A Message from Imogen Rose:
I always find it difficult to choose excerpts from my books. So, when Stephen asked me, I passed the choice to my readers. After all, who better to tell you what portion stuck with them?
Today, I am going to share Allirea Brumley's choice. She chose Chapter 5 of Portal. When I asked her why, she said, "I was thrilled when it was revealed that Harry was Arizona's brother. The bond between these two characters made me connect to the story on a whole different level. I never saw that one coming! I read this chapter three times!" -- Imogen
I lay in bed mulling over my day. I felt strangely comfortable in this life. In some weird way I felt like I belonged here. However, in reality, I obviously belonged in Princeton with Dad. This didn't make any sense. There were so many loose ends: Rupert, Simla, Justin, Ariele, Ames-well, my whole life here. I picked up my cell and checked the time. It was late, but not too late to call Simla or, if I couldn't get hold of her, I'd call Justin. I stared at the date on the cell. It was around nine months off. I had dismissed it earlier, thinking that it was an error, but was it? I accessed the Internet on my iPhone and peered at the date on CNN.com. It was the same. I was suddenly nine months in the past. How was that even possible?
And what were Simla, Ariele, and Justin doing here? It sort of made sense that Ariele was here, but what about Simla and Justin? Then, it dawned on me. It was October. Simla took the month off from school every year to travel with her family, and Justin attended a special ski school that ran the entire month. They had both been absent from Princeton High during October since we'd started there. I'd never questioned it, but it sort of made sense now. Did they come here together? If so, why?
I called Simla.
"Can we talk? I can drive over to your house right now." I got out of bed and reached for my jeans.
"Can it wait until tomorrow? I'm not... um, alone at the moment." Simla had a husky sound to her voice. Then she giggled. I heard Justin's voice in the background, asking her who was on the phone.
"Arizona, I've got to go."
"Wait! Is that Justin with you? I kinda need to talk to the both of you. Can I come over? Where are you?"
"Good grief, Arizona! We're busy. Now is really NOT a good time. Talk to you tomorrow. With that she disconnected the phone.
I was beyond bewildered. What the heck?
I awoke the next morning with my face soaking wet from Gertrude licks. She'd been trying to get me up to let her out for her morning business. I slid my feet into my flip-flops and walked her outside, where I caught a glimpse of Rupert roaring off on his Harley. Cool, I wondered if he would let me ride it.
I had noticed that there was another bike in the garage. Maybe we could ride together? In fact, why not sneak a ride now? I went to the garage and peered at the other Harley. It was some bike, huge with gleaming red metal and brown leather seats. I wasn't sure I was strong enough to keep it upright. I ran my fingers over the smooth metal and pushed at the firm seat. Then, I carefully mounted it. I put my hands on the handlebars and turned them, closing my eyes, imagining roaring off on it.
"Vroom, vroom, vroom," laughed a male voice.
Yikes, busted! I turned around to make up some horribly lame excuse for Rupert, but it wasn't him. It was a boy, probably about the same age as me. He was about six feet tall and toned, with blue eyes and frost-tipped hair. He looked very familiar, but I couldn't place him. I felt a strong urge to rush over and throw my arms around him, but held back. He showed no such restraint. He came striding over and bear-hugged me as he lifted me off the bike.
"Shrimp, you know to leave my bike alone!"
His bike? Another one who thought it was okay to call me Shrimp. I turned to look at him and with a strangely goofy voice replied, "Sorry!"
"Come on, let's go in and get some breakfast," he said as he took my hand and led me inside to the kitchen where he started cracking eggs. "Come on, Shrimp. Get the bacon!"
I got the bacon from the refrigerator, then started loading it into the pan. Who was his guy to tell me what to do? And why was I putting up with it? Just as I was about to take off, Mom came into the kitchen.
"Good morning, Arizona, Harry. Ella's not feeling well, so I'm going to take some toast and juice up to her room for her. Harry, did you sleep well? You can unpack when you get home from school. Arizona, remember the rules... your bedroom is your responsibility. Tidy it up."
