Midnight Train Song

Midnight Train Song

She watched from the Taft choir room doorway, hands on thin hips. Bossy glare cast about as chestnut eyes connected with each person passing by. Evaluating and dismissing them as important, unimportant, trouble and hope. That broke when a bulky bull teen connected with her. Recognizing who she was and where on the social ladder she stood, he grinned, the crooked teeth of his square jaw shining in the high school’s fluorescence. Uncapping his slushie, he gazed over toward another pale, ruddy head teen wearing a white button down shirt with a pocket protector in the right chest pocket. That thin kid also recognized him, nodding not in fear but awe and pleasure at #21 Collins, linebacker. for the Taft Titans.

Collins grin grew wide when he saw Ruddy head’s camcorder. “Party tonight. Location two is clear. You know the time. It’s all there,” He whispered. Gesturing to her standing there in a red gray argyle sweater, cream button shirt and plaid skirt, lithe arms folded beneath abundant bust, her gaze on the crowd milling again. “Tell Lorelei.”
The girl’s eyebrows raised an irritated look on her face as she connected with Collins again. “So the predictive ice queen gets an invite?” Her biting tone melted his smile. He raised the cup to drink, but brought it back down without drinking it, glancing at her as she looked away.

“And I why would I give our resident drama diva an invite? Levels, Shae. Do something worthy; be someone worthy, then you can be on our level.” His grin returned in force, his cobalt eyes cast down over his long nose.

Her glare grew fierce. “So being a part of something special makes you special?”

He chuckled. “Indeed. This–” he waved at the choir room doorway, “isn’t special.”

She flashed her middle finger as a response and returned to watching the milling students.

With a flick of the wrist, the cherry slushie splatters across her hair, face and collar. Anger and sadness flicker as Shea sprinted for the bathroom.

Laughing hard, Collins walked forward, stepping into one of the fresh puddles. Quick slip and his back slammed hard into the red and white striped linoleum floor.

Ruddy head reached out his hand. Collins slapped it away. “Really, Kevin? I’m fine.” He said still catching his breath. Springing up, he laughed, tears on his face. “Did you see her face? Come on, that was priceless. The shallow queen deserved it.”

His joy vanished when the bell rang. Both cursed simultaneously for different reasons. School was out and Collins needed to be at practice in 15 minutes. The field was 16 in a dead sprint. He high fived and vanished the way he came.

Kevin sighed as he stared into the open door. This was the last of the clubs to interview; Show choir/Drama. That, in sharp carved metal stamped to the crimson door, remained its official name. Everyone simply called it show choir. When they weren’t occupying the auditorium, there were in the choir room with Matthew Breaux.

Walking in, He squinted at the white speckle vinyl tiles glowing under the harsh fluorescence. Checkerboard maroon and brown acoustic damping tiles hung from the buttercream back wall underneath the high, thin unbarred windows. A wooden three tiered amphitheater style seating system hunkered against the back wall, well-worn and silent. Birch bookshelves leered still holding their hymnals, sheet music binders and tomes of arcana. The center of it all: a black Baldwin baby grand piano.

At it stood a buxom heavyset woman, dark as night, hand in the air with fingers wagging. Beside her a thin, waifish boy with a wild shock of reddish black hair tumbling down in a waterfall bound by a single scrunchie by the small of his back. Whenever he moved, he favored his right leg, limping. Seated at the piano, another boy looking all fresh faced. His jade eyes rested above distinctive feminine cheekbones yet beneath bleached platinum hair frozen vertical like a lawn. An aquiline nose stared at the buxom woman, as he shook his head repeating, “Mercy, you don’t understand.”

“You’re wrong, Curtis,” she retorted.

Beside Curtis yet staring off towards the seating stood a tiny girl with hooded eyes. Her soft, butter toned skin actually shined under the light hidden only by her black leather dress, ebony flats and thigh socks.

Curtis and Mercy stared at him. “And you are?” Mercy said, with a dismissive nod.

Arthur, peachy pale with stylized platinum hair dusting broad shoulders, rolled up to him, his custom wheelchair decked out with glowing rims. “What brings you here, Kevin?”

“You know him?” Curtis asked.

“Yes, we are in A/V class.”

“Where’s Mr. Breaux?” Kevin asked scanning the room. Only Brad Ellis, Rebel regiment director was there, standing beside a metal desk reading papers with the titan logo, a topless muscular man posing, stamped on them.

Curtis spun from leaning against the piano, his braid swinging like a metronome. “Matt stepped out for a phone call.”

“So what’s happening?” Mercy asked.

“Video yearbook,” Kevin gestured toward the camera, hopeful.

“That’s today?” Arthur asked, his face suddenly wary.

Kevin nodded.

“What’s Video yearbook?” Zhu said with a slight stutter as she walked over. Curtis shook his head. “No yearbook.”

Ignoring Curtis, Arthur smiled delightfully. “It’s a separate video yearbook project that A/V is doing. A new idea that will be sold alongside the normal yearbook this year but completely separate.”

“Right. It’s voluntary and will be used. So when I move the camera to you, state your name, who you are and a little about yourself. Be brief,” Kevin smiled, pointing the camera at Arthur.

Curtis shook his head, raising his hands beside his face. “This is unacceptable. It will subject Show choir to a level of ridicule that our obscurity shields us. Did you even look at the last year’s yearbook?” He stared at Arthur, while Kevin pointed the camera down.

“You’re serious?” Zhu retorted, stuttering. “We’re socially invisible. This won’t bring social retribution. With the exception of Shae, we’re invisible.”

Arthur nodded, turned to Curtis disappointment and understanding in his eyes. “This,” he waved his hand at Kevin, “isn’t going out to each member of the student body. It’s going, first to the Cheerieaux’s boosters, then to those who want to pay the hundred dollars for short bios of Cheerieaux’s, Titans, Taft jazz ensemble, Rebel Regiment band and every other serious group here. Farnsworth’s science nerds and Grace Cheer Wolverines are even in it.” He paused, glancing over at Brad. He remained involved in his papers.

“There are 837 students here. And right now there are only 112 bios,” Kevin added. “There’s isn’t a guarantee that this will be done next year.” He exhaled heavily. “It’s your choice. I think it’s fairly important. Yes, I saw last year’s yearbook. There is no way this can be defaced.”

Mercy cocked her head. “Did you mention show choir in yours, Zhu? Hmm. Seeing Daughters of Han is a group here.” She and Curtis high fived.

“Actually, she did. If none of you do any, it will be the only mention of Show choir,” Kevin commented, after a glance at Zhu.

“I’ll do it again. I don’t fear anyone and I can’t be anymore invisible than not even being in last year’s yearbook,” Zhu offered.

“The camera breaking wasn’t your fault,” Curtis replied. Kevin nodded.

“Ok, I’ll do it again if Zhu does,” Arthur said.

Curtis looked at Mercy. She shrugged her shoulders. “We’ll do it.”

Kevin smiled. “And if you don’t get into the yearbook itself, well then at least you have this, right?”

Curtis frowned, a worried look on his face.

Minutes passed as the camera went around the room interviewing everyone. As Kevin finished with Curtis, he looked over at Brad and saw Shae walking back into the choir room via the second entryway. “Did you record that?” she asked sharply as she saw Kevin standing there.

“What?” He asked blankly as she approached, halting before him. Her height and demeanor commanded attention even as she stroked her wide caramel curls. Hands on broad hips, she pointed a deeply tanned finger at him.

“Don’t lie to me. Did you record Collins’ attack?” She growled.

He cringed. Glancing at the floor, he noticed her leather boots still bore slushie stains on them. Slowly following them up along her thickly muscled calves and thighs, he sighed. Her abs remained visible beneath her mustard blouse. “No, Shae. The camera didn’t catch it. IT caught Collins slipping though.” He smiled sheepishly. She grimaced and rolled her eyes. “Party?”

“Second location,” He blew out a breath. “Lorelei is supposed to be there.”

Her damp hair still glistened as she stared at them all. “Matt’s still on the phone.

Zhu shot a ‘well?’ look at Kevin. He shrugged his shoulders. “I was using the time to let Show choir into my video yearbook entry.”

“To hold us up to ridicule no doubt. You could have stopped him.” She said with ‘the face’ to Curtis.

“You could have moved.” Zhu retorted. Kevin cast a pleading glance. Zhu shook her head. Sighing, he walked over to her seated, looking at a sheaf of music. Curtis turned to her, “Its ok. It’s a different project. It would be a great addition to your new MySpace page since the other was destroyed by 4chan.

She perked up. “Ok where do we start?”

“At who are you?” Kevin replied, relieved.

Five minutes later, Mr. Breaux finally walks in, apologizing for the delay. Shae is still talking about Hiram and Leroy, her two gay dads. “My fault. A/V video yearbook Special project. Kevin is the cameraman,” Zhu pointed toward him, “He had to do everyone, and Show choir was last. Sorry.”

He smiled. “So she’s been talking…”

“Way too long,” Curtis interjected as everyone nodded.

“I’ll write him a pass.” As he walked to the desk, he added. “I think that will be enough, Shae.”

“It’s important they get a grasp of the real me.”

“I think they did,” Kevin quipped. With that he shut down the camera, took the note and shot from the room.

 

That night, Collins sat in the passenger seat of an beat-up Ford® Mustang staring out at the end of a cul-de-sac. Cars of all types were parked about and teens were pouring out. They all wandered into a two story house that still looked as if it were occupied. Pop and R&B flowed from the closed windows and open door. Yet, he sat beside his fellow teammate. There didn’t seem to be a lot of muscle on his lean, wiry frame but his hands held the callous for summers on a shrimp boat.

“Kent, why are we still sitting here?” He asked as Kent stroked his cropped caramel curls and flexing his hand.

“You told her.” Came a non-committal response.

“Not personally. I had an altercation with Shae.”

Umber eyes focused on him, annoyed. “One job, man. You know how the old man gets in my case when I bring her home.”

Confusion scrunched Collins nose, furrowed his brow. “She’s a cheerleader. She’s poised and perfect. How can he not like her?”

“It’s Tamaki. You’ve met him; short oriental man who always comments on quality of everything. He swears Lorelei is a mermaid. While Dad doesn’t believe him, he doesn’t want to lose Tamaki.”

“I don’t get it.” A frown added to Collins confusion.

A sigh rippled from Kent. “Tamaki is connected. So I lose, as always.” Shifting, he pulled out his phone only to look up and behold rusty tan hair blowing in sudden breeze. Jade eyes smiled as thin hands pulled at the car door. “Hey, stranger.”

Sliding out the open door, he pulled her into a tight hug. “I thought you wouldn’t make it.”

“I almost didn’t. Shae of all people mentioned the location of tonight’s party.”

Collins stepped backwards from the car, hands up. “I said nothing. As a matter of fact, I hit her with my slushie for being so bitchy.”

