Monday, June 22, 2009


Eleanor winced as the little girl's ear peircing shout carried across the parking lot, then smiled as the six year old tackled her knee in a hug. “Hello, Bianca. And how are you today?”
“I'm ok! Up up up up!” She held out her hands pleadingly. Eleanor laughed, and picked her up. “How're you?”
“I'm good. Where's your brother?”
“Camping.” She stuck out her tounge. “Dad and Gabe are camping cause they like icky bugs and dirt. They're weird.”
“Silly boys.” Eleanor giggled, despite herself. “And your mother?”
“Right behind her!” Denise Stonewood followed her daughter across the parking lot, breathing hard. “Thank you so much for agreeing to take care of her today, I...”
“It's no trouble.” Eleanor smiled. “I have to spend time with my favorite granddaughter sometime, don't I?”
“Gramma, I'm your only granddaughter!” Bianca pouted in her arms.
“That doesnt mean you're not my favorite!”
Denise smiled. “Thank you. Can you drop her off back at the house at... oh, four, I guess?”
“You'll be lucky if I ever bring her back,” joked the older woman and the little girl squirmed in her arms.
“Mama, gramma's kidnapping me!” squealed Bianca.
“You better bring her back, or I'll send her daddy to rescue her.” The young mother smiled, laughing, and Eleanor understood not for the first time why her only son had fallen for her.
“Hah! Roger never won against me when he was a kid, and he still can't.” Eleanor started tickling her granddaughter, who was giggling uncontrollably. “Anyway, don't you have a doctors appointment to get to?”
“Oh!” Denise glanced at her watch. “I'm late! Thanks again, bye!”
Eleanor smiled after her daughter in law as she drove away, then turned to her granddaughter. “Well, what do you want to do?”
“Swimming! Swimming swimming swimming!” Bianca squealed. Eleanor flinched again.
“Bianca, not so loud, please.”
“Because it hurts my ears.”
“But Mama said that I need to talk loud so people can hear me!”
“Well, not quite so loud, ok?” Eleanor set the girl down, and took her hand as they walked towards the little green car. “I can hear you just fine when you talk normally.”
“Gabe says I'm good at being loud. I'm louder than anyone else in my class!”
“Honey...” Eleanor took a moment to process just how much her granddaughter must annoy that poor teacher. “Louder isn't always better,” she finally said as she fiddled with her car keys.
“Because if people can hear you, that's loud enough.”
“But the louder I am, the more people can hear me!” Bianca was jumping up and down in her seat as her grandmother tried to buckle her in.
“But what if you don't want someone to hear you?”
“But I like people to hear me! They all look at me when I'm loud!”
“That's not a good thing, honey.” Eleanor buckled herself in and started the car. “You use your inside voice when you're talking to people.”
“I can be even louder inside!”
“That's not what I mean.” The stoplight at the edge of the shopping center parking lot turned green, and Eleanor's foot hit the gas.
Bianca was strangely silent for the next few minutes. Eleanor glanced over at her, somewhat worried.
“Oh, honey, you're so pale!”
“Look out Gramma!” The little girl squeaked, and Eleanor swirved without taking her eyes off her granddaughter.
“Are you feeling alright? Maybe we shouldn't go swimming.”
“Car! Car car car car!”
“Bianca, didn't I just say not to talk so loud?”
The little girl covered her eyes as her grandmother screeched into the parking lot of the city pool. It took her a few minutes after the car had come to a complete stop to open them again. “Gramma, why do you drive so fast?”
“I don't, honey, it just seems faster because my car is lower.” Eleanor was digging around in her huge purse for that medicine that she was sure she had in here somewhere.
“But the dialy thing said 80!” Bianca pointed to the spedometer, still white as a sheet.
“No, honey, you must have misread it. I wasn't going faster than thirty.”
“Gramma, your car is scary!”
“Don't be silly, dear, I have anti-lock brakes and air bags! If someone runs into us, we'll be fine.” Eleanor finally gave up on the medicine and took Bianca's temperature with the back of her hand. “You feel fine to me, dear. I wonder what that was...”
“Gramma, they've gotta catch us to run into us!”
“Bianca, dear, didn't you want to go to the pool?”
Bianca nodded, then unbuckled her seatbelt and stumbled from the car. “Mama can pick me up here, right?”
“No, honey, I've gotta drive you home.”
