
“Why not?” Greg asked, suddenly serious. “Why couldn't someone fall in love with a scent as well as a sight? It's at least as accurate an indicator of what a person's like.”
He sounded so sincere, Lynda had to smile. “But we're not talking about people, Greg. We're talking about bears, European brown bears.” She paused. “It makes a great story, though. You should write it up for your creative writing class.”
Greg shrugged. “Maybe. How about a snack? I'm starved.”
Lynda handed him her glass and turned back to her book. “No, thanks. I want to read the next article. It's about a congregation of bears in 1955. Apparently, nearly seven hundred of them converged on a valley in Romania.”
Greg leaned over scanned the page. “Sounds like a family reunion.”
“Or maybe they were lonely.” Lynda nodded toward the hall. “Go on, I'll just be a minute.”
Greg stood, and left the room. The article was shorter than Lynda had expected, and she finished taking down the pertinent facts before Greg returned. She stood and stretched, intending to join him in the kitchen, when her eyes strayed to the papers he'd moved earlier. In bold letters across the top page Greg's father had typed, “Were-bear Chronicles.”
Picking the pages up, Lynda started to read. Written in the first person, the chronicles were apparently a novel, a fictional autobiography of someone who was a man by day and a bear by night.
Like a werewolf, Lynda thought.
But the author scoffed at werewolf legends, maintaining the original stories were about bears, not wolves. He wrote of being one of a race of men who transform when struck by moonlight, about the joys of wandering moonlit forests, about the problems facing an urban shape shifter. She read how even the weakest sunlight turned him back into his human form, leaving him naked and defense-less.
Lynda was just turning to a page titled, “My Youth,” when a deep bellow startled her.
“Who are you, and what are you doing?”
Lynda dropped the papers and looked up. A man filled the hallway. He was taller than Greg and even more massive. A graying beard obscured his face, and his grizzled hair was tousled, as if he'd just woken up.
“Dad, you're awake.” Lynda heard Greg's familiar voice and let out the breath she didn't know she'd been holding.
“Yes. Who is this?” His voice had mellowed into an approximation of Greg's bass rumble and was colored by a slight European accent.
“Lynda Malone, my lab partner in biology. Lynda, this is my dad.”
Greg's father stepped into the living room. “It will be dark soon. Please walk the young lady home.”
Lynda handed him the papers. “I hope you don't mind my reading your book, Mr.—I mean Dr. Ursek. It's wonderful.”
“Thank you. And ‘Mr.’ is fine. I am a scholar, not a physician. Now please go. I must work.”
Greg walked up behind him. “Come on, Lynda. Dad's kind of grumpy when he first wakes up.”
“I am not grumpy,” he growled. “Just busy.” Suddenly, he chuckled. Mr. Ursek had a warm, infectious laugh. He shook his head and combed his fingers through his hair. “My father used to say that. Mother would accuse him of being a grouchy old bear, and he would deny it. Mother was always right.”
He chuckled again before taking Lynda's hand. “It is very nice to meet you, my dear. Please excuse a grumpy old man's lack of manners.” Then he completely disarmed her by raising her hand to his lips and kissing it.
“Hey, Dad, none of that. She's my girl, remember.” Taking Lynda's hand, Greg picked up her backpack and led her out of the apartment.
Lynda didn't hear anything Greg said on the way home. All evening long, his parting comment kept running through her mind. “My girl,” she repeated to herself that night while she got ready for bed. “Greg's girl.” The words echoed in Lynda's dreams all night long.
“HE CAN'T GO to school like that.”
A woman's voice, warm and comforting, drifted through his sleeping mind. Her words merged with his dreams and faded before they could touch him.
“I told him last night to stay home,” growled a deeper voice.
Those words threatened to wake him. Groaning, he buried his nose deeper in the pillow.
“With the storm outside, we might as well let him sleep it off,” the soothing voice said. “He won't sleep too long. Will he?”
“No. The sun will wake him when the storm breaks. Come, you had better call and report him sick.”
Footsteps receded into silence, leaving him to float on the aura of the stormy winter morning.
ELLEN FROWNED at her reflection in the lunchroom windows. “I can't believe Mom made me come to school today.”
A storm had howled into the city during the night. Half a foot of snow had already fallen, with at least that much more expected before the storm blew itself out. Wind whipped through the trees outside and whistled through the electric power lines.
Lynda swallowed the last bite of her cottage cheese. “Greg was smart to stay home.”
Ellen turned back to the table. “I thought maybe he was sick. I mean, he is always going around with his jacket open.”
“He was fine yesterday after school.” When Ellen wiggled her eyebrows, Groucho Marx-style, Lynda groaned. “Get a life, Ellen. I ran into him at the library.”
Hiding her smirk behind her sandwich, Ellen nodded. “Sure you did.” She giggled and added, “So tell me, are you trying out for the Spring musical?”
“Of course, are you?”
“Not this year. Ms. Cavelini asked me to audition for a solo in the dance recital. If I get it, I won't have time.”
Lynda studied the gleam in her friend's eyes. “You know you'll get it.”
Ellen grinned. “Ms. Cavelini never asks someone to audition unless she already has them in mind for some-thing.”
Glancing at the clock over the lunchroom door, Lynda slid back her chair. “See you in pre-calc.”
Lynda waved and headed for the door. Ellen turned her face to the window and stared through it, as though mesmerized by the swirling madness outside.
TWO DAYS later, Lynda spotted Greg jogging down Ken-wood Avenue on the way to school. She called his name, and he waited while she caught up with him.
“You missed all the excitement,” she said handing him her backpack. “School closed Tuesday during sixth period. The power went out, and they sent us home early.”
