Monday, January 30, 2012

Extreme Makeover - Part 13 of 42

© 2008 by Henry Melton

Chapter 13: Symptoms
When the class broke up for lab activities, Deena was startled to see Luther wave her over. She looked at Bryony, puzzled. The blonde looked away.
Oh dear. I bet she’s mad at me. But if Luther wanted to share a lab table with her, rather than Bryony, she couldn’t refuse.
He smiled as she brought her workbook over.
“Hi,” she said. “Do you want to use the magnifying lens first?”
“Oh, forget optics. I want to try a different experiment. Can I get you to do your trick again?” He was talking quietly.
Deena’s bubble of cheer burst. He’s not interested in me. I’m just a puzzle to be solved.
She sat down. She whispered back, “Sure. What do you want me to do?”
He was all smiles. From inside his workbook, he slid out a white envelope.
“I have three coins inside here. Without looking, reach inside and tell me about each of them, one at a time.”
Her smile was a little forced. But as he slid the unsealed envelope over toward her, she did as he asked.
Looking at him, rather than at the envelope, she pushed the flap aside and reached inside with one finger.
“Hmm. More zinc.”
“Just give me the elements.”
She took a breath. “Okay, it’s mostly 29—copper. It has about one part in eight zinc. Then there’s element 25/55—about one in fourteen of that. Then about one part in twenty-five of element 28. Do you need the isotopes?”
He was frowning. “No. Anything else?”
She shook her head. “No. Just a few odd elements in traces. Oxygen and stuff.”
He nodded. “Okay, can you tell what kind of coin it is?”
She felt for texture. “No. Not really. I haven’t been into coins much. It’s a big one, like a quarter, maybe bigger.”
“That’s okay. Let’s go onto the next coin.”
She reached deeper into the envelope. “Oh! Another gold coin.”
“Another one?”
“Yes. This one’s different from the one this morning. It’s not pure like the other one.”
“How much of it is gold?”
She felt it. It was like feeling a texture, but the numbers came to her. “About eleven out of twelve.”
“And the other elements. I don’t need their ratios.”
“Um. Twenty-nine. That’s copper, isn’t it. And forty-seven.”
“Silver.” He nodded. “Okay, just move on to the last coin.”
She shrugged and felt to the side. It was another big coin. But it wasn’t gold.
“Element 78. Pure, but maybe not quite as pure as the coin this morning. Do you want the isotopes?”
“Just give me the numbers.”
“In the 190’s. There are several. 195, 194, 196.” She frowned. “And 198, then 192. Oh, and then just a whisker of 190.”
He leaned back, and stared up at the ceiling. He didn’t look happy.
Deena looked over at the Periodic Table of Elements chart. Down and in the middle was 78. She gasped softly.
“What?” he asked.
She whispered. “Platinum is 78. I’ve never seen platinum. Can I look now?”
He glanced around the room. Five or six people were looking in their direction.
“Okay, but keep them hidden. I don’t want anyone to know I have them.”
She fished the platinum coin partly out of the envelope. It had an eagle flying, under the words, ‘UNITED STATES OF AMERICA’, and ‘.9995 Platinum 1 oz.’. At the bottom it said $100.
“Wow. A hundred dollar coin. I didn’t know we made them.”
“It’s a bullion coin. The dollar amount is just for tradition. It’s really worth more than a thousand dollars.”
The gold coin was very similar, also a US coin with an eagle. She frowned.
“Why aren’t US gold coins as pure as the Canadian ones?” It offended her national pride.
He shrugged. “They both have one ounce of gold. The American Eagles have the extra metal to make them more durable. The coins are worth about the same.”
The first coin was one she had seen before. “A Sacajawea Dollar coin, like the post office uses in their stamp machines.”
“That’s where I got it, just this morning.”
She pushed the coins back out of sight, and he made the envelope vanish into his workbook.
There was no doubt about it now. Luther was rich.
If I had just one of those gold coins, I could replace my whole wardrobe with some decent clothes.
He was still frowning. It seemed like every time she gave him a right answer, he seemed more depressed.
“Okay, what’s wrong?”
He leaned back in his chair. “I’m just trying to figure you out.”
She shrugged. “What’s there to know?”
He leaned toward her, his face intense. “Deena, you are doing impossible things. Don’t you know that?
“I set up this experiment to prove you were faking it. I was wrong. You aren’t.”
She frowned. “I’m not faking anything. I wouldn’t know how.”
“I believe you, now. I just don’t want to.”
“Like I said, you’re doing impossible things. Analyzing those metals like that would take expensive machines. Just getting the elements right would be difficult, especially instantly like you seem to do.
“And the isotopes! That would take high-powered lab equipment.
“You just do it with a touch.”
He tapped his fingers on his workbook—thinking hard.
“Deena, let me see your penny.”
She pulled her arm in closer, protectively. She didn’t want to give up her zinc.
