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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1463688-Alma-Chapter-3-Updated
by onaya3
Rated: 13+ · Chapter · Supernatural · #1463688
Mali is taken in by the Lokoti
3


14th September 2380

“This is it!” I said excitedly. “This is the house.”

Mama powered down the hover-car and parked it on the side of the cul-de-sac which was at the top of the hill where the Sabre's lived.

“Let’s go.” I said brightly.

Mama looked a little nervous but she opened her door and climbed out to follow me. I carried the bag of drinks which were two bottles of soda and two bottles of wine. We started walking up the Sabre’s gravel driveway, past their beautiful garden.

As we walked towards the house we noticed under the Jacaranda Tree, there was a long table which was made up of three tables joined together, being set. Lucia put down a long white table cloth which covered the tables' surface then Sophia put down the cutlery.

“Mali! Hi!” Lucia waved enthusiastically.

“Hi Lucia!” I waved back.

“Go inside, that’s where everyone is!” Lucia pointed to her house.

“Bon!” I acquiesced. “Come along Mama.”

I caught Mama staring at Lucia’s height and strong-looking appearance, before she followed me to the front veranda.

As soon as we started up the steps, the front door swung open with Kevin standing in front of us.

“Mali!” he beamed. “Mrs. Roanne!”

“Hi Kevin.” I smiled back.

“Bonjour Kevin.” Mama greeted.

“Let me take that.” Kevin took the bag of drinks for me. “This way.”

He led us inside where we heard much chattering and laughter.

Mr and Mrs Sabre were in the kitchen, preparing the food, with everyone else congregated around the dining table where there were nibblies on offer. Hugh was scoffing down the cabanossi with Katrina poking him in the side to slow down. Xenthe stood with a woman in her forties I hadn't met yet, which I assumed was his mother. I noticed that by everyone standing around the dining table, they could see and talk to their hosts in the kitchen.

“Look who’s here!” Kevin sung out.

“Mali!” Mr Sabre cried boisterously as he came out of the kitchen to greet us. “And you must be Kita. Welcome!”

Mrs Sabre followed him out and offered her hand. “Hi Kita, I’m Bianca and this is my husband, Declan.”

“I’m pleased to meet you,” Mama shook on it.

Then Mr and Mrs Wisetail came forward to greet Mama as Mr and Mrs Sabre returned to the food preparation.

“Kita, I’m so glad you could come!” Mrs Wisetail kissed her cheek.

“Would you like a glass of the wine or the soda?” Mr Wisetail offered, taking the bag of drinks from Kevin.

“I brought the drinks to share.” Mama offered. “Who would like to join me?”

“Oh, there aren’t that many drinkers of alcohol here on tribal lands.” Mr Wisetail smiled good-humouredly. "But I'll have some of the cola you kindly brought."

“I’ll join you in a glass of wine, Kita.” Mrs Creillaic spoke up.

“So will I,” Xenthe joked.

“Nice try, oh-son-of-mine!” Mrs Creillaic messed up Xenthe’s hair.

“Mom!” Xenthe immediately pulled away, making Kevin guffaw.

Mr Wisetail went to work procuring drinks for everyone. Mrs Wisetail joined Mama and Mrs Creillaic in a glass of wine and soon the three women where chatting away in an animated fashion. Mr Wisetail joined them with his soda once he'd finished doling out the drinks. I stood off to the side with Kevin, Katrina, Xenthe and Hugh, sipping on the lemonade I'd brought. Xenthe didn't have a drink though, he said he'd brought a vegetable juice he'd drink at lunch.

“Your mother is tall,” Xenthe commented.

“She’s as tall as my Grandmama.” I told him.

“Does this mean that you’re still growing?” Kevin asked.

“I don’t know.” I shrugged.

“I like your height.” Kevin grinned. “You’re not too big and you’re not too small, you’re just right.”

“Who are you, ‘Goldilocks’?” Xenthe teased.

“Yup.” Kevin said.

“Great, if we're half way through lunch and we find that somebody has been eating from Mali’s plate then we know who to blame.” He snickered.

Just then we were interrupted as the whole house was, when we heard a shrill voice yell, “Mummy! Daddy! Come quick! Come quick!”

Everybody’s heads turned to see Susanna standing up the top of the staircase in a terribly torn dress. It looked like she had been in a fight with a wild animal! The stocky six year old girl looked tearful as she held together what was left of the clothing.

“I’m coming,” Mrs Sabre headed her way.

“Mummy’s coming sweetie," Mr Sabre stood in the kitchen entryway. "She’ll find you some new clothes to put on.”

“I’m sorry, Mummy!” Susanna sobbed. “I didn’t mean to!”

“We know darling, we know.” Mrs Sabre picked up her daughter then disappeared down the upstairs hallway with her.

Mama and I looked on in surprise…how could a dress get so torn like that?

“Growing pains,” Mr Wisetail said to Mama.

“I remember when Kevin was ten, I must have mended an entire wardrobe with the amount of clothes he ruined.” Mrs Wisetail agreed with her husband.

“Mom!” Kevin blushed.

“It’s a good thing B likes to shop. She takes the girls shopping when they need new clothes, which spares me the torture.” Mr Sabre said from the kitchen.

“I’ve never liked clothes shopping.” Mr Wisetail agreed. “Department stores can bring out a claustrophobic reaction in me.”

“I’m with you there, pal.” Mr Sabre chuckled.

“So I’ve noticed.” Mrs Wisetail quipped. “Walt transfers credit from his credit card onto mine then he practically bolts in the opposite direction.”

“When Xenthe’s father was alive, he used to protest every time I mentioned the word ‘shop’. But then who was the one who would take all the fun out of the process, by analyzing every price tag and insisting on comparing prices?” Mrs Creillaic sighed in her Southern accent.

“Mali’s father was the opposite,” Mama spoke. “He would go impulse shopping and then hand his credit card bills to me, to figure out how to pay them.”

“Men really don’t know how to shop.” Mrs Creillaic rolled her eyes.

“Amen to that!” Mr Sabre cried out while stirring something on the stove.

“I help you with the grocery shopping,” Mr Wisetail smiled in good humour to his wife.

“Only because food is involved,” Mrs Wisetail stuck her tongue out at him.

“Wendy, why spend a day trapped inside a store when you can be doing something else, like teaching the kids how to repair a hover-car." Mr Sabre said.

"Of course this comes from a former mechanic, but not all of us are mechanically minded, Uncle Dec." Mrs Wisetail returned.

“Hey,” Lucia came inside with Sophia. “I like helping Dad out with the car.”

“So do I,” Kevin agreed.

“Boring!” Sophia sung.

“I second that!” Xenthe agreed with her.

“Give me a movie night any ole day.” Katrina put in her opinion.

“What do you like to do, Mali?” Kevin asked.

