There are Very Important Clues as to which Philadelphia area university is near the Wong house in this chapter. However, the student activity area described is the club common room at the old Student Union Building at the University of British Columbia. I take no responsibility for describing the architecture of that other school.
An Arthur Erikson original! (That means that the roof leaks and the internal layout is bizarre. It might also mean that the Alma Mater Society can't tear it down and build something twice as big in its place. Oh noes, serves you right for hiring a Famous Architect!
Book 5, Chapter 8: Out of Character
“So,” Dora whispered. “Was he a good kisser?”
Charlotte turned back from the door to the algebra classroom to look at her friend. She clasped her books to her chest even harder, sure that Madison was looking at her and judging her top. Why, Charlotte wondered, for the millionth time, had she opted for the pink tee with the “Love is the New Hate” logo picked out in sequins. It was just too . . . Well, in fairness to her state of mind in the morning, when she’d rushed into the Yurt to change, shower and dress, she wasn’t sure what was wrong with it, just that Madison’s look was spoiling the mood.
“Well . . .” Charlotte began to answer, and paused. Because, absolutely cross-her-heart, she’d answered this a million times already, and two answers that came to mind exactly immediately, were making her feel funny. She had no idea what was good and what was bad? That was sort of true. That it depended on how it made her feel, she guessed, and it made her feel good, but not as good as she thought she could feel, but that Scout was trying? What kind of answer was that?
It was a true answer, and one that made her feel funny at the same time. So she could say that, and Dora could help her figure it out, because that was what friends did. Sure, there was that.
At last, “I’m not sure I want to talk about it any more.”
Dora finished stepping out into the locker-lined hall, and turned on Charlotte, making the pleats in her incredibly cute, just-too-short skirt fly. “Hello, pod person? Can you at least tell me where you took the real Charlotte? Like, flying saucer? Underground base? Alien planet?”
“It’s,” Charlotte began, before falling back on blowing her bangs out of her eyes. “. . .”
“Say ‘complicated,’ and you die, Wong!”
Rose walked up to them, strawberry-blonde hair pulled back in a tight know, wearing a Study-Girl MIT sweatshirt and jeans that made Charlotte feel super-daring for wearing Lulu Lemon yoga pants to school. There wasn’t much point in her taking high school math, so she got a spare, instead, because she was such a nerd that she actually went to the library and studied during it.
Well, so did Charlotte, in her spares, but that was because Auntie Ma would crack her behind like a fortune cookie if she didn’t. What the fortune would be, Charlotte didn’t know, but probably something about embarrassing every Wong on Earth if she got less than 98% on the next algebra test. There were a lot of Wongs, Charlotte thought. Lots of Earths in the dimensions, too, she added to herself. Probably Wongs on Landing, too.
“Hola, Dora,” Rose said.
Dora’s eyes glinted like a cat that’s tired of a kitten bugging it, but, apparently, she decided that it wasn’t the time. “Just in time! You take Char Char by one arm, I’ll grab her by the legs, and we’ll crack her open.
So it wasn’t just Auntie Ma, then, Charlotte thought.
“Wait. What are we cracking out of her?”
“Details!” Dora exclaimed. “Juicy, juicy, Teen Cosmo details!”
Rose rolled her eyes at that. “And if Char Char’s not comfortable with that?”
“Oh, she’d be comfy if she wasn’t touchy about Ol’ Stink-Eye over there.”
Rose peaked through the door and waved at Bruce, who was still sitting in the class, slouched over his desk like a stoner, right behind Madison. Charlotte was surprised to see him wave back. She’d figured he was going to be off in Self-Pityvania for the duration.
“Is he dropping the jealousy track?” Rose asked. “Seriously? He had his chance.”
“Could be,” Dora said. “Twelve says its because he got too far into character and did something dumb last night.”
“Oh, jeez,” Rose answered. “As in, Dark Knight Returns? Throw an informant off a roof, or something like that?”
Charlotte really, really hoped not. Frank Miller had based a bunch of Dark Knight Returns on Bruce’s Grand-dad’s last case, and sometimes Bruce took it way too seriously. Also, she hoped that Bruce was jealous as –rude word—about her – Even in her mind, Charlotte’s thoughts bogged down at the realisation that she’d had a makeout session with Scout last night. Oh. My. God, for the millionth time.
So why was she tired of talking about it all of a sudden. Well, not all of a sudden. Since . . . No, not since Madison glared at her. Before that. Since Bruce did. What the heck? Get a hold of yourself, girl!
