How much of life do any of us see?
|Reia turned with a jerk at the whistling sound. “What on earth was that?” It was as if a very large bug had darted past her head. She spied a green shape dart down the street and around the corner, and looked inquiringly at Chin.
Chin shrugged, but there was a worried expression on his face. He glanced at Reia as if she were a problem all of a sudden, and then started moving to follow the green shape. Reia hurried after him, not even noticing when he stopped and began to motion her back.
Reia sighed. Her brother was always drifting in his own little world. He thought about books and fantastical creatures and the like when he should be thinking about important stuff. Reia had just started high school, and she knew that he was odd. All of her friends said so. Two years separated them, but at times, she felt decades older than him, rather than fourteen to his sixteen.
A breathless red-headed girl ran up to them. She focused on Chin, standing there like a lump on the street in front of their house. “Chin! Chin! Have you seen Bob? I’m looking for Bob. He came this way.” She looked up at them with big green eyes that looked slightly odd. Reia could not quite see why. Maybe it was the pupils. Yes, they were not quite as round as they could be. But she was a little girl, not more than ten, and worried. Nothing strange about that.
Chin towards the corner where the green shape had vanished, but didn't look as though he were going to respond, so Reia crouched down beside her. “No, I haven’t seen Bob, but if you’d like, Chin and I will help you look.” Chin shrugged again with a very resigned expression on his face, but at the offer, the girl smiled. Something was slightly wrong about that smile, but Reia could not think what it was. She tried for an instant, but then got caught by the girl’s eyes.
As the girl looked into Reia’s eyes, Reia’s mind grew blank so that she was entirely focused on the little girl and her problems. “Thank you so much. I need Bob. My mother is going to be so upset. I’m Kat. Would you please help me find Bob?” She talked as though she was older than she looked, and with an accent that Reia could not place. Chin just shook his head warningly at Kat. Reia saw him do it and frowned. Surely he could see that Kat needed help.
The three held hands and headed off. As they went, Reia was surprised that Chin was the one who took the lead. And Kat was looking up at him with such trust on her face, as if she knew him. But that was impossible. Chin had never told her that he knew a little girl like Kat.
He walked surely, turning corners and crossing streets towards the center of town. It was as if he were following guideposts that only he could see. But no. He was just like her best friend, Mary Smith had said, a hopeless dreamer who didn’t know how to function in the real world. Reia could remember when they were younger. Chin had always told her stories about the things that he saw. Floating dragons came to his window, and elves lived under the front step. But she had stopped believing any of that long ago. This was the real world, not some storybook.
Chin led them straight towards the park in the center of town. He always had known where the best places were for finding castles in the trees and cities under the rolling hills. Not that any of that was believable. And he never would talk to her about the really important things. He had no friends to have a crush on and he had no desire to go to the dances. Last year, he hadn’t even gone to one football game. All he cared about were his stupid stories.
Reia carefully stopped that train of thought. Mother had told her to try to get along with Chin. Next time they had an argument, Mother would NOT blame her. She was tired of being in trouble when it was Chin that was the annoying one.
They came to a pool at the center of the park. Reia was almost surprised. She thought that she knew the park but she hadn’t ever seen that pool before. But then Chin always did know how to find the unusual. Like that time at the Grand Canyon when he had showed her that shining gate in the wall. But Mother hadn’t seen it. And there were no such things as gates made of jewels that glimmered and vanished in the setting sun. So that hadn’t really happened. Chin was just very good at painting pictures with words.
At the edge of the pool, there was a little girl—she couldn’t have been more than three. Much too young to be by herself next to the water's edge. On her hand was a little humming-bird, green and black. The girl looked as if she were scolding the bird--at least they were having some kind of conversation--but no. Outside of Chin's stories, no one talked to the birds.
Suddenly Kat broke away, letting go of Reia’s hand which she had held like a vise all the way to the park. “Bob!” She shrieked, and the sound was slightly wrong—a mixture between a child’s shriek and an inhuman yowl. Reia had never heard anything like that from human lips. “I’ve got you, Bob. Come away from Mommy! Mommy is too busy to play with you. You're going to get me into trouble.”
Reia knew that something was wrong because impossible things began to happen. Kat wasn’t there any more. She had launched herself at the bird, and suddenly there was a cat there. The cat ate the humming bird and then sat there with Kat’s eyes and Kat’s smile with its sharp, white teeth. Reia gasped. Suddenly those things that had seemed so strange on Kat the little girl were right in the little ginger cat who stared at Chin with defiance written all over her.
The baby girl whistled something imperiously. As if he were answering her, Chin said something, but Reia couldn’t understand the words. She listened intently, but all she could hear were tones that seemed familiar—and then she remembered. Kat’s voice had used those tones. Reia backed away. Why was Chin talking in that strange way? He had no right. He was her brother, not some strange girl pretending to be a cat.
Chin raised his hands and the baby girl raised her hands and some kind of light came from them which surrounded the cat, who looked rather nervous and all of a sudden Kat was back in the midst of the light. "He deserved it. It’s not as if I hurt him," she said and her eyes were hard, and Reia saw the pupils that were more like a cat's than a little girl's.
“Let him go right now. You're frightening him.” Kat just licked her lips and stared at the little girl. Reia bit her lip. Where was Bob now? The only answer she could think of wasn’t possible.
Chin said something in that language that Reia didn’t know. He was using that tone he always used when he wanted her to get out of his book collection before he had to tell Mother about what she was doing. Reia swallowed hard. He seemed to know them. Why was her brother doing this?
Kat looked terribly uncomfortable at his words and opened her mouth and all of a sudden Bob was back. And then he wasn't there, but a little boy was, and he was crying even though he was almost too old to cry. The little girl gathered the shivering little boy into a hug, soothing him with a gentle croon. It reminded Reia of how Mom would come and sing her gently to sleep.
Reia shook her head, her eyes filling with panic. She knew that this hadn’t happened. If Mary Smith were here, she could have told her what really happened. Chin was looking at her now, and looking a bit worried, if the truth were to be told. Then his face lit up.
He reached down and picked up the cutest little cat that Reia had ever seen. “Look what I’ve found for you.” Reia fell in love. The cat was ginger, and it had the most beautiful green eyes. “Do you want to keep her? She will be needing a place to live for the next seven years.”
Reia was a little puzzled by that, but she picked up the cat and brought her up to her face. The ginger fur was as soft as it looked, and a little nose buried itself in Reia's black curls.
He continued in the story-telling voice that Reia remembered from when she was as young as that little girl next to the pond. “She’s not really a cat you know. I’ve known her since she was a baby and her mother made me one of her warders. She’s one of the princesses of Faerie, condemned for seven years to the shape of a cat, on the hopes that she will gain a sense of responsibility. There's her brother over there, with the Queen of Faerie.” He pointed and Reia saw the little girl, not older than three standing next to her brother, feeding the birds.
Reia rolled her eyes. Why did Chin have to spoil a perfectly lovely present with one of his stories. She tucked her new cat into her arm.
“You’re so strange, Chin.” The cat purred, agreeing with her.