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TORA IN TROUBLE
On the night of the prom, Odessa, or “Oddy” as Tora had come to call her, found herself without a date. Tora never promised he’d go, but when he learned that Jinx was home for a few days after her basic training was over and awaiting assignment, there was no way he was going. He was polite enough about it, and figured she’d understand.
She spent the whole night in her room, all dressed up, sobbing herself to sleep. Of course, Tora didn’t find that out until much later. He never wanted to make her sad. But Jinx was in town, and he had plenty to say to her.
He found Jinx by the docks on the far east-side of town. It was somewhere they used to go as kids. This time of night, things were pretty quiet. They were safe, though, as two night-watchmen patrolled the street and both knew Jinx well. Of course, Jinx herself was a tough cookie. No demented passerby would fool with her.
When he approached the dock, he almost didn’t recognize the molly who’d once been his best friend. This was the very girl who had done everything she could to keep his teammates from eating him alive. And on the day she left, she’d told him, “Just give it up now and grow up. Just like I have to.”
Of course, Tora wanted to do everything to stay out of the Service. And seven-pitch or physical or mental deficiencies were the only ways out of the otherwise mandatory 2-years of Service to the Royal Corps.
Jinx looked so different. Her short hair was even shorter, maybe only an inch long all along, except a bit longer in front for her bangs. She was dressed in casual military garb. And she looked as serious as ever.
When she turned to face him, though, her eyes were the same, but colder. She was still as beautiful to Tora as she’d ever been, but Tora felt a strange chill come over him.
“What the hell are you doing here?” she asked him crossly.
“My dad always heard Servals were trouble,” Tora shot back, “But I never listened.”
“You should have. Now go to the prom. That’s where you belong,” Jinx growled and turned back around to face the bay.
“You don’t mean that,” Tora said, walking up to stand alongside her.
She looked at him with frustration, “I am glad to see you,” she admitted. “But you know I’m right.”
“Oddy wouldn’t give it up on going to the prom tonight,” Tora said.
“I don’t understand why you did,” Jinx said, before turning back to the water.
“Jinx, what happened to you.”
“Ginnifer,” she corrected. “I’m not Jinx anymore.”
“That’s a bunch of shit,” Tora groaned.
“I was only ever Jinx on the seven-pitch field.”
“Don’t you play in the Service?”
“I will, at some point,” Ginnifer sighed, “Depends on where I’m assigned.”
“I heard a rumor it could be in the East.”
“That’s right,” she nodded. “But how did you find that out?”
“Apparently, you tell Oddy things you don’t tell me.”
“You need to stop calling her that. It’s insulting.”
“She likes it.”
“She probably doesn’t.”
“Did she tell you so?”
“No, but that’s I’m sure what she was called back home.”
“And if you go East, they’ll be mean to you, too.”
“I can handle myself, squirt,” she said.
“Squirt? What the hell is wrong with you, Jinx?”
“Stop calling me that!” Ginnifer had a mind to strangle him.
“If you’re really still my best friend, you’d ask me how my seven-pitch career is going.”
Ginnifer laughed out loud, “Career? You’re hysterical.”
“Even my own mom is trying to put an end to it. But the coaches like me. The other girls don’t like me, but they accept that I’m the best hurler on the team.”
“You’ll be following me into the Service soon enough, Tora. Just deal with it.”
“I still don’t have my draft number yet,” Tora said. “There is still a possibility it will be too low for compulsive service.”
“You mean compulsory,” Ginnifer said sternly.
“Whatever the eff it is. I know what it means.”
“Well, at least you understand one thing about life.”
“So you think I should’ve gone to the prom?”
“It’s too late now.”
“What the hell happened to you these last few months? You’re not you anymore.”
“I haven’t been me since my parents found out.”
“Found out what?”
“Tora, you’re such a sweet kid. But I know how you feel about me. It’s never going to work.”
The girl he’d known as Jinx began to walk away. He didn’t know what to say to stop her. “I love you, Jinx!” he finally screamed. All she did was quicken her pace until she was out of sight. Tora stood there until a night -watchman offered to escort him home.
He refused at first until the officer grabbed him by the arm and told him he was going home whether he liked it or not. He didn't resist after that. There wasn't really any point, he figured.
It was after midnight when the officer brought him home. The officer said a few words to his father Cain, who seemed to regard the conversation with disbelief. Cain then disappeared into his study again, but Paola was there to meet him.
“Hey, buddy,” she said.
“Why are you still up?” he asked his big sister. “Don’t you have a big game tomorrow?”
Then he walked in and saw me sitting there in the living room.
“What’s going on, Sam?” he asked.
Paola interrupted, “The officer said you were out causing trouble.”
“I wasn’t doing anything. Except seeing Jinx. Or Ginnifer, or whoever she is now.”
“The police didn’t think so,” I said. “We were really worried about you. Breaking windows, harassing citizens.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Tora was furious. As he should have been. We knew he was innocent.
“Somebody’s been stirring up some shit,” Paola said. “We all know you’re innocent. But you should stay home the next few days.”
“The school has already suspended you,” I said.
“But I didn’t do anything!”
“Yes, you did,” Paola sighed. “But not what they’re saying you did.”
“The YSPA wants you off the team,” I said. “And they want you to go into the Service.”
“But…” Tora finally understood what was happening. “You’re saying Jinx made up a story that I was out being a lunatic. And now my own mom, head of the Youth Seven-Pitch Association, is trying to ship me off to boot camp?”
“Not the kind of boots I was expecting,“ Paola said, shaking her head.
“This isn’t the time for jokes!” I insisted. “I don’t know that it was Jinx, Tora. But there were ‘witnesses’ of your violent acts. I know we can clear it up.”
“But the officer told you all lies!”
“Of course,” Paola said. “We know that. I’m not letting my little bro get in trouble and sent into the Service for things he didn’t do.”
“I’m not ready for this!” he sobbed. “Why isn’t Dad out here fighting for me?”
“He’s not going to fight your mother,” I said.
He looked at Paola with tears streaming out of his eyes, “She left because of you.”
“No, Tora,” I said. “She left because of you.”
“But why would she do that?”
“Because you are a threat to her position,” I explained. “If she lets a boy keep playing seven-pitch, it will break the unwritten rules that still exist. She’s fought so hard to keep you off of every team you’ve been on so far. But you have someone protecting you.”
“And who’s that?” he sobbed.
“Who do you think?” Paola asked.
“I don’t want you to protect me anymore, Pauley! I’m grown-up now!”
And who emerged from the kitchen but from the very guest he’d never expect to have. Not only was she pigging out on some extremely yummy treats as she walked in, but she was so happy to see Tora that she dropped her snacks to the floor. She picked him up and squeezed him until his eyeballs almost popped out of his head.
"You’re going to make it, hon,” Clair Sureclaw told Tora. “No one’s going to stop you now.”