When I looked out the window on Friday morning, I was greeted by a sky full of ill-tempered gray clouds that looked like they were just waiting for any excuse to send sheets of rain cascading down on us.
"Just get it out of the way before night," I requested.
The likelihood of the clouds accommodating my request was low, I was fairly certain.
After breakfast, Ben and I put on our raincoats and left for school. He trotted ahead, and I waited in front of my house. In a moment, Saledameki appeared.
"Hey Sky," she said.
We trudged on toward school.
"So we're going to Ms Josmin's house after exams?" I asked.
"Well, not right after exams," Saledameki replied.
"After lunch, then."
"It'll be a little later."
"I'm not sure," she said. "It might be later in the afternoon."
"Later? Like, how late? Closer to dinnertime?"
"I just need to know what to write in the note I'm going to leave for my father," I told her. "You know, like, am I going to be home for dinner, or are we going to eat there?"
"Oh. Yeah, I could cook something for us."
"Are we going to stay that long?"
"Sure," she said. "If you want. I mean... I think you're probably going to have some questions about what we're going to tell you."
We walked a little further down the road.
Then, all of a sudden, I heard Saledameki laughing.
"What?" I asked her.
"You're still trying to solve it, aren't you?"
"You know. The puzzle we gave you."
"You know. What do Bev, Ms Josmin, and I have in common?"
She was right about that.
Weeks ago, Ms Josmin had told me that she didn't go on dates. When I mentioned that to Saledameki, she had responded as though she knew exactly what Ms Josmin was talking about.
And earlier in the week, Saledameki had said that it, whatever it was, also pertained to some other people, including Bev.
My first thought was that they had some sort of illness or health condition. But Saledameki and Bev had insisted that it was nothing of the sort, that it wasn't anything negative at all.
"I don't know," I said to Saledameki. "What do you have in common?"
"We'll tell you, Sky," she insisted.
"I know," I replied. "You'll explain everything."
When Ms Claine called time, I handed in my agriculture exam, picked up my raincoat from the rack, and filed out of the room. By this point, there was a constant roar from above us.
The rain had begun about halfway through the three hours. It had only increased in strength since then.
I followed everyone else to the end of the building, where the lunchroom was. Here, I found a few of my fellow students waiting on their friends. It looked like Ms Claine's exam was the last to finish.
"Hey, Sky," Nila said.
"Hey," I said to her and Saledameki. "Where's Mist?"
Saledameki pointed to the other end of the table. Mist was talking to Chaelin.
Actually, neither of them was talking. Chaelin had her arms around Mist's shoulders, and Mist had her head on Chaelin's shoulder.
For that matter, I couldn't be sure that it was Chaelin. But the person who had her arms around Mist's shoulders had Chaelin's black coat, and Chaelin's black braid hanging down just past her shoulders.
That, together with the fact that they were occupying their normal lunchtime spot, gave me high confidence in my conclusion that it was in fact Chaelin.
My hypothesis was confirmed when they turned around.
"Oh," Chaelin said. "Hey, Sky."
"Hey," I said. "Everything okay?"
"Sure," Mist responded.
The haggard look she gave me said, No, everything's not okay, but there's not really anything you can do about it at the moment, although I have high confidence that everything will eventually arrive at a state of okayness, so would you just stop worrying about me and just hang out with me as though everything is okay so that I can temporarily forget about the things that aren't okay and just concentrate on the things that actually are okay?
I nodded my head and gave Mist a smile that said, Of course we can just hang out and concentrate on the things that actually are okay rather than dwelling on the things that aren't okay, because even though you believe that there's not really anything I can do about it at the moment, I believe that hanging out with you as though everything is okay will actually help you get everything to a state of okayness, so let's just brave the rain and make our way to Nila's house and have a pleasant lunch.
"Well, I'm going to go home," Chaelin said. "I'll see you guys around over the break, I'm sure. Mist, can I come over tomorrow?"
"Sure," Mist told her. "Of course."
"All right. See you then."
She waved to us, and then she fastened her raincoat and stepped outside. For a brief moment, I could see her out the window, galloping down the street before she disappeared into the grayness.
I thought of the rainwater streaming down her braid, gathering at the tip, and then being cast off as droplets in the air behind her.
That must have been what happened to Cærimnetes whenever she leaped from the water onto the grass at Copper Point.
Normally, her hair dried out gradually while we talked.
But if it continued to rain tonight, it would stay wet. The rainwater would simply drip off her braid, run down her back, and slide effortlessly across her scales before pooling underneath her tail, where it would turn the ground to mud.
Would she like that? Maybe she didn't like mud.
But wasn't that basically what the seafloor was?
Well, maybe it was more like sand. Or rock.
Maybe I could ask her.
Had she taught me her word for sand? Or for rock?
"Sky?" I heard.
I looked around and found nobody in the lunchroom, other than myself, Nila, Saledameki, and Mist. But upon further examination, I found Ms Leonine, my literature teacher from ninth grade, staring at me as though I had just defined the word allegory as a carnivorous reptilian animal found mainly in wetlands.
Or as though she had been calling me without receiving a response.
"Oh," I said. "Hi, Ms Leonine."
"Hello, Sky. Ready for the winter break?"
"Um, sure," I replied.
"Apparently so," she answered.
I heard some snickering from the directions of Saledameki and Nila.
Ms Leonine said, "Well, have a good break, all of you."
"Thanks," Mist said. "You too."
She went out the side door, heading back toward her classroom. As she left, she said over her shoulder, "And stay dry."
"Well, that one's not going to happen," Saledameki said to us, buttoning up her raincoat. "Everyone ready?"
We barged out the door and galloped toward Nila's house as fast as we could, leaving behind the second last semester of our lives as students.
