W.I.T.C.H. Fan Fiction ❯ My Niece ❯ Day 3 ( Chapter 3 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
Page 1

Day 3
The next morning started much the same way as it did the last morning: with Sven wanting to be fed by Wilma instead of me. This time, though, Wilma just asked how many scoops of food I needed to give Sven. After telling her again that Sven was only to get one scoop of food, I began to force myself out of bed and into my bathrobe and moccasins. Like before, I asked her what she wanted for breakfast, but this time she didn’t know what she wanted. Responded to this, I simply pulled down a box of corn flakes and grabbed some milk and orange juice. After they were on the table, I got some bowls and spoons. “If you want cereal, there it is.” I told Wilma as I began to put the corn flakes into my bowl. After staring at the empty bowl, Wilma then did the same.
Beyond that, breakfast was a rather quiet affair. Neither of us really spoke much if at all; we were both more concentrated on our cereal than on anything else. After both of us were finished and everything was cleaned up and put away, I then walked back to my bedroom to get dressed. I came out to see Wilma once again sitting on the couch with Sven on her lap. “Is it just me, or this going to be the way things are while you’re here?” I said.
“What do you mean?” Wilma asked, looking rather puzzled.
“Well, several times now I’ve seen you sitting on this couch here with Sven on your lap. If it continues like this, I might just think of you as a fixture in my main room!” I responded.
Wilma didn’t say anything, and her face was difficult to read; I couldn’t tell if she was confused or irritated, but I didn’t really have the time to dwell on it. “Anyway, I’m going out to church. I’ll be…”
“Church? I thought only pagans live here!” Wilma said, rather shocked.
“No, there are some Christians here, and I’m one of them.” I said. “As I was saying, I’ll be back in about two hours at most. And as with yesterday on my business trip, try not to destroy anything if you can help it.”
“OK then. But… well, you know…”
“What does that mean?”
“Well, eh, it just feels kind of weird. I mean, it just feels awkward having to watch over house of a person I don’t even know, especially when I have to use that stupid niece cover-up.”
I kind of felt sick when I heard the word ‘niece’ pop up, and while it wasn’t a cover-up, I didn’t know how best to say it to her. The best I could say was, “I understand what you mean, Wilma. If you could come up with a better cover-up, go with it. Now, if you don’t mind, I really need to get going.” And with that, I headed out the door to go to church.
The church that I went to had no real name, though it was oftentimes called a Hidden House of Mindlessness by the locals, especially the old-timers. Being that it was in Whitesage, it was an overly liberal interpretation of Christianity, or in other words, its overall gospel was based on how to relate to Jesus’ life and teachings in today’s world, instead of trying to live in a way that was at best archaic and at worst regressive.
The church itself was located within my section of Whitesage, which made travel to it particularly convenient. But it was easy to miss, as it was quite small. The building was surrounded by all sides except the front with shrubs and trees, both to improve the general aesthetics of the grounds and to better please the religious majority of Whitesage in what I saw was a futile attempt to hide the building. The building itself was an insulated concrete form, and was lined with a façade of bricks. Perhaps the most striking part of the entire church was its glass roof, which provided plenty of natural light to come in when the conditions were right and helped to create a rich religious atmosphere during the sermons, especially at night. Otherwise, it was a very plain church, and to some Christians it felt a bit uninviting.
I had not missed a religious gathering at the church since I got here, and I certainly wasn’t going to miss this one because I needed to talk about my situation with the pastor of the church, Father Samuel Mannahan.
The church service was like just about like other non-holiday services that I had known before. But unlike past times, where I listened intently to the sermon, I was preoccupied with what I needed to tell Father Mannahan and how to best say it. After all, letting a girl into your house who happens to be your niece that you’ve never known in the past is not exactly a topic one hears on an average basis, and especially in a religious setting. Still, this was the best place to get guidance on how to deal with problems such as this within the religion I had chosen.
After the sermon, I was in the foyer area; it was where Father Mannahan talked with some of the parishioners about their issues in their lives after the official stuff was taken care of. It took me a little while before I got my chance to speak with him, which was expected since I always sat up close to the front of the congregation, and those that spoke to him first were always in or near the back. Thankfully, Father Mannahan knew me very well, and was quick to spot me. After pulling himself through the small crowd, he said, “Hi Arthur. Is there something you need to speak of?”
“Yes, but I can’t talk about it here.” I responded. “I’ll wait in my usual pew to talk about it when you’re done with everyone else.”
“I understand.” With that, I headed back to my pew and sat down, all the while thinking about what to say to him. All of the thoughts regarding this were trying to create coherent responses to the things I would be asking him. I knew for a fact though that it would be perhaps harder to talk with him than I did anyone else up to this point because of his profession and the weirdness of the whole story.
It was about ten minutes before Father Mannahan got back to me. As he walked towards me, I noticed that he seems a little tired, which I couldn’t blame him because of the number of problems he needed to address; I guess I never really noticed. He sat down next to me and said, “OK Arthur, what seems to be bothering you?”
I took a big swallow and said, “Sam, I have a significant family issue that I would like some ethical clarity on, if you don’t mind.”
“Of course I don’t mind, but that sounds rather odd coming from you.” Father Mannahan said. “After all, the last time you had any family issues was when we first met, and it was about your half-brother.”
“Thankfully, it does not revolve around my half-brother, at least not directly. It instead revolves around his daughter, or technically speaking, my niece.”
“His daughter? I thought that Tony didn’t have any offspring during his short marriage.”
“That’s what I thought too, until last Friday night. That’s when the house of cards caved in.”
“How so?”
I then began to explain everything up to this current point, being sure to leave out the noose bit and anything else that would upset Father Mannahan. I noticed that his facial expressions seemed to be a mixture of shock and bewilderment as I talked, which I expected from him. When I was done explaining to him all that had happened, all he could say was, “Wow. That is a VERY odd story. Are you sure you’re not making it up?”
“I swear on the divine’s honor that what I have told you is the truth. I would not lie to it, and so therefore I would not lie to you.”
“I see. Now, eh, what exactly do you want me to help with? I mean, I’ve never dealt with something quite of this magnitude.”
“Well, I think the things she might need the most is some sort of guidance. Perhaps what she needs the most is a father figure in her life, as she does not have one. I hope that, for the time being, I can fill that role.”
“Yes, that would make some sense in trying to help her. Granted, it won’t work nearly as well as actually having a father in her life on a daily basis, but it should do an adequate job. Certainly long enough to get her back on her feet as well as her senses.” After a short pause, Father Mannahan said, “Eh, I know that this sounds rather rude, but does she seem like a religious person?”
“I highly doubt it.” I answered. “I mean, this is Canada, not some semi-developed or undeveloped country. Or the southern portions of Stupidia. That been said, she did seem interested when I told her about the general history of Whitesage and its religious origins.”
“Ah. That might be a good jumping off point. Maybe you should take her around to some religious groups here and see if she begins to develop a bond with one of them.”
“Yeah. I was also thinking that, knowing that she was seriously bored being stuck at my house all of yesterday, that it would be a good idea to send her out for some job shadows, just so that she can better plan her life from this point onwards.”
“That’s also a good idea, Arthur. I also think that, if necessary, it would be a good idea to send her off on some of our unique therapies to get her back to a sane plane. After all, if we don’t uncork the negative feelings inside of her, it won’t make much of a difference on what else is done to help her.”
“I’ll see about that, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I go through with it, knowing what she did.” After a short pause, I then said, “Well, I better get back home. I think that I’ll take her off to The Mystic’s Emporium for a job shadow and see where that goes; I would like to keep a close eye on her anyway.”
“I understand, Arthur.” Father Mannahan said. “If you need anything, you know where to find me.”
“OK, then. I’ll see you around whenever.” And with that, I stood up from the pew and walked out of the church.
I walked back home, all the while thinking about the discussions I had with Father Mannahan regarding Wilma and what to do with her for the week. I was happy that things turned out as well as they did, but at the same time I felt a little uneasy about whether or not I could pull it off; after all, I had no real experience being a parent for any age group, so I was really walking blind in how to best do things. Boy am I in for it this week, I thought to myself. How in the right mind am I supposed to guide this girl without either of us blowing a fuse? I mean, it is one thing to settle a disgruntled shopper, since one only gets to deal with them for a short period of time. But I have to take care of someone like this for a whole week! And I still barely know this girl! Those thoughts dissipated the moment I reached home. Inside I saw Sven sleeping on his doggy bed, but Wilma was nowhere to be seen.
“Wilma!” I called out, hoping that she hadn’t done anything stupid while I was gone. Thankfully, I then heard her say, “I’m in the guest room!”
Relieved, I went over to the guest room door and knocked on it. I then said, “Is it OK if I could come in?”
After a brief pause, Wilma said, “I suppose.”
I walked in to see Wilma sprawled out on the folding mat; she must have fallen asleep while I was gone. Despite her position, she didn’t look the least bit tired. “Are you OK?” I asked.
“Eh, I don’t know.” She responded.
“What you mean, ‘I don’t know?’ You are either OK or you’re not. That answer doesn’t make any sense.”
“Well, neither was that point of you saying you were going to church; you said that this place was a pagan community! What would Kyle think of this?”
“I doubt that he would like it. Of course, it’s kind of hard to tell, since no one has seen him since 1980.”
“What happened to him?”
“Well, Robert Red Sage died in that year, and his last request was that he be buried on his tribal reservation grounds. Kyle personally took on the responsibility of burying his longtime friend, and it was done since we received word from him from Robert’s tribal area, but he disappeared on the way back. No one has seen or heard of him since, and officially speaking, the Whitesage government says he’s missing and presumed dead.”
“Well, that aside, why is there Christians in a pagan community? And for that matter, what are pagans anyway?”
