Her mum and dad were already sitting at the breakfast table.
“Mum, Dad, we’re going out,” Emma informed them, the nervousness building again as she was faced with her parents.
“Where?” her mum asked suspiciously.
“Don’t worry, Mr. and Mrs. Slim; I’m taking Emma to the ice rink for bonding time,” Josh lied flawlessly, with his usual fake charm.
Her parents fell for his charm at once and looked ecstatic at the idea of Josh and Emma bonding.
“Wonderful!” her dad exclaimed.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” her mum said impatiently, herding them out the door. Emma gave her parents a weak smile before the door shut and then climbed into Josh’s car.
“Josh – if you can afford to buy a car, why do you have to be roommates with me?” Emma quizzed curiously, suddenly realising how stupid it was that Josh could be rich but seem poor at the same time.
“My parents are doing things with our house. Oh, and we may have had a few arguments. So I moved out, and now I’m saving up to get my own house,” Josh explained, pulling out of the driveway and turning onto the road.
“How do you get money?”
“I work sometimes,” Josh answered. “Actually, I hardly work at all. Sometimes I’m the assistant of some rich scientist. I don’t know even know who he is. But he pays me heaps.”
“He must do, if you could afford this car,” Emma commented with wide eyes, running her hands over the smooth leather seats. When the silence stretched on too far, Josh turned up the radio and they both bopped their heads subtly to the latest catchy songs.
The ride was surprisingly short. Josh stopped the car and turned off the engine halfway through Emma’s favourite song, making her pout in disappointment.
“We’re here,” Josh announced.
“No kidding, Captain Obvious,” Emma snickered.
“Thanks for your comment, Lieutenant Sarcasm,” Josh retorted. They grinned and exited the car.
The Green Mug was quite a large bar with good business. Its sign depicted a flashing neon green mug frothing with beer, the words “The Green Mug” lighting up in different fluorescent lights. Outside, grown men laughed and merrily clinked their green mugs of beer together in cheers. Waitresses in skimpy, revealing shorts and boob tubes danced around the tables and men, trays held in their hands.
Josh led Emma around the pub and to the back. There was nothing but a pretty garden, with dark green hedges, beautiful blossoms of every colour and a cleared, grassy space in the middle. Emma followed Josh through a gap in the hedges and gasped at what she saw.
An artificial waterfall’s water tumbled down a tall rock in torrents, landing in a pool where many people were swimming leisurely. The water sprayed everywhere and no one seemed to mind. Rising stone steps, like a circular amphitheatre, surrounded the waterfall and its pool. Small samples of the garden seen outside were scattered throughout places on the grass. People chattered and smoked all over the steps, some made out on the grass and others were stripping off their clothes without shame, ready to dive into the pool. At that sight, Emma cringed and turned to face Josh.
“So, what do you think?” Josh asked proudly.
“I didn’t expect it to be so… beautiful!” Emma gushed, laughing.
Josh looked happy at that comment. “Good, because I laid out the plans for this place in its early days.”
“Cool! I mean – the place is beautiful, but no so much the people using it,” Emma said with disdain, pointing towards the naked people. At least the water obscured the parts of their body Emma wished they would keep to themselves.
Josh shrugged. “It’s a rule-free zone.”
“Except when the cops come,” Emma reminded him.
“Right,” Josh said slowly. They were interrupted by Rein, Lester, James and Callum, who had all decided to run up to the pair and scare them (not that it worked).
“Hey guys!” Lester said excitedly. “Look at that girl up there.” He pointed to someone Emma recognised immediately: May the Siren. “And Cameron is here, too.”
Josh, Lester and Callum left Emma at once, but James and Rein stayed with her.
“Why did you come, Emma?” James asked at once. That made it the second time Emma heard him speak and she was a little taken aback.
“I… didn’t want to stay home alone.”
“So you wanted to come behind The Green Mug?” James asked incredulously.
“Yes,” Emma answered, nodding.
“What’s wrong with you? Look at all the guys here,” James ordered. Emma looked around and saw that probably three quarters of them were male. Most of them were hanging around females, which were quite scarce in this place.
“Now look at the girls,” James commanded. Emma examined them. They all wore tons of makeup, none wore anything more than a boob tube and shorts and the majority of them were smoking, including Cameron, who obviously hadn’t chosen tobacco to smoke.
“You don’t fit in here! You have to be careful, and think more about the decisions you make and the places you go,” James said frantically.
“I’m not a child,” Emma replied defiantly, though she would have been quaking in her Converse if it weren’t for the two familiar guys standing near her.
“Just – think more, is all I’m saying.”
Emma sniffed, indignant at being treated like a weakling.
