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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1463684-Alma-Chapter-1-Updated
by onaya3
Rated: 13+ · Chapter · Supernatural · #1463684
Mali Meets the Sabre's
9th September 2380 – Nine Months Previously

The hover-car landed with a gentle thud on the side of the road out the front of Alma High School and powered down.

Our second-hand hover-car wasn’t as shiny and new as the other models that we passed on the streets, or even those that were parked in the student car park. Our vehicle also made a loud humming noise coupled with a slight rattle when we were zipping from A to B whereas the newer models moved almost soundlessly. These differences only aided my self-conscious tendencies which were nerve-wracking when starting at a new school.

Mama turned off the ignition and turned to give me a brave smile.

She ordered, “Don’t be scared.”

“I’m not,” I lied.

“Today is my first day at my new job.” Mama continued. “I’m not scared, I’m excited.”

“Mama, I’m not scared.” I repeated.

She wasn't convinced though as she examined my face which looked very similar to hers in features, but our colouring was different.

Mama was full-blooded Mali with the typical smooth, dark brown skin, big brown eyes and short afro hair. Her eyes were her best feature as they were large and yet pointed in the corners which gave her a feline-like quality. Mama was 170 cm’s tall and skinny.

I wasn’t as tall as Mama, I was at least ten centimetres shorter. I was 16 years old so I still had a couple of years left where I might reach her height. My hair was long and frizzy and my skin was a light brown colour. My paler skin came from my father since he was Caucasian French.

My parents divorce had just been finalized. Papa had moved back to France at the start of their separation and with its completion, Mama and I moved to Alaska. It was thanks to her getting a job at the new hydro power plant which operated just outside of Alma.

It was ‘fall’ as they called autumn here. Mama and I were already wearing coats as we had to adjust to the colder climate. I had moved from arid conditions to almost arctic.

I came from a climate where a ‘hot day’ could reach forty-five degrees Celsius; to a climate which could drop to minus forty-five degrees Celsius. Alma had odd daylight hours being so close to the Arctic Circle. In summer, I've heard that there are days where the sun doesn’t set until 11 PM and in the middle of winter, there are days when it doesn't rise until 11 AM.

I didn’t want to come here. I didn’t want to leave Mali. I miss my Aunts and Uncles and I miss playing soccer with my cousins. I miss the warm weather and the warmth of my family.

Alma has a population of around 7,500 and people here aren’t as friendly. When Mama and I first moved into our small, two bedroom townhouse which was in a complex, we asked a neighbour for directions to the supermarket. The lady was snobby and only gave a short answer which wasn't helpful. Now I'd be going to school with people like this and I've been dreading my first day.

We sat in our vehicle and looked at the kids who appeared to be my age or older, all stream through the front doors of the large school building.

The students were a mix of Caucasians, Asian-descent or Native Alaskans. I spotted a couple of African-American kids, but their hair was treated so it looked smooth and straight, not like my frizzy hair. All of their clothes looked like the latest fashion and they all carried the latest models of laptops or tablets or mobile phones. I saw how they pretended to look busy by messaging each other using their technology, as they checked their class schedules on their tablets. Some of them even wore large earphones to listen to loud music and block the world out.

I knew I was going to stick out with my old clothes. My laptop was second-hand and used to be Mama’s and my mobile phone was old so it didn’t have all of the extra features of the newer models. In Nara none of this mattered, but here I was worried that I wouldn’t be accepted because of it.

“Can I move back to Mali and live with Uncle Bouren and Aunt Menaka?” I passed her a pleading look.

“No," she was quick to glare. “Your father left me for another woman and now you want to leave me too?”

“But Mama, look at their clothes! Look at my clothes! I won’t fit in here! I fitted in, in my old school in Nara!”

“Then make them fit in with YOU!” she flared and next, she hit the control for my door to make it open. “Now go to school!”

With a huff to show my unhappiness, I climbed out of the vehicle. Then as I slowly walked up the concrete path towards the large building, I looked back. Mama powered up the hover-car and I watched the vehicle rise into the air. Lastly, she threw me a wave before she flew off down the road.

Merde! I’m all alone and I’m going to have to ask one of these fashionable kids where the school office is to pick up my class timetable. I walked through the doors to find a crowded school corridor with lockers lining the walls. The students stood with their friends in front of them, either putting things in or taking them out, as they all talked loudly.

There weren’t any signs that I could see for the school's office, so I was going to have to ask for directions. I started to walk over to two girls who appeared to be my age, who were touching up their made-up faces using small mirrors. Mama would never let me wear make-up to school. Now there’s another reason why I’ll stick out like an elephant next to a giraffe.

“Pardon," I smiled as warmly as I could. “Could you please tell me where the school office is?”

“Down the corridor and turn left," one of the girls answered without looking away from her mirror.

“Merci - er - I mean thank you," I replied awkwardly.

Merde! They were like the neighbour Mama and I encountered. Only worse, the teenagers here won't even look at you.

I walked down the corridor and I turned left just as the girl directed only to find another long corridor. Mon Dieu, please don’t make me have to ask for directions again! Feeling lost, I started to walk down this hallway past more lockers and kids chattering loudly. I still couldn’t see any signs of any school offices so I stopped and looked about, confused.

Just then a pretty girl with long black hair and dark brown eyes noticed me standing in the middle of the corridor. She was standing with a similarly looking friend and I think they were Native Alaskan. The first girl walked up and smiled which immediately made me like her.

“Hi, you look lost," she laughed, but not meanly.

“I’m trying to find the school office.” I told her.

“It’s just down the end of this corridor," she pointed. "The door is hidden, so I’ll show you.”

“Thank you!” I gushed in relief.

Next, both girls walked me down the corridor and as they did, they openly examined my appearance.

“Where’s your accent from?” the second girl asked out of interest.

“I just moved here from Mali.” I answered.

“Mali?” the second girl echoed in surprise. “That’s a big change coming to Alaska.”

“Where’s Mali?” the first girl enquired.

“In Africa," the second girl answered for me.

“Wow," the first girl sounded impressed before she stopped and pointed out a door. “There it is.”

“Thank you very much,” I said gratefully to the two.

“Good luck on your first day," the first girl smiled then she and her friend walked on.

I gave them a wave as they departed and I wished I could be in their classes but unfortunately they were younger than me.

*****

After I signed in, I was told which classes I would be in. I was given a map to download onto my phone of the school building, with my class time table. I was relieved to see on my schedule that I was placed into the Home Science and Music classes that I nominated as my electives.

The school bell sounded and hurriedly I left the office. I walked down the now empty corridor looking for Room 306 for my first class of the day which was English. To be honest, I didn’t find the school map that helpful. I kept losing my place by having to check the ‘key’ at the bottom, to work out what all the different colours meant.

Merde! I'm going to be late for my first class! Now I’m really going to stand out!

At last, I found Room 306 after walking up one staircase and down another corridor. Nervously, I approached the closed door where I knocked once before slowly opening it.

The English teacher was a red-headed woman, who was standing up the front of the class. She was writing on an electronic board with a sensor pen before she paused to look on my lateness, unimpressed.

“I’m – I’m new,” I tried to explain.

I heard some snickering from the students who were all staring at me. Most of them eyed me analytically and looked unimpressed with what they saw. Their expressions mirrored the look on my teacher's face.

“You’re new?” the teacher raised her eyebrows. “That would explain why I’ve never seen you before.”

There was more snickering as the whole class stared at my appearance. I stood there, like I was stuck in the mud, wondering if I was supposed to say anything else? The teacher didn’t ask for my name nor did she offer hers.

“Well, unless you want to stand there and help me teach, you can find a seat," she said at last.

My face burned in embarrassment as I looked for a place to sit down and hide, but there were only two places. Beside the vacant seats, sat fashionably dressed boys or girls who looked like they were secretly hoping I wouldn’t sit beside them. But if they didn’t want me to, where else am I supposed to sit? I’m going to have to sit in one of those seats whether they like it or not.

I moved towards a seat beside a boy who was wearing a sports team jacket, when abruptly he put his foot on the chair to stop me from sitting down.

Mon Dieu! This day was worse than I could have imagined! Not only does nobody like me, but they already hate me! I froze in terror as I didn't know what to do, when out of the blue I heard this…

SMACK!

…a good looking boy who was sitting behind the mean boy who'd stopped me from sitting down, had just slapped him on the back of his head!

“Don’t be a dickhead, Johnson! Move your frickin’ big foot!” he snapped.

The other kids who'd witnessed this, burst out laughing, whereas I wished I could turn invisible.

