Last couple of weeks I wrote bits and pieces on a few stories and did the Friday Flash fictions and started on the monthly one and just wrote up another flash story that’s going out next month. (This month, I mean! March has snuck up on me!) Also, checked over and rewrote the Christmas mystery that I will fire off in a few weeks, the one I wrote in one sitting a couple of weeks before this past Christmas.
I looked around the decorated gym; streamers and banners proclaiming “Welcome Class of 84!” And “Thirty Years Since College.” Dancing couples, loud music from a band and three girls I didn’t recognize sitting on a table probably not sipping punch. I sighed and looked around for the snack table. It felt like a hundred years since I’d been in this gym. And in my case, it was at least close to that!
“Hey! Andrew! Dude!” This was from a big guy with glasses and thinning blonde hair who I barely recognized. Dewayne Somebody-Or-Other. “You haven’t changed a bit!”
“Yes, I have,” I said smiling to myself. Thanks to some spaceships, some decelerated aging and a little time-travel. Dewayne Ross, that was the guy’s name (funky memory), had put on maybe thirty pounds, one for every year since college.
“What have you been doing with yourself?” Dewayne asked.
“Um, various jobs.” I said. “Worked out of a warehouse for a while. Drove a delivery van.” Got picked by some alien overlords for a few galaxy and time-spanning missions; spent some time in the 1800s, lived through Reconstruction twice, that was no fun I thought.
“Hey! Andy! Andy Dominski!” The kid dressed in a t-shirt with some band I couldn’t remember skidded up to us.
“Andrew,” I said.
“Yeah! We got a survey question, this’ll be fun,” the kid said. He pulled out a clipboard. “What class from Millington College have you used most since graduation?”
“History,” I said. “Got to do some in-depth research a while back. A long while back.” I recognized the kid; he was probably fiftyish but skinny and wore his hair long with dark glasses. He wasn’t any of the guys I’d come close to hitting on. I took advantage of his question to lose Dewayne and wander over to the table with drinks and chips. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast.
I sniffed the punch, couldn’t tell if it was spiked or not. I grabbed a can of soda instead and put some chips and a little sandwich with a toothpick in it on a paper plate. The band kicked into high gear and I could barely hear anything. That meant I didn’t have to pretend to know anybody I couldn’t remember. I glanced up at the ceiling. Lights played on it, making me think of a disco. I’d been in a disco one time. I was a lousy dancer. I grinned. There was something so wonderfully normal about all this. After zipping around like I was Dr. Who for a century, I really appreciated normal.
I sat down on a chair near the wall with the plate on my lap and slurped the can of soda. It was just like College or High School for that matter; going to the dance and just sitting around with my friends instead of dancing. Well, 1975 through 1984 I couldn’t have gone dancing with a guy even if I’d been out or had the nerve to ask anybody. I surveyed the dance floor; couples dancing, some I recognized. The captain of the basketball team had apparently gotten together with the head cheerleader. I smiled again and munched on the chips. I hadn’t expected to have a good time but I was!
“Hey, Andrew! Is that you?”
I looked up. Took me a second but I recognized Kenny. I’d kind of crushed on him when I was about 20.
“Yeah, it’s me,” I said, shaking his hand. “How you been?”
“Okay,” he said. “Went to Grad School. Got married. How about you?”
Married. Of course, I thought.
“Oh, I started working, did a lot of traveling.” I said, faking a smile.
“You look good,” Kenny said.
Oh, God you look good I thought.
“You too,” I said. “Married, huh? It suits you.”
“Hey, Ken,” came a voice behind us. “If the punch is spiked it’s watered down.”
This was from a tall, balding guy sipping a cup he’d just filled from the punchbowl.
“Oh, Andrew Dominski, this is Marc Garretson, my husband.”
The tall husband guy smiled and extended his hand. I shook it and said hi, all the while thinking It would have been nice to find out that Ken was playing on my team about, oh nineteen-eighty-two or something.