“Don’t worry, I’ll give it right back.” He held out his hand.
Deena slowly crooked a finger under her watch and removed it.
He peered closely at the coin, then snapped it down on the table.
“Hang on a minute.”
Luther jumped up and walked over to Mr. Fenner. They conferred for a second. Luther smiled and gestured over at Deena.
She felt every face in the room on her. What was he doing?
Mr. Fenner unlocked a cabinet and let Luther extract a microscope.
He brought it back to their table and plugged in the little light. Her penny went on the stage. He adjusted it then motioned to her.
“Take a look.”
Deena moved over to the eyepiece. “What am I looking at?”
Bright and shiny under magnification, she saw the silvery zinc formed like a honeycomb or an egg crate. Lots and lots of shiny pits.
Luther explained. “Just this morning, I exposed the zinc by scraping it on the sidewalk. What we should see would be the long scratches left by the concrete. We shouldn’t see pits, like a chemical might make.
“Deena, you are consuming the zinc. Digesting it. No human can do that through her skin.
“Are you an alien?”
“I am not....” Deena began, in a loud voice. People looked at her and she stopped.
Mr. Fenner frowned at them. She lowered her head and voice.
“I am not an alien,” she whispered. “I’ve never been to Roswell and I wasn’t born in a meteor shower. I’ve seen my birth certificate, complete with the little baby footprint. I’ve met all of my grandparents. My father’s mother is still alive in Texas, where they came from. My mother was born in Idaho, and I’ve seen her school pictures.”
He was listening with a straight face.
“Then something has happened to you. Do you know what it is?”
She sagged. “No. Just last week I was perfectly ordinary. Just plain fat Deena. Now there are...symptoms. More symptoms than you know.”
He began putting the microscope back in its case. “We need to talk more about this. Someplace private.”
She nodded. “But why are you interested in this?”
“I have my reasons. For one thing, we still have to get all these rumors stopped, and another ‘symptom’ popping up at an unexpected time won’t help.
“I can’t have my friends turning into aliens or werewolves—people would talk.”
He carried the microscope over to Mr. Fenner and they put it back in the case.
Am I his friend? She didn’t know. She felt like a bug under that microscope.
Has he really done anything for me, or has this all been about his own reputation? He’d never claimed anything different.
He wants to talk, to dig into my secrets, but he is tight-fisted about his own. How can I trust him?
Class ended, and Luther left with a cluster of chatting students. Deena packed up her workbook, watching Bryony walk back to talk to her.
“Well? What were you two fighting about?”
“What do you mean?”
Bryony shook her head. “Don’t play stupid. I saw the envelope. What were you two doing?”
It wasn’t drugs! Deena shook her head. “Just coins. We were talking about coins. He borrowed the microscope to show me some marks on a penny.”
Bryony looked hurt that she would try to lie to her.
Deena closed her bag with an angry snap. “Bryony, it wasn’t drugs and it wasn’t romance. He’s just a strange kind of geek. He’s trying to make me part of some kind of science project and I don’t really want to talk about it.
“If you want to get closer to him, be my guest. But I’m warning you, he’s hiding something and if you get too close, you’re likely to get burned.”
Math class was another dozer. Deena struggled to stay awake while Mr. Schiller tried to spruce up the day with interesting math stories. Well, at least, he thought they were interesting.
Luther was right. I’ve got symptoms of some strange disease. 
She opened her notebook and started to make a list.
Super smell. Although that seemed to be fading away.
She stopped. Checking under her watch, she realized the penny was gone.
I didn’t even notice. I probably left it back in the last class.
Did that mean her zinc addiction was gone?
Gleefully she scratched off the last line of her list.
That’s one less symptom.
“Deena, what is your answer?”
She looked up at Mr. Schiller. He nodded toward the diagram on the board.
A STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN was the title, with a fanciful drawing of a stair stepped pyramid reaching to the top of the clouds.
Deena read the instructions.
1,220,428 years. The answer popped into her head. It almost bubbled out of her mouth, but she stopped herself.
“I don’t know. I’m not done yet.”
He nodded and then turned to another student.
If I gave him the right answer, he would want to know how I did it.
With a sinking heart, she added another line to her symptoms list.
Instant calculator.
Mr. Schiller, after getting several wrong answers and many blank looks, described how to use several tricks to make the mountain of calculations turn into a couple of easy equations. On the board he went through the steps and wrote out the answer; 1220428.
That’s not how I did it. Deena knew that much. She felt it happen. Her instant calculator did it the hard way, crunching through thousands of steps.
Hesitantly, she made up a test in her head. What is the sum of all the numbers one through a million?
When the number popped up in her head, she remembered that there was a trick for doing those kinds of problems too, but she had forgotten it. This was another brute-force calculation.
So, I’ve got a computer in my head now.
 What will happen to me next?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Extreme Makeover - Part 12 of 42

© 2008 by Henry Melton

Chapter 12: Fa├žade
He watched her run off, shaking his head. For a heavy girl, she could move pretty fast.