The good looking boy was sitting next to a broad-shouldered girl with a very pretty face. But her physique was what made you notice about her first, as she was one of the strongest looking girls I'd ever seen. Truly, she looked like she could have been a weightlifter! She had bright blue eyes and long, wavy, dark blonde hair, and was looking at me with a curious expression.

She was sitting next to another boy, who was the exact opposite to her as he was very thin. He had faded blue eyes and his pallor was so unnaturally white, his lips were almost blue. To say he looked sickly would have been an understatement.

The good looking boy who looked like he could be part Native Alaskan, waved his hand towards the vacant seat.

Immediately, I sat down and busied myself by taking out my laptop. I tried to ignore the death stare by the sports jacket guy named Johnson. He glared at me then the good looking boy and back to me.

Mon Dieu! That's it, tomorrow I’m not coming back to this school! I’m never going to come to this school again!

However, I noticed the good looking boy didn't bother with Johnson's threatening looks, he was too busy staring at me. And he wasn’t just staring, but he looked completely transfixed. Then I noticed so too were the blonde girl as well as the pale guy.

The good looking guy had scruffy, dark brown hair which sat just below his ears and dark brown eyes. Although he and the girl were sitting down, I could tell they were both tall. Their pale, thin friend wasn’t as tall, or anywhere as built-up as the other two.

These three weren’t dressed as trendily as their classmates and seemed to have their own style. The good looking guy was wearing blue jeans, a grey t-shirt and a brown suede jacket. The girl was wearing brown jeans, a pale blue shirt and a black suede jacket. The pale guy was wearing black jeans, a white shirt and a black, pin-striped suit jacket.

What’s more, it wasn’t just the good looking guy that was staring, but it was all three. Whereas the first guy’s mouth hung open, the girl and the pale guy looked very curious. Then, the two smiled in a friendly way, but the first guy continued to stare. When the girl noticed her friend’s mouth was hanging open, she whacked him on the arm to make him snap out of it.

“What?” he looked back in surprise. “Oh yeah.”

He straightened, closed his mouth and gave me a goofy grin.

I liked his smile, it told me that he was a nice person.

*****

Over the next half hour, I learned that my English teacher’s name was Miss Broadbent and that she had a penchant for poetry as she made us study Shakespeare sonnets.

As we studied the verses she put up on the electronic board, a couple of times I snuck further glances at the three kids who seemed the friendliest so far. I noticed the blonde girl and the pale guy looking my way again. But every time I turned and looked at the good looking guy, he was staring at me with a dumbfounded expression.

Why is he doing that? Hasn’t he seen frizzy hair before? Maybe not, as I looked about at my other classmates and saw nobody else did.

At last the bell went, indicating it was time for our next class. Everybody stood up simultaneously whilst packing up their laptops. As I slipped my computer into my school bag, I became aware that the three were deliberately moving slowly, as if they were waiting for me.

“Hi," the blonde girl smiled. “What’s your name?”

“Mali,” I answered. “Mali Roanne.”

“I’m Lucia Sabre," she introduced. “This is Kevin Wisetail,” she indicated the good looking guy before she nodded towards the pale one, “and this is Xenthe Creillaic.”

“Lucia Sabre?” I echoed to make sure I pronounced her name correctly. It was spelt Lucia Sabre but it was pronounced ‘Loo-chia Sar-bra’.

“It’s Italian," she informed. “Where’s your name from?”

“Mali is the name of the country that I was born in.” I told her. “Roanne is the name of my father who comes from France.”

“Cool!” Kevin grinned. “You’re like, international or something.”

Lucia and Xenthe smirked at their friend in good humour.

“Yeah Kev, Mali is very international.” Xenthe said patiently with a different accent to theirs. I think in the States it's called 'Southern'.

I saw that Kevin Wisetail wasn’t what some people might call ‘bright’, but after what he did for me today, I didn’t care. He was nice and that was the important thing. He was also polite, hesitating at the classroom door to allow me to exit first before walking out after me.

“Why did you move here?” he queried.

“I moved here with my Mama after she was offered a job at the new hydro power plant.” I told them.

“You moved here with just your Mom?” he wondered. “What happened to your Dad?”

“My parents divorced when my mother found my father in bed with another woman.” I said bluntly.

“Where’s your father now?” Kevin demanded, suddenly angry.

“He lives in France with the said woman,” I sighed sadly.

Then I paused when I saw the murderous looks on Lucia’s and Kevin’s faces.

“That bastard!” he cried out. “He did that to you and your Mom? He betrayed his own wife and kids?!”

“Kid," I informed them. “I have no brothers and sisters.”

“You’re lucky!” he changed from angry to amiable. “I’m the middle child of five. I have two brothers and two sisters.”

“I’m the eldest of three girls,” Lucia added on.

“I’m the one and only.” Xenthe said. “My father and sister were murdered so now it’s just me and my Mom.”

Merde! They were murdered? This made me stop and stare in surprise at the skinny guy wearing mostly black.

“I'm so sorry Xenthe…that must have been terrible for you.” I stammered out.

“It happened six years ago, I’m over it.” He shrugged it off before changing the subject, “So do we all have Math?”

I realized that I had no idea where I was supposed to be heading to, so I pulled out my class time table on my phone to check.

“Oui, I do have Math. Um, in Room 208?” I looked upon my new friends, lost.

“No problem.” Kevin smiled kindly. “You have Math with us and Mr. Hachi.”

“Who’s Mr. Hachi?” I asked.

“One of the best teachers we have in this god-forsaken, cyst-pool of agony, torture and ignorance.” Xenthe cried out dramatically, making Lucia laugh.

She clapped him on the back and the two walked on ahead of us with Kevin and I right behind them.

*****

Xenthe was right, Mr. Hachi was a good teacher. Usually I hate Math because it’s boring and difficult, but our educator made his class entertaining and most of all, understandable. He cracked several jokes when making his point, making the whole room guffaw.

“Mr. Wisetail," our Japanese-background teacher pointed at Kevin. “Can you please tell me why the X doesn’t like the Z?”

“Um, because the equation doesn't add up?” Kevin guessed.

“Right you are! Congratulations Mr. Wisetail, you’ve just made it to the final round of ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’!” he cried out exuberantly.

Next, he used his sensor-pen to write up on the electronic board the solution to the math problem.

Busily, Kevin copied everything down onto his tablet that Mr. Hachi put on the electronic board. I noticed how he volunteered more in this class by putting up his hand to either ask questions or answer Mr. Hachi’s. He even surprised me by leaning over and typing in a command into my tablet when he saw me start to fall behind.

Oh, he wasn’t slow at all, he’s just like that in certain situations. But then again, aren’t we all? I passed him a grateful smile before returning my attention to our teacher at the front of the room.

*****

At recess, I was shown to the cafeteria by Kevin, Lucia and Xenthe and I followed them over to a table. We sat with another three Native Alaskan kids in the crowded cafeteria, where I was welcomed. One of them was the pretty girl who helped me this morning.

“Sorry we’re crashing your table.” Lucia greeted. “But there are no other tables free.”

“Or anybody else that we’d want to sit with.” Xenthe said annoyed.

The others chuckled in agreement before one of them teased, “So Lucia, there’s Johnson and Peters. Don’t you want to sit with them?”

“Do you want to see me suspended from school again for punching the losers?” she retorted.

Oh, Lucia has been suspended for fighting? With her intimidating height and strong appearance, I marvelled at anybody who might want to take her on.

“That’s my little sister Katrina.” Kevin introduced the girl who helped me this morning. I should have guessed that the nice girl was related to the nice guy who also came to my rescue. However, her skin was more bronzed than Kevin's even if they had the same eyes.

“We met this morning,” Katrina told him.

“Hallo, I’m Mali.” I smiled. “I was hoping I’d see you again to thank you for this morning.”

“Yeah?” her brother waited for an explanation.

“Poor Mali got lost looking for the school office this morning,” Katrina said sympathetically, "and no-one would help her.”

Lucia flared, “Typical! Mum and Dad say that this town is getting worse the bigger it gets.”

“The kids in this school are living proof!” the second girl rolled her eyes.

“These are my cousins Geoff Sabre and Maryann Riverclaw.” Lucia introduced next.

"Hi," I smiled at them before looking back at her. “Do your sisters go to this school?”

“Not yet," she answered as she took out some sandwiches from her bag. “I’m five years older than my sister Sophia and ten years older than my littlest sister, Susanna.”

“Mali is an only child.” Kevin told Katrina.

Her eyes widened impressed, “You’re lucky!”

“I am?” I queried.