“Hm. Those are two very good questions to ask regarding Whitesage and its religious makeup, but the first question is rather difficult to answer. The other question asked is somewhat more straightforward to answer. And since I promised to tell you what the pagan religions are about, it would be in our best interests to get it out of the way.”
“Yeah, it has been on my mind ever since you told me about them.”
“OK. But if you could excuse me for a second, I’d like to call Bryan.”
“Who’s Bryan?”
“He’s technically my boss.”
“Where do you work?”
“I work at a place called The Mystic’s Emporium.”
“And that is..?”
“It’s kind of like a store that sells all sorts of new age and alternative goods, most of it geared towards the pagan community. But I need to talk to Bryan to see if it’s OK for you to do a job shadow over there, provided that you want to do it.”
“Well, it certainly beats just sitting around here; OK, I’ll do it.”
“I was hoping to hear that, Wilma. Now, if you could excuse me for a minute, I’ll make the call.” And with that, I picked up the phone and dialed in the number. After the second tone, I heard Bryan’s familiar voice over the phone: “This is The Mystic’s Emporium of Whitesage; Bryan speaking.”
“Hi Bryan. It’s me, Arthur.” I said.
“Oh hi Arthur. Eh, how has your weekend gone so far?”
“It’s been hectic. Eh, listen Bryan, I would like to ask you for permission for something.”
“And that would be…”
“Well, I just got a visit from a student outside of Whitesage who is planning on doing some job shadows in the area, and one of her locations she singled out was our place. So, technically speaking, would it be OK for her to conduct a job shadow for our place?”
“I suppose so, in as long as she got permission from her headmaster.”
“Yes I did; I talked to her yesterday after getting my business cleared up.”
“Oh yeah, the business from yesterday; everyone had been talking about it back here at work. So, what was that all about?”
“I’d rather not talk about it right now; maybe later.”
“I see. Well, I’ll see the both of you soon.”
“Thanks Bryan. Bye.” I hung up the phone, turned over to Wilma, and said, “You got approved. You can come with me to work today.”
For the first time since she had been here, I saw her smile, though it was so subtle that many wouldn’t have even noticed. I myself wouldn’t have noticed it if I hadn’t been looking directly at her face. After getting over the look on Wilma’s face, I then said, “OK, Wilma. Let’s get going.”
“All right, Arthur.” She replied, her smile fading. “But you still have to tell me about what these ‘pagans’ are.”
“I know. Just one thing though: you might want to get a jacket on. It is October after all.”
With that, Wilma went back into the guest room to grab her jacket; as she did so, I did the same with my jacket from the closet. I then got Sven hooked up to his leash, and waited for Wilma to show up. It wasn’t a long wait for Wilma, and with that, we all left the house, being sure to have things locked before we left.
“OK, now that we’ve left the house, can you PLEASE tell me what paganism is?” Wilma said after I got the house locked up.
“Yeah, I know I promised you that, though the first thing about paganism is that we should, from this point forward, call it Neo-Paganism.” I replied.
“Neo-Paganism? Why call it that?”
“Well, there are a few reasons. First, we need to consider the age in which these faiths were formed. Since nearly all of these faiths came into existence in the last 50 years or so, they are considered new. Neo technically means new or modern. Hence, we are talking about modern pagans.”
“OK, that makes some sense. What are the other two reasons for its name?”
“The second reason is to make the religious movement less threatening to those who aren’t Neo-Pagans, those it hasn’t worked very well.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Well, outside of Whitesage, the ideas of Neo-Paganism as so radically different from most mainstream religions that whenever someone publically identifies with it, they end up suffering from discrimination. That’s why it’s so hard to know the actual number of Neo-Pagans in the world because nearly all of them keep their religious lives private.”
“Hm. I didn’t know that normal people had such a negative view of such ideas. But then again, I don’t have a real interest in world religions outside of what you told me last evening.” She then paused for a minute and said, “So what’s the other reason?”
“Group ownership. It’s a long story, and no one really wants to talk about it.”
“Oh. OK, well that… Hey, wait a minute! That doesn’t tell me anything about who these people are at all!”
“I was getting to that Wilma.”
“Oh. Sorry. So what exactly is Neo-Paganism?”
“That has to be one of the hardest questions to answer in all of religious studies, Wilma. And the reason I say this is because Neo-Paganism is an overly broad group to cover, as there are so many groups in that can fit into it, and many of those groups have sub-groups. I think the best I can explain it is that Neo-Paganism faiths are those based on experience, rather than belief.”
“So, in other words, Neo-Pagans don’t believe in things that they have not experienced.”
“That’s correct, at least as far as I know. And though I’d hate to admit it, even though I’ve been calling this place home for quite some time now, I’m still learning stuff about Neo-Paganism.”
“Wow. I didn’t know it was like that.” Once again there was a pause, and then Wilma said, “So, when Whitesage was first formed, how many of these Neo-Pagans were there?”
“They made up about 90% of the population, so over 250 using the official records as a guide. Today that ratio has shrunk dramatically, down to roughly 55%. Even so, that’s a lot of Neo-Pagans living here when one considers the fact that there are about 17,700 people living here.”
“That’s… that’s a lot of Neo-Pagans, Arthur.”
“Yes it is… eh, are you all right Wilma?”
“Yes, I’m fine. It’s just that I didn’t know how many were here, and I didn’t expect so hear such a high number.”
“Yeah, I kind of get what you’re coming at. Of course, as I said before, not all Neo-Pagans are the same. There are many groups of Neo-Paganism out there, and I myself have found it a little easier to break it down into its constituent parts.”
“And these parts are…”
“Well, let me explain. If one uses a pie chart as a guide, one will see four separate pieces to it, each one a bit different from its cousins. The most significant piece belongs to Wicca; roughly half of the Neo-Pagan population is a part of it.”
“Wicca… You know, I’ve heard of it before, but I just can’t put my finger on its source.”
“Wicca, at least in a popular sense, has connections to witchcraft.”
“Oh, now I remember! I had heard about in a history class regarding Europe during the Middle Ages, and… and…” Wilma stopped. I noticed that something was troubling her, for she looked somewhat depressed. In response, I then said, “Is something wrong?”
“Well, maybe.” Wilma said in a half-whisper. She then quickly said, “Eh, it was a bad memory. I don’t want to talk about it.” It was almost as if she knew what I would do next, and she didn’t want the conversation to go off-course to something more personal.
“That’s fine.” I replied. “I understand how you feel being in a weird place after a series of traumatic events. You can tell me about it tonight if you feel like it.”
“OK. So what is Wicca?”
“Well, that is like the ‘what is Neo-Paganism’ question all over again, though it’s even harder to come up with an answer. Outside of the usual Neo-Pagan bondage, Wicca in a traditional sense worships both god and goddess figures, and that they can manifest themselves into a form within our realm. Wiccans of all stripes also follow a particular ethical code that basically says ‘As long as it harms no one else, you can do what you please’.”
“Wiccans? Traditional sense?”
“Wiccans are what followers of Wicca are called. As for that point of ‘traditional sense’, I know that sounds like a major oxymoron, but I do mean that: though all Wiccans accept the second point, that being the code of conduct, there are some Wiccans who only worship the goddess and not the god. Those that do so are known as Dianic Wiccans, or feminist Wiccans. As you might expect, only women are part of those groups.”
“I see. And how many of these Dianic Wiccans live here?”
“About a fifth or so of the overall Wiccan population are Dianics. And another point should be made about their ethical code, better known as the Wiccan Rede.”
“Is that the ‘As long as it harms no one’ bit?”
“Yes. It actually states that while one can exercise your freedom to do what you want, it cannot infringe on the rights of other people, or even one’s best interests. This goes further than preventing physical and/or emotional pains on other people, as most religions stress.”
“Interesting. But here’s something I don’t understand, Arthur. If Wicca has connections with… well, you know. If that’s the case, then how did it survive?”
“I certainly don’t know, and there’s no definite answer to that question. You can get about as many different answers from as many people who know the subject competently.”
“Then how did Wicca become like this?”
“In other words, it’s history.”
“I see. So who started the whole thing?”
“As far as I know, Wicca in its current form can trace its roots to one Gordon Gabbert.”
“Who’s he?”
“Gordon was an eccentric who was as a civil servant, anthropologist, archeologist, writer, and weaponry expert during his lifetime. According to legend, he first discovered Wicca in 1939 when he and his wife viewed a theatre production regarding the life and times of Pythagoras. The group that ran the theater happened to be a group of Wiccans.”
“So, what you’re implying was that Wicca was already in existence at the time.”
“Yes it was, though it’s hard to believe knowing the cultural mores of the day.”
“Geez. I… I don’t know what to say.”
“You don’t have to, Wilma. Now as I was saying…
I’m not overly sure about much of what happened after that, but he must have been initiated into a coven, or a small group of Wiccans who take part in religious ritual. It was from these experiences that in 1954, under a pen-name Gordon published an expose into the World of Wicca.”
“He wrote a BOOK about this topic? In 1954?”
“Yes he did. And he wrote a follow-up book in 1959 which was mostly a rebuttal of misconceptions about Wicca.”
“Well, how did everyone react?”
“As you might expect, it was not well received, both from the public and from within the religion itself.”
“Well, I can understand the sentiments, on both sides.”
“And just to let you know, the public reaction was not what you’d expect: though there were a few that saw it as a form of devil-worship, which Wicca is definitely not, most people thought Gordon had gone off the deep end, and therefore thought of his writings and ideas as idiotic gibberish. But those books sowed the seeds to the religious revolution I told you about last night.”
“You mean the counterculture stuff of the second half of the 1960s.”
“So, half of all the Neo-Pagans here are Wiccans. But if that’s the case, then what makes up the other half?”
