Monday, June 9, 2014

Chapter 4, 5: Breakfast

 I know, I know, it should be Fifty Shades of Grey, not Divergent.

Chapter 4, 5: Breakfast

Charlotte lay in bed, her eyes open in the gray, gloomy light of morning, listening to wind-driven rain speckle the heavy, beaded glass of the little bedroom. If this was a nursery, she’d take it.

She could, of course, get up. But that seemed like a pretty drastic step. It was not exactly obvious how many times she would get to experience this whole “BBC London” thing. There were Honest-to-Gosh horses clopping on real cobblestones outside?

Idly, Charlotte wondered how easy it was to ride a unicycle on cobblestones. Probably, not very. 

The other reason not to get up was that it was freaking cold out there. It reminded her of the Wong’s lodge in the Alleghenies. And while she’d heard both John Roy and Chris rave about the refreshing cold of the mornings, that just tended to confirm her suspicion that “boys be crazy.” Cold was cold.

Someone rapped on the door. “Miss? Breakfast is served.”

Okay, that was a reason to get up in the morning. Charlotte reached up to the pole of the four-poster bed, her hand touching the cold band of her umbrella. (How many girls slept with umbrellas strapped to their bed posts? People probably asked. Charlotte didn’t care. Okay, maybe Charlotte cared a little bit.) Then she took a more solid grip, and, with a deep breath, she dived through the hanging curtain.

Oh, those freaky curtains on four poster, canopied beds? They were there because it was cold at night. And as cold as it was inside the canopy, Charlotte knew that it was going to be even colder outside, on account of her scouting mission. Which was, Charlotte thought, a perfectly old-BBC way of saying “getting up to pee in the middle of the night.” 

Although she actually had scouted. Mainly to find out if Bruce had gone off to do his whole “one with the night” thing in Babylon. Which he had. Charlotte worried about him, because he might be underestimating what else was out there being one with the night. Fortunately, she’d heard him banging around outside the door a few minutes ago, roughhousing with Twelve, so that was okay. 

Cold cold cold cold cold cold, Charlotte thought, as she hopped into her clothes. Fortunately, old-timey BBC people apparently didn’t do much in the way of washing up in the morning in real life. On TV, of course, they were always fresh as daisies, and to see really dirty people, you had to watch a sitcom down in the bottom two-thirds of the schedule, that was probably shot in a single twenty hour session and they just lacquered on the hair product to make it okay. Like in the old Friends re-runs that her Cousin Henry loved, because they reminded him of being young, and not the washed-up, about-to-be-married twenty-something he’d somehow become. 

That’s right, Charlotte thought, think about something, anything, except for how cold it is as you get dressed. Whoops, she thought some more, too late. She could feel the goosebumps rising on her skin, aiming to achieve “chilblains” status. Refreshing her patootie!

She must have said that aloud, because, from the door, she head Dora say, “Patootie?”

“It’s Seventies talk. You wouldn’t understand.”

“Why are you up?” That seemed like an odd question, since Dora was obviously also up.

“Breakfast?” Charlotte said, using her combined sarcasm/questioning tone.

“Yeah, right,” Dora answered. “Be freaky, you know that.”

Charlotte pulled the massive door open to confront her friend. Yep, she thought, out of bed. Dressed. “Hypocrite much?”

“Kinda hoping we hit the caf at the Library before I totally die,” Dora answered.

“There’s a cafeteria at the Library?” Charlotte asked.

“Well, obvs. What do you expect out of a Library?”

“Hot college students?” Charlotte asked, hopefully.

“Sure, okay, yeah. But all the more reason to have a caf.”

“But, given that we’re staying in a freaking mansion, I am not going to give up on breakfast yet. Where are the boys?”

“Gone down already,” Dora answered.

Charlotte didn’t have to ask where Rose was, since Miss In-The-Dark-Postapocalyptic-Future-All-Clocks-Are-Alarm-Clocks-Set-To-Five-AM would have been up long since and had probably run around Babylon by now. Unless she’d run into the kind of trouble that missed Bruce. Which is what you’d expect of Rose, also too. 

“Upwards and ever downwards!” Charlotte announced.

“Uhm, what?” 

Charlotte didn’t answer. Because if you started explaining the poetry you read in old-days-school, you ended up having to defend your favourite poems, like when she brought up “Davie.” And that whole ‘Upwards and ever onwards’ thing wasn’t even her favourite poem.

So instead, Charlotte was just, like, “’Splain never. Breakfa-a-ast!”