At that moment everybody turned quiet and I felt my face heat up at being put on the spot like that.

“Um,” I fumbled out, “when I was in Mali, I liked to help my Grandmama in her garden and mix together her medicinal remedies.”

Mama’s face softened by the mention of her mother and I could tell she felt homesick too.

“Mali and my Mama would spend hours in her garden and kitchen," she reminisced.

“B and I love working in our greenhouse, we find it relaxing.” Mr Sabre gave me a wink. “Maybe you should set up a greenhouse, Kita.”

“We don’t have room for one, not with our townhouse in Alma.” Mama sighed. “We have a communal driveway and a tiny back courtyard but that is all.”

“Gardening is boring.” Sophia proclaimed.

“I second that.” Xenthe agreed with her again.

“No it’s not.” Kevin frowned. “It's working with nature.”

“You just like working with your hands,” Xenthe pointed out.

“True,” Kevin shrugged.

“And what do you like to do in your spare time, Kita?” Mrs Creillaic enquired.

“I like to sleep.” Mama said plainly.

Just then the rest of the adults burst out laughing and toasted their drinks to her.

“Sleep for a parent is a luxury!” Mrs Wisetail giggled.

“I’ll drink to that!” Mrs Creillaic downed the rest of her wine.

“I like electronic comic books.” Hugh put in.

“I’d like the world without you in it.” Katrina nudged him.

“Aw, shut up!” Hugh nudged her back. “Mom! Dad! Katrina’s being mean!”

“Yeah but she’s funny.” Kevin laughed at him.

“Shut up!” Hugh launched himself onto his bigger and stronger older brother, like he was trying to tackle him.

There was no way a twelve year old boy was going to be able to bring down a sixteen year old boy Kevin’s size, so it was funny to watch him try.

“Boys, there's no wrestling in the house!" Mr Wisetail raised his voice. "Take that outside, please!”

Kevin put Hugh into a headlock and like that, he pulled him out the back door.

“You gotta give the kid credit for trying.” Xenthe smirked.

“Hugh is stubborn as a mule, he never gives up.” Lucia rolled her eyes.

“Since you’re as big and strong as a mule, you should know.” Sophia quipped.

Next, Lucia put Sophia into a headlock and like that, she messed up her younger sister’s hair.

“DAD!” Sophia screeched. “Not the hair! Not the hair!”

“Lucia!” Mr Sabre sung warningly.

Instantly, Lucia released a red-faced Sophia.

“Now I have to re-do my hair! I spent half an hour straightening it this morning! I hate you Lucia!” Sophia squealed.

Then she too took off upstairs to fix up her appearance leaving Lucia to shake her head at her.

“I didn’t think it was possible, but I think Sophia is actually becoming more vain the older she grows," Lucia complained.

“Yeah, but she’s very pretty, so she has reason to be," Xenthe said.

Lucia and I exchanged peculiar looks at that when we were interrupted by the back door being thrown open with Kevin and Hugh coming inside.

“Kevin cheated!” Hugh whined.

“Yes I know, Hugh.” Mr Wisetail smiled patiently, as he placed his hand on his son’s shoulder. “Kevin has a particular advantage over you.”

“One day I’ll turn into a superhero like ‘Spiderman’ and tie you up with my web!” he threatened his older brother.

“Sure you will.” Kevin sniggered.

"OK everyone, lunch is ready." Mr Sabre called for our attention. "Kevin, you can help Looch and Soph carry the food outside."

“No problem, Uncle Dec,” Kevin said congenially.

“Wendy, Kita and Stella, would you like to top-up your drinks before we move outside?” Mr Wisetail offered the ladies, who smilingly agreed.

*****

Soon everyone was seated outside with Mr and Mrs Sabre sitting at either ends of the table and everyone else in between. Although the tree we were sitting under had started to lose its leaves, half of the table was still in the shade. I noticed how Mrs Sabre deliberately seated Xenthe and his mother in the shadiest part.

Just like the first time I ate at the Sabre’s, another feast bewitched our senses and made our stomachs grumble in anticipation. There were two large bowls of Toss Salad, as well as Lasagne, Beef Canneloni and Fettuccine Carbonara, all sitting in several large dishes in the centre of the table. Accompanying the meals were several loaves of garlic bread.

Kevin served himself as well as me which Mama noticed. Her eyes narrowed as she watched me take a slice of the lasagne for myself first and then I put a slice on his plate second. He held the hot dish steady as I served us when he caught Mama's gaze.

“Would you like some Lasagne, Mrs Roanne?” he held the dish out to her.

He continued to hold it in his strong hands as Mama served herself before he put it back on the table.

Susanna was now wearing a new dress and she sat directly on her father’s right. Mr Sabre was in discussion about something to do with the National Park with Mr Wisetail as he served both himself and his youngest. I observed he put an awful lot of food onto his plate as well as Susanna’s, the six year old had a serving that matched an adults! I thought she would complain that it was too much food, but she didn’t. Instead, she happily picked up her fork and started to eat, rather eagerly too.

I caught Mama noting the amount of food people were eating as well. She looked at how Mr Sabre, Mr Wisetail, Lucia and Kevin piled the food high on their plates. Then she watched Xenthe pour his vegetable juice from his thermos and sip on that instead.

“Xenthe, you’re not eating?” Mama queried.

“He has food allergies.” Mrs Creillaic waved it off.

“I can't eat garlic.” Xenthe announced then he indicated with his head how every single dish on the table contained garlic.

"Oh Xenthe, I'm sorry to hear that," Mama said sympathetically. "Perhaps there's something in the kitchen we could prepare for you?"

"I'm fine, thank you Mrs Roanne." Xenthe smiled politely. "I'm happy with my vegetable juice."

"We can go into the woods later, if you want?" Kevin offered in between mouthfuls.

"Sure," Xenthe shrugged.

Mama looked my way curiously, wondering what they'd be doing in the woods and all I could do was shrug back.

Kevin turned my way, “Can I get you anything else?”

Smilingly, I shook my head unable to talk because I had mouthful of food.

"Mrs Roanne, would you like some salad with your lasagne?" Kevin picked up the large bowl.

"Merci, Kevin," she acquiesced and took hold of the salad tongs.

“Hey Kev, could you put on an apron and wait on me hand and foot?” Xenthe teased his friend, making Lucia and Sophia giggle.

“Kevin and Mali, sitting in a tree -” Hugh started to sing again.

“Hugh!” Mr Wisetail was quick to quash his taunting.

Immediately, his youngest shut up and ate his meal instead, ignoring the death stare Kevin was giving him.

Mama's eyes further narrowed as they regarded the boy seated to my right, I sensed she was wondering what his intentions were towards her daughter.

“How did you become a Diagnostics Specialist at the plant, Kita?” Mrs Wisetail asked.

