Wilhelmina Winters, Forty-Three

Wil awoke somewhat to the familiar irritation of a blaring alarm clock. She silenced it while maintaining a comfortable stupor of half-asleepness. The dark trees and mists of her dream still lingered round her subconscious, and confused her mind when mixed with the images her eyes sent of her plain, dark bedroom.

She yawned and chanced opening her eyes further. All was shapes and shadows of monochrome grays. She heard no sounds.

Her parents had been up late talking. Talking -and coughing, in Cynthia’s case. Her father rarely spoke, so Wil had found the deep rumble of his voice distracting at such a late hour. The coughing was not so distracting, since her mother had been doing it for such a long time -not that it ever ceased to be disturbing.

Wil decided that Cynthia would probably choose to sleep in, and complete her morning exercise with their neighbor. Rob could wake Cynthia to start her other routines before they left for school.

Wil’s assumptions were correct. After dressing, there was still no sound of waking from her parents’ room. She had to rouse them, then follow her father’s zombie-like tread around the apartment and out the door to their car.

She watched his face in the lines of streetlights, flashes of headlights, and dull glow of early morning as the car moved inexorably to school. Rob’s eyes opened only as far as necessary. His jaw -the entire bottom of his face- hung relaxed and unshaven below drooped eyebrows and tousled hair.

Wil wondered what had kept him up, and what still occupied his thoughts.

In fact, Rob emanated distraction more than fatigue. Although Wil was rarely able to sit quietly around her family, she picked up enough on his odd mood to not ask any questions.

Actually, what really silenced her were the only looks he had given her. Rob had looked at Wil when he first awoke with a sort of shock. The other two times, after he was more alert, his expression seemed sad and -well- distracted.

The only strange event of the evening before had been a letter he’d taken to his bedroom after getting home from work. If her father didn’t explain things by tonight, she was going to have to search for that letter.

Wil was not very sneaky, however, nor very good at finding what people hid.

“Bye, Gwen -er, Mina,” Rob said, as Wil exited the car at the curb.

At that exact moment, Wil was distracted by the vision of Hope walking alone. Maybe Wil wasn’t good at sneaking, but she knew someone talented enough to be listed officially.

 

Continued from Forty-Two (Again).

Wilhelmina Winters, Forty-Two (Again)

(Because this number needs an accurate tribute.)

The apartment squatted at the end of a small path on the interior of the complex. It was the bottom corner of a building with five other apartments, and had a view of a few tree branches hanging over the back of the cement walls of the communal garbage bin. Not an exceptional apartment at all -it was built during the economic recession, stuccoed, rectangular, and had decorative stucco accents along its side of a color and position which basically failed to appeal to anyone.

The people for whom the apartment held any significance were the Winters family, and that was only since they lived there. They had been renting for about four months, ever since the lease agreement ran out on their last apartment because it made their bank account too low. They had come out of the recession as well, leaner and usually serious. What made them more serious was when people asked why they looked so solemn.

Rob Winters worked at a machine shop which he always told his family nothing about because he rarely enjoyed talking. They knew it, too -that is, they knew nothing about what he actually did every day at his job.

The Winters hadn’t quite come around to the idea that disruption wanted to visit this place where they lived.

In the evening of a Thursday in February, Rob Winters didn’t feel well. He came home tiredly, walked in the door, trudged tiredly into the kitchen, deposited the mail on the counter, saw a letter written in a familiar hand, noted his family, and stumped to the sink to wash.

Soap foamed into his palms -thus. Scrub.

Wil’s face – turned to her father. He met her gaze. A different face looked at his with his own hazel eyes. Shaking his head, Rob saw his daughter again. He finished cleaning his hands, rinsed, dried, and stumped to the couch to seek someone lovely to hold in his arms.

Cynthia, couch, IV, arms, hug. Sigh.

Wil saw a thought cross Rob’s features and attempt to settle distantly in his eyes.

The envelope on the counter was small and worn, with extra inked messages stamped by the post office.

He turned to look at it.

“Letter,” Rob said to Cynthia, who responded with a puzzled look.

Wil matched the definition for a vocabulary word, and another. She wondered if her father might be late for an appointment with his bed. What was he thinking about? Was there something important in the mail? She thought it likely. Wil saw the small, crumpled corner of an envelope. “Letter?” she wondered to herself.

Rob sat up and remembered. Cursive, he thought. Why was that familiar? He hazily recalled reading it before, reading that handwriting somewhere significant. Wil saw him sitting, but considering something nagging, she thought: the best way to describe her father was preoccupied. There was something he’d received today.

