([identity profile] wrote in [community profile] otherearth6262006-08-05 10:15 am

"Even outcasts had friends."

Written by: Kam Martinez & Noelle Pico
Beta readers: Kam Martinez & Noelle Pico

“I’m okay. Really.”

When you look at me that way I worry. You’ve got that frown in your eyes, never mind the one on your lips. You look the way Lady MacBeth might, if she had your face right about now.

They walk down the hall, an invisible wall of unease, thick as the sound of their echoing footprints, between them. Light streams in through the windows that line one side, the near-noon sun warming the floorboards of the mansion’s third floor. It’s nearly lunchtime, and those on the grounds, listening to lectures in their ‘open-air’ classrooms rise from their grassy seats to purchase their meals – sandwiches and whatever else from the cafeteria inside.

I’ll be okay… okay? You don’t need to look so mad. You said it yourself. Lolo said it too. This is a good place, and the people here good people. So don’t look so tense anymore.


“You ready for afternoon class?” The taller of the two asks as they descend to the second floor, where younger children who are far more familiar with this place run past them with shouts intermingled with laughter. Her voice is barely above a whisper. She makes it so because she chooses to. It’s safer this way for everyone else. “Do you think the kids will be nice?” She signs, the movement of her hands replacing her voice the way it has for so many years.

Her companion shrugs, thick-lashed eyes blinking once. Twice. “Maybe.” Another shrug. “I dunno.” A smile, one that soothes her own unease crosses the girl’s face briefly. It’s one of the more genuine ones that actually reaches her eyes. “I guess they should be…” Half-hearted laughter, not so much forced as hindered by some other emotion festering down deep inside. “I… don’t want to think about it right now.” Another smile follows, though this one is apparent of strain and worry. It’s not much of a surprise, given that even now broken glass litters one part of the outside lawn, and a group of adults discusses her immediate welfare in the room upstairs. “Ellie,” The girl begins, and the name hangs like a guillotine ready to drop.

What?” Ellie Ridley signs back, the brief motion of the hand-gesture combined with the frown between her brows articulating her thoughts.

“Are you sure—”

I’m fine, Lee.” Ellie smiles as she states the words, knowing that she is, at least on some level, just that. “Did my books come in already?” She asks as her teeth catch her lower lip between them. “Did yours?

Lee Delgado smiles in turn and shakes her head at her friend, aware that the change of topic is Ellie’s own way of getting them both to stop thinking about the recent events for just awhile. “Yeah,” Lee replies and slips her arm into that of her best friend. “You wanna go poke around for a bit? They brought in the box with the DVD player. We could grab lunch and then run back up to watch something. You pick.”

I’m fine, Lee. Really. But you don’t want to hear that right now, do you? Right now you want to be mad, and okay, I’ll let you. One of us has to lose their temper over things like the one earlier on at least once in awhile, and I’m glad that you’ve managed to always take it upon yourself to do that for the both of us.

But it wasn’t so bad… y’know? Not really. No one was hurt, and everything will be just fine.

“Yeah,” Ellie dares the word, her pitch only enough for her most trusted friend to hear. “That would be nice.”


* * *

From the point-of-view of a fourteen-year-old girl, a private high school was a hotbed of cliques and high school politics, one that was different, but in some ways similar to, the world that her father inhabited most of the time. It was always a question of whether or not one belonged, but that always depended on whether or not one was worthy to belong in the first place.

To Ellie Ridley, this was a world that was completely, utterly new. She had been home-schooled for most of her elementary years, since she had to be close to her father to “help him out” with his political campaign. But things were different now: he had to be at the Senate more often than not, and he no longer had time to see to her like he used to. That was why she was here, at a very reputable private school in Maryland, tossed headlong into the roiling, seething world of teenagers divided into four types of classes: the freshmen, the sophomores, juniors and finally, the seniors who were at the topmost tier of the cake.

A world that was, simply put, nothing short of hell for a girl with mutant powers.

If only I had better control, she thought morosely, rubbing a hand against her throat, as if by doing so she could will her awful power away. If only I could handle it the way I could before, things wouldn’t have to be like this now. Her ability to subliminally control other people via her voice might have been something that some would have found convenient, but to her, it symbolized nothing but a world of silence when she would have wanted there to be sound.

