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PART 25: MISSING PIECE
Despite Luci’s best efforts, there were already a few students present when she reached her first period mathematics classroom. She had hoped to be the first one to arrive, to get a desk at the back, ideally near the door. A seat which would allow her to watch all the others as they came in.
She needed to find a new niche in Grade Ten, to make a clean break away from the Grade Nines, now that she was skipping that grade entirely. Trouble was, that had involved taking the long way here, to avoid any awkward encounters in the hall.
Fortunately, the desk she wanted was still available. As she slid into the chair, a brunette with long, naturally curly hair approached.
“Hello! Who are you?” the brunette inquired.
“Who’s asking?” Luci shot back, out of reflex.
The unknown girl frowned, leaning her palms against the edge of Luci’s desk. “I asked first. I don’t recognize you from last year, are you a transfer student?”
Okay, now this girl was bothering her. “What business is it of yours?” Luci demanded.
“Everything that happens around here is my business,” the girl said with mounting annoyance. “You always answer questions with questions?”
“What if I do?” Who WAS this girl?
More to the point, why was Luci sabotaging their relationship right out of the gate? She bit the edge of her tongue.
Naturally, both Luci’s parents and her guidance counsellor had advised against starting high school by jumping into Grade Ten. It wasn’t because the young asian girl wasn’t intelligent enough. In fact, Luci had already read ahead in preparation, and despite entering the school system one year late, this would be her third time skipping a grade. No, the real problem, as always, would be her social situation.
Her outspoken nature had never been of much help, before or after her adoption. She’d had no close friends last year, in Grade Eight. And so, in moving on to high school, Luci had put her foot down – new school, new circle of peers. Ones closer to being her intellectual equal.
At the very least, this way she’d be done with high school a year sooner. She’d deftly shot down every argument that had been thrown at her. That had been the easy part.
“Julie, don’t bother the newcomer,” came a new voice. Luci turned to see a redheaded boy entering the classroom. He looked vaguely familiar.
“I’m being sociable, Corry,” Julie retorted, pushing herself away from Luci’s desk. Corry, mused Luci… why do I know that name?
Right, back at MacKenzie King Middle School there had been a Corry Veniti in the grade ahead of her. He’d had delusions of grandeur, as Luci recalled. This had to be the same guy, now in her grade.
“Of course you are,” Corry was saying to Julie. “And by tomorrow, you’ll have the poor girl hauling your books to your next class.”
“Sorry, I didn’t know you were interested in her,” Julie retorted. “By all means, convince her to carry your books instead.”
“Idiots,” Luci muttered under her breath, even as the two of them ignored her in favour of glaring at each other. She could do better than people so petty. Right? Maybe?
This small Canadian town wasn’t helping. With very few other asians around, and her fitting a number of the racial stereotypes, she’d trended even further into sarcasm when talking to people. Honestly, why didn’t people THINK before opening their mouths?
Though maybe it wasn’t their fault. Okay, positive thoughts. Luci eyed the classroom door.
As the five minute warning bell went off, Luci saw a girl who had to be Corry’s twin sister enter, given the physical similarity. She was accompanied by another girl with a crystal necklace, who had pink hair. Except the redhead was saying her friend hadn’t always had pink hair, last year it was green, though pink went better with her outfit, and oh God, their conversation seemed so boring and shallow. Rejected.
Then a shorter boy entered by himself; he looked too introverted. Then a taller blonde boy; he gravitated immediately towards Julie. Then more students, and in all cases, Luci found that she was rejecting them as possible friends for one reason or another. In large part because it seemed like the cliques here had already formed. For the first time, the advice of her counsellor hit home: ‘Skipping Grade Nine is a BAD idea.’
The teacher re-entered the room with a minute to spare, and people began finding seats. With less than thirty seconds before the final bell, there was a crashing sound in the hallway, and Luci turned again.
A blonde girl with long hair was sitting on the floor. Next to her was a male wearing glasses, now slightly askew. Apparently the two of them had collided, running to class from opposite directions.
“Pervert,” the blonde accused, moving to slap the male upside the head with her binder. “I felt that. How dare you try to cop a feel by crashing into me?”
“Ow! What? I was trying to keep myself from falling down,” the male protested, reaching up to adjust his glasses and rub the side of his head.
“Nice try,” the blonde retorted. She whacked his hand. “The last guy who fed me a line like that at least bought me dinner first!”
The final bell chose that moment to ring, the two teenagers turning and blinking in the direction of the classroom. They jumped to their feet and leapt for the entrance, both squeezing through at the same time.