At Nila's house, we helped her cook the salmon. We did so by taking turns rushing out the door, peeking at the fillets in the oven behind her house, and then rushing back inside.
The entire activity was largely quiet until Nila finally asked Mist the question that we all wanted to ask, but didn't want to hear the answer to.
"So you're going to go back to your friends next semester?"
"Yeah," Mist sighed. "I suppose I should."
Saledameki asked her, "Have you... have you talked to Joss?"
"Not since the breakup."
"But I... I want to. I want to tell him that it's okay."
"It is?" I asked.
"Well, yeah. I mean, he said he didn't feel attracted to me any more. There's... there's nothing I can do about that. And, you know, I still like to spend time with him."
Nila asked, "So you're going to make it work between you two?"
"Make what work?"
"Oh. Yeah, definitely."
"That's sweet. Also, it's your turn."
Mist glared at Nila before she went outside into the rain. She took a look at the salmon, and then she waved us out. "It's ready!" she shouted.
Nila picked up the plate and dashed outside. Mist hurriedly scooped the fillets onto the plate. With a shriek, she followed Nila back inside.
Nila brought one of the fillets to her mother, and then we took our places around the dining room table.
"How was your science exam?" I asked Nila and Saledameki.
They glanced at one another momentarily.
"I thought I did pretty well," Saledameki replied.
"Yeah, I did too," Nila said.
"But it was a little overwhelming when the rain came," Saledameki added. "It was just, like, pelting onto the roof."
Nila responded, "Yeah, it was like that for the whole last hour, wasn't it?"
"I was afraid to come outside when we were done," Saledameki said. "I figured the hallways would be flooded. I was getting ready to ask Nautilissa for her help."
"And who's that?" I asked her.
"The goddess of breathing underwater."
I know a goddess who can breathe underwater, I thought.
Nila said, "It did get real loud real fast, didn't it?"
"Yeah, it just, like, got so loud all of a sudden," I said. "I looked up, and I saw Jaratino across from me, and he was just like, whoa."
"He was talking during the exam?" Mist asked.
"No," I said. "He just, like, looked at me." I demonstrated the widening he applied to his eyes.
I continued, "And then Ms Claine wrote a bonus question on the board."
"Yeah, she gave us one yesterday," Mist said.
"Same on Monday," Nila chimed in.
"You guys got the same question?" I asked them. "About three species of trees that favour wet weather?"
"No," Nila said. "She asked us for three species of plants that are heliotropic."
"That are what?" Mist asked.
"Heliotropic," Nila repeated.
"What does that mean?"
"You know," I said. "They face the Sun as it moves around the sky."
Mist said, "Oh. Good thing I didn't get that one."
"What was your bonus question?" Nila asked Mist.
"Same as yours, Sky. Name three species of trees that favour wet weather."
I asked, "What did you put?"
"Palm, arabica, and rice," Mist told me.
"Rice isn't a tree," I said.
"Oh. Yeah, it's not, is it?"
"She'll take a point away for that, Mist."
"You think so?"
"Absolutely," I told her. "I had an argument with her earlier this semester. There was a homework assignment with a bonus question about bulb vegetables. And I put the leek as one of them."
"That's not a bulb," Nila pointed out.
"Yeah, exactly. When I got the paper back, she had taken a point away. I went and talked to her. I was like, 'What the hell? No other teachers deduct points on bonus questions!' And she was just like, 'It's an optional question. You answer it at your own risk.'
"And then I said, 'It's a bonus question. It shouldn't count against you. That's what a bonus is. Something that cannot be detrimental to you.'"
"What did she say?" Saledameki asked.
I replied, "She just said, 'It doesn't count against you if you don't answer.' But then she was all like, 'Just consider it a life lesson. If somebody asks you a question, and you don't know the answer, just admit it. Don't make up an answer and give them the wrong idea. Just say you don't know and move on.'"
"That's weird," Nila said.
"Yeah, well, I decided that once I'm teaching, I'm not doing that. I'm not deducting any points on wrong answers for bonus questions."
Mist said, "Yeah, that makes sense."
Saledameki said, "So you want people to make up answers and give each other the wrong idea?"
I answered, "I want them to hypothesise. I want them to come up with ideas. Think for themselves. Not just memorise facts."
Nila held her glass of pineapple juice up in the air. "Thinking for themselves!"
We clinked our glasses against hers.
"Yaaaay!" Saledameki shouted.
We were mostly quiet for a few minutes after that. I finished off the rest of my salad, but after eating about half of my salmon fillet, I didn't touch it any further. I ended up giving the rest of it to Mist.
"Well, this may be the end of the week, Your Majesty," Nila said. "But let this not be the end of your visits to our humble home."
"Never," Mist said. "You guys have been great, treating me like one of the gang."
"You are one of the gang, Maj," Saledameki insisted.
"Why don't we all get together sometime during the break?" Nila suggested. "Like at Copper Point?"
They turned to me.
"Um... yeah, sure," I said.
There was a pause.
"Don't you want to?" Nila asked me.
"Yeah," I said. "Yeah. Of course I do."
"We could do it during the day," Saledameki said. "You know, before it gets dark."
Mist said, "It's always dark."
"It's not dark enough for her," Saledameki said to Mist.
"Yeah." I explained to Mist, "If there weren't any clouds out right now, you wouldn't be able to see the stars."
"Oh. Because there's twilight during the day?"
"It's decided, then," Saledameki said. "We'll go out there during the day. We'll have dinner together, and then we'll clear out so you can get in your astronomy time, Sky."
"Okay, great," I replied. "I like that. When?"
There were a number of tentative glances around the table.
Finally, Nila suggested, "Next Friday?"
"Sure," Mist answered.
"Sounds good," Saledameki said.
"All right," I replied. "I will see all of you then."