“Well, there are a few groups. If you consider the whole of the Neo-Pagan pie, 30% of the neo-pagan population claims to be reconstructionists. Or, that’s what I call them; they can also be called revivalists or pantheoners.”
“OK, none of those names make any sense to me. I mean, pantheoners? I’ve never even heard the word, much less try to guess what it means.”
“Well, pantheoners derive from the word pantheon, which in itself is a famous building in Rome. Built about 2,000 years ago, it was a temple dedicated to all of the Greco-Roman gods and goddesses.”
“Oh I get it! Pantheoners are those who worship the Greco-Roman gods and goddesses.”
“Well, that’s partially true. In actually, it refers to the worship of a certain group of gods and goddesses from a geographic region of the world. But that’s not quite accurate; if such was the case, Hindus would be called by that name as they would fit the bill, though it’s kind of hard to put them in any category, knowing how diverse their beliefs can be. Rather, pantheoners worship a specific group of gods and goddesses whose system died out long ago. Because of that, pantheoners are often called revivalists because they ‘revive’ these long-dead faiths, but because they do so only in part due to various cultural mores, I prefer to call area of religion reconstructionism, and those who practice these faiths recontrustionists.”
“Well, I was kind of right, wasn’t I?”
“Yes you were. But the Neo-Greco-Roman worshippers, or NGRs as I like to call them, make up only a small percentage. Most reconstructionists prescribe to Neo-Celticism.”
“Neo-Celticism? You mean like those in Ireland?”
“Yes, though the Celts not only existed there, but throughout Europe that was not part of the Greco-Roman world.”
“You mean the Celts were THAT far spread out?”
“Yeah, I know. I was rather surprised to learn that fact myself. Even more surprising was the fact that most of the records regarding them come from outside sources, so we’re not totally sure how accurate Neo-Celticism is compared to the original religion.”
“But if that’s the case, then how did it get started?”
“Oddly enough, it started as a joke.”
“Yes. Well, at least the modern parts did. From what I’ve been told, there were some attempts at a Celtic revival during the 19th century in the British Isles, but they were rather flimsy in their approach. Neo-Celticism in its current and most accurate form didn’t take place until 1963, at a college in Minnesota.”
“I thought that the counterculture formed during the second half of the 1960s.”
“And you’re right, Wilma. This was just a low rumbling of the volcano.”
“So what exactly happened? I mean, you said it was a joke, but from the sounds of it, I feel that it was something far more serious.”
“In a way, you’re right again. It was all about a certain rule that was in place in that college, and nearly every other college/university at the time, for that matter: one had to attend religious services at least once a week, or something along those lines. Although it was aimed primarily towards the Christians, it applied to everybody; one couldn’t escape it.
Well, even back then there was significant discontent towards the cultural mores of the time, and armed with that discontent a group of students formed the Druid Reformation Assembly, or DRA. They figured that in as long as the rule was in place, they would bend the rule so they could attend religious services to something they could connect to.”
“So how did the college respond?”
“They dropped the religious services requirement the next year. It was believed by many that the higher ups in the college thought that by dropping the religious requirements, they would disarm the DRA and therefore cause it to disband. But if that was the intention, it didn’t work, because the DRA continued to gather for religious services on a regular basis. In a way, it was a watershed moment in terms of religion in North America because it opened up the doors of religious freedom.”
“So, what happened after that?”
“I’m not overly sure, but in the mid 1980s one Ivan Bellkettle, who had connections to the DRA, formed the group called The Celtic Fellowship, though it’s almost always spoken in Gaelic. And just for the record Wilma, I cannot pronounce it. In any case, nearly all of the Neo-Celtics here have connections to it. As for the DRA, it’s still in existence, but it has become very diffuse over time.”
“Eh, Arthur, I was wondering something. As you’ve been speaking, I noticed that the group’s names often include the word druid. As a result, shouldn’t this area of worship be called Neo-Druidism?”
“Well, to most people, that’s actually what it’s called. But I don’t like this term because there were more to the Celts than just druids. There were also bards and seers as part of the higher-ups in Celtic society.”
“Interesting. So, what did each of these groups play in Celtic society?”
“As far as I know, the druids were both the religious and academic masters of society, and that has largely been true for modern druids. Bards were the entertainers and messengers of society, much like James Stone of today. Seers were the prophets of society, and functioned much the way that modern prophets do. Because all druidic circles I have seen and heard in Whitesage include bards and seers, I have always called the religion Neo-Celticism since it’s more accurate.”
“I see. So, how many of these Neo-Celts… eh, is that what we should call them?”
“Yes, Wilma.”
“OK. So as I was saying, how many of these Neo-Celts live here in Whitesage?”
“In terms of all of the recontructionist groups, Neo-Celticism makes up about 65% of the overall group, or in other words, roughly two-thirds.”
“That many?”
“Yep, they grew very quickly once the movement got going.”
“So, then who fills in the remaining third?”
“Well, after Neo-Celticism, the most prevalent reconstructionist group is Asatru?”
“Yeah, I know. It’s kind of a weird name. It can also be called Heathenism, or in today’s case, Neo-Heathenism.”
“OK, that still doesn’t tell me whose these people are.”
“Oh, right. Heathenism is basically the worship of the Norse gods and goddesses, collectively known as the Aesir.”
“So you mean the worship of individuals like Thor.”
“Exactly, though as you might imagine, there are far more gods and goddesses than just Thor; he happens to be one of the most famous of the group.”
“So, how did this group get started?”
“I’m not sure; I do know that they got started sometime in the 1960s or 1970s both in North America and in the lands that the Vikings lived in over a thousand years ago.”
“So, how many Neo-Heathens live here in Whitesage?”
“Of the overall reconstructionist picture, Neo-Heathenism makes up about 15% of the overall group, or about one-sixth. To my mind, I find that stat rather surprising.”
“Why is that?”
“The reason is because Neo-Heathenism is considered controversial among most of Neo-Pagan society.”
“Really? How so?”
“For two reasons. First, both the original Heathenism and Neo-Heathenism are more militant than other forms of Neo-Paganism. Obviously, the concept of getting into paradise only by dying in combat certainly is not considered normal by the rest of Neo-Pagan community; such an idea has since been rejected or modified by Neo-Heathens. But even with that change, the overall feel of Neo-Heathenism is very different compared to Neo-Paganism as a whole. As you might expect with such a comment, most of the Neo-Heathen population are part of the police force and similar businesses. Of course, there are those like my boss, Bryan, who are not involved with that sort of thing. Second, thanks to the perversion of bigots, many people who have studied Heathenism believe that it is racist by nature.”
“Well, quite a bit of their symbolism and ideas were adopted by the Nazis during their control of Germany. Therefore, many believe incorrectly that heathens do not tolerate other ethnicities outside of their own. But in reality, Neo-Heathens have the same general attitudes towards ethnic/religious intolerance that most people have: if one has ethnic and/or religious biases, it is not prudent to reveal them to the public, and one should NEVER act upon them, lest one wishes to be torn to pieces, both literally and metaphorically. Even so, Bryan has told me that he had to defend his faith on a number of occasions from many in the Neo-Pagan community, though by now he says that he doesn’t have to explain things as often as he did before.”
“So, is Bryan…”
“No, he is not. He’s a fairly easy person to get along with, and he has no issues with other people’s ethnicity or religion. In fact, he says that almost all of Neo-Heathens here share his views.”
“That’s good to know. It would be very awkward for me to work with someone who faith might be judgmental about rather silly things like what you described.” There was a slight pause, and then Wilma said, “So, combined between Neo-Celticism and Neo-Heathenism, they make up about five-sixths of the reconstructionist groups, right?”
“That’s right, Wilma. I will say, however, that Bryan doesn’t take sarcasm very well.”
“I guess I should’ve expected that. So, what makes up what’s left?”
“It’s pretty evenly split between the NGRs, as we discussed earlier, and a group of what is known as Neo-Kemetism, or a belief in the Egyptian pantheon. In other words, both of these two groups control about 10% of the remaining pie of the reconstructionist sector of Neo-Paganism, if not a little less than that.”
“I see. But here’s something I’ve been wondering about for a bit now, having you talk about these reconstructionist groups. Do these groups accept members in based on their ancestry?”
“That’s a good point, Wilma. To tell you the truth, though, it has not been the case. Bryan, for instance, has no known connections to any of Scandinavia, though he is a Neo-Heathen. The same is true for all of the reconstructionist groups that I have seen, though I know for a fact that the higher ups would prefer one’s ancestry to match the groups involved.”
“Well, I guess it makes sense. So after Wicca and Reconstructionism, what else is there in Whitesage in terms of Neo-Paganism?”
“I’ll tell you once we get into the shop. And speaking of such, here it is.” I said as I pointed to the sign now standing above us. Without saying much of anything, we entered. Bryan was standing by the cash register, looking over things to make sure that nothing was out of place, or at least he was until we entered the door into the shop, which rang the bell. “Oh hi, Arthur. I was wondering when you’d show up.” He said as he moved in front of the counter.
“Yeah, I know. Hopefully I’m on time for today.” I replied.
“A little bit early, which is perfectly fine with me. Oh, and who is this behind you?”
“Oh yeah, this is Wilma, the girl I talked about a bit earlier over the phone. She’s out here doing research for her newspaper on the Whitesage community.” I then turned to Wilma and said, “Wilma, this is my boss, Bryan.” Wilma sort of shrunk down a bit after I introduced her, and after I had done so, all she could do was say a low-level “Hi.” while she was twirling her hair around her finger.
“Nice to meet you Wilma. Now, I have some things in the back that need to be inventoried, so if you two could go back there and get that done for me, I’d greatly appreciate it.”
“OK, Bryan. Wilma, if you could follow me…”
And with that, the two of us moved to the backroom, where there were a larger pile of boxes on the ground. Wilma said, “We have to sort ALL of them?”