Rob realized the letter had been sent awhile ago, been forwarded, and only just reached their new address. Incredible. He turned to look at his wife again. He would figure it all out, he resolved, he usually took care of everything, nothing changed. He could figure it out.

The workday had paid Rob’s wages in exhaustion. He looked at his wife, stepson, and daughter. He ran a hand through his blond hair. Letter, he told himself. The image of cursive handwriting on a forwarded letter floated round his brain, attempting recognition.

Forty-two seconds later, Rob was off the couch and tearing open the envelope in the safety of his own room with the door closed.

 

Continued from Forty-Two.
Keep reading to Forty-Three.

Wilhelmina Winters: Forty-Two

A coyote cry echoed from a-ways West, far from the sleepy town.

Jakob Jawchaw stood silent and dusty, his black arm holding the creaking weathered door open. He looked expectantly at his partner, the notorious Miss Mina, impatience crossing his stern, solid features.

Miss Mina missed the look, or chose to. Deadly as her reputation warned, she never sought disagreement. Disagreement came to her, she would say.

The dusty desert air swirled tumbleweeds down the wooden sidewalks, the soiled kerchief knotted at Jawchaw’s throat, and Mina’s lace hem round her ankles. It tugged at her matching parasol, but she tightened her gloved grip on its bamboo handle.

The outfit came straight from New York City -or, so the merchant claimed- and made Mina itch and fidget something terrible. She wasn’t accustomed to looking so uppity and womanlike. True, she still had her trusty six-shooter strapped to her hip -but, she’d had to strap it under her skirt. There was no quick draw where finery was concerned.

Fighting the urge to hoist the cumbersome ruffles to her knees to step more lightly, Mina closed her parasol and stepped past her partner into the store.

The noise of the open, dirt-blown land snapped off as Jawchaw snapped the door shut. Specks of sand and store dust floated sparsely in the tepid, still, inside quiet of Midtown General Store. The manager barely glanced up from his well-worn newspaper: the Times from last month, mailed to Midtown just last week.

Jawchaw and Mina looked around, making a point to glance over the town notices tacked to the wall. They were pleased to see their faces missing from among the sketches of wanted outlaws. They could conduct their business like regular folk, ‘stead of jumping at every noise and itching to pull a gun on every shadow.

Jawchaw moseyed over to the counter. Mina walked the way she’d seen the ladies do; though she stumbled a fair bit more, on account of being out of practice wearing heeled boots. She took so long reaching the front that Jawchaw was already peeling bills from his pocket to pay for their supplies.

The air inside moved slightly; the rush of desert was heard. Someone had opened the door. Attempting a calm reaction, the two outlaws looked to see who had done it.

It was Cowpoke Crandall and her son, Eric. Mina turned quickly back around, hoping their disguises were worth wearing. Crandall would never be drawn on a wanted poster; she was infamous for sticking her snub nose into every person’s business -crook or not. She’d raise a warning for sure.

Jawchaw saw the danger at once. He collected their vittles and slunk quietly behind a display of tools to clean house. Mina tripped on those darn heels, but made it to a stand of ladies’ hats and scarves.

Crandall either hadn’t seen them, or hadn’t thought to bother with them. She waddled to the counter, her homespun dress swaying as she moved.

Jawchaw and Mina saw their chance, and took it. They snuck to the door, keeping low behind bins and shelves and suchlike. Mina pushed her way out into freedom, glancing back for just a moment as they left.

She couldn’t be certain, but her sharpshooter eyes told her that Eric had seen them leave. In fact, Mina couldn’t shake the premonition that he’d had his eyes on her for quite some time.

 

Continued from Forty-One.
Keep reading to Forty-Two (Again).

Wilhelmina Winters: Forty-One

“Therefore,” Mrs. C. squeaked, “You can see that key words are the key to searching on the internet.” Her long pointer stick wobbled in her tiny, bony hand as she edged it through the air.  It made a small *THUNK* against the wall, then a slight *scree* as it slid.  She quickly brought her other hand up to support the base better, and the pointer end stopped.

She squinted up, following the long stick’s path between her and the fuzzy light projection displaying there. The light also flickered off her glasses, still perched atop her head and therefore out of her reach. Deciding that the pointer was close enough, she continued her lecture.