And I said it. I grinned at Kenny and said, half-jokingly, “I wish I’d known back in school!”
“Same here,” Kenny said. “But I wouldn’t have met Marc.” The two of them looked at each other the way my Mom and Dad did.
“Hey,” I said. “Would you two mind, I mean, would it be okay if Kenny, Ken and I, well, did the next dance?”
Marc laughed. “Sure, if it won’t freak everybody out! I mean, if it’s okay with Ken.”
Kenny nodded and we made our way onto the dance floor as the band slowed the music down. We held each other and danced and I don’t think anybody noticed.
“You doing okay?” Kenny asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “Yeah, I am.” The dance was worth waiting a hundred years for.
After a few blissful minutes, I waved Marc over and he took my place with Kenny. One of the other dancers stared but I didn’t care and I was sure Marc and Kenny didn’t.
I snagged another canned soda and stepped out of the gym, flashing back for an instant to all the times I’d gone through that door. I sipped my soda and stared up at the night sky, noting a couple of stars that really weren’t there anymore, just Earth was still getting their light.
“Hey, you got a cigarette?” This was somebody who’d just stepped out of the gym that I didn’t recognize.
“Nope,” I said. “I don’t smoke. It helps keep me young.”
Grandfather was sitting in his chair under the tree a ways from the house when the kids ran up to him excitedly.
“Gran’pa! We saw it! We saw three Suns in the sky!” That was the youngest girl, always excited about every new thing.
“Three!” Grandfather said.
“Yes,” said the oldest girl. “Right beside each other.”
“You didn’t look long did you?” Grandfather said. “You could hurt your eyes.”
“No, we didn’t but we saw them!” The youngest said.
“Honest,” said the oldest. “They were right up there!”
“Well, they’re gone now,” Grandfather said.
“What were they?”
“Well,” Grandfather said. “People call them Sun Dogs, and they say they’re just reflections of the sun on ice or clouds way up high. But I’ve seen them someplace besides the sky.”
“Yes, really!” Grandfather said. “Let’s see, I was just a boy on my Grandfather’s farm out in Western Kansas back about 1890 or so when I saw a couple of little girls I’d never seen before, running up Green Hill. The hill was covered with grass and yellow flowers that didn’t do anything but they were pretty. Anyway, I didn’t want the girls to get into trouble by running into the pasture where we kept the bull, so I called after them and when they didn’t stop I ran after them myself. I was pretty fast but they were way ahead of me and reached the top of Green Hill in no time. Probably because it wasn’t very big. I could hear their little-girl laughter and saw them run over the top of the hill and disappear down the other side. In a moment or two I was at the top of the hill and I looked all around but I couldn’t see hide nor hair of the two little girls and there was no place they could have hidden; the grass wasn’t that tall and they weren’t that fast. So I went back and I told my Grandfather and he asked me ‘Were they a little blond girl, kind of glistening in the light like the sunlight on the pond? And a little brown girl who was as clear as the dappled sunlight under the trees in summertime at noon?’ And when I said they were he told me those were the Sun Dogs come to earth, but they aren’t dogs they are the daughters of the Sun. We can’t always see them in the sky but when they come down to the ground we can see them plain as day. He told me to look in the sky and sure enough, there were two Sun Dogs side by side with Old Sol. So, that was what you two girls saw today. The Daughters of the Sun come here to run and play like little girls on the Earth do, but you can never catch up to them any more than you can catch sunlight in a bottle.”
“Wow!” “Really?” the girls said.
“Yes, really!” Grandfather said.
“Were you really that young, Gran’pa?” asked the youngest.
“Sure I was! Back about seventy years ago!”
“Gran’pa,” the oldest said. “ I saw a Moon Dog once. It was real cold and there was a big bright spot in the sky right by the Moon. Is that the Moon’s son?”
“Naaaah! That’s just a reflection of the Moon on ice or clouds way up high,” Grandfather said with a smile.
It was never a good thing when someone called your name in this place.