“Kevin and I are among five, which I guess is typical for a -” but then she stopped short.

Typical for a what? Next, I noticed that not only Katrina stopped short, but everybody else looked uneasy for some reason. That was until Xenthe moved the conversation along again.

“Being an only child isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” He declared. “I mean, when my Mom works late, she tells me to go to the Sabre’s after school so I won’t be home alone.”

“Oh you poor thing!” Lucia cried out sarcastically. “Yeah, afternoons at my house must be so trying! Playing in the woods or our soccer games is terrible, you poor, hard-done-by thing!”

This made everybody laugh including Xenthe.

“Lucia, you have no idea!” He cried over-dramatically. “Especially since your father’s specialty are Italian dishes and your house reeks of garlic!”

For some reason, this put everybody at the table into hysterics but me.

“What’s so funny?” I asked Kevin.

“Long story.” He smilingly shook his head, but he paused when he realized that I was the only person at this table who wasn’t eating. “Where’s your food?”

“Oh, I don’t have any.” I said. “Mama put some credit onto my credit card to buy lunch from the school cafeteria. I thought that’s what all kids here do?”

But I saw not ‘everybody’ does, as the people sitting at this table were eating something brought from home. All but Xenthe that is, he was sucking on a straw sticking into a vegetable juice carton.

“Oh.” Kevin looked rueful. “Sorry, we didn’t know. If we'd known you were going to buy your meals we would have shown you the line.”

“If you line up now, the bell will go before you have something to eat.” Lucia nodded towards a long line of people standing on the other side of the room.

Out of the blue, she surprised me by her putting one of her sandwiches before me, as Kevin put half of his chocolate slice next to it. Katrina put down some carrot sticks she had been munching on and even Maryann offered some of her potato chips she'd been crunching on.

Geoff who was eating an apple, asked the table, “Does anyone have a pocket knife so I can cut this in half?”

“No!” my face burned bright red, "thank you but no!”

They must think of me as a starving child before Third World poverty was eradicated.

“I would eat up if I were you.” Xenthe smiled in good humor. “The Lokoti would find it insulting if you turned down their good intentions.”

“Lokoti?” I questioned. “What are Lokoti?”

“We’re Lokoti.” Lucia stated.

I looked at her bright blue eyes and wavy, dark blonde hair, to Xenthe’s pallor and faded blue eyes and then at the rest of the table which included Kevin.

“Is Lokoti an Alaskan term for friendly people?” I wondered aloud.

The table erupted into laughter once more as they all looked on in amusement.

“Lokoti is the name of our Native Alaskan tribe who live inside of the Lokoti National Park which is outside of Alma.” Geoff educated.

“So does that mean all Native Alaskans in this school are Lokoti?” I wondered.

“Most of them are.” Kevin shrugged.

“There are kids who live in Alma who come from other tribes, but half the Native Alaskans in school are Lokoti.” Katrina said helpfully.

“So no Lokoti live in Alma?”

Everyone at the table answered with a firm, “No.”

“Why?” I asked.

“We’re tied to the land of our ancestors.” Kevin shrugged. “I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else, nor would I want to.”

“Lokoti ‘growly things’ are tied to the land because it’s their hunting grounds, but normal Lokoti aren’t.” Geoff returned. "Take your older sister for instance, she's happily living in Fairbanks."

Just then there was an uncomfortable silence as everyone looked at Geoff annoyed.

“What’s a Lokoti ‘growly thing’?” I looked around the table.

“Nothing.” Geoff back-pedalled. “Never mind.”

Nobody said anything because they were too busy glaring at Geoff. That was until Xenthe turned my way. He put down his vegetable juice to look at me directly.

“Lokoti ‘growly things’ are wildlife indigenous to Alaska. It’s a kinda like a nickname for a species of Brown Bear. They live in the Lokoti National Park."

“Oh.” I nodded. “I saw on the World Wide News that Brown Bears attack people.”

“It’s rare.” Lucia shrugged. “But they can get territorial when they have cubs. That, or they’re just plain angry.”

“So there’s a species of Brown Bear called Lokoti Growly Things?” I repeated.

“It’s more of a nickname used by our tribe.” Xenthe spoke in a smooth voice as he turned on the charm. “If you ask a non-Lokoti about a Lokoti 'growly thing', they wouldn’t know what you’re talking about. I probably wouldn’t ask a Lokoti either, because it’s more like a childish nickname we throw around the tribe. So it’s best that you just ignore Geoff and forget anything that was mentioned.”

I looked around the table at the faces of my new friends as I sensed something was amiss.

“If this is a secret or something you could just say so and I won’t tell," I said.

Lucia cracked up laughing as she slapped her pale friend on the arm, “You don’t work on her!”

“Yeah! What's with that?” Kevin looked on me strangely. “How come Xenthe’s charm doesn’t work on you?”

“Xenthe could sell the idea that rain’s not wet!” Katrina rolled her eyes.

“But Katrina, rain isn’t wet.” He next looked her in the eyes, "You don’t need to use an umbrella, because rain is completely dry.”

Just as her eyes started to widen and she began to look hypnotized, Kevin whacked him on the arm.

He said unhappily, “Stop it! Not on my kid sister!”

The table erupted into laughter once more as I sat there bamboozled. I didn't understand their inside jokes and I felt a little left out. I sensed something was being kept from me and that Geoff almost gave away an important secret.

*****

For the rest of the day I observed the reactions of the other kids around us.

I saw how the non-Lokoti behaved standoffish around Lucia, Xenthe and Kevin. But I noticed how the other Lokoti kids either said "Hi", or smiled to them which they returned. Otherwise the three could act like they existed in their own little world. The expression, ‘here but not here’ seemed to apply, as the three made it seem like they were deigning the school for even coming to class at all.

After recess, I went to my Home Science class with Lucia and I felt lucky to join her small group for our practical lessons. Afterwards, I went to Geography as Lucia went to History. I was relieved to see that Kevin had this class with me. Jovially, he waved me over to the seat he had kindly saved which was next to his.

When Geography finished, I walked with Kevin back to the cafeteria and he insisted on waiting with me as I lined up to buy some lunch. To say thank you so I wouldn’t be standing all alone, I bought him a chocolate bar. Then we went and sat with the same group of people we had sat with at recess.

As we all ate our different meals, I noticed Xenthe didn’t eat again but this time he drank plain milk. I wondered if he had an eating disorder, being so thin and sickly looking? But I pursed my lips together and politely kept these questions to myself.

The bell went, signalling the end of lunch and I went to Music with Xenthe as Kevin and Lucia went to Metal Shop.

In Music, I used one of the school’s flutes, since my instrument was at home. Xenthe also played on the school’s property, which was a grand piano sitting in the corner of the room. His talent was impressive and I found myself lowering my instrument to listen to him play his.

His graceful hands seemed to glide over the keys that he operated masterfully. He looked so intense and involved that I noticed this impressed the girls and even the boys in the class, who also listened to him play. Even the teacher seemed captivated as she paused her lesson to watch and listen too.

Xenthe could disarm people with his prowess at the piano as well as his way with words. There were six guys and fourteen girls in our Music class which included him. He schmoozed easily with the teacher and his peers and everyone seemed to look up to him. He did have graceful qualities, which coupled with his mannerisms, I wondered if he was straight, bi or gay?

It was hard to tell, as he seemed to treat everybody the same, including myself. He introduced me to his classmates as he exchanged jokes with both male and female of the student body. When our music teacher pulled up a student for not playing to the sheet music like we all were, the offender tried to be a smartass and Xenthe put him in his place.

“But I don’t need sheet music Mrs. Somers, I’m playing by ear," the boy said.

“Is that why you can’t keep time and you’re playing at the wrong pitch?” Xenthe returned, which earned a few snickers from the class.

“Shut up, Creillaic!” the boy retorted. “You couldn’t play in tune if your life depended on it!”

“At least I know how to read a tune, Brad. Maybe that’s the real reason why you’re not using the sheet music?” He said coolly.

The boy huffed loudly as he moved his chair closer to share a music stand with another student.

When the bell went signalling the end of class, I realized I'd managed to survive my first day of school.

I disassembled the flute and cleaned it with a sterilizing cloth, before putting it back into its’ case to return to the teacher. As I did so, Xenthe stood patiently by the classroom door and waited for me. Two girls stopped to talk to him on their way out, which he fell into polite conversation with. But as he spoke, he kept a watchful eye on my movements. Then together, we walked down the stairs and traversed the main corridor to exit the school building.

Once we were outside, we found Kevin and Lucia waiting for us on the stairs.