“I studied at University.” Mama told her. “My first job was working at one of the Hydro Electric Power Plants in Mali.”

As the adults talked about their livelihoods, I addressed Kevin and Lucia, “When are we going to have that movie night you mentioned?”

“How about next weekend?” Kevin shrugged.

“We can’t.” Lucia shook her head. “Next Saturday your Dad and my Dad are leading that nature walk into the Lokoti National Park."

“Oh yeah.” Kevin remembered. “I told Dad and Uncle Dec I'd come along and help with the class.”

“What’s the class?” I queried.

“From time to time our Elders teach the younger generation about our connection to the land and our tribe's history. With my Dad being a Park Ranger, he often leads the walks. When we have a class inside the Meeting Hall then Aunt B teaches because she's a Tribal Elder." He explained.

In surprise, I looked at Mrs Sabre sitting at the end of the table, talking to Mrs Creillaic. The woman who looked like she was in her twenties was talking fondly with the woman who quite rightly, looked like she was in her forties. I pondered how Mrs Sabre could be called a Tribal Elder when she looked too young? What were Mr and Mrs Sabre's secrets, I wondered, how they retained their youth and vitality? Mr Wisetail too, come to think of it.

“Hey, did you wanna come?” Kevin thought up.

“Come?” I echoed.

“Yeah, come on the walk. It goes all day and there’s a picnic lunch. You might like it.” Kevin beamed.

“I don’t know…” I faltered, “…if this class is just for Lokoti kids, maybe I shouldn’t come.”

“Hey, Dad?” Lucia called loudly, interrupting the whole table. “It’s cool if Mali comes along with us next Saturday, isn’t it?”

“Of course it is.” Mr Sabre responded. “Mali, you’re reporting in at our Holy Grounds at 8 AM sharp.”

“Kevin can pick Mali up at 7 AM and take her home again afterwards, Kita.” Mrs Wisetail offered Mama. “That way you can sleep in on Saturday morning.”

“Er, where is Mali going with Kevin?” Mama asked warily.

“A couple of times a year, older members of the tribe take the younger members on nature walks inside the National Park. It’s my turn again next Saturday and Walt here will teach a few survival skills. A picnic lunch will be provided so Mali won’t go hungry.” Mr Sabre assured her.

“Mali,” Mama looked my way, “would you like to go?”

Aside from spending more time with Kevin, I thought the idea of getting to know Alaskan fauna and flora was fascinating.

“Yes please!” I chirped cheerfully.

“I’ll be coming too, Mali.” Katrina smiled. “It should be fun.”

“I don’t wanna go...!” Sophia whined, out of the blue.

“Sophia, you’re coming.” Mr Sabre said firmly, indicating that this was an old argument.

“But Mum doesn’t go on hikes, the classes she teaches are in the Meeting Hall where it’s civilized with chairs and bathrooms.” Sophia debated.

“Your mother,” Mr Sabre snuck a small smile to his wife, “likes plants in greenhouses, not in the wild.”

“I like plants in the wild, just fine," Mrs Sabre stated. "I just don’t like the insects or arachnids that accompany the plants in the wild.”

“Neither do I! So why do I have to go?” Sophia complained.

“Because these classes are important, your mother went for walks with her grandfather when she was your age.” Mr Sabre said.

“But Dad, this is the 24th Century!" Sophia huffed, crossing her arms. "Really, in the age of food synthesizers, hover-cars, laser rifles, terra-forming planets and space travel, we don’t need to learn this stuff!”

“C’mon Soph, it won’t be so bad." Katrina tried to cajole. "You ended up enjoying the walk we did last spring.”

“That’s my cosmopolitan daughter for you.” Mr Sabre raised his eyebrows at Mr Wisetail.

“Sophia is like Edwina." Mr Wisetail sympathised. "All Edwina thinks about is industrial design, fashion, city life and the latest technology.”

Mr. Sabre for some reason looked bothered by this, “Yeah, B and I knew from the start that Sophia was different. She shares B’s curiosity about the world and her itchy feet to travel. I’m not looking forward to the day where Sophia wants to leave home as it's not like she's gonna stay on tribal lands.”

I saw from the expression on my host's face that he looked like he was dreading the idea.

“Mali?” Kevin redirected my attention by offering me more garlic bread.

“Merci,” I gave him a smile as I took another piece.

"I really should learn French too," he decided.

"Really?" I looked on, pleasantly surprised. "I could teach you."

"Cool!" he beamed.

"Learning French would be boring," Sophia sat there in a sulk.

“Sophia, is there anything in this world you don’t think is boring?” Mr Sabre asked tiredly.

“Yes – shopping, music, travel, dancing and art!” she bit out.

“Music is cool.” Lucia decided aloud. “But the rest you said is boring.”

Then the sisters pulled faces at each other before the eldest returned to her food.

“Daaad!” Susanna whined.

“Yeah Sues?” Mr Sabre looked her way.

“A bug just landed in my lasagne!” she complained.

Mr Sabre used his fingers to remove the bug from the melted cheese.

“There you go," he wiped his hand on his napkin.

“Daaad!” she whinged. “I can’t eat that! A bug was in it!”

“But the bug is gone!” Mr Sabre retorted.

Stubbornly, Susanna shook her head as Mr Wisetail struggled to suppress his laughter. Next, she hopped off her chair and sat in her father’s lap and greedily looked down onto his meal instead. I saw Mr Sabre sigh in resignation, as he handed her his fork then he sat back and let her tuck in.

For some reason, this made Mrs Wisetail and Mrs Sabre erupt into giggles.

“There was a time if somebody told me that Declan would give away the food on his plate, in particular lasagne? I would have called them crazy.” Mrs Sabre smilingly shook her head.

“Kids have really brought out the nesting instinct in him.” Mrs Wisetail agreed.

“Nesting? Nesting?” Mr Sabre objected. “I’m a male! We don’t nest! We hunt and we claim our territory!”

“Then what do you call the change that came over you, when we had kids?” Mrs Sabre teased.

“I call it claiming my territory.” Mr Sabre looked at Mr Wisetail for back up.

“True," he chuckled. “The house is definitely your territory and so are your kids. Many a scared teacher or school principal who've come across your temper during parent-teacher nights can attest to that.”

“And with all the grocery shopping and cooking I do, that’s definitely hunting as I’m providing the food.” Mr Sabre went on.

“You’re the hunter and gatherer Uncle Dec, nobody will argue with that.” Mr Wisetail readily agreed. But as he was going along with whatever Mr Sabre was saying, he was trembling with inward laughter. Finally, Mr Sabre saw this and he rolled his eyes as he looked away.

“Shut up Walt, this is the last time I’m feeding you.”

Just then the whole table bar Mama and myself, burst into laughter!

“What’s so funny?” I asked Kevin.