She remembered the days when she could still feel a twitch just above her left eyebrow—a clear sign that her powers were about to kick in. When she felt that, she would stay silent for long periods of time, knowing that it was a bad idea to do otherwise. As she grew older though, her powers came on even when the twitch didn’t, so she had no way of knowing whether or not she was using them.

That had already happened far more often than she liked. The first incident had been the previous year, when she told an irritating classmate to “Buzz off,” and said classmate did indeed end up buzzing rather than talking for three whole weeks. There were more similar such incidents, though they were mostly minor in nature and rather funny—to her, at least.

Those who didn’t find it funny started bullying her or complaining to their parents, who then complained to the school board that they would not let their children study in a school that also catered to mutants. The school board remained stonily silent on the matter though, and did nothing – mostly because Arthur Ridley was one of their most distinguished alumni, and it would be a grave embarrassment to him if they kicked out his daughter for no particular reason.

As for the kids, their parents never did pull them out. Being at St. Christopher’s Private Academy was a privilege. If anything else, people remembered that actually getting into a school whose students and parents were screened was not something to be taken lightly.

“Hey Ellie, could I talk to you for a minute?”

Hearing her name called, Ellie looked up from her History homework and promptly blinked up at the carefully powdered face of Sheridan McQueen, the most popular girl in the entire school. Beautiful (whether freshly scrubbed or just done with twenty laps around the school track oval) rich, as well as being a far cry from stupid, Sheridan was already one of the school’s sweethearts despite her current freshman status.

She was also the last person anyone would expect would actually speak to ‘the Ridley girl’, though if she was taking time out to converse with Ellie, it wasn’t something people were about to question. She was, after all, Sheridan.

Ellie sat up straighter, not really sure as to why the girl had approached her all of a sudden, when under normal circumstances she would have wanted nothing to do with her.

The smile that greeted her was bright, and it made Ellie’s stomach tighten in wariness. Bright smiles rarely ever meant anything good. For her, that is. “Say, Ellie,” Sheridan started, sliding gracefully into the seat beside her. “Hey uh… I was just wondering if you could help me out with something.” They were in the near-empty study hall where the only other occupants were upperclassmen and their tutees. Setting down her pen, St. Christopher’s ‘quiet little mouse’ lent Sheridan her full attention, her facial expressions doing all of her talking for her. Lifting one brow to signify that she wanted to know what it was that Sheridan wanted, Ellie set one hand on her lap; her fingers lax against her skirt.

Sheridan leaned in then, and the somewhat coy smile on her face was one that Ellie might have called too sweet for her liking. “Look… you’ve heard about that mess between George Tyler and Lisa Warren, right?” Ellie frowned, but nodded anyway. She had heard about the mess between the two—mostly from George himself, who was probably the only one in the school who treated her as normally as possible.

Sheridan pursed her lips and then scrunched her face up a little, as if getting the next few words out was so difficult it warranted such an unbecoming expression. “Well…” she smiled again and her face returned to normal. Her voice turned soft, the tone secretive, as if Ellie was one of her closest friends and the information she was about to pass on something that only the two of them could understand. “You think you could, you know… get George to go out with me instead?”

They always wanted something. Always.

“Why…?” Ellie answered even before she could stop herself, and for a moment Sheridan straightened, the look in her eye sharp and guarded. Elisabeth Ridley rarely spoke a word, but oftentimes when she did, one had to be prepared. Phrases like ‘take a hike’, were hardly harmless with this particular girl.

To Ellie though, Sheridan’s reaction made her heart skip a beat. She was barely liked in the school enough as it is, and though this girl’s motives for approaching her were of a questionable sort, she wasn’t about to draw the shutters to a chance at a friend.

She was just so tired of being lonely. Even outcasts had friends. Why couldn’t she?

“It’s just that I never pegged George as your type.” Her reasoning was sound, and Ellie banked on the fact that Sheridan was smart enough to see that. George Tyler was into photography and writing and poetry, while Sheridan’s arena leaned more to public debates, planning school events and fraternizing with the academy’s more ‘elite’ crowd. “Shows you what I know, huh?” Ellie could hear herself—the raspy quality of her voice as she kept it at whisper level making her almost seem shy to speak her mind. “What… do you want… me to do?” She asked haltingly, selecting her words with the greatest of care in case she slipped up and voiced something that would lead to trouble.

