Lucy and Lithe
“Is she asleep, Will?”
He nodded, giving the letters and brochures on the coffee table a glum look.
The TV spewed out more images of bombed cities, people screaming, devastation. “Turn that thing off,” he said. The computer obliged.
He sighed and sat beside his yawning wife, who pointed at the letters on the coffee table.
He opened, scanned, and tossed four letters aside. “Nope, as usual.” He opened another, read it twice, lit up, and cried, “Yesssss!”
“Someplace accepted us?”
“Sure did, Donna, honey.”
“Let me see it! Let me see it!”
She caught it. “We’ve found a new home, Will! Someplace called Andorpha.”
“Never heard of it till now.”
“Better than being fried here on Earth.”
She kept the letter. He grabbed the brochure.
“Some lovely snowscapes here,” he said. “People wearing fur coats. Average year-round temps … hmm. Lucy won’t like that.” She leaned over him to look. “Fur coats look warm enough.” She turned back to the letter. “Listen to this, Will.”
“Dear Mr. and Mrs. Smith:
The Emigration Ministry, Refugee Subcommittee, is pleased to inform you that you and your family have been accepted as refugees to our planet.
“Andorpha, while not the most hospitable of climates, has a society designed for families, built with them in mind. Two of our citizens, Mr. and Mrs. Hero Dearheart, are to welcome your family into theirs.
“Our hearts are warmed at the thought of your coming.”
They studied the brochure, a thin pamphlet with little information. Will shook his head. “We’ll be wearing fur. Lucy’ll like that at least. In lieu of the cat I promised her, she can wear fur like a cat.”
“Not much of a selling point, Will.”
“Yeah,” he sighed, “I know. When do we tell Lucy?” He lowered his voice, hoping their joyous outburst hadn’t wakened their clever, keen-eared eight-year-old. “You know how she loves swimming and picnics, and that wooden swing set. She hates the cold, and the only snow she likes is on a Christmas card.”
“It’s not that bad, honey. She likes a white Christmas, and figure skating.”
“And the novelty lasts about as long as Christmas.”
Donna sighed. “I like sunshine as much as anyone. But what can we do? She’s just going to have to accept it, Will. You and I didn’t start this war. She’s just going to have to be glad we’ve found her a way out of it.”
“Okay, I know,” Will sighed. “She’s a little kid, Donna, honey. We’ll have to help her, be patient with her.”
Donna nodded. “Sure. Let’s tell her tomorrow when she gets home from school, when we have time to explain it to her.”
“I don’t know, Donna. Shouldn’t we wait till their government sends me the tickets?”
“No. She’ll need as much time as possible to get used to the idea.”
“Mourn the loss of summer, you mean. Not to mention her friends and that teacher she likes so much.”
When they went into their room and quietly closed the door, they hadn’t come to an agreement.
Lucy lay in bed, not yet asleep. Tell her what, she wondered. What new world? Last month, there’d been three parties for kids at her school, who were leaving Earth for someplace else to live. She and Lydia had cried their eyes out. She’d cried her eyes out for days after. She didn’t even know when her best friend forever had left Earth, or where she’d gone.
No crying, asking, pleading or tantrum had garnered her the information. Not even her most grown-up, logical reasoning had helped. Lydia’s parents, she was told, said something to hers about a clean breast, whatever that was. Other kids talked alot about their new homes before they left. But Lydia had said nothing, not even at her party. It made things so lousy that the balloons and streamers, the spaceship-shaped cake, proved a horrible mockery. Like … like people getting married in a graveyard or something. Now, she was the one leaving. Mom and Dad seemed to be arguing about something–something besides when to tell her. What awaited her on this new world, and what did summer have to do with it? Maybe the world was one big playground with swing sets, wading pools, and a warm sun. She imagined a blue sky full of birds, dewy grass she could dig her toes in, sandy beaches, and …
Fur coats. They’d said something about her wearing a fur coat. She sat up in bed as the uneasy feeling swept over her. Her parents were scared she wouldn’t like this new planet. Her parents knew her well. She was their kid, for goodness sakes.
She tossed and turned most of the night.
She looked at the brochure over a bowl of cereal next morning. “Oh my God! I’d rather die on Earth than go there.”
“Lucy, don’t swear,” her father said.
“You guys can’t do this to me!”
“We can, and we will,” her mother said.
“Power trippers. Control freaks!” She jammed her backpack on her shoulders and marched toward the door.
“Lucy, that’s enough,” her father said. “We know you miss your friends that left, but acting out isn’t going to change anything. You don’t want to be here when the nukes destroy our town, like they did New York City. That place no longer exists.”
“What if I did? Wanted … to not exist, like New York?”
“Lucy!” Her mother’s face twisted in pain or anger, or both. Lucy couldn’t tell.
Dad whispered something to Mom and turned to her. “Lucy, you’re old enough to know that there’s a war on, that Earth might not survive, and that we have to get out.”
“Well, am I allowed to tell people or do I have to keep quiet like Lydia?”
Her parents looked at each other. They seemed to be thinking about saying something and decided against it. “Of course you don’t have to keep quiet,” her father said.
“How come you guys won’t tell me where my best friend went?” Lucy stood between tears and defiance.
Mom sighed. “You’ll be late for school.” She smiled. “Come give me a hug.”
Lucy turned away and marched out the door.
“If only we could have told her,” Will sighed.he sunlight peeking through April clouds.
“Well, we can’t. I’ve lost sleep worrying she might guess it or hear it from one of the kids at school.”
“If that’s a possibility, shouldn’t we be the ones?”
Donna shook her head. “Don’t you think she has enough on her plate?”
“You’re going where?” Kim asked at recess.
Lucy took in great gulps of the sunny, candy-dripping air. Apple blossom, her favorite herald of warm weather, poured its sugar-like perfume into the thick air. Bees sipped out of flowers, then buzzed away. Cicadas buzzed too. Colorful birds made crystal music, while fluffy clouds sailed by. Someone had recently mown the grass. It even smelled green. Lucy opened her mind and all her senses to it. She mustn’t blur her last sights of summer by crying, she kept telling herself.
“Luce?” She fixed in her memory the feel of the wooden swing and the sound of its squeaking as she moved as high as she could, the sound of her and Kim’s and Stevie’s voices going back and forth. She kicked at the dirt as she sat on the swing, sometimes moving, sometimes stopping to stare miserably at the ground.
The perfumed air, the bees, flowers and cicadas disappeared, as Kim’s voice brought her back to the reality of the tentative warmth of an April sun, the clouds so ready to unload, with the added worry of radiation poisoning, and the mud that lay where the grass and flowers were a moment before in her mind.
“Someplace called Andorpha. They don’t even have any picnics there.”
“Why not?” Stevie, seated on the swing to her left, asked.
“Because it’s a freakin’ Russian gulag, that’s why. Mom and Dad think they’re saving our butts from the war. Bet you we freeze to death.” Lucy thought but didn’t say every bad word she’d ever heard.
Kim stopped the swing on which she was seated to Lucy’s right and looked meaningfully at her. “When?” The word weighed a ton.
“The government there is supposed to send us tickets. Daddy says maybe sometime in June. He said maybe I could finish out the school year, but if we get to go earlier, then we leave before school’s over. My favorite freakin’ month. June. Just when people start barbecuing burgers and just when the freezies come out, and just when every day starts being sunny. That’s when I leave, to go and freeze to death.”
“Well,” Kim sighed, “we’ll just have to enjoy May. And you said you might not have to leave till school’s out. We’ll play outside every recess. Won’t we, Steve?”
He banged the bar on which their swings hung so hard he cursed under his breath in pain.
“Stevie! Where are you going?” Kim and Lucy called.
The boy didn’t answer. He just kept running desperately across the playground and indoors, his head hidden in his spring sweater so no one could see.
“He likes you,” Kim said. “Alot.”
“Likes me, likes me?”
“Likes you, likes you.” A few awkward silent minutes hung between them till the bell rang and they trudged back to class.