Harry? Could this be the Harry? Maria's boyfriend? What was he doing here?
"Good morning, Mom." Harry planted a kiss on her forehead. "Dad had to leave early. He said he'd try to come home and have lunch with you and Ella at noon."
Of all the strange things going on, this topped everything! He called Mom... well, Mom! Was this Rupert's kid? Had Mom adopted him? Was this my half brother? How could that be? It had been just Ella and me for years. Where did Harry come from? I had so many questions, but no way to get answers without appearing to be losing it. I struggled to hold back my emotions, concentrating on the bacon, sizzling happily in the pan. Mom started loading a tray for Ella while Gertrude was jumping on me in a frenzy trying to get to the bacon.
"How was camp, Harry? Did you learn anything new?"
"It was cool, Mom. There were a lot of college scouts there. I had fun." Harry smiled. "Shrimp, is that bacon done yet?"
I nodded, threw the bacon onto a plate, and put it on the table. Harry had everything else under control. Mom left with Ella's tray. "What's up with Ella?" I asked Harry, for something neutral to talk about.
"She woke up with a tummy ache early this morning. Mom's going to stay home with her. We're having a family dinner at six. You don't have cheer practice tonight, do you?"
"No," I murmured. I'd have to find a way to break the news to him. I was no longer his cheer sister. This was so insane.
Suddenly, a loud vrooming sound came from outside. Was Rupert back? I saw a black leather-covered figure walk toward the patio doors. It didn't look like Rupert. I looked down at my bunny pajamas in horror. I had felt oddly comfortable wearing them around Harry, but now I suddenly felt self-conscious.
"Ah, good," Harry got up to get another plate.
The door opened. I froze as the helmet came off, and the face came into view. Hazel eyes stared right at me, and his mouth curled up in a smirk, and drawled, "Hello, Shrimp."
I was horrified. Kellan removed his leather jacket, threw it over the chair, and sat down as Harry handed him a plate of bacon and eggs. I tried not to look at him, but his very presence made me feel like hurling; all I wanted to do was flee. However, that would mean standing up and revealing the full bunny-pajama spectacle. I could feel his eyes boring into me.
"Cute bunnies," he teased.
That was it! I stood up and fled from the room. I could see Harry shrugging at Kellan, who looked totally taken aback.
I ran up the stairs, stopping by Ella's room to check in on her. She lay on her bed looking miserable. I brought over a couple of J-14 magazines for her to flip through to try to take her mind off of her stomach pains. I left her happily reading a Jonas Brothers article and went back to my room to sit and wait for Harry and Kellan to leave so I could go back downstairs. I tried Simla again, but it went straight to her voice mail. I'd have to wait and talk to her after school.
After what seemed like a never-ending breakfast, I heard Harry and Kellan go outside and take off on their motorbikes. Phew! What was Kellan doing at the house? Harry and Kellan were obviously friends, but did they have breakfast together every day? I hoped not.
I was running late, so I hurried to my Jeep. I needed to hide my hockey gear, so I put it under some boxes at the far end of the garage, and then drove to school. There were no signs of the boys as I entered the school. I made my way to the office to find out who the hockey coach was. I had meant to look it up at home, but had totally forgotten in my fluster with Kellan arriving. Thankfully, there was a school handbook on the table in the waiting area. I quickly looked it up. Dr. Lee, who was also my physics teacher, was listed under hockey. He had been out yesterday, but I assumed that he would be back today. I located his office on the school map, walked over and knocked on his door. No reply. So, I took a sheet of paper from my bag and wrote him a note.
Dr. Lee --
I would be most grateful if you could send a pass for me, I need to talk to you, it's fairly urgent.
Arizona Stevens Darley
I would have to get used to Darley for now. After scratching out the name Stevens, I slid the note under his door. I bumped into Ali and Maria on the way to my locker, and we went to our first class together-biology.