“Dad and Uncle Dec are always teasing each other.” Kevin guffawed. “Uncle Dec always ends by saying he’ll never cook for my Dad again, but he does.”

“Uncle Declan, anytime you want to claim my kitchen as your territory too, please feel free.” Mrs Wisetail giggled.

“Nope, I’m not gonna cook for you again either, Wendy.” He pretended to be deeply offended.

Susanna looked up at her father in alarm by the tone of his voice.

“Oh no, Daddy! Don’t cry! I still love you!” Susanna dropped the fork and her little arms encircled her father’s thick, strong neck.

“Thank you Sues, I love you too!” Mr Sabre pretended to cry as he hugged her back.

This made Mama and I now laugh by the sight of this big strong man, clinging to the little girl for comfort.

“Oh Daddy, don’t cry!” Sophia cried out mockingly, as she next sprung out of her seat and went to sit in her father’s lap too.

“Try to bear it Dad, please!” Lucia jumped out of her seat and also went to sit on her father’s knee.

Somehow Mr Sabre was so big and strong, he managed to fit three kids into his arms. The girls now squealed and squirmed as he began to tickle them. It made all the table laugh at their play time.

My eyes met Mama’s and we exchanged a long look. Once upon a time, that was me in my Papa’s lap. But I haven’t spoken to him for two months now. He's never called or tried to contact us. He didn’t just leave Mama, but he left me too.

It wasn’t just our two-person family that was missing a father, Mrs Creillaic put her arm about Xenthe and affectionately stroked his shoulder-length hair.

“Mom!” Xenthe squirmed in embarrassment at her attention.

“It's not me, it's the ghost of your father saying he loves you," she smiled sadly, before she turned to Mama. “Kita, you and Mali have to come over for dinner during the week.”

“Or all of you can come over to our place for dinner instead.” Mrs Wisetail offered.

“Of course they can.” Mr Wisetail readily agreed. “The kids are always together after school, just swing by after work.”

“And don’t worry Uncle Declan, we’ll feed you too.” Mrs Wisetail looked at Mr Sabre sitting at the other end of the table.

“Whatever Wendy,” Mr Sabre joked. “You’ve really done it now. It’s the last time I bring Anzac biscuits to your house or invite you over for lunch.”

“Aw, but those biscuits were cool!” Hugh piped up.

“They weren’t ‘cool’, they were ‘yummy’ or ‘delicious’.” Katrina corrected him.

“Shut up Katrina! Leave me alone! I always get picked on, being the youngest!” Hugh threw down his fork in a temper.

*****

Once the main meal had been devoured, Mr Sabre served dessert with Lucia's and Sophia's help. It was a dish called Tiramisu which I'd never had before. I thought it was delicious, with the flavours of coffee and chocolate combining inside my mouth.

Mr and Mrs Sabre served espresso at the end with their kid's help again. Mama had a cup but I caught her looking at her watch a couple of times. I wasn't surprised when she finished her beverage she announced we had to go.

Kevin walked us down the driveway and into the cul-de-sac where Mama had parked. She unlocked the hover-car with her remote but Kevin still kindly opened my door for me before shutting it once I was inside. As our vehicle rose into the air, he took a step back and waved farewell.

"That boy is in love with you," Mama said out of the blue, as we cruised home.

"Really, you think so?" I gushed, happily.

"But be on your guard," she said seriously. "He's hiding a secret."

I sighed as I stared out the windscreen, "I think all of them are hiding a secret."

"The families we met today are concealing something," she went on. "Their offer of friendship is genuine but I sense something dangerous about them."

"I'll be careful, Mama," I promised.

Then we drove the rest of the way home in silence, with us each pondering our own thoughts on the matter.

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

16th September 2380

On Monday morning, Mama dropped me off at school as usual on her way to work. However, when I approached my locker which was beside Kevin's, Lucia's and Xenthe's, they weren't there. I stood alone in the crowded corridor, looking around for my new friends but they were nowhere to be found.

Instantly, my mind spun around and around with thoughts that maybe I did something wrong. Did they somehow hear Mama say that we guessed they were hiding a secret? Did they sense her mistrust, perhaps? Did we come across as rude at lunch? Doesn't Kevin like me anymore?

All of these doubts swam inside my head until I was interrupted by a tap on my shoulder.

"Hey Mali," Katrina smiled, once I turned around. "Kevin, Looch and Xenthe can't come in today."

"Why?" I asked, crestfallen.

"They participated in a tribal custom which ran all night," she said. "But Kevin asked if you could come by our place after school so you can see each other."

"But how will I get there?" I asked, unsure.

"Meet me outside the school's front doors when classes have finished and you can catch the bus with me to tribal lands." Katrina organised. "But before then, we'll see each other at recess and lunch of course."

Then she patted me on the arm and turned to disappear amongst the throng of students.

The bell went and I took myself off to English, which I wasn't particularly looking forward to. I'd always liked the subject but I didn't like Miss Broadbent. She took all the fun out of learning with her snide remarks and put-downs. Also, it would be worse because I didn't have my friends to sit with.

Hesitantly, I entered the classroom where the bullies Johnson and Peters were already seated. I tried to sit away from them because I knew without Kevin here, I'd be targeted. I walked past a particular girl whom I got the impression didn't like me. I think her name was Melanie and I'd seen her whisper to her friends a couple of times which I sensed was about me. They would eye me up and down in a critical manner then lean in and say something and giggle.

"Mali's only friends aren't here to sit with her today." Melanie sung mockingly. "She'll be all alone."

"No wonder," her friend sneered at my clothing.

I tried to hold my head up high and disregard their negativity when I was saved and unsurprisingly, it was by a Lokoti student.

"Mali, sit here beside me."

Gratefully, I took the seat beside hers and she gave me a warm smile.

"Just ignore them," she implied the bitchy girls. "I'm Cathy, I have Geography with you too."

"I remember," I smiled in relief at her kindness. "You answered those questions about the Lokoti's belief system."

"Yeah, that's right," she remembered. "Funny enough, the reason why Kevin, Lucia and Xenthe aren't here is partially related to that discussion."

"Really?" I listened.

"I can't say much," she looked around the classroom warily, like she was worried we might have an audience. "But Kevin, Lucia and Xenthe participate in a tribal custom every full moon so that's why they're not here."

"Every full moon?" I repeated, disheartened.

Merde! That means every full moon I'll be alone in school, without them. I didn't want to go to class all by myself. What kind of tribal custom was this? But before I could ask, we were interrupted by Miss Broadbent starting her lesson.

*****

To my pleasant surprise, the day turned out fine. No matter what class I was in, there was a Lokoti student who'd saved a seat for me. I wasn't alone after all.