Pearlesque laughter tumbled from Lorelei. “That explains that. My sis is on Wolverine Gold so when I went to pick her up, Coach Grace kept barking at Shae as she did the lay ups. Thankfully I’m on the Cheerieaux. That’s why I’m late. Went from one to the other.” She chuckled at their confusion.

“I thought you were an all-star too.” Collins remarked.

“Am. Coupe du Monde Shooting star. Why?”

Kent looked at Collins with a ‘end it’ gaze. “You ready?” he asked as they walked up the cement path, past the pulled up and tossed aside ‘foreclosed sign and the fake ‘for sale by owner’ sign beside the well-manicured shrubs. Kent stopped by stone stair leading to the front door. The house was a standard two story house in well repair considering Katrina happened a year ago. Roof still held all its shingles. It over hung the porch where they stood. Curtains were still up. The mailbox remained swallowed in red brick. The lawn still smelt freshly cut if a bit unevenly. All in all, it didn’t give the appearance of an abandoned, foreclosed house at all.

Suddenly, the bone white and frosted glass front door opened. “You’re here,” A buff broad barreled teen who took too many shots to the face announced, expecting someone else.

“Rick!” Kent remarked, pleased.

“Kent, glad you are here. I see you brought our illustrious guest of honor,” he remarked as he walked off leaving the door open. Collins closed it as he entered, wandering away from Kent and Lorelei, towards the keg set up by the right side wall.

Rick was already walking back through the crowd; the bombastic techno-beats flooded the living room with sound. College age guys looked at them, smiled, shook heads and looked away amused. Hung from the second floor railing a simple triangle banner. Happy Birthday it spelt out.

“Rick. What’s up?” Kent asked. “Nothing, other than what you asked for. It’s a birthday party folded into our weekly fest. Keg’s by the wall.”

Rick tapped a tall guy in an open brown trench, tan shirt and slacks. Disheveled wavy brown hair framed his face. Black eye shadow made his brown eyes pop on his pale face. He carried a leather shoulder bag. Kent stared at him as if he was a ghost as he walked over to Lorelei. Nodding, he held out his hand as if he expected something. Digging into her small brown Chloé® Silverado Bag, she dug out a tri-folded slip of paper followed by a long, thin crystal cut to six sides. Its transparent sheen gave an unearthly glow as she palmed it. “What you asked for, correct?” She held a flat gaze, almost grim. He nodded silently. With that they ascended the stairs, a way opening for her and the guy as they rose.

Kent watched her go, thinking that getting to the party late was an excellent idea. They had missed the awkward start up, when only a few people were there and the music billowed through the space. Now, it seemed packed. People crowded and danced on the furniture. Noise stuffed itself into their eyes: crackled laughter and copious conversation weaved amongst the rhythmic beats.

Several Titans made their present known, each in various states of stupor. Some held red solo cups. Others held whole bottles of various alcoholic products, most he didn’t recognize. Many of the guys he didn’t recognize. Some had football jackets with Spartan heads, pumas or other logo on them. Others were obviously college age.

Same for the ladies. Some from Forest Hills were there but most were unknown, college age. There was a DJ wearing a gas mask, spinning techno at the turntable. Five or six scantily dressed girls were dancing around it. Others were bumping and grinding to the beat, mingling. Still others were making out on the lone amber couch. Kaylie Balor, a hot freshman, moved to the front near the DJ. It looked like they moved some of the furniture to put in a trampoline.

Finding an actually empty, non-sticky seat, he sat down in the smoky living room, surrounded by the smells of wine and cheap perfume. The sound of the midnight train rolled by. People came in and left. No one he recognized, except Shae whose locker was four down from his. Lorelei hated her for some slight, he never understood. He smiled at her, and she smiled back. She went to Rick who was with the same wavy brown haired, tall guy in an open brown trench, tan shirt and slacks. He still carried that leather shoulder bag. Apparently he was called the ‘Graverobber’. He gave Shae a leather envelope and left again. While he was talking to Shae, Kaylie sauntered over holding a half bottle of Bacardi 151 and a red solo cup. She poured some into the cup then added beer from the tap.

Shae turned around and Kaylie offered her the beer with her happy smile. Shae nodded and took it, saying something but it was wasted away by the music. She drank some of it, wrinkled her nose and then poured it into an empty cup. Grabbing a clean one, she filled it and went into the crowd.

He looked at the girls dancing. Most wore short, solid color skirts, heels, tight tops of various types and style and jewelry. At least two wore bikini tops. He looked back to Shae in her demure gold cocktail dress, shoes and updo. She is beautiful. He shook his head. I can’t think like that. I have a girlfriend, even if all she ever does is bitch at me except when we make out.

He remembered a time he’d made a comment about women’s clothing. She had frowned at him. “Even the Balor twins don’t dress that bad” was her response. He shrugged and took another drink. The music stopped. The DJ announced he was ‘taking 5’ and walked to the bathroom. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Shae eyeing him.

Behind him, one of the college girls sighed and started up the tightly packed stairs, squeezing by jocks and girls making out, standing and watching. A guy vomited over the banister as she passed behind, pushing herself closer into the wall to avoid him. A shout of disgust and Emily Balor’s voice screaming obscenities drifted up as she moved up the stairwell.

When the guy vomited over the railing, he looked to see who it hit and about passed out laughing. Emily was using words he didn’t know she knew as she took off toward the kitchen to get the creamy brown chunks out of her hair and off her blouse.

Scanning the crowd, he saw the dj return. As he returned to the booth he announced, “Now it’s sing along time. You know it. I know it. It’s by request of our favorite gold tressed dancer, Kaylie Balor!” Kaylie got on to the small trampoline placed in the center of the room. Everyone cleared an opening around it. Kent jostled his way to the front, his cup abandoned on the steps.

[ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ct7dD0P6wIQ ]

“Are we ready?” The DJ shouted.

“READY!!” Everyone bellowed back.

“Is Kaylie ready?” the DJ shouted again.

She smiled her blood red vinyl skirt and black leggings contrasting her black and red Lycra® top. “I am.”

“And here we go. Sing everyone!”

“Bing, bang diggiriggidong,

First thing that I say after I wake up.

Bing, bang diggiriggidong,

I say those words before I go to sleep.”

Kaylie sang loudly, managing to even top the crowd. Kent gazed at her, bouncing on the trampoline lightly as she sang.

Everyone followed the words, doing the exact steps as she sang. When it reached, ‘do the jump’ Kaylie bounced hard enough to almost touch the cathedral ceiling. She landed, still singing and flipped, on ‘Turn around’. On the second chorus, Kent joined. Beer had already sloshed everywhere. Yet being beside the front window, he missed it.

As the song ended everyone seemed all smiles.

“Let’s hear it for Kaylie Balor, Grace Cheer Wolverine Gold. Isn’t she just the best?” The DJ shouted. ‘And we have a special request. I was asked to extend this because I owed a favor to our gracious host. So Shae, come up.”

Shae staggered up the DJ table and the man himself. Kent noticed even now that she was completely wasted, she tried to remain poised and stand straight. A massive smile was plastered on her face. “I gather someone spiked her drink?”

Laughter rolled from the crowd. Kaylie held a bottle of Bacardi 151 aloft.

“Now how can I fulfill the request if she’s toasted? I know. Shae, can you sing?”

“Yes!”

“Can you sing naked?” One of the college guys shouted. “Yes! Just not here.” Kent stood, amazed. Her voice hadn’t slurred. She just seemed far brighter than he has seen her. As much as he didn’t want to admit it, she was pretty. Of course, she kept making herself a social pariah even though she cheered on the same squad as Kaylie. He blew out a sigh. Lorelei would have his sack if she saw him talk to her.

“Well, you wanted to sing to someone a song right?” The dj said off the mic. “I don’t have all night. Unless you are planning to show something.” She shook her head staring at him.

“I can’t say who you are, because I care. So this is dedicated to you.” She said into the microphone.” To the DJ, “Play Avril Lavigne’s ‘I’m with You’, please.” He nodded. It cued up. Soft brassy instrumental flowed into the room where moments earlier it was high energy techno.

[ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGR65RWwzg8 ]

 

As the song began, Kent realized that Shae was staring at him and only him. As he moved forward, her eyes stayed on him. It was as if he was the ‘you’ of the song. She couldn’t be in love with me, could she? That would be so cool. She, hot and talented and…damn, Lorelei would kill her dead, and then me. He thought as he locked eyes with her. As the song finished, he got up to the dj booth. She finished and tried to step over but lost her balance. She fell right into his arms. Looking up at him, she said, “I knew you would.”

Speechless, he sat her down. She gazed into his eyes. “I’m with you.” Then she passed out straight into his arms again.

Without hesitation, he cradled her into his arms and carried her out to his car. Her purse was still on her shoulder, so when he laid her gently in the back seat, he looked in to see where she lived. The scent of her perfume filled the car. It was lilacs and roses, far better than what Lorelei wore, which seemed always to be hibiscus and salt but he could never convince her it was tired. Glancing at the address and the cute over the shoulder pic on her license, he returned it to her purse.

The drive to her house was filled with thoughts of how he was going get her into her house with issue. I don’t really want to wake her; she looks so beautiful when she sleeps. He sighed again. I have never seen Lorelei asleep. Hell, she never lets me near her room. Looking back at her, she was smiling in her sleep, a peaceful angel.

“Think of the mailman. Think of the mailman, Think of the mailman.” He chanted to himself to so he wouldn’t tent. He stopped beside what looked like the address on the license. Shutting of the car, he realized that it wasn’t a nice neighborhood; then again his house had three floors. In one fluid motion, he opened the car door, got her out and shut it. Cradling her, he palmed her door key as we walked up the well-manicured path to the door. It was really well lit and stylish. Next to house number on the wall next to the door was a cluster of various berries within a crescent moon. Odd. Then it dawned on him. Her last name was Nyx. Hiding a chuckle, he unlocked the door.

As he went inside, it was dark because her fathers were asleep. Not knowing where to go, he bumped into an end table. “Upstairs, first door,” a voice came from the kitchen. A white face appeared, looked at Kent then smiled. “I owe you thanks,” He said as he stepped out. “Hiram Nyx.”

“Kent, sir. Someone spiked her drink.”

“Not surprised. I told her it wasn’t wise to go. She went on about how Kaylie invited her, telling her where this party was, and that it was important to be seen. I’m glad you brought her home. At least she has a boyfriend.”

Kent shook his head. “Oh no, Mr. Nyx. I‘m not.”

Shae stirred, mumbling, “Been here all along so why can’t you see? You belong with me.” Kent blushed.

“She needs a friend. Can you be that at least?”

He looked back at the door, now closed and to her, warm in his arms. She was beautiful. She still smelt beautiful even after those hours in that party. Lorelei never smelt that beautiful. She smells of salt water. “Yes, I can be that.”

“Good. Then you are welcome anytime you like. Want anything? I have detoxifying shakes. Great for after party snaking.”

“No thanks. Going to Waffle House® after.”