“Yes. But it isn’t as difficult as it sounds. I’ll hand you a box, and you read the label. There’s a list on the desk back there that has the entire listed inventory that we ordered. After reading the label, you check the list and if it matches an item on the inventory, you write a checkmark in the box next to the name of the item. I can then take the item off of the desk and get it opened up.”
“I see. But as we were getting into, what makes up the rest of Neo-Paganism in Whitesage?”
“Yeah, we need to continue on with this discussion. Well, after Wicca and Reconstructionism, the most prominent group in Whitesage, making up roughly 10% of the Neo-Pagan population overall, is the Church of All Worlds.”
“That doesn’t sound like a Neo-Pagan group to me.”
“True, it doesn’t sound much like the rest of the groups that I discussed so far, but it is a Neo-Pagan faith.”
“But why does it have such a goofy name?”
“Well, the major reason of the name, and for the general nature of the group, is its roots. While nearly Neo-Pagan faiths are based to various extents on past practices, the Church of All Worlds is based mostly on science fiction.”
“Science fiction!?”
“Yes. Science fiction.”
“But what exactly was it based on?”
“The Church of All Worlds has its science fiction basis on the book ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’.”
“That’s weird. I’ve never heard of that book before… Wait a second, let me guess. You own a copy of the book.”
“Yes I do. It’s also required reading in the Whitesage school system. In any case, the book revolves around an earthling raised by the inhabitants of Mars. I won’t reveal the plot to you, but in the end, the main character forms a new religion based upon his knowledge and experiences. That religion, as you might expect, is called the Church of All Worlds.”
“So then someone decided to create bring out a faith similar to what was in the book.”
“Exactly. In the second half of the 1960s, a group of avid fans of the book in Missouri created their own version of the Church of All Worlds using a combination of the ideas in the book and more traditional Neo-Paganism tenants. It didn’t take long before it became a very influential group in the Neo-Pagan community because it used to produce a magazine called the Crooked Dandelion.”
“Crooked Dandelion? What was that all about?”
‘It was just a periodical, much like Newsweek or Time, but with a concentration on the Neo-Pagan world and outlook. It ran from 1967 to 1976, and then again from 1988 to 2000. There have been some talks about restarting the Crooked Dandelion again, but no one in the Neo-Pagan community is overly sure that will happen. Nonetheless, the Church of All Worlds has played a significant role in the overall scheme of things, and it has been said that it’s the fastest growing branch of Neo-Paganism today.”
“Why would that be?”
“No one is really sure, but I theorize that the reason is due to the fact that most of your generation is more technology-savvy than the previous generations ever were. This is especially true in Whitesage, where much of the adult community still tries to live with pre-industrial revolution technology whenever possible, but their offspring are beginning to not only accept technology like computers and cell phones, but are actually embracing them. The Church of All Worlds, being based somewhat on science fiction, is more easily adapted to their lifestyle than its cousins.”
“Well, when you put it that way, it sounds right. So, between Wicca, Reconstructionism, and the Church of All Worlds, what else is there to be offered in terms of Neo-Paganism?”
“Not much more than those three, Wilma. Of the remaining 10% of the Neo-Pagan picture, it’s mostly scattered about various eclectic groups that are too small and/or disorganized to see a real increase in their numbers. The exception to that would be voodoo, as there are a few voodoo practitioners here, but not enough of them to be listed separately in the demographics table.”
“Well, at least that answers my original question, but I still have little to go on to the other part of my question.”
“About Christianity here in Whitesage and how it got established?”
“Well, eh, yes… but now I also want to know what other faiths reside here, outside of Neo-Paganism.”
“I see. The original answer to this second question would be about that there are not that many Christians here to begin with, and that the church here had to make special concessions in order to establish itself, and even then some Neo-Pagans consider us as somewhat backward in the overall scheme of things. But as your question has morphed into something a bit more complex, the answer will have to be modified.”
“Well, even then, I got quite a bit out of that response. But still, what is your new answer?”
“It depends on when in time your question is asked. When it was first in existence, the minorities of faith were of the Vedic variety, that being Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. These days, the two biggest non Neo-Pagan religions are Sikhism and Baha’i, though at about 10% each of the populace, they can hardly be called mainstream.”
I kind of saw Wilma make a bit of a face, as if she thought I was making stuff up. I then quickly said, “They’re real religions, Wilma; trust me.”
“Well, OK.” Wilma responded, though a bit hesitantly. “It’s just that I’ve never heard of these groups before. Or, if I had heard of them, I have forgotten about them.”
“I understand what you’re getting at. Most of us Westerners have little understanding of world religions outside of Christianity and Judaism. The reaction you provided me is perfectly understandable.”
“So, what then are these religions?”
“Well, for Sikhism, I think you would be best off talking to a man named Jaspal.”
“Who is Jaspal?”
“He’s a friend of mine, and was one of the first people to show me around this place when I first came to Whitesage. He runs an Indian restaurant called Tejawswini Palace that’s been one of the favorite eating places of not only Whitesage but also Codton and Gunnersville. Obviously, he’s a Sikh, and no matter what you ask him in regards to his faith, he’ll have an answer for you. I’ll try to see if he can host you for a job shadow later in the week.”
“OK. I bet he would be able to answer questions about Sikhism better than you can. Now, what was the other religion that you had mentioned?”
“That would be Baha’i.”
“Right. Well, what about it?”
“It’s a very recent religion; it came into existence in 19th-century Iran.”
“THAT early?”
“Yes. It hasn’t been in existence that long.”
“So, what exactly is Baha’i?”
“Well, for lack of better description, Baha’i is like an offshoot of Islam, much like Islam was like an offshoot of Christianity and Christianity was like an offshoot of Judaism. Like many religions that are of this nature, it was relentlessly persecuted, and still is by much of the Islamic world. It probably would’ve have disappeared completely if it hadn’t been for some of the later leaders of the faith, who were able to spread the faith to more tolerant parts of the planet. Even so, many of the Baha’i followers here come from the less flexible parts of the planet.”
“I see. But what are some of Baha’i’s key points?”
“From what I know Wilma, Baha’i stresses many of the usual things that other religions have stressed over the course of time, like the striving for peace in society and the balancing of wealth in society. But it also stresses things that were radical for its place and time, including gender equality and harmony between religion and science.”
“Considering the place and time, I bet they were!”
“And they still are in many cases. That’s all I know about Baha’i, so once again you’ll have to ask around for more info.”
“OK. And what about the rest of the faiths here?”
“Of the 25% that are not connected to Neo-Paganism, Sikhism, or Baha’i, it is a roughly equal mixture of every other religion you can name, though there are slightly more of the Vedic faiths living here, and in terms of the Abrahamic faiths – those being Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – only the mystical versions are allowed.”
“Why is that?”
“Because the Neo-Pagans here in Whitesage, and nearly everyone else in Whitesage for that matter, believe that the more traditional forms of those religions are responsible for most of the evil in the world, and that they do not get people closer to the divine. In consequence, only Kabbalah Judaism, Gnostic Christianity, and Sufi Islam are allowed here.”
“So I hear.”
“Yes. However, this list, along with the previous groups, is rather misleading. I know of a number of Christians that attend Neo-Pagan rituals, mostly of the Wiccan variety. And I’ve also seen people enter the Buddhist temple, or stupa, on certain days and those exact same people entering the mosque on other days. Knowing this, the Whitesage government has decided to allow people to mark down multiple faiths for next year’s census.”
“You do the census on years that end in five?”
“Actually, we do so every year that ends in zero and five.”
“Weird. OK, one last question. How and why did Christianity, regardless of form, set up here?”
“Well, in terms of the why, it was because the pastor, Samuel Mannahan, had a crisis of faith and wished to fix it here in Whitesage. As for the how, well… eh… it’s best not to know, especially in public. If you talk to Father Mannahan, he’ll tell you. If you want, I’ll try seeing him tomorrow so he can explain things and perhaps give you a little work in the process.”
“I’ll consider it, Arthur. Well, I guess that takes care of the packages, except for this one; it says Balder’s Books on the label.”
“That’s weird. Oh well, I’ll get it dropped off later today.”
“So now what should I do?”
“Go talk to Bryan. He’ll find you something to do.” With that, Wilma walked back to the main floor, whereas I got onto the paperwork.
After that long discussion, the day went well, though there were two events that captured my attention. The first occurred around 1:00 PM. As I was doing all of my usual business, I heard a high-pitched squeal that sounded like ‘CUUUUUTE!’ I immediately jerked my head toward the source of the squeal and saw Wilma in the jewelry section. When I walked over, Wilma’s face was all aglow. “Eh, excuse me, Wilma.” I said. “I don’t think that many people would find it appropriate to screech about something that one considers cute.”
Wilma immediately turned toward me and quickly began to blush out of embarrassment. Sensing how uncomfortable she was, I simply said, “Try not to sweat it so much; outside of the employees, there was no one else here. Just don’t let it happen again, OK?”
“I’ll try not to.” Wilma replied rather softly. “It’s just that I haven’t seen any frog-shaped things in a while.”
“What about that frog keychain on your duffel bag?” I asked.
“I meant new frog-shaped things, like this necklace I spied.” Wilma replied, pointing to a necklace. It consisted of green-colored beads attached to a similarly colored cord, and at the section opposite of the clasp was a pewter frog pendant. After taking a look back at this necklace, I turned back to Wilma and said, “You must really like frogs.”
“How couldn’t anyone?” Wilma responded. “They’re perhaps the most adorable things nature created!”
“Well, that’s up for debate, but I can see their appeal. I always thought they appealed to boys, though.”
“Well, you’re wrong. But back to the necklace; was this thing handmade?”
“It looks like it. Where it was made I’m not sure, but I reckon that it was made here. We have a sizable artisan community.”