“You’re weird, sometimes, Charlotte Wong.”

“You’re not, Dora Guzman?”

“Never said that.”

Charlotte went to open the door to the corridor. Which somehow even managed to be even colder than the bedroom. Mrs. Marigold was standing in the corridor. “Good Morning, Miss Wong. That blouse looks so nice on you!"

Charlotte dimpled. She did like it, and it had taken her forever to find a blue blazer to wear it with. It wasn’t a colour combo that she’d tried out before, never having much of a clothes budget before moving in with her Aunt and Uncle, but it seemed to work with casual skinny jeans. She’d be looking her best for the Library.

“But I am sure that you won’t need an umbrella for breakfast.”

Charlotte took a second to think about her reaction, luckily, which gave her the time to tone it down from “indignant” to “inscrutable.” Victorian house, weird guests, dewy-eyed heiress. Charlotte wasn’t born yesterday. (More precisely, she’d been born in 1960. Time travel, everybody!) If there weren’t werewolves or vampires or crap like that around she would be very surprised. From experience, she wasn’t very scared of werewolves as long as she had the Pearl Harmony, and no way was she messing with vampires without it. 

“Ah,” Mrs. Marigold said. “Very well then, do please come with me.”

Mrs. Marigold led them downstairs and down yet another corridor from any that they’d seen the night before. Finally, they burst into a large room with a roaring fire at one end and a long table covered with huge silver serving dishes up on little lamps that cast a cheery, white-blue light. 

For all the fire, however, the real heat in the room seemed to emanate from an open door in the side wall that evidently went to the kitchen, because a serving maid, complete with one of those starchy white aprons, came out a moment later carrying a tray of something.

Charlotte glared at her. How were you supposed to figure out a murder mystery in a house with a cast as big as this? Did only the people with named roles have murdering rights? Oblivious to the glare, the girl took the lid off one of the big serving dishes and quickly ladled the contents of her own into it.

Meanwhile, Charlotte found a new thing to occupy her. Namely, gagging, because it smelled like someone had gone Number One in a frying pan over there.

Bruce sidled up to her. He was wearing head-to-toe black, a turtleneck over black jeans, and holding a plate out. “Good news about breakfast, Char-Char.”

Charlotte eyed the plate, which was filled with unmentionable things with char-marks. Charlotte had a suspicion that she’d know more, and like less, if it weren’t all smeared with a brown, heavy gravy. Gravy, for breakfast?

“There’s good news?” Charlotte asked. 

Bruce lifted the fork he was holding in his other hand and prodded one of the grilly, gravied chunks. “This bit’s steak. I could eat this bit.”

Charlotte leaned In on Bruce’s shoulder. The whiff of Number One got stronger. “Who peed?” She couldn’t help noticing that Bruce leaned into her as she did so.

He took his fork again and touched another lump. “Devilled beef kidney. God. Now I need a new fork.”

Twelve came up to them. “This is what our hosts eat.” He held up a fork filled with something gravied and unidentifiable, but which was probably more kidney. “Every cuisine has its virtues, and as guests, it is only polite to participate.” He pushed the chunk into his mouth.

Charlotte watched as Twelve chewed, chewed again, made the fish-breathing expression that revealed a gag, chewed again, and did the whole face-forward thing again. Meanwhile, his right hand had, ever so calmly, put down the fork on his plate, gone to a nearby table, and picked up a mug of black tea.

Ever so casually, he drained half the mug, washing the lump in his mouth down with it. Charlotte could smell the blend under the bergamot, so she knew how hot the tea was. Twelve’s mouth being made of Twelve’s bullet-proof skin, he didn’t exactly burn his mouth, as such, but his eyes went watery and he grimaced nakedly. “Delicious!”

“You should have seconds,” Charlotte advised. “It’s only polite.” 

“I believe I shall!” The haunted expression on Twelve’s face belied his vocal enthusiasm.

“That was mean!” Dora said, coming up behind them.

“I get that he’s trying to be all political and stuff,” Charlotte answered. “So I wouldn’t have done it if he hadn’t try to sell us on it.”

“Mmm,” Bruce said. “Steak and gravy.”

“It must be pretty awful steak if it needs gravy,” Dora said.

“Yeah, trust me on this one,” Bruce answered, “It is.”

“Eggs?” Charlotte asked.

“Apparently, eggs and sausages are low class or something. There’s toast, though.”

Charlotte perked up for a second, until she saw what Bruce was waving his fork at. A pile of blackened boards on a giant plate in the middle of the table. “Burned toast?”