But there was a mystery here.
She could be faking it all. If she had memorized the table of elements, and knew all about coins, she could give the right answers.
He just couldn’t believe Deena was that devious.
But if I’m going to school, I still have unfinished business.
He pulled out his cell phone, once he was back in the Chevy. The number he dialed had a 310 area code.
It rang several times. He waited. She didn’t get up this early.
“Hi, Aunt Katy.”
“Luke! It’s good to hear from you. Got any business for me?”
“It’s Luther Jennings.”
“Right. I won’t forget. I’m just fuzzy this morning.” She was very apologetic. Using his real name on the cell phone was a bad slip. He just hoped no one was listening in.
“What can I do for you, Luther?”
He shook aside his annoyance. “Aunt Katy, I need you to make a phone call for me.” She wasn’t his aunt, either, but no one in Crescent City needed to know that.
He explained the drug accusation, and the locker search. “The school called your business answering machine to notify you about what had happened.”
“Katy Ferril Custom Metal Artwork,” she recited, just as she had when she recorded the announcement on the machine for him. “I just love that. How is my business doing?”
He grinned. Katy was an artist in Malibu—an artist in dyed hair and trimmed fingernails. Unfortunately, that job didn’t pay as much as the fictitious metalwork artist of Crescent City made.
“Well, several thousand-dollar commissions here and there—we’re doing all right.”
She sighed. “Boy, I could use a ‘commission’ right now. The rent’s past due.”
“Then make this call. You’re my loving aunt. I stay at home all the time and I never get into trouble. You are upset and angry that anyone dared accuse me of drug use. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Be creative. I basically want the school to know that I’m being looked after by a concerned guardian.”
“Do I go into your history any?”
“Not unless you have too. Make sure you stick to the script I gave you. We can’t have any garbled details.”
“No problem. I was your dad’s secretary for ten years and I never fumbled a call.”
He knew. Dad made the mistakes on his own.
“Now the good part. How much do I make for this call?”
Luther frowned. “Er, I’m a little short of immediate cash. How long can you wait?” Once that check cleared at his bank, he could pay her, but not before then.
“The landlord is knocking on the door every day, and hassling me when I come home from work. I could really use fifteen hundred dollars today.”
He thought about it. There was one way, but it was distasteful.
“Katy, I could send you five coins by overnight delivery. You wouldn’t get the best price for them at a local coin shop, but it would certainly be more than fifteen hundred. Closer to four grand.”
“That would be wonderful! You’d be a lifesaver.”
“It’s dangerous. If you can possibly get an extension from your landlord, the gold dealer I use does everything by the mail and guarantees totally anonymity. You mail him the coins and he sends you a check by registered mail. Nothing goes into a database. I’ll include his address when I mail them.”
“Okay, but this is the L.A. area. There are lots of places to transact business off the books. I’ll find a good coin shop. Just send me the gold.”
He gave her the school phone number and the names to contact. She even remembered Principal Miles, from that meeting at the beginning of the school year when she had come up to Crescent City to be his visible guardian when he enrolled. That had been a very profitable trip for her.
When he flipped the phone closed, he realized the time. He was going to be late to school, especially since he had to swing by the post office on the way.
Stella Fender was waiting at her locker.
“Deena.” Her eyes were wide. She whispered, “Is it true you’re pregnant?”
Deena grinned. This one she was prepared for.
“Nope.” She patted her tummy. “Pure fat. You must have heard the rumors. Did you hear the one that says I died from a drug overdose?”
Luther walked into photography class wearing a large nametag. It bold letters is said “NOT A DRUG DEALER”.
Carlos Davis, the instructor, said, “Luther, is that really necessary?”
Luther looked around at the others in the class. “Yes, sir. I’m afraid it is. And since the school started the rumors in the first place, I’d ask your indulgence in letting me stomp them out.”
Carlos shrugged and called the class to attention.
Luther was pleased at the way the day was going. Principal Miles smiled and nodded at him when he walked into school late. She must have just gotten off the phone with Aunt Katy with an earful of how moral and upstanding he was. Maybe he could breeze through this little tempest after all.
Hopefully, if he could just make the rumors sound sufficiently ridiculous, they would go away.
Now if I can just figure out Deena Brooke.
She checked the coins she had in her purse, idly separating the pennies from the others. Playing with coins. That was a good thing to do in economics class wasn’t it?
Too late to eat breakfast at home, she had demanded some cash from Mom to get a snack in the cafeteria, and amazingly enough, she had gotten it.
I’m still starving. It had to be stress. Her diet failures were always the nibblies, not full-bore binges. And that’s what her stomach was crying out for—a twenty-course super-deluxe all-you-can-eat binge.
She looked at one of the pennies. Dirty copper. Just like all the rest. She felt it in her hand. 29/63 and 29/65 and something else.
Eight? Oh yes. Oxygen. It’s corroded.