I sat with Cathy again in Geography and a boy called Nathan in Math. I remembered Nathan from the soccer match. At recess and lunch Katrina would wave me over to join her table in the cafeteria and there I sat with her, Geoff and Maryann. In my last class for the day which was Music, I was befriended by another Lokoti girl called Paula who played the guitar.

It felt like I'd been taken in by the Lokoti and the whole tribe was looking out for me. I was touched by this, as well as flattered. It made me feel like I belonged and I appreciated the gesture.

When school finished, I met Katrina on the front steps and caught the hover-bus home with her. I even felt at home on the bus, surrounded by the Lokoti kids all laughing and chattering away. I shared a seat with Katrina but there were lots of people to talk to. Maryann and Geoff sat in the seat in front and they constantly turned around to speak to us. Cathy sat in the seat across the aisle and chatted to me, Nathan and Paula.

"When are you going to play soccer with us again, Mali?" Nathan queried. "Hey, can you teach me some of that fancy footwork you do?"

"Oui," I nodded.

"Hey, I saw you play," Paula recalled. "You certainly gave those boys a run for their money."

"You need more girls on your team," Cathy said to Nathan.

"No argument here," he shrugged. "So come out onto the field and play with us."

"As long as it's just soccer we're playing at," Cathy said cheekily.

When the hover-bus arrived on Lokoti Tribal Lands, everyone disembarked and Nathan helped Paula off the bus with her large guitar case. This showed me how the Lokoti all looked out for one another, which elevated them in my eyes.

Hugh's hover-bus from his school dropped him off at the same time and he walked with Katrina and I towards their home.

We hiked halfway up the hill until we came to the Wisetail's driveway and instantly I spotted Kevin sitting in the sunlight, on the veranda steps. He was sipping on something in a mug which I discovered was coffee by the smell on his breath. As soon as he saw me, he put down his beverage and stood up and waited until I was close enough so he could give me a big bear hug.

"Get a room you two!" Hugh snorted, as he passed us on his way up the steps to go into his house.

Kevin ignored his remark as he loosened his hold so he could stare down into my face.

"How was your day, dear?" he asked, jokingly.

"Not that bad, actually," I smiled at his jest. "Katrina and the other Lokoti kept me company."

"Thanks Katrina," he grinned at his little sister.

"No problem," she shrugged it off. "It's not like Mali and I aren't friends too."

Next, Kevin picked up his mug and led the way up the steps and held the door open for Katrina and I to go inside.

"Did you just wake up?" Katrina queried.

"I got up at two and showered and dressed," he answered.

"And Dad?" she wondered.

"I heard him get up at midday and go to work," he shrugged.

"What kind of tribal custom was it, last night?" I wondered. "Why is it held every full moon? And why don't all Lokoti participate?"

Kevin and Katrina exchanged glances until she shrugged and disappeared into the kitchen, leaving him to explain.

"Um, I wish I could tell you all about it Mali and someday I will," he shifted uncomfortably. "But it's a sacred custom to my people which is kept hidden from outsiders."

Then just like that, I stopped feeling like I was part of the tribe. I was suddenly alone in a stranger's house, prying into their personal affairs. I felt my face heat up in a blush because I felt foolish.

"Pardon," I said, "I won't intrude any longer."

Then I picked up my school bag I'd just dropped on their polished wooden floor and headed for the front door.

"Hey, where are you going?" Kevin asked, baffled.

"Outsiders, really?" his sister came out of the kitchen, shaking her head at her brother's choice of words. "Hey Mali, wait up."

I exited their house and was about to walk down their driveway and then down the hill to go back to the bus stop when I was followed.

"Mali, you're not an 'outsider'," Katrina caught up. "The Sabre's wouldn't have had you and your Mom over for lunch if we thought of you as an 'outsider'."

I stopped and turned and looked at her face to see her earnest expression.

"No, not at all,” Kevin spoke hurriedly. "Our families wanted to meet your Mom because we all liked you. I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings, Mali, I didn't mean to. Not even my Mom or Katrina or Hugh can participate in the tribal custom we held last night. One day you'll understand but I just can't tell you yet."

"You can't?" I looked at Katrina.

"Nope, we're excluded too," she gave me a playful smile. "But I don't care because I make my own fun."

Then she linked her arm with mine and led me back inside the house with her older brother trailing after us.

"Hey, do you like pizza?" she asked. "Mom's working today so she said she'll bring home pizza for dinner."

*****

Mr and Mrs Wisetail came home from work approximately the same time as each other, around 6 PM. Just as Katrina promised, their mother carried in several large pizza boxes. We all sat down at their dining table with a plate each and helped ourselves to the slices.

I didn't feel like staying late this time so once the cardboard pizza boxes were tossed into the recycling bin, I asked Kevin to drive me home.

We were both silent as we cruised out of tribal lands and headed towards Alma.

"I'm sorry Mali," he spoke first. "There's so much I want to tell you but I can't."

As I stared at the tail-lights of the hover-car in front, I remembered I had secrets too. How would I explain my abilities which I inherited from my Grandmama? Would he think me a freak or a liar if I told him?

"It's OK Kevin, there are some things I can't tell you too."

"Oh, there are?" he sounded surprised.

"It's just being so close to you, it feels like we shouldn't have secrets from each other." I confessed.

"I feel the same way," he said, before he rested his hand on my leg.

"So we won't argue about this any longer," I decided. "But please pass on my thanks to your friends for making sure I wasn't alone today."

"Hey, they did that by their own accord," he chuckled. "They know you're close to Looch, Xenthe and me and they know why we miss school, so they looked out for you."

"I promised Nathan we'd have another soccer match and I'd teach him a few tricks."

"That's so cool," he grinned, "my girlfriend the soccer star."

His girlfriend? He actually called me his girlfriend! So does this make it official that we're in a relationship? But to avoid being clingy, I didn't dare ask.

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

21st September 2380

On Saturday morning I stumbled down the stairs of my town house at 6.35 AM. I was still rubbing sleep from my eyes when to my surprise, I found Mama in the kitchen. She had procured a bowl of cereal for me to eat as she sat at the bench sipping a cup of coffee.

“Mama?” I queried. "Why are you awake? I thought you were going to sleep in this morning."

“Are you ready?” she checked.

“Oui.”

“Will Kevin be picking you up at 7 AM for your walk?” she double-checked.

“Oui.”

“What time will you be home?”

“Not sure, perhaps 6 PM?” I shrugged.

"Do you need me to pick you up?" she offered.

"No, I think Kevin will drop me off home, afterwards."

"I want you home for dinner tonight," she said. "You can't keep having dinner at other people's houses. The Sabre's and the Wisetail's and the Creillaic's probably think I don't feed you."

"Oui, Mama," I giggled at the thought.

Quickly, I scoffed down my cereal before I hurried upstairs to finish getting ready. I brushed my teeth and then my frizzy hair which I tied back into pony-tail. As I was fighting my hair with my hairbrush, I heard our door chime go off at 6.55 AM. I listened as Mama answered the door.