Wil and many of the class had glanced up at the pointer noise. Her attention held long enough to laugh quietly at its ending location: partially obscuring the end of the word “button” in the phrase “search button.” Then, Wil returned to her own thoughts.

Her pencil drew and re-drew the names of the Talented Teenagers on the lecture handout. It doodled hearts, smiles, clouds, maps, eyes, and question marks -icons of the listed talents. Besides trying to puzzle out why they thought she was talented and how they all thought she was imaginative, Wil was working on a new name for the group. If she could think of an especially witty one, she would feel more like a contributor and less like a misfit.

“Talented Teens, Smart Students, Smarties, Creatives of Central Junior,” Wil mumbled. She listed these and her other ideas between banal paragraphs of print. Sometimes, an itchy sensation caused her to turn and look at the row behind. Hope was always looking elsewhere, however. Wil couldn’t decide if Hope had truly not been staring or if she was, as listed, very sneaky.

Wil shrugged the sensation away again and turned to what she’d written so far. “Masters!” She whispered to herself.  That sounded cooler than “Talented Teenagers.”  But, what kind of masters?

Wil watched the tops of Mrs. C.’s glinting glasses over the computer monitors as the old woman spoke and bobbed her head. Mrs. C. had abandoned the idea of her pointer, and tried to gesture with her hands instead. Someone needs to get that woman a laser pointer, Wil thought to herself.

Wil’s pencil now outlined various ideas with the word “Masters” in them: Masters League, Master Teens, Master Creators, and Midtown Masters. She decided to ask Reagan about it at carpool, and maybe give her the list. Then, she played out actually talking to the strident girl in her head. Wil decided to save the list until she could meet with all of the group.

Folding up the lecture notes quietly, she slipped it into the secret folder of her binder. Wil had a habit of completely forgetting where she had placed things, so her mother made a point of assigning a secret spot where Wil would put her secret things whenever she started school.

Mrs. C. finally finished talking, or was finally getting hoarse from the exercise. She attempted the pointer again, almost resting it on where their assignment was flickering.

Wil sighed in relief as she woke the computer in front of her. Anything was better than just sitting.

 

Continued from Forty.
Keep reading to Forty-Two.

Wilhelmina Winters: Forty

Wil read carefully, constantly admiring the neat printing. The paper read:

Talented Teenagers (“We need to work on the name, still,” Reagan interjected.)

Derek: Leader, Everyone’s Friend, Song Lyrics, Double-Jointed

Stephen: Penmanship, Cryptography, Cartography, Comic Artist, Observant,

Reagan: Actress, Sarcastic, Quick-Thinking, Fantastically Well-Dressed

Hope: Kind, Artistic, Quiet, Quick

Art: Intelligent, Funny, Easy-Going, Cooking

Wil: Good Writer, Imaginative

Art laughed his infectious chuckle again. “We suggested talents, and voted on them -except Reagan insisted on her last one. I still say we need to put ‘Domineering’ as one of hers.”

Wil wondered if he would poke so much fun at Reagan if he were sitting closer to her at the table. Even though she only had access to the lunchroom cutlery, Reagan looked a good aim.

“Why- ?” Wil began. She looked up from the list in embarrassment, not knowing how to finish her question.

“We all agreed to the talents Stephen wrote for you,” Reagan explained, understanding. “You get to suggest others, and then demonstrate them.” She stuffed some lunch into her mouth and gave Wil an encouraging look as she chewed.

“Actually,” Stephen spoke up in a nasally tone, “This is a work in progress. What we really want,” his eyes became dreamy and distant, “are talents that I am going to draw into a comic.” Suddenly realizing all attention was on him, he looked down again. “We’ll be like superheroes,” he told his food tray, less audibly.

Reagan rolled her eyes again. She was also talented at that, though Wil doubted it would get added to the list.

“Just think about it,” Derek told Wil. Wil gulped, which helped move what she had consumed to her stomach.

The rest of the group, satisfied with their explanations, continued to eat and talk among themselves. Wil read over the official roster and thought about what had been said.

She stared at her name, wondering how imagination counted as a talent, and whether any others would follow in Stephen’s neat print.

 

Continued from Thirty-Nine.
Keep reading to Forty-One.

Wilhelmina Winters: Thirty-Nine

Given the limited number of blue tables, Wil was surprised at how long she took to locate one containing the two people she knew would be sitting at it. She was about to give up, in fact, when she remembered the dimmer, less-populated overflow room of the cafeteria.