Lucy did only three things while May flew by. She did her homework, spent as much time outdoors with Kim and Stevie as parents and teachers would allow, and she watched the news. Every night, she scanned President Dorothy Fitzgerald’s face for signs that a working peace treaty was about to be announced.
She went into her room, savoring its pinkness, its little-girlness. The toybox, the dolls, and the little writing table. Daddy had always said that wood was beautiful, that it was living, which is why he’d spent good money to get her a wooden writing desk. Books were made out of wood too, he’d said. Really thin wood called paper. She loved to read in the quiet pink of her room.
But tonight, she wrote:
“Dear Lady President.”
No, that wasn’t right. She sharpened the end of her pencil with her teeth while she tried to think what to write.
“Dear Mrs. President Fitzgerald:
“My name is Lucinda Sue Smith. I am writing to ask you to please make everyone stop fighting.
“My parents and I have to go to Andorpha and leave everything we love and all our friends because of the war. Daddy says we have to go, so we have to go. Please, can you make them stop fighting? You should send them all to bed without supper or something, I think. Please do not let bad people win the war.
“PS: I voted for you in the last … when you were not President yet.” She couldn’t think how to spell “election”, and she didn’t know what President Fitzgerald was before she was President. A wife and mom, maybe? “I voted for you in my heart which means more than the poles, because I’m 8 years old and not allowed to vote yet.
She mailed it on the way to school, and prayed. Hard.
Then, before she knew it, Dad had the tickets in his hands. Lucy could feel the scowl form on her face.
Dad chucked her under the chin. “Remember what your mom said about trying to have a good attitude?”
“Yeah,” Lucy sighed. “Okay, fine. What do you want, some cute little-kid lie about how much I like–”
“You know we don’t want lies, Lucy,” her mother said.
“Princess, how can we sweeten this for you? What do you want Daddy to do for you?”
“You really want to know? For real?”
“Well, the second you hear there’s a peace treaty that’s working, I want us to thank the people we’re staying with and get the heck off the planet. I want to come home the second you know something good’s going on here.”
“Deal. The second I hear anything about a peace treaty, I’ll check it out. The second it’s safe to come back, we’re outta there.”
Lucy sighed. “Thank goodness.”
“Some conditions apply, kiddo. Meet people. Be nice to people, just like you are on Earth. I’ll see about that peace treaty.”
“What are you gonna do, Mom?”
“Me? I’ll be doing like you, honey. Be grateful to God that we can escape this war, that some warm-hearted people are anxious and happy to take us in.” A strange, sad look crossed her mom’s face, but it vanished before Lucy could probe. “Some people aren’t that lucky, and that’s all I’m saying on the subject.”
“What if they’re not lucky?” Lucy asked. “What happens to them?”
“They die in the war,” her mom said, and turned away. When she turned back, her expression was as closed as the subject. “You know, if it were me, I’m not sure I’d want to take in a strange family, much less a strange species. Yet this Andorphian family are taking us in, no questions asked.”
“Like Stewart Little,” she said. “Hey, Mom, Dad, we’re like Stewart Little, and the Littles are adopting us.”
Dad smiled over Lucy’s head. He suppressed a sigh of relief. At last, a glimmer of some good grace on his daughter’s part.
Thank God, her mom mouthed.
“Well, then, if we’re Stewart Little, there’s only one thing to do,” Dad said. “We’ll watch the movie after supper.”
Lucy said, “What if they have a cat?”
“Well, you wanted one.”
“Not if we’re the mice, I don’t.”
They all chuckled.
“What’s the family like?”
“Catch.” Dad lobbed the letter, which Lucy caught.
At school, Kim was quiet and sad. She wore leotards and had an ice-pack on one black eye.
“What happened?” Lucy whispered.
Her seat mate shook her head.
“Kimberly, you didn’t fall again, did you?”
She nodded. Lucy murmured a bad word meaning that she didn’t believe the story.
“I’ll live,” Kim sighed. “Subject closed. Today’s your last day. It’s your party. Half the school’s going to be here. That other stuff, I don’t want to talk about it.”
“You’ll fry in those leotards,” Lucy said. Kim made no answer. Lucy tried not to imagine what those leotards covered.
Someone had smeared glue on the teacher’s chair. Lucy cleaned it up the best she could while the guilty parties and their friends snickered about how funny it would be when “the blind battle-axe” sat her butt in it.
Lucy erupted with insults against the stupid kids who’d done it, fuelled by her own anger at Kimmy’s parents, the war, everything.
“All right, Lucy,” Mrs. Talbott, guided by Nipper, said behind her. “That’ll do, dear.”
“Sorry, Mrs. T. I just lost it. I have no use for people taking a’vantage.”
“I can’t get this off the chair. It’s too sticky.”
“Let me get some help. And Lucy? Whatever you do, don’t touch it.”
Mrs. Talbott named the three who’d done the deed, told them to follow “the blind battle-axe” to the principal’s office, and they did. They had little choice, with Lucy shepherding them, making sure no one took advantage of Mrs. T.’s blindness.
Lucy got to be Mrs. T.’s assistant that day, writing for her on the blackboard.
“How did she know who did that?” Lucy, Kimmy, and Stevie swung back and forth, Lucy admiring June’s blossoming. She breathed in every candied scent, each perfume. Her ears remained open to each bird call. She said goodbye to each fluffy summer cloud, and tried to fix in her memory beach balls, sand, little rain freshets, swimming in cool lakes, swinging in the sun, grills, barbecues.
“Lucy? Have you left us already?” Kim looked sadly at her.
“I’m sorry, Kimmy. What did you say? I was just trying to imagine everything I love about summer. I think my favorite thing is my birthday–beach party and bbq.”
“August 4th won’t be any fun ever again, I guess,” Kim said. “Anyhow, I asked how Mrs. T. knew who tried to trick her.”
“Three guesses, first two don’t count. Hey. Anyone smell meat cooking, like burgers and stuff?” Lucy sniffed hard as if she could hold summer in her nose. “Yup, someone’s cooking outdoors. But who?”
Kimmy and Stevie smiled at each other while Lucy’s eye followed flapping wings.
“Can’t imagine,” Stevie said.
At lunchtime, Kim and Stevie were unusually quiet.
“What’s up, you guys?”
“I’m gonna miss you, Luce,” Kim said. “Even worse than I missed Hannah. She was in grade five, remember? She was like a big sister.”
“I wonder where Lydia is, and how she’s doing.”
Steve cleared his throat. “Ah, ladies? Remember me? The guy?”
“Oh yeah, the guy among us. Who you missing, Stevie?”
“You got five hours? For one thing, half the ball team’s gone. Why do you think I’m playing with the girls?” He made a face. The girls laughed.
They returned to a classroom festooned with streamers and balloons. Lucy’s books had been replaced by cards and photo albums.
“Cats! Kittens!” Lucy squealed.
“I did that one,” Kim said. “I went to the pound and took all those pictures. You really like ’em, Luce?”
“Like ’em? I worship them.”
“Too bad you’re not moving to Egypt,” Stevie joked. “They worship cats there. Hi, Mrs. T. Can I pet Nipper, please?”
She undid the harness. “He’s yours to pet, Stevie. Actually, they no longer worship cats in Egypt, but you’re right to a point. They used to.”
“Fat Albert’s in there, too,” Stevie said. “I know how much you liked my cat. Your dad going to get you one?”
“Hmm. Sounds like Parent for ‘no’.”
“Speak Parent, do you, old son?”
“Daddy!” Lucy squealed.
Both her parents hugged her.
“Hey, Mr. Smith. I also speak a fluent Grandpa. ‘We’ll see’ means ‘heck, yes, you can have it’.”
“So how about that cat, Da–Grandpa?”
“We’ll see.” He grinned.
Dad shook his head. “What if the Andorphian climate is too brutal for cats, honey?”
“Anyplace cats can’t live, I can’t live.”
“Unh unh. Remember that good attitude thing.”
“Daddy, you just soured the pot.”
“Sorry. Maybe they’ll have a Dairy Queen out there.”
“Who wants that twenty below zero?” Kim asked.
“Come on, guys,” Lucy’s mom said, pleadingly. “Give us a break. There must be something good about Andorpha.”