“Okay. I’ll lock the door.”

With that, he walked back into the kitchen. Kent sighed. What did I get myself into?

“Thank you.” She mumbled again, still not lucid.

“You’re welcome,” he whispered to her anyway as he carried her up the stairs. When he got to her room, he laid her down gently on her bed.

“Don’t go yet.” She mumbled, struggling to sit up. “Please.” She showed her sad face. He looked at her and froze. “I have to. If Lorelei finds out, there will be no end to the fury both of us will get for this.”

“I care…” she tried. “Why can’t you see…?”

“You don’t know what you are saying. Good Night, Shae. See you in class.”

She still held the face. “You belong with me.” Then she slumped over falling asleep.

Sighing, he walked over, and pulled up the comforter over her then stopped. He sighed. “I really wish I could be, but its Lorelei I am fighting for and…” he stopped as she breathed softly, snuggling under her covers. Looking around her bedroom, he saw that it fit her perfectly. He sighed again before slipping out. He knew nothing would ever be the same.

 

Lorelei rested on the still made bed, its yellow comforter soft and inviting. Graverobber stood in the doorway again. “Are you comfortable with what I’ve given?”

“I am. It is what I asked for. Thank you.” She stared at the windowless wall with only ‘Red Letter day’, ‘Darkness Calls’ and ‘Bolivar’ posters hanging. A soft frown turned her mouth. “Has Kent left with Shae yet?” She hissed softly, squeezing her eyes shut as she said it. A tear leaked from one before she wiped it away. “Well?!”

“I’m not your scout nor messenger service. Nevertheless, when I came up they were not found, so I would have to say yes. Care to explain why you need to ride Amtrak to Detroit instead of fly?”

“No.” She rose, approaching him. Stopping beside a whitewashed vanity empty of anything, she dropped the packet on it. Leaning, she beheld his frown, shrugged shoulders and slouch. “He will be here soon enough.”

“That means nothing to me, Lorelei. You haven’t proved you’re psychic.” Snark dripped as he turned away. A deep sigh fell from pink lips. “Shae and Kent will sing ‘Don’t stop Believing’ on stage. 72 hours from when they finish, Tom will be at the Amtrak station.”

Pulling an inverted bull’s horns pendant from her pocket, she grinned mischievously. A watery sheen enveloped her just as music of perfect beauty flowed. Out swam ‘Memory’ from the Andrew Lloyd Webber play ‘Cats’.

[ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWNWt3kiTWc ]

Graverobber turned around entranced. Staring wide eyed, he made no motions. From any other vantage point, he appeared hypnotized and fixed to that spot.

Crisp, clean notes faded to silence as Lorelei stepped beside him, inhaling the rubbed leather, old spice® and Cajun spices rolling off him. Into his ear, she whispered, “When my sister gets sick, Tom will come with her to you for help. YOU WILL HELP. YOU WILL MAKE THAT CURE FOR HER. You will charge him for it. Any time you think you don’t want to be involved, you don’t want to help or you want nothing to do with us, you will get pain unlike any you’ve ever felt in random locations. This is the punishment for killing our kind and experimenting with them for the Piscine. Their Warriors of Dagon have no allegiance to you. Remember this, even after I’m gone.”

He said nothing nor acknowledged even hearing her. He simply stood there silently for a moment. Suddenly, his eyes blinked and he exhaled. “Are we done?” He grimaced, examining her carefully.

“You think I did something to you?” She said in a careful measured tone devoid of her usual chipper manner.

He exhaled again, rolling his neck. Crackling of joints echoed in the silence. “No. I know you are not a siren. I just feel off when I’m around you too much. Are we done?”

“Yes. Do you believe me?” She asked coy, a bright smile affixed.

“When I get the phone call I will. Otherwise, I have nothing to do with your side or theirs. Don’t mistake services rendered for that. I told them the same.” Pulling his trench coat around him, he sauntered off.

Waiting until he left, she turned back to the wall and stared meditating on rippling images burbling across its empty whiteness. Finally after what seemed like a few minutes, she rose and went down stairs. The living room appeared restored to its original state; abandoned yet well furnished. Burnished cherry wood floors held a C-shaped rust couch and oriental rug. Reclined against one end, a young teen with luxurious platinum blonde hair draped along her sides sang jingles to herself. Hazel connected to jade as the young girl stifled a yawn.

“It’s past midnight,” she said as he pulled herself up. Wiping her petite nose with thin fingers, she frowned. “Why am I here?”

Her brows knitted and she smirked. “To get ready for your first adventure. I thought you wanted one, Gwen? Or would you rather sit about bathed in perfume and body glitter?”

Fluffing her hair briefly, she rose up, her lithe and petite frame suddenly commanding in her irritation. “I came for the fun. They held a party here?”

Lorelei smirked again, tossing Gwen’s part of the pouch onto the couch. “Graverobber’s crew does good work.” Shaking her head, she sighed softly. “We leave tomorrow. Mom knows and is ok with it. Dad, well he’s out on business again.”

Gwen shrugged, casual indifference evoked in her smile. “Train?”

“Yep. Detroit like I said.” She ran her hands across the back of the couch, its soft fur tingling under her fingers.

“What about Coupe de Monde?” Gwen glanced over her shoulder, at a sound of rustling. Nothing manifested.

“Coach Anico accepted my excuse. Coach Grace accept yours?”

“Yes. I’m forever the good girl of Level 5. Gold loves me. So happy to be off Silver.”

Lorelei chuckled. “Well there will be a day we both make Worlds. When we do, we’ll celebrate.” Crinkled nose and heavy exhale accompanied a head shake. “You have the keys to lock up?”

“I do. Is it still the midnight train if we catch it after midnight?”

Lorelei beheld her innocent question with a raised eyebrow. “Sometimes, I think you are taunting me.”

“It’s an honest question. He better be hot.” She bounced on over towards the front door.

He’s more than that, Lorelei mused to herself. He’s our future.

 

Shae awoke with a pounding headache. When she rolled out of bed she noticed she was still wearing last evening’s clothes. Desperately digging through her memories, she couldn’t find out why. She couldn’t even remember how she got home. The headache wasn’t helping either. ‘Not again. I just proved that I don’t drink the hard stuff. Dads are going to be so disappointed. Especially Dad Leroy.’

Focusing backward, nothing but patches after 9pm. ‘I can hold my alcohol so what happened? That second cup of beer tasted bad, not like beer at all. Kaylie handed it to me while I was at the keg because something distracted me. Rick owed me from the last time. No, she wouldn’t do it, would she?’

She sighed. ‘Of course she would. Her and twin Emily have never liked me. At least they are in the minority at the gym.’

The voice of her dad, Hiram echoed in room. “Shae? You awake?”

“Yes, Dad.”

“You decent?”

“No.”

“When you are, come down. We need to talk.” The voice was kind but empty. ‘That’s bad. Someone happened. What?’ She groaned, rubbing her forehead. The headache pounded, throbbed. Throwing off her old slept in clothes, she laid out a new outfit before diving into the shower. ‘Defying Gravity’ reflected off the shower walls as she let the steamy water soak in.

Still nothing came after 9 pm except bits about the gas masked DJ, dancing, and Kaylie’s jump song. Lazy town is for children, why! As she scrubbed herself, she looked for new tattoos. The well hidden gold star on her right wrist was a reminder of the last time she was so wasted, she lost the time.

A new song bubbled up as she got dressed; Mariah Carey’s ‘We belong together’. She sang it while she brushed her wet hair, cleared tangles, and did her makeup. The smell of beef sausages and eggs floated out of the vents. ‘Dad Leroy is cooking breakfast. That’s a good sign. Waffles and juice would be waiting. I hope that a painkiller as well. My Dads are awesome, even now’.

“Morning, Dads,” she shouted and then winced, as she ran down the stairs. Dad Hiram was waiting in his dapper blue smoking jacket and matching slacks. His round face was sad and serious, but his eyes were smiling. He rubbed his head brushing his short, black hair back. “We need to talk about last night. Do you remember how you got home?”

“No, I don’t. I’m sorry.” She cast a sad face. A sad sigh fell from him. “You were brought home; carried in in fact by a guy. Kent, he said his name was. Really nice guy.”

Shae’s eyes grew wide as she staggered back. He brought me home! He’s the captain of the Football team! “He carried me in?” she said softly.

“You don’t remember anything, do you?” The frown deepened as she nodded the answer to the question. “I remember being at the party. I remember dancing and yes, I had a beer. Two, tops. It’s patchy after that until I woke up. My head hurts, but its ok.”

“All we ask is that you be careful,” Dad Hiram said sadly. “When he opened the door, I knew something was wrong. We had hoped that this one would be different.”

Dad Leroy walked into the foyer, carrying a glass of sparkling water with Alka-Seltzer® floating in it. She looked at him, his dark chocolate skin and dreads contrasting against his silver workout shorts, grey slacks and large military belt. He offered the glass, his thick, muscular arm glistening with sweat from the kitchen. “Shall we finish this in the dining room? Breakfast is ready.”

She followed them into the dining room. The ceramic dishes and cups were out and filled. Waffles and OJ were waiting, the steam wrapping her in its wheat goodness. She sat down and waited while Dad Hiram said grace. The she reached for the butter and syrup, slathering the waffles with them. “Drink it before it fizzes out,” Leroy remarked. She smiled, and downed the glass. “Thanks, Dad.”

“You’re welcome.” He looked to Hiram.

“You know where this is going, Shae. We have been down this path before.” He said between mouthfuls. “You have to get an AIDS test and no parties for two months. Also the tox screen, to make sure no one did anything worse.”

She frowned, distraught glances cast at them. Leroy looked up from his sausage and eggs. “It’s not that we don’t trust you. We both are concerned something will happen to you. This is the second time you were brought home wasted or unconscious. Remember New Year’s morning? That blonde girl from your school brought you inside. We had this talk then. I don’t want to say this but those people at the parties you go to, don’t like you.” He started eating again.

Hiram looked at him with a frown. “The boy did. He held her in his arms the entire time. Spent at least 10 minutes in your room.”

The fork hit the near empty plate. She stared at him stunned. “He was a complete gentleman.

Leroy looked up. “But we don’t know why he would do that. Or if he…”

She shook her head. “I apologize.”

“For what? If I thought you deliberately got yourself drunk, it would be different. I’m concerned you’re a target for worse.”

“You are a beautiful lady. I’m not surprised that Kent would help. He really seemed to enjoy it.” Hiram said with a smile.

“Can I be excused?” Shae asked.

Leroy looked at Hiram. “When I call, I want you to be ready. No punishment for now other than the party ban. Understand?” She nodded swiftly. “Then, yes.”

As she left the table, ‘We belong together’ returned to her mind as well as the image of Kent carrying her up to her room. On her way up to her room, she noticed that it past 9 am Saturday morning. She wouldn’t be able to see him until football practice that afternoon. Thankfully, Show choir practiced today as well.

