It was a time of compromises, of mending bridges and building new ones. You could even see it in the ghosts. Fabian and Cyclone seemed to be doing pretty well in the afterlife..
“Hey,” Veronica said.
“You should get a shower,” Hunter said. Another potion experiment had blown up in her face. It happened several times a week these days. Veronica seemed to have a better knack for wiring than she did for chemicals.
“That can wait,” Veronica said. “I saw the report your guidance counselor sent home.”
“Oh,” Hunter said. “That.”
“I’m not going to beat around the bush,” Veronica said. “I’ve been an ass to you about your grades. What I should have been doing was trying to figure out why you were having so much trouble. I’m sorry.”
Hunter gulped. “Thanks, mom. Really.” He was quiet for a minute, while she looked at him expectantly. At last, he managed, “So what do I do now?”
The evaluations were back, and it was pretty clear that Hunter was dyslexic. On one hand, he felt relieved to know that there was a reason school was so hard, and it didn’t mean he was stupid. On the other, it didn’t look like things were going to get any easier any time soon.
“You have a lot of options,” Veronica said. “Let me help you work through them. The most important thing is to find a school environment where you get to do more things that you enjoy.”
After an hour of sifting through the websites of various educational programs, and after Veronica had had that shower, Hunter admitted that what he really wanted to learn right now was something that didn’t involve reading — he wanted to learn to drive.
Veronica smiled. “You’re the one kid I’d actually trust with the car. Let’s do it.” She insisted that they take the Vaguester. That was the last thing Hunter would have expected.
But he had to admit, privately, that it felt pretty good to be behind the wheel of that sexy car.
When he crept the car back to the house after his first lesson, he said quietly, “I think I know what I want to do, Mom.”
“The Round Table Culinary School has a gardening program. I want to learn more about all kinds of living things.”
Veronica nodded. “That sounds perfect. Let’s go sign you up.”
“Let’s hang out after school!” Sky had said to Leah. “It’ll be great fun!” But now that Leah agreed, she wasn’t sure what Leah would find fun.
She shouldn’t have worried so much. Leah was full of ideas. “Did you know Helpless Hearts is showing at the Excalibur Uniplex?” she all but squealed. “I’ve been wanting to see that movie for ages! Would you go with me?”
Sky gulped. That was the sappiest romance of the summer. She used to love making fun of the trailers with Hunter and Forest. “Sure!” she said. “I’ve been dying to see it too!”
The great thing about movies was that you didn’t have to come up with anything to say. You could just sit near someone and enjoy being close without having to justify it.
So that’s just what Sky did. Afterward, she couldn’t have told you much about the except that the heroine looked very nice in a nightgown.
Afterward, they sat down under the stars to talk.
“Don’t you ever wish you could follow your heart like that?” Leah asked wistfully. “I don’t know that I could do it. I’d be so afraid of losing.”
“I bet you could,” Sky said. “You’re a really determined person.”
“I have a secret,” Leah said. “Do you want to hear it?”
“Of course I do!” Sky said.
Leah leaned over and whispered, “I think you’re cute too.”
Well, it was done. Hunter signed up at The Round Table Culinary Institute, and he’d be starting at the new school at the start of the week.
Hunter got away from his family to take a long walk and ponder whether he was more hopeful or more scared.
He heard a whuffling sound in the tall grasses, and when he looked he was rooted to the spot.
The wolf was the most beautiful creature he’d ever seen.
She looked up then, and their eyes met. To his surprise, she was neither frightened nor aggressive. If anything, she seemed tired. He reached out instinctively, and she sniffed his hand.
She was a wild thing. She lived and breathed freedom.
But she was also lonely — the same way Hunter was lonely. Something between them connected that evening, and he knew they should never be parted again as long as they lived.
He didn’t feel that he had the right to name her, but he had to call her something. So he called her Enigma, which is what she was.
“I don’t know what Mom and Dad will say,” Hunter said as she curled up protectively at his feet. “Just be sure to take care of them too, ok?”
Hunter found an old sofa cushion for her, and she seemed to think she was sleeping like a queen.
Forest still had the Problem of Ali. He couldn’t get her out of his mind. He got up the nerve to try to talk to her again after school, but she told him she didn’t have time. She was meeting her boyfriend, Adam Bookabet.
Forest’s heart squeezed. He had absolutely no chance with her.
At least, he had no chance if he followed the rules. So the question was what rule had to break to get what he wanted.
“This is an amazing house,” Ali said as she walked in the door.
“Thanks. My mom designed it. She has a pretty strange aesthetic.”
“So where do you want to study? I’m free until seven, and then I’m meeting Adam for dinner. Which Economics lesson did you say you were having trouble with?”
“Well, the books are in the basement,” Forest said. “But first, I wanted to tell you how sorry I am that I went running off to the bathroom when we first met. It was pretty rude.”
Ali looked at him awkwardly. Forest hadn’t just run to the bathroom. He’d wet himself, and they both knew it. “Well, you know, you gotta go when you gotta go, right?”
It was now or never. Forest took a deep breath. “Hey! Is that a bird in the house?”
“Where?” Ali said, looking where he pointed. “What are you talking about?”
Forest pulled the voodoo doll out of his pocket and pushed it toward her, whispering the words of power he’d learned from the dust-covered book in the back of the library.
Ali stopped. Tremors ran through her body, and she stood still.
“Ali?” Forest asked. “You there?”
“I’m here,” Ali said. Her voice was hollow. She stared straight head.
The spell had worked. She was waiting for his instructions. Completely suggestible. Completely his.
He raised the doll again and caressed it against his cheek. “You love me, Ali,” he said softly. “You’ve never met anyone who completes you the way I do.”
Ali still looked past him, but she clutched her hands to hear heart and sighed.
Forest put away the doll. Then he spoke another word of power, and Ali looked at him again. “What were we talking about?” she asked. “Didn’t you want me to tutor you in Economics.”
Forest grinned. “Nah, I figured it out after all. How about dinner instead?”
Ali’s face lit up. “Are you asking me out on a date?”
He took her to The Round Table.
They had a lovely evening out. Forest spared no expense. She couldn’t stop gazing into his eyes, and sometimes she blushed.
As he was picking up the check, Ali’s face flashed with surprise. “I was supposed to do something tonight!” she gasped. “I was supposed to meet Adam!”
Forest pulled her into his arms. “Adam who? You don’t need Adam.”
Ali relaxed against him. “Yeah,” she sighed. “I guess I don’t.”
So this is what I wanted to post before the heir poll. I wonder if it would have affected anyone’s vote. Forest is taking me in a pretty creepy direction as of this writing.
Sorry about those awful seams on Enigma’s. It was some kind of graphics card issue. I thought it was Mac related, but now I’m not so sure. I was able to fix it after switching to Windows, though. I set up the wolf as a stray, but Hunter was out there with her all night, building up their relationship to max, and I STILL never got the Adopt option. I gave up and used MasterController to add her to the household. I now have a new theory that you have to pick actions in the same category, like romance. But I don’t know which one. Affection? Has anyone ever successfully adopted a stray?
Here is the link to the gray wolf I’m using.