“Take that table down there,” Rein said, pointing at a white table down on the grass with several people swarming around it. Bowls full of funny little capsule things stood upon it.
“Ooh, do they have candy?” Emma asked. Her tummy grumbled; she hadn’t eaten breakfast.
Rein and James both chuckled.
“No, it’s drugs,” Rein corrected. “A girl as pure as you shouldn’t be going to a place like this. That’s what James really means.”
“Well, I’m already here,” Emma declared, spreading her arms as if doing so would prove her presence there. “I might as well enjoy myself.”
“Or try to,” James mumbled, before leaving to join the pool. Emma made sure not to look in the direction of the pool at all. It was slightly difficult, though, seeing as it was in the middle of the steps upon which Emma and Rein currently stood up.
“I’ll stay with you,” Rein told Emma, making her extremely grateful towards him. “Besides, I never really liked any of these girls… They’re too intent on showing themselves off body-wise, thinking that most men won’t care if they lack in the brains or personality department. Truly, most men won’t. But those men are the type that have a girlfriend for a few months, break it off, find another one and start the cycle all over again. I learned my lesson with Carmen.”
Emma chuckled. “Yeah, she turned about to be a vam–”
She stopped her slight slip of the tongue.
“She turned out to be a what?” Rein asked, his brow furrowed.
“Nothing,” Emma dismissed quickly. Probably too quickly. Curse her lying skills!
Rein eyed her for a moment before deciding not to press any further.
“Let’s sit down,” Rein suggested. They bent down and sat on the cold stone step.
“Why do you have to come to a place like this to have fun?” Emma pried. “Why not go to a place free of drugs and things?”
“Because, here, there are no restrictions,” Rein answered, lying on his back across the long step. Emma did the same and closed her eyes because the sun was hurting them.
“Aren’t you worried about something bad happening?”
“I don’t know. Like, one of you overdoses on alcohol…” Emma trailed off, suddenly remembering that that had actually happened.
Rein smiled tightly.
“No, I’m not worried, because the worst that can happen is that we die. Then… well, I don’t know what happens next, but I’m sure that it’s nice when you die.”
Emma knew what happened when you died. She almost said it, before catching herself again. “You’re wrong, Rein. There are things worse than death.”
“What could be worse than not having your life anymore?”
“Endless torture, for example,” Emma suggested.
Emma loved the sound made whenever a person had a sudden realisation. She now understood one of the main reasons people became mathematics teachers. It was so that they could hear those epiphany noises all the time.
“But it’s not like coming here will earn us endless torture, right?” Rein said.
“You never know,” Emma said spookily, making Rein snort.
“Oh, look! The real food is here!” Rein pointed out happily. Emma waved her hands dismissively.
“I don’t like pies. You can go get some.”
Rein got up and jogged down the steps to the table that some people had just brought in, piled high with mince pies and a bowl of tomato sauce.
Somebody approached Emma when Rein was a safe distance away, shoving pies into his hands. It was Carmen, her hair softly blowing in the breeze.
“Slime,” Carmen spat as a way of greeting.
“Good morning, Carmen,” Emma said calmly. “Fine day, isn’t it?”
“You saw me in my true form,” she stated.
“I did,” Emma agreed, nodding. “You’re a vampire – which I find strange, seeing as your sister is a Siren.”
Carmen’s eyes narrowed as Emma revealed that she knew a lot more about things than Carmen had originally thought. She towered over Emma, who was sitting placidly upon the step.
“If you tell anyone about what I am–” Carmen began, but was cut off when Emma raised a hand.
“Do you honestly think I would be stupid enough to tell someone that Carmen Alaceleste is a vampire? No one in their right mind would believe it.”
“Just in case you do, Slime…” Carmen made a cutting motion with her hand against her throat.
“You have no reason to worry,” Emma reassured.
“Be warned. Reveal my secrets and you’ll wish you’d never been born,” Carmen threatened.
“Wow, that’s original…” Emma trailed off because Carmen was baring her teeth, revealing pearly whites and two very large, very long canines.
“Now get out of here,” Carmen commanded with a rude tone.
Emma opened her mouth to refuse, but Carmen bared her teeth again. Emma rolled her eyes as her way of admitting defeat. She got up and climbed the steps, then squeezed through the bushes and out onto the courtyard, where two blue jays were frolicking happily in the birdbath. A walk around The Green Mug brought her out onto the road.