“I see. Where’s the price tag… oh. This is way too expensive. Wait, this doesn’t look like a normal price tag.”
“It isn’t. It’s based off of our local currency. I can explain it in better detail later, but unless you have about $30 in normal currency, I’d recommend that you look elsewhere for frog-based goodies.”
“OK.” Wilma said, slightly depressed about the situation at hand. In a way, couldn’t blame her for being a little down: it was a real nice necklace.
The other event, however, was not as welcome as the first one was. It occurred about an hour after the first event, and it began when Derek Alman showed up. The man, who was built like an ox and had an attitude to match at times, was in a reasonable mood as he walked into the place.
Since I was in the backroom doing all of the paperwork, I did not notice him coming through the door, but he made his presence very clear when he halfway mumbled, “Can I have a word with you?”
Not wanting to irritate him, as he was a man who expected business-based stuff to get over with as quickly as possible, I simply said, “The box is next to the cabinets.” I then heard him trot over to the cabinets and picked up the box. “Yeah, it feels like it’s the right size.” He flatly stated. “But I don’t get why they’d send this to this place instead of my own.”
“It’s probably just a simple goof-up, Derek.”
“I doubt it. I think it’s some sort of Stupidian plan to make our lives miserable, but I know for a fact that it won’t work.”
Not wanting to respond to one of his rather ridiculous theories on how the world works, I quickly changed the subject to something a bit more casual: “So, are you ready for Samhain?”
“That holiday is still a fair distance away, Arthur. But if you have to know, yes. Of course, I’d be looking forward to it more if it wasn’t for the Stupidian election going on. I mean, why is it so close? Khoker should be solidly ahead of Emperor Nut-Job right now.”
“I wish I had a theory, Derek, but it’s none of our business.”
“Well, I wish it was. If Emperor Nut-Job somehow wins this thing, there will be more suicides in this area for the next four years than a dozen Rodell administrations put together. It might be necessary anyway, since our population will likely double in that time span.”
I turned around to see him sitting on a folding chair in the back with the package sitting in his lap. He looked as serious and as gloomy as he always did. I then said, “Derek, that’s ludicrous. Even if the election doesn’t end in our favor, the chance of such a scenario occurring is minimal.
“It’s possible, but unlikely. But I’m certain that, if things do go the way I fear they will, there will be a lot of extremely miserable people here in Whitesage. And like any miserable person, they are better off dead.” After a short pause, Derek then said “Well, I guess I better get going.” With that, he got up off the chair and proceeded out to the sales area. I was expecting that he would be on his way and that would be the end of it, but about two seconds later I heard Wilma blurt out, “What is wrong with you!?”
I immediately jumped out of my chair and dashed over to the door entrance. There I saw Wilma, glaring at Derek. She must have heard the discussion I was having with him, and knowing how she reacted Friday night to what I was beginning to realize was a dumb thing to say and do, the results were guaranteed to be bad.
“Wrong with me?” Derek said, not acting the least bit surprised.
“I don’t go out of my way to tell people to kill themselves. I only say that to miserable people.”
“Because misery disrupts society. And by any measure, if you’re going to be miserable, you may as well be dead.”
“It’s not idiotic, woman. It makes perfect sense in this world. Anyone with half a brain would get this point; when you grow up, you’ll understand what I’m trying to get at.”
“Yes, I am. But you just don’t get the truth staring you in the face. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some important business to tend to.” And with that, Derek walked out the door.
“DANG IT! COME BACK HERE!” Wilma kept shouting, halfway stomping towards the door. “THIS… I… UUMMRRRR!!”
I obviously didn’t want her in this bad mood for the rest of the day, so I approached her and said, “Wilma…”
She spun around and shouted, “WHAT!?” Her face was as red as her hair, and she eyes were so big that if they had gotten any bigger, they would’ve popped out of the sockets. I didn’t take kindly to being shouted at, but at the same time I knew that this sort of interaction with Derek was all too common, so I simply just stared at her. Wilma instantly got the message and her rage quickly began to melt into embarrassment and shame. “Sorry.” She said to me.
Without saying anything, I headed back to the storage area to continue my paperwork. A few minutes later, Wilma apprehensively walked into the back area. As I expected, she said, “I didn’t mean to anger you, Arthur. I really, didn’t…”
“You didn’t anger me, Wilma.” I replied. After a short pause and a chance to understand what had happened, I then said, “OK, I’ll admit that I’m a little miffed about how you handled Derek. I just don’t want to have business run off elsewhere over such outbursts, and Bryan believes the same thing. Just be thankful that there was no one else besides the three of us.” I then heard a slight groan come out. I immediately turned over to the doorway to see Wilma looking upset; in a way, I couldn’t blame her. I got up out of my chair and walked over to her. After gently putting my hand on her right shoulder, I then said, “Try not to worry about it, OK? You haven’t been the first one to act like that around Derek, and I doubt you will be the last.”
When I said that, Wilma mood instantly changed; her sadness changed to something much harder to read, though the best I could call it was an equal mixture of bewilderment and bitterness. “So his name is Derek.” She said. “He’s the one who told that stupid suicide theory.”
“Yes.” I said, feeling a little ashamed to acknowledge the fact.
“But why would you listen to such a jerk like that?”
“It’s virtually impossible to do so, Wilma. Being that he’s a business associate to us, I can’t simply shun him every time I see him. And when one actually digs beneath the obvious message, one kind of gets what’s he’s really trying to say.”
“That’s utterly moronic, Arthur. No one should kill themselves because they’re feeling down in the dumps, no matter how far down they are. If that was really such the case, I would’ve been dead over a hundred times by now, and we as a species would go extinct during the Stone Age.”
“Yeah, that is a good way of putting it, though it’s extremely hard to have Derek see it that way.”
“But why does Derek say such stuff?” Wilma asked.
I immediately remembered a vow I had made to Derek last year, one that made me promise not to reveal the story of his life to the outside world. In my panic, all I could do was stutter stuff like “Well… eh… I…”
“Arthur, why does Derek say all of this garbage to people?” Wilma asked again.
Gathering up my nerves at last, I answered “Wilma, I can’t tell you the whole story. I made a promise to Derek last year around this time not to divulge his life story to anyone around here. However, I can tell you general snippets of why he acts the way he does.”
“And that is…”
“It’s a mix of political things. There were some policies that he wanted to put into place and actions that he wanted to prevent, but he lacked the clout to do so. He also felt betrayed by some of his prior associates about certain promises that were made in conjunction with his past failures. Both of those events turned him into a manic and misunderstood individual who wants to start with a clean slate.”
“He seems like more of a cold, indifferent crank to me.”
“You’re not the only one to thank that.” A voice in the back area spoke. We both turned around to see Bryan, standing in the doorway, leaning against the door jam.
“Oh, I didn’t see you back there, Bryan. We’ll be back at work…” I began to say, but then Bryan interrupted, stating, “I’m not worried about the work status as of now, Arthur. I wanted to comment about Wilma’s comments regarding Derek.” He then turned to Wilma and said, “As I stated before, you’re not the only one to think of Derek as a jerk with a number of his screws loose. Ever since he arrived in Whitesage in the summer of 2003, he’s been rubbing just about everyone he comes across the wrong way, me included.”
“Well, if that’s the case, why doesn’t the Whitesage government do something about it?” Wilma asked.
“That’s a good point, Wilma.” Bryan said. “And over time there have been numerous attempts to give him the boot or otherwise arrest him. I myself have filed a handful of such requests, but in either case, both have proven unsuccessful.”
“But how?” Wilma exclaimed, utterly shocked as what has been said. “How could they ignore such horrible behavior?”
“Well, part of it is Derek has political connection to the Whitesage government.” I stated. “Besides being one of the main managers of Balder’s Books, he is also the speechwriter for the Head Chief of the Whitesage government. Apparently this isolates him from any sort of public criticism, and therefore the calls for his expulsion are ignored.”
“Yeah, and part of it comes from the fact that, though he is extremely irritating, he has not committed any crimes while he’s been there.” Bryan said. “And I doubt that will change anytime soon. Thankfully, once he sees certain individuals as unfriendly, which mean nearly everyone, he does his best to avoid running into them, much less talking to him. So he’ll probably leave you alone for the time that you’re here.”
“I hope so.” Wilma said.
“Oh he will.” I replied. “Trust me. Now, if you don’t mind, I need to get back to the paperwork.”
“That sounds good, Arthur.” Bryan said. “Here Wilma, you were commenting on the currency a while back; let me give you a primer.” And with that, he directed Wilma to the cash register. Satisfied that the incident had been resolved, I went back into the storage area.
The rest of the work period went by without incident. Once done, Wilma and I headed out to pick up Sven and then for us to get back to my place. Along the way, we walked across a place called Connections, which is Whitesage’s only cyber café. Immediately, I remembered what I had said about homework stuff to Mrs. Rickenbacker, and I knew that it was in my best intention to get any homework so she didn’t fall that far behind in her studies. So I quickly grabbed Wilma by the arm and said, “Excuse me, but I need to go check something in this place, and I can’t check it at home.”
She looked at me funny and said, “In there?”
“Yes. In there.”
“But this is a cyber café. I thought people in Whitesage were all against technology.”
“Only the older people see it that way. In your generation, having access to a computer means the world, if not more. So it was decided, amongst tons of protest and other threats, to construct a cyber café to give people who are used to E-Mail a chance to use it, as most people in Whitesage do not own computers. If you want, you can check your E-Mail to see what’s…”
But then I stopped. I saw Wilma once again melt into depression and sadness, and I knew what she was upset about: reading any messages from her friends, perhaps former friends, and having to suffer from their judgment. In response, I then said, “Sorry. I didn’t mean to drag up the pain from your past. If you want me to, I can get you something to drink; they won’t allow drinks in the computer area.”