Jim had been sitting on the weight bench after his morning workout, rubbing his aching arms and wiping his face with a towel, watching this huge dude lift who-knows-how-much in front of a bunch of the guys in the gym when he heard the voice: “Jim Yee. You are wanted. Immediately.”
There was no intercom but Jim heard the voice clearly. The small weight room was hot and sweaty but it could be a lot worse. He stood up and glanced out the big front windows. The usual. Fire in the sky, brimstone on the ground, the stench of death everywhere.
Jim showed up at the door to the back room. It opened and a shadowy figure stood in the doorway and grinned. The teeth glistened and hurt Jim’s eyes to look at.
“We have a client for you, Mister Yee,” it said in a voice like breaking bones. “He wants much the same deal we gave you. Good looks, muscular build. You merely have to get him to sign this.” The figure held out a printed one-page contract.
“In blood.” Jim said.
“Ballpoint pen will suffice,” the figure said.
“I better get some clothes,” Jim said.
“Unnecessary,” the figure said. “Your client will like you just the way you are. You’re his type.” It grinned broader. Jim felt cold. He glanced at one of the mirrored walls of the gym. He was young, dark, lean and muscular and perpetually 23.
“When do I leave?” Jim asked folding the paper in the pocket of his black workout shorts which were the only thing he was wearing.
“Immediately,” the figure said, gesturing at him to enter the office. Jim stepped through the door.
It felt cold, the cold of hopelessness.
When Jim had first arrived there decades ago, he had expected to see cavern walls everywhere. Instead it looked like downtown Jakarta. He was usually in the weight room or in the dorm on the other side of the gym, catching a couple hours sleep. Jim was flying upward through a stone tunnel with sweltering heat. A moment later he was somewhere dark and temperate, standing on a wooden floor.
His eyes adjusted to the dim light. He was in a bedroom with a small desk lamp on a table at one side. There was a set of barbells on the floor and a calendar with a hunky model flexing and showing his muscular build. A young man was sitting cross-legged on the floor. He was skinny with thick glasses. There was an open book to one side and a pentagram drawn on the wooden floor. He stared at Jim. Jim faked a smile.
“I’m here in answer to your summons,” Jim said. “You want what I have; a body like this.” Jim tensed his muscles and showed his abs and pecs. “You can instantly be as good looking as I am.”
“Yeah?” The young man’s eyes were wide but he wasn’t scared. He reached out and touched Jim’s abs with his hand.
“Yeah,” Jim said. “I’m real. And you can be like this, but you pay…” Jim swallowed. “You pay a big price.”
“What do I do?” the young man said. “Sign my name? Dennis Scorley?”
“Yeah,” Jim said. “You just have to sign this contract.” Jim unfolded the paper from his pocket. “But you have to read through it first, or it won’t work.”
“Lemmie see,” Dennis said taking the contract over by the light. “I make this deal and I’m a hunk muscle boy immediately?”
“Immediately,” Jim said. He smiled. This was going better than he expected. And the room was nice and cool. And not humid.
Dennis looked up. “And when my, well time is up, you come collect me? Take me to…”
“Someone else collects,” Jim said. “It is a steep price.”
“Worth it,” Dennis said. “All those guys would be looking at me, wanting me. I’m signing.”
As Dennis fumbled around in a drawer for a pen, Jim took some time to look around the room. It looked familiar. Things hadn’t changed that much since he’d been living. He remembered having his whole future ahead of him.
Jim took a deep breath and grabbed the contract, tearing it up in his hands and stuffing the pieces back into his pocket. He felt a tugging at his gut.
“You don’t want a deal like this,” Jim said quickly. “It’s bad from start to finish. And you’ll be stuck in someplace with no hope, nothing but pain and hard work. Forever.”
Dennis stared openmouthed as Jim stepped backwards. A moment later, Jim was in the tunnel again, this time hurtling downward. He closed his eyes, remembering how cool the bedroom had been. How warm and wonderful life had been.
Jim stood in front of the figure at the office door. He was scared but he knew he’d made the right decision.