“Guys,” she said, “Sorry to dish and run, but I have a spare last period, and I think I’m going to check out that Chapel of Kilburn at the university.”
“Point of order,” Rose said. “Dishing is what you have not done.”
Charlotte was beginning to feel a bit impatient. “We talked about it at recess. We talked about it at lunch. We’ll text each other about it tonight. Right now, I’m bailing.”
Dora shifted her books in her grip to free up one hand to point an accusing index finger at her own eyes. “You notice the stink-eye? Because I am giving you the stink-eye right now, Char Char. Rose is giving you the stink-eye. Everyone is giving you the stink-eye. But you do not care, because you are all about cruelly tormenting your friends and keeping all your secrets. Well, don’t come crying to us when your sparkly-vampire baby is. . . Uhm, can we get back to this conversation after I’ve reread Breaking Dawn and have an idea what actually happened?”
“Jacob turns into creepy-uncle-werewolf,” Rose helped.
“Oh, wait. It’s not that I didn’t know. It’s that I was repressing,” Dora said. “Anyway, point is, if Charlotte doesn’t tell us all about it, things are going to go all weird and sad and depressing, and a billion teen girls will cry out in anguish and be suddenly silenced. Or, at least, WTFed.”
“That,” Charlotte said, “Is certainly a thing that could happen. And by ‘could,’ I mean ‘couldn’t.’ Can I trust you two to follow up on checking out the Drama Club supply closet after school today? There’s enough secret passages in the Old Schoolhouse that I wouldn’t be surprised for a second that there’s a straight tunnel to Panther Heights Mall or Bruce’s basement in there.”
“Can we trust you not to get into a brawl up and down Lancaster Avenue, swinging sorority girls by the ankles, Gorilla Stance-style?”
“The university doesn’t have sororities, and the Eight Spirit Dragon style doesn’t have a Gorilla Stance. Although, considering Cousin Henry, it probably should. Point of order right back at you, by the way. Plus, also, Ta!”
Charlotte gave her friends the puppet-talking goodbye flap with her upraised hand as she hiked herself and her books well away from . . . from whatever. She didn’t know.
A moment later, and she was on the road, pedalling like mad, because she was a teen sleuth, and she was on a mission. Except that she wasn’t one of those teen sleuths with a car. Veronica Mars had her LeBaron. Nancy Drew had a car. She should definitely, Charlotte thought, as she wheeled up the alley behind the Yurt, taking the bumps and cracks of the pavement that had just about given up being pavement with flexed knees, bring this up with Uncle Henry. College cost, like, a million dollars these days, anyway. What was the price of a blue roadster out of her inheritance?
Oh, yeah, she thought some more, as she fumbled her bike into the back yard through the old wooden gate under the pagoda-style threshold. That would be just the approach to take with Uncle Henry. About as likely as telling him that she needed to go to Australia for a year before college to find herself, like May had done the other day, just to wind him up.
Buffy didn’t have a car, though, so there was that. Didn’t even have a boyfriend with a car. Maybe Scout had a horse? Wow, Charlotte thought as she paced up the flagstone walk through the back garden. Where did that come from. Was she thinking of Scout as her boyfriend? Heavy.
Up the porch steps at a dash, through the back door, into the kitchen. Amy was there, with a plate of fresh egg custard buns and a milk tea, better with the sweet buns than chai or her mother’s weird, but not-bad butter tea. “Hey. Is the Dragon Lady around?” Charlotte didn’t like the nickname the Rugrats used for Auntie Ma, but that way she didn’t have to say, “your Mom.”
Amy shook her head for no. “Mmm mmm,” she followed up, urgently, pointing desperately to a full mouth. Charlotte sat down to wait for her cousin to finish.
At last, “Hey, what can you tell us about a Malvan named Diavolo?”
Wow. That took her back. “Lots! You need to know now?”
“Why? You in a hurry?”
“Kind of, need to follow up a lead at the university.”
“We’ve got ‘till after school, tomorrow. We’re going to the Moon after school to look him up. Some weird Malvan stuff going on up there. So what’s this about you playing tonsil hockey with Scout last night?”
