Karalee stared at the paper in her hand, leaning against the concrete wall outside of the Firstmoon Organization.
“Mm-hm,” she said, still staring. The light wind blew a few loose strands of hair that escaped from her long brown braid across her slightly-freckled face.
School, she thought. Actual, public school.
Her eyes remained on the sheet of paper flapping slightly in the breeze. A car horn honked in the distance, and the green leaves of the few trees planted through the city sidewalks were rustling peacefully.
She looked up, a tiny smile curving her mouth as she watched the scene around her. It really is a nice day.
A car went by with a soft roar. Another. Low traffic today, she thought, turning her head to look at the road on her right.
“Woah!” She jumped around skittishly.
A tall, silver-haired man stood some feet away, dark eyes looking kindly out of his suntanned face.
Karalee smiled sheepishly and leaned on the wall again, un-tensing a bit.
Warren was one of the few people who could sneak up on her. Granted, she was a bit preoccupied.
He moved a few steps closer and leaned on the wall beside her, tilting his head to look at the paper, though he knew what it was. He was with her when she received it an hour ago.
Karalee bent closer to it, scrunching her nose as she noticed a strange sentence on the sheet of school rules and regulations.
” ‘Students shall not at any time be in simultaneous possession of both a monkey and more than five bow ties on school property.’ ” She looked up, sticking out her lower lip and cocking an eyebrow, her disbelieving expression slowly stretching to a snorting laugh. “Betcha that’s got a story behind it!”
“You ready for this?” Warren grinned.
She considered, sticking her lower lip out again as she looked up and to the left. Then, grinning back widely at him, she answered,
He chuckled. Kara closed her eyes briefly as her head bent under the pressure of his large hand.
“C’mon, it’ll be fine.”
She straightened up and looked dubiously at him.
“Are you sure? It’s high school,” she smirked. “I’ve heard terrible things about that place.”
“Noooo, it’s not that bad,” Warren joked back. “You probably won’t even lose a finger. Maybe. Wellllllll….”
Kara stopped and stared, deadpan.
“No.” He looked pointedly at her.
“Oh.” She tilted her head back and forth. “Meh. Could be worse,” she shrugged casually. “At least it’s not Finland.”
“No. But it is a mission, so watch your back. Two people have disappeared already.”
She looked him steadily in the eyes.
Business talk. Kara did that sometimes when speaking to others while on missions. It was a nice response to give, because it meant ‘I fully appreciate your opinion/advice and the gravity of the situation’, but it didn’t mean yes or no or I promise. Dangerous things to say when you didn’t like to break your word.
In this case, though, yes was the obvious answer.
Flop. Kara rolled over on the couch after getting back home, flipping upside-down so that her feet hung over the back. Warren went into the kitchen to cook dinner. She would have been helping, but she was the type of person who would burn a salad. Her forte was more in the line of dish-washing.
“‘Ey, whatcha doin’?” she called, though she knew exactly what he was doing.
“Making risotto,” the answer came from the kitchen. The freezer door opened and closed again.
“Ooooooo, yum!” A goofy smile crossed her face as she looked at the floor upside-down and reached for the remote that had fallen onto the beige carpet all apartments seemed to have.
Click-buzz. The TV came to life.
“‘Barney shows us lots of things, like how to play prete-e-end…’” The obnoxiously cheerful tune blasted through the speakers. Kara winced.
“Eeezsh….” Clamping her thumb down on the Volume button, she lowered the song to an acceptably low level, and began to flip through channels, still watching upside-down.
“‘…Is On Your Side,’” the insurance company’s jingle finished. Click.
“‘Jacob… I – I love you!’”
“‘I love you too, Stephanie!’” The soap opera couple kissed passionately. Barf, Karalee thought, and pressed the button again.
“‘With this REVOLUTIONARY device, you can have a robot vacuum your floors, AND perfectly preserve your avocados, at the SAME TIME! Call now to order for only $19.95!’”
What the hay? Click.
“‘And for our next report, an increasing number of reports concerning counterfeit Gems have been coming in to Sierra Madre’s police force….’”
Kara jerked her head up. Significant, she thought. This is significant. Important. Essential. She didn’t know why, but sometimes events or pieces of seemingly non sequitur information seemed to hit her as incredibly necessary to remember. This was one of them.
Once she had said something about a place being significant to Warren, and he listened, though he seemed to think it was a bit of a weird thing to say.
Two days later a bomb detonated in that location.
“‘These reports have been coming in from all types of stores, but most incidents have occurred at various restaurants and cafes around town. The outbreak appears to be fairly localized, and the police assure us that they foresee a resolution to the situation in the near future. Here to tell us a bit more about this is June Foundry, with Captain Stanley Forth. June?’”
Still upside-down and tinged with the blue light of the television, Karalee paid rapt attention to the news report as Captain Forth appeared onscreen.
The yellow light of the morning sun filtered through the Venetian blinds, tinging the quiet living room a warm golden color as Karalee woke up on the couch.
Yawning, she made her eyes involuntarily tear up. Sitting up and blinking, the slightly-messy room came into focus as she placed her feet on the floor.
Wait…. Yesterday left her with a vague impression. There’s something I should be remembering. Something not-so-good.
A moment passed, full of the silence of a sleeping house in the morning. Kara’s brain worked furiously, thinking what the important event could be.
Oh yeah! She remembered at last. School.