Twenty renditions of various show tunes, a trip to ‘Speedy Doc’ for the tests and a lunch at Prejean’s swam before her. As the sun began its downward journey, she pulled into the school parking lot adjacent to the Show-choir building. A broad grin warmed her face as she stared forward. “Show-choir time. another opportunity for success.” She repeated the mantra as she left the Honda Civic and walked up the sidewalk.

At the hallway door, she whispered emphatically, “Show choir will be better because of me. I can’t carry everyone so they must get better.” Pulling open the door though allowed Kent with his hands out to push it to burst through, surprised. “Hi Shae,” He nodded with a half grin. “Football practice.” He said in an ever softening spurt. She smiled at him, her hand up in a silent beauty queen wave. He smiled back as he went on past; a blur which streaked to Titan green, clanging the entry fence as he vaulted it. “Doors are for walking though. Not jumping over,” Coach Delamort bellowed. Snickers rumbled as she headed to her locker which happened to be nearby.

“Kent is in two of my classes so I will get to the truth of him and Lorelei dating. She is just never nice.” An eyeroll accompanied the comment as she checked her spare clothes bag nestled in the back of her locker to make sure everything was full and fresh. ‘Can never be too careful, considering.’ Taking out Mr. Daniel’s First period ‘Comprehensive English Literature’ and Mr. Breaux’s ‘Hola! Mundo en Español’ books and their respective folders, she placed then it a primacy spot so she could grab them easily on Monday.

“Um-Hmm!” resounded as she shuffled more books. The Balor Twins shuffled around her to be noticed when she looked up. Dressed in their café noir and gold Wolverettes uniforms, they hovered menacingly. Glancing around, she grimaced. Willow, a thin but pear shaped albino stared at her as well, rubbing tanning spray on her arms. Her cranberry and cream cheerleading full top and skirt contrasted on her more that solid black did on the light peach of the Balor twins.

“Look, Fiona, I don’t know what you think you are doing. He felt sorry for you.” Kaylie sneered, her fierce face focused. Emily smirked and nodded.

Willow simply looked perplexed, mumbling ‘Fiona?’ Emily whispered, “Shrek’s wife. Secretly ugly.” She laughed until Kaylie glanced at her.

“That’s the only time he’ll ever acknowledge you, understand?” Emily added, shaking her head, then slammed the locker door to get Shae’s attention. She looked up at them again, a disgusted frown evident. “You know him so well. Go practice before I give you an excuse not to.”

Shae tapped her folded hands beside her washboard abs. Her Nfinity symbol backpack hanging off her arm as well as her bracelet on her left wrist, she made plain.

Willow stared at Shae plucking her bracelet, her mouth opening and closing. Finally, a hiss fled from her like a raft deflated.

“This isn’t the end, Shae.” Kaylie and Emily said together as they left with Willow following them.

Motion flitted in her eye’s corner so she tucked to her right and turned as Hank Saunders came around, propelling cherry slushie from a 44oz cup. Only slushie spray dusted her as it whizzed over. It splattered across the floor catching several locker doors. The bulk doused Kaylie’s back from neck to waist. She turned to him incensed.

“You hit me!”

She then kicked his feet from him. All motion in the hall stopped when she shouted. Willow and Emily wheeled around and saw him fall. Mr. Daniels walked up just then, looked down and offered Hank a hand. He wore a white linen shirt, sliver silk vest, bowtie, formal knee length black frock coat and high rolled broad-brimmed planter’s hat.

Once Hank got to his feet, Mr. Daniels rubbed his handlebar mustache with forefinger and thumb. “Detention – 7 days, Mr. Saunders.” He spoke with a very distinct Tennessee drawl. “Perhaps then you’ll understand the inappropriateness of your behavior.” Kaylie smiled at them both and walked off. As she reached Willow, she said, “Not a word. Not a word.”

Daniels looked Shae. “Target again, Ms. Nyx?”

“Yes, Mr. Daniels.”

“Then I should be thanking him that I don’t have to write you a pass to clean it up again?” He shook his head and walked off. Shae followed after him.

Approaching the choir room, she heard Brad singing and the jazz ensemble playing.

[ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pRlE6VFN4IY ]

(ed: this is a Christian gospel song)

‘Something’s moving,

Something’s changing,

See his glory,

Feels like heaven on earth.’

‘I don’t recognize that song,’ she thought as she approached. She recognized the voices, and it intrigued her. Shae glanced at one of the old mechanical clocks mounted to the wall high above the lockers. It said the same thing her cellphone said; 3:00 time to start.

‘Whoa oooh ooh, heaven….

There is lightning and thunder,

Miracles and wonder,

Sound of many waters,

Heaven on earth.

When she got to the Choir room, north side door was open but silence reined. The song, which sounded unlike anything, faded into the walls beyond her.

‘I listen to a lot of songs too except the stuffy Christian hymns. That definitely wasn’t that.’

Brad smiled at her. “That look tells me you heard that song.”

“What is it, it was all warm,” She replied, trying to remain upbeat. Whatever remained, faded as everyone departed.

“Micah Stampley: Heaven On earth. Mr. Breaux should be in shortly but while I am still have the show, I noticed you are having an issue with the slushies again.”

She nodded. “I can handle it.”

“Good, but I would like to sing this song for you. My voice isn’t nearly as good as yours is. However, I think you should hear it. It’s Stellar Kart ‘Finish Last’. She listened, a thoughtful look on her face. As that song ended, everyone trickled in. First Arthur, then Zhu, finally Curtis and Mercy.

“Just what we were working on in choir.” He gestured Shae over. “I know you have faith in yourself and your ability. When it gets hard, remember this song.” As she stepped away from the piano, Mr. Breaux trotted in, keys in one hand. A massive brass ring encircled his had with Drama in blue rubber letters.

Brad rose, gathered his notes and other paperwork, and then walked over to the file cabinet. He shoved them inside then sat down in his office.

“Today, in the auditorium, we are doing line reads and songs.” Mr. Breaux went to the storage closet and dug out props including the old 1993 winning show choir nationals’ costumes still in protective storage bags. Carrying them over his arm, he then dumped them on the chairs behind them. “I wanted you to see something inspiring. Take it with you as we practice today.”

Shae took a costume and frowned immediately. No one else was happy about them either. Curtis unzipped his, holding a disgusted look at the shirt, it out at arm’s length. Mercy smelled hers numerous times, like it bore a fragrance but she kept grimacing each time. Arthur and Zhu took theirs with hard horrified stares.

As she stepped in the hallway, Collins shouted, “Oh look, loser dress up,” as he ran by. The rest of the walk was in silence. When she got to the locker, Kent was there alone, and he smiled. “You okay?”

Shae wheeled around trying to suppress the joy that he said something to her. Lorelei was nowhere in sight. Oddly she hadn’t seen her since the party. “Yes,” she beamed. “Thank you very much for taking me home.”

“You were drunk and needed help. See you in class tomorrow.” He replied as he closed his locker. She just stood there as he walked off floating on joy. The she remember that horribly ugly costume she was holding. ‘Maybe something is changing. I’ll sing that tonight.’

About ten minutes later they assembled in the auditorium. “So did you gain anything from the uniforms?” Mr. Breaux said with pride.

“Only that they are nasty,” Mercy retorted.

Curtis watched her silently. Zhu and Arthur remained silent and morose. Shae beamed a smile as she stood listening.

“The ’93 team took Nationals wearing those.”

“I know. I can still smell them.”

Mr. Breaux masked a frown. “I’ll take them to the dry cleaners.”

“You can take ‘em to the moon, baby,” She spoke with sass. “Everyone knows you can’t get stinkass out of Polyester.”

Shae sighed, folding her arms under bust. “Why can’t you just be happy? Yes, they are ugly but they were worn by our stars! They were special! Get over it! I just want to sing and you are holding me back! I can’t carry you.”

Mercy looked over at her pissed. “Our stars? Seriously?!”

‘That’s it! I can’t stand you fame leeches anymore,” Shae screamed as she stormed out.

“Shae?” Mr. Breaux called after her but she was already storming up the side auditorium stairs. An open door lead to its lobby and outside. She burst through, the door booming closed.

“Is she going to diva out after every rehearsal?” Curtis asked, disgusted.

“Probably. I’ll go find her. If we are not back in 30, we are done,” he groaned as he jumped down, staring up at the entrance to the auditorium.

 

”They don’t get it. Being a part of something special makes you special. It makes you famous and popular. It requires sacrifice and preparation. I can’t do this alone!” She grumbled into the bathroom mirror, staring at her clothes; the perfect pink blouse, magenta sweater vest and matching pleated skirt. I am so tired of being laughed at. Even Brad heard! What is so wrong about wanting to be great at something before leaving high school?’ As she dressed, the thoughts continued in various sequences.

Finally she left the restroom and was almost ran down by Kaylie. She shook her head and walked back to the choir room. The north door was still unlocked and the lights still on. It was empty and cold now. Not like it was when I came back from actually using the restroom. ‘That was something special and they did it without me.’ Another sigh left her, as she dropped off the costume on the piano. There was a note in Brad’s handwriting addressed to her. Taking it, she read;

“Shae, the sheet music for the song is yours. Take it. I wanted to say I am sorry we didn’t include you in the other song. It was spur of the moment.

Have faith, something is moving. Something is changing. And I will see you Monday at 1 pm.”

Taking the music, she headed out to the bleachers. Climbing up to the center of the bleachers she beheld the vast panorama of Titan green. Rebel Regiment practice with John Horner, Brad’s barrellesque assistant. Coach Sylvan taunting the Cheerieaux as they did stunts. Titans scrimmage at the far end. Of course, Coach Sylvan’s bull horn blended with Coach Delamort’s overpowering thunders. “That’s horrible. Worse than Patrick Steward’s ‘Scrooge’. Do it again!” She raged.

Shae smiled. That Scrooge was bad. She watched them for a little bit more then realized her question. “Why am I doing this? Look, they are special because Cheerleading makes them special. Kent is special because football makes him special.” Just then, Kent got sacked. “Well, maybe not.” She laughed. Lorelei appeared hazily beside him, wagging her finger. Shaking her head she realized she imagined her. Girl of secrets, attracted to Kent. Always glares and talks down to me. I wish I knew why he’s so into her.

She sat there peacefully dreaming about the day when he woke up and found that what he was looking for has been four lockers away the whole time. Minutes in when she saw them at the prom in her mind that Mr. Breaux came up and sat down beside her.

“I’ll be honest.” He said beginning what would be a long pep speech involving talent, grace, beauty and her unique ability to be in the moment. As minutes rolled by she saw past Mr. Breaux and into this idea that could shape her future and get Kent uncoupled from Lorelei.

“Why can’t we have someone like Kent?” She asked politely, nodding and being agreeable. Mr. Breaux paused and then beheld her seemingly enlightened. “You don’t believe they can do it?”