Now, Charlotte felt like talking. Felt like it a lot, actually. Two things stopped her. First, there was business. She needed to follow up on the Kilburn lead, the sooner the better. And, besides, she’d told Rose and Dora she would. Second, when Amy said “we,” chances were, that meant her boyfriend was in her head. Well, in one way, whatever. If you were a telepath, you’d probably be in each other’s head all the time. In another way, it was kind of creepy, the way telepaths were, mostly, to non-telepaths.
Finally, “I will most def tell you all about it after I get back.”
“For sure?” Amy looked back at her with an expression that let Charlotte know that she’d heard about her brushing Rose and Dora off, and thinking about it, Charlotte flushed with guilt.
Well, she did feel like talking about it now. She just couldn’t, and that thought gave her the strength to project certainty as she said, “Tonight. It’s on like Donkey Kong.”
“Meanwhile, I’ll let Mom know that you checked in, and you’ll be back right after. You know she’ll be all drills, sparring, meditation, homework, piano practice, Chinese lessons, all that stuff, right?”
The weight of obligation almost crushed Charlotte. But it was for her own good. “Got it.”
So, an hour of freedom, then, she thought, as she hit the bike path that ran down beside the turnpike towards the university. The Kilburnists were a student club, and there were literally a million student clubs, including a whole bunch of Big Sister-types, so none of the students gave Charlotte much attention as she wheeled up in front of the hall where the club offices were. She locked up her bike and helmet, and went up the stairs two at a time.
Charlotte wasn’t honestly sure exactly how you went about this detective stuff. It would be one thing if she could go in uniform, show off her PRIMUS badge (hopefully no-one would look at it closely and see that it was basically a “Junior Achievers” certificate) and be all, just the facts, ma’am. Or sir, since there were some boys at the university. She’d decided not to go that route, though, so as far as the students in the club were concerned, she was just an interested high school student. A Jesus-botherer, as Twelve would say. Except not Jesus, Kilburn.
She really wished she had Bruce with her. He’d know what to say. And he wouldn’t be so embarrassed to be here that he’d hesitate for, like, forever at the door of the club.
Well, this wasn’t helping, she finally decided, and stuck her head in. It was a big room, with heavy tables spread through it, and office doors all along the side. In the middle, one row of tables were pushed together, and a woman was folding up a parachute on them.
Charlotte guessed that if you worshipped the Skyfather and knew literally nothing about him, parachuting was as good a thing to do as whatever. “Hi? Are you with the Student Campaign for Kilburn?”
The parachute-packing girl nearly jumped out of her skin, spinning around with an angry look in her face and pausing for a moment to get herself under control. Finally, “Sorry, no. One of the execs is around. I think she went out for a smoke. Parachutists. We share this room with twenty clubs. Can I help you, or do you just want to catch up with your buddies?”
Charlotte cocked her head. “The greaser and the big boy. Oh, and the weird jock, the one who smells like a dog, before them.”
Charlotte had an idea who the first two were. The “jock who smelled like a dog” had to be one of the werewolves. And that was a curious fact. Not as curious as this too-tightly-wound parachutist, at least right now, though. She had no idea what to say that wouldn’t start some kind of weird fight, so she shook her head, instead.
But that wouldn’t do, and, finally, she took a chance. “Where?”
“Smoke breaks? There’s a balcony. You can get out to it from the next room down. That’s where your buddies and the hippy-dippy High Priestess of the Sky are.”
Charlotte followed the hooking thumb. The door to the next room, which was closed but not latched. It was set up as a meeting room. A whiteboard at the front read, “Not Amway,” and, under that, in smaller letters, “New Amway.” Set around the room were windows looking out over the leafy campus, and the balcony where people took their smoke breaks.
Or, you know, fought for their lives against three of Doctor Yin Wu’s most deadly warriors, as Bruce and Billy Tatum were doing out on the balcony right now under the obscuring haze of a ninja mist.
Charlotte deployed her fatigues and pulled the Pearl Harmony Sword out of its pocket dimension carrying space, while Ginger settled on the balcony rail, just around the corner of the building from the fight.
It was nice, Charlotte thought with a bit of a smirk, to be the one doing the surprise attackingfor a change.
Sword up, she ran out onto the balcony. “St. Elizabeth and the Holy Sangha!” This was what being a paladin was about, Charlotte thought, as she hit the winter air with a face still warm with the ride behind her, grinning, ready for action, striking Copper Spear’s weapon out of his hands before he even realised that he was in danger from behind.
As the magic weapon spiralled, end over end, down into the green of the university campus, Charlotte realised that it felt really, really good to be rescuing Bruce.