“Jim Yee, we misjudged you,” the figure said. “You will require more training before you are sent on assignment.” The figure’s eyes blazed a dull red.
“For now, as our usual holding area is filled, we will keep you occupied.” The figure smiled broadly, its teeth were sharp. Jim stared even though his eyes began to sting. “You will return to the weight bench and do reps. Nine-hundred-ninety-nine-thousand, nine-hundred and-ninety-nine reps to be exact.”
“Yessir,” Jim mumbled as he walked resignedly to the weight bench. He lay down, gripped the barbell with both hands and started lifting. He thought of Dennis, maybe getting a grip on his life and felt a little better.
Only did a little writing in the last few weeks. Wrote up three of the Friday Flash Fiction stories (may have covered one in the last progress report) also wrote the monthly Flash Fiction Draw Challenge story. Did all of these in a couple of hours each–I’m getting good at doing those in one swoop at the last minute! Also sat down to go through some of my unfinished longer stories and surprised myself by finishing a page and a third of one story that I didn’t have any intention of writing on. A week or two earlier, I wrote a page on another story that I was just reading over. In both cases, the stories had stalled and now, zap!, progress!
Also sent off and got rejections for a couple of stories and a poem. That’s not something I usually cover, but that’s progress too. And these days, in the blah mood I’m in, that’s something to commemorate.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: The prompts for this month’s Flash Fiction Draw Challenge were a thriller set in a sewer involving a suitcase. For my two other stories about my husband-and-wife detectives the Reidels, see the links on the side or the bottom of the page.—–jsb.
The old stone sewer wasn’t that wet but it smelled and Donna Reidel was certain she heard rats in the dark. She shone the flashlight down the tunnel and saw a trickle of water running down the middle, several inches deep.
“We keep to the sides and we can stay out of that water,” Sean said. “There’s no telling…”
“No telling how deep it is,” Donna finished.
“Shine that light around, maybe we can see the…” Sean started to say but was interrupted by the noise; a clattering sound from above. Donna turned the flashlight off. When they were first married they had spent time in an old house with a tin roof on the back porch. It had hailed one night and the sound had sounded like a gun battle. That was almost what the clattering noise was like. There were several metal barriers on the ground, but hopefully the pursuers wouldn’t find the way into the old sewer which was hidden in the overgrowth.
After about ten minutes, Donna turned the light back on, and began a meticulous search.
Donna and Sean Reidel had been hired to track down information that had been stolen from an agency so secret it didn’t even give its name. All they knew was they needed to recover it before it fell into the wrong hands, which were in hot pursuit. And they needed to find it before their own government found about the lax security. The only clue to the location was a handwritten note from the thief which said something about being hidden in a “valise.” The thief’s sputtered out last words said something about a sewer. The agency had a set of waterproof suitcases and one was missing, so this was what they were looking for.
“If the water gets any deeper it’s probably hidden there,” Sean said, kicking the stream with a foot. “I was going to sing Down By the River but that might not be a good idea.” Donna smiled and nodded.
“What’s that?” Donna said after walking a few minutes shining the light from side to side.
“Newspaper,” Sean said, reaching for the paper stuck in a crack in a wall. “No, wait…music paper…this is a song! But nothing else written here…”
The clattering started again, this time from up ahead. There was a sound of something heavy being dragged and clearer sounds of voices.
“This way!” Donna said, turning off the light and grabbing Sean’s hand as he stuffed the paper into his jacket. They felt along the walls until they reached the entrance, well aware of the confused sounds from behind them and the squeaking of the rats.
When they were outside they rushed through the overgrowth to their car and drove away. Sean still had the paper in his jacket. On closer examination, the notes and words to the old waltz were a code, delivered by the Reidels to the proper hands. The information was not in a valise, but a “valse.” A waltz.
Sloppy handwriting and a mistranslation. But at least it didn’t all go down the sewer.