“I know they can’t do it. Not without someone to lead them. They don’t listen to me.” She sighed, looking off at Coach Sylvan and the Cheerieaux. “Sloppy. You look like your mating with a Bayou baby. Go again.”

Mr. Breaux chuckled. Glancing at his watch, his face fell. Four pm. “We pick this up after school Monday?” He nodded hopefully.

“What’s to pick up?” Shae sighed.

“I think I can borrow Kent. Your issues with the slushies have made it to Coach Delamort’s ears. Mr. Daniels insists on detention. Titans can’t afford that and win so Coach Delamort cut a deal. They do something else school wise. Kent hasn’t volunteered for anything.”

“Oh.” She grimaced. “You’re making him come.”

“I believe in you, Shae. As much as it pains me to feed your ego, you are right. They can’t hold a light to your talent. We can’t do anything without you and a strong male lead. Perhaps Kent can convince then to stop.” He shrugged his shoulders. She looked at Mr. Breaux wearing a wan smile.”

“Sure. One question.”

“Ok,” Mr. Breaux said curiously.

“Where’s Lorelei Breton?” She raised an eyebrow, gesturing to Coach Sylvan waving her megaphone like a massive, flightless orange bird wearing a tracksuit. “She never misses practice.”

Mr. Breaux gulped, a grimace evident. “She took a week off for a family tragedy. That’s all I heard in the facility break room.” He sighed. “You tell no one.” Rising, he took several steps down the bleachers. “Until Monday?”

“Yes.” Family tragedy? Her family is Australian from what I heard. Also Collins grumping to his buddies about Her asking him about Detroit. It makes no sense.

 

Lorelei stood up again when her sister approached, her platinum hair now in a bun. Disheartened confusion reflected. Moving away from the other waiting patrons, they circled the left most sea of small black pleather seats pooled in various spots amidst the sparse place. Only black rugged payphones, few vending machines and a ticket window greeted anyone who ventured in. Two or three green plants and TV mounted to the wall finished off the emptiness. Blue doors let to the train platform while red doors lead out to the street below.

“She doesn’t know. No one does,” Gwen frowned briefly, shrugging. “Detroit is ugly, you know. Really run down and ugly.”

Lorelei grinned brightly, as soft chuckles tumbled out. “A lot of cities are like that. What until you see NYC. Anyway, he’s supposed to catch a midnight train here.”

“Are you sure it’s not Windsor, Ontario?” That’s the other thing they say. There is no south Detroit.”

Lorelei shrugged. Taking a seat away from everyone, she stared straight ahead, tuning her and seemingly everything out as Gwen paced before her. As moments became minutes, ‘No ordinary Girl’ by Kate Alexa tumbled out of her.

[ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eG4vriJ-vQM ]

As the song ended and the trancing faded, everyone stayed away, except one guy who looked over at them from just beside a payphone. An announcement appeared on the TV as well as heard over the PA. The train they got off on was leaving for Pontiac and another was heading back towards Chicago. Thirty minutes remained. However, checking her IPhone, Gwen grimaced. It remained 11pm. There was no midnight train here.

That square faced, ebony stubbled young man sat down beside Lorelei, thumbing through his itinerary, waiting for what seemed to be a moment. In his right hand swung a plastic bag with a black stylized NW surrounded by three-leaf clovers. Inside the clovers beneath the NW was a spiral of scored musical notes. A harp icon rested at the top of the logo. He stared at the bag briefly, a patient smile plastered on. Digging out an onion ring, he engulfed it before returning to his info.

After a quarter hour of sly glances and pacing, Gwen stopped before him. “What?” she said, brisk sass radiating from her as hands caught her skirt band again.

A sly smile crept as he beheld her. Eyes lit as he shook his head. “Gwen, Gwen Breton right?”

All boldness washed off her like wet paint in a summer storm. “Yes.”

“We weren’t supposed to meet here. Still I knew your big sis there would get confused. There is no South Detroit.”

“I know,” Gwen sighed, a groan rumbling with it. Eying his broad, taut physique, his thick hands held in a ‘hold up’ motion, she released a happy chirp. “Can you help?”

“We Detroiters, we know things. Windsor is south. When to get away. That Corktown is the best part of Detroit and that all you need to cross is an ID or Driver’s license.” He flashed a fake Driver’s License. “I needed it to do my job at the distillery across the river.” A suave grin beamed at her, brown eyes sparkling.

“And you do what?” Razor edge tone accompanied the question.

“Janitorial. I’m also on the Ford High swim team. Good enough to win so much that if I don’t show up, I get a pass.” The smile vanished as he rubbed his fingers together. “Where is your itinerary?”

“Sis has it.” Gwen elbows towards Lorelei still spaced out. He looked at her, grinned briefly then whistled under his breath. Covering his mouth, he stared at Gwen. “Hungry?”

“Famished.” Drool practically dripped down when he pulled a second wrapped burger from the bag. “Nancy Whiskey, best fish burgers in Detroit. Club soda?”

Her nose wrinkled as she stared at him. “You drink that?”

“When I have to rescue a beautiful lady, yes.” He pushed the burger towards her. Scooping it away without grazing his hand, she unfolded it, inhaling the salty, greasy tang of deep fried cod slathered with tartar sauce. A tomato slid out the side as she squeezed down. “Thanks,” she grinned sweetly. He smiled back; a bright smile, not noticing Lorelei watching them now.

Wolfing the burger down in a few bites, she sprang up and assaulted the Coke machine with vocal warbles. Several cans plopped out in succession. Sorting the Coke® and Sprite® she found an Dasani®, draining it before she returned to her seat.

“You leaving them there?” Tom asked, fascinated.

“Yes. Can’t drink Coke®.”

“I have a buddy who can. So you ready? I can drive you over there. Come on. Let’s go.”

Lorelei turned when he said that, looking straight at him. “Tom?”

“Lorelei?”

She growled then exhaled heavily. “We were to meet on the train.”

“You are in Detroit, not south Detroit. That’s Windsor. Even though the station is in Walkersville. You messed up the itinerary, didn’t you?”

She shook her head. “Yes. This is an end point.”

He nodded. “I know everyone in Walkersville station so we can easily get you on a train. Come on.” He reached out and took her hand, pulling her up. She gazed at him, then shivered. “Wow.” Covering her mouth, she hid a sad smile.

“What?” Worry crossed his face.

“Nothing. It’s nothing.” Only Gwen knew that look and it wasn’t nothing. It was a look she gave when important events happened. Tom’s apart of something major. Now I find out what after I get those cans. She grimaced to herself.

 

The jeep glistened in the autumn dew. Yet a chill in night’s air masked humidity making it feel far colder than it seemed. With a deft sleight of hand, Tom popped open the driver’s side door, pulled out his green sharks hoodie and tossed it to Lorelei. She chunked it right back. “Don’t need it.”

“Lady?” He offered it to Gwen. She shook her head, her lips twisted on an playful grin. “The cold doesn’t bother me anyway.” Lorelei stared at her coldly, her right index extended and wagging.

Tom slid into the seat and revved it up while watching their interplay. “It’s open.”

“Where are we going?” Worry seeped across Lorelei’s face. Hesitant steps halted when he stared at her, his right hand palm up before her. “I told you. Walkersville station. I know them. We can get on a train there. A midnight train. That is what you want?”

Gwen slid in, nestling beside him. She looked up at her sister, eyes horror wide. “So come on this is our adventure. There’s no telling where we’ll go. But all I want is just to live amongst the H2O!”

Tom laughed at the absurdity of her statement’s until Lorelei slid over and kissed him full on the lips. Her peck flushed both their cheeks as he stared into her eyes as she knelt. “Sorry, I had to be sorry. I wanted to talk to you on the train. We can do it here.” She exhaled heavily, panting and rubbing her hands. He locked his gaze with hers as she slid in the other side. “I brought another burger, if you want.”

“I’ll take it.” She saw the plastic bag beside his feet and drew out the final burger. “So…”

“No. We agreed that we were telling secrets it would be on a midnight train. So,” a sly smile flashed as he shut the door and backed out into the empty street, “midnight train it is. We still have 30 minutes.”

Lorelei nodded, mouth filled with fish. Gwen glanced over at him as they sat at the light. “No kiss?”

Running a finger from her ear to the base of her neck, he smiled. “Maybe later. For now it’s a train.”

 

Thirty minutes later, they sat before an much different building. The platform unlike Amtrak sat in front and covered with a thick overhang. Mercury lights shined yellow on the concrete. Old fashioned, wood slat benches faced a short metal fence. Those rigid slats divided the train tracks from them by a mere foot. Tom kept leaning back on a bench, his black nylon backpack leaning beside him. A ‘pleased cat’ expression filled his squarish jaw as Lorelei kept poking at her IPhone. “I know things.”

“You haven’t explained how you got them to delay this train until midnight. That sign beside the ticket counter clearly says 11:30pm departure.” She leaned against the fence unaware that a loose rail had popped out. Others knew as they walked by. They whispered about it, pointing towards the fence. Tom heard a piece of a comment, and looked down at her legs trying to see the loose piece. “Markers. Favors, whatever. I got her son a free steel keg when he couldn’t. There you go.”

Looking down where she thought he did, she caught his gaze. “I’m glad you like my skirt.”

“I’m not looking up it,” he said defensively. “I wouldn’t do that. Even if you have beautiful legs.”

Rolling her eyes, she smoothed her skirt. Shifting her weight onto the loose railing, a piece doubled towards her thigh, its jagged edge still gritty from being taped in place.

Lorelei chuckled as she watched them, finishing her actions on her phone. “All will be revealed in time.”

“You say that. How can I know you didn’t sucker me?” A smarmy smile beamed as he winked.

“I kissed you like I promised the last time we met.” She winked back, a fierce grin of her own.

“You met before?” Gwen gasped as she rolled to face her sis, shifting her weight and freeing another rail slat to possibly pierce her calf.

“Yes. This is meeting three?” Lorelei caught his eye, unsure.

He nodded. “Yes. First on my turf. We both love riding overnight trains.”

Gwen frowned at her sis, who shrugged.

A whistle in the distance blended into the first call for the arriving train. As Gwen sprung from the fence a slat stabbed her calf breaking off as another bent back. Rubbing her legs, she growled at the flecks of metal standing like needle sharps embedded. Tom stared as foreign words uttered as curses tumbled from her lips as she jerked each out. “Here’s your chance. How bad is it?” She winced as she knelt.

“You’re not losing much blood. It’s a trickle from each wound. How? That bar snapped off in your leg?” He asked aghast.

“My muscle density is 120 lbs per inch3.” She grinned unsure, looked around at the eight others standing by the gate opening, then winced as he daubed her tanned thigh with a napkin. “That’s two kilograms per liter.”

“1.9,” he corrected as he helped her up. “Blood stopped.”

Lorelei grabbed their bags and stared coldly at her again. Mouthing ‘stop’, she shook her head as she got behind everyone. Gwen glared back, shrugging.