She knew that there was trouble in The Green Mug as soon as she turned to face it; men were yelling in surprise and splashing their mugs of alcoholic drinks everywhere, waitresses were shrieking and holding up their drink trays like shields, glass shards of smashed glasses lay all over the floor and tables and chairs were being knocked around everywhere as people poured out of the pub. The cause of this commotion was a group Emma immediately knew was formed of the Glaces she’d seen in that musical room of Knowledge is Power. Her pendant pulsed crazily beneath her clothes in time with her heartbeat.
The Glaces were knocking things everywhere, swiping glasses and drinks off of the wooden counter. The bar girl behind the counter was screaming and trying to exit the counter, but a heavy table blocked her way. She then decided to just jump over it and a look of relief came over her face as the Glaces didn’t run after her. Those mischievous Glaces were still in their human forms, but obviously the fact that they were in a group and totally trashing the bar was scaring off all of the customers inside.
Miscellaneous things were being thrown all around the room and Emma could see the Glaces shrieking in delight. When objects such as glasses or chairs hit them, they made no movement to show that they had even felt anything smash into them.
There was only one man still inside the pub. Emma pressed her face against the window to get a better look at him. He looked like the stereotypical cowboy, with leather boots, a rope dangling from his hip, the traditional cowboy head upon his head and a moustache to top off the look.
The Glaces seemed pretty confused as to why the man was still inside and hadn’t run out, screaming and waving his hands above his head in fright, but they disregarded him after a while and continued to happily throw things everywhere. The bar looked like a bomb had gone off in it, with bits of wood hanging from random places and lights on the floor or dangling over the sides of fallen chairs.
The cowboy-like man rose and grabbed a gun from this pocket. He shot the roof and the Glaces all squealed loudly. The Sirens’ squeaks along with the bang of the gun hurt Emma ears and she cringed, bringing her hands to her ears at once.
The cowboy was yelling something at the Glaces, who had all stopped messing around and were listening to the intimidating man standing before them with a rope in one hand and a gun in the other. They were nodding and shaking their heads. Those who moved their mouths got yelled at by the cowboy. Emma wished she could hear what he was saying.
She moved to the side of the door to listen.
“Now, listen here. I didn’t come all the way from Texas to Australia to have a drink and then find that some maniacs are trashin’ the pub! It’s ridiculous! Go trash somewhere else! I want to have this drink in peace, and nobody’s gonna stop me. It ain’t fair that y’all come along and start throwing these darn chairs everywhere after I’ve had such a horrible journey on the plane. Do you understand?” he ranted.
Each Glace either nodded or said, “Yes, sir!”
“Good. Now be off,” he commanded and all the Glaces ran out of the shop, all obviously surprised that someone had been brave enough to stand up to their childish and destructive games. Emma hid at the side of the pub, watching them all pile out onto the road. There were about twenty of them, all girls. Perhaps the Glace plane only contained females.
When they were quite a long way away down the road, searching for some other place to cause mischief, Emma entered the pub. She was careful not to step on any glass or wood, even though she was wearing shoes. The cowboy acknowledged Emma with a mere nod of the head as he sipped from his green mug.
“You saved the bar from utter destruction!” Emma exclaimed to the hero.
He shrugged. “Only ’cause I wanted to have a nice cup o’ whiskey.”
“Don’t be so humble,” Emma scolded, sitting down on chair. It collapsed beneath her weight and she ended up on the floor. The shock of the fall travelled up her spine and she cried out softly.
“You alright down there?” the cowboy asked, sounding only half concerned. He appeared to be more interested in his mug.
“Yeah, fine,” Emma said, waving it away. She contented herself with standing rather than daring to sit on any other chairs.
“You’re a very intimidating person,” Emma stated.
“Thank you, young ‘un,” the cowboy said, sipping his whiskey.
“How come you weren’t scared of the Gla… I mean, those women?” Emma asked curiously. Curse her ability to keep letting things slip through her lips!
The cowboy laughed with a gravelly voice. “I ain’t scared o’ no woman. And besides, they just look like they wanna have fun.”
“Have fun?” Emma repeated incredulously.
“Yeah. Didn’t you see their happy faces? Oh wait, you weren’t inside…”
“Actually, I was watching through the window,” Emma admitted sheepishly, pointing towards the dirty window where her face had been pressed a few minutes ago.
“Ah,” was all that the cowboy said. Emma stood awkwardly over the man, remembering once again her lack of social skills around new people. She’d just been a little bit shocked by the sight of all those Glaces ripping the place apart.
When the cowboy finished his drink, he sighed contentedly and got up to place his empty mug on the counter. He also laid a few dollars beside it, despite the fact that no one was there to take it.
“You got a name?” Emma asked expectantly as the cowboy brushed right past her and started to exit the bar. She walked quickly to catch up with him.