Sheridan’s eyes near-twinkled as she reached over to catch Ellie’s hand in her own; the gesture made Ellie start. The problem with growing up a mutant was that it didn’t matter that her powers were just truly limited to her voice—the fact that you were born different in such a huge way made even basic human contact taboo. People were often scared to even brush up against her. Crowds parted like the Red Sea when she walked down the halls, as if she had a disease that everyone was afraid of catching even if they knew they wouldn’t. Couldn’t.

And here was Sheridan, holding her hand as if they’d been friends since kindergarten. “Why don’t you… talk to George for me, El?” The impromptu nickname seemed awkward at first. Only Cecilie—her mom—ever called her El. And that was usually when she wanted something. Sheridan couldn’t know about that though. Cecilie Ridley wasn’t the PTA meeting type. “I mean, he and Lisa didn’t work out so well,” she leaned in, as if confiding in Ellie. “You’ve seen him, right?” Her eyes looked sad. Really sad. Ellie couldn’t help but see that. “He’s just…” Sheridan seemed to search for the words. “Oh, Ellie, he just looks so sad.”

She didn’t contradict. George had grown more withdrawn as of late, spending most of his time in the darkroom now if he wasn’t needed in class. He kept to himself, his eyes always faraway, a permanent crease between his eyebrows.

“I figured that he and I would make a much better couple… you know?” Sheridan bowed her head, and Ellie glanced down at the way her hand was cradled now in both of Sheridan’s. “I know you’re one of his good friends, and I know that we haven’t exactly been close.” It never occurred once to Ellie that her feelings were being played on. That Sheridan was doing the same thing that those she loved best had done over the years. It just felt so good to be talked to for once. To be confided in as if she were a regular person, just like everybody else.

“But you’ve got this amazing power, Ellie.” Sheridan’s voice seemed to be oozing with admiration. “It’s like you can be anyone’s fairy godmother.” She was the wish-granter. By carefully putting together words, she had the ability to make ideas seem appealing and right.

“It’s sort of like debate.” Sheridan continued, their eyes meeting now: Sheridan’s soft sea-green to Ellie’s hazel. “You know? Like what I do when Ms. Walsh and Mr. Gregory puts me up on the podium to argue about how sending soldiers to war doesn’t really solve the conflict we have and instead aggravates it to a point that it’s ridiculous.”

Ellie blinked, dazzled by Sheri’s charisma, captivated by what seemed, for a moment, to be a friendship built on some similarity; even if the underlying, logical reasoning behind it wasn’t as sound as it appeared.

“I only want to make George happy, El.” The words washed over her like an unexpected, but pleasant, shower of rain in the middle of a blistering summer. “You want that too… right?” It was true. Ellie did want it. She wanted one of her good friends—her longest and only friend thus far—to smile again and return to the way he was before teenage heartbreak and the accompanying angst decided that he was their current target.

George and Lisa had hit a rock in their relationship. George had been telling Ellie himself that he was thinking of breaking up with Lisa. If she gave him a little friendly advice…just a little nudge…

It couldn’t hurt, right?

That’s what friends did, after all. They looked after each other.

“Please El… you’re the only one who could ever understand.”

No. It couldn’t hurt. Not really.


* * *

Their room in the dorm is small compared to either of the girl’s original bedrooms back home, but what space there is they make the most of by arranging the twin beds flat against either wall. It provides a mutual space in the middle of the room. They agree that they’ll both scour the home improvement shops in the city for a rug that looks the sum of their personalities. If not, Ellie knows that Lee will probably propose that they buy two and cut-and-sew-both-back-together as a substitute.

The computer table—a gift from Lolo Ben to them both—is set right beside the footboard of Ellie’s bed. The computer is something that has been Lee’s since before, though the newly installed 200 gigabyte hard disk had been Ellie’s little idea.