“Yeah,” Kim chimed in. “Hot chocolate with every meal.”
“Fireplaces! Real wood!” Stevie cried.
“Skiing to school and back,” Kim said.
“That’s okay for Christmas,” Lucy said, “don’t want to do it every day of the year.”
“Wow,” a smaller girl said, eyes shining, “every day just like Christmas.”
Lucy didn’t have the heart to tell the child they probably never heard of Christmas on Andorpha, and that it was just cold all the time.
“Dog sleds,” Mrs. T. said. “You can’t imagine how much fun that is, kind of a winter version of a hay ride, which, I guess, you kids haven’t experienced, either.”
“Nope,” they all said.
“What about checkers?” Kim piped up. “There are lots of things you can do indoors. Fun things, I mean, like computer games and board games. If they don’t have them, you could make up games and teach them what you know.”
“I suppose,” Lucy said.
“Parents that never …” Kim whispered, “I mean parents that love their children.”
“Daddy,” Lucy whispered, while kids from kindergarten to sixth grade, the whole school’s small population, were told to be seated and settle down. “Can we take Kimmy?”
He shook his head. “Talk about it later,” he whispered back.
He pointed at a seat near the front of the classroom. Lucy took it with as much grace as she could muster.
“We’re all here today to wish Miss Lucinda Smith bon voyage and safe journey. There have been several such journeys by students and teachers now living on new worlds, far away from the turmoil of our own. Lucy, would you like to come up and tell the class about your new home?”
Good attitude, Lucy reminded herself. “Sure, Mrs. Talbott.” At the front of the class, she continued. “I’m going to live on a planet called Andorpha. Little is known about this world, at least by our family.”
Laughter. Lucy blushed, her mind gone blank.
“Go on, princess,” her dad whispered.
She shook her head as if to rid herself of cobwebs. “Right, Dad. A month ago, Daddy and Mommy got this letter from the government. The really odd thing is that we were welcomed by the government, as if we were best friends.” She handed her dad the welcome letter, and he showed it to the children on a screen. “I think the Andorphians must be very caring people, to take us onto their world when they know nothing about humans, and they don’t know us.
“The other neat thing I noticed was the names of the people who are taking us into their home. Their names are Romance and Hero Dearheart.”
One of the boys snickered.
“I think Thomas would like to join you in telling us about this neat world,” Mrs. Talbott said.
“Yeah. Come on up, Tommy.” Lucy’s voice dripped with challenge.
Mrs. Talbott patted Lucy’s hand. Lucy’s anger calmed.
“Never mind. Anyway, Andorpha is really cold all year round. The brochure we got shows snow everywhere all the time. It must be really cold, because everyone in the brochure was wearing fur coats.”
The brochure was also shown.
“Wow,” Kim said. “They must all be rich, Luce. How do they make enough money to buy all that fur?”
“I don’t know, but–”
“They’re killing innocent animals for their coats!” one student cried. Other kids chimed in with their protests. Still others defended the aliens because their planet was so cold.
“Who the crap cares?” Stevie shouted. “You’re worried about some stupid animals and we’re all going to be blown to hell.”
“But it’s true, Mrs. T. Sorry about the cussing, but it’s true. I mean, I’m scared. I wish I was going someplace.”
“Children, this is Lucy’s party. I promise you we’ll talk about this stuff later. Just hold on for a bit. Deal?”
A murmured assent and Mrs. Talbott’s request to go ahead caused Lucy’s dad to move to the next picture. A Courier and Ives-like scene featuring snow drifting over a countryside was followed by one of mountains of snow, people skiing, a chalet where people drank a dark, hot liquid.
“There’s your hot cocoa, Kim,” Lucy said. “Here’s a letter we got just last night. I’d like to read it to you. It’s from the family we’re going to live with.”
“Do you mean you and your parents won’t be living in a house or apartment of your own?”
“That’s right, Mrs. Talbott. I don’t know if it’s because we don’t have the money. Maybe Kim’s right. They might all be very rich. Anyway, we are being invited by a family to stay with them.”
“A family you don’t know, and they don’t know you.”
“Yes, ma’am. The letter, after the address, says this:
“Dear Mr. and Mrs. Smith:
My name is Romance Dearheart. I welcome you to our home, and love you before knowing you.”
“How can you love someone before knowing them?” Stevie asked, sulkily.
“I don’t know, Steve.” Lucy spoke to her friend kindly. “Maybe that’s their way. The letter goes on to say:
“My husband and I have a little girl just Lucinda’s age, and a baby boy. His name is Woo.
“Woo is two, and we all adore him so. Our little girl’s name is –l-i-t-h-e.”
“Lithe,” said Mrs. Talbott. “It means graceful, limber. Gymnasts, dancers and cats are all considered lithe.”
“Oh. Okay. Then the letter says, “We understand your little girl likes warm weather. This we do not have to offer, but we offer Lucinda Sue all our hearts to wear around her neck.”
“Oh, my,” Mrs. Talbott breathed. “Oh, Lucinda, they sound like a very loving family.”
Lucy read on, hoping to disguise the lump in her throat. “My daughter, Lithe, would like to add her own words.
“Dear Lucinda, please hurry home to us. I cannot sleep at night because I am so excited to meet you. Do you have a brother, too? I am sorry we have not exchanged pictures. Our machines don’t always work.
“But you will love my–I mean, our room, and our toys. I love you. Lithe. I am eight years old. That’s how old you are, Mommy says. Hurry home to us.”
Kim’s tears flowed freely. “I’d happily give up summer and wear a fur coat, even be blind, to live there. I’m sorry, Mrs. T., I guess I shouldn’t have–”
“That’s quite all right, dear. I wouldn’t mind going there myself.”
“See, princess? Alot of kids wish they were going.”
“Yeah. I’d like to see Lithe’s room.”
Lucy found herself surrounded as kids left their seats to touch her, look at the letter.
“What kind of weird name is Lithe?” Steve asked.
“My sister’s named Blithe. What’s so weird about that?” another chimed in.
“I think,” said the teacher, “it’s time to cut the cake and open the chips and dip.”
The class cheered.
“Are you taking your princess bedspread with you, Luce?”
“It’s all packed, princess.”
“When do you leave, Mr. Smith?”
“End of the weekend.”
“Daddy, could Kim stay with us for the weekend?”
“Only if you can get hold of your parents.”
Kim rushed out the door to call them, a fool’s errand.
“They don’t want me around,” she sulked, “but they won’t let me out of the house. They hate it when I have any fun.”
“You look like you could use a piece of cake,” Lucy’s mom handed Kim a plate.
“That, and a space ship ticket.”
“We wish we could just take you, Kim, but then we’d be charged with kidnapping. The ship would never get off the ground, and you’d be worse off,” Mr. Smith said. “Honestly, I wish I could save everyone. I really do.”
“They went all out,” Lucy’s mom said, looking at the small maps of Andorpha on the wall.
“We were sent these, too, and a little book about Andorpha,” Lucy said, pleased to hold court like the princess Daddy always called her. “There are ten continents, lots of countries, none of them tropical.”
Everyone laughed, including Lucy.
“Which means I can hit Daddy here up for a chinchilla coat.”
“You can try.” He smiled.
“Do they have a president?”
“They have a constitutional monarchy.”
“It’s like in England. They have a king and queen, but they also have a government people vote for.”
“I vote we spend the rest of the party outside,” Mrs. Talbott said. They all filed outdoors, where Lucy and her class played for the rest of that luscious afternoon.
The grill sent out its smoky invitation. “Burgers!” Lucy squealed. “I knew it!”
“So did we,” Stevie said, “but we weren’t allowed to tell.”
“On pain of death,” Kim said, dramatically.
Lucy didn’t see her parents’ glum faces as they watched their daughter revel in June’s perfumes, her warmth, her colors for the last time.
Lucy and her mother shopped for layers and layers of winter clothing. Lucy tried not to sulk, but the knowledge that she’d be living in snow forever made her glum.
“Bet they have indoor picnics,” Mom said.
“That’s not a picnic, Mom, that’s a party. Picnics are outdoors, in warm weather.”