Sure enough, five expectant faces met her shy gaze when she poked around the doorway. It was enough of a shock to send her scurrying back out of the school, entirely. She was able to convince herself to stay, however; to walk fully into the room, and to sit in the last empty chair.

“So,” Derek said, “You guys all know Wil.” He smiled his kind, shy, hopeful smile around the table. Wil’s heart jumped a bit at the added attention, and especially at the smile.

She tried to look like she deserved to suddenly have people notice and befriend her, though acting was not her forte. As such, she ended up looking confused and nervous.

She knew the others seated by her -or, at least, knew their names. She had been surprised by that. Everyone at the blue table was in at least one of Wil’s classes. Derek was in two. But, so is Reagan, she thought defensively.

“We’ve been watching you, Wil,” Derek explained. This did not reassure Wil.

Art, a large teenage boy who shared her time in Mr. G.’s class, set down a roll and laughed. He had a nice laugh, the kind that came from deep inside and wasn’t too loud. “He means that in a good way,” Art said. Unlike Derek, Art’s voice sounded like it had already transitioned to a deeper tone.

“Oh.” Wil said.

Reagan rolled her eyes. “Derek,” she chastened. “You’re making us sound like stalkers.” She gave him a look, a laden fork dangerously dangling from her fingers.

“The thing is,” Reagan continued to Wil, “We are an elite group of talented teenagers. By ‘watching you,'” she imitated Derek’s voice sarcastically, “we mean that we think you should be part of the group.”

Wil’s face cleared, then clouded again. She wasn’t elite, or talented. She looked quickly at each person in assessment. Derek was kind and not bad-looking. Reagan was clearly very smart and good at acting. She knew Art was observant and intelligent. The other two members, Hope and Stephen, she didn’t know very well. She was naturally inclined to assume they had more to offer than she did.

Derek cleared his throat, attempting to keep its tone level. He leaned forward across his sack lunch, and held his hands out to gesture as he spoke. “Many of us felt left out, and like we didn’t have friends.” The others nodded as they watched him. Hope smiled slightly.

“I sat by Stephen one day, and saw that he drew really cool comics.” Derek looked at Stephen, who grinned and studied the pencil he was twirling in his right hand. “Then, I thought, ‘This is dumb. Stephen is so good at drawing. I get told I’m a good leader. I’m going to start a group of friends who are talented.'” He smiled again. He was good at smiling, too.

“We have a roster,” Hope finally spoke up. Her voice was very soft, in contrast to Reagan’s bold tones. She pulled a list from her binder and set it in front of Wil, between her plate of breaded meat and soggy vegetables. Many of the group looked around to ensure others weren’t watching. Their room was almost entirely empty.

The writing, Wil noticed first, was beautiful. She looked at Hope. “Stephen wrote it,” Hope said. “He’s good at writing and codes.” She pointed to Stephen’s name, down the list. Wil saw that it listed, “Stephen: Penmanship, Cryptography, Cartography.”

She quickly perused the rest of the page.

 

Continued from Thirty-Eight.
Keep reading to Forty.

Wilhelmina Winters: Thirty-Eight

Lone drifts of snow breeze touched lightly across deserted chairs, a table, a brick wall. The detritus collected in forsaken corners for moments, then was rudely pushed on its airborne way again. This empty land had seen no life for days -not even the echo of a footstep. Pale noon sunlight filtered through the hurried mists, illuminating the space in an ethereal glow.

A wall, a windowed door away, the soft glow filtered through to dimly reflect in a pair of thoughtful eyes. Wil remembered this place like it was only yesterday, or perhaps the day before. Would she ever forget?

She moved her head to look round the room she sat within -a room that still spoke of the presence of hundreds of persons. Their shadows -or, perhaps, their essence- lingered on the abandoned plastic furniture. There was also a chair overturned here, a table pushed aside there. The litter of their lives blew slightly in the ancient air heating system.

“At least that still works,” Wil thought to herself, as she recalled the icy winds swirling beyond the glass doors. She hugged her arms around her thinning body and checked the knot of her fraying black scarf.

She glanced at the working clock hanging crookedly on the wall. Its second-hand foundered eternally at the six, pulsing helplessly; but its other hands continued on unaffected. They gestured to Wil that her wait was nearly over.

They would arrive soon.

Wil tried to distract herself in preparations, but knew it was no use. She had used up the remaining food just that morning. She carried no weapons. She had been forced to leave her pack and materials inside a small metal box just inside this labyrinthine building. If this meeting proved favorable, she would retrieve them after. If not, her information would remain safe beyond their hands.