The rest of the day passed uneventfully. I concentrated on my lessons and tried to remember/recall as many faces as I could. In biology, I recognized Meg, another good friend. She was on the swim team and in three of my classes. I kept looking around for Simla, but I didn't spot her in any of my classes. Thankfully, I didn't see Kellan all day. Reprieve until tomorrow, when I'd have to deal with him in physics. Well, unless he turned up at breakfast again!
I left school right after my last class, hurrying out before anyone could grab me for an after-school activity I wasn't aware of. Once I was safely in my car, I got out my iPhone and called Simla again.
"Hey, didn't see you at school today. Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I had a tummy ache, so I cut. I'm fine now. Anything fun happen?"
"Not really. Can I come over?"
"If you want to. Mom's making me help her with some stuff, so see you in a couple of hours?"
"Sounds good. See you soon."
I looked up her address. It wasn't worth me driving home in the meantime, so I brought up the maps app on my cell and located the nearest ice rink. It wasn't far, and it would probably be a good idea to check my skating ability after what Ali had said at the pizza place. What if I really couldn't skate anymore? The thought made me giggle. That would be like forgetting how to eat.
I perked up as soon as I saw the rink. With the Jeep parked, I checked the lot for familiar cars and motorbikes. No bikes, so I went inside. It was very quiet.
"Hi, Arizona, haven't seen you here for a while. How have you been?"
I looked over at the lady who had spoken. She was in her forties or fifties and had a nice, friendly smile.
I smiled at her. "Hi! I'm fine, just been busy with school. It's nice and quiet today."
"Yes, no one really gets here until later. Are you here to skate? Did you bring your own, or do you want to rent a pair? How's Harry?"
"I didn't plan ahead, so yes, I need to rent some size eights. Harry's good. He just got back from camp yesterday, so I haven't had the chance to catch up with him, yet."
"What about the Princess Ella?" she asked as she handed me a pair of figure skates.
"She isn't feeling well today, so I'm not going to stay long." I looked down at the figure skates, running my finger along the blade. "Could I have a pair of hockey skates instead?"
She raised her eyebrows slightly, but handed over a pair.
I took them and went through to the rink. I had obviously been there before, but it didn't feel familiar. I sat on the bleachers to put on the skates. Only one kid was skating on the ice. He was having a private lesson with an instructor. They ignored me.
Although I felt balanced, I stood still on the ice for a few moments to make sure. My muscles felt different, but still steady. I was totally missing all my hockey muscles. I was in a cheerleader's body-bizarre. Still, this body seemed strong and well defined. So, I put one skate in front of the other and pushed off; it seemed to come naturally. As I slid along the ice, I felt well-grounded. So, I tried a few backward moves and stops-no issues. I was soon sure that my hockey skills were intact.
I was glad that Dr. Lee hadn't gotten back to me yet. I would feel more confident talking to him now that I was sure of myself. I didn't stay long, just long enough to make sure that I was ready to try out. Then, I drove off to see Simla.
Although I didn't really think of her as a close buddy, I had gotten to know Simla as well as anyone could. She wasn't easy to get close to; she kept to herself and had very strict parents who didn't allow her to go out much. Her life seemed to consist of school and Kumon, which meant that she was awesome in class-a straight-A student. I had gotten to know her in my geometry class during freshman year. I spent most of my first week in that class peering over her shoulder to copy her work.
She had finally looked over at me and murmured, "I can help you out after class if you want."
I had smiled at her. I hadn't really needed any help. I just needed someone to do my homework for me occasionally. After all, hockey didn't leave much time for math. We initially struck up a silent friendship. We always nodded hello and smiled when we passed each other in the hall. We had been unlikely friends, mismatched, but we enjoyed each other's sense of humor. We got closer after an incident that tore Simla to pieces.