I guess this was good bye, for today anyway.

“Well um, thank you for helping make my first day bearable.” I joked.

“It’s cool.” Lucia shrugged. "We've all been there and know what it can be like."

“It’s not like we meet people from Mali every day.” Kevin gushed. “Hey, your name is Mali and you come from Mali!”

He'd only just put the two together? Lucia and Xenthe cracked up laughing at their friend’s slow uptake with this fact. Whereas, I just smiled and nodded.

“It was my father’s idea.” I explained. “He was French and in love with my mother so he wanted to call their child after her country.”

Back in Nara, this was a favourite choice of ammunition for the school bullies.

“Cool!” Kevin looked impressed by this.

“It’s kind of romantic in a way.” Xenthe admitted with a shrug.

“Yeah, romantic right up until he slept with that other woman!” Lucia said sourly, which made me think that she would get along well with my mother.

Next, I looked on four yellow school hover-busses which kids were piling onto.

“Um, which bus goes to Bethel Street?” I queried.

“That would be the bus up the front, the South Alma service.” Xenthe pointed out. “But you won’t be catching it today.”

“I won’t?” I asked in surprise.

The bus looked like it was preparing to leave and suddenly I felt afraid I was going to miss it. Then how would I find my way home? I’m still new to this town, so I wouldn't know which direction to walk in.

“No, because you’re coming back to Lucia’s,” his voice sounded far away.

“Pardon?”

When I turned around, I realized that I was standing there alone because the three were striding towards the student car park.

Lucia and Xenthe kept walking whereas Kevin stopped to turn around and wait.

“Come on!” He called out.

Hesitant, I looked from the three to the school hover-bus, still unsure of how I would get home?

“If I come to Lucia’s with you, can I please get a lift home?” I asked, worried.

“No, we’re gonna make you walk all the way home in the dark!” Xenthe sung back, mockingly.

When Kevin noticed I hadn't moved, he laughed out, “He’s kidding! Of course we'll see you home, safely.”

Without further ado, I speedily walked after the three. Kevin fell into step beside as we followed Lucia and Xenthe over to a second-hand hover-car parked in the corner. It looked a little old, but not as old as Mama's vehicle. Next, she unlocked it with her remote key and hopped into the driver’s seat. Xenthe sat beside her in the passenger’s so Kevin and I hopped into the back.

As she punched in the ignition code to start the engine, I took my mobile phone out of my bag. I quickly text messaged Mama to let her know where I’ll be. Then as the hover-car lifted up into the air, I received a message back.

I’LL BE HOME LATE SO HAVE FUN WITH NEW FRIENDS – she wrote.

*****

I looked out the windows at the passing scenery as we cruised down the highway out of Alma. The surrounding forest was predominantly made up of pine trees, with the odd deciduous tree thrown in. I liked the musky smell of the air thanks to these trees, it made the air perfumed.

“I’m still getting used to the greenery.” I commented.

“There aren’t many trees in Mali?” Xenthe asked.

“Not as many as there are here.” I answered.

Lucia turned the hover-car off the highway and down a smaller road. On the side was a sign announcing that we were entering the World Heritage Listed, Lokoti National Park. Soon, the woods cleared to show a small suburb with many wooden houses, tidy yards and school kids walking home either in groups or with their parents.

Everyone had a Native Alaskan appearance and I saw half of the grown men had long, dark hair, either worn out or tied back in pony-tails. They walked confidently, holding onto their children’s hands who skipped along beside them. They'd just alighted from a school hover-bus where their parents met them at the bus stop.

Our driver steered the hover-car past a sports field where a group of youths were just starting a game of soccer. Next to it, was a General Store and a Garage, as well as a large Meeting Hall which was decorated in Native Alaskan style markings and bright colours. I even saw a small Library across the road from the Store, which looked like it was once a family home.

Lucia, Xenthe and Kevin waved at many of the people. I noticed how everybody smiled and waved back. This was just like my old neighbourhood in Nara where everyone knew everyone.

Her hover-car now headed towards a tiny tarred road which went up a forest-encrusted hill. As we glided up the slope, we passed a couple of school kids who were walking along the side of the road. Lucia beeped at them – not to move them on but to tease – and the Lokoti kids all turned and pulled faces back which made her, Xenthe and Kevin laugh.

“Thanks for the lift, Lucia!” A pretty, dark-haired girl, yelled out sarcastically.

“Now you’re in for it.” Xenthe chuckled to our driver.

“What was that?” I queried.

“That was Lucia’s little sister Sophia, who was walking with her Riverclaw and Wisetail cousins.” He informed.

“Wisetail cousins?” I echoed as I looked to Kevin, who was waving.

“My little brother and my younger cousins," he turned my way.

Then I sensed something so I asked, “Are you and Lucia related?”

“Yeah but distantly," Kevin answered. "Looch’s maternal grandmother was a Riverclaw and her grandfather was a Wisetail.”

“Xenthe?” I looked to him next. “Are you also related to them?”

“Nope, my Mom and I aren’t related to anybody here." He said simply. "We’re the only non-Lokoti invited to live on tribal lands.”

“OK.” I frowned.

I sensed there was something here that was more than meets the eye, but I also sensed that I shouldn’t pry.

“Xenthe and his Mom are close friends of the Sabre's and Wisetail's." Kevin volunteered. "They were invited to live here by the Tribal Elders.”

The frown I was wearing was now out of jealousy. I wished Mama and I were invited to live here so we could feel part of a community again. All of the Lokoti I had met so far were nicer than the people of Alma.

The road ended at the top of the hill in a cul-de-sac, where I saw a two-story, brown painted, wooden house with a beautiful garden sitting by itself. Lucia turned her hover-car into the gravel driveway and powered down the vehicle. We landed with a soft thud behind a larger, family-sized, hover-car which looked shiny, new and spacious.

When we hopped out, I looked about the immaculate garden which sat around the well-kept house with a stone chimney. The grass was neatly cut, with many flower plots which had yellow and white daffodils amongst peach and red coloured tulips. I guessed these plants had been genetically engineered not just to withstand long Alaskan winters, but to bloom for longer in the summer. In pride of place, there was a huge Jacaranda Tree sitting in the middle of the garden and its leaves were turning yellow with the onset of fall.

Our feet crunched on the gravel driveway as we headed towards the front veranda. Lucia led the way up the steps and then inside with Xenthe right behind her. Kevin held open the screen door for me before walking in after.

As soon as I walked through the front door, I fell in love with what I saw. The house was warm and smelled homey, especially with the delicious odour of something cooking in the kitchen. The furniture looked country-style and comfortable. There were so many framed photos about the place! Some of the photos looked quite old, especially the ones on the mantle above the fireplace.

One wall was lined with bookshelves holding hundreds of books on ancient history and mythology. Then on the distant wall next to the fireplace, more bookshelves housed antique novels and an antiquated music collection in CD format. Indeed, the music which was playing softly right now, sounded like the rock band from the 20th Century called ‘U2’. I recognized it because Papa liked to listen to it now and then.

I looked on the antiques scattered about, in the shapes of pottery from Ancient Greece, as well as a framed Ancient Egyptian painting on papyrus, or the large Ming vase sitting on the floor beside a buffet cabinet. Inside the cabinet were more valuable knick-knacks from different eras of human history, like gold and crystal wine goblets. All of this made Lucia’s family appear well-off.

“Hi Dad!" she sung out.

“Lucia," a gruff male voice returned from the kitchen. “How was school?”

“Still there, nobody’s eaten the teachers yet," she replied, making Kevin laugh.

“Don’t encourage her, Kevin," her father recognized his laughter. “Hello Xenthe.”

The owner of the voice sensed he was here even though he was quietly standing off to the side.

“Hello Uncle Declan," he replied.

Lucia went to stand in the kitchen entranceway to talk to her father.

“Dad, I’ve brought home a guest.”

“Oh yeah?” he acknowledged.

“Come and meet Mali Roanne," she said.

“OK, just hang a sec," the voice replied.

Lucia moved to the side to give her father room to pass as Kevin and Xenthe exchanged smiles of amusement for some reason. It was as if they couldn’t wait to see Lucia’s father’s reaction. Neither could Lucia, as her eyes followed her father's movements.

Just then a tall, muscled man with blonde hair and bright blue eyes walked out of the kitchen while drying his hands on a tea towel.

The resemblance between Lucia and Mr Sabre was uncanny. She had his wavy blonde hair, albeit it was a shade darker, as well as his blue eyes. But what made me stare was the fact that Mr Sabre's muscles were huge! They bulged underneath his white t-shirt and jeans. He reminded me of a body-builder. His wavy blonde hair sat just past his ears and his bright blue eyes widened when they saw me.