The chair she sat in was wooden, with metal fixtures. She scraped the penny against a large screw head. A trace of shiny zinc showed in the scratch.
She put her pennies away. No need to binge on zinc. The coin under her watch was enough.
Hoard my pennies. I wonder what Luther hoards? That gold coin was something. Is he rich? 
Bryony followed Luther down the hallway pondering her own questions about him.
Are the things people are saying about him true? She shivered. Could he be a criminal in hiding?
He had come from L.A., so he said. But he also knew so much about Las Vegas. She tried to think back about all the things that he mentioned Saturday. He had talked about the place as if he knew it well. But he was hiding something too.
He has his own car, an expensive classic car. He never seems to need money. What does his family do?
Bryony had been to all the school social events, and at the football games, the basketball games, the town fair, and all the rest, Luther was always there alone.
What is he hiding?
Deena walked into her view, joining the flow of people in the hallway. Bryony moved over to her side.
“Hi, Deena.” She whispered, “Have you heard the rumors? Oh, you hurt your hand. Is it bad?”
Deena shook her head, flexing her fingers through the bandage, “Not bad. But which rumors? There are so many.”
Luther went on into the physics class doorway. She stopped and Deena faced her.
Bryony struggled to put what she was thinking into words. Deena’s face was a bit of a scowl, so that didn’t help.
“Do you think...that Luther is hiding a criminal past?”
Deena laughed. “I don’t know.” Then she appeared to give it some thought. “How should I know? You think just because they searched his locker, that makes him a criminal?”
Bryony shook her head. “No. They searched yours, and I half expected them to search mine, too. I figured it was your Mom who raised the stink, don’t you? Because of the Saturday trip.
“It’s just that the more I think about it, the more I realize how much I don’t know about him—and I know everybody! Maybe there is more to him than he lets on. He’s not timid, like you are. He’s just really quiet.”
Deena nodded. “Then why ask me?”
Bryony looked at her, then away. “Well, he was talking to you yesterday, after class. And you two got on so well on the trip. I thought maybe....”
“No.” Deena was firm. “We just talked. It was science stuff. Element numbers and things.” She let out a sad little sigh. “I know nothing about him either.”
Bryony smiled. “I don’t know if he’s a criminal, but I’d like to find out. He gives me the shivers. I’ll get him to ask me out!”
She gave Deena’s hand a squeeze and dashed on ahead into class.
I wish I were Bryony. What would it be like to be confident—so confident that everyone will like you?
Deena forced herself to head for physics class. Bryony’s declaration had taken every bit of energy out of her step.
Bryony was after Luther. That meant no one else, certainly not fat Deena, had any chance with him.
Not that I had any chance anyway. I’m no more than a puzzle to him.
And the early morning coaching session on how to cope with the rumors was just the action of a nice guy. It hadn’t been anything more than that.
As she found a seat in the back of the room, watching Bryony chatting enthusiastically with Luther, she felt an ache in her heart. It couldn’t ever be more than that.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Extreme Makeover - Part 11 of 42

© 2008 by Henry Melton

Chapter 11: Misdirection
Luther usually took Harding Avenue from school to the highway, and then over to Elk Valley Road toward his house, but today he took the waterline route.
Deena said she lived next to the water, somewhere where she could watch the waves. He cut over to Pebble Beach Road and slowed down. If he could talk to her, it would be a good idea.
He kept his eyes glued to the buildings next to the water, hunting for the Brooke’s car. He sailed right by where Deena sat, her back to him, as she re-wrapped her bandage.
By the time he reached Front Street, he gave up and headed toward his house. He had packing to do.
Years ago, Mara had found a place by the kitchen window where she could see Deena’s favorite park bench. All she had to do was move one kitchen stool a few feet and she could watch while her daughter had her private moments.
From the time her baby had taken her first steps, Mara had worried about her. How could she keep her safe and healthy? How could she watch over her when she needed guidance? How could she keep her away from evil companions?
So much she had failed at, and so much of what she had done Deena would never appreciate or understand.
And what about this boy—the boy with the car? Deena had torn into her for her suspicions. Was she smitten with him? If so, that made him even more dangerous.
She had never met his parents. He certainly didn’t go to the same church. He was a newcomer to town. Who could know what dark secrets lay in his past?
Luther pulled a wheeled chest from the laundry room where it had been resting under a couple of plastic baskets he used to sort his laundry. Everything was covered with a thin layer of lint. The chest was heavy; it took some effort to get it up on the tiled floor in the hallway from the bare concrete in the laundry room. He pulled it down the hall and into the garage.
The trunk of his Chevy was open. Already inside were two airplane tote bags, a sleeping bag and an ice chest.
Luther opened the wheeled trunk, and stared inside for a moment. He picked his up passport from the top of the stack.
My face looks so different. I was just a kid. He flipped through the pages. Stamps from a few Caribbean islands and one from France each brought back memories. Family vacations. He had hated each one. At least that is what he told his folks.