The storm had finally blown itself out, and sunshine glittered off the snowy blanket left behind. The main thoroughfares had been plowed, but the side streets, sidewalks, and lawns were shrouded in unblemished white. Leaving calf-deep imprints in the pristine surface, Lynda lifted her face to the southern breeze and inhaled the promise of a thaw.
Greg churned through the snow like an angry snowplow. “My parents heard the weatherman talking about the blizzard of the decade and kept me home.”
Lynda had to trot to keep up with him. “They're not used to storms?”
“They think I'm an infant.”
“Dad and I had a fight this morning. I went on a walk Monday night—just to see what the storm was like. Dad went ballistic. He started bugging me about it again at breakfast. When I told him to chill out, Dad turned purple, accused me of disrespect, and grounded me for two weeks.”
“Ouch.” She thought a moment and added, “What about the auditions this afternoon?”
Greg kicked up a cloud of snow. “They're out. No way will my folks let me stay late for rehearsals.”
“I'm sorry.” Lynda slipped her hand out of her coat pocket and lay it on his sleeve. Despite her gloves, she could feel the tension pulsing through his arm.
“Yeah, well. That's the way it goes.” Greg almost smiled. When they reached the school entrance, he added, “I can still meet you in the library to study after school. For an hour, at least. I explained that you need my help to pass biology, and Dad—”
Lynda punched his shoulder. “Thanks a lot! Now your father thinks I'm stupid as well as nosy.” She glared at him before marching into the building.
Greg followed. “No, he doesn't. I told Dad how smart you are. That's why he agreed to let me stay and study with you.”
Lynda's scowl softened.
Apparently encouraged, Greg continued, “We don't have to study. I can stay and watch the tryouts for an hour, or rehearsals, or we can just hang out together.” The tension in his face changed to bashful anticipation. “If you don't mind, that is.”
Lynda had to smile. “I'd like that. But if I'm in the show, I won't have much time. You could always hang out with Matt and tell your parents you're with me.”
Greg shook his head. “If I can't be with you, I might as well go home.” Before Lynda could respond, he pointed toward the teachers’ lounge. “I've got to see Mr. Pullman before first period. See you in biology.”
While he shuffled down the corridor, Lynda felt giggles rise like bubbles in her throat. Greg wanted to stay after school to be with her. She stood in the hallway, staring after him, until the first bell rang.
MISS MENDELSON'S voice rasped over the students scattered across the auditorium. “Thank you for coming. First the good news—the University has agreed to let us use the Circle Theater for our Spring Musical.” She cut off the spontaneous applause with a wave of her hand. “I agree it will be nice to work in a real theater for a change, but the facility is smaller than we're used to. As a result, I chose a play with a smaller cast. We'll be doing
You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.
The would-be actors all murmured in surprise.
“I saw it on TV a couple of years ago.” Lynda whispered to Greg. They'd met at the auditorium doors just after eighth period.
“I liked it. It's a series of skits from the Peanuts comic strip, some with singing. Pretty good songs, too.” Spotting Matt sneaking in through a side door, Lynda waved before continuing, “But it has a really small cast. Unless the play is different from the TV version, a lot of people here are going to be disappointed.”
“Not you,” Greg said.
Lynda smiled. It was nice to know somebody had confidence in her.
“Hey, Lynda.” Richard Hammer slipped into the seat next to her.
“Hi, Richard. I thought your dad wasn't letting you do drama this year.”
Richard sat back in his seat, his hands locked behind his head, and grinned. “I got a ‘B’ in chemistry last semester. Long as I keep my grades up, I can do whatever I want.” He leaned forward. “Has Mendelson said what play we're doing?”
Lynda nodded and told him.
“What?” he said in a louder voice. “We're doing a kid's show?”
“It's not a kids’ show. I saw it a few years ago; it's pretty funny. There aren't many parts, though, and no romantic leads. I'm not sure how Miss Mendelson's going to cast it.”
Greg leaned toward Richard over Lynda's seat. “Are you going to audition for Charlie Brown? Or are you going to wait and see who she casts as Lucy first?”
Richard rested his elbow on Lynda's armrest and glowered at him. “I don't know if I'll bother trying out. How about you? You auditioning for the dog's part?”
Greg's eyes narrowed, and the hairs on the back of Lynda's neck began to rise as if she were in the middle of a thunderstorm. She shifted uncomfortably in her seat, but neither boy noticed. The silence between them grew denser, thickening the air until Lynda had trouble breathing. “Greg's just keeping me company,” she finally said. “He has to cut out pretty soon.”
With a dismissive shrug, Richard sat back. “Which part are you going for?” he asked Lynda. “Are there any stalwart best friends?”
“I don't know. I'm going to try out and see.”
Richard stood. “I'm not about to waste my time with kids’ stuff.”
Lynda's blue eyes flashed. “I'd rather waste my time than wimp out. Or whine about not getting the part I want.”
He opened his mouth as if to respond, then closed it and dropped back into his seat.
Lynda and Richard ended up auditioning together. They read a sequence between Patty and Linus on a seesaw and another between Lucy and Schroeder.
Lynda found herself warming to Richard. He might be conceited, but he did know how to audition. He read his lines beautifully, and as she followed Richard's lead, Lynda began to feel as if she shared his talent. After a couple more scenes, they ran through the chorus to “Happiness,” one of the songs in the show.
Greg watched the auditions until four-fifty, then left. An hour later, Lynda and Richard stepped out of the auditorium, exhausted, but exhilarated.
“You were great, Lynda,” Richard said, beaming.
Lynda felt a tickle in her tummy. “Thanks. You were, too.”
He looked up at the darkening sky. “It's kind of late, can I give you ride home?”
The image of his sleek little BMW flashed through Lynda's mind, and she nodded. She'd always wanted to ride in a convertible. Richard offered her his arm, and they sang about happiness all the way to the parking lot.