But what was really surprising about this man, was that he looked like he was only in his twenties! He can’t possibly be Lucia’s father, he’s too young. I tried not to stare but ironically, it was exactly what her father was doing. I don’t look that bad, do I?

“Mali, this is my father Declan Sabre," she did the introductions. “Mali just moved here from Africa and started school with us today.”

“Africa, huh?” Mr. Sabre raised his eyebrows. He snapped out of his reverie as he crossed over and offered his large hand. “It’s nice to meet you Mali.”

“You too, Mr. Sabre.” I shook on it.

As soon as he released my hand, he looked at Kevin and Xenthe.

“I expect that you’ve been looking after Mali today?”

“Yes sir.” Kevin stood to attention.

“Kevin’s practically placed Mali on a pedestal.” Xenthe smirked.

“Good,” he passed them a warning look. “Let’s keep it that way, shall we?”

Suddenly, the screen door was thrown open and a cross looking Sophia stomped into the room.

“Hi baby.” Mr. Sabre automatically greeted.

“Hi Daddy.” She said breezily as she dropped her bag by the dining table and next stomped into the kitchen. “Thanks for the lift Lucia!”

“We had a full car," Lucia said coolly.

“What’s for dinner?” Sophia demanded.

“Tuna Bake and Toss Salad," her father answered.

“What’s for afternoon tea?"

“I made some banana muffins this morning, they’re in the cake container in the pantry.” Mr Sabre replied.

“Oh yum!” Kevin’s eyes lit up before he followed Lucia into the kitchen to retrieve one. “Mali, you want?”

“Yes please.”

Lucia’s father was staring at me again until he pulled himself together and he too turned to go back into the kitchen to supervise.

“Alright small fry, let’s put those muffins on plates so crumbs won’t go everywhere." He instructed. "Looch, you’re on milk detail.”

“Mali would you like a glass of milk with your muffin?” Lucia called out.

“Yes please.” I called back.

Kevin walked out of the kitchen carrying a small plate with a muffin and a glass of milk, which he handed to me.

“Thanks.” I gave him a grateful smile.

He returned it with a boyish grin before walking back into the kitchen to get his.

Soon everybody except for Mr. Sabre was sitting at the dining table. Now it was Sophia’s turn to stare as she scoffed down her muffin and gulped down her milk. I was starting to feel really uncomfortable by the way people have been doing this all day.

The eleven year old girl, like her older sister, was tall for her age. Her build wasn't as muscled as her sister's or father’s though, which made her more feminine. She was very pretty with dark brown eyes and long, luscious dark hair. Although she was smaller than her sister, her loud nature made up the difference.

“So, what’s your story?” she demanded.

“My story?” I echoed. “My name is Mali Roanne and I just moved here with my Mama.”

“Moved here from where?” she quizzed.

“Mali.” I answered.

“Your name is Mali and you’re from Mali?” she raised her eyebrows. "That's not very original."

Abruptly the table shook and Sophia cried out in pain.

“Dad, Lucia just kicked me under the table!" she complained.

“Now why would she do that, Soph?” her father asked knowingly.

She passed a murderous look to her older sister, but Lucia ignored it. Kevin sniggered at the two as he merrily ate away. Then I noticed Xenthe wasn't eating but he sipped on a glass of milk instead.

“Xenthe,” I queried, “are you feeling well?”

“I’m very well, thank you Mali.” He said smoothly.

“But I haven’t seen you eat a thing all day.” I said concerned.

“I have food allergies.” Xenthe answered.

“To what?”

“To food," he didn’t miss a beat.

“He does.” Kevin verified by nodding vigorously.

“Why can't you eat?” I wondered.

“I can drink a lot of fluids, but there are some things that I can’t consume.” Xenthe shrugged.

“Yeah, he can’t eat solids because of his stomach problems.” Kevin recited.

“What happens if you eat these kinds of food?” I asked.

“I don’t eat.” Xenthe said simply. “If someone gives me a plate of something, I give it to Kevin or Lucia instead.”

“He does," Kevin passed his friend a grateful smile. “When somebody hands him a plate of food, he hands it right over to me!”

“Unless it’s cake or dessert and then he gives to me.” Lucia stated.

“Yeah well, he does do that too.” Kevin admitted.

“You never give me your cake or dessert at tribal gatherings.” Sophia pouted.

“Then I will next time," he promised with a wink.

But this bothered me as it didn’t make any sense. How can a person be allergic to eating? How can a person live only on fluids? It would explain why he’s so skinny and pale, but it didn’t seem right.

“So what shall we do this afternoon?” Lucia looked around the table.

“I dunno.” Kevin shrugged.

“I’m easy.” Xenthe shrugged.

“I don’t feel like doing homework yet," she screwed up her face.

“No.” I shook my head in agreement before thinking out loud. “I have an idea, when we drove here I saw a sports field and a game of soccer start up.”

“Yeah!" Kevin immediately fired up. "We haven’t played soccer in ages!"

“Cool.” Lucia agreed.

“Count me in.” Xenthe went along.

“I’ll walk down with you.” Sophia piped up. “I’m going to hang with Seb.”

*****

Once afternoon tea had finished we stood up and placed our dirty plates and glasses into the dishwasher.

“We’re going down to the sports field for a game of soccer.” Lucia told her father, as we exited the kitchen.

“OK Looch, have fun." He replied. "Look after Mali and remember, not everyone is as strong as you.”

I picked up my bag to take with me when Lucia stopped this.

“No, leave it here," she said simply. “We’ll be coming back here anyway when I give you a lift home.”

“OK.” I dropped it to the floor again.

“No, I’ll give Mali a lift home.” Kevin said. "But can I borrow your car?"

"Sure," she shrugged.

“Mali," Mr. Sabre walked out of the kitchen to look my way. "You’re staying for dinner, right?”

“Oh um,” I fumbled in surprise at the hospitality of Lucia’s family. "Merci, but Mama may be expecting me to be home by a certain time."

“You may as well, we’re always feeding Kevin and Xenthe," Lucia smirked.

“I'll just check with Mama.” I picked up my bag once more to pull out my phone.

I sent her the message – CAN I PLEASE STAY FOR DINNER AT LUCIA’S HOUSE?

“I’m just going to put on some sunscreen.” Xenthe excused himself and went into the laundry - combined - bathroom.

“I didn’t think the weather was hot enough to cause sunburn," I commented.

“Xenthe burns easily.” Kevin explained.

Poor Xenthe, it sounds like he has a LOT of allergies.

Just then my phone beeped out I had a new message, taking away my attention.

ENJOY DINNER WITH NEW FRIENDS – Mama sent back.

When I looked up to tell Mr. Sabre that I could stay, he'd already turned around and headed back into the kitchen.

“That’s good Mali, we’ll set an extra place for you at the table," he said.

Wait a moment, how did he know? But before I could ask, everyone except Mr Sabre was heading out. Kevin kindly held open the screen door for me again then followed me down the veranda steps.

He fell into step beside as our feet crunched down the driveway, past the hover-cars and we descended the steep road. Xenthe walked in the middle of Lucia and Sophia, like he was a buffer for them. The two were arguing again, this time it was about smoking.

“Lucia,” she began, “do you think Mum and Dad would smell it on me, if I smoked?”

Lucia, Xenthe and Kevin all answered simultaneously, "Yes!"

“But what if I drenched myself with spray-on deodorant afterwards?” she postured.

“Sophia, your father would smell the smoke on you the moment you stepped onto your property.” Xenthe warned.

“You don’t want to smoke.” Lucia said crossly. “There's a reason why cigarettes are outlawed. They can cause cancer and blindness and other bad things.”

“I’m not talking about smoking cigarettes," she sung gloatingly, when Lucia's hand lashed out behind Xenthe's back and whacked Sophia on the arm. “Oow! Xenthe! There’s a reason why you’re walking in the middle, to stop Lucia from hitting me!”

“I can’t stop Lucia from doing anything," he said dryly.

“True!” Kevin chuckled in agreement.

“Xenthe, tell Sophia she doesn’t want to smoke.” Lucia ordered.

“Sophia,” he looked her directly in the eyes, “you don’t want to smoke marijuana or do any drugs, because they pollute your body. You’re a very pretty girl and you don’t want to taint your looks, do you?”

She looked like she was being charmed by him, until she shook it off.

“Quit it, Xenthe!” she cried out before she ran ahead to get away from him.