“Yeah, I’ve got hundreds,” the cowboy muttered. “Maria, John, Ricky, Lucy…”
“I mean what’s your name?” Emma corrected.
“Mr. X. I prefer that name over all others,” the cowboy said. Emma didn’t even bother to ask why he liked the cryptic name.
He walked to the field across the road and Emma followed, even though she sensed that he was getting irritated with her following him. “Mr. X” walked over to a horse tied to a streetlamp with Emma tagging along behind. The brown mare neighed happily at the sight of the cowboy.
“This is my horse, Lily,” Mr. X introduced proudly, stroking Lily’s chocolate brown mane.
“Really? My best friend’s other friend’s little sister is called Lily… although she’s not exactly my best friend anymore…” Emma said sadly.
Mr. X mounted Lily and looked down at Emma.
“Now, you listen. Go talk to this friend of yours. Make up, apologise, hug, whatever. Life is always better with friends,” Mr. X advised.
“I will,” Emma promised and patted Lily softly. “I think you’re a very brave man, Mr. X, standing up to that crazy pack of Gla… women.”
Mr. X grinned. “Like I said, there ain’t no woman that can scare me. You know, it’s kind of disappointing that it’s only noon.”
“Why?” Emma asked curiously.
“Because there ain’t no sunset that I can ride into, after waving to the townsfolk I’ve just saved,” Mr. X said.
Emma laughed loudly at his humorous joke.
“Have a good journey, Mr. X. Be sure to keep saving townsfolk, wherever you go.”
“Sure thing.” Mr. X waved in farewell and rode off into the non-existent sunset.
Emma looked around. Josh’s car was still parked outside of The Green Mug. It had remained unscathed and untouched by the mischievous Glaces. The wreck of the Green Mug stood pathetically behind Josh’s flashy, expensive sports car.
Emma wondered what she should do next. She obviously couldn’t go back to the little place behind the Green Mug thanks to Carmen, and she couldn’t really go home because her only form of transport was Josh and he was inside the little place behind the Green Mug!
As she looked to her right, Emma realised that she could actually go home! She stuck her hand out to hail the bus and it veered slightly to the left. The door opened and Emma hopped on, thanking herself for leaving spare change in her shorts.
The bus ride didn’t take long. It passed through the city’s busy streets and then, as it entered the more residential area, the streets became much less busy. Emma stepped off it when it reached the bus stop near Opal’s house.
The sun was, thankfully, not very strong, despite the fact that it was the middle of the day. Emma crossed the street in comfort, though she was jittery inside at the prospect of facing Opal again. They had only stopped being friends a day ago, but it felt like an eternity had passed to Emma.
She gazed up at their marvellous, white house, reaching three storeys. Large, shiny windows dotted the expanse of the outside, but most of them were curtained and gave the inhabitants of the house some privacy.
Cautiously, Emma pressed the doorbell. A nice tune chimed through the house and Opal’s mother opened the door.
“Hello, Anne,” Emma greeted. Anne had insisted on being called by her first name as anything else sounded too formal.
“Good morning, Emma. Or afternoon,” Anne corrected herself, peering at Emma suspiciously. “What are you doing here?”
“I want to talk to Opal, if that’s alright with you?” Emma asked hopefully.
Anne looked very relieved. “Yes, of course. Just go up to her bedroom.”
“Thank you, Anne,” Emma said gratefully, smiling at her as she let her in. Her legs bounded up the stairs to Opal’s bedroom.
There was a pretty sign on the doorway that Emma knew Opal had made herself with her amazing artistic talent. It clearly stated her name in large letters, with beautiful drawings of miscellaneous animals – mostly butterflies – surrounding the name. Emma knocked on the door softly.
“Who is it?” came Opal’s voice, muffled slightly by the door.
“Emma,” Emma said softly.
Opal flung open the door.
“What are you doing here?” she snapped coldly.
“I wanted to apologise… for making you wait the other day. You have to believe me; I was in the store the whole time, but I’m still sorry for making you wait,” Emma apologised. Her voice came out in a tumble, so fast that Opal had to ask Emma to repeat it, and she did.
At the end, Opal’s face brightened with a large smile. They embraced each other.
“I forgive you, Emma. It still baffles me how you managed to stay in the store when there was no door, but I know you don’t lie. Magic must have been at work,” Opal said as a joke, but that was exactly what had happened.
Emma laughed softly to remain inconspicuous.
“And also, I’m sorry for overreacting about you staying inside the store for so long. What was even in there? I saw that the name was Knowledge Is Power… What kind of store names themselves that?”
“That one, apparently,” Emma answered, even though it had only been a rhetorical question. “Basically, there was a whole load of books, like a giant library. I don’t think that it was even a shop, because there were no price tags or anything on the books.”