Steph Bailey slammed the car door shut and looked around the parking lot, watching his breath curl in the lights from the basketball court. He glanced up at the sky. It was dark enough to see the stars. No clouds. No snow. He shivered in his sweatpants and hoodie; he didn’t believe they were doing this again.
“Cold enough for ya?” came the voice, shouted from the dark.
“Hey, what’re you doin’ over there?” Steph yelled. “Lookin’ for the basketball?”
“Nah, got it right here!”
Steph heard the sound of ball bouncing on concrete as Oscar walked into the light grinning like an idiot. He was wearing purplish sweats and a stocking cap that looked like a beanie. He was still tall but his jet-black hair had streaks of grey.
“You parked way over there?” Steph asked.
“Naah! I walked. I live on the other side of the park now,” Oscar said. “Think fast.”
Oscar tossed Steph the ball. Steph reached out for it and missed. He chased the ball down and walked back dribbling the ball, heading for the lit basketball court.
“How cold is it right now, anyway?” Oscar asked, blocking Steph’s way to the basket.
“About twenty-six,” Steph said with a grunt as he shot the ball toward the basket, a shot which met the tip of Oscar’s outstretched hand.
“Coldest night of the year,” Oscar said. “That was the deal, right?”
“Or close to it,” Steph said as he grabbed for the ball. The two men played on for a while longer before Oscar waved a hand and said it was time for a break. They sat down next to Steph’s gym bag, as he pulled out two bottles of water.
“Our deal,” Oscar breathed sipping from his bottle of water. “Wow! All those years ago.”
“1994,” Steph said. “I was what, fourteen and you were…”
“About a year younger.” Oscar said. “My Mom had just cut out. Back when we lived next door to each other.”
Steph grinned. “It was about one in the morning, the week after New Year’s. I looked out my window and saw you sneaking out of your house…”
“With my overnight bag and a basketball. I was saying the hell with it but I was taking the essentials.” Oscar said.
“I threw on my sweats and my shoes and went out the window after you,” Steph said.
“I about freaked when I heard you. I thought you were my Dad,” Oscar said. “I didn’t know where I was going.”
“Hey, why’d we go down to the basketball court that night?” Steph asked.
“Why not?” Oscar said with a grin. “Anyway, they had lights and I wanted to look at my address book.”
“Didn’t have cellphones yet!” Steph laughed.
“And we shot hoops and talked,” Oscar said. “On the coldest night of the year.” He stared up at the stars again. “And I decided to stay in town.”
“And that’s when we made our deal,” Steph said. “Meet here once a year on the coldest night of the year and shoot hoops.”
“Your Mom ever find out?” Oscar asked.
“Don’t think so,” Steph said. “She probably got curious about why I started paying special attention to the weather reports in early January.”
“Easier with the internet.”
“And texting,” Steph said. He sat a moment and rolled the basketball along the ground. “You know, I think my Mom would have gone for your Dad.”
“Maybe,” Oscar said. “Might have been nice.” The two of them sat and listened to the cars on the nearby freeway.
“Okay,” Steph said, standing up and grabbing the ball. “You up for more?”
“Too damn cold and too damn old,” Oscar said laughing.”
“Give me a lift? I’m living in Mickey Mayak’s old house.” Oscar said.
“Yeah?” Steph said. “You have to sneak out?”
“Nope.” Oscar said. “My kids even wanted to put this on video and post it.”
The two men laughed as they walked to the car. 1994 seemed so very far away.
The lunch rush at Food Garden Court (“Eat Inside Where It Looks Like You’re Outside”) had thinned out and Mr. Spurgeon called Skid and T’amec up to his office on the second floor.
“Dishes washed? Tables all bussed?” Spurgeon asked. “Good. I need you guys to clean something out.”
Skid and T’amec looked at each other. They were thinking about the ash pit behind the building. That wasn’t it.
“You guys gotta go up to the North side of the roof,” Spurgeon said. “Looks like we’ve got fae.”
“Fae?” T’amec asked with a wary look in his eye.