It all started in the girls' restroom at Princeton High. One of the girls, Meghan, had decided it would be fun to record Simla going to the toilet and then post it on Facebook. Of course, the video sucked. It was a hurried, blurred clip recorded by someone shoving a cell phone under the stall door for a couple of seconds. Simla couldn't be identified in the clip, but it had still left her humiliated. She withdrew further into herself and was absent from school for a number of days.
When she finally returned, she looked beat as she sat resignedly in her seat. I pulled at her hair to get her attention during class, but she didn't respond.
"Simla, how are you doing? I heard what happened, so awful!"
I saw her body tense as she deliberated whether to turn around and respond. After all, she might have thought that I was one of Meghan's posse; she couldn't know. I was just the rough hockey girl who copied her work.
"Simla, I'm not going to hurt you. I'm not one of them. Honestly."
She turned around slowly and peered at me through her glasses uncertainly.
"Have lunch with me today?" And that was how we became friends.
I arrived at Simla's house and pulled into her driveway. The house was beautiful; I was surprised, wondering why her family had such a big house for just one month a year. It was bigger than the one she had in Princeton. Simla opened the door as I made my way up the path.
"Hey, Arizona. Come on in!"
I followed her into the hallway and up the stairs to her bedroom, which was similar to the one she had at home, but bigger. She put on some tunes and pointed to a chair.
"Have a seat. Can I get you something to drink?"
"No, I'm fine."
She sat down on her bed, facing me. "So, what's up? I'm kinda surprised you called me for a chat."
"Well, we never talk at school. Every time I've tried to be friends with you, you've brushed me off." She pursed her lips.
"Simla, I don't know what you're talking about. What are you doing here, anyway?"
She scrunched up her face and raised her shoulders. "Huh? I live here."
"I mean, what are you doing here in California?"
"What the heck are you talking about?"
It was my turn to shrug, but in frustration.
"Have you failed to notice that I'm here every October? Good grief, you see me by our lockers every day."
I decided to ignore her snarkiness. "Why do you come here every October?"
"If you'd paid any attention to me, you'd know that our moms work together at Ames. My mom is a physicist, like yours, remember?"
I did. Dr. Sen worked in the physics department at Princeton University. "So, she gets transferred to Ames for a month every year?"
"Yeah. Every October. It really sucks."
"Don't know," she said vaguely, but I detected the shiftiness in her eyes. She was lying. Still, I figured that part wasn't any of my business, anyway.
"What about Justin?" I asked, trying to get a feel for her mood.
She got up and paced the room. "You're not going to tell my mom, are you?"
"What? Tell her what?" I asked, confused.
"That Justin and I were together last night."
"Like together together?" I made sure not to snicker. The thought was totally ridiculous. What was sweet, gentle Simla doing with that idiot?
"Yeah. It just happened. Are you going to tell?"
"No, of course not. What's he doing here anyway?"
I chose my words carefully, not wanting to freak her out. "Why is he in Mountain View?"
"Same reason as me. His dad works at Ames. What's the matter with you?"
So, that whole ski school thing had been totally made up. Figured. Who goes to ski school in October? "So, where do you go to school the rest of the time?"
"In Princeton." She looked directly at me, seeming totally relaxed. Why hadn't she asked me what I was doing here? Surely, that was weird for her, to see me here? I waited for her to say something, but she didn't.
"You must miss your friends from Jersey..."
"No, not really. It's hard making good friends when I move around like this."
"Simla, we're friends, aren't we?"
She sat back down, looking at me as if I had lost my mind. "Well, no. I mean, you're a cheerleader. You don't give the likes of me the time of day. You never have. Even when I try and talk to you by our lockers, you just brush me off. I'm just the kid who comes here once a year. Anyway, what's with all the questions? Did your mom ask you to pay attention to me? Or did your friends put you up to this? Trying to find out about me and Justin? What do you want?" She scowled.
