Chapter Twenty-Seven: A Beautiful Day
It was a beautiful day—her first day of sweet summer freedom. Ita was still on a high from the graduation ceremony the night before. She never had to set foot in Glade Crest Junior High School again, and yet part of her was sad. There were a lot of memories there. A lot could happen in three years—a lot happened in just half a year—not that much ever happened to Ita Garcia-Ramirez. She was such a boring girl. It was like an incurable disorder; she couldn't change how very uninteresting she was. But one day the cure came in the form of a wish on a shooting star.
That day, just over a year ago, she was staring at the very same mirror wondering why Chris Duval would never want to go out with her. Now she wondered why he was in her thoughts at all. She saw the streak of light in the sky, clasped her hands together and wished with all of her might. Things certainly became interesting after that. Strange considering there hadn't been a star at all.
It was such an odd thing to think about boring little Ita being a real hero, putting her life on the line. It was the kind of thing she could joke about with Becca and Neely or turn into a story. If anything, Becca had the hero persona. Tough girl, military uncle, and gym buff father and physical trainer mother—the whole package. Neely was the vain one with the doting parents and the striking beauty from the real parents she never knew. Ita played the responsible one, never risking a thing, comfortable in routine. There was a role they each played in each other's lives, but Ita was stepping out. Not just in her own life or the lives of her friends; she was taking a new role in the lives of beings all over the world and even beyond that.
It's about time for a change, Ita thought, prodding herself. Something exciting, remarkable, special. This was the time for new reputations, and "quiet little Ita" had to take a hike.
An idea sprang to mind. Ita returned to her bed and jotted down a few bulleted notes for a short story in the yellow marked composition notebook that lay momentarily abandoned. That was something else that changed in her. Ever since being introduced to the Organization, a creative spark was constantly being coaxed brighter and brighter and she found herself enjoying intimate company with her many color coded notebooks. Ideas came from everywhere, especially from missions with Zack—her partner, friend, and a great deal of her inspiration.
Ita still giggled sometimes when she said they were partners. It always made her think everyone expected them to get married or something. Partnership was such a serious aspect of the Organization. Partners were each other's strength, bound for life. There were no two ways about it. Ita saw that now, and it suited her just fine. Every relationship took work and rough patches were guaranteed, but once they got over the hill, they were that much closer. She had a feeling that even after their agreement, Zack would still find a way to be her knight, and she his overprotective damsel. Chivalry lived on in Zack DePalo. Becca was right: Chris was just jealous because girls could stand to be around Zack.
Or was he—?
"Ita! We're leaving," her mother called from downstairs. Ita jotted the rest of the phrase in her rapid, loopy scrawl while making her way to her door and opening it with her elbow.
"Adios!" Then she shut the door.
"Ciao ciao, It!" Ita smiled as her sister's words drifted in beneath the her door.
With the finished idea written, finally concluding how the young ByurrienFilltei would realize they were fighting over how much they actually wanted to help each other all along, she put her notebook away and returned to her closet.
An idea for her short story distracted her and then she digressed further, working out plot holes while they were fresh in her mind. She was supposed to be looking for her bathing suit. The fourth of July was just around the corner and every year Ita and her family drove to Verona park to celebrate. Glade Crest Memorial Park was too small for all of the events that were held. In Verona Park there was a lake to go boating that shamed her park's pond, and stalls were set up with games and food.
But the best part was when there wasn't a hint of sun left in the sky. Beautiful fireworks set off high overhead turned dusk to splashes of dawn with eruptions so bright that they could be viewed from anywhere on the grounds and for blocks in every direction. Ita loved going every year. But since it was almost ensured that she would get wet she needed her bathing suit underneath her clothing, and finding it was proving a more arduous task than she expected.
Unfortunately, she was sidetracked again staring out the window at the distant rustling trees surrounding Glade Crest Memorial Park. A thought occurred to her again that she was hoping would go away, but kept gnawing at her like a whining puppy. She wondered if Zack knew about his random bouts of brilliance and purposely used them to drive her crazy.
Before she could get cold feet, Ita turned to her WriComp and did a little detective work. She found the house number she was looking for, took a deep breath and punched in a few foreign coordinates. It took another minute for her quivering thumb to hit EXECUTE.