A low, muted note sounded, startling Wil. One more automatic system was still in place, then. So much for silence and subtlety.

She rose from her slouch; pushed the blue chair underneath its matching table. Instinct had taken over: she sensed food. She would forage first, and meet her odd party after.

“It’s always better to meet uncertainty on a full stomach,” she reminded herself.

Moving to a doorway in the wall, she saw that her suspicions had been correct. There was food here. Or, at least, there were the remains of what started out as food. She peered through the yellowing sneeze guards at a few pathetic trays of the stuff. She wondered if consumption would sustain life, or bring its end more quickly.

Deciding on the former, Wil slid one of the trays out and into her hands. She turned and headed back to the tables. Others were arriving; she recognized a few.

It was time.

 

Continued from Thirty-Seven.
Keep reading to Thirty-Nine.

Wilhelmina Winters: Thirty-Seven

Rob and Jakob pushed open the door in their usual chatty silence to find a truly noisy scene in their living room. Wil and her mother were trying to stop laughing, which also meant Cynthia was coughing in-between chuckles.

They both looked up and noticed the solemn men about the same time. Wil suppressed a rising giggle, her eyes still sparkling and her cheeks flushed. Cynthia finally calmed her breathing, but her happy features looked ready to burst in coughing chortles again.

Rob and Jakob looked between Wil and her mother. Their wintry seriousness melted into relaxed smiles. Happiness had not dawned in the Winters household for a long time.

“So?” Jakob asked, dropping his backpack on his chair. “What’s so funny?” He looked at them in his usual slumped stance, with raised eyebrows.

Rob clumped over to set his things down and wash his hands before coming to the couch.

“Well,” Cynthia began, as she sat up to make room for her husband to sit, “Wil was just telling me about her day.” She was good at keeping secrets, and caught Wil’s eye to be certain Wil wasn’t bothered by what she was saying.

Wil smiled gratefully at her mother. She didn’t mind them knowing, but guessed they wouldn’t be as amused as she and Cynthia had been.

“I got a secret note to solve, and we were trying all kinds of ideas to break the puzzle,” Wil said. She watched their expressions. Her mother looked at her encouragingly, her father looked mildly surprised, and Jakob kept his questioning face.

Wil smiled, then giggled a bit. “We realized the text was just backwards! Mom figured it out, then we read it in her makeup mirror.”

The men didn’t laugh.

“You see,” Cynthia explained, “We thought it was so much harder, then the solution was so simple!” She looked at Rob, who couldn’t help returning her beautiful smile.

He forced a believable chuckle. “Oh,” he said. “That is funny.” He looked over the couch at Jakob.

Jakob rolled his eyes, gave Wil a look and a sigh, then walked down the hall to his room.

Rob cleared his throat. “So,” he said. Wil and his wife turned to look at him. He cleared his throat again. “So, what did the note say?”

“Oh.” Wil said. She looked around her, located and grabbed the note and mirror, then gave them to her father.

“Special invitation to join our secret society,” he slowly read. He looked up at Wil, noting her excited expression. He sighed and smiled slightly at his favorite daughter’s moods, then continued reading, “If you accept, meet at the blue table at lunchtime tomorrow.”

 

Continued from Thirty-Six.
Keep reading to Thirty-Eight.

Wilhelmina Winters: Thirty-Six

The minivan arrived home to its oil-stained parking stall, despite the daily effort its owner made to prevent that. Various teenagers piled out gratefully. Wil stood for a minute after exiting, distractedly watching her neighbor’s backside following the rest of Mrs. Crandall’s ample body.

Reagan waved a bit at Wil, then headed to the street corner after Jorge. They lived in a townhouse cluster a block away. The movement thankfully broke Wil’s concentration, and she turned and rushed to her own building.

“Mom?!” She asked anxiously, the instant she pushed into their apartment after unlocking it. She shut the door, locked it, dropped her backpack, and headed to the couch.

“Hi, Wil,” her mother said sleepily. She looked up at Wil. Her mouth spoke the simple greeting; but Cynthia’s blue eyes spoke of love, happiness, long-suffering, and exhaustion. Wil remembered that her mother was often tired after not sleeping at the hospital.

Cynthia stretched carefully, yawning. The IV tube was drawn across the couch and back as it trailed behind her stretching arm. “I’m sorry, Wil.” Her eyes now added apologetic to their lexicon. “I kept my appointment for CPT today. It may have been a bit too much.”