The girl paled again. “Gramma, can we take the bus?”
“No, honey, my car works just fine.”
“But I like the bus!” Eleanor flinched at the return of the full fledged outside voice. “The bus is... the bus is cool!”
“But yesterday you said the bus was full of icky boys and...”
“The bus is cool! I like the bus!”
“Maybe we can ride the bus some other time, honey.” She opened up the back of Bianca's backpack and pulled out her swimsuit. “Now go get changed. And stop talking so loud!”
“I like the bus....” mumbled Bianca as she trotted dutifully off to the changing rooms, swimsuit in hand.
“Strange girl.” Eleanor turned to the ticket window directly in front of which her car which her car was parked. “Two, please.” The attendant was white as a sheet as she took Eleanor's money, never taking her eyes off the green car parked less than six inches away from the front of the building. Eleanor glanced behind her at the attendant as she headed for the changing room herself. “Huh.” She shook her head. “Must be a virus or something.”

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Atticus stared increduloulsy at the high school's office secretary. “You want me to do what?
“Teach gym.” She fidgeted. “Just for today! I know you can't do it every day, but Mr. Clemmence finally agreed to go see a doctor about his... um...” she coughed. “And Mr Meeps is already teaching history, and nobody else could come in...”
“And so you're flagging down random people on the street?”
“Well, I was gonna go to the temp agency, but I've heard Mr Clemmence talking about you before, Mr. Knott, and so I just figured...”
Atticus set his grocry bags on the sidewalk and crossed his arms. “I doubt Mr. Clemmence has been saying anything even remotely resembling a reccomendation.”
“Well, no, but please sir, the first class starts in fifteen minutes and nobody else is available, not even Gabe cause some kid threw up in the bleachers, and I have to watch the study hall and the only other person that could do it is Ms Knockings, and that just doesn't work, sir!”
Atticus tried to picture the small, stern woman trying to coach a group of highschoolers, and failed. “But... don't you need background checks or something?” he protested weakly.
“No time! Just don't shoot anyone and we're good.” She grabbed his arm, and his groceries, and dragged him into the school, something that if he'd been at all in doubt of her intentions would've gotten her shot. Two minutes later, he was standing in the large gym, staring at the ceiling and wondering how exactly he'd gotten here. He sighed visibly.
“Well, what exactly am I supposed to do now?”
“Well, I'd recommend changing into tennis shoes, at least.” The door of the janitor's closet opened, and a blonde head popped out. “You're gonna have some trouble in loafers.”
Atticus jumped back, startled. “And you are?”
“Gabe. Gabe Stonewood. I'm the janitor around these parts.” He tipped his blue box cap to one side respectfully. “I take it you're the famous 'infernal brit'?”
“That would be me, yes,” he replied as he looked the younger man up and down. Tall, blonde, blue eyes. Ben could probably disguise as him fairly well, if he ever had to. “Any idea as to what I'm supposed to be doing here?”
“Well, if I overheard correctly, teaching gym. Good luck with that.”
“Well, yes, but what exactly does that...”
“Laps, pushups, whatever.” Gabe shrugged. “Mostly just yell at them.”
“Yell at them. Oh, joy.” Atticus turned his gaze back to the empty basketball court, wracking his brain for an activity that could entertain sixteen high school boys for an hour, especially given most of them were significantly larger than him. “I don't suppose you could teach gym, and I could go clean the...”
“Nope!” Gabe grinned. “I've got a date with the bleachers. I'm happy to leave the hard job to you.” He watched cooly as the first of the students made their way through the double doors at the far end of the gym. “Careful. I've heard they can sense fear.” With a chuckle, he picked up his bucket and started walking away.
He was a little surprised to find himself unable to move. The smaller man had some kind of nerve grip on the back of his neck, and his whole body was tingling.
“Sorry. Getting your attention.” Atticus wasn't even looking at him, just staring at the students congregeating at the other end of the room with a look in his eyes that would've sent anyone who knew Atticus running. “I need your help for one last thing.”
“Speak, o master, and I shall obey,” the blonde quipped as Atticus let go of his neck.
“Unroll that wrestling mat.”

The boys were milling around near the locker room when Atticus finally approached them. “Right. Get changed, you lot.”
One of the football players spat on the ground. “What do you want, Brit?”
“Where's Mr. Clemmence?” another asked.