“Yeah. One of the customers noticed them zipping around and complained,” Spurgeon said. “Gotta get them out before the nest gets bigger. It’s when the nest gets bigger they get really dangerous. That’s how we lost those two guys working on the roof a few years ago. They tried to chop out a fae nest. Poof!”
Skid and T’amec looked at each other again. Skid swallowed hard. He remembered Ming and Sandahll. Big and tough. Didn’t help them.
“When do you want us to get at it?” Skid asked.
“Soon as the customers clear out,” Spurgeon said, glancing down to the lower level. “Unless you two want to try this at night?”
“No sir!” T’amec and Skid said at the same time.
Food Garden Court consisted of a lower level with the homey brick floor and tall palm trees and a domed window overhead, letting the sunlight in. The tops of the trees were just opposite the second level with the owner’s office. The pleasant odors from the kitchen filled every corner. Even the corner with the fae’s nest. Skid and T’amec approached cautiously on the landing. They could see the small, silvery nest half hidden behind a protruding leaf from one of the palm trees. It was about the size of a child’s fist. But it would get bigger.
“You got the mirror?” T’amec asked.
“I got mine, Skid said. “You got yours?”
T’amec nodded. The sunlight had to be just right. He held up the small hand mirror and looked at himself. He was tall with shaggy dirty-blond hair. He glanced over at Skid; shorter, lean, dark and muscular. His hair was dark and trimmed short. He could see something small and golden zipping past; a fae.
The small, golden, winged figure looked pure gold and wasn’t quite shaped like a person. It darted back toward the nest and the two of them saw several other fae flitting around the nest. T’amec quickly held the mirror in front of the nest, angling the sunlight just right as Skid quickly raised his mirror, accidentally knocking T’amec’s mirror out of his hand. As it clattered to the floor, several fae swooped toward T’amec. They swirled around him making a melodic buzzing as Skid used his mirror to shine the sunlight on the fae. They suddenly swirled upward and zipped through the glass, without breaking it. Skid aimed the mirror at the nest and hit the nest with his hand. Nothing. Empty. He never understood why the combination of reflected sunlight and the fae’s reflections would expunge them but at least it worked.
T’amec was standing there in a daze. He seemed all right.
“Come on, help me get this in the bag and take it down to the enchantorator.” Skid quickly pulled the black velvet bag from his belt and they began to pull at the nest, hoping no fae would surprise them and fly out at them.
In Mr. Spurgeon’s office, T’amec and Skid were listening as Spurgeon grumbled about all the money he could have lost, especially if he’d had to call in professionals. The Mageistrate might shut them down.
“You guys go back downstairs and finish your shift,” Spurgeon said. “And keep your eyes open for any fae.”
Skid was halfway down the stairs when he realized T’amec wasn’t with him. “Hey, c’mon!” Skid called out. T’amec walked out of the office and followed him glumly. “What’s with you?” Skid asked.
“Uh, I think the fae did something to me,” T’amec said. “I can only do things when you tell me to. Like grabbing the nest and helping you take it out or following you to the office.”
Skid stared. Yeah, he did tend to tell people what to do.
“Wait. Let’s test this.” Skid cleared his throat. “Do a handstand. Now.”
T’amec quickly jumped to the ground and stood on his hands, something Skid hadn’t known he could do. He held the position for a moment, shaking and sweating.
“All right, all right,” get right side up again,” Skid said. “Okay, we’re in trouble. You gotta do what I say. Oh, my Oaths! What’re we gonna do?”
Luckily, there was an Augury shop in the adjoining ShopCourt. The Assistant Prophet called one of the Sorcerers from their stockroom, a young kid with a scruffy goatee and the name of some instrumental group on his tunic. After an hour of analysis and scanning, the Sorcerer announced that T’amec must have had an encounter with some fae.
“We know that,” Skid said. “But what can you do about it?”
“Not a lot,” the Sorcerer said. “This sort of binding is pretty unbreakable. It can’t be changed, but you and the bindee can.”