As the announcements clicked on, the blonde hurried for what was apparently a reserved seat next to Julie, while the boy in the glasses slid into the closest available desk… right next to Luci. The young girl realized then that she had yet to take her eyes off of him. She snapped her attention back to the front of the room.
‘Okay.’ Luci resolved. ‘It’s socializing with that guy or nothing!’
Luci next encountered Frank – she’d obtained his name via attendance taking – during lunch. He was sitting alone in the cafeteria, poring over a book of some sort. Summoning up her courage, Luci set her tray down across from him.
“I’d like to sit here?” she said, belatedly turning the assertion into a question.
Frank looked up. “Hm? Oh, sure, sit where you like,” he said.
Luci nodded, sliding into the available space. Frank looked back at his book. “I see you’re interested in time travel,” she continued, unwrapping her sandwich.
“What?” Frank said, looking up again. Luci motioned to the book he was reading: ‘Time Machines’ by Paul J. Nahin. “Oh!” Frank realized. “Yes, it’s a passing interest. Alternately, a long and complicated story… uhm, forgive me for asking this, but do I know you?”
“No. Not yet,” Luci admitted. “I’m new to the school. But we were sitting next to each other in math class. Luci Primrose,” she offered, extending her hand.
“Frank Dijora,” he responded, setting his book down to shake.
“You know,” Luci continued. “That girl had no right to hit you the way she did this morning. Outside our classroom. You should have stood up to her.”
“Oh, you saw that?” Frank said, wincing. “That’s… well, yeah, maybe you’re right, except Carrie will be Carrie. Contrary to what some people say, she’s not all bad. Overly emotional maybe. It’s not entirely her fault. Uh, never mind. Did you transfer in from out of town?”
Luci noted the change of subject, but decided to roll with it. She swallowed her bite of sandwich. “No, I skipped Grade Nine.”
Frank lifted an eyebrow. “I thought you looked young! Nine is an odd one to skip though, it must leave you at a bit of a loose end with respect to the school.”
“Yeah, kind of,” Luci admitted. “Which is why I’ve been looking for someone to help me out. And you seem to be both nice, intelligent and…” She stopped herself before adding ‘good looking’, only to realize she was no longer sure where else to go with that sentence.
Frank’s other eyebrow joined his first. “And what, you want me to show you around or something?”
“Yes. I mean no. I mean, I don’t need a tour,” Luci amended hastily. “But maybe catch me up on what some of our classmates are like? Friends, enemies, personalities?”
Frank shook his head. “I’m not the person for that,” he sighed. “For statistics, go to Julie. Rumour has it that she’s got a file folder for every student. In our grade, and beyond.”
Luci wrinkled her nose. “Julie, I met. Didn’t like her.”
“She can evoke that reaction,” Frank agreed. “But she’s popular. Does things for people, throws good parties – she’s a LaMille, you know.”
“A LaMille?” Luci said, taken aback. “Related to that rich couple who own the old mansion in town?”
“Yup,” Frank said. “So if you’re aiming for popularity, you’ll need her on your side. Well, her or Corry Veniti. They’re the most influential people in our grade.”
“See, this is exactly the stuff I need to know! Tell me more.”
It took a bit of convincing, as Frank seemed wary of spreading misinformation, but Luci left their lunch period feeling a bit more confident in her ability to fit in. And in having found someone to talk to.
That’s when things took an odd turn.
Luci opened her locker at the end of the day, to find a note taped on the back side of the door. This, despite how she had only bought her lock last Friday, and had told no one about the combination.
Luci pulled the note off and scanned it. It read: ‘I have important information. Willowdale Park at 9pm tonight. Come alone.’
“Something out of a bad movie,” Luci muttered to herself.
She flipped the paper over, but it was unsigned and she didn’t recognize the handwriting. Luci tapped the paper edge against her fingertips. “All right. I’ll bite,” she decided. “But whoever you are, don’t underestimate me.”
The park was deserted when Luci arrived. As she was ten minutes early, she hadn’t really expected anyone else to be there yet. Seating herself in one of the swings, Luci took the opportunity to scan around in all directions, through the growing darkness.
She first heard a noise at a minute to nine. “Hello? Who’s there?” she called out authoritatively.
“Frank?” Luci’s tone turned to surprise as she stood. “Frank, is that you?”
“Er, yes,” Frank responded. She could now see him approaching her. “Sorry about this cloak and dagger act,” he continued. “It’s all rather complicated.”
“Apparently,” Luci fired back. “First things first, how did you know my locker combination?”
Frank winced. “You told it to me, Luci.”
“I did no such thing.”
“No, you kind of did, actually,” Frank insisted.
She crossed her arms. “Explain.”