They sit down to open one of the remaining boxes that holds books, cds and several other items of an assorted nature, and Lee jokes that they ought to buy bookcases—the put-it-together-yourself kind so that they don’t cost as much as other ready-made furniture.

Ellie notes it at the back of her head. She has more than enough money in the little cashbox hidden at the bottom of her bag. She’s already looking forward to shopping in New York, her best friend beside her.

Lee has been her friend—her first real friend—for longer than anyone else in her life. Ellie likes to think that they know each other the same way sisters do: enough, but never too much, and without the troubles of sibling rivalries and insecurities.

To Ellie, Lee is not just her best friend. Lee is her sister. Her family. That is all that ever matters.

* * *

She warily watched the newcomer enter the classroom, trying to gauge this new girl as best as she could. It wasn’t that she preferred a new girl over a new boy, or vice-versa—she knew how either gender could be when it came to dealing with her and her own particular situation. From an early age, she had learned that few were ever what they appeared to be, and so she knew better than to accept whatever image the new girl projected. She might seem nice on the surface, but she had long since learned that sometimes, it was the nice ones who were more prone to cruelty.

Still, for all her guardedness, Ellie Ridley couldn’t help but appreciate this newcomer. While it wasn’t necessary for new students to show up already wearing the school uniform, this one already was, and moreover, she was wearing it the way it was meant to be worn. At least, in the fashion that most of the teachers stressed constantly during the start of the year. Something that the adults were ultimately resigned to seeing less and less as the months wore on.

Her ebony hair was straight, though not in the way of chemical treatment, and apparently without a single strand out of place, even though there was nothing in her hair to hold it down. She wore freshwater pearl studs that gleamed elegantly in the light, not looking the least bit gaudy or tasteless despite their size. When she stood, she did so with perfect, almost ballerina-esque posture.

Her face—the only giveaway that she was foreign given the dusky skin and the almond shaped, thickly-lashed eyes—was set in a rather neutral expression: calm, cool and collected. She carried a black leather book bag under one arm, the strap slung on her shoulder; a bag that had obviously been unused until this day.

Ellie, who could detect breeding from a mile away, could see all of its hallmarks on this girl.

Whispers started flitting between and among the students like many invisible birds: Say, she’s real hot... I wonder how she gets her lashes to look like that... Hey Rich, she looks like your type.

Everyone was curious about her, and from where she sat, Ellie could see the heads that moved, even if but a little, which showed who was getting messages to whom.

She gave the boys points for having the mind to be discreet, but she wasn’t the least bit surprised that they were treating this as though it were an auction, the bidding silent for now. A transferee was almost always unheard of for St. Christopher’s, mostly because the board of trustees preferred alumni to newcomers, noveau riche or no.

This girl’s presence then begged the question: Who was she? How was she important enough to fall into their ranks?

“Settle down, class,” their homeroom adviser, Ms. Walsh began, her eyes scanning the faces and giving noteworthy looks to those who deserved it. “I would like to introduce Miss Lillian Delgado,” Lillian, derived from the flower Lily. A symbol of innocence, purity, beauty. “She moved to Maryland from the Philippines over a year ago, but she’s been attending classes at another school. This year though, she will be joining us here at St. Christopher’s.” Ellie noted the collected expression on her face. This wasn’t a doe frozen before car headlights. She was already scanning the faces in the varying rows. “I trust that all of you,” the stress fell on the last three words, “will make her stay with the academy a pleasant one.”

The whispers started again, and this time, it was information instead of speculation that was being passed around: The Philippines? Where’s that? Sounds like a European country to me… It’s in Southeast Asia, doofus. No wonder Mr. Flack failed you in geography.

Tongue-in-cheek, Ellie suppressed a smile.

“Mr. Edwards, Mr. Anderson, and Mr. Sullivan, I would greatly appreciate it if you did not talk while I am doing the exact same thing,” Ms. Walsh scolded, her right brow twitching just a little. The teacher breathed, and then continued: “Now then, Lillian is the granddaughter of Dr. Benigno Delgado, whom I am sure most of you remember delivered that lecture last week.” She gave the entire class a rather discreet, but warning look. “It would be a good idea for you to welcome her warmly.” From the glances that the other students were giving each other, everyone was well aware what their mentor was saying in-between the lines. This was another move in the chess game that was academic politics.