I had no idea what she was talking about, but decided to ignore it. She acted as if she didn't know me from Princeton at all. "Simla, do you have any pics from your high school in Princeton? I'd love to see them."
Her face tightened, and her eyes turned chilly. She stood up. "Arizona, I've got stuff to do. Thanks for stopping by and for not saying anything to Mom about Justin. You have to go now, I've got stuff to do."
"Wait, what about Ariele?"
"What about her? She's a freak."
"Aren't you friends with her?"
"So, just because she's new, you think I'm going to hang out with her, do you? You know, I've really had enough of you. Always such a bitch at school, and now you're pretending to be nice just 'cause you need something. I wonder what?"
Bitch? Me? I was dumbfounded.
"Just get the hell out. I have stuff to do." She pointed at the door angrily.
Weird. What had I said? Why didn't she want to acknowledge that she knew me from Princeton? She obviously wasn't in the mood to talk, so I walked out. I figured I'd try again when she calmed down.
She slammed the door behind me.
I made it home by nine. A couple of bikes were parked outside-Harry's and Kellan's. The thought of Kellan made me feel slightly queasy, so I decided to try to sneak up the stairs quietly. However, when I heard laughter and screaming from the family room, I couldn't help peeking. Ella and Kellan were battling it out on Guitar Hero, and Harry was dancing along with Gertrude. Well, that explained the elaborate GH set up. I have a brother! Ella seemed to have fully recovered. Mom and Rupert were cuddling on the couch and laughing so hard that tears were streaming down Mom's face.
Gertrude was the only one who noticed that I'd come in. She jumped out of Harry's arms and lunged at me. She took me by surprise, and I stumbled, lost my balance, and then fell flat. As I clumsily scrambled to get myself up, I noticed the whole room had gone quiet, and all eyes were on me. I felt my face go red as I carefully avoided Kellan's eyes and slumped down on the nearest chair.
"Are you okay, Arizona?" Mom asked, as she came over to me.
"Yes, just fine. How are you doing, Ella? Feeling better?" I asked to divert attention away from me.
Ella came over and climbed into my lap for a hug. It felt very awkward, but I put my arms around her.
"I just beat Kellan at Guitar Hero. What could be better?"
I heard Kellan mock crying in the background.
"I ordered pizza. Hope that's okay with everyone." Rupert stood up. "Kellan, are you staying for dinner?"
"No, I better get home, tons of homework for physics." He got up and bear-hugged Ella, thumped Harry and Rupert on the shoulders, and kissed my mom's cheek. He slowly turned around, smiled, and pulled at my sleeve. "See you in physics, Shrimp." I felt hollow. Inexplicably, I didn't want him to leave, feeling a strong urge to touch him. I squashed the feeling and just gave him a casual wave as he left.
Rupert brought the pizzas into the family room, and we helped ourselves. I sat down on one of the overstuffed chairs and looked around. Ella and Harry were sitting on the floor stuffing their faces. They were obviously very close. Harry seemed to follow her every move and help her any time there was even the slightest sign that she needed anything. She, in turn, obviously adored him, but also seemed to enjoy trying to annoy him. So, nothing new with her. She's such a brat!
Ella kept flicking bits of cheese onto Harry's face, but he just laughed and play-tickled her in return. I felt a bit envious. All my life, I had wished for an older brother who would look out for me and always be on my side. My relationship with Ella was strained. Or at least, that's how I remember it being in Princeton. We never hugged, touched, or spent any time together. She knew how to push my buttons, and I didn't like it. And there she was, flicking cheese without any consequences.
I turned around and looked at Rupert. I wondered what his story was. I knew he played guitar. Could he be some kind of musician? I wondered where he rode off to on his bike. He looked at my mother with doting eyes, resting his head on her lap, while she stroked his hair. I wondered what she was thinking about. Where had they met? How long had they been together? And, the bigger question, why did we call him Dad? I could feel myself getting worked up again, and I wanted to scream. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes for a moment.