“Does it matter?” Atticus's voice had an edge like a knife. “Get. Changed.”
The football player, a huge boy almost a head taller than Atticus and twice as thick, stepped up. “We don't take orders from you.”
“Well, then, I suppose you'd like to run twenty laps without changing.” Atticus's glare spoke volumes. “Get moving.”
The boy didn't move.
“I said...”
“We heard you, brit.” The boy glared. “Mr. Clemmence warned us about you.”
“Oh, did he.” Atticus stared at the boy for a minute before he broke into a wide smile. “Well, if you don't want to get changed, I can't make you. Follow me, then, boys.” He waved them to follow them as he walked back to his original end of the gym. They followed, bewildered at this sudden change of attitude. The football player who'd stood him down puffed his chest out like an overblown turky as he walked, reveling in this newfound power.
The small man stopped at the edge of the wrestling mat, kicked off his shoes, and stepped onto it. “Ok, here's the deal. I'm just an old guy, and a tiny one at that, right?” There were a few reluctant nods, with some of the brighter bulbs wondering where this was going. “So if any one of you can pin me down, you have the rest of the class to do what you want.” He spread his arms, letting the whole class see just how skinny he actually was. “Shouldn't be too hard, right?”
The class murmured for a moment before one of them stepped up, a boy that Atticus vaguely remembered as someone Ben had talked about, somebody Johnson. Tristan? “I think I can do it.”
“Ten laps if you can't.” Atticus held out his hand to shake on it. “Agreed?”
“Fine.” The boy took his place across from Atticus on the mat, assuming what he thought was a proper fighting position. Atticus barely shifted his feet. Gabe watched them from atop the bleachers.
“Whenever you're ready.”
The boy lunged at him, and it was over almost before it began. Atticus whirled out of the way, barely tapped the boy's knee in the right place, and had him on the ground before he fully realized what had happened.
“One. Two. Three.” The brit calmly counted off. “Don't rush your opponent like that. I win. Go get changed and start running.”
The boy stared up at him in shock for a moment, then dumbly went and did as he was told. His classmates hooted at him as he left, and Atticus dusted off his nice slacks before he turned back to them.
“Who's next?”
There was a sudden silence. Then the football player stepped up. “Let's see how you do against a real man,” he muttered as he took his place. “He's a wimp anyway.”
“Fine.” Atticus shrugged as he moved into position. “Sometime today, please.”
The boy swung for Atticus' head, and he stepped back neatly. The boy didn't overbalance nearly as much as he'd hoped, and almost managed to make a recovery before Atticus wound up behind him.
“You're moving your torso too much. Try that again.” The boy obliged, Atticus dodged, and tripped him neatly. “One, two...” The boy sprung back to his feet. “Oh, you're still up!” Atticus dodged another fist. “Don't lock your knees. Move your feet! Oh, for goodness sake.” He caught the boy's arm as he tried to hit him again, pulled his fist apart, and put his thumb on the outside. “Are you trying to hurt yourself? Try that again.” He almost touched Atticus that time. “Much better, but...” he quicly ducked under the boy's arm, and with a simple push the boy was on the ground again. “One...” he jumped back to avoid the kick. “Oh, finally using your feet, I see!”
The other boys were cheering their compatriot on, forming a ring around the wrestling mat. Gabe was laughing hysterically. Atticus smiled brightly as the football player scrambled to his feet. “Well, you're pretty good, I'll give you that, but let's give someone else a turn, shall we?” He dropped quickly, sweeping the boy's feet out from under him, then put one hand hard on his shoulder. “One, two, three. I told you not to lock your knees.”
Atticus smiled. The boy glared.
And then he got up and walked slowly to the locker rooms.
“Alright,” said Atticus, stretching, “Who's next?”
Forteen hands shot into the air, amid shouts.
“Right. You lot would probably stand a better chance if you changed first, right?”
The rush for the locker room was overwhelming. Atticus just smiled.
“How the heck?” Gabe dropped down from the bleachers with his bucket. “I thought you were gonna get creamed.”
“I know some tricks.” Atticus didn't look at him.
“You think you could teach me some?”
“You think you could beat me?”
“Never hurts to try.” Gabe put down his bucket and stepped onto the mat.
“Oh, I beg to differ.” For a moment, the small man looked genuinely scary.
And Gabe really hated to admit that he was right.