This thing runs out this year. Kid passports expire every five years. I just might need a new one.
I guess the real question is what name will I have then?
Luke Haskell was such a bratty little kid. Do I really want to renew him?
Deena woke up, drenched with sweat. She tossed aside the covers and went to the tiny window. The night air felt wonderful.
Her alarm clock read 3:17, but she was wide awake.
Echoes of her dream were drifting away. It had been a strange one. No people, just unknown powerful moving forces.
Dressed in the first clothes she could find, she slipped out the front door and walked over to the cliff.
It was a crystal clear night, and in spite of the streetlights, she could see the kite of Cygnus almost overhead. If she looked hard, the faint dusting of the Milky Way could be seen tracing off towards Scorpio low on the southern horizon.
She reached her bench and listened to the relentless pounding of the surf below. The horn at the harbor sounded its regular moan.
The constellation Leo wavered above the horizon to the west. The head and mane of the lion always looked like a giant, if backward, question mark to her.
If the question mark was backward, did that mean that God, looking down at her from beyond the stars, would see a question mark hanging over her head?
What was going to happen to her?
High school was over in just a few weeks. She could no longer have the delusion that living today was preparing her for a better tomorrow.
She hadn’t taken the college prep track. She would get a high school degree, but there was nothing bright and tempting just over the horizon.
She hadn’t taken the vocational options. Mom wouldn’t have that. There was no job waiting for her when school was done, and no job history she could use to find one.
Her computer skills were adequate. You couldn’t get through school without knowing how to use a word processor and a spreadsheet, but their home computer was five years old, with software to match.
Besides, if she had a brain tumor, it wouldn’t matter anyway. How long did it take to die with one of those? Was it painful?
And if they did manage to treat it, that would mean her hair would fall out, right? She felt her straight brown hair, not really visible in the dark. Even when she didn’t cut it, she could never get it to grow long, like she had always wanted. Once the split ends got too bad, Mom would haul out the scissors and ‘fix her up’.
There was a future waiting before her. She tried not to look at it. It was too depressing.
In all likelihood, she would grow old right here, taking care of Mom, getting older and crankier every year.
Even the brain tumor sounded better than that.
Luther walked the house, just in case he forgot something important. The vote was two to one to get in the car and head out of town. Luke and who-he-would-be-next were ready to take no chances. Luther Jennings really hated to give up on Crescent City. In spite of everything, he had friends here.
The trick, he decided, to skipping town, was to leave the house perfectly intact, clothes still in the closet, food in the refrigerator, maybe with the TV still on. You wanted a hunter to think that you would be right back, and not turn immediately to searching the highways.
Somebody ought to write ‘Hiding Out for Dummies’. He would buy a copy.
He ran his hand through his shirts. Don’t love things. You can’t take them with you.
Outside, there was the faint glow of the coming dawn. He backed the car into the street and closed the garage door.
Well, what now? Oregon or Pre-Calculus class?
Deena had her feet up, arms around her knees, sitting sideways on the bench, watching the stars fade away. The dim ones were already gone, but a few bright ones could still be seen.
A car door slammed. Deena looked back at the street, and saw Luther walking her way. She smiled, then frowned. What was he doing here at this hour?
She put her feet back down on the ground and waved when he got closer.
“Have a seat.”
He plopped down on the bench beside her, staring out at the waves.
“Aren’t you chilly?” he asked.
“No. It’s been a nice night.”
He zipped his leather jacket up a few more inches.
“How are you doing?” He asked.
“Okay, I guess.” She tried to read his face, but in the dim light, it was hard. “Are you still mad about the locker search?”
“I wish that was all.”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
He was silent for a moment, then said, “I wanted to have the chance to talk to you before school. There are some things you need to know about.”
She waited. The sea breeze was picking up a little. Not enough to make her chilly, but then she’d been running warm lately.
“After you left school yesterday, the rumors about you, and me too, exploded.”
“Oh dear. What are they saying?”
He went through the list.
Deena was horrified. “Surely they can’t believe all those things. There’s no evidence for any of it.”
“I don’t pretend to understand how rumors happen, or why people repeat them. What’s important is how you deal with it.”
“What do you mean?”
“People are talking, and most know they have no proof. Some people will believe anything. Some believe nothing. It’s just how they are.
“But some will try to figure it out, and go to the source—that’s you.”
“I’ll deny everything!”
“No good. Guilty people deny everything too.”
She fluttered her hands. “Then, what can I do?”
He turned to face her. The sky had turned reddish, the sun catching high altitude clouds. It highlighted her flush.
“There are a lot of things you can’t do. You can’t pretend you never heard of the tales, because you’re not that good a liar.
“You can’t help blushing, I’ve noticed. And they’ll make you angry, and you can’t help that.
“Just defuse the situation.”
He gave her some examples.