The house on the other end wasn't much. A typical suburban home painted beige with a few stories, some peeling shutters and bushes and trees in the stretching yard. Two cars sat gleaming in the short driveway, and a little wind chime that hummed a soft tune by the glass outer door that spat her reflection back at her. Clearly, I'm PMSing, she thought as her hand, almost of a mind of its own, rang the door bell.
Each second made her heart race a little faster. She started counting how many times the birds cried back and forth to each other in the pink dotted trees and how many cars flew down the road, failing to signal before flying around the corner. Approaching footsteps pulled her back and nearly made her heart stop. There was silence for another moment and then an older girl in fashionable leggings and a draping, metal studded top pulled the door open. Ita vaguely recognized her from school functions, but their age gap never put them in school together any time Ita could clearly remember.
"Hi," she said, polite enough, flipping her highlighted hair over her shoulder. "Can I help you?"
Ita gulped. "Um, yeah. Is Chris here?"
"Ita Ramirez." Ita mentally cringed as her name came out like a question. Then again, she wasn't entirely sure who this strange girl was who knocked on Christopher Duval's front door, chatting up his older sister. Definitely PMSing. "I'm a—"
"Ita, huh? Thought you looked a familiar. Saw you at graduation. Hold on." She left the door ajar and poked her head around the corner of a tidy living room. "Chrissy! It's for yoooooou!" Ita bit her lip, wanting the earth to swallow her. A stifled reply came from around the corner. "Mouth is shut, kiddo! Annie knows best! Get your sorry butt out here!" She skipped back to the door and smiled. "He'll be here in just a sec."
Annie flopped onto the couch and turned the television's sound back up. Ita heard heavier footsteps and had to fight a last second urge to run. Then Chris came around the corner. It was the first time in a long time she hadn't seen his hair spiked. It still lay disheveled, but not forced. And with just a wife-beater top and khakis, Ita nearly reverted to a different girl she didn't recognize.
"Annie knows best, my ass," he mumbled and then leaned on the door. "What are you doing here?"
"Um," she faltered. That was a very good question.
"Be nice, Chris," Annie said from the couch with a little wave.
Ita nearly fell over as Chris nudged her outside and shut the door behind him. "What are you doing here?" he said again.
"I—I just—" She wrung her wrist. "I just wanted to say that—I'm sorry."
Silence followed as Chris kept staring like he expected her to say more. She didn't know what else to say. "What?"
"I'm sorry. I was a total heifer to you, and it wasn't right of me to embarrass you like that when you were just being nice so I'm sorry." Sometimes that was all people wanted to hear, but her face was warmer than that early summer day. It shouldn't be something that was so hard to say. When he didn't do anything other than stare like she had sprouted two extra heads, she said, "And that's it."
Another awkward silence fell. She didn't know if she was expecting him to apologize in return for his actions the past few months or to admit he still liked her or whatever happened in movies, but nothing happened at all. They just stood on his porch in the pressing silence.
"Well, anyway," Ita said when she couldn't bear it a proseet longer, "I guess I'll see you around."
"I guess. Later."
Chris stayed still for a moment, staring at her like he might have wanted to say something in the last instant he had, but he went back inside to where the television was blaring the latest pop songs. Then he shut the door. That was that. Ita slowly nodded and walked down the block to an inconspicuous point and made a portal back to her bedroom, hardly believing she had left at all.
Urging for some normalcy, whatever that meant, Ita turned her full attention back to her own closet. She had to bring that bathing suit out of hibernation, but for the life of her she couldn't keep herself focused long enough to search properly. She peered out of her window towards the park and another thought struck her, much less trying that her first little adventure. She had to talk to Lira...
It was a beautiful day. Zack didn't have to say it out loud, and for want of peace of mind, he wouldn't. He was content to just observe it from his bedroom window. He had been called gay enough times in the past three months to last him a lifetime. The words didn't mean anything. There were many things in his mind that took precedence to ridiculous name calling, but it was grating all the same.