“Eh…OK.” Wilma said hesitantly. It seemed as much that she wanted to simply sit out on the bench just outside the doorway. But I knew that I couldn’t leave her alone, even in a place like this, and even she kind of knew it. So with that, we strolled into Connections.
Once inside, Wilma was a bit overwhelmed by the mix of sci-fi and post-modern influences that made up the interior design. “The design of this place is based off of the owner’s son’s drawings. It appeals very much to his generation, which explains why nearly all patrons here are teenagers and young adults.” I told her.
“I probably would’ve guessed that much.” Wilma responded. “Where’s are the drinks?”
“Over to your right. And I’ll pick up the tab once you’re done.”
With that, Wilma walked over to the drink court and I walked over to the computer area. Being that it was a Sunday, it was hard to find an open computer, but I eventually found one. And as discretely as possible, I logged onto the web to check my E-Mail. To my surprise, there was an E-Mail for me, and it was from Mrs. Rickenbacker. The message said this:
Well, it took me quite a while to get everything squared away with the teachers, but I have gotten together some papers regarding the class-work for this week. All I have scanned so far is Monday’s work, but I have stuff for Tuesday and Wednesday in my possession; I should have those scanned tomorrow. Thursday and Friday papers I should have scanned the day after that.
Seeing and hearing of your intellectual abilities yesterday, I’m pretty sure that you’d be familiar with the topics on these papers. If not, each of these papers on file has their source listed in the properties section of the document (they are not on the documents themselves, so Wilma shouldn’t figure out where they come from); all you then need to do is to either find the book in the Whitesage school system archives or otherwise look online. A link to the website where the books are contained electronically are listed below.
Good luck trying to get Wilma to learn this material; Susan told me once that Wilma has a tendency to be a bit difficult to work with when she’s in a bad mood. I hope that she feels better by now.
In any case, do not hesitate to send a message if you have any questions/concerns regarding Wilma’s class-work.
Sincerely, Headmaster Henrietta Rickenbacker.
From there, I looked at the attachments that had been provided for me. There were six in total, all of them topics that any normal student had to learn. After taking a look at the link Mrs. Rickenbacker provided me, I then began to go over the papers and check their sources. Once that was done, I began to print out the documents, one by one. I made a quick trip over to the print machine and tried my best to hide from Wilma that I was printing out class-work for her. But I shouldn’t have worried: when I took a quick glance over to the café part, I saw Wilma sitting in one of the chairs up by the bar, her back to the computer section. Even so, I tried my best to gather up the papers as quickly as I could. Then, I went back to the computer I was using and I went back to the website link Mrs. Rickenbacker gave me. I then began searching out the areas of study in the textbooks I had gathered before, and then I printed out those areas, too. With both gathered up from the printer, I put the papers into my briefcase and then I logged off of the computer. I then walked over to Wilma, who hadn’t moved since the last time I saw her. “OK Wilma, I’m done.” I said as I walked over to her.
She quickly turned around and said, “Eh, is it OK if I can use the bathroom?”
“Go on ahead. I have to go pay the bill for the services provided anyway.”
Without so much as blinking an eye, Wilma got up from her seat and walked quickly towards the women’s bathroom. When I turned back to the table, I understood why: she had consumed five drinks in that period of time. I certainly was flabbergasted, and furthermore I felt like an idiot for not setting a limit on her drinks. But at the same time, I knew that whenever someone was bothered by something, they normally got hungry and/or thirsty. After pondering the whole thing, I then walked over to the register and rang the bell to get someone’s attention. The person’s attention I got was those of Will: not as in Wilma, but in William Talwrn.
By any measure, William Talwrn was a typical Whitesage citizen: an unassuming, reserved, Neo-Pagan who tried to be as worldly as possible in just about everything he did. I didn’t know of him until I first came across Connections, but since then I had struck up several interesting conversations with the man, mostly on religious matters. In many ways, he helped me make sense of the Neo-Pagan religions more so than Bryan did.
In any case, he walked over to the cash register and said, “Ah, it’s nice to see you again Arthur. I was beginning to wonder what was going on at the Mystic’s Emporium.”
“Not much new going on there, Will; just the usual activity for this time of year. Eh, I’m here to pay for both the printouts and the drinks that red-haired girl had.”
“You know her?”
“Only recently. She’s technically my niece.”
“Hmm. There’s no resemblance to you, now that I think about it.”
“Well, her father is Tony; I don’t think I need to go any further than that in terms of description.”
“Oh. I see. She seemed pretty sad, though.”
“Yeah, she’s going through some issues in academics, athletics, and outside of school. It’s going to be a bear trying to make even a slight dent in these problems in just a week.”
“Well, I wish I could help you more with this problem, but psychology was something I never got interested in. You’ll have to figure it out yourself. Now, I would like my payment for the papers and the drinks.”
“Sure. I printed off these papers, and my niece had five drinks; hopefully they were all the same.”
“Yes they were; she selected the Pink Party drink. OK, let me flip through the papers here…” There was a slight pause as he flipped through the papers, counting each one silently. Will then said, “OK that’s 36 papers, add five Pink Party drinks, and take into account the sales tax… that’ll be ¤46.870.”
“All right, let me get out the money for this…” I said, reaching into my wallet, and secretly praying that I had enough to pay for this massive bill. Thankfully, I did, and as I put my wallet away, I immediately thought, maybe this would be a possible job shadow for Wilma. I don’t know if this would be the perfect gig for her, but at least it’ll keep busy, and off my back for a little while. I then looked up and said, “Hey Will, can I talk to you for a sec?”
“About what?”
“Well, eh, I was wondering if you have any space for Wilma to do a job shadow later on this week. Do you have any room?”
“Hm. Maybe I could fit her in sometime, but it all depends on whether or not she wants to work here. Oh, there she is now.”
He motioned over to the bathroom doors, and there she was. She looked as gloomy as ever, which wasn’t too surprising. Seeing her, I called out, “Hey Wilma, I’d like to ask you a question.”
Not saying a word, she sauntered over to the counter. When she arrived, I said, “I had an idea. I thought that, knowing that you’re here doing research on Whitesage, that maybe one place that you could do a job shadow would be here at this café. Would that work for you, Wilma?”
She kind of looked down at the floor and said, “I guess so.”
Will then said, “What do you mean, ‘I guess so’? Either you want to see what goes on back here or you don’t…”
“I do want to see what goes on here; I’m just having a hard time right now with everything going on.”
“All right. You think that you can come in tomorrow?”
“Yeah. What time do you want me to come in, and how long do you want me to stay?”
“How about you let Arthur drop you off, and then you can stay for about four hours. Will that work for you, Wilma?”
“It should.”
“OK, I guess I’ll see you two tomorrow then.” Will said, looking back at me.
“Same here. Enjoy the rest of the day.” We then left.
From there, we walked over to the Howl House. I don’t know if it was pure luck, but as I was walking towards the place, I saw one of my good friends coming out: Jaspal.
Jaspal was perhaps the most significant Sikh that lived in Whitesage, as he was the manager of the Tejawswini Palace restaurant. Being that it was the only Indian-style restaurant in my section of New Brunswick, it was an incredibly popular place not only in Whitesage, but also in Codton and Gunnersville. But beyond his wildly successful restaurant enterprise, he was a fairly down-to-earth man with a wry sense of humor, a desire to help out whenever the need arose, and a penchant for tinkering with mechanical devices, many of which served him well for his business.
When Jaspal was coming out, he had in tow his dog, a boxer named Verda. Though she got along with him very well, Verda and Sven couldn’t be any different, outside of species: whereas Sven was generally aloof and did not go out of his way to make is acquaintances with anyone who happened to pass by, Verda loved attention from all people and probably would be running amok throughout Whitesage chasing people had it not been for the Howl House wearing her out every weekday. Why she was in the Howl House today wasn’t quite clear, as it was a Sunday. But it wasn’t my business to know.
As I was walking towards the place, Jaspal was beginning to turn towards me. It therefore was easy for him to spot me and Wilma. “Arthur!” he said to me in his somewhat throaty tone. “I didn’t expect to see you around here for today.”
“Same for you, Jaspal.” I replied. “Trying to wear out Verda, eh?”
“Yes, I’m afraid so. I had a food supplier come in today to discuss contracts, and I didn’t want her to be jumping around.”
“Yeah, I can see what you mean. So, did it go well?”
“It did, though I noticed that the costs went up again, and this time by a noticeable percentage. I may have to raise the menu prices, but I’d rather not.” Then, after a short pause, he said, “I doubt you’d be the right man to ask, but do you have any theories…”
“About the prices? Not anything that we already know.”
“I figured as much. Oh, I didn’t see you back there.” Jaspal said, turning to Wilma. “You have business with me or Arthur? Though I must admit you’re kind of young.”
“Oh, sorry.” Wilma responded. “I’m with Arthur.”
“Hm. You know him?”
“She’s my nie…” But before I could finish, Wilma drove her elbow into the side of my gut, trying to get me to stop talking. “I’m not… THAT, Arthur!”
Jaspal, not surprisingly, looked confused. “Eh, is there something that I… could help…” he said.
“No.” Wilma responded, sulking a little. “I’ve just had a rough day today.”
Jaspal took a step forward towards Wilma, and stared at her face for what seemed to be a minute. He then said, “You came across Mr. Alman, most likely. Am I correct… eh…”
“My name is Wilma, and, well, yes.” Wilma responded.
Jaspal then stepped back and said, “I had a feeling that such was the case. He has an uncanny ability to get under other people’s skin. Thankfully, he’s a bit of a recluse, so you shouldn’t run into him again, at least not on purpose.” Looking at his watch, he then said to Wilma, “Are you new here?”
“I guess you can say that.”
“How do you like Whitesage so far?”
