It had begun to cloud up while Lisa was eating dinner, and as she flew over Barona's lengthening shadows, she decided it would probably start raining by morning. That could be a new headache for the foreman at her construction site; after losing the use of Lisa's group last Friday, he wouldn't be happy if a heavy rain deprived him of their services tomorrow as well. But rain in the eyes could cause kids to lose their grip at crucial times, and no builder was foolish enough to risk that. Gavra wouldn't permit it, anyway.
The Lee Introductory School was in a section of Barona Lisa had only visited once or twice before, and it took some hunting before she finally located the squat three-story building. After the tall, majestic towers of the hive, Lee Intro seemed almost selfconsciously earthbound, and it made her feel a little creepy as she landed by its front door. I'll be just as earthbound soon, she thought. Steeling herself, she walked inside.
The door opened into a spacious lounge about half-full of teens, many of them frowning intently into colorful books. The room itself was much friendlier and less intimidating than the reading area at the library had been, but still Lisa hesitated at the threshold. Maybe she should just go home and forget all of this—
"May I help you?" a courteous voice came from her right.
Startled, Lisa turned and saw for the first time the alcove just inside the outer door. A young adult sat behind a desk there, a telephone and long sheet of paper in front of him.
"I'm looking for Daryl Kellerman," she said, stepping over to him. "He used to be at the Dayspring Hive."
The man ran a finger down his paper, stopped midway and slid it sideways. "Kellerman... well, he hasn't checked out and he's not listed on special duty, so he's probably up in his room. You want me to call up there?"
"Yes, please," Lisa said quickly, before she could lose her nerve.
"Who shall I tell him is here?"
The man picked up the phone, consulted the paper again, and punched numbers. "There's a Lisa Duncan here to see Kellerman," he said a moment later. "...All right. He'll be right down," the man told Lisa, hanging up the instrument.
Lisa nodded and drifted away from the desk, wondering which direction Daryl would come from. Her heart was pounding and she could feel her courage draining away with the moisture in her mouth. What am I going to say to him? she thought frantically. She hadn't yet come up with a good answer to that when a door on the left side of the lounge opened and Daryl was there. He spotted Lisa and came toward her.
He'd changed a lot in less than a year, she thought as she put on her best smile and walked forward to meet him halfway. His face was longer and thinner and showed the black nubs of a struggling beard on his chin. He was taller, too, and seemed somehow terribly awkward in his movements. Part of growing up? she wondered, suppressing a shudder.
They stopped simultaneously, about a meter apart. "Hi," Daryl said, his voice sounding as tense and awkward as the rest of him looked.
"Hi," Lisa said. "I wasn't sure you'd remember me."
He smiled and some of his tension seemed to disappear. "Not likely. You were either the best worker or worst pest I ever had in a work crew, sometimes both at the same time. Uh... you come by just to see me?"
Lisa hesitated—and was suddenly aware of a new silence in the lounge. Conversations had ceased, and she could feel eyes on her from the other teens in the room. Waiting to hear her answer to Daryl's question? A taste of panic splashed her throat. New rules, new relationships—and I don't know any of them. What do I say?
"Could we go for a walk?" she suggested, choosing the easiest way out. "It's pretty stuffy in here."
"Sure," Daryl said, a mixture of relief and disappointment in his voice. He looked past her to the man at the desk. "I'll be going outside for a while," he said, sounding very grown-up.
"Be in by eight-thirty," the other shrugged.
As they left, Lisa thought she heard a faint snicker from the teens in the lounge.
"So... how is life treating you?" Daryl asked as the door closed behind them.
"Oh, pretty good," she said. "How about you?"
He shrugged. "Fine," he said, his tone not very enthusiastic.
"School kind of rough?"
"A little." He pointed to the left. "Let's go this way; there's that little park a couple of blocks down."
Lisa nodded her agreement, and for a moment they walked along the sidewalk in silence. The neighborhood had a different feeling than the one near the hive, Lisa decided as she looked around. Lee Intro was closer to shops and Barona's busier streets than any of the city's hives were. Because the teens were less mobile than preteens and kids, she wondered?
"How're you doing in school?" Daryl asked suddenly.
"I'm still at the hive," Lisa told him.
He stopped. "What?"
She stopped too. "I'm still at the hive," she repeated, frowning at the look on his face. "I haven't reached Transition yet."
"Oh. I thought..." Abruptly, he started walking again, and she had to hurry to catch up.
"Hey, what's the matter?" she asked, trying to get a clear look at his face through the bounce of their steps. "Did I say something wrong?"
"I just sort of figured you'd come over from Paris Intro down the street," he mumbled, nodding back over his shoulder.
"Well... you don't have to tell your friends I didn't," she said, taking a stab at the reason for his reaction. Preteens, too, were sometimes kidded for friendships with much younger kids.
He threw her a quick look and slowed down to a more reasonable pace. "No, that's okay. I guess... it's not easy to lose your teekay and get tossed suddenly into school at the same time, you know."
"I understand. I'm sorry. Do you want me to go away?" She held her breath, afraid he would say yes, yet feeling intuitively she needed to offer him that choice.
"I guess not," he said and managed a smile. "You came all the way out here to see me; I guess the least I can do is be civil."
She smiled back. "So... tell me about life as a teen."
And for the next half hour he did just that. They arrived at the park and sat together on a bench as he poured out the fears and frustrations of his new life. Lisa listened attentively, striving to keep her own feelings in check as his stories seemed to confirm her worst fears about the coming Transition.
Finally, he ran out of words, and for a few minutes they sat together in silence, watching the rays of the setting sun streaming through cracks in the growing cloud cover. "Thanks for listening," he said at last, reaching over awkwardly to squeeze her hand. "There isn't really anyone I can talk to like that at the school."