Even more grating was the amazing news his father had for him as a graduation present. He was forcing Zack into a summer job. He thought it was time Zack stopped being a lazy good-for-nothing and entered the working world. After a trying school year, summer was supposed to be his time off from anything work related. He earned it. And he was fourteen! What business did he have getting a job? He didn't care about his father's accomplishments at that age. I've got accomplishments of my own, he thought, wanting nothing more than to ball up the applications laid in front of him on his bed.
He was an agent in the Agents of Alcarion—a Cadet to be exact. That immediately undermined anything Chris Duval or his father had to say. Zack knew he was important to his town, to his world, to the whole universe. The highest opinion he could ask for was his partner's, but lately it hadn't been what he hoped for. The past few months had been tough while he and Ita battled, and getting beyond it was no simple task no matter how much they both wanted to.
The partner bond thing Lira always went on about was true, but he wasn't about to let her know exactly how much he agreed. He respected the Captain, but she didn't need another ego stroke. Besides, he was certain she knew how well he and Ita understood. When Ita told him about her side plan to avoid him, he barely stifled a laugh. She went through extra trouble so he would stop being called names. It was idiotic, and they both knew it, but she did it anyway and she did it for him.
"What a sap," he said. "But I guess she's my sap."
"Testing. One. Two. Three. She sells seashells down the Jersey shore."
Speak of the devil.
"What's up?" Zack said.
"I've got a surprise for you," Ita said. "Sort of a graduation/sorry I was a total ass present. When I say go, step through the portal. Don't go a proseet earlier. Ready?"
"No. Hang on. Where are we going?" She didn't speak, but Zack could feel the smirk through their E-Com connection. "All right. Just give me a minute." He didn't need it, but what idiot turned away a gift? Zack changed from his usual summer night wear of an undershirt and shorts into a tee shirt and jeans. As she waited, Ita hummed the Jeopardy tune. "Okay. I'm ready."
"On your mark. Get set." As she spoke, a portal appeared in the center of Zack's room. "Go!" He jogged through the portal—
—and for a moment, Zack didn't know what he was looking at. Ita took them to a planetarium? No. A portal just feet away closed behind Ita. She was grinning at him like she thought she was terribly clever. It broke for a moment as the view caught up to her as well.
An abyss of darkness speckled with bright flashes nestled the curved horizon beyond her. He took a step forward and felt his feet crunch on dusty pale ground. It was cratered with some holes barely visible while others were a foot deep. He could just make out a shimmering line circling them, creating a translucent dome of breathable spring air.
"Remember Captain Lira said Pre-Cadets and new Cadets couldn't go much farther than the orbit of their planet's moon?" She walked beside him. "Well, we've been risking our lives for months, and we've never left Earth for fun except to go to Fentelaïca. I figure it's a waste if we don't come here at least once. Now not only have we communicated with alien races, but we've been to the friggin' moon!"
Ita watched him fail to stifle his amazement and then took in the sights as well. She only scanned the area with her WriComp in advance to set coordinates and adjust the composition for breathable air and tolerable pressure and asked Lira to fuel and time the portals so that they would arrive together for the first time and not die. Again she was pleasantly surprised that the Captain went with it.
"I'm busy," she said, "but your magic is a bit off kilter and I don't want your boiled blood explosive deaths on my conscience."
It was really breathtaking, but Ita had seen one feature her partner was missing.
"Wow," was all Zack's mouth could form for a moment. "Why didn't we think of this earlier? This is—it's—"
"Total sweetness is the term you're looking for, Cali-boy," Ita said with a playful nudge. "Wanna see where we were before?" She turned him around with agonizing steadiness. Zack's eyes widened and he slowly lowered himself to the dusty floor. It was so different from looking at any model in a museum. Visible beyond the close horizon was a large slab of an enormous blue and green marble that was Earth from a distance. White hung around it like a carelessly draped cotton scarf. Ita thought she saw Zack's arm twitch in a reaching motion as if with a little effort he could touch the surface of their home. She smiled.
Silence fell over the partners for a long while. Seeing the Earth like that made them question how anyone could look down on something so incredible. After seeing what the "active" parts of the universe dealt with regularly, the quiet was nice.
"I kinda wish we could bring our friends up here," Ita said wistfully. "Remind me why we're keeping this a secret."