“Actually,” he turned to Lucia in amusement, “It would be funny to see your little sister get busted by your Dad for doing something stupid like drugs.”

“Yeah, it would.” Kevin chuckled again. “Uncle Dec’s temper is famous in our tribe.”

“Even the School Principal quakes in fear when she sees my father coming," Lucia told me. "Last year when I was suspended for punching out Johnson, Dad yelled at the principal because he said things which could be classified as sexual harassment. He even made Johnson's parents apologise.”

“That was so funny!” Kevin guffawed. “When you came back to school, Johnson avoided you for months!”

Then the three all laughed over the memory of the jock who was afraid of the girl who knocked him unconscious.

“Is your father always home, Lucia?” I asked out of curiosity.

“Dad runs our house while Mum works part-time as an Ancient History Professor." She answered. "Mum writes papers and does guest lectures at different universities around the world.”

That would explain the ancient artefacts scattered around her home. But the Sabre's seem well-off, how did they manage it on a part-time income from one parent? I sensed there was something she was leaving out but I thought I'd better not pry, so I asked next:

“Kevin, what do your parents do?”

“My Dad is a Park Ranger and my Mom runs our house," he answered. “But she occasionally works as a casual at one of the Child Care Centres in Alma.”

Just as I turned towards Xenthe to ask him, he saved me the trouble.

“My Mom is an Engineer at the new Hydro Power Plant.”

“Oh, she’ll meet my Mama then." I told him. "Mine is a Diagnostics Specialist.”

*****

It was a twenty minute walk down the hill to the community centre where the sports field was situated.

A game of soccer was already in full swing with Lokoti kids running around in either tracksuits or every day clothes. It was mostly boys playing except for a couple of girls in the mix. I took off my woollen jacket and left it on the side before jogging out onto the field.

With our arrival, one of the older boys playing waved us over.

“Kev, you and your friend are on Paul’s team! Looch, you and Xenthe are on Nathan's team! Now let's go!"

Lucia looked at Xenthe and then the two ran off to join their players.

“C’mon then!” Kevin grinned and led the way to ours.

I ran after him and by copying his movements, I started to work out who were my team mates and who were not.

There was lots of jostling and laughing as the kids tried to steal the ball from each other. At one stage, Kevin was able to get the ball away with his strength and speed and prepared to kick it to me. But in a lightening fast move, Xenthe stole the ball from him and ran off with it instead.

As we played, I saw that our pale friend may not be as strong as Kevin or Lucia, but he was faster. A couple of times he looked like a blur, as he artfully stole the ball right out from people’s feet. When he wasn't dribbling the ball, he kicked it to Lucia, who kicked it back to him. They were pretty good at it too, they scored two goals within ten minutes.

I watched Xenthe’s movements carefully. He was fast, but his leg work wasn’t that skilled. I think I had a chance to take him on.

I ran up beside Kevin and puffed out, “I can get the ball away from Xenthe.”

“OK," he nodded.

I knew with Xenthe’s speed I had no hope of running up beside to steal the ball that way, I would have to use the direct approach. I ran down the field to stand protectively in front of my team’s goal. I waited for him to run to me, keeping the ball close to his legs with Lucia running along side of him. It almost made me laugh when I saw Kevin appear on the other side of her and pretended to make a move on Xenthe. But it was just to fool her, so her attention was on him and not on me.

Xenthe ran right for me and when he saw me standing there, he began to smile as if he could guess my approach.

He ducked left and I ducked left… He ducked right and I ducked right… Then I ran towards him and I looked like I was about to ram him, when I slipped my foot past his and he turned around, realizing I was running away with the ball.

“Say what?” Lucia did a double-take.

Now I raced down the field, heading towards her team’s goal with several people running after.

“Yes!” Kevin cheered, but it was short lived when he saw Lucia, Xenthe and the rest of their team chase me down. “Oh no you don’t!”

Kevin ran fast to my side when Xenthe ran up on my other. I continued to dribble the ball and I had to keep my eyes downwards to watch his leg work. A couple of times he jutted out his foot to try to get the ball, but I managed to angle it away just in time.

He started to run out in front to block me, when I realized I would have to use the direct approach again. I whirled around to keep the ball away from him but as I spun, I started to fall. This way, I was also able to bring my leg around and kick the ball as hard as I could, towards the goal.

The ball flew through the air as I landed onto the grass. My eyes were peeled on my shot and I watched the ball start to fall short. However, this worked out in my favour, because when it landed on the ground, the goalie couldn’t catch it and it bounced past him into the net.

“Oui!” I cried out as I sat up on the grass.

Kevin ran up cheering along with the rest of our team mates. He pulled me up from the ground so quickly, I was almost thrown into the air! After he returned me to my feet, he laughingly patted me on the back so hard, it almost knocked me back down again.

“Take it easy there, Kev!” Lucia laughed when she saw me lurch from one of his ‘pats’.

But I didn’t mind, I was too happy and excited. I especially didn’t mind when he briefly pulled me in for a celebratory hug. His body felt hard with muscle but there was a good deal of body heat emanating from him, which felt welcoming.

“It's no wonder you wanted to play this game, you’re a natural.” Xenthe walked up to shake my hand. “I couldn’t see you coming and by me saying that, you should know just how much of a compliment that is.”

Everyone laughed at his words before we scattered once more to play on.

*****

After the game we happily but tiredly, walked up the hill back to Lucia’s house. Well I was tired, but these three were still so full of energy. They hiked up the road in a brisk manner, leaving me panting behind.

“Sorry,” Lucia stopped when she realized I was no longer walking with them.

“With your impressive feat on the soccer field, we forgot that you were only human.” Xenthe joked.

“C’mon, I’ll give you a piggy-back.” Kevin offered.

“Pardon?” I raised my eyebrows.

He walked over to where I was standing and turned his back to me, “C’mon, hop up!”

“Er, no thank you." I could feel myself blush. "I’m fine.”

“Don’t worry, his always giving his little brother and sister rides.” Lucia promised.

“It makes him feel useful.” Xenthe said humorously.

“Shut up!” Kevin snapped. “I’ll remember you said that, the next time you’re injured!”

I looked on with uncertainty and he gave a reassuring grin so I relented, “OK.”

“Yes!” He cheered before kneeling on the road with his back to me.

Nervously, I climbed on, expecting him to fall over or drop me, but he didn’t. He barely even moved with my weight, as he wrapped my legs around his waist. Then the same as before, he briskly hiked up the hill.

“You wanna race?” Lucia taunted.

“Yeah!” Kevin leapt at the suggestion.

“No!” I cried out worriedly.

I didn’t want the nice, good-looking boy to die from a heart attack from carrying me! Xenthe and Lucia laughed at my reaction as they came to stand beside Kevin. It was as if they were lining up behind an invisible starting line.

“One,” Lucia began.

“Two,” Kevin said next.

“Three!” Xenthe finished.

Suddenly all three took off! They bolted up the hill, past a couple of other houses. They ran so fast that the trees alongside of the road looked like a blur.

Xenthe ran in front with Lucia a close second and Kevin an even closer third.

We tore up the hill within a minute or so and didn’t start to slow until we ran off the tarred road and onto Lucia’s gravel driveway.

“As usual, you ate my dust.” Xenthe preened about his greater speed.

“Yeah well if I arm-wrestled with you, I'd throw you to the floor!” Lucia gave him a playful shove.

“Enjoy it while it lasts," Kevin ribbed. "Because I know you're gonna need my help when you're injured next."

He didn’t put me down again until we reached the veranda. Then he turned around and gently lowered me onto the highest step. Once I was back on my own two feet, he checked to make sure I was OK. Xenthe and Lucia exchanged looks of amusement as they headed inside.

“You weigh less than Katrina," he announced.

“Do I?”

“C’mon then," he momentarily held my hand to lead me inside the house.

As soon as we entered, I noticed two new people I hadn't seen before who were setting the table for dinner.

An attractive woman with long, black hair and dark blue eyes, was putting down cutlery. She too had a twenty-something appearance, as well as broad shoulders and an athletic body. I guessed she was Lucia's mother and she like Sophia, had more of a feminine quality. She was wearing an expensive looking dark purple suit with a skirt and pearl jewellery.

Trailing behind her was a little girl who quickly stole my attention. This must be Lucia's littlest sister as her muscles were huge! She looked chubby because of her muscle bulk. She had blonde hair and bright blue eyes just like Lucia and her father did and also like them, she looked like a bodybuilder.

“Mum, this is Mali.” Lucia waved her hand in my direction.