“Bonjour Kevin,” Mama greeted.

“G’morning Mrs Roanne!” Kevin greeted with his characteristic exuberance. “How are you?”

“Bien," she replied. "Entrez."

"Thanks Mrs Roanne," Kevin said as he came inside.

“Mali will be down shortly,” Mama promised.

“Cool,” Kevin said amiably, then there was a pause before he next asked, “are you sure you wouldn't like to come too?”

“No thank you, Kevin." Mama replied. "I'd prefer not to hike the Alaskan countryside on my days off work.”

“My parents said you'd probably need your rest with all the overtime you've been working. But I thought I’d just ask anyways. You know, just in case you wanted to see or whatever.”

“See what?”

“Just in case you wanted to see we're not axe murderers or anything," he joked.

A giggle escaped which made me drop my hairbrush, which I think they heard downstairs.

“Mali, Kevin’s here!” Mama called out.

Hurriedly, I went back into my bedroom to pick up my small backpack with my phone, keys and purse inside before I skipped down the stairs.

Seeing Kevin standing inside my small lounge room made me smile. He was so tall, his head almost touched the ceiling! His broad shoulders also filled the space, making Mama stand away from him.

“Hi Kevin.” I smiled shyly.

“Hi Mali.” He grinned back.

“Have you got your mobile phone?” Mama wanted to make sure and I pulled it out of my bag for her to see. “Bon, now bon voyage!”

Kevin and I found ourselves being ushered towards the front door but I stopped in the doorway.

“Mama," I turned around. “What will you be doing today?”

I was worried about Mama spending so much time alone since her divorce. When we were back in Mali, she could talk to either Grandmama or her sister, Aunt Menaka. But here in Alaska, she didn't have that support structure.

“Sleeping and shopping.” Mama announced.

“Oh, just in case you get bored…” Kevin began, “…Mrs Creillaic asked me to ask you, if you wanted to meet up for coffee?”

“Merci,” Mama smirked. "We'll see, I'll text message her later."

"She's not helping with the hike today like Aunt B and my Mom are, so she'll be waiting for your reply." Kevin told her.

Abruptly, the front door was shut in our faces along with a cheerful call, “Have fun!”

Oh, it would appear that Mama was looking forward to having this Saturday all to herself.

“Mama likes to have time alone." I explained. "She’s actually a quiet person by nature.”

Kevin shrugged off my Mama’s dismissal and he took my hand and walked me down the driveway to his family's hover-car which was parked on the street.

As usual, he politely opened the passenger side door for me and closed it once I was in.

“Merci," I smiled at his chivalry.

I saw him chuckle to himself as he jogged around to the driver's side and climbed in.

“Merci! Bien! Bon!” Kevin said jovially as he started up the hover-car. “I’m learning French!”

Then the hover-car lifted up into the air and we cruised out of Alma and headed towards the Lokoti National Park.

*****

When we reached our destination, Kevin powered down the vehicle on his driveway where we found Mr Wisetail, Katrina and Hugh waiting for us.

“I’ll just return the key to Mom.” Kevin inferred the hover-car's key he was holding and he quickly climbed out and jogged inside his house.

I got out of the car and approached his family who were standing by the front veranda.

“Good morning Mali.” Mr Wisetail smiled. “How are you?”

“Good thanks, Mr Wisetail.” I answered. “Hi Katrina, how’s things?”

“Same ole, same ole," she shrugged. “Hugh hasn’t died yet.”

“Katrina!” her little brother turned around and punched her on the arm.

“Katrina, please.” Mr Wisetail flashed her a warning look, since death was still a sore subject in their family.

“Got your water bottle?” Katrina moved the conversation along.

“Water bottle?” I echoed. "Er, no."

The weather here in Alaska was dramatically cooler than what I was used to back in Nara, I hadn’t even considered bringing along a water bottle.

Just as his son was coming back out of the house, Mr Wisetail spoke to him.

“Kevin, fetch another water bottle for Mali, would you?” Then quick as a flash, he disappeared inside again. I felt foolish about my mistake but Mr Wisetail smiled kindly. “Water and snacks never go astray on hikes.”

“Why don’t you just kill a caribou or a moose or something, if you get hungry?” Hugh teased his father in a playful fashion.

“It’s not that time of the month," Mr Wisetail grinned in good humour.

I saw that's where Kevin got his ready grins from; his father.

After a minute, Kevin reappeared carrying a backpack of his own, while shoving two water bottles and a couple of muesli bars inside.

“Just in case we get hungry,” Kevin said breezily. "But Mom and Aunt B will meet us in the camping grounds with the picnic lunch."

Next, he took hold of my hand and held it confidently, not caring who saw. We walked like this down the steep road behind his father, brother and sister. Hugh was soon chattering away like a monkey in a tree, with Katrina putting in the occasional taunt or tease. Mr Wisetail smilingly walked in between them, as he happily kept an eye on his children.

We headed for what I thought was the soccer field but at the small intersection we turned left instead of right.

Soon, we were standing in a serene, grassy glade where seven huge totem poles stood near the riverbank. I guessed this was the same river that we'd spent some time hanging out. Pine forest surrounded the community centre and amongst the evergreens, I spotted deciduous trees whose leaves had turned yellow and red with the onset of fall. The colours made an excellent contrast against the greenery.

I looked around at the thirty teenaged Lokoti youths who'd congregated here, as well as two adults in the forms of Mr Wisetail and Mr Sabre.

“Walt.” Mr Sabre shook Mr Wisetail's hand in a firm grip.

“Uncle Dec.” Mr Wisetail gave him a nod of respect.

“Hi Lucia.” I smiled at the familiar sight of my friend.

“Hey Mali.” Lucia came over to stand with us. “Hey Kev.”

“Hey Looch.” Kevin greeted. “Soph looks like she’s ready to bite someone's head off.”

Sophia was standing there with her arms folded in front in a defiant posture and the fiercest scowl on her face.

“Yeah, she’s still pissed that Dad made her come.” Lucia giggled.

Sophia, who overheard us, snarled our way before walking off to stand with someone else.

“Why didn’t she want to come?” I queried. "It's a beautiful day."

“Because 'it’s boring'!.” Lucia mimed her little sister in a sarcastic voice.

“Is Xenthe coming?” I looked around the small crowd.

“Nope, nature walks aren’t really his thing. Sure, he’ll come hunting with us. But going for long walks without killing anything? He’d prefer to stay indoors.” Kevin explained about his pale friend.

My eyebrows arose in surprise at hearing how my sixteen year old friends were already accustomed to slaughtering animals for such a gruesome ‘sport’.

Then I spotted Cathy who was standing with Nathan and Paula and I threw them a wave which they returned.