“They do it deliberately,” Bruce answered.

“Must be hard to tell if you’re having a heart attack around here,” Charlotte mused.

“Which is kind of what the breakfast is aiming for, you’d think,” Dora supplied.

“Is Twelve going to come back?” Charlotte asked. “I want to see if I can dare him to eat one of those fish things.”

“Kippered herring,” Rose said.

Charlotte was used to her friend, so she didn’t jump. “Where’ve you been?”

“On a run down to the nearest modern sector.”

“You hit a Mickie D!” Charlotte said. She thought she’d recognised that smell.

“I’m sorry, I only had enough for a value breakfast for me!”

Charlotte glared at her friend.

“Things are expensive ‘round here,” Bruce said. “I went into a 7-11 last night, and the candy bars were, like, five bucks each. For a Payday. Like, seriously, dude.”

“Creatures of the Night need candy bars? Also, if you couldn’t afford breakfast for us, what’s in the bag?”

“Why, thank you, Sister Eley,” Eldritch said, materialising next to her and plucking the package out her hand. “Quinoa granola, skim milk, acai berries, and probiotic yoghurt. I made sure to get enough for you all!”

Frying pan, fire, etc. But Dora stepped over to the table and picked up a jug. “You know what’s in here?”

Charlotte looked at her friend. “Cream!”

And so it came to pass that the team had granola with heavy cream and strawberry preserves for breakfast, while all the grown-ups, hippies and Old-Timey Mutton-Chop-and-Devilled-Kidney-Are-So-Too-Okay-For-Breakfast types looked on in horror. 

My friends, Charlotte thought, rule. Even Twelve, who was the one who found the preserves.

After breakfast, Eldritch led them out into the street. “Are we taking your van to the library?” Bruce asked.

“No,” Eldritch said, “We are not. It’s a little… under the weather. And you all need to learn to be self-sufficient in this town.”

“We’re taking the loser cruiser,” Brian said, speaking for the first time. Brian, in general, did not do mornings.

“You are learning about Babylon’s Public Transit Authority, a first class public amenity for the greatest human city in the multiverse.”

“Luckily for me, I remembered not to shower already!” Charlotte pointed out.

“Hello, bus driver?” Bruce asked the air. “I need you to call 9-1—1. Someone just kidnapped my invisible friend and is holding her hostage.”

Dora held her phone above them and clicked. “I’m the bitch keepin’ it live and keepin’ it hot” came spilling out at approximately one decibel above “Death by Earhole Stabbing.” 

A copy of something called Also Sprache Zarathustra appeared in Rose’s hand. When Charlotte glared at her, Rose flicked the cover to show the cover of Divergent camouflaged underneath. Rose stuck her tongue out at Charlotte, and Charlotte stuck hers out back.

“Isn’t it Ride Without Pants Day?” Brian asked.

“No,” Twelve said. “You know, you guys are being awfully elitist right now.”

“Every day should be Ride Without Pants Day,” Brian said firmly, unbuckling his nicely destroyed blue jeans and making to pull them down.

“Enough!” Eldritch said. “You need a way to get to the Library when I’m not with you, and it is only two stops away on the 42 Express, which runs every twenty minutes, night and day on this route, and is virtually empty on this leg on weekends.”

Well, that was impressive, Charlotte thought. They’d made Doctor Hippie lose it. Good. The whole “Brothers” and “Sisters” thing was beginning to grate. Maybe he’d start acting like a grownup now.

No such luck, unfortunately, Instead, Eldritch led them in silence down the hill to a point where the streets turned insensibly into the wide, asphalt-paved roads and close-packed, flat-roofed, single-storied buildings that spelled “City” to Charlotte, but which she suddenly realised she’d missed in the Philadelphia of 2012. They did not stay there for very long, however, passing down past two cross streets to suddenly stand on the edge of a massive concrete berm above an eight-lane, divided highway with a median strip so wide it had room for a forest behind its concrete dividers, and a wide, shallow stairway (complete with wheelchair ramp that led down to a bus loop on a massive pullout. The bus rolled up a moment after they’d arrived, and Eldritch handed them semester student passes, complete with their school photos, as the kids boarded in order.

Charlotte pouted. It was like Eldritch had planned and arranged everything. Successfully! That wasn’t what hippies did. Well, it was what this hippie did. Stupid stereotypes. It made Charlotte want to kung-fu kick something.

Two stops later, as advertised, they were at the Library, and Charlotte forgot everything else.




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