“Okay, I’m just trying to cheer you up. How old is the Dearhearts’ little girl?”
“What’s her name?”
Lucy sighed. “Lithe. Mom, do we have to talk about this?”
“Bet they have some really wild toys on Andorpha, things we earthlings couldn’t imagine.”
Lucy tried to hide the tears as they went through the clothes. She let them fall in the changing cubicle. She wiped at her eyes before coming out. She knew she wasn’t fooling anyone.
Lithe, shmithe. She wanted to stay home, even if they did blow themselves to …
“Hey, don’t you look the perfect snow queen.”
She looked at her dad, disbelieving.
“Give it up, Will, I’ve already tried.”
At home, Lucy went quietly into her room. She’d agreed to take a time out if she felt miserable, so as not to make others miserable.
“Now, for the coup de grace,” her father said outside her door, and knocked.
“Not yet, Dad.”
He opened the door. “So,” her dad drew out the word, “I guess that means you’re not interested in … a fur coat.”
“It’s okay, I’ll just take it back.” Dad sighed. “Too bad. It’s as soft as kittens, and there’s gloves all the way up to your arms, thick, warm boots. I’ll just take them back–” He began to close the door too slowly.
“Dad …” Lucy came out of her room. She manhandled the box. “Tada!” He pulled out the coat.
“Chinchilla, as requested. Along with thick chinchilla gloves, scarf, hat, and boots. Thick and furry inside, great traction outside.
“Go on with you. Try it on.”
Mom started to giggle and couldn’t stop.
“Oh my God, you look like a walking cat! Can I pet your fur?”
“Meow. Mm, maybe. I’m kinda skittish.”
“Holy Moses, that’s soft.”
Lucy giggled. “I like being petted.”
“Great. Now it’s my turn,” Mom said. Instead of petting Lucy, she looked at her husband. “Where’s mine?”
“Right here, Mrs. Smith.” He pulled another box out of the closet. “Here, take it. It’s heavy.”
“Oh wow,” Lucy said. “She’s going total fur.”
“We’re all going total fur,” Dad said opening a third box. “And if either of you girls laugh, I swear …”
Lucy laughed when he got the coat, gloves, scarf and boots on. “Daddy, you look like a … lady-man.”
“Do you want that coat or not, missy?”
She snickered. “I can’t help it. You look so weird.”
“I don’t know,” Mom said. “I think he looks sort of handsome.”
They had to make her take the ensemble off. “Be reasonable, Lucy. You’re not sleeping in that.”
“I’m a kid, Mom, I’m not supposed to be reasonable.”
“Well then, let Daddy be reasonable for you. Arms out, kid. That’s coming off.”
“Aw, Dad. I’m a cat. Pet me.”
“Good night, kitty. You get your fur back when we hit Andorpha.”
“Donna honey?” Will held up a beer.
“Might as well finish the case. Thank God I finally found something to sweeten the pot for Lucy. Thank God for clearance sales. What with people running offworld as fast as possible, or resigning themselves to their fate, everything’s being sold for a song.”
“We’re celebrating, then.”
“Celebrating? I suppose. We tell Lucy to have a good attitude, and all I can see is what I’m leaving behind. My job, my friends, my world. I’m mourning for why we have to leave when I tell her to be grateful there’s someplace to go, even if it’s as alien as all-get-out.”
“It’s just starting to feel real to me, Will honey. We leave tomorrow. It didn’t seem real when we applied to all those planets, or when we got the letter. You know, even during Lucy’s party, I kept hoping somebody would run in and tell us to get to the nearest TV to hear President Fitzgerald’s ‘peace comes to Earth’ speech.”
“Or at least we’re not all going to hell in a nuke,” said Will.
She nodded. He opened her beer. It foamed all over both of them. They laughed till it hurt.
Donna’s uncontrollable laughter became uncontrollable tears. “Hey,” Will put his arms around her. “Hey, what’s with this?”
“I don’t know, it just started. Will, what if Lucy can’t have a good attitude? I mean, what if she hates the place for life, can’t get used to it, can’t fit in with the other kids?”
He held her close till she cried it out. He crooned endearments, telling her he felt the same, till she quieted.
Donna gulped her beer. Will grinned at her. “Hey, you’re not going to take up drinking, are you?”
“I am so.”
He picked up his own beer. “Here’s to Andorphian beer.”
“And fur coats!” Lucy called from her room.
Lucy woke in the night, scared. She couldn’t leave Kimmy behind.
She crept to her parents’ room. The door was shut, as usual. She listened. Quiet. She opened it and turned on the light.
They woke up, shading their eyes.
“What is it, hon?” Mom sat up in bed, holding her arms out.
“I’m not asking to sleep with you. It’s more important. Daddy, we have to take Kimmy with us.”
“Lucy, we already talked about that at dinner, remember? It’s against the law.”
Lucy felt anger flooding her, and tried to keep it under control. “But Dad, they hit her! Didn’t you notice she was wearing leotards at my party? Well, she was wearing an icepack before.”
“Like I said before, honey, we know they hit her. The school knows about it, too, but with everything the way it is …”
“You mean the war.”
“Well, if everyone’s so into that, they won’t notice one kid. We can tell the Dearhearts she’s my sister, and since they’re so loving, they can find a place for my sister, too.”
They looked as helpless as she felt. Lucy’s anger melted. She wasn’t mad at them; she was mad at Kimmy’s parents.
Mom patted the bed. Lucy got into bed with them. She settled herself. “Gee, I’m glad you guys weren’t, you know, doing anything.”
“Lucy.” Her mom and dad chuckled. “What do they teach you at school, anyway?”
“I didn’t learn about that from the teachers. I learned it from the kids.”
“Recess was my favorite subject, to.” Mom leaned back on her pillow. Lucy laid her head on her mother’s tummy. Mom began stroking her hair. “Great subject, recess. Never know what you’ll learn.”
They turned on the TV. They could find nothing that didn’t have to do with the war.
Even the kids’ channels were taken up with news.
“Change the channel, Will!”
But Lucy had already seen three bodies being announced as the war’s “quieter casualties”.
“That’s Lydia. And her parents. What’s wrong? They look dead. They’re dead. Why are they dead?” Lucy’s voice grew increasingly hysterical.
Her parents had a time trying to comfort her. When she finally calmed down, dawn was creeping across the sky.
“You knew, didn’t you?” Lucy looked from one to the other with red, swollen eyes.
“We guessed,” her dad said. “Princess, we didn’t want to worry you. You’ve already got enough to worry about. Some people, when they can’t find a new world to live on, they … they …”
“If we hadn’t found a place,” Lucy asked quietly, “would you and Mommy have made me drink poison?”
“I don’t know that I could have done it, sweetie,” her mom said.
“Her parents suck!” Lucy spat the words out and hid under the covers, trembling. She was sure she would never get the words out of her head. They’d flowed over her while she’d been crying. The weekend they were supposed to have left for another world, Mr. Powers had given her friend, Lydia, poisoned hot chocolate, while he and his wife had drunk poisoned wine. All this time, Lucy had imagined them somewhere safe.
“Oh, honey.” Mom took her in her arms and rubbed her back. “I’m sorry. You believe in God, don’t you, Lu?”
“I guess, Mom.”
“Then your friend’s with God now. Her parents never told her what they planned to do. Your friend’s parents had no other choice. They sent their little girl to God.”
“Did they go to the other place?”
“I don’t know. I’m going to ask you to try to do something very hard. I want you to try to forgive Lydia’s parents. Now that you know, you should also know Andorpha was our last hope. Your father and I have been trying to get you off this planet since you were in diapers.”
“Mm hmm. Try to get some sleep, sweetie.”
Sandwiched between her parents, Lucy cried and trembled. “You wouldn’t have really killed me, would you, Mommy? Daddy?” Her father’s strong arms supported her and held her tight, while her mother caressed her forehead and whispered reassurances. Finally, Lucy’s eyes closed, despite the awful things she’d seen and heard on TV. She fell asleep knowing she would never again complain about having to leave everything behind.