“OK kids, listen up!” Mr Sabre called for everybody’s attention. “Today’s walk is going to go for eight hours as we follow the river into the National Park and then turn back via the woods. If you get tired or run out of water, then let Uncle Walt or I know. If a bear charges at you, then let Uncle Walt or I know. If you eat anything poisonous, then you let Uncle Walt and I know. Otherwise keep the noise to a minimum and your feet moving. Now, are there any questions?”

I overheard some snickering from the kids which implied they were used to Mr Sabre's gruffness. However, there was someone brave enough to venture a question. Everyone's heads' turned to see Sophia holding up her hand in the air, like she was asking a teacher a question in a classroom.

“I have a question.” Sophia said brazenly.

“Yes?” Mr Sabre asked warily.

“Can I go home?”

“No.”

There was more laughter as Sophia dejectedly lowered her hand.

Mr Sabre continued, “As many of you know, this is the Lokoti Holy Grounds. Many of our tribe’s ceremonies like our Funerals or our Joining Ceremonies are held here. On the back of these totems are the inscribed names of those who have passed away. The burnt patch of grass near the centre totem is where our funeral pyres burn. But what many of you don't know is that the Lokoti Holy Grounds also used to be the place where the tribe had their summer camp. The Lokoti used to be semi-nomadic, they'd summer here by the river and in the winter they lived in the caves up in the mountains."

Kevin led me over to the totems and released my hand to allow me to explore. I saw that on the front of the totems were the large, colourful carvings of important animals to the tribe and on the back were much smaller engravings. When I leaned in for a closer look, I saw they were inscribed names in the wood, along with smaller inscribed pictures of particular animals, as if they represented the family the person belonged to.

"Now if you'll follow me, we'll start our hike along the riverbank," Mr Wisetail announced to the gathering.

Just as we started towards the riverbed, suddenly we heard, “Daddy! Daddy!”

Immediately, Mr Sabre stopped and turned around when seemingly out of nowhere, Susanna charged past us and into the waiting arms of her father.

“Sues?” he picked up his tall six year old and held her securely in his bigger, stronger arms. “What the hell?”

“Mummy said I could come!” Susanna cried out.

Mr Sabre looked on his youngest in disbelief then, as he held her in one arm, he used his other to reach for his mobile phone in his pocket.

“Hey, it’s me," he spoke into the phone, which made me guess it was Mrs Sabre on the other end. “Yeah, she’s here. Did you say she could...? Uh huh. Uh huh. Uh huh. Yup. OK, bye.”

He returned his phone to his pocket as he looked on his youngest long and hard.

“Your mother said that if you behaved, you could go on the next walk with me.” Mr Sabre said pointedly.

“But this is your next walk," she debated. "She said I could come on your next walk and she said that on the last walk you went on."

“Hmm,” his eyes narrowed.

“Please Daddy? Pretty please? Please, please, please?” Susanna sung beseechingly.

Then for effect, she burrowed her little face into his neck as she clung onto his flannel shirt.

I watched Mr Sabre’s resolve soften and appreciatively he stroked his little girl’s long, blonde, wavy hair.

“Oh alright," he rolled his eyes at his own weakness.

"Yay!" Susanna slid out of her father's arms and jumped up and down on the ground in excitement.

Just as the two men turned around to lead on, Sophia stuck up her hand again.

“If Susanna is here, you don’t need me," she stated. "I should be able to go home now.”

“Nope! But nice try though.” Mr Sabre said as he began walking again. Then he called over his shoulder, as if he could sense that she was still standing there, “C’mon Sophia, winter is going to arrive before you do.”

In a temper, Sophia stomped past Lucia, Kevin and I as she fell into step to walk with Katrina and Hugh instead.

*****

We walked along the rocky riverbed with the sun gleaming off the river. The path was narrow so we couldn't walk more than two people at a time. Kevin and I walked hand-in-hand behind Lucia and Susanna, with Katrina and Hugh behind us. Sophia walked by herself, or stomped along bad-temperedly, I should say.

Out of the blue, Kevin suddenly pulled me behind him. Then everyone stopped walking and froze on the spot. Mr Sabre held up his hand for silence which made the chatter cease. I wondered what was wrong as I peered past Kevin who was standing protectively in front of me.

Then I spotted them, three grizzly bears fishing in a rocky part of the river. They were on all fours in the rapids, using their claws to catch the fish. That was until the biggest of the bears spotted us and rose onto its back two legs. As it reared up at us, it roared threateningly.

I can't be sure, but I heard what sounded like a growling noise. I looked around, trying to track the source when I realized it was coming from four different people. Kevin, Mr Wisetail, Mr Sabre and Lucia were actually growling at the angry bear. It was a deep, guttural noise which wasn't that loud, but loud enough for the bear to hear it.

Amazed, I watched the effect it had on the animal. It returned to all-fours and moved away from us. The three bears clambered across the rocks in the rapids as they made their getaway. It was like they were running away from a predator.

"You scared away the bears," I uttered in surprise. "How did you do that?"

"It was just a territorial mother with her cubs," Lucia shrugged it off.

"Uncle Dec's and Dad's growling told the mother bear that we were their cubs and they would defend us." Kevin explained.

"And what about your growling?" I looked his way.

"I was letting her know I was protecting my mate," he said sheepishly.

My mouth fell open as I stood there and stared at him. I caught him blush as his face coloured up. He called me his mate? What Mama said about him was true, he does love me.

"Kevin and Mali, sitting in a tree -" Hugh started up.

"Shut up, Hugh!" Katrina yelled at her little brother.

"Alright! Alright!" he covered his ears. "No need to shout!"

"OK everyone, the excitement is over and we can continue," Mr Sabre called out. "So get your feet moving again."

"C'mon guys," Lucia prompted us.

Kevin took hold of my hand again and everyone continued the walk down the riverbank.

*****

We continued up the river where I learned about the fish which lived there and the birdlife. I heard about the different breeds of salmon, as well as its halibut, pollock and trout too. I learned how these fish provided for the tribe and the names of the different families like the Shallow Water's which sold it. We spotted different varieties of ducks and I spotted a hawk or two. Kevin even pointed out a type of ptarmigan which he said was the State's bird.

After a while, we followed a dirt track which led us away from the riverbed and we found ourselves in a large, grassy field. I thought it was a lovely spot, with forest acting as its border and the snow-tipped mountains as its back drop. But best of all, there were public toilets which we all lined up to use.

"These are the camping grounds for tourists," Katrina said, as she stood behind me in the line.

"It's a nice spot," I nodded.

"Have you ever gone camping, Mali?" she inquired.

"Oh no, my Grandmama and I'd work outdoors but we'd always sleep indoors." I shook my head.