“I hope you have something for the pain with you,” she whispered in Tom’s ear. His face fell as a soft sigh tumbled free. “Nothing you can take. I’ll give you this instead.” A quick peak on the cheek as the train came to a complete stop. “Once we get to our cabin, it’s secrets time.”

“Cabin?” Gwen glanced to Lorelei and back as the line began to move.

She looked back and nodded. Handing the conductor her info, they all piled in. Tom stood at the open door and leaned down. “Thanks.” The conductor nodded as he pulled himself back in.

Monday came and Shae remained patient. Brad looked her over unsure. “So are you saying staying in Show choir? Mr. Breaux said you gave him an idea. Something about convincing the Titan’s quarterback to join.”

“Yes,” she stared at the door, wanting.

“What happens if the idea fails. What happens if there is no one at all?” Brad said, emphasizing ‘at all’.

“The choir was pleasant for once,” she remarked. “They seemed pleased I was involved.”

“You shined. For once you believed in what you sang. You try so hard and nothing comes of it. Until today. Something is moving. Something is changing. You have to move with it.” He asked as he rose with his notes.

‘They are rehearsing in the auditorium?” She asked.

“Yes, they are. And you aren’t late until I arrive.” He said as he walked out the door. She followed after him wondering about what was changing. ‘It’s my star. It’s rising, and I have to be there because no one will hand it to me.’ She thought as she walked smartly towards the auditorium.

Trotting down the stairs, a pleased smile transfixed her face. Kent was there, looking nervous. “There is another issue to deal with,” she mumbled under her breath.

“Thanks, Mr. Breaux?” She said, his back turned.

Curtis and Mercy rolled their eyes, while Curtis added, “The shallow queen returns.” He mock bowed. Kent kept reading the sheet of music; his brow furrowed trying to make sense of it.

“Guys!” Mr. Breaux scolded. “Yes, Shae. You are welcome. Have a spot at the end.” He waited until she got to the stage before he handled her the sheet music. Brad sat down at the piano, focused on the music before him. He held a amused grin on his face that vanished as he began to play.

 

Kent didn’t know how to take this. The music had little symbols above it. There was that punk chick Zhu and then the blond elf guy from Farnsworth’s class who always shuffles. Then there was Curtis the nerdy kid that Collins dumped in the dumpster every other morning. ‘I have no choice. It’s this or six weeks of detention of which he will tell coach why and my mom will find out. And I will be branded as a druggie. The only good thing is Shae is here. Lorelei constantly jokes about her on my MySpace page and how Emily got 4chan to kill it recently for something disgusting.

Music began. Grease, ‘You’re the one that I want’. Focus, imagine the shower.

[ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7oKPYe53h78 ]

Singing the first lines, he stared out, rigid. The stage transformed into the carnival and he stood wearing a that Rydel letterman’s jacket John Travolta did.

Shae burst forth with the second line following the show, even scrubbing out the fake cigarette. Dancing toward him, she kept it up. They trading lines, dancing around the stage with everyone doing background. They were almost finished when Mercy broke off, yelling ,“I ain’t no Kelly Rowland.”

Shae stopped abruptly, stepping from the circle she’d been dancing with Kent. A double back handspring to back tuck and suddenly feet became inches. “You interrupt for that?” She said glaring, her hands pressed against each other.

“I’m not your backup singer,” Mercy replied.

“Mercy!” Mr. Breaux barked, frustration evident. “That’s not your call.”

She shrugged and sighed. “Why her? Why is she always lead?”

Brad pivoted on the piano bench. “You know the answer to that Mercy. You also know our placement scores. This is voluntary,” He emphasized ‘voluntary’. “You also know what they think about this.” He pointed up at the stairs to the doorway at the top which to the lobby and parking lot beyond. There, unaware to everyone, stood the Balor twins now in ebony crop tops and golden skorts. Silently yet announced themselves via the blockface ‘Gold’ embossed upon their abundant chests, they remained staring.

Shae followed Brad’s gaze to them, then shook her head. Folding her arms beneath her voluptuous bust, they did the same. So she turned her back on them.

Mercy groaned, shrugged and stepped to the back, her face fallen. “She even has haters already,” she whispered to Curtis.

Shae gazed at Kent who grinned, seemingly amused. Rolling his back he summoned her over with a wagged finger. “I’m having fun. I think you have something to do with this. Everyone else is scrubbing floors.”

Shae laughed. “Better?”

He shrugged. “Maybe.”

 

Dusk settled as Shae pulled into the parking lot. Row after row of cars consumed each line from near the doors leaving only Swiss cheese holes in the back end. Fuming, she pasted on a smile and climbed out. Mugginess as thick as molasses made her onyx sports bra with a wolverine paw inside a gold star leak from her sudden sweat.

Before her stood a gold and honey colored stone gymnasium. Its mansard roof borne a huge golden star and wolverine paw just like on her sports bra, only this one glowed radiantly. Beneath it on the stone wall illuminated golden letters spelled out ‘Full of Grace® Cheer and Dance’. The copyright symbol remained dark, a tree swallow nesting inside the r hole. Slowly walking up the sidewalk, the Balor twins paused as she approached then sprinted to catch up and stand before her.

“Shae, stop.” Emily shouted as Shae weaved to avoid her.

“Why? You made your position evident. We aren’t on the same squad so I need to get my practice.” She arms folded akimbo as she leaned aggressively.

“You don’t understand.” Kaylie said softly as she rubbed her fingers together. “We are a team. You’re Black. We are Gold. We never disliked you. Sure Lorelei hates you but she’s not a part of us. She’s a Cheerieaux. She’s a Coupe du Monde Shooting Star. Do you know what would have happened if it got around that we supported you in stealing Kent from her?” She bit her lip, frustrated stare missing as Shae observed the carved logos in the stone sidewalk.

“Look, we are trying to apologize. She’s gone now.” Emily growled, kicking a pebble. “We are on your side.”

Glancing up at them, Shae sighed before narrowing her eyes. “What does she have on you?”

“Nothing!” Kaylie spat immediately. Emily looked away silently, eyes misty and dim.

“Em, my dad’s a lawyer. If you mean it, tell me.” A conciliatory smile graced her lips as Shae dropped her arms down.

Kaylie shook her head violently as Emily reached in her cheer backpack and dug out a picture of a massive ringlike object covered in symbols around its rim. Azure water seemingly floated in the center like a pool turned on its side. Lorelei stood in front of it carrying Saks Fifth Avenue bags in one hand and a Balenciaga Turquoise Work Bag in the other. Her left foot seemed to be in the water, her right out as if she stepped front the watery center.

Shae scanned the pic, dismayed, “How did you get this?”

“We snuck into a this open stone building down by the river. It’s on the National register of historic places but isn’t a museum. It’s an empty house. At least we thought it was.” Kaylie frowned, fear beset her features.

“Lorelei caught you scouting houses for the GraveRobber?”

“No, we were on our own. It seemed empty for at least a month. Then suddenly people were back the next day after we got caught.” Emily nodded.

“Lorelei made you drug me and attack?” Shae asked hesitantly, looking at the digital clock beneath the logo. Beneath it read, ‘It’s always time for Grace cheer.’

Both girls nodded. “Willow wanted the other one. Now it’s taken on a life of its own. Sorry. You do believe us?”

Shae nodded. “Kent’s father works with this crazy Japanese guy who swears Lorelei’s family are merpeople, so yes. This gives him credibility. It don’t however free you both.” They both frowned. Emily started to kneel but she frowned, shaking her head. “Support show choir. Give me that much and I will let this go.”

“OK.” They both shout as a honk in the background announces their ride is here. Sighing to herself, she runs up and through the glass doors into the lobby area. Right in her path is Brad.

Stopping short she smiles at him. “Brad?”

“Shae?” Brad turned from talking to a parent. “I hoped I’d catch you before your practice and not after.”

Looking at the clock hanging from the glass walkway ceiling, she frowned, nodding. “What, sir?”

“Something is still coming. You can’t stop believing when adversity comes.”

She looked at him doe eyed. “I haven’t.”

“Yes, you have. Everyone noticed when that practice ended. You though Kent is it. He isn’t. Trust me. He’s a beginning.”

She smiled at him, a wan smile. “What else is out there?”

“So much more. All you need is to believe. All things are possible to them who believe. Take this,” He handed her sheet music for Journey’s ‘Don’t stop Believing’.

She smiled at him, amused. Then her eyes lit up as she read the lyrics. ‘I have to go find him tomorrow. I’m late.”

“No, you’re not. It just so happens that Coach Grace is an old friend of mine. She knows about this.”

Shae stared at him unsure, then looked at the sheet music in her hand. Hope dawned as her smile grew. “I’ll trust you.”

“Then I’ll see you in the auditorium tomorrow. It’s going to be the day Show choir gains the strength to rise from the ashes and actually make a new beginning.”

 

Tom sat quietly in the grayish vinyl seat watching the night darkened landscape roll by. Lorelei sat beside him wearing a soft, neutral expression even as her eyes lit in delight. “You’re not angry?”

“No.” He snorted, swallowing and rolling his lips. “I just never seen anything like what she did. We argued and suddenly music all around. And fog, lots of fog.” He stared into her jade eyes, unsure. “I’m glad this an empty train.”

She chuckled. “It doesn’t matter if it is or not. She’s a siren. People make it more complicated but mattering, it doesn’t.”

A shooting star blazed across the sky at the top of the window. Eyes widening, his hands rubbed his chin. Quiet filled with chugging roll of wheel across the rails surrounded them again as a brief blast of the horn called out. He rose, stepped over to the lavatory and pushed open the door. Stepping in the tiny room, replete in its bland greyness, was a metal sink and porcelain toilet.

“Tom?” Lorelei asked softly as a swift repetitive ding shot by.

“If I can provide enough water, would you prove it?” He called from within.

“Prove what? That we are both mermaids?” Fear filled her voice as he poured over every inch of the room. From the minisoap dispenser to the paper towel holder to the toilet paper holder. Finally, he noticed the locked cabinet where the trash can rested. Fishing out his key ring, a key matching that lock sparkled in the white light.

“Yes. Secrets right? I told you about my uncle and my situation. I can get in a crap load of trouble doing this. I’m asking to share the burden.” He turned the lock. Metallic door sprang open, revealing a scarred, dingy grey trashcan with a 15 stenciled on it. Beneath it rested a silver pouch almost invisible to first glance. Pulling it at, it came up easily. Yet it wouldn’t bend even though it felt bumpy to the touch.

Charcoal laden air attacked as he re-entered. Not smoky so he frowned, listening to the ever present rumbled of metal wheels to rails. “It’s not a question of trust…”

“Of course not,” she bit off, not looking at him.

“You really thought, I’d just accept your ‘truth’ face value without proof?” He held his tongue, a sly grin pressed on his face.

A heavy sigh rumbled from her as she continued to stare into the night. “This is not how this revealed itself to me.”