When her mother woke her, she went into her own room. She gave her bare room a last once-over and got dressed. She trudged out to the kitchen table.
Her favorite cereal went down hard. Thankfully, her parents were too busy doing last-minute stuff to notice her struggling to get the cereal down. She felt sick, but she wasn’t sure she was sick enough to throw up. Maybe she shouldn’t bother her parents, at least till she was sure.
She watched them haul suitcases out the door. Her furs were packed in one of those.
She looked up from the almost-empty bowl. Voices.
“Well, well, if it ain’t little Kimmy Tarr.”
Kim! Lucy rushed outside.
“Why don’t you and Lucy ride in your parents’ car? Ours can’t hold another person.”
Lucy and Kim hugged.
“Hi, Mrs. Tarr,” Lucy said as she crawled into the back seat beside Kim.
“Hi.” Kim’s mom got behind the wheel, keeping her eyes firmly on the road.
“Any more letters from Lithe?” Kim asked.
“Nope. I’m gonna miss you, Kimmy.” She said that for Mrs. Tarr to hear, then leaned closer. “I have a plan,” Lucy whispered in Kim’s ear. “Tell you more when we get there.”
At the spaceport, Kim and Lucy stayed around to finish her part of the paperwork. When the agent lady said she was free to go, the girls walked to a nearby cafe. They both ordered milk and a chocolate chip muffin.
“Leaving us, dearies?”
“She is,” Kim said.
The waitress peppered Lucy with questions when she got back with their orders.
“Lithe. What a pretty name. I think I’ll call my baby that, if it’s a girl.”
“And Woo for a boy.” The girls giggled.
“Uh, I don’t think so.”
“Wait. You’re having a baby? Are you crazy?”
“Luce!” Kim looked shocked.
“Oh, it’s okay,” said the waitress. “Aren’t you being a little fresh, dear?”
“Sorry,” Lucy said, and she was. “It’s just that … I just found out something really awful that happened to a friend. What I mean is I wouldn’t want you to have to make the same choice that my friend’s dad did. He p–p–”
She couldn’t get the words past the lump in her throat, nor her stinging eyes.
“Kim, Lydia didn’t go anywhere. Mr. Powers, he … he …” She’d forgotten the waitress altogether.
“I’m sorry to hear that, dearie. We grownups can be pretty stupid, making the world what it is, then expecting you to accept it with a good attitude. If it’s any comfort, we also have to live with it. Don’t worry about me. I’m leaving too. Young children and pregnant women are a priority. That means they’ll save us first. What’s your full name?”
Lucy wondered if this were a trap. Information like that could get her into trouble, except the waitress didn’t look mad. She took a chance. “Lucinda Sue Smith.”
“There, that’s done it. My baby’s full name. Lithe Lucinda McWithers.”
Kim grinned. “What about Lucinda Lithe? I think that’s prettier. I love babies. When’s she coming?”
“In about five months.”
“Gee, I hope Earth is still around then.”
“It’s okay. You girls want to know what keeps me going?” The waitress sat down. “Hope, that’s what. I’ve got my name into dozens of planets. I’m sure I’ll be leaving soon.” She touched the pewter cross at her throat. “And you never know. President Fitzgerald might just pull it off. We women gotta stick together, right, girls?”
They nodded, smiling at being called “women”.
“Now we have a woman president. About time, too. She’s got a good head, and a good heart. If anyone can do it, she can. Somebody’s waving. Gotta go.”
They thanked the waitress for the food. Lucy pulled out her purse. The waitress shook her head. “Keep it. Give that to little Lithe, with compliments from Earth, such as it is.”
“When’s your ship leaving?” Kim asked.
“An hour from now, and you’re going to be on it.”
“Thought your dad said no.”
“He did. Kim, I’m not leaving you here to get hit.”
“Oh yeah, like I can get aboard without your parents seeing me.”
“Don’t be so negative.” Lucy grinned. “I’ve got it all worked out. I told you you should read more adventure books instead of those paper chick flicks you like.”
Both girls giggled.
“Okay, pirate, how are you going to pull this little caper off?”
Lucy bit her bottom lip. “We’ll figure it out when we get there. That’s what Daddy says when he doesn’t know the answer. Besides, I’ve prayed. God’ll give me the answer. For one thing, we can lose the grownups in line. There must be lots of people going on the ship. Mom and Dad have to go through a bunch of stupid, long paperwork, and then they’re going to put our suitcases aboard, if they haven’t already. In the meantime, you slip in behind me.”
“And when they ask for a ticket?”
“I’ll give them mine, and then we get aboard before the agent can stop us. If necessary, you can hide in the ship’s hold.”
“What if spaceships don’t have holds?”
“A ship is a ship,” Lucy said, sagely. “I’m not leaving you behind, Kimberly Tarr, so just forget it.”
“Aye, aye, sir.” Kim saluted, bringing on a fresh bout of giggles.
“If Lithe doesn’t have enough room in her room, the Dearhearts will have a sofa bed. You like babies. Woo’s a baby, well, almost. You can be my sister. Hell, Kim, we can all three grow up like sisters, you, me, and Lithe. We’ll go to the same school, grow up and date the same boys.”
“I get the cute one,” Kim said, her eyes brightening. “Under all those fur coats, I wonder if Andorphian boys are cute.”
“Sure they are. Gorgeous. It’ll be you, me and Lithe, till death us do part.”
“Lu, I don’t care what we have to do. I’m going with you. Will your dad be really angry when he finds out?”
“He might lecture a bit, but Kim, my parents don’t hit. I’ve had some spankings on the butt in my life, but I’ve never been afraid to go to school. Anyway, he’ll get over it, and the Dearhearts will love you. If they can love me without ever seeing me, they can damn well love you.”
“Lucy. Your language.”
She snickered. “What do you care? Let’s go look around. Sister.”
They skipped away with their garbage, threw it neatly into the trash, and went looking for something to do.
All they found were lounges with TV’s in them, every one a news channel.
“I’m nervous,” Kim said.
“Me, too. But it’ll be fine. Just as soon as we’re on that ship. The worst we have to fear is, well, we might both get grounded, once you’re found out. I packed some food in my suitcase. Cans and stuff that won’t go bad. I’ll make sure you don’t starve. By the time that’s all finished, there won’t be enough fuel in the ship for the captain to turn around and come back.”
“You really have worked everything out.”
“That’s right. No need to be nervous, sis.”
“No, I mean, see all those people running?” Kim lowered her voice. “Something’s happening.”
Lucy watched. Kim was right. People weren’t exactly running, but it was like they would if they could. They looked scared.
“I don’t like it when grown-ups look scared,” she said to Kim.
They wandered by a lounge and looked at the TV. President Dorothy Fitzgerald was speaking.
“… to inform the American people there’s no good news yet. Emergency evacuation offworld is still advised. But I want you to know that my cabinet and I are doing everything possible to stop this madness.”
The spaceport exploded!
Lucy woke screaming in pain and horror. Someone stood over her, shushing and murmuring “there, there”.
“I need to know, are you Lucy Smith? Are you the Smith girl?”
Smith girl? What was that? “Ask. Daddy.”
“Is your name Lucy?”
Lucy. She knew that much. “Yeah.”
“I’m a policeman. Don’t be afraid. Where does it hurt, Lucy?”
She felt something cold wipe across her arm. She looked up into a dark face. “I’m Dr. Cook. I’m just giving you something for the pain. Here comes the needle. Deep breath.”
Lucy took a deep breath. She screamed as more pain hit her hard. She got each word out slowly in a raspy voice she hardly recognized as hers. “What… was. that? … A … nother … bomb? I didn’t hear. it go … off.””
“No. That was just morphine.”
Lucy floated into sleep.
When she was sure the child was asleep, Dr. Cook stood up. She looked around what was once a thriving spaceport.
“Oh God, what a mess. You proud of yourself?” She glared at the policeman. “Don’t tell me you didn’t have something to do with it.”
“I didn’t plant this one. Not this time.”
The doctor called him several choice names. “Your people sure did.”
“Sticks and stones, doc. It could as easily have been you. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry for the little girl. I’ll make sure she gets on her ship.”