“And, let me guess, you got sidetracked with the books?” Opal guessed, grinning.
Emma nodded. “Yep.”
“You didn’t buy anything, then?”
“Well…” Emma said. “I did buy this pendant. It was near the front of the store with other random stuff.”
It was only a little lie.
She had, after all, gotten the pendant in that particular place – unless the room full of instruments wasn’t part of the shop.
She took the pendant out of her shirt and showed Opal, who opened her mouth at the sight of the glowing, diamond-shaped piece of glass.
“It’s so pretty!” she gasped.
“I know, right?”
“How much did it cost?” Opal asked, touching the pendant.
“Er, twenty dollars,” Emma said on the spot.
“Pretty cheap for something so pretty like this!”
“Well, all the stuff it was with was also cheap. There was just that one section of the store that had things that were actually able to be bought,” Emma continued, trying to create details to hide her lies. She hated lying!
“Come on, let’s go make some pizza for lunch,” Opal suggested, letting go of the necklace. Emma agreed excitedly and they skipped down the stairs.
Something inside of Emma took flight and soared happily around her body. Her day had been bad at the start but it seemed to be getting better; she had gone to a pretty place that looked ugly thanks to the people in it and a rude, beautiful vampire had driven her away. But then she had met Mr. X, the awesome cowboy of braveness and she had rekindled her friendship with Opal.
Emma spent the rest of the day at Opal’s house, doing fun activities together. The best activity was where they prank-called a large collection of people from their school, including Josh! He had been the most fun to call, because he was obviously preoccupied with either swimming or one of the girls.
Emma only left when night had fallen over the street. She breathed in the nice smell of trees that her street had and walked leisurely down the road, all the way back to her house. She could see Josh’s car in the driveway and the light of her bedroom was visible in the window of the second storey.
She entered her house. Her mum walked up to her with a look that resembled the face of an angry dragon. Now she understood why some of her mum’s colleagues called her “Dragon Lady”.
“Where have you been?” she shouted. Emma visibly flinched, quite frightened of the dragon side of her mother.
“I went somewhere with Josh – b-b-but then this really mean girl threatened me and I had to leave without Josh. Then I met a cowboy – I mean, then I went to Opal’s house and spent the rest of my time there,” Emma stuttered as her mother loomed scarily over her, making her feel inferior.
Luckily, the expression on Dragon Lady’s face softened when she heard the part with the “mean girl”.
“Who was that mean girl?” she asked tenderly.
“Er… I don’t know her name.”
“Well… your dinner is on the table,” she said finally, gesturing towards the steaming plate of spaghetti sitting on the table.
“Thanks, Mum,” Emma said gratefully and sat down to eat it. Afterwards, she washed her dishes, gave her mum a quick hug and tried to survive the perilous journey up the stairs. She opened the door slowly, bracing herself for any shouting that she knew Josh could give her.
He didn’t. Instead he muttered, “Bloody Carmen.”
Emma grinned. “Hello, Josh.”
“Hello. Tell me, where did you go after Carmen scared you away?”
“She did not scare me – oh, I guess she kind of did,” Emma realised, and then shrugged. “I went to Opal’s house and made up with her.”
“Good, you won’t be hanging out with us as much,” Josh joked.
Emma punched his shoulder. “Actually, I think I’ll keep hanging out with you when Julia’s around.”
“Opal’s other friend. She kind of creeps me out. I thought she was really nice… but then she gave me a look that made me go all cold,” Emma said, shuddering.
“Oh, I think I’ve heard of her. She’s a class representative, isn’t she?” Josh asked.
“I have no idea. I don’t keep up with school politics.”
With that final sentence, Emma prepared herself in the bathroom for bed.
Sunday was uneventful. Emma spent the whole day inside the house, except for the little moment in which she became obsessed with kites and went into the backyard to fly a rainbow kite that she made with the help of instructions online. Josh also had a lazy Sunday, doing a little bit of homework and reading thriller novels. When the books were finished, he wandered around the house, boredom clearly etched onto his face, and then joined Emma in the kite-flying so that they looked like two overgrown children prancing around the grass. Well, Emma pranced, but Josh just walked.
When a particularly strong gust of wind and Emma’s loose grip combined together to make her kite fly out of her hands, she pouted and walked back up to the bedroom, while Josh smugly strutted around the grass with his brown kite.
Emma flicked on the small TV kept in the room. She surfed the channels casually, stopping for a moment to make fun of the kid’s shows. When they got too boring, she changed the channel to the news.
“The Travelling Shovel of Death strikes again.”