“It never is.” He sat down, rubbing her back with his hand. “I don’t tell people who I don’t know about my family or that I fly a sign when I need to. We’ve been talking for almost a year now. We’ve met at the pub twice.”

“Fraunces Tavern. I didn’t actually expect you when you said you come.” She turned, tears pooling. With a napkin from off the table, he dabbed them.

“I said the last time that I needed more. I want to know you.” He emphasized the ‘you’ with a soft tap to her right collarbone. She winced, pulling away.

“I told you the truth.” Quick blinks and downturned stares coupled dark gloominess when she caught his gaze.

“Then what are you afraid of?” He pulled her hand into his, stroking the back with his fingers.

“Once I do it, there is no going back. I know you think this is…”

He pressed his finger down on her hand. “I think nothing about this other than what you say. Relax. I won’t betray anything.” Sparkles flickered in eyes his eyes as he held an easy grin. “We’ve come this far. You want to show me, don’t you?”

Flush bloomed as sharpness tightened her face.

His gaze fell to her silk organza blouse; its raw-edged sheer ties top a cascade of layered ruffles as she slid her hand underneath them unbuttoning it half way. Exposing her collarbone, she placed his right hand on it. “Run your hand along there, just underneath the bone. Feel that seam?”

He nodded, glancing from her gravitas to nearly invisible pucker like scar. Perfect twins beneath each bone starting at her cheery bra strap and ending at her sternum. Her cleavage seemed ample if broad as his fingers played there. She gripped them and held. “Those are my gill slits.” She let go of his hand, buttoning back her blouse. “You are asking me to reveal my true self here. I can’t do that.”

He nodded then, revealing the pouch. “What if you could?”

Biting her lip, she stared. “You want to see me naked.”

He blushed that time, looking away. “No, I don’t.” He stammered, shaking his head. “Unless you…” He gulped.

“I have a tail, Tom. I live underwater. Yes, I go to school and cheer on the surface because we can’t be ignorant of the surface world. Still, my house is older than any nation on the planet.”

“Wouldn’t you be in pods like dolphins?” Curiosity followed a sly smile. She spoke an word that sounded Indian and Arabic. “zizum’Araka can be translated as pod or house. House sounds more regal and more surface now.”

He blew out a breath. “Still if you could?” He opened the pouch. Two keys inside. A white plastic emblazing with the Via logo and a thick metal key long but square. Ridged on both sides it had protrusions on transverse.

“I need lots of water.” She glared at him, tired. Pulling up her legs, she leaned against the window, staring out.

“We are four hours from NYC. This train is carrying a five hundred gallon fresh water tank and several clear berms to go with it. There’s another empty tank beside it.” He held the keys up again. “No one will notice anything. Or we can try it in the pool near the tavern.”

Lorelei sighed. “You owe me.” She bounced off the seat and leaned into him. “I will go all the way with you. Show all my secrets. Will you do what I ask? Will you trust me then?”

He looked at the door as it opened revealed Gwen holding a tray filled with food for them both. “I ate already,” she chirped, her bubbly demeanor dismissing the sudden tension.

Lorelei held Tom’s gaze, her head cocked. He nodded. “I will, no matter what. You have my word.”

Gwen caught the seriousness, shook her head, resting the tray down. It jiggled as the train hit warps in the track. “Eat. Finish that later.”

Tom laughed, shaking his head. He winked and nodded at Gwen. Lorelei grinned, sucking in her lips. “Not today. Soon.”

 

Kent about dove from his skin when he saw Shae behind the locker door. He felt really bad about leaving Show choir but after the paintball attack he couldn’t risk it going back. She smells so good. Why doesn’t Lorelei smell this good. Wonder what she wants?

“Didn’t see you at Show choir club today.”

“That still happening…”

“Yes,” she said forcefully. “Why would you think otherwise. Oh, Lorelei, of course.”

Emily walked up. “Hey, Kent,” she said with a polite smile. “Why are you talking to her?”

Kent froze, mumbling. He looked over to Shae. “Science project partners,” an agreeable smile flashed across his lips before flattening out.

“CheerHouse, five o’clock. We have an exhibition, right, Shae?”

She nodded, grinning. “We do. Kent do come. We can talk after.”

“Sounds great,” he said without joy before sighing heavily. “Look, I should go.” Defeat masked his face. “I can’t do Show choir anymore it conflicts with….”

Shae beheld him and remembered what Brad said. With determined compassion and a bit of frustration, she spat, “Your reputation? You really got something, Kent and you are throwing it away.”

“I’m gonna be late.” Conflicted emotions raged across him as he pivots away and then back.

“You can’t keep worrying about what people think. You are better than all of them.” She smiled; a warm, bright eyed smile. “Remember that out on Titan green.” He watched her sprint off down the hall.

What she didn’t see was that Brad heard the conversation, saw Kent leave towards the locker room. So he went to the auditorium and told them to delay 30 minutes. ‘It’s happening now.”

“Right now?” Nick the sax player asked.

“Noah, Rick and another football player grabbed Arthur, so either Kent defends him or he buckles. But after what Shae said, I think he will defend him.”

“I have faith, Brad. I agree.” They all nodded.

“I’m going out to see. Call my cell if either of them show up and keep them here.”

“Understood.”

 

The call came 10 minutes later. When Brad returned, Shae was arguing with Curtis over choreography for the song. Standing off to the side silently, he noticed when Kent came in carrying Arthur like a sack of potatoes. With the other hand, he pushed in the wheelchair still glistening.

Squeezing his fist in success, he went over to the piano. The rehearsal was amazing. During a break, he walked to the facility break room and saw Matt talking to Gemma, one of the school counselors, his laptop open. He was telling her about the ‘93 nationals. She asked him what he believed in. He said, “Shae. With all her boisterousness, she has a future. All we need to do is give it a push. I wish I knew how. Or when?”

Brad realized what was happening. Setting down his coffee, he ran back to the auditorium. They are ready to go again, so they begin the next set. As Matt walks by, he hears it. Hears the passion. Hears ‘Don’t stop Believing’.

Only two problems no one saw. Coach Sylvan was in the break room as well and knew that Brad didn’t run for anything. That meant something was happening. When the band practice was canceled, that confirmed it. He never canceled band.

The other was Collins telling Coach Delamort that Kent baled on practice to be drama king with his drama queen, so he sent him to the auditorium to confirm it.

With all this Matt Breaux walked in and saw them in Red band Under Armor® shirts as costumes, except Curtis who wore a Band top shirt complete with ruffles.

Something had moved. Something had changed. They didn’t stop believing. He knew from the look on everyone’s faces Show choir would be going to at least Sectionals if not Regionals. Maybe just maybe it would make it to Nationals April 12th of 2007.

“It would kill me to see you at Nationals without me,” Mr. Breaux said in the doorway. “So let’s do this. From the top.”

 

There were no windows in the baggage car. Also, only one light bar ran the entire length of the car. Apparently no one intended the car to be accessible while the train chugged down its tracks. Lorelei shivered, clutching the bathroom tighter as maneuvers between luggage and cargo became an obstacle course fraught with fear. Tom said encouraging words aloud occasionally yet remained in shadow; hidden by the mythical water tank on board. Still every open vision, every dream about him said trust him. One said he would be the most important person ever to be met.

So barefoot and clad in a Via embroidered white terry cloth robe she stood beside a massive vertical steamer trunk, scanning the twilight for his massive blocky form. Indeed the swimmer, he cut a broad yet lithe profile. Finally she growled and sat on a Louis Vuitton truck all locked up in locks.

“I’m tired of hide and seek.”

Stepping right beside, he shook his head, disappointment in his eyes even as he grinned. In his right hand remained a pocket bible dog-eared and highlighted. “I’m here.”

She gazed past his smugness to the seven foot cylinder beyond. It remained filled with water, effervescent as it sloshed to either side with a persistent rhythm. A metal ladder rested against its side. Its lid remained off and upon an caramel colored cargo container, strapped four times. “One last time, why?”

All smugness drained away. A blank demeanor replaced it, one with trusting eyes. Eyes filled with hope and love. Eyes from her vision. “I showed you my everything. I even agreed to abandon Detroit, and move to Lafayette, Louisiana. I will live with my Uncle who I scarcely know and go to school. All I ask in return is to prove yourself. You say you are a mermaid. Ok, show me this once. I’ll never ask again.”

“And if I don’t?” Resigned words fell to the ground as she felt the cool of the tank. Room temperate water. An aerator on the top. Everything designed for this reveal. Like he knew in advance. How?”

“We go back to the cabin, finish the night and I return to Detroit. I’m sorry, Lorelei, but it’s an outrageous claim.” He grinned smugly again, pointing to the tank. “No harm, no foul. I’m not making you do anything.”

Bitter laughter cascaded as she tested the ladder. “Has it occurred to you than maybe I didn’t want you to see me naked yet?”

Tom’s face went neutral. “I will turn my back until you are in the water, sporting a tail.” He leaned against the tank for moment, then pivoted to face the back half of the car. Searing gaze struck his burnt umber polo shirt back as she said, “Quit being so accommodating!”

“Quit procrastinating then.” He said without any attitude as he returned to reading the bible and mumbling to himself.

Shaking her head, a sigh rumbled from her as she doffed the robe, climbed the ladder and splashed in. A burst of rippling, glassy luster flowed around, creating a translucent sheen. From just beneath her six pack abs to feet, tanned peach skin transfigured into Tyrian purple scales arrayed in a diamond pattern. Flukes folded out of the sides of her feet. C-cup breasts scaled over masking nipples and areolas. Tā moko tattoos ran along the sides of her neck from the base of her ears to gill line. They opened immediately. Her hair turned cerise as she floated softly waiting for him to turn. After a minute, she said, Tom, softly. The resulting froth of water splashed him enough that he spun around.

Eyes widened as his mouth fell open. “This is what all the secrets are about. You are more beautiful than my dreams.” A broad grin warmed his face as he placed his hand against the tank. “I’m sorry I didn’t believe you.”

She shrugged, raising her hands. Writing out letters on the glass, she spelt out, “If I talk normally, I will shatter the glass.” Tapping her tattoos she grinned again. Barrel rolling in the tank, she wiggled her tail, then tapped her claws to the glass. Suddenly, Her eyes grew white and she burst up, breaking the surface. Gasping for breath, she coughed and sputtered.

“I ran out of air. There,” she panted, “isn’t enough oxygen in the tank to sustain anyone.” Tom rested the bible beside the lid, burst up the ladder to haul her out. Lifting her slick body up, he struggled and slipped almost falling from the ladder. Bracing herself, she reached out and grabbed him. Exhaling, he caught the lip with his hands and the ladder with his calves.

“Well, this is unexpected.” He laughed as he hung there, shuffling his feet to force the ladder back.

“You asked,” She chided playfully. “So what now?”

“I still get you down.” He grinned yet his eyes held fear.

Her smile vanished replaced with a flat line of determination. “No. I can do this. Just spot me. Besides, I know you want to touch my scales anyway.”