Skid looked over at T’amec. His eyes were wide, like he wanted to say something.
“Okay, T’amec, ask whatever questions you want to, okay?” Skid said.
“What do you mean, changed?” T’amec asked.
“Yeah, what do you mean?” Skid asked.
“Use the opposite of sunlight,” the Sorcerer said. “And make a profession of fealty, under the moonlight.”
“What, get married?” Skid blurted out. “I’m too young to get married! I had my Twenty-Springs celebration just last year!”
“It would probably be enough if you just kissed,” said the sorcerer.
“Him?” T’amec asked. “I mean, he’s kind of cute but I’m not ready to settle down.”
“Try saying something that isn’t a question or try walking out of this shop without him telling you to,” said the Sorcerer. T’amec just stood there, a look of frustration in his eyes.
“All right,” Skid said sighing. “When’s Moonrise?”
The back lot near the ash pit was where the tenants dumped their garbage. T’amec and Skid stood there, staring up at the Moon which was nearly full and growing brighter in the dusk. Mr. Spurgeon hadn’t been happy about being charged the Sorcerer’s consulting fee but it was cheaper than hiring a coven or an exorcist. Especially because his cheapness had gotten them into this situation. After a while longer, Skid could clearly see their shadows cast by moonlight.
“All right,” Skid said nervously. “Let’s try this.”
The two men stood there in the moonlight and kissed. After about a minute, Skid pulled away.
“Okay, I order you to walk back inside.”
T’amec grinned. “What for? I like being out here kissing you!”
“Sounds like a good idea!”
The two young men stood there as the Moon rose into the sky.
The two teen-agers, a boy and a girl smiled at each other as they walked down the street. Old enough to hold hands but young enough to be shy about it. They looked in shop windows, pointed at a passing skycruiser and (of course) kissed.
Sa-rang ran her hand through her hair and was about to suggest getting something to eat when Hoai stared down the street and pointed.
“Isn’t that your brother?” Hoai asked.
“I think so,” she said.
It was indeed Sa-rang’s brother. Jiro was a year older and had been on the gymnastics team. He was running down the street, doing somersaults.
“He, uh, looks excited.” Hoai said, only half-sarcastically.
Jiro was taller than Hoai but somehow looked younger. Right now, he looked like a six-foot-two-tall grin.
“Thien! Thien!” Jiro said excitedly. He looked up at the sky and yelled “Thien!!”
Thien and Jiro had met in Younger School, just past toddlerhood. They had been friends for years, boyfriends in the last few years.
“What about Thien?” Sa-rang asked. “Is he okay?”
“Better than okay!” Jiro said, all but jumping up and down. “He got his assignment for the Acclimation.”
“He did? What did they say?” Hoai asked.
“He’s gonna be the same! He gets to stay the way he is!” Jiro said. “We were so worried a few months ago when I had my assignment and they said I was going to like girls as well as guys, but that’s nothing! We get to stay together!” This time he was jumping up and down.
“Congratulations!” Hoai said.
“The Moon and the Stars to you, Brother!” Sa-rang said smiling.
“It’s chillib, guys! Thanks!” Jiro said. He was trying to calm down but he grinned again and hopped up and down.
“We’re meeting over at the tea shop,” Jiro said. “You two want to come along?”
“You two want to be alone, I’m sure!” Sa-rang said smiling. “Besides, we have to check on his Geometrics exam.
“Are they posting the results?” Jiro asked.
“Yes! This afternoon on the University wall.” Hoai said. “I think I did good!”
“Great!” Jiro said. “Everything’s great! Excuse me; I have to go have some tea!”
Jiro walked off down the street, hopping and dancing.
“Hope he doesn’t hit his head on the ceiling,” Hoai said, holding Sa-rang’s hand as they resumed walking down the street. She rested his head on his shoulder. Their own assessments were a year away. For now, everything was chillib.
Author’s Note: This is set in the same world as my story “The Skycruiser,” posted here on January 18, 2018.