“Not all of these work. The important thing is...just show them that all of these lies are either obviously false or unimportant to you. How you react is much more important than what you say.”
Deena had been depressed before he came. Now she was genuinely fearful of the day.
“And I can’t take the day off either, can I?”
“Nope. Absence is proof of guilt. ‘The guilty flee when no man pursueth’ or something like that.”
She sighed. “It’s going to be a horrible day. And I don’t even have my zinc!”
He looked puzzled. “You really want zinc?”
She nodded. “I told you I did. I don’t know why, but I crave touching it. It’s not going to help me deny drug charges if I’m having ‘substance cravings’.”
He laughed. “No, probably not. But zinc is common. It’s all over the place.”
She looked up. “Really?”
“Sure.” He looked around. “See that sign over there. That’s an iron pipe coated with zinc. Galvanized steel. It prevents rust.”
She got to her feet and walked over to the sign. Gripping the pipe, she felt a surge of well-being.
“You’re right. Thirty...zinc!”
He gripped the pipe himself a few inches above her hand. “Cold. You mean you can really feel the zinc?”
Deena nodded. “30/64 is just under half of it, but 30/66, the stuff I like, is nearly a third.”
Luther’s face revealed his confusion. “How could that be?”
She shrugged, content to hang onto the pipe. It was the best she had felt all morning.
But then she sighed, “Now all I have to do is figure out how to smuggle a piece of galvanized pipe into school with me.”
“There are easier ways.” He let go of the pipe and reached into his pocket and pulled out a penny. He dropped it onto the sidewalk and stepped on it. Scuffing it against the concrete a couple of times, he picked it up and examined it.
The raised rim and Abe Lincoln’s hair and forehead were heavily scratched and silvery.
“Not good enough.” He dropped the coin again and with some more foot action, ground it several times.
“Ah, this is more like it.” He showed her the back side, where Lincoln’s Memorial and the raised letters ‘ONE CENT’ had been scraped clear.
“For a long time now, pennies have been made of zinc, with just a thin coating of copper so they still look the same as the old copper pennies. Scrape it off, and there’s the zinc.”
Deena took the penny in her hand. She closed her eyes and nodded.
“You’re right. Zinc, with a coating of twenty-nine—I suppose that’s the copper?”
He watched her. When she opened her eyes, he could see something disturbing in the way they were dilated. Just one more worry.
“Deena, what is this?” He pulled out a nickel and gave it to her. He took back the mangled penny.
She frowned, but felt the nickel. “Three quarters copper and one quarter twenty-eight. Do you want the isotopes?”
“No. Try this.” He pulled out his wallet, and inside a pocket behind his driver’s license, he pulled out a large coin.
She looked at it in her palm. It had a large maple leaf on it. She could tell just by sight that it was gold.
“Element 79/197, and it’s very pure. Is this gold?”
“Yes. One ounce of pure gold. Depending on the markets, it’s worth about $1000.”
He took it back and slipped it back into his wallet. “I keep it there for emergencies.”
Luther looked at Deena, and then out at the waves, now shining with the reflected new morning sunlight.
“I really wish I could prove that this was all a joke.”
“Because it’s impossible! Nobody can do what you just did. It has to be a trick, or something.” He shook his head, and grinned to show her he wasn’t mad at her. “I’m just going to have a hard time keeping my mind on my classes today.”
Deena jumped as if she had been bitten. She glanced at her watch. “Oh, no! School starts in thirty minutes, and I’m not even dressed!”
“Do you need a ride? I’ll wait.”
Ashen faced, she shook her head. “No. Mom will take me, but I’ve got to run.
“Uh, Luther? Can I have the penny back?”
He handed it over.
She turned and ran towards her house, slipping the scraped coin under her wristwatch, with the exposed zinc against her skin.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Extreme Makeover - Part 10 of 42

© 2008 by Henry Melton

Chapter 10: Isolation
Deena woke up, at a loss as to where she was.
Mom’s voice told her something.
“If she fainted at the school, then it’s the school’s responsibility to see that she gets the best medical treatment. I’ll not have her overlooked!”
Deena pushed herself up. “Mom!”
“Yes, Honey.” Mara Brooke dropped her battle with the uncooperative Nurse Perkinson in a flash. She was at her side instantly.
“Everything is okay.” In fact, she felt pretty good. She looked at the wrapped gauze bandage over her hand. Like a video clip, she remembered the long gash and the spurting blood. At least it didn’t hurt.
“Take it easy. You fainted. You don’t want to overtax yourself.”
Deena slid to her feet. “I’m okay. Understand. No weakness. No dizziness. I’m fine.”
Sharlene Perkinson said, “Well, that’s a relief. I was about to call for an ambulance.”
Mara snorted. That must have been the argument they were having when she woke up.
“Well, I’m fine now.”
“Just a moment. I can’t let you go without checking your vital signs.” The nurse elbowed her way past Mara’s blockade and checked her temperature. She used a digital cuff to get blood pressure and heartbeat rate.