Oh well. She smiled, breathing out a small sigh, the morning lending the situation a fresh perspective. This’ll be fun. Might as well enjoy it instead of freaking out.
With that off her mind, Karalee’s thought moved to what was (obviously) a more important topic.
Breakfast. I’m hungry. Her stomach growled, informing her of what she already knew.
Setting her feet on her tip-toes, she propped her elbows on her knees, folded her hands, and closed her eyes.
Dear God…. She mouthed her prayer silently.
I’m going out there today. I mean – You know that…. She searched for words. But… please help me to… be the person You want me to be.
To show Your love to everyone. To… to not be afraid to give You glory. I know I’m scared to say those words. Aloud. There’s no good reason… but I still am. Please give me the courage to speak out. Please.
In Jesus’ name.
Amen, she whispered.
She opened her eyes and briefly smiled up at the ceiling before standing. Even though she knew Jesus wasn’t on her roof or anything… but she still did it anyway.
Breakfast! She headed into the kitchen eagerly, her socked feet padding on the linoleum.
Opening the refrigerator (softly!), she got out the orange juice, and reached into the cabinet above her head for a glass. Whoops! She caught the fridge door before it slammed shut.
Closing it gently, she unscrewed the juice carton’s lid.
Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!
“Gyeezsh!” Kara tensed and made some weird sound between her teeth as Warren’s alarm clock went off in the other room, reverberating through the silent house like a fire alarm.
“Ehehheh.” Shaking her head, she exhaled and finished pouring the juice. So jumpy! Chill out, Kara!
6:00, she calculated from the fact that the alarm clock had gone off. We won’t have this much sunlight soon. School days….
Karalee pushed her backpack full of textbooks into the floorboard of Warren’s Chevy truck, grunting from the weight. Man, this thing is heavy! Do normal kids carry this every day?
She jumped inside and closed the door with a SLAM, not calculating for the reduced air pressure in the cab due to the open windows.
“Oops.” She cringed at the loud noise. “Sorry!”
“Where were you?” Warren asked as he turned the key, and the truck rattled to life.. Kara was late.
“On a hunt for that mythical creature, known to many as ‘The Other Shoe‘.” she rolled her eyes, slightly annoyed at the time wasted.
“Oh? How’d the hunt go?” Warren put the truck in reverse gear and pulled out of his parking space. Kara stretched the seat belt across her body and snapped it into the buckle.
“Went fine. Finally found it, two feet from the other one.” She shrugged, as if to say ‘It figures’ as they moved forward and onto one of busy roads of Sierra Madre.
The warm spring breeze came through the open window, brushing the loose strands of Kara’s hair past her face as the truck rolled past the playground of Jamaasian High, and the main building came into full view.
Palm trees. Triangular roofs. Terracotta and cream seemed to be the primary color motifs. Large blue letters announced the name of the school above the main entrance.
“Pretty,” Kara said aloud.
Warren pulled into a parking space, then activated the parking brake and turned to Kara.
“Okay. You know what you’re doing?”
Kara turned to him, pulling her right leg onto the seat and resting her elbow on it. She looked up at the fabric roof of the truck and smiled, sighing,
“Eh. I’d like to think so, anyway.” Despite her nonchalant air, she gave him her full attention.
“Alright.” He started going over the mission one more time. “Two people have – ” he inclined his head toward her, waiting for her to complete the sentence.
” – Disappeared,” Kara finished.
“Right,” Warren nodded once. “One a teacher, one a student. And they disappeared inside that school.” He pointed in the direction of the entrance. “And youuuu – ” He moved the finger to her.
” – Need to go inside, keep my ears and eyes open, report anything and everything to you, and keep an eye out for the agent inside, who will contact me when the time is right.”
“And how will he contact you?”
“With the phrase ‘pickles and cheese’. Though I have to say that could come up far more often than I’d like to avoid confusion.” She made an uncertain face. “What if someone’s just ordering a sandwich?”
“Use context clues. Now.” He unbuckled his seat belt with a click. “Grab your book bag, and let’s get inside and get you registered.”
Paperwork. P-a-p-e-r-w-o-r-r-r-r-k! I hate paperwork.
Stop it, Kara.
Karalee talked to herself in her head as Warren signed on dotted lines, the school secretary looked over the documents Warren had presented to him, and she skimmed through a copy of the official rules she had already read yesterday.
Does anyone else address themselves by name? Can’t be just me….
She read on. Papers rustled.
Theeeeeeere’s the monkey thing again….
Kara read further. No tank tops with straps less than 1/8 of an inch. Not a problem…. She didn’t own any of those. Besides, it was winter… or what there was of winter in Sierra Madre.
Someone tapped a pile of papers on the table, making them into a stack. She heard the secretary saying “Alright, that should do it. As soon as we get her signature on the Rules And Regulations….”
Karalee looked up.
“Hm?”She stared blankly for a second. “Oh! Right.” Setting the stapled-together sheets on the desk, she flipped to the back and picked up a pen with a large orange fabric flower taped onto it, left on the table. She signed her “name”.
It felt like a strange thing to write. She hoped she didn’t mess up the cursive on the last name. Didn’t think to practice that. Issue there….
The secretary didn’t seem to see a problem.
“Alright! This,” he handed her another paper, “is your class schedule. You should head to your homeroom,” he said, pushing up his brown thin-rimmed glasses and standing up. “Don’t want to be late on your first day!”