“Outside of Derek, it’s OK. I still haven’t explored all of it, though, so I can’t really tell if it’s a great place or not.”
“For the most part, Whitesage is a good place. It’s not perfect; nothing is, but at the very least the people here do their part to make life more bearable.”
“Hmm. So, is this your dog, Jaspal?”
“Yes, this is Verda. I’ve had her for about three years now, though I swear that she acts as if she’s only half that age. I’m sorry that she looks a little tired, but owing to my circumstances for today… You must have heard Arthur and I speak earlier…”
“Yeah, I heard about something regarding contracts.”
“Yes. I run a restaurant known as the Tejawswini Palace here in Whitesage. It’s a really popular place; you should come there sometime.”
All of a sudden, I remembered about the job shadows. “Eh, Jaspal, I was wondering about the Tejawswini Palace…”
“What for, Arthur?”
“Well, Wilma here is actually doing a series of job shadows here, and if possible, maybe you would be open to providing one for her.”
“Hmm.” Jaspal said, scratching his beard a little. “I guess it wouldn’t hurt. I have no qualms against allowing an outsider into work, provided that the person is Canadian.” Then he smiled at Wilma and said, “Besides, an extra set of hands would certainly help back in the kitchens. Maybe you can come by on Friday; it’s one of the busiest days in the food service industry. Sound good?”
“Alright. I’ll be around on Friday.” Wilma said, though I could sense that she wasn’t too thrilled about it.
“OK then. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be needing to get home.” With that, Jaspal took Verda and walked away. A few seconds later, I said, “Well, that’s another day in the books. We better get Sven; he’s probably wondering why I’m late.” And with that, both of us went into the Howl House.
When Wilma and I went inside, one thing quickly came apparent: it was unusually quiet. Normally when I or someone else walked in at this time of day, there was a lot of barking, as all of the dogs were thinking that there owners had come. But with the occasional whine in the background, something was definitely amiss. All of that was pushed back when Rebecca, one of the regulars at the Howl House, came to the front desk.
“Hello, Arthur. You’re here for Sven, right?” Rebecca said.
“Yes. I hope he hasn’t been too much of a problem for you.”
“No. I’ll go get him; it’ll be just a second.” With that, Rebecca walked back to the kennels to retrieve Sven. It wasn’t a moment after she stepped in that the whining started to get louder. A few moments later, Rebecca came out with Sven in tow. He was very happy to see the two of us, but more so with Wilma, who stood up on his hind legs and started to sniff Wilma’s face. Rebecca immediately noticed this and said, “Well, I’ve never noticed this before! He must really like you!”
“Yes, she seems to have a thing for Sven, or perhaps it’s the other way around.” I said. Then I realized the significance of what was going on and I then said, “Oh, I forgot to introduce you two! Rebecca, this is Wilma; she’s a student from out of town. Wilma, this is Rebecca, one of the regular employees of the Howl House.”
“Hi.” Wilma said, trying to turn towards Rebecca, though she had a hard time doing so with Sven in her face.
“Nice to meet you, Wilma. You must have a real connection with animals, knowing how Sven is acting.”
“I… eh… kind of noticed.” Wilma said. I thought of that statement as a bit odd, especially on the delivery: she seemed a bit depressed when she said it. Then I thought, this might be another good place for her to job shadow. I then turned to Rebecca and said, “Wilma is a student from out of town and is doing a series of job shadows. Perhaps you could give her a look-see here.”
“Sure! How about Tuesday, Wilma?” Rebecca said.
“That would work with me.” Wilma answered. “Do you want me to arrive in the morning or the afternoon?”
“The morning would probably be best.”
“OK then. I’ll see you on Tuesday.”
“I’ll be looking forward to seeing you here.” Rebecca said. Then she turned to me and said, “And I’ll see you around next morning as usual, Arthur.”
“Same to you too, Rebecca.” I said as Wilma, Sven, and I walked out the door.
The walk home was a quiet affair after that. Sven, for whatever reason, didn’t seem the least bit tired. This didn’t make much sense to me as nearly every other time I came to pick him up, he was exhausted from playing with the other dogs and the keepers. Perhaps having Wilma in my house made him want to conserve his energy until she showed up. And then there was the case of all of the dogs still in the kennel that were whining for no good reason. It was bugging me to no end, and I had no good answer for such activity.
Wilma, on the other hand, seemed very tired and also somewhat depressed. Like with the dogs whining, I had no good explanation for her mood. Maybe what she needs is a good nap, I thought to myself. It isn’t everyday that a teenager spends an entire day in a New Age store, spending a good portion of it just moving around goods in the back room. Hopefully her work at the cyber café will be a little more interesting.
We got to my home around the time the sun started going down. Wilma sat down on the couch, while Sven curled up onto his cushion. I myself went downstairs to my personal office so I could take a closer look at the papers I had printed out. I certainly understood what I had printed out (though it took me a long time to figure it all out, since it had been so long since I had studied a lot of it), but the big problem was on how I was going to present it to Wilma without having her blow a fuse… again.
How am I to show this to her? I thought, looking at the papers, and then quickly glancing at the ceiling. Sure, it’s been a good 2-3 days since she ran off, but what if she just wants to blow off all academic practices altogether and end up spending her life as a transient? And what if I’m to blame for her potential reaction? I know that Derek would be pleased about my actions, but if I do something wrong, I could technically drown in numerous lawsuits passed by her mother. Perhaps even her friends may get into the act and find ways to exact vengeance against me. Realizing how dumb it was for me to think such things, I quickly shook my head and cleared my mind. Once that was done, I then thought, I should start with the biology papers. I know that biology is her favorite subject; perhaps that will ease her into these papers. Maybe I’ll state that I found it on the Web and that it made me think of her. But then I thought, after taking a closer look at the biology papers, But there are nothing about frogs in these papers! How can I sell something like this to her?
All of this musing ended when I heard Sven scratching the door. I knew that it was now feeding time for him, and it would soon be time for both Wilma and I to eat as well. Putting away the papers for the time being, I opened up the door to see Sven looking impatiently at me. Without saying a word, I walked up the ramp and into the kitchen, where I got Sven’s food prepared. I then turned to Wilma, who was still sitting on the couch. “I wish I could say that I would fix you whatever you wanted, but since that’s not possible, would you mind if you took a look around the kitchen for something you’d be hungry for?” I said.
Wilma looked over to me and said rather softly, “I don’t care. You can fix whatever you want.”
“All right then, I’ll make some quesadillas, along with some rice and beans.” And with that, I went through the kitchen, collecting the materials for the supper.
Throughout the supper preparation, I took a look at Wilma and tried to read her mind. She certainly didn’t look that good emotionally. While she wasn’t crying or anything of that nature, she just looked as if she had lost a lot of money from a financial scam. I didn’t know what was causing her to feel like this, but as I worked, I began to feel as if I was somewhat responsible for her current emotional state. Still, I didn’t want her to sit around and do nothing; it would not help her out in the long run, and I didn’t want her to spend her days here, sulking. She would be better served being out in the community than just isolating herself in my house. At least, that is what I felt about the whole situation. But I couldn’t help feel bad for her owing what I knew from her headmaster, her swim coach, and her mother.
Supper was a very quiet affair. We cleared off the table of food, though I ate the bulk of the meal: Wilma didn’t seem to have much of an appetite and almost seemed to strain in order to finish the quesadilla I put on her plate. Once she was done, she quietly made her way back to the main room and sat back down on the couch. I quietly started collecting the dishes and cleaning them off in the sink. Every now and then I looked back to see Wilma, and each time I saw that she hadn’t moved. In some ways, it was like looking at a statue and expecting it to crumble, knowing full well that it wouldn’t. But I always felt that she would fall apart in some way.
Once the dishes had been cleaned up and put away, I then started to make my way to the basement ramp. But I had barely gotten halfway when I heard Wilma blurt out something. Startled, I quickly made my way up the ramp and into the main room to see Wilma standing in the center of the room, looking very irritated and upset. “Did you say something?” I asked.
“YES!” Wilma responded. “I said, ‘Don’t even bother!’”
“Bother with what?”
“Bother with getting those dumb papers that you printed back at the cyber café!”
“I didn’t print those papers for you…”
“STOP LYING TO ME! Those were school papers you printed out! Didn’t you read the paper about the problems you told me to write down?” After a short pause, she then blurted out, “I don’t want to do schoolwork… EVER!” Wilma then completely broke down and flopped onto the couch. Confused and frustrated, I began looking around for the noose I had made the earlier in her visit, but failing to find it, I then began to make my way to the front door. But I had barely taken a single step before Wilma then shouted, “And don’t go out to get another noose made!”
“But you’re miserable…”
“How can you listen to Derek’s terrible suggestions like that!?”
Realizing how the situation had turned out, I went into the dining room area to retrieve a chair so I had a place to sit. Once that was done, I sat down and said, “Wilma, you know that I’m only trying to help you.”
“Well, you’re doing a bad job at it!” she responded, her voice muffled by the couch.
I sat in the chair, trying to contemplate what my next move should be. As I sat there, I noticed that Sven, who had been sleeping on his pillow, had gotten up and was walking over to Wilma. He looked very concerned, much like he did when he first directed me towards her. In a way, I was very surprised that he would be so considerate to someone whom he had known for a very short time. Then I thought, Maybe it was those job shadows I set up. I should ask Wilma about that. With that, I looked at her and said, “Is it because I set up all of those job shadows today?”
Wilma, whose face was still buried in the couch, said, “No.”
“Then what is?” I then asked.
“Those stupid papers you printed out.”
“What about them?”
“I don’t want to deal with anything school-related.”
“Why not?”
“Because I’m too stupid to learn anything.”
“Wilma, you’re not stupid. It took quite a bit of brains to get all the way here by yourself. I don’t think half of the people here in Whitesage around your age could do the same thing.”