He stepped closer. “Right. See, I am, um, a secret government operative with the power to read minds. I was asked by my superiors to look into you as a potential recruit, due to your high intelligence.”
Luci stared. Great, so she’d decided to befriend a crazy person. “Where’s your proof?”
“Well, right now you’re thinking that I’m crazy.”
“That’s not proof! What agency is this? Why would it have a branch in Canada? What other science fiction books are you reading?”
“Okay, stop, that’s a lot to answer at once,” Frank protested. “We need to take this slowly, like where you think of a number, and I tell you what it is, and then after that we’ll move on to shapes, and you know what, now would be a real good time, Luci!”
Too late, Luci heard the noise behind her. She started to turn, but the cloth had already been slapped across her mouth and nose. The effect of the drug was almost immediate. After a short, futile struggle, the thirteen year old asian girl lay unconscious upon the ground.
The fourteen year old asian girl, still with her hair done up in two ponytails, was left looking down at her own body.
“Okay, sneaking up on one’s past self now officially ranks as one of the CREEPIEST moments EVER,” Luci said, shuddering.
Frank shrugged helplessly. “It’s not like we could tell your prior self about the time machine. You’re not supposed to learn about it until next August. Which is before it’s even discovered! Heck, my present day self knows about it, but we’re not telling him about this either.”
The new Luci held up her hand. “Okay, okay, stop rationalizing,” she sighed. “This WAS my idea. Anyway, what’s done is done, and so it had to be done again. Let’s just… get my past self out of here before anything has a chance to go wrong.”
The next day found Luci Primrose arriving at school a full half hour early. She had spent a good deal of time the previous night looking back over her prior self’s diary entries, to try and get herself back in the right frame of mind.
She only had twenty four hours here to find the information they needed in the future. Frank would be back in the park around 8:45 that night, for them to switch her back. And since he’d jumped there directly using time travel, they couldn’t change the plan now.
Not that there was much of a plan. They hadn’t had the time to come up with one. Fortunately, Luci still had a logical starting point, namely Carrie Waterson herself. Thus the reason behind her heading to the school’s outdoor track, where the blonde teenager was bound to be running some morning laps, in order to attract attention.
Sure enough, Carrie was there, her form fitting lycra outfit netting her a small group of interested onlookers in the stands. Mostly male. Luci leaned up against the fence enclosing the track area and observed herself.
The blonde slowed as she completed her final lap, reaching back to pull out the ribbon holding back her hair. The long blonde tresses cascaded out behind her, finally settling over her shoulders after Carrie shook her head. There were a few whistles and a smattering of applause as Carrie paused to fire off a wink towards the observers.
Luci suppressed the urge to gag. “Forgot how much of a show off Carrie was last year,” she grumped. She hurried after the athletic blonde girl, entering the otherwise empty girls’ locker room after her. “Carrie,” Luci called out. “Got a moment?”
Carrie turned. “Sure,” she said with a smile. “Let me guess, you were super impressed by my athletic ability, and want to learn just how I got to be so good? To be honest, a lot of it is natural talent. But I could give you some pointers if you and your friends put in a good word for me with Michelle… she’s the girl in the forerunning for the position of cheerleader captain this year. I’m pushing to be captain myself by next year!”
Luci bit her tongue to keep from making an immediate retort. “Actually,” she said, “I was hoping you could answer a couple of questions for me about Julie.”
“Oh,” Carrie said, her smile vanishing. She shrugged. “Maybe. Why, who are you anyway?”
“Luci,” Luci answered. “Luci Primrose. I’m new to the school but in your grade.”
“Really? How’d that happen?” Carrie asked curiously as she began to peel out of her running outfit. Luci couldn’t help but turn away at that; she really didn’t need the blatant reminder of how little she’d developed in comparison with Carrie. Even if, despite the time travel, she was still younger than the blonde.
“I skipped Grade Nine,” Luci answered, fixating upon a point near the corner of the room. “So do you think you’ll be able to help me find out some information?”
“Depends what I’m getting out of it,” the blonde replied.
Right. Grade Ten Carrie. Luci pursed her lips. “What were you thinking of?”
There was a pause, during which Luci heard the blonde head to the shower area and start the water running. “Are you in any athletic circles?” Carrie called out at last. “Because I can always use more cheerleading support.”
“You want more support, wear a better bra,” Luci muttered.
Luci bit her tongue again. God, past Carrie was so self-centred! If only their Carrie were able to answer these questions… and remembering why that wasn’t possible immediately focussed Luci’s attention back on the mission.
“Nothing. Look, I can’t promise anything. But all I need is to find out who was working for the LaMilles when Julie was about nine years old. Do you know how I might do that?”