“What were you before you became a rent-a-cop?”
“A porter. What’s it to ya? I said I’d get the kid to the ship and I will.”
“With what for parents? You make me sick!” The doctor spat on the floor at the man’s feet and walked away.
“There’s alot of people dead, doctor! And a lot more to go. Don’t tell me you don’t have blood on your hands!”
She stopped, turned to face him. “We only blow up munitions dumps, not spaceports full of people. You gonna be this kid’s daddy now? You owe her a family, because I just pronounced them all dead, and it’s your fault. Her parents, and a young pregnant waitress, and another little girl and her parents, a Mr. and Mrs. Tarr.”
“This is war, doctor.”
“And a little girl,” she emphasized each word, glaring. She looked down at Lucy. “Poor little thing. You rifle through her suitcases, too?”
“Now, that’s more your style.”
“Only soldiers, and only weapons and money. Some of us have boundaries, you know? Boundaries we won’t cross even during war. Some of us. Not all of us, of course.”
The doctor marched away.
He looked down at the little girl, a mass of bruises, contusions, and limbs splayed out at weird angles, suggesting broken bones. “I’ll see you get to Andorpha. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry about the rest. But you don’t care, do you? All you know is, you’ve been messed over. That’s how it is, kid. Life is trauma. At least it is on this piece of crap we call Earth.” He’d have to carry her to the ship, but he dared not. How many bones were broken, he wondered. “Hey, doc! Get back here! You got a patient!”
“I can’t carry her to the ship. I don’t want to move her.”
“You mean, you’ve screwed her life up enough already. Go on, coward, say it.”
“Just get her to the ship.” He glared.
He had to get rid of the clothes. If the skipper knew about his double life …
But first, he scuttled behind a damaged car and made a quick phone call, giving a name and an address. “Good luck doc,” he whispered. “I hope you can help, seeing this is your last patient.” His snicker would have sent chills down any listener’s spine. He gave the disposable phone a quick toss. It landed somewhere he couldn’t see. With any luck, it was broken for good.
When Lucy woke, she was in a hospital of some sort. “Mommy? Daddy? Kimmy?”
A stranger smiled at her as he walked into the room. “You’re awake. I’m Dr. Kelley, ship’s medical officer. You can call me Dr. Jim, all right? Can I call you Lucy?”
“Dr. Jim, where are my parents?”
He looked away.
“You’re a mass of broken bones, Lucy. How’s your pain?”
He gave her a shot of morphine. This time, it didn’t hurt.
“You know, sweetheart, we’re going to have to get in a fresh supply of morphine soon. We’ve got a special bunch of Afghani poppy farmers aboard, just to grow opium poppies for you.”
The chemical warmth had a hold of Lucy. A fur blanket in a needle, she thought, as it tried to pull her down into blissful sleep.
No! She pushed up.
“Dr. Jim, where are my father and mother?” She waited. No answer. “… My folks! My … progenitors! Where are they?”
He sighed. “They didn’t make it.”
“They died?” Lucy sobbed while the doctor looked on helplessly.
“I’m sorry. The captain told me not to tell you. Not while we’re still trying to patch you up.”
“And my sister? Well, she’s not really my sister, but I was taking her with me. Her parents hit her! Lots!” She glared at the doctor as if he were Kim’s parents. “Where is Kim?”
He spoke slowly. “She’s with God.”
Lucy swore. “I hope I die soon.”
“Now, that’s no attitude.” He gave her a game smile.
She gave him every bad word she’d ever heard.
“I don’t have to listen to that.” He walked out.
She got out one last swear word before the morphine took her.
“How are we doing?” Captain James asked.
“I’m no psychologist, sir. I said something I thought would cheer her up, or help, and all I got was a spitting, swearing eight-year-old.”
“And you expected?” The captain showed no sympathy. “How’d you like to be an orphan, Jim? She’s lost her world, her friends, her school, everything she knows. But at least she had her parents. And now?” He waved an expansive hand.
“We’ve got almost eight weeks with an angry orphan. I’m out of my depth, sir.”
“Then I suggest you study. You might start with how you’d feel if it happened to you.”
“Captain, I’m just a general practitioner.”
“Good. Then make childhood multiple traumas one of your general practices. That’s all.”
The ship’s doctor spent all of his time with Lucy, glad there were no other patients. They’d left the Sol system far behind by the time she was able to get out of bed.
The girl never gave an inch. It seemed there was nothing he could do to unwrap that angry silence.
“Lucy, did you ever think that, as horrible as it is, what happened to your parents and your best friend … did you ever stop to think that at least you’re going to someone?”
“I didn’t just read your letter. I’ve contacted the family. We’ll be on Andorpha in a few days. The Dearhearts know about what happened.”
“Still wish I was dead,” Lucy whispered.
“Okay. I suppose I would too, if I were you. I just want you to think about it, just for a minute. How many kids could say they’d lost their whole family, and were getting a replacement? You’ve got Mr. and Mrs. Dearheart for parents, their little girl for a sister and best friend, and a little brother. If you’ll just give them a chance.”
“You can’t replace your folks.”
“You’re right. You can’t. What would your folks want you to do? What would your best friend want you to do?”
“I don’t know.”
“I think you do.” He offered a weak smile. “Hey. You ever seen ‘Annie’?”
“Then, as ship’s doctor, I prescribe popcorn and a movie. Specifically, ‘Annie’.”
“Neat movie,” was Lucy’s only comment. “Thanks for the popcorn.”
“It’s a classic. Tomorrow same time, same place? I have tons of movies. Till now, I didn’t have anyone to share them with. How about ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’?”
“OK. DO you have Stewart Little?”
Silence. Then in a whisper, “Do you have kids?”
“I had a boy. He loved those movies. Want to see his picture?”
She nodded. Dr. Jim pulled out a thin, long iThought. He closed his eyes. Lucy watched, wondering what he was doing. A picture slowly formed on the glassy surface. “Everyone should have one of these. It connects wirelessly to your brain and can pull out movies you’ve watched, pictures, you name it.”
He didn’t mention its uses on enemy prisoners.
Lucy stared at the small boy with red hair.
“That’s Tommy. He was seven. We bought water we thought was safe. It wasn’t. His mama drank it before I could stop her. I guess she couldn’t go on. She felt bad about giving our son that water. We didn’t know. Honest.”
“We got water in bottles,” Lucy said. “I’m sorry.”
Lucy did her best, though she cried sometimes, and couldn’t always control her moods.
Sometimes, she lapsed into bored silences.
“What’s there to do?” she moaned one morning and couldn’t understand why Dr. Jim grinned.
“Now, that’s what I want to hear! What’s there to do, indeed? How good an artist are you, Lucy?”
“I can draw.”
“Okay, here’s the deal. I want you to pretend. How good are you at that?”
“I’m the highest-paid in the business!”
“Cool. I love celebs. OK, Miss Star, here’s the deal. You’re applying for a job, illustrating fantasy books for kids. Now, this job is your life. You want it bad.”
“Oh, yeah. Millions. But there’s a million artists as good as you and better that want the job.”
“What do you want me to draw, Doc Jim?”
“Whatever comes into your head.”
Dr. Kelley watched, feeling close to euphoric. He’d unwrapped one layer, for now at least. He’d found her something to do, and whatever she drew might help in some way.
“Cool. Let me see.”
“Did I get the job?”
He looked at the drawing: mostly abstract, madcap colors and shapes that didn’t seem to make any sense, except for the same face that kept coming up in the pattern.
When Lucy was put to bed, he knocked on the captain’s door.
“Sir,” he said, after being invited to come in and sit down. “Any guesses as to why our little friend has drawn our chief cook’s face?”
The skipper looked up. “Let me see that.”
He swore under his breath. “Have her do some more.”
“What do you think it means, sir?”
“That’ll be all, doctor.”
When the doctor left, Captain Henry James stared and stared. He could swear there were letters, some drawn crookedly on purpose, some drawn as if on their side, some drawn in cursive or fancy calligraphy. As he deciphered each one, he wrote it on a plain piece of paper.