"Because on the off chance that this gets out, we'd be international freak shows or kidnapped and thrown into Area 51."
Thinking on it for a while longer, Ita found other nagging fears that stopped her from telling her best friends about everything she and Zack were doing. Would they be jealous of her? Would they think she was a freak even if they wouldn't tell anyone else about it? Would they even believe her? Would they hate her?
"Just imagine if Chris found out and somehow forced us to take him here," Zack said, interrupting Ita's pitiful thoughts. "He doesn't deserve this."
After a beat, Ita said, "Maybe."
"Maybe? Where did that come from?"
Ita shrugged. "Maybe one day he'll figure out how to handle being put in his place. Can't be easy the first time. And maybe I didn't need to be such a jerkface myself. I just never thought of it that way before. But he better get used to it cos he may be tough now, but someone is gonna have something to say to him in high school."
"Still, I'd rather just kick him out of our town. But I guess you have a point. I can be civil if he can. Still don't want him up here with us."
Our town. Ita couldn't help but smile. She couldn't wait to get him even more acquainted with their town. "Oh!" Ita smacked her forehead as she remembered a previous thought. "What are you doing for the fourth of July?"
"Hmm? Other than shoving Ma's brownies down my throat? Nothing really. She has a Ladies Club meeting or whatever they call it and I think Dad wants to take me to a co-worker's party."
"Sounds like fun," was the sardonic reply.
"Whatever," he said. "Are you asking so you can save me from the fun?"
"If even mama DePalo's brownies can't make a party worth it, then I'd be honored to save you from the fun."
"Awesome. Wait. I mean, uh, total sweetness. What's option two?" he asked when Ita regained control of her laughter.
"A day at Verona Park with barbecue, boating, and beautiful summer sunshine."
"I'm definitely in."
"Incoming Mission Details. Team Mission. Mission Grade: C-Delta—"
"I still thought we weren't being spoon fed missions anymore," Ita said as she stood brushing moon dust from her pants.
"Exceptions, Ita. Exceptions. Besides, this sounds like we just happened to be nearby. I guess it's one way to relieve boredom."
"Yeah, five days is five days too long without a mission. There's no such thing as time off. Too bad. I kinda want to hit up Fentelaïca. I saw this bangin' dress I could wear to Daphne's party."
Ita reactivated the portal Lira prepared for her. She stopped herself before entering and searched through her WriComp, taking out a small camera that buzzed with the invisible crackling magic still sorting itself out around the Cadets. Until Ita found a safer way to store her things, her WriComp was her best bet. She snapped a picture of the marble that was Earth then threw her arm around Zack's shoulder and took another picture so that Earth was in the background. Now she could say she had a satisfactory first trip to the moon. She went through the portal followed closely by her laughing partner to their next of many missions to expect.
It was true. For someone who promised to protect life no matter what the cost, there really wasn't a day off, and yet Ita could live with that. She had a great partner and a great friend to help her through it.
It was a beautiful day.
Here's a sneak peek into the third installment of the Agents of Alcarion series.
The Agents of Alcarion: Water Brothers
A little girl sat in the living room alone. She kneeled down in front of the cluttered coffee table with a plastic doll in her hand and slid her chubby fingers through the silky brown hair and touched the marble eyes and pouty pink lips. It all brought a smile to her face. She fidgeted with the doll's plastic jumper—red with a black sweater beneath it that caught some of the stray hair on the fabric. She had thick stockings and shiny black mary-janes that made the girl jealous.
A woman walked into the living room with an odd wobble to her step like something was causing her to tilt. Maybe it was the happy bulge of her belly. She was holding a plate of something sweet smelling that made the girl's taste buds water and her fingers twitch. She clutched the doll to her chest. The woman kissed the girl, then the doll, and then left the plate on the table and wobbled back through the door she came through.
Another door opened down a flight of stairs. There was a musky but sweet smell as the man came upstairs and kissed the girl, similar but more playful than the woman had. She giggled, but something about it stung her in a dull, disconnected way. Then he followed where the large woman went. The girl was happy that the two people were there. She didn't know why, she didn't know if she was supposed to, but she knew she was happy they were there.