"Didn't some of your friends from the hive go with you?" she asked. "I thought Chase and Hari—"
Daryl snorted. "Chase is a furhead. Joined some stupid club and now he's too good to be seen with someone like me. And Hari—" His voice caught. "Hari tried to kill himself a month ago. They took him to a hospital, and I don't know what's happened to him since then."
"I'm sorry," Lisa said softly, feeling a lump in her throat. Hari'd seemed like a nice guy. Something inside her demanded she change the subject, before she could think too much about what that implied about Transition. "Daryl... the main reason I came to see you tonight was to ask you for a favor."
His hand, still holding hers, seemed to stiffen a bit. "What kind of favor?" he asked cautiously.
She took a deep breath and braced herself. "I'd like you to teach me reading."
"Me?" He made a sound that was half snort and half laugh. "You gotta be kidding. I'm barely keeping up with that myself."
"But you could teach me the things you already know," she pointed out. "You could lend me books and show me what the words are."
He swiveled on the bench so as to face her, his hand pulling back. "You're not joking, are you?" he said, frowning into her face. "What do you want to waste time with reading for when the whole sky is open—" His voice cracked and he fell silent.
"Because I'm afraid of Transition," she said. The words were harder than stubborn Nines to drag out, but he'd been honest with her earlier and she knew down deep a half-truth wouldn't do here. "I don't want to start school cold, without any idea of what's going on."
"The rest of us had to," he said, almost harshly. "Why should you get special privileges?"
"Why should I get stuck behind the other preteens my age just because my stupid body isn't changing?" she countered, dimly aware of the strangeness of that argument. "I'll be stuck with girls a year or even two younger than me by the time I get to school."
"You're complaining about an extra year of teekay? What kind of stupid furhead are you, anyway?"
"I'm not complaining about that," she snapped. "I—oh, grack," she sighed, giving up. She'd never been good at keeping her reasoning clear in an argument. "Daryl... please help me?"
His face softened a little. "I don't know, Lisa," he said, running his fingers over the hairs on his chin. "I'm awfully busy here—a lot of schoolwork, and I'm trying to earn some extra points on the work crews." He grimaced. "At least that's one thing you won't have to worry about after Transition. You've probably earned enough points to go straight through medical training if you want. I wish I hadn't messed around so much when I was a preteen."
"Any way I could help?"
"Don't I wish." He hesitated. "But maybe there's something you could do for me."
He licked his lips. "Would you... give me a ride?"
"Sure. Where to?"
She got it then. "You miss flying, don't you?"
"Well, wouldn't you?" he flared, as if ashamed to admit such a desire.
"Yes," she said quietly. "I'm sure I will." Standing up, she offered her hand. He hesitated, glanced around, and finally took it; and together they rose into the sky.
It was, at the same time, one of the greatest and one of the saddest flights Lisa had ever made. Even with her teekay wrapped around his entire body—which she knew from girlhood experience damped the instinctive fear of falling—he clung tightly to her hand the whole time. Drawing on her memories of flights they'd taken when he was her preteen overseer, she tried to duplicate the aerial maneuvers he had seemed to enjoy the most... but whenever she snatched a glance at his face she saw no pleasure there, just a frozen mask that could have fit a Nine trying not to be afraid or a Six trying not to cry. She tried everything she could think of, but his face never changed, and she finally gave up and returned them to the park.
For a long moment afterward he just stood there, staring off somewhere past her right shoulder. "Daryl, are you all right?" she whispered anxiously.
He stirred, brought his eyes back to focus. "Yeah," he said. He took a deep breath, let it out as if expelling a bad smell with it. "Thanks."
"It wasn't very good, was it?" she said. "I'm sorry; I did the best I could."
"I know. It wasn't your fault." He looked at his watch. "Come on, we'd better start back. I can't afford to lose points by being late."
They started back toward Lee Intro, Daryl once more taking her hand. "If you'll tell me what went wrong, maybe I can do better next time," Lisa said, a bit hesitantly.
"There won't be a next time," he told her, staring straight ahead. "It's... not the same as flying by yourself. But it's too much like it."
"Oh," she said, not understanding at all.
They didn't speak again until they were in sight of the school. "You really want to learn reading?" he asked.
"Very much," she nodded. "And I can't do it alone. I need your help."
"All right," he said decisively. "Come back on Saturday—I'll meet you in the park at nine o'clock. Don't let anyone see you fly, okay?"
"Sure." Her heart was beating faster with the surprise of his answer; she'd expected he would turn her down after that disastrous flight. "I—thank you, Daryl. I don't know how I can ever pay you back."
"Maybe we can figure something out later," he said, his voice sounding too casual.
"Sure," she said, getting the feeling she was missing something significant.
"Good. I'll see you Saturday, then."
They had reached the outside door now. Daryl stopped and turned to face her. "Good night, Lisa," he said; and with the briefest hesitation leaned down and kissed her awkwardly on the lips. Before she could recover from her surprise he was gone.
For a moment she stared at the door, feeling the tingle of his kiss on her lips. What was that all about? she wondered. She'd heard about things like that from some of the other preteens, but the whole idea had always seemed silly and even a little bit repulsive to her.
Still... Turning, she headed down the sidewalk in the direction of the Paris Introductory School Daryl had mentioned. If suffering through a few scratchy kisses was the price she had to pay to learn reading, she was willing to do so. She just hoped that was all he wanted; the rumors about what came after kissing were positively grisly.
Two blocks later, well out of sight of Lee Intro, she lifted from the ground and headed for home.