I opened my eyes again and looked at Mom. She seemed to be her usual self, but more relaxed and content. I had caught her looking with irritation at her Blackberry a couple of times this evening and wondered what that was about. She looked amazing for her age, younger somehow. Though she must be getting close to forty-five, she didn't look a day over thirty... well, maybe thirty-five. I saw her trusted Kelly bag sitting on the floor by her chair. Some things never changed.
My eyes were drawn to her hands. What was that around her finger? Dirt? I looked closer; it looked like a tattooed ring. I noticed that Rupert had the same tattoo. They had tattooed wedding bands? That was very alternative of them, almost silly. I held back my giggles by clenching my jaw.
When Mom's phone rang, she seemed slightly annoyed. The conversation was one-sided, with Mom replying in one-syllable words. She looked at Rupert and whispered, but I still heard. "Problem at work, I'm going to have to go in for a while. Come with me?"
Rupert sat up and said, "Harry, you're in charge. Get Ella to bed and read her a bedtime story. Harry Potter is on her nightstand. Arizona, you have homework? We'll be back in a couple of hours. I'll be on my cell."
They got up and kissed each of us before they took off on Rupert's Harley.
On his way upstairs, Harry turned around to me. "Shrimp, do you need help with your physics homework?"
"I don't know. I haven't looked at it yet. I'll come and find you if I do." I wasn't even aware of any physics homework.
He walked Ella upstairs, and I decided to take Gertrude for a stroll before tackling my homework. I found her leash, and we ventured outside. Lazy little Gertrude didn't seem to want to be out in the dark, so it was a quick stroll. Back inside, I went upstairs to deal with the homework.
Hearing noises coming from Ella's room, I stopped and watched Harry read to her. I was overcome with jealousy. I needed Harry to be my brother. Ella noticed me in the doorway and waved at me to climb into bed with her, which I did. We listened to him read; Ella was asleep before he had finished the chapter. I got up, Harry tucked her in, and we left her to dream her dreams.
"I'll be in my room if you need any help, Shrimp."
I absentmindedly yanked at Harry's sleeve as a thank you and went to my room. I was almost scared when I opened my homework calendar and looked at the work. It seemed that this was basically a repeat of junior year, so I had done most all of this before, but with really bad grades in all the classes. Physics was a new one, though; I didn't have a clue why I was taking it. Had my mother forced me into it? I looked at the homework. Centripetal force problems. I had no idea what that meant. I skimmed the textbook, but it still didn't make sense. Was Harry really any good at this? I walked over to his room, the one that had been locked before. He was sitting by his desk, writing some kind of report.
"Need help, Shrimp?"
I nodded. "Any idea what centripetal force is?"
"Sure, let me see what you have to do." He looked at my assignment and explained the problems. It was actually very simple, and we finished the work in no time.
I looked around his room. It was hockey-themed with some bike stuff thrown in, a typical boy's room. There were lots of framed posters, a row of hockey and bike helmets, signed hockey memorabilia, sticks, and pucks. Harry watched me with amusement.
"Why did you lock your room when you went away?" I asked curiously.
"So you wouldn't come in and mess with my stuff!" He laughed.
I was a bit hurt, but I guessed that made sense. I knew all about little sisters not being able to keep their hands off personal property. I must be his pesky little sister.
"What were you and Kellan talking about at breakfast?" I asked.
He looked bemused. "Can't really remember. I guess I told him about camp, and then we discussed the tryouts."
He sat up and looked at me with a sly grin. "What's going on between you and Kellan? Did you fight about something while I was gone? You guys acted strange at breakfast."
I shrugged. "Oh, nothing... Harry, can we hang out after school tomorrow? I've missed you."
"Sure, I've missed you, too. I have a date with Maria at six, so why don't we hang out right after school?"
"Sounds good. Maybe we could go skating?"
"Yeah. Are you still coming to watch the tryouts on Thursday?"
"Sure. I'll be there."
... continued ...