“Life is trauma, kid? What the devil.”
“Just curious, Lucy. Anyone ever tell you that life was trauma, and you’d better get used to it, that kind of thing?”
“Well, I don’t know. Maybe.” The shutter came down over her face.
“Still too hard to talk about, isn’t it?”
Tears trickled. “I know this sounds selfish, but my birthday’s coming up, and I don’t even know what Earth day it is.”
“On Andorpha, they’d be just coming into Vormaj. That’s equivalent to August on Earth.”
“Which day? Which day?”
“The day we land, it’ll be the fourth or fifth. Third, if things go ahead of schedule.”
Two days before she turned nine, they took her to ship’s stores, where she stumbled upon yet another horrible surprise. No orderly suitcases like Mom had worked so hard to pack. No toys. No princess bedspread. Some of the layered clothing had gone missing. A full-blown temper tantrum rose within her. The only thing she could do was let it out, tear by tear.
“Come on, sweetie. I know it’s a shock, but we’re doing our best.”
“Well, so am I!” she shot back. That tantrum monster pushed hard against thin seams of self-control.
“Um, guys?” Dr. Jim stepped in. “Lucy’s been through a lot, and she’s trying hard not to jump us all for the death of her world and everything she knows. I can see she’s trying hard. Let’s not comment on every stray tear, shall we?”
Lucy sighed, the tantrum monster started to shrink, the cage around him started to thicken. “Thanks, doc. I appreciated that.”
It wasn’t easy, going through her late parents’ things, seeing the great big “not therenesses” of things that should have been there. Lucy sobbed again. “That’s Mommy’s coat! Where’s mine? Where’s mine?”
“Hold on. Is this yours?”
“Yes. But where’s …”
“Let’s just give her everything we have here,” the doctor mouthed to the purser.
“Where’s my suitcase?”
“It blew up, honey. Look. I know you’re upset, Lucy. I know everything’s not here.”
“You’re damn right it’s not!” she shouted. “Where are my toys?”
“They’re on the planet, Lucy, in your new sister’s room.”
“How’d they get there?”
“They didn’t. The toys you know are gone. I’m sorry. Whatever your new sister has is yours to share.”
“I don’t want those!”
“Yeah, I know,” the doctor said, resigned to another fit.
Lucy noticed the lines around his eyes, and tried to control the enlarging, fire-breathing tantrum monster. That was what Daddy had called it, and though she was old enough to know better, she felt entitled to unleash the dragon all over these grown-ups. Their parents weren’t dead. They had each other, their ship, their things. On the other hand, if her parents and Kim were watching from Heaven and God was there watching too, it would be better to hold onto, just now. The tantrum monster was her dragon. She had to hold on to it. It wasn’t their fault her parents were dead.
“Lucy,” said the purser, “let’s try everything on. You can have everything that fits.”
“Gee, thanks, mister.” Lucy couldn’t manage a smile, but she could manage good manners. The tantrum monster roared inside. Shut up, she told it. “Aren’t there other passengers on the ship? What about their things?”
Good going, princess, her dad said in her head. Keep it up for as long as you can.
“Well, you can’t have their things of course, but all these clothes are from others who didn’t make it on board, even though their things did.”
“Well, gee, is it right for me to wear …” She couldn’t bring herself to say “dead people’s things”.
The purser smiled. “If there’s a Heaven, and if they’re watching, they’d want you to have the things they can’t use.”
While she tried on all the warm clothes available, she peppered them with questions. How many passengers were on the ship? She’d only seen the sick wing so far. Could she meet the other people now? Dr. Jim grinned.
“I think you can eat in the dining lounge now, though I admit there aren’t that many. While you clung to life, a full ship’s list have been stopping off at this world and that. You’re the only one going to Andorpha. I’m afraid there’s only the crew left.”
“We’d be delighted with your company,” the purser said.
When you start to lose control, her dad’s voice whispered, take a time out. “I need a time out now,” she said.
They helped her to quarters outside the sick wing. She put the not-hers things on the room’s only chair, flopped down on the bed, and wept herself to sleep. She’d spent all her good attitude for that day, apparently.
The night before they made planet fall, Lucy looked at the pile of clothes disconsolately. One of the hands must have packed them for her. She mustered up the best thank you she could. It was hard, between the sobs.
“My books. My princess bedspread.”
After dinner, the captain taught her to play poker. Texas Hold’em he called it.
She went to bed, aching all over. Her head throbbed. She called for the doctor.
“Can I have some more of that stuff?”
“You know, the stuff you gave me for a while when I came aboard.”
“But you’ve been off that for two weeks.”
“Well, I’m aching all over, and my head hurts.”
“All right. Let’s try something a little less potent, but still get the job done.”
She looked at him, expectantly.
“I’ll tell you a bed time story.”
She looked at him like he’d lost his mind.
He chuckled. “A really, really boring bedtime story. I tell this story to people who don’t respond to strong drugs.”
After a while, she sighed. “I think I’d respond better to strong drugs.”
“Okay. Let’s try a mild sleeping medicine.”
She woke up crying in the middle of the night. She wondered for a second where Mom and Dad were. Then, it hit her all over again. They weren’t coming back, ever, except in her dreams. She supposed she was stuck for life. She tried to go to sleep. She booted up the computer in her room. She clicked on the clock, and pointed it at Andorpha.
Six hours and fifteen minutes, the screen read. They’d be landing there in six hours.
Local Andorphian time? The computer came back with several time zones, while at the same time correcting her.
It was Andorphan, not Andorphian. She put in the address. 4 AM.
She shut the computer down. No help there. She might have sneaked out to the ship’s phone and called the Dearhearts. Not that she’d know what to say if she did get one of them on the phone. Did they have a phone? How had Dr. Jim contacted them?
She booted up the computer again. Might as well play a game. Something niggled in the silent early morning, and she couldn’t put a finger on it.
What day is it? she wrote.
“Month: Vormaj; Day: 4. Local day name: ThalVendra.
What’s the day on Earth?
A thrill snaked down her arms, her back, her legs. She was nine years old today!
In the large galley, Jim grabbed a coffee. “Today’s the day, isn’t it?” the head cook asked.
“Yeah. Lucy goes, like a pup, to a new home where she doesn’t know a soul. Sometimes I think it’d be better if she were a puppy. They love everyone, and their memories aren’t that long.”
“Well, she’s suffered one heck of a trauma.”
“Well, you know what they say, Lee. Life is trauma. Better get used to it.”
The cook’s lips turned white while the doctor watched.
“You ever met our little friend before? Before she came aboard?”
The chief cook shook his head. “Why would I have?”
“Oh, no reason. Except there’s a few hours we can’t account for you the day that bomb went off, the day our little friend’s world went poof, and her things were scattered and busted and ”'” Jim’s face felt like it was going purple. He felt the rage, the snake ready to strike at this man he didn’t trust, this man who fed them, who might just as easily poison them all, if it suited his purpose. ”
The cook sighed and banged the spatula down on the counter. He looked at the doc as if he’d just about lost all patience. “Doctor, in case you haven’t noticed, alot of people’s world went poof. As to the kid, she’s getting another world, ain’t she?”
“Well, yeah, if you don’t count alien climate and alien people, and not a familiar face among ’em. And she barely nine years old.”
“Oh, spare me! All sorts of kids nine and younger are going through hell.”
“I see.” The snake lifted its head, hackles raising. Before he knew it, he’d grabbed the chef by the collar. “Let me tell you something, buddy. I don’t like you. You’re a shifty SOB, and I swear to God if I ever catch you out, I’ll see you hanged.”
The two men grappled. “I don’t like you either, Kelley. I suggest you hire a taster.”
“Did you tell Lucy that trauma was a normal part of life?”
He released him and went back to his flapjacks. He turned one rather more violently than the recipe called for.
“Do you give a damn whether the kid gets better or not? Or do you want her to grow up to feel nothing but anger, and learn how to get a kick out of making people suffer. Like you do. What’s your problem, anyway?”
“You better leave me alone.” The head cook was shaking. “Just leave me alone, Jim.”