He nodded, shaking his head as he dropped several rungs. She twisted around bracing her back against the tank. With her hands on the rim, she vaulted herself out. He popped off the ladder and slid underneath her. A heavy grunt tumbled forth he caught her tail forcing him to his knees.

He stared back into her doe-eyed gaze, and pecked her lips, tasting Mentos® and salt water combined. She pulled back a second, her stare surprised then delighted. Her kiss caused him to shiver and furrow his brows.

“Now the consequences.” She said, a serious demeanor attached to her brightness.

“I’m becoming one?” He remarked, the sly smile beaming

“No,” she shook her head. “Love needs to be in place first. We don’t know each other well enough for that to happen. Emotional love, neediness or lust doesn’t work.”

“Then what’s wrong.” He said suddenly serious. Her frown dampened his mood further.

“You’ll turn. That means accessing our gates and can get gills. However, the gills are a choice part. The accessing and inability to be tranced isn’t. We shouldn’t have kissed but then again I believe you are mine anyway so I didn’t see the harm.”

Tom cast a peculiar look. “Yours? I am yours? Your people believe in assigned marriages?”

She sighed, frustrated, crinkling the edges of her eyes and her nose ridge. “Really, Tom?” He shrugged. “The Assembly doesn’t believe in that. I saw us together over the next year. Then its hazy after Christmas. But I did you as one of our nobles as well as Gwen as Queen.”

He shook his head, worry lines creasing his jaw and forehead. “I thought you were eldest.”

“I am. I’m also a politico. We work in politics and leadership. However, we also get the gift of farsight. Mine says I won’t be Queen. Gwen will. No reason why.”

“Do all Politicos have farsight?” He asked as he listened around. Something didn’t set right. “Answer that back in the cabin. We need to go. How fast can you change back?”

Hazy wave of light washed over her as her tail became legs again. Where he held her the scales flattened out and sunk away, even as her muscles remained rock hard. Bouncing off of his grasp, she grabbed the robe and shuffled forward. Navigating the maze of freight seemed easier now. So when she pulled open the door, the rushing wind didn’t seem a bother.

Tom touched her back as she reached for the other door. “It’s locked. Let me.” Sliding the key card in, the lock clicked and the door opened.

At the far end of the hall, the conductor was knocking on doors. Running to their cabin two doors from where they were, the arrived before he noticed them. Gwen scanned them both as they returned, an amused look on her face. “Have fun?”

“Gwendolyn!” Lorelei snapped as Tom chuckled. He stroked her back, softly. “Out of condoms now. Sorry.”

Gwen’s face flushed immediately as Lorelei slugged his chest playfully if a bit rough. He shrugged, still chuckling.

When the conductors knock came, Lorelei stood in the bathroom, when Gwen opened. He looked in, informing them that there would be a small layover at the last stop before Grand Central. Nothing to be concerned with.

Lorelei laughed when the door shut again. “Nothing other than mermaid sweat in the water and umm…”

“You didn’t!” Tom exclaimed, laughing harder.

Blushing deeper, Lorelei just stared furious. “I couldn’t help it. I suddenly couldn’t breathe.”

Gwen looked from one to the other. “So are you?”

Lorelei shook her head. “Not yet.”

 

Gwen stood in dingy white tile room, stained with over a century of smoking. Everything from the earth toned, highly stylized flowers on a rice backdrop oriental rug to the to the maize linens on the tables stunk of cigar smoke. Nevertheless, this remained the selected meeting place Lorelei said she saw when they arrived in NYC with Tom. Her uncle Emmet would meet them here. Off in the corner sat an old baby grand piano covered in a dingy drop sheet.

Glancing around at Tom and Lorelei privately chatting, she slid over to it. Pushing up the drop sheet enough, she began playing ‘scales’. “Steinway” she mumbled seemly pleased. Casting a final glance, she began playing Journey’s ‘Don’t stop Believing’.

[ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1k8craCGpgs ]

Lorelei looked over as she hit the third verse of the song and sighed, shaking her head. Tom listened, this delight swimming as the performance continued. “Is that 1981 Houston or album?” He asked softly.

“Don’t know. She does this when she’s bored. I’ve tried to get her to become a contract artist. She refuses.” Lorelei frowned, her nosed wrinkled.

Tom glanced around, sniffed the air and then bowing his head, walked to the stairwell, glancing up. The streetlight remained visible as it always had. The room in fact was a part of the basement of a restaurant/bar owned by Breton’s through other channels. The room indeed remained smoky, with its ashtrays scattered about. The smell of cheap perfume also caught his attention. So he turned to Lorelei, and asked, “Did we share the night?”

Askance glance turned into a smile when she understood. “That’s not funny.”

“It actually is. I didn’t plan it. You were the one with the midnight trains.” He cajoled as Gwen stopped, the guitar riffs fading back into the silence.

Lorelei turned to Gwen shaking her head. “You did this. Giving me the idea about the midnight trains.”

She shrugged. “You kept gripping about your mystery boy and how you didn’t know the way to get him down here. You also kept riding those trains.”

“I rode twice.” She emphasized. “I certainly didn’t do it to get a thrill.”

Tom groaned, laughing. “But you did pay anything to roll the dice one more time.”

She turned to him in mock horror. “So did you. How exactly did you get that train set up?”

“The same way you got two train tickets from Lafayette to NYC one way.”

“Haven’t figured out how you are getting back.” Tom raised his hands in disbelief. He shook his head. “So by both of us getting on the train we completed verses one and two. Here is verse three. As we walked to here from the station we fulfilled the chorus by passing those people heading toward bars, clubs and their homes.”

“Don’t forget Zack the homeless man who stands on that nail bed while people hit him for money.” Gwen said as they both shook their head.

Tom noticed a tall man with sandy tan hair cropped short with a caramel goatee. He wore a black three piece suit with shoes that he saw his reflection in. “Mr. Breton?”

He glanced over that the ladies, quickly assessing them. A frown formed then vanished. Looking Tom over he nodded. “Yes. Verse six is decided now. You won’t the outcome for a while. You will learn of it though. That brings me to the other thing I wanted to say.”

Lorelei and Gwen looked to him, unsure. “Uncle Emmet, please?”

“I’m not telling your mother you are standing in my Battery Park club’s smoke room at five thirty Wednesday morning. However, Tom is it?”

“Yes, sir.” Tom nodded, his manner respectful.
“You’re a believer, correct?” He watched him with an iron sharp gaze.

Tom spoke immediately in a serious tone. “In what, sir? In your assembly? Yes. In Jesus Christ? Yes. I am as well. I have been since 2004.”

Emmet smiled, his gaze jumping back forth between the girls who both seemed squeamish at the questioning. Gwen said something in a foreign language. Emmet stared hard at her then sniffed the air. Shaking his head, dismay rested on his lips briefly before they grew blank. “So you have seen Lorelei’s true form. You have thoughts?”

Tom shook his head back and forth once. “No, sir. She did that as an exchange for what she requested me to do. Mine is the harder task.”

Emmet smiled again, his hard gaze softening, as if he understood. “You know of Micah Stampley?”

“Yes. I heard of the song ‘Heaven on Earth’ song by him.”

Emmet nodded. “Good. Because something is moving. Something is changing. The atmosphere of expectancy is the breeding ground for miracles. Remember this.” He looked to the ladies who stood still and silent.

“Ladies, I want you to understand something that your mother won’t tell you. The Lord Sword nor King Vann will tell you this either. My brother…pah…he’s guilty of it.”

He looked up at the streetlamp still on in slowly dawning sky. With an amused snort unheard by everyone but Tom, he said, “The world is being destroyed by one side believing the other side is destroying the world. Think about that for a moment. It’s important.”

He fell silent listening to the various street sounds filtering in. People walking by, newspapers being delivered, cars driving past. On the wind, there floated ferry horns, pneumatic hammers and saws, cranes moving, electronic doors opening and closing. Yet, there was no speech. No talking.

Exhaust mixed with window cleaner and olive oil from the vats in the next room roamed in, assaulting their noses. Yet Emmet waited, watching them with interest. “You done?” They all nodded.

“Good. The world is being destroyed by one group of people believing they’re truly better people than others who think differently. This world will officially end when those beliefs triumph over love. Through it all we will remain.” He focused in on the ladies. “Only if we don’t sink to their level. Just because we can live in the sea and number in the thousands doesn’t mean that we can engage in the very thing that is destroying the world and survive. Ours is more fragile than theirs. It takes one wrong person on the throne to destroy us. That is why King Vann is still there.”

He looked to Tom, closed his eyes for a moment and breathed out what appeared to be a lament. Only his emotions remained blank as did his face. Even his eyes, dots of coal, remained fixed. “When we lump people into groups, quickly label them and assume we know everything about them and their life based on a perceived world view, we are not behaving in our full capacity. We are no longer human. We have become the monsters we declare them to be.”

Closing his eyes again as he paused, he listened as someone approached from the inside stairwell behind the wooden door to the ladies immediate right. He knew via his own assembly gifts who it was. “There are those who hate use because we are the assembly. We can command the water and the sea. We can control and redirect sound and light. We can even bend local space, yet they want to drag us into a petty feud began seven millennia ago over land that is now a desert. They want to destroy. Don’t let them. Don’t ignore them or forget them either. Our greatest gift is the ability to love them into forgetting that we are who we are. Do that.”

With that said, he handed each of them a cloth sack that waited on the dunnage rack beside Tom. “You all need to get home. Tom, welcome. WE will meet again. Just not here. It will be in an auditorium. However, you need to remember, beauty is always within even if it stops shining. A juiced up bulb will still glow even covered in mud.”

 

Shae walked from the auditorium with Kent, still leaning on his shoulder. “So what next?”

“First I need to end it with Lorelei. Then we go full out. I think we can get to nationals.” He beamed at her as they walked out into the steamy night. Mugginess still gripped even in late September. She looked over at Lorelei’s glare as she stood, arms folded at the entrance to the school.

“She’s staring at us.” Shae remarked, straightening up.

“She’s angry you won. What I don’t get is that she’s been carrying that weird drawstring bag around all day.” He gazed into her eyes, his confusion evident.

“Why does it matter? She seems like she stayed up all night, riding a wave of coffee and red bull.”

“The bag says ‘Don’t stop believing.’ Its sewn into it. It’s like she knew what we were singing.” He looked around Shae. Lorelei was taking to Brad.

Shae forced a laugh, masking her sudden uneasiness. “That’s not possible. It’s a coincidence. We will see many of those. Instead let’s focus on our success, the fact that Willow is moving away and that no matter what, Lorelei won’t ever be able to hurt us.”

Kent nodded, yet still he wondered what Lorelei was talking to Brad about. Yet it didn’t matter. Taft would always be here. New Perspective would win all their meets and be in NYC April 12th ’07. That trophy would be one of many. One of many. He nodded happily as Shae hugged him while they walked on.

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