As we were waiting in line, we spotted a Federal Wildlife Service hover-car come to land in the glade. Next, Mrs Sabre and Mrs Wisetail hopped out of the vehicle. Their husbands went to meet them and I watched them set up a couple of fold-out tables where they placed food and drinks.

"Bon! I'm starved!" I accidentally cried out.

"Join the queue!" Katrina agreed.

After we used the toilets and washed our hands, we joined another line to help ourselves to the lunch provided. I was impressed by the layout. There were a variety of sandwiches and fruit juices on offer.

When it was my turn in the line, I looked on the food in a ravenous but unsure manner. There was just so much to choose from. The sandwiches were cut in half in triangles, but the offerings were wonderful.

"Mali, what would you like?" Mrs Sabre queried.

"Is that smoked salmon with cream cheese?" I pointed at one tray of sandwiches.

"Yes it is," she verified.

"And is that curried egg and lettuce?" I pointed at another tray.

"Yup."

"I don't know what I want," I confessed, as I looked on hungrily.

"How about a little bit of everything," she smiled. "Here, take one triangle of the smoked salmon, another of the curried egg and lettuce, one of the ham, cheese and tomato and lastly, one of the chicken, avocado and alfalfa sprouts."

I did just as she suggested and put the sandwiches on a recyclable plate but before I walked away, I poured myself some orange juice in a recyclable cup which was also on offer.

"Nice work, wife," Mr Sabre came up beside Mrs Sabre and wrapped his arm about her waist. "Hiring that catering company was a good idea after all."

"You know Declan, I do have a lot of good ideas that you don't credit me for," she replied.

"Well, I don't want it going to your head now, do I?" he teased.

I found myself blushing at being caught in their moment together so I backed away from the food and drinks and went and sat with my friends.

We sat on the grass as we ate our lunch. I sat in between Kevin and Katrina with Lucia sitting nearby as well as Susanna. Cathy, Nathan and Paula came to sit with us too, as did Maryann and Geoff. At first we were a quiet group, too busy scoffing down the delicious food but then Cathy broke the silence.

"What do you think of the walk so far, Mali?"

"I'm really enjoying it," I told her. "There's so much life here."

"The bears this morning gave me a bit of a scare," Paula confessed.

"We wouldn't have let anything happen to you," Lucia shrugged it off.

Paula regarded her for a moment before she said, "No, I know you and your father wouldn't have."

"Don't forget there's also me and Dad," Kevin spoke up. "We may not be as strong as Looch and Uncle Dec, but we're stronger than a grizzly."

"Really?" I looked on, impressed.

"Do you hunt bears?" Nathan asked Kevin.

"Sometimes," he shrugged.

"I don't like hunting," I declared. "I hate guns."

"Who said anything about hunting with guns?" Lucia said coolly.

"But killing animals for sport is wrong," I said.

"We don't kill them for sport, we kill them to eat," she replied before standing up and wandering back towards the food for second helpings.

Baffled, I looked at Kevin who'd already finished his plate of sandwiches.

"I agree with you Mali, hunting animals purely for sport is wrong," he said. "That's why the Lokoti National Park is closed to outside hunters. The only hunting that happens is part of a tribal custom and we're careful of what we kill. We don't hunt an animal into extinction and wildlife flourishes here."

Then he stood up and followed Lucia's example by heading over to the food for second helpings.

I looked at Katrina for answers, "If you don't hunt with guns, how do you hunt? And if you hunt to eat and sometimes you've hunted grizzlies, are you saying you've actually eaten Brown Bear?"

"Not me, Mali," she shook her head. "Hunting is a ritual that's only for certain members of the tribe."

"I go hunting," Susanna volunteered. "I've eaten Brown Bear that my Daddy's killed."

At that moment, as if he overheard our conversation, Mr Sabre called his daughter over.

"Sues, come over here and help Mummy and Aunt Wendy pack up lunch."

Obediently, I watched the six year old stand up and go over to help.

Just then something occurred to me and I looked at Katrina once more.

"This hunting which is a ritual for certain members of the tribe, it doesn't happen to fall on a full moon, does it?"

Everyone turned quiet and I caught a few awkward looks exchanged between my friends.

"Yes it is does, actually," Kevin said casually, as he sat down beside me with another plate of food.

"So that's what you and Lucia and Xenthe were doing all night that time you didn't come to school," I thought aloud.

"Bingo," Lucia said as she sat down too with another plate of sandwiches.

"Here," Kevin passed me a cup of juice. "I brought you another drink before everything's put away."

"Merci," I accepted his offering.

I thought it was strange how and why they hunted and I thought it was even more peculiar that it happened at night, but I sensed I should leave it at that.

*****

The walk back through the woods was lovely. Kevin held my hand again and pointed out different plants and animals. I liked the ferns growing in between the trees and I picked a few fronds to take home to Mama. On our hike home, we even spotted a red fox chasing a ground squirrel in between the bushes.

It was five o'clock in the afternoon when we arrived back on tribal lands. Everyone split up to head home and I walked back to the Wisetail's home on the hill. I must admit, by this stage I was lagging behind from fatigue but Hugh, Katrina, Kevin and Mr Wisetail still had a spring in their step. Kevin, who was still holding my hand, practically pulled me up the steep road until we reached their driveway.

"Mali, you'll stay for dinner, won't you?" their father offered.

"Merci Mr Wisetail, but Mama said she wanted me home for dinner tonight." I replied.

"I'll go and get Mom's key to drive Mali home," Kevin said.

All of the Wisetail's headed inside and I remained outside as I stood by their family hover-car, waiting for my driver to return.

As I waited, I inhaled the musky air from the surrounding pine trees and looked up at the sky changing colours at the end of the day. It was quiet, so quiet I could hear my own heartbeat. It seemed such a peaceful place to live, I couldn't imagine living anywhere better than this.

Within a second, Kevin came outside and energetically jumped over the veranda steps and hit the remote to unlock the hover-car. He opened the passenger's side door for me before closing it once I was inside. Then he walked around the vehicle to climb into the driver's seat.

"Thank you for a lovely day," I smiled.

"No problem," he grinned back.

I watched him punch in the security code and the hover-car came to life.

We glided down the hill and off tribal lands as Kevin drove me home. We were both quiet, with me playing with the fern fronds and my driver concentrating on the traffic. I was tired but Kevin was pensive.

"Hey Mali," he began.

"Oui?"

"You won't tell anyone at school about our hunting every full moon, will you?"

"No, not if it's a secret."

"We'd prefer that outsiders weren't told about our tribe's customs," he said.

"Then I won't say a thing."

"Merci," he gave me a goofy grin. "Hey, Mali?"

"Oui?"

"Would you like to go on a date with me next Saturday night?" he asked. "I was thinking we could go to the movies."

"That would be lovely," I beamed.

"Bon," his smile widened and he patted my leg.

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