Mrs Sabre turned to smile warmly my way, "Hi Mali, it’s nice to meet you.”

Susanna stopped to look at me too, the new person in her house. Then her eyes bulged so much that they were almost popping out of her head. She even raised her hand to point at me.

“Mummy!” she exclaimed. “That girl is glowing green!”

Mrs. Sabre looked down on her youngest in surprise before she turned her expression my way.

“I’ve got this one.” Mr. Sabre suddenly appeared from the kitchen. “Susie Q, come and help Daddy with something upstairs.”

Quickly, the bulky father scooped up his bulky six year old in his arms and carried her up the staircase.

“But Daddy, look!” she exclaimed, as her father hurried her away. “That girl is glowing! She has a bright green line around her!”

The two disappeared and I heard the sound of a door upstairs shut, which indicated a private talk was coming up.

Dumbfounded, I looked at my three new friends for some kind of explanation.

“Heh heh!” Lucia laughed uneasily. “The imagination of a six year old, don’t you just love it?”

“I especially love how your little sister still gets your parents to check her closet for monsters.” Xenthe chuckled.

Next, Lucia helped her mother finish setting the table before the two went into the kitchen to serve. Kevin and Xenthe sat down at the table and indicated for me to do the same. I sat in a chair beside Kevin when my eyes widened and my nostrils flared by the delicious feast which appeared before us.

Two large casserole dishes were placed in the centre of the table with steaming hot Tuna Bake smothered in melted cheese. It was accompanied by a large bowl of salad with a garlic salad dressing. Lastly, four long loaves of garlic bread were set down. There was so much food, I wondered if tonight was a special event?

“What’s the occasion?” I asked Mrs. Sabre.

“Occasion?” she looked confused.

“For all the food,” I implied the feast before us.

Lucia laughed, “Mali, this is a typical meal in the Sabre household.”

“They’re good cooks, aren’t they?” Kevin licked his lips.

“Where’s Sophia?” Mrs. Sabre looked at her eldest.

“At Seb’s place,” Lucia answered.

Then I watched Mrs. Sabre take a mobile phone out of her suit pocket and press a button.

“Sophia, it’s dinner time, where are you?” Pause. “OK, you have five minutes.”

She put her phone away before looking on the pale boy sitting at her table.

“Oh I’m sorry Xenthe! Where are my manners? Would you like a glass of apple juice or vegetable juice, or even just a glass of milk?”

“I think I’ll have apple juice tonight, thanks Aunt B," he decided.

Mrs. Sabre made a move to get it, but Lucia beat her to it.

“I’ll get it Mum," she was already out of her chair. “Does anybody else want a drink with dinner?”

“Yes please!” Kevin answered.

Politely, he stood up and went into the kitchen to help her serve everyone. Kevin carried out the glass of apple juice for his friend before he disappeared once more. Then together they appeared and started putting glasses of milk down at all the other places at the table, including for Mr and Mrs Sabre.

I must admit, I was surprised that Lucia's parents didn't have a glass of wine with their meal. My Mama and Papa would do that. I'd become accustomed to seeing them and many grownups imbibe at the end of their day.

“So Mali,” Mrs Sabre looked my way, “tell us about yourself.”

“I moved to Alma from Nara, in Mali." I told her. "My Mama is a Diagnostics Specialist at the new hydro power plant.”

“Mali’s also a musician and a superb flutist.” Xenthe added on.

“Her parents are divorced and her father lives in France with another woman.” Lucia continued, as she carried out the last two glasses.

“And she’s a wicked soccer player, she could even get the ball off Xenthe!” Kevin said proudly, as he sat by my side at the table again.

“Really?” Mrs. Sabre looked impressed. “Well Mali, I can imagine how hard it must be, moving here and starting a new school. We’ll have to have you and your mother over for dinner one night.”

Just then the front door was flung open and Sophia stomped in. Loudly, she slammed shut the door behind and walked over to the table. She sat on the other side of Kevin before looking around the table.

“Where’s Dad and Susanna?” she demanded.

“They’re upstairs, they’ll be down in a minute," Mrs Sabre said. “Go wash your hands please.”

Sophia huffed as she stood up and left the table. I watched her disappear into the downstairs bathroom. Then I realized that I hadn't washed my hands either.

"Pardon," I excused myself and went into the small room which Sophia had just exited.

"Yeah, I'd better too," Lucia followed suit.

"Oh yeah, you're right," Kevin copied us.

As soon as we'd all resumed our seats, Mr. Sabre reappeared. He jogged down the stairs with his third daughter in his arms. I watched as he gently dropped his youngest into her seat and took his own at the head of the table. It mirrored his wife who was sitting at the other end. I caught a soft smile pass between the adults before they simultaneously picked up the loaves of garlic bread, which prompted everyone to start eating.

Everyone began taking turns serving themselves, all except Susanna and Xenthe that is.

Susanna sat back and watched as Mr. Sabre put a couple of pieces of garlic bread on his plate and hers before reaching for one of the casserole dishes. Kevin served himself as well as me, by scooping up some Tuna Bake and delivering it to my plate first and then his second. Next, he held the salad bowl for me as I followed his example by serving him and then myself. Lastly, he passed me one of the loaves of garlic bread and I put two pieces on his plate and then on mine. As we worked in unison, it attracted many amused glances from the table.

Dinner was delicious as everyone consumed everything that had been laid out on the table. Everyone except Xenthe again as he sipped on his milk. But he watched with interest as Kevin, Lucia and Mr. Sabre had second helpings.

“That was a delicious dinner as usual, my dear husband.” Mrs. Sabre smiled fondly.

“Thank you my dear.” Mr. Sabre smiled back. “I am a Sabre after all and girls, what does that mean?”

“We’re naturally good cooks," they recited off by heart.

“That was the best Tuna Bake, Uncle Dec.” Kevin said appreciatively. “Now what’s for dessert?”

My eyebrows rose at how brazenly he asked this question and even Mrs. Sabre looked startled towards her husband.

“Maybe you’ll find out Kevin, if you help Looch and Soph clear the table.” Mr. Sabre replied.

“Yes sir," he automatically stood up, as did Lucia and Sophia.

I started to stand too, when Mrs. Sabre put her hand over mine to stop me. She shook her head and nodded towards my chair for me to sit down again. So I did, when I noticed that Susanna was staring at me again. So did Mr. Sabre, who cleared his throat loudly which made her look at him instead.

“What did you do at Holly's today, sweetie?” He asked.

“We made paper mache," she grinned.

“Oh yeah? And what did you make out of paper mache?”

“A lion’s mask!” she proclaimed.

“A lion’s mask? Why didn’t you make a wolf’s mask?” He asked next.

She frowned back, “I can be a wolf anytime but I want to be a lion too!”

Her parents shared a laugh before Mr. Sabre affectionately stroked her hair. “OK sweetie, you can be a lion.”

Kevin, Lucia and Sophia quickly cleared the table and stacked the dirty dishes inside the dishwasher. Then Kevin carried out a stack of bowls which he proceeded to place in front of everyone at the table - everyone except Xenthe. Sophia followed him around the table, putting down a spoon next to the bowls. Then the two sat down at the table again, leaving Lucia to serve dessert.

“Did you turn on the dishwasher?” Mr. Sabre checked.

“Yes sir,” he nodded.

“Good, you can help Lucia put away the clean dishes when it’s finished.” Mr Sabre ordered.

“Yes sir," he readily agreed.

“Oh yum, sticky-date pudding with caramel sauce!” Lucia cried excitedly from the kitchen.

“And there’s some thickened cream in the fridge!” Mr. Sabre called back.

Within minutes, a bowl of warm sticky-date pudding with caramel sauce and chilled thickened cream, was sitting before me. Mr and Mrs Sabre prompted everyone to start eating again when they picked up their cutlery first. I looked over at Xenthe who sat there quietly while sipping his glass of milk. I felt bad for him, it must be hard being excluded from such a wonderful feast.

“Can you have caramel sauce or cream?” I asked.

He gave me a sad smile with a shake of his head.

I think Kevin felt bad for him too as he offered his friend:

“After I give Mali a lift home tonight, you wanna go into the woods?”

“Sure," he shrugged. “Why not?”

I wondered what the two would be doing would be doing in the woods but I sensed that maybe I shouldn’t ask.

*****

When dessert was over, Sophia cleared the table again with help from Xenthe this time. Then she went upstairs to her room as Lucia and Kevin un-stacked the dishwasher and then re-stacked the dessert bowls and glasses into it. As they worked, Mr. and Mrs. Sabre went to sit in the lounge area in front of the Internet TV. Susanna joined them to watch a program and I watched the three all pile onto the same couch, with Mr. Sabre holding both his wife and his youngest in his big arms. He appeared tired from cooking all day, but content.