“Lucy seems to know your face. I wonder how.”
“And the way she wrote ‘life is trauma’. Very interesting. One of your big sayings, isn’t it?”
“I said stop it, Jim.”
“Sure, Lee. Wouldn’t want to spoil Lucy’s birthday. After everything else that’s been spoiled for her.” He leaned back, savoring the air. “The place smells like pancake Tuesday around here.”
“Whatever else you think, Kelley, I like the kid. I thought Lucy’d like it. What little girl doesn’t like fresh flapjacks with syrup?”
“Other than a mom and dad to enjoy it with? I can’t think of anything she’d rather have.”
The cook glared. “Stop blaming me for porr little Lucy’s world going poof. Just cut it out.”
“Sure. Whatever you say.” A taut silence stretched between them. The doctor’s shoulders sagged. A fight would solve nothing, bring no one back.
Jim Kelley poured himself another cup of coffee, took it to his office, and waited for Lucy.
“Guess what, Dr. Jim?” She skipped into the hospital wing with the first gleam in her eye that he’d seen. He wanted to cry.
“I’m nine years old today.”
“Well, happy birthday. And a prettier, sweeter nine, I have never seen. Why, you’re the epitome of nine-year-old birthday girlness, the absolute essence of. Got you a present, too. It’s a little old for you, but it’s a book.”
“Is it good? Are there pictures?”
“Tons of pictures. But in order to see them, you’d have to be good at pretending. In fact, you’d have to be the highest-paid in the business.”
“It’s a doctor book, right?”
“Nope. But it’s my favorite. Ever hear of a fella called John Keats?” Her hair shone, sleek as a cat’s, when she shook her head. “He was a poet, wrote alot of lovely things. Give him a shot. You’ll like him. He’ll grow on you, just like Andorpha.”
Jim was proud, watching her try valiantly to hide her disappointment. At that moment, he’d have sold his soul for a doll, an etch a sketch, anything nine-year-old girl-like.
“Let’s go into breakfast. You like flapjacks? Giant pancakes?”
She did, though her stomach roiled. She was too excited, too scared, and too sad to eat. Dr. Jim gave her an encouraging smile.
“I’ve been reading up on Andorpha. If you don’t like it there, you write me, and I’ll come and take your place.”
“What will I do?”
“Be ship’s doctor, of course.”
Lucy didn’t even feel them landing at the spaceport. “I’m scared. What if there’s another b-bomb?”
Dr. Jim patted her hand. “There’s not, honey. This world isn’t stupid like Earth.”
Somewhere on the ship, a comm officer tried to raise Andorpha’s Immigration Office, Refugee Department. Lucy heard the radio crackle to life. “We have the little girl,” the officer said. “She’s alone.”
The voice at the other end started to say something. The officer jammed a pair of headphones on so Lucy couldn’t hear.
“I know what they’re talking about,” she said. “That guy’s probably asking about my parents.”
“Maybe not. Maybe it’s just technical stuff.”
The door irised open. Dr. Jim stepped out onto Andorphan soil with Lucy. “Do you have pictures of the people you’re coming to live with?”
Lucy shook her head. She wished she’d had a diary. It was exactly 10:31 AM, on her ninth birthday.
The spaceport was smaller than Earth’s, and alot colder.
Ice had formed on the windows. The wind howled outside. Lucy held herself tight inside both her, and her mother’s coats, plus the layers of sweaters in between. She tried to snuggle into the big, ill-fitting boots, which were definitely not chinchilla. Dr. Jim wanted to cry, watching the poor waif in clothing not her own, clothing that didn’t really fit, coming to a world as cold as the devil. There she was, trying to hide the tears with a fake smile. He guessed her parents and teachers had told her to have a good attitude and try to accept life as it came. Life, no matter how unfair, how brutal. Dr. Jim wore her daddy’s chinchilla getup. The man had obviously thought of everything. He was a good provider.
“You can keep it,” she said.
“I think not. You need it.” He placed her dad’s coat around her.
Lucy gaped. Everyone she saw was covered from head to toe in layers and layers of fur.
Three such people detached themselves from the crowd, and ran toward the ship. How could they run in all that clothing, she wondered. She already felt weighed down and uncomfortable, except that she also felt somewhat warmer.
“Lucindelah!” a little girl came hurtling toward Lucy. A furry little girl. Lucy had the strange feeling that wasn’t a coat. Lithe, she assumed, was so covered in fur, Lucy couldn’t see any skin. She couldn’t see any skin on anyone. No seams, zippers or buttons showed that they were wearing fur coats.
“That fur doesn’t come off, does it?” she said too softly for anyone else to hear. She suddenly felt very alone. These weren’t even humans.
“Oh, Lucindelah, you’re here!” Lucy’s eyes widened. Lithe’s voice was dainty as chimes, daintier. Her big, gold eyes were all lit up like Christmas.
“Lithelah, no. Not so fast,” a similarly-furred woman laughed. “She isn’t used to our ways.”
But Lithe had thrown her arms around Lucy and was frantically rubbing her face against Lucy’s. No one seemed to hear Lucy crying, “Aaaaaaaah, thaaaaaat!”
When Lucy looked up, her face still tingling from the unbearable fur of Lithe’s face, Dr. Jim was gone. The ship’s doors irised shut. She was surrounded by furry Andorphans touching, caressing, trying to hug.
“Everyone, widen,” Mrs. Dearheart shouted over the musical hubbub.
The circle around Lucy widened.
“Hero, let’s get Lucinda home. Come, Lithe.”
“See you, Corsh.” Lithe waved at a furry girl around her age. Best friends, Lucy thought, with a pang.
“See you, Lithey. Rub Wooey’s forehead for me.”
They went out into the endless snow and started walking. Lucy’s furs weren’t keeping her nearly warm enough, but the Andorphans were chatting like it was a spring day. Snow clung to their fur, but it didn’t bother them.
Lucy heard a sharp flapping sound.
“What was that?”
“That was my ears.” Mr. Dearheart’s voice was textured like velvet. He turned around. Atop his head, two ears stood straight up, ending in thin, rounded flaps. They quivered, then made a sharp flap as a snowflake tried to enter his ear.
“What … what are you? Are you people?” Lucy suddenly felt very alone and very frightened.
“We’re Thakthulls,” Lithe said, looking into Lucy’s eyes. The girl was literally starry-eyed. Lucy wondered what her parents would have thought. She knew what Kim would have thought. She would have gushed over the pretty beings with their soft fur and their hugs. She would have ooh’d and aaah’d over their delight-filled eyes.
“Is today a holiday?”
“No more than any other,” Lithe said. “Come on. We still have a way to walk.”
“You have got to be kidding,” Lucy whispered.
They all stopped. “I take it you are not used to walking in this cold, Lucinda?”
“No, sir, Mr. Dearheart. I’m f-freezing.”
He came back, picked her up, and wrapped his arms around her neck, snuggling her into him. “What is this ‘aaaaah thaaaat’?”
“It means, oh my gosh, you guys are so soft I can’t stand it. Can I just melt into your so cuddly fur?”, though she said “cuddly” more like “cuttelly”.
“You’re cuttelly, too,” he said. She laid her head down in the soft warmth, and they continued to walk. “Today’s my birthday,” she said, muffled in the fur.
“How many years have you?” Lithe asked, in her little feather voice.
“Nine. Dr. Jim says I’m the absolute picture of happy birthday, nine-year-old girlness.”
“Oh, lovely! We shall have cake, shall we not, Mama?”
“Yes, of course, darling.”
“And Courtia. May I invite Courtia and Adore?”
“I don’t know. Humans don’t bond like we do, dear. It might be too much–”
“No, it won’t,” Lucy said, knowing instinctively that her dad was looking down from Heaven, calling “go for that good attitude, princess”.
“You know what keeps me going?” the waitress’s voice echoed in her head. “Hope, that’s what.”
“I wish I was going there,” Kim had whispered.
Except for the cold, Lucy reckoned she could like Andorpha. She laid her head on Mr. Dearheart’s chest, snuggled into his so cuttelly fur, and closed her eyes.