“It’s okay, Mom.” Wil sat down by the couch on her knees and looked happily into her mother’s drained face. “I just wanted to see you, but I can let you rest.”

Cynthia yawned again, and coughed a bit. “No, Sweetheart. I’ve been waiting all day to hear you tell me about your day.” She smiled.

Wil waited an entire moment before eagerly bursting. “Yesterday, I got a secret note!”

Her mother’s eyebrows rose and she gasped in excitement. Unfortunately but not surprisingly, this brought on a coughing fit. Wil bit her lip and watched her mother with concern till it subsided.

“How neat,” Cynthia said faintly. She cleared her throat gently and said, more strongly, “What kind of note? From who?”

Trying not to startle her mother again, Wil told her about finding and solving each note. She excitedly described being a spy and a fighter pilot, but left off the part about falling asleep in class.

“And then, there was no one at the library. But, I was looking around, and a boy walked up and gave me this last note. He said his name was Derek.” She pulled the crumpled paper from her pocket and held it within her mother’s gaze.

Although Wil’s exuberance made her a hard-to-follow story-teller, Cynthia was a very appreciative audience. She loved Wil completely, and encouraged imaginative details.

“Do you want to show me the final message, or figure it out on your own?” She asked.

“Oh.” Wil said. She thought about it, then smiled. “I think it’s okay for you to help me,” she acquiesced.

She spread it on her legs to get the wrinkles out. Then, she brought over the nearby TV stand and laid the page out so they could both look at it.

Cynthia leaned over the note, her face next to Wil’s, mirroring her anxious curiosity.

 

Continued from Thirty-Five.
Keep reading to Thirty-Seven.

Wilhelmina Winters: Thirty-Five

Wil walked slowly, her soft brown hair framing a small, pensive face. Her dark eyes, so full of the depth of life, scanned the crowd. Her slim yet graceful body moved ever forward as her peers stared in awe.

Boys watched and wanted from the corners of their eyes, as girls shot looks of envy. That purple cloak was stunning. Those boots were the height of fashion. The scarf was an expensive weave of black on black. The young woman who wore them was so naturally beautiful.

Although she tried to ignore them, Wil was conscious of the attention. Anyone would have to be. She pretended she wasn’t, however. She needed to reach her ride, and couldn’t afford distractions.

“I purchased these flowers for you,” spoke a timid young man with black, wavy hair. He offered them in a shaking hand. Wil brushed them aside, dusting petals to the floor.

A confident boy with blond hair and smoldering eyes tried to block her path. “Let’s catch a movie tonight, Wil.” He was sure to be accepted, but she dodged around his Letterman-jacketed arm.

“You’re coming to my birthday, right?” The Class President begged Wil. She approached with an anxious, artificially white smile; and left with a spoiled frown.

They sought her like hypnotized moths to a tempting flame. But, Wil’s heart-shaped face turned only one way. Her deep glance rested on only one person. Her body was drawn to only one other body.

He would be waiting, she knew, with more than flowers. He would take her somewhere better than a theater. He didn’t have birthday parties filled with fake people.

Wil whispered his name. “Derek.”

She reached the doors to outside, and pushed through them. A disappointed trail of admirers was behind her and the afternoon was before her. The shy sun illuminated her path to the idling minivan at the curb.

Even her neighbors stared as she approached, every other distraction forgotten in Wil’s presence. They shifted to give her the best seat as Wil ducked and entered the vehicle.

“How are you today, Wil?” Mrs. Crandall attempted. Wil didn’t respond, but no one expected she would.

Mrs. Crandall faced forward, appeared to watch surrounding traffic, and pulled into the familiar queue of cars heading home.

Reagan, pulling an earbud from her right ear, turned to Wil and whispered, “So, you’re part of our group now, right?”

Wil didn’t hear at first, as she slid in her seat at the sudden movement of Mrs. Crandall braking and honking.

She realized Reagan had spoken to her, and brilliantly responded, “Huh?”

“Our group,” Reagan persisted. “You got the notes. Derek said you’d find out about it after school today.” She looked at Wil’s face and raised her eyebrows expectantly.

“Oh,” Wil replied. “Um. Yeah.”

“So,” Reagan said, “Welcome.” She sat back, pushing her ear bud back in place and looking at her phone again. She had been reading it since first climbing in the van.

Wil blinked in the reality of the small cabin around her, and realized she ought to actually read what Derek had given her.

 

Continued from Thirty-Four.
Keep reading to Thirty-Six.