“Everything looks perfectly normal. Just let me do a simple test for anemia, and I’ll be done.”
Deena shook her head. “No. I’m not about to lose any more blood.”
Her mother took her side. Nurse Perkinson was currently an enemy.
“I would like to know what caused you to faint.”
“Stress.” Deena had no doubt. “It was just stress. This has been a hectic day.”
She hesitated, not willing to blurt out that she had been accused of drug use. But surely, Mom would find out.
“Mom? Why are you here? How long have I been unconscious?”
Sharlene said, “Not long. Ten minutes maybe.”
Mara looked down the hall. “I got a call from Mrs. Miles. I came in, and they said you had fainted. I was never so upset in all my life.”
The urge for comfort overcame her reluctance.
“Mom, they accused me of using drugs! Me!” The hurt came swimming back. Her eyes watered. “I tried to tell them that I didn’t, but they wouldn’t listen. They even checked my locker!”
Mara patted her hand. “I’m sorry about that Deena. Everyone knows you’re a good girl.”
Deena felt suspicion creep up her spine. Mom was acting strangely. She pulled away from her mother and started walking out into the hall.
“I’m going home.”
Sharlene nodded. “That’s good. Get some rest.”
Deena focused on the front door and kept walking at a pace that made her mother have to hurry to keep up.
Outside, she blinked at the brighter daylight, and headed for the parking lot.
“Deena, slow down.”
She stopped and turned on her mother. Mom was never one to apologize for someone else’s misfortune, not unless she really was at fault. She had said, “I’m sorry....”
“Mom, it was you that accused me of drug use, wasn’t it?”
Mara looked over at the car. “Oh, not really. I just had a parent conference with Principal Miles and we talked about how you’ve been acting lately and....”
“And you said I might be taking drugs.” She thought about Luther, and how angry he had been.
“Mom, who else did you accuse? Luther had his locker searched too. It was perfectly clean. Who else did you slander?”
“I did no such thing! I was just being a concerned parent. You went off on that trip Saturday, and I was afraid....”
“You thought we were using drugs. Did you accuse Bryony and Terrian too?”
Mara looked trapped. “No. I know their parents. I know they wouldn’t be involved in anything like that.”
“So you trust them, but not your own daughter. And with no evidence at all, you hurt the only guy that has ever paid me any attention!”
“It’s not as bad as all that, Honey. Let’s go on home and we can talk some more.”
Deena looked back at the school. Perhaps a dozen faces were visible in the windows. How many more people were watching their fight that she couldn’t see?
“I’m going home. But I’m not riding with you.”
“But Deena, you have to ride with me.”
“I’ll walk.”
She turned down the sidewalk, away from the car.
“’s three miles!”
“Then I’ll walk three miles.” She picked up the pace.
Behind her, fainter, she heard, “Deena!”
She didn’t answer.
Luther had felt like a third foot when Nurse Perkinson took over Deena and told him to go get the school secretary. By the time they returned, she had the bleeding stopped and the two of them moved Deena to the bed.
Luther answered their questions in short bits—a coke can, by her locker, fainted right away.
“We can take it from here. Why don’t you go back to class?”
He was reluctant to leave. Her collapse had scared him. He didn’t understand it.
But then Emily Mosse, the secretary said to Perkinson, “Her mother is already on the way here. I called her a few minutes ago about another issue.” He decided to leave.
The clock gave him ten minutes before the next class period, so he went back to the lockers and cleaned up the boxes. There were a few drops of blood he didn’t care to mess with, but he could get rid of the trash and make sure both of their lockers were secured.
Why was Mrs. Brooke coming here? He was out of sight of the offices, and intended to stay that way, but he was curious.
Had they called his aunt too, because of the locker search? It might be part of their policy. If so then all they had gotten was the answering machine. But if Aunt Katy ignored the call, that would raise a warning flag. He would have to take care of that.
Either that, or leave town tonight.
The bell rang and the corridors were quickly filled with students changing classes. He nodded to a few familiar faces. But was he imagining it, or were quite a few people looking at him with suspicion?
“Hi, Luther.” Claire Winters stopped, holding her books in front of her chest, eyes wide and bright.
“Hello, Claire.”
She glanced down the corridor, and leaned closer. “Hey, do you know where a person could buy something?”
“I don’t know what you mean, Claire.” But he did. He had heard that same question by others, in other cities.
She struggled to find the right words—words that wouldn’t incriminate her. She had to be new at it.
He held up his hand. “Claire, I don’t deal.” He kept his voice low, more to avoid embarrassing her than anything. “I’m not the contact you’re looking for.”
The brightness in her eyes faded. “Oh. I’m sorry. I just heard....”
“Heard what?”
She avoided making eye contact, looking down the hallway again. “Uh. You know. The locker police were here again, and your name was mentioned.”