Ellie knew why, of course: Benigno Delgado was one of the most respected academicians this side of America. From what Ellie had researched on the man via the trusty internet, many schools and universities had already tried to lure him into the ranks of their faculty. As soon as news had broken out that he’d resigned from his slot in Maryland U almost two years before, like sharks following the scent of blood, numerous institutions had all gone a-knocking at his door. Sadly, these efforts had failed, and only the more fortunate ones had at least gone home with the good professor’s promise that he would conduct lectures in their halls.

While Ben Delgado had once been quoted that he was particularly fond of maintaining his slot as a high-profile figure in the academic arena, the death of his daughter-in-law had apparently changed his priorities. He made no secret that this girl—his granddaughter, came first.

Observing her now, Ellie wondered why.

“Just Lee, please,” the girl—Lillian—spoke in a well-modulated voice. There was a quality to her words that made Ellie pay attention: while the hint of an accent was apparent, it wasn’t something that she herself could place. There was an occasional fluidity between words that she recognized as being a quality of those from the West Coast, but then again, there was also that clipped quality that could only come from the East Coast. Even then, there was a certain lack of an American twang that indicated time she probably spent her time speaking another language entirely.

Two in fact, as Ellie would one day know.

“All right then, Lee... Why don’t you find yourself a seat so that you can settle in?”

Sloe-black eyes roamed the classroom looking for an available chair, and Ellie was probably the first of two people to realize that there was none—the other person being one Timothy Callahan, who stood up, and offered his seat with a smile.

“You can take this one, Lee,” he said, his blue eyes gleaming in an almost shy expression as he picked up his things to move them off the chair. “I’ll go and borrow another chair from one of the other classrooms, Ms. Walsh.” In the wake of his departure the other boys snickered and elbowed those of their peers who were closest. Timmy was a great guy, but far from the ‘good boy’ image that he’d apparently donned in the presence of their new schoolmate.

Watching still, Ellie noted the way that Lillian smiled—the sort of smile that while indicating that she was grateful for the gesture, she was not one to keel over, exuberantly impressed by the spontaneous show of gallantry.

Their homeroom teacher turned to the board then, her voice stating the routine please-take-down-your-schedule-for-the-quarter-as-I-recite-it, and Ellie turned her eyes to the empty page of her notebook, silent as ever, unaware of the look of curiosity that crossed Lillian’s face.

* * *

“Ellie, look.” When she looks over from where she’s emptied one box of books on the floor, Lee is already crawling over to the empty space beside her, an old notebook tucked under her arm. “You know, I’m so bobo, I really thought I left this at home.” There is a light in the other girl’s eyes; one that speaks of mischief and secrets and things that only they could know. “I put it in this box pala.” Ellie watches as Lee shakes her head, long black hair falling soft about her shoulders. “Lolo’s going to scold me for being so forgetful. Then again, he’s on his way back to Maryland so he doesn’t have to know.” Lee laughs and winks. The sound makes Ellie feel good.

Sometimes, the way laughter comes out of Lee makes her think of the way energizer bunny is in those old battery commercials—just going and going and going—at least until the commercial (in the guise of Ellie herself) cuts it short. This particular laugh is not that one. This is shorter in its duration, though no less rich in the way it seems to just roll off the other girl’s tongue.

“I can already hear him saying: ‘O, there. Kasi you don’t pay attention to your things. Ma-dula gid ang gamit mo kay you’re not careful.’” When Lee talks like this, Ellie knows that things are fine. Lee only ever talks like this—the three languages she knows intertwined in a testament to her heritage—with two people: one is her, the other, Lolo Ben.

Ellie appreciates it because it means Lee doesn’t consider the mixed language a barrier between them. Never mind that Ellie has only learned to master a little of Tagalog and is mediocre in understanding the snatches of Ilonggo that come her way. Never mind that sometimes she can’t even tell which words belong to which dialect. It matters little. Lee will always translate; Lee will always explain.

It is almost similar to the way Lee is the only person to hear her, really hear her.

I’m glad that we’re here together, sis. She adds the endearment because this time, in this house, they are sort of like that. I’m glad this time, I’m not really alone.

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