“If you’re not promising, I can’t help,” Carrie fired back. “That’s not the way the world works.”
“Oh, fine then,” Luci retorted in exasperation. This had been a bad idea. She turned and headed for the door.
“Though to be honest, I don’t know that sort of stuff,” Carrie admitted. “So how about this? If you become part of Julie’s ‘in’ crowd, you can ask her yourself.”
The shower turned off and Carrie emerged, wrapping herself in a towel. “Step one, you’ll need to dress more appropriately,” she offered. “Your jeans and T-shirt look is SO tired. It’s no way to be remembered.”
Luci hesitated. Assuming she had no luck with her other potential sources, being inside Julie’s house was the only way to obtain the required information. “Okay,” Luci agreed. “How many steps before I could drop by the LaMille mansion?”
“Don’t push it,” Carrie said, waggling her finger. “Wait for Julie to throw a party. She’s sure to have one this month.”
‘Since I only have thirteen hours left, that’s no good,’ Luci thought. “I’ll get back to you on that,” she sighed, turning back towards the door, idly trying to recall to what extent her past self had ever followed up.
“And if you DO see Michelle, tell her how dedicated I am to practicing, okay?” Carrie called out as Luci departed the change room.
The young asian couldn’t keep from rolling her eyes. There were now only ten minutes before the first bell, and she had more people to talk to.
“The LaMille hired help?” Clarke mused. “Never thought about it. Guess I assumed Jeeves and Mimi always worked for them. Why?”
Luci shook her head. “Random thought. Don’t worry about it.” She hadn’t held out much hope for an answer – the Clarke in her time hadn’t known. She was gambling that he’d merely forgotten.
“What’s Julie’s house like these days anyway?” Luci continued. “I mean, who can get invited there… that sort of thing.”
Clarke rubbed his chin. “Actually, I bet Julie’s curious about you, since you’re new in our grade. And I was planning on dropping by her place tonight, around eight. We could go together, if you like.”
Luci almost agreed. But she forced herself to consider the offer. If they both went, and Luci was caught sneaking off to track down the necessary files, it might reflect badly on Clarke. They couldn’t afford to take that risk.
The Julie-Clarke relationship was still tenuous at this point in the past. Besides, even if their past relationship was NOT affected by her time travel, any repercussions could still lay within Luci’s future.
It was really too bad that it wasn’t Carrie who was going to Julie’s house tonight. They had an established relationship now which would fragment in the future anyway.
“No,” Luci answered. “That won’t work for me. Still, is there anything more you can tell me about the mansion?”
Clarke shook his head. “Not really my place. Talk to Julie.”
Fine. Seemed like she’d have to go right to the source. Luci continued down the hallway into homeroom.
As she made for Julie, she saw the brunette jotting down something down in a small black book. It was tucked away under her sweater before the younger girl got too close. “What do you want?” Julie demanded. “Corry send you to spy on me?”
“No,” Luci answered. “In fact, I’m sure he’ll be annoyed by my talking to you at all. But I have something to ask.”
Julie folded her arms across her chest. “Ask away.”
“I need to know who was working for your family about six or seven years ago.”
If Julie wondered as to the request, she didn’t show it. “Why?”
“I can’t tell you right now,” Luci admitted. “But I can promise that the information won’t be used against you. Moreover, if you need me to do something for you today in exchange, I am willing. As long as it’s only for today, and within the bounds of reason.”
Julie remained silent for close to a minute before speaking again. “Oddly tempting,” she admitted. “But here’s a tip: I never give out information about my family. You want to learn more about the LaMilles? Read a newspaper.” Julie turned away.
“Wait,” Luci said quickly, shifting gears as an actual plan occurred to her. “What if I were to demonstrate my good faith by warning you about a certain plot against you? Happening tonight?”
Julie glanced back. “And I would believe you because of… your young girlish charm?”
“And the fact that I ALSO know about the plots you and Corry have for embarrassing each other at lunch today.”
Julie smiled. “You claim to know a lot.”
“I’m an observer,” Luci stated. “So, remember this conversation at around twelve o’clock today.”
Julie simply shook her head before turning away again. The five minute bell chose that moment to ring, and Luci stepped away, letting out the breath she hadn’t even known she was holding.
This was where things became risky, as she entangled herself in the plots of Corry and Julie. Made even more dangerous by the fact that Luci honestly couldn’t remember WHAT the two of them were doing – only that there had to have been something… something during that missing day of her life. Which was now today.
She had the rest of the morning to try and piece it together. If only there wasn’t so much at stake if she failed.
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