He sighed. So, it had started already. Now his name was linked to drug activity. If Claire thought it, so did a hundred other students, and denial wouldn’t change a thing.
“No. I’m here to get a diploma with my name on it. I’m not stupid enough to get involved with the drug trade. You’ll have to find someone else who is that stupid.”
He walked off. Maybe she would be offended, but who knew what high school girls thought. They were a mystery when he was their age, and it hadn't gotten any clearer since.
Murphy Avenue? Deena looked at the sign. She had come this far under a black cloud. That’s five or six blocks!
Maybe the hikes last week had done her some good. She normally couldn’t keep up a pace like this without taking a break.
But she breathed in, and her lungs felt good. Maybe she was a little hot, but it didn’t slow her down any.
Habit suggested she stop at the intersection, but a flash of anger kept her going. Mom was likely watching her every move.
Deena could remember looking out the window in her first grade class and seeing their car out in the parking lot. Maybe Mom didn’t come and spy on her at high school, but that was a bet she was reluctant to take.
If Mom has no life other than trying to control mine, how am I ever going to break free?
On Glenn Street, two blocks away, Mara watched her daughter cross an intersection.
She’s mad at me, but she’s too young to see that I have to take precautions for her own good. 
Once Deena was out of sight, she pulled out of her parking place and drove down to Cooper Avenue and located an inconspicuous place to park where she could watch for her baby.
I need to be there for her when she gets tired. She’s always overdoing things.
By the time school was out, Luther had snapped at four more people. One had been just as blatant as Claire, looking for a contact. The other three had done no more than grin at the wrong moment. People stopped talking to him after that.
But they hadn’t stopped talking about Deena. She and her mother had a fight in the parking lot. No one heard what it was about, but there was plenty of speculation.
Deena was pregnant. Deena had fainted from a drug overdose. Luther had stabbed Deena in the hallway over a drug buy, gone bad.
He had been just around the corner when he overheard that one. He stepped into sight and watched the guy’s face go pale. Luther laughed and shook his head. “Gullible,” he said.
But a lump of worry was growing in the pit of his stomach. He could always vanish and leave the rumors to burn themselves out. But what about her?
Did the girl know how to handle a situation like this? He couldn’t protect her, especially if he were gone.
It’s not my job either. I didn’t start this mess.
He made a point to greet Mr. Schiller in the hall on his way out where dozens of people could see them. Be a math geek. Math geeks aren’t dangerous drug dealers.
Deena breathed in the sea air, feeling really good about herself for the first time in recent memory.
Three miles. I walked three miles!
Her legs had started feeling fluttery in the calves, but although she had to slow down, she kept it up all the way to Battery Point.
Home was just a block away, but she didn’t want to go there. Here, she could sit and relax those muscles. She could stare at the surf and let her mind drift.
Let Mom stew because I didn’t come straight home!
She shook her head. She’d tie her stomach up in knots if she let herself think about Mom. Think about something else.
Like how much she stank? Exercise did have some drawbacks. But no, think about something else.
How about that element thing? Luther was really interested in that. Was she crazy, feeling the effects of a brain tumor? Crazy people could have elaborate fantasy lives, detailed in many ways.
Of course, if it were a brain tumor, she wouldn’t live long. They had no medical insurance. By the time Mom tried to wrangle a deal, it would certainly be too late for her.
On days like today, dying didn’t seem to bother her. Does that make me suicidal? Or do you have to start planning the old razor blade to the wrist thing before you’re officially suicidal?
Her hand, under the bandage, felt itchy. She had been steadfastly ignoring it the whole walk home. She could smell the blood and medical ointment underneath.
Suicide didn’t really appeal to her. Mom would get too much mileage out of it. Mara Brooke could live out the whole rest of her life enjoying being the tortured soul who had lost a daughter so young.
Deena could see it now—her face permanently drawn and wrinkled, sitting bravely upright in her pew at church, always keeping Deena’s spot vacant. Mom would always struggle to keep a brave face when friends greeted her, but a single tear would always be there, just visible.
The bandaged hand drew her out of the fantasy. She wriggled her fingers.
No, no suicide for me. Suppose I sliced my wrist, they saved me, and it itched this way for the rest of my life.
She shuddered at the thought.
But it itched! She tugged at the wrapped gauze. No help. She tugged some more.
Oh! It started coming unwrapped. The stained first layers were visible. Maybe the ointment was causing the itch.
She would have to re-wrap it anyway. Carefully, keeping the gauze from touching the ground, she pulled it loose.
Under a smear of anti-bacterial grease, she couldn’t see the cut.
She looked closer, flexing her hand. There was no sign of the cut.
Using the gauze, she started wiping the ointment free.
She got it all. Holding her hand to the sun, she couldn’t see the cut. Not even a scar.
It was perfectly healed.
Other than the itch. She put the index finger of the other hand over the remembered laceration. She scratched and massaged it.
That feels better.
But it couldn’t have healed that fast! 
What is happening to me?