Xenthe and I pulled out our laptops to do our homework when Lucia and Kevin joined us. The four of us worked together on our Math and English assignments and then we paired off. Lucia and Xenthe worked on their History essays as Kevin and I worked on our Geography report.

“We could copy and paste this map of India, as well as a precipitation chart which shows the Wet and Dry Seasons.” I showed him on the Internet.

“Cool!” Kevin eagerly agreed. “We’ll get top marks for sure!”

We toiled away on our school work for two hours before I looked up at the clock on the wall. It read as 8.55 PM and I wondered how to ask Kevin to drive me home? Then Mr. Sabre saved me the trouble when he carried his sleepy, six year old past the table where we were working, to put her to bed.

“Kevin!" he barked out.

“Yeah Uncle Dec?” he immediately looked up.

“Go home.”

“OK Uncle Dec," he stood up while saving his work on his laptop.

“And Kevin?” Mr. Sabre stopped halfway up the staircase to turn around.

“Yeah Uncle Dec?” He paused in putting his computer into his school bag.

“Take your Aunt B's hover-car to drive Mali home," he ordered.

“Cool! Thanks Uncle Dec!” he beamed.

“When you return the hover-car, leave the remote on the kitchen bench.”

“Yes sir," he said obediently.

Then he continued upstairs with Susanna looking back over her father’s shoulder when she gave this cute little wave.

That’s it, I ADORE this family! They’re so kind and generous and they’re even sweet. I felt as home here as I did visiting relatives back in Nara.

“Goodnight kids.” Mrs. Sabre waved from the couch.

“Goodnight Aunt B.” Xenthe said as he went out the front door first. “Catch you later, Lucia.”

“I'll see you tomorrow morning, guys," she waved goodbye from the dining table.

Before I left via the front door, I turned around to look on my new friend, “Thank you for a lovely dinner.”

“Anytime," she smiled. “We usually follow the mantra, ‘the more the merrier’.”

As Xenthe headed towards the edge of the property, Kevin walked me over to a third hover-car parked on the driveway.

“Oh, aren’t we going to give Xenthe a lift home too?” I wondered.

“There’s no need, thanks Mali," he called back. “I’m not going home.”

Next, Xenthe disappeared into the dark woods which surrounded the house. But what was he going to do in the forest at night time, with no torch to see his way through the trees? I looked to Kevin for an explanation when I found him already inside the hover-car.

“C’mon Mali," he prompted.

I lowered myself into the passenger’s seat via the car door which was open for me. Kevin keyed in the ignition code and the engine came to life as the car doors automatically closed. The vehicle rose into the air as I looked around at luxurious features. The seats were creamy coloured leather with the dashboard a polished wood encasing the car's computer system. There was even gold trimming over parts of the dash.

Expertly, Kevin glided the vehicle down the driveway and next down the road, with the headlights on full beam.

“Thanks for the lift home," I said appreciatively.

“No problem," he replied casually.

“The Sabre’s seem like nice people.” I commented.

“Yeah, the family's pretty cool," he agreed, as he kept his eyes on the road.

“Have you known them all your life?”

“Yep.”

“I guess so has Xenthe?”

“No, Xenthe moved here with his Mom six years ago," he corrected.

“Oh that’s right.” I remembered. “Where did they move from?”

“Memphis.”

“OK,” I pondered, “so has Xenthe always had food allergies?”

“No, it started up about six years ago.”

“Really?” my eyebrows rose. “When he moved here?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“You, he and Lucia seem like best friends.”

“Looch’s like a sister,” he shrugged again, “and Xenthe’s like a brother, especially after my older brother died.”

Merde! Another death? How terrible!

“My brother died the same night Xenthe’s father and sister did." He spoke in a sombre voice. "It was one of the reasons why he and his Mom were invited to live here on tribal lands. What happened that night changed us and we haven't been the same since.”

"Your older brother was murdered too?"

“Yep," he said.

I felt bad, like I may have accidentally forced him to talk about this, when all I wanted to do was fill the ride home with polite conversation.

“I’m really sorry to hear about your older brother.” I said awkwardly. “So um, do you follow much sport on Internet TV?”

Abruptly, Kevin laughed out loud at my obvious change in subject.

“Yeah, I watch soccer occasionally.” He chuckled. “So Mali, how long have you played?”

“Forever," I answered. "My older cousins taught me when I was little."

“Cool," he nodded along.

Just then my breath caught in my throat when Kevin Wisetail rested his large hand on my leg.

At first I stared out the windscreen because I didn't know what to do. Then I felt comforted by the warmth of his hand which spread up to warm me all over. After a moment, I glanced sideways to see his face and I saw that he was doing the same. Next, we both laughed nervously and quickly looked away.

It felt too soon when the hover-car glided into Alma. I told Kevin my address and he instantly knew where to go. Once the vehicle powered down on the side of the road in front of my townhouse complex, I gave him a shy smile.

“Thank you for the lift.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow at school?” he asked tentatively.

"Oui."

“Cool," he grinned.

Kevin watched me climb out of the vehicle and he waited as I walked up the driveway. He craned his neck to make sure I made it inside then he powered up the vehicle. I guessed he would drive it back to the Sabre's before joining Xenthe in the woods to do who knows what.

Once I was inside, I found Mama was home from work. She was sitting on the couch watching Internet TV, while eating a sandwich. She looked tired but she still sat up eagerly to hear about my day.

I beamed as I fell onto the couch beside her, “Today was the best!”

“Oui?" she prompted.

“At first there was this mean boy who tried to stop me sitting beside him in class. He put his foot on the chair that I wanted to sit on. Then Kevin smacked him on the back of the head and made him move it."

“A boy hit another boy for you?” she echoed in surprise.

“Kevin, Lucia and Xenthe are Lokoti which are a tribe of Native Alaskans who live inside the Lokoti National Park. Lucia and Kevin are part Lokoti, but Xenthe isn’t. He was invited to live there with his mother after his father and sister was murdered.”

“Murdered?”

“Kevin, Lucia and Xenthe let me hang with them at school. Then they invited me back to Lucia’s when it finished. I played soccer with them and the other Lokoti and I scored two goals!”

“You played well then?”

“Then we went back to Lucia’s for dinner because Mr Sabre – Lucia’s Papa – invited me to stay.”

"What did you eat?"

“Tuna Bake and Toss Salad with garlic bread," I recited. "It was a feast and they said they always eat like that. There was even dessert afterwards."

“Then you enjoyed dinner?”

“Mrs Sabre is a part-time university lecturer and Mr Sabre runs the house. He does all the cooking and he’s like a gourmet chef. But Mama, Mr and Mrs Sabre look so young, like they're still in their twenties. And Mr Sabre looks so big and strong, like Lucia and her little sister Susanna does. It's like they're weightlifters but I didn't see any weights at their house.”

“Really?"

“After dinner we did our homework and then Mr Sabre told Kevin that he could use Mrs Sabre’s hover-car to drive me home.”

“So Kevin drove you home then?”

“And he put his hand on my leg! I think he likes me Mama, I think this good looking boy likes me! And he's so nice and friendly and polite.”

“You had a good first day then?” she smiled softly.

“Très bien!” I proclaimed.

“I'm happy for you my little lamb.” Mama reached out to tweak my nose. “I had an interesting first day at my new job. I met a couple of people at the power plant who were Lokoti. They seem like good people.”

Now when Mama says ‘they seem like good people,’ we both know it to be true. It was thanks to our intuition which we inherited from my Grandmama. Her foresight was never wrong.

“I think I’ll have my shower now.” I said chirpily, before I left a parting kiss on her cheek.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Circulators, Calculators and the Circulate, SSIT, as well as the different breeds of werewolves, separate species of vampires and human/animal shape shifters: are copyright protected under the Circulate Series by K.R. Smith © 2005

Circulate © K.R. Smith, 1st ed. 2005 and 2nd ed. 2010
ISBN: 978-0-646-53776-4
Scent © K.R. Smith, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-646-53730-6
Sororate © K.R. Smith, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-646-57911-5
SSIT Reports on the
Different Breeds of Werewolf, Separate Species of Vampire and
Human/ Animal Shape Shifters © K.R. Smith 2011
ISBN: 987-0-646-56328-2

The above novels are registered in the Cataloguing-in-Publication (CiP) under the Australian Copyright Act 1968.

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