Hearing that, Wilma got up from the couch and got into a sitting position. Seeing this, Sven quickly got onto the couch section where Wilma’s face had been resting and started to whine a little. Paying no attention to this development, Wilma turned to me and said, “That’s something entirely different, Arthur. I really am a stupid person.”
“And what proof do you have that says you are stupid?”
“The Canadian National IQ Test.”
“So? What about it?”
“Well, not too long ago, I along with all of the other students back at my school had to take that dumb test to determine our general placement in future colleges. Out of a perfect score of 100, I got a 79.”
“And that’s bad because?”
“In some ways, it does. But in other ways, it does not. After all, you only took the test once; no one can expect an accurate assessment of one’s intelligence just by one simple test. And besides, if you felt like your first score was not accurate, you can always ask the provincial Board of Education to take the test again.”
“Why should I even bother? I’m just going to fail just as badly as the first time, if not even worse.”
“What would be considered a success to you on such a test?”
“At least an 80, though all of my ex-friends all scored at least an 83 when they took the test. But I’ll never achieve it knowing how idiotic I am.”
“Wilma, I don’t think you’re idiotic. Maybe a bit misinformed perhaps…”
“Well, the teachers there must do a really good job misinforming me, because I can’t seem to do anything right in terms of studies. I can’t even do adequate Biology anymore, and that was my favorite subject!”
“Have you talked about trying to find a tutor?”
“It’s not worth it. I used to be friends with one of the smartest students in the school, and if she couldn’t get me onto the road to academic success, nothing will.”
“Don’t you think that it would be worth a try?”
“Look, I’m just not cut out for any of this school garbage and that’s final! I’d be better off outside of that atmosphere of agony and take my chances doing menial work for the rest of my life.”
“I don’t think that’s the most responsible thing to do, Wilma. Even a simple merchant like myself had to have some college education. And most menial work won’t pay enough to live in even the cheapest apartments, unless you are willing to work at least nine hours each day for the entire week.”
“Well, it would certainly be better than being seen as a failure in front of my friends. Or my mother. She would throw me into Old Sal if she saw how worthless I am.”
“I doubt that she would do that, Wilma.”
“You don’t know her, Arthur. No woman of her generation as unforgiving and uncaring as my mother. She is always poking her nose into my business and is always insisting that I follow her footsteps in some way. She doesn’t allow me to have any fun with my life and she quickly criticizes me for even the smallest mistakes that I make! It’s almost as if she never wanted me in the first place.”
“I doubt that it is true, Wilma. I think she’s only concerned about you and doesn’t want you to slip up in such a way that you won’t be able to correct it.”
“I can’t believe that, Arthur. If you ever ran into her, I bet that you would come away with the same feeling that I have!”
I quickly felt a little awkward when Wilma said that. I remembered talking to Susan the day before, and how distraught she felt about having her daughter run away from home. This was completely contradictory to what Wilma had just told me. True, this is just from her perspective, I thought to myself. But if I could show her how her mother really feels about her, I think the overall assessment could change. After going through that thought process, I then said to Wilma, “I know that things are kind of hard right now, but I think that if given the choice of keeping you as part of her family…”
“ARE YOU TRYING TO SUPPORT HER!?” Wilma screeched, but after seeing me glaring at her, she broke down again and oddly enough, threw herself into my chest. Unnerved by this, I answered, “No, I’m not. I know that I’m only trying to help you out. But as I was saying…”
“I don’t care what she thinks!” Wilma sobbed. “My whole life is a wreck! No one likes me… I can’t do anything right…”
“Eh… I… I don’t think that’s the case. But I don’t know if I can help you if you’re not willing to accept it. Outside of being a towel to absorb your tears.” I said. Upon hearing this, she looked up at me. Her eyes were glazed over with sorrow, and her face was full of angst and confusion. After a short time of staring at me, she said, “I… I… I don’t know if I can be helped.”
“You can be helped. Though right now, you’re so upset that it would be best if you rest and think things over. Unless…”
“I know what you are going to say next; I’d rather rest.”
“Then in that case, I’m going downstairs to exercise.” And with that, I headed downstairs to tax my mind in something a bit more constructive.
For about the next hour or so, I spent it pumping the iron and otherwise doing what I could to take my mind off of the discussion that I had with Wilma. But even with my best efforts, I couldn’t stop thinking about Wilma, Susan, and the mess that we were all a part of. How am I going to get this situation under control? I thought as I got up from the bench at one point. As it is, Wilma will never believe that her situation will improve or that her mother does care about her. I mean, we all have really bad days, but it rarely lasts beyond that. Stopping for a second to get myself a drink of water, I then thought, I guess it wouldn’t be a bad thing if Wilma decides to live here in Whitesage. There is usually quite a bit of work available even for those who are uneducated, and perhaps living in a more cooperative environment will allow her to get her viewpoints focused into something more constructive. But as I prepped to grab the pull-up bar, I then thought, But how am I to convince the Whitesage government about her desire to work? She seems to be about 16 years old, and she can’t get any sort of work at that age unless she’s a local student. And knowing her attitude towards academics, she’ll never accept an arrangement like that. I then did some pull-ups, all the while thinking about what I was going to do with the situation at hand. Regardless of what I thought up, the results wouldn’t be acceptable to at least one person.
After I was done exercising, I thought it was time for me to call Susan. But before I did, I went back upstairs to see where Wilma was. It didn’t surprise me in the least when I saw her still on the couch, but I was a bit surprised to see that Sven was still by her side. He must really like her or otherwise be very concerned about her, I thought. With that settled, I went back downstairs, went into my private office, locked the door tight, and finally dialed Susan’s number. It didn’t take long for her to answer: “Hello?”
“Susan?” I asked.
“Yes. Is it… Arthur?”
“Yes it is, Susan.”
“Oh, that’s a relief. I thought I was going to say Alan. I have a bad way with other people’s names.”
“Well, it’s been a while since we had regular conversations, Susan. It can’t be helped.”
“Yeah, I know that goes. So how’s Wilma?”
“A bit on and off, I’m afraid.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Well, during the morning and afternoon, she seemed fine for the most part. I even saw her smile once when she saw a frog necklace. But when I tried to get her to do some mock schoolwork, she immediately became despondent and uncooperative.”
After hearing something that was a cross between a sigh and a groan, Susan said, “I guess I’m not surprised. She never likes doing schoolwork, especially if it’s math.”
“So I’ve noticed. But I don’t understand why she gets so worked up about such stuff just because she got a low academic proficiency score.”
“Oh, you mean that? Oh, geez. I can’t believe that she’s still obsessing about that score. I mean, when I took that test back when I was her age, I got an 81, and look how well I’ve turned out! Just because she got what she sees as a low score doesn’t mean that she’ll be doomed to menial, low-paying jobs.”
“That may be true, Susan. I wish I had the statistics to see if her point is valid or not.”
“Maybe I can talk to Mrs. Rickenbacker about that. Anything else she said?”
“Well, I don’t think you’ll like this, but Wilma did deplore her situation with you, Susan.”
“How so?”
“She didn’t want to be seen as a failure to your point of view, and she also complained that you were being too controlling.”
“Well, maybe not controlling. What she really said what that she didn’t hated being criticized for her mistakes and didn’t want to be forced-fed your ambitions into her.”
Once again, I heard another sigh/groan hybrid come over the phone. After that, there was a short silence, and then Susan said, “I can’t believe that.”
“I don’t blame you if you feel hurt about the whole thing. I understand.”
“Thank you. But it doesn’t make me feel any better.”
“Because Wilma doesn’t like you?”
“It’s just not that, Arthur. It’s not being told this directly from Wilma that really hurts me.”
“Yeah, I can understand that feeling. Though stuff like that occurred when I was around Wilma’s age.”
“But that’s different. It’s one thing to have a problem with your half-brother. It’s quite another when you have a problem with one of your parents. I mean, I only want to make sure that she doesn’t get herself into the same trouble that I got into when I was around her age.”
“You mean when you got married to Tony.”
“Exactly. All I have is my job and Wilma, and while I would recover from losing my job, I don’t think I can recover from losing Wilma.”
“Well, I’m trying everything I can in order to make things right. But it will all depend on whether or not Wilma actually wants the help, and that is my first and foremost goal.”
“Alright. I sure hope you can succeed where I have failed.”
“I wouldn’t go that far, Susan. You haven’t failed. And for that matter, Wilma hasn’t failed either. The two of you are just in a rough spot right now, and one way or another I’ll figure something out.”
“Thanks, Arthur. Well, it’s starting to get a little late. I’m going to prepare for bed now. You call me tomorrow and tell me what has gone on, OK?”
“Will do, Susan. Bye.”
“Bye.” With that I hung up. I then turned on my computer, being careful not to let Wilma see it in case she went downstairs to see me. After I let it warm up, I then checked my E-Mail, particularly the spam folder as any of Wilma’s friends could’ve sent something. There wasn’t anything of difference, so I then proceeded to shut down the computer.
With all of the contact stuff taken care of, I packed up and went upstairs. When I got into the main room, I saw Sven on Wilma’s lap, where she was slowly scratching the area behind Sven’s ears. While doing this, I heard Wilma mumble something along the lines of “You’re so sweet, Sven. I wish you were mine.” She still looked very sad, and I felt very guilty about pushing her buttons the wrong way.
Trying hard not to make things worse, I said, “I’m going to start getting ready for bed. Though you can stay up as late as you want, I would recommend you start getting ready for bed, too.” I didn’t even bother to look at her as I made my way to the bathroom. And I tried my best not to look at her once I was done with it. Once inside my bedroom, I changed into my nightclothes, turned off the light, and I got into bed. I was asleep in just a few minutes, though I wasn’t certainly sound asleep.
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