Pupu's Saga Setting 15

2110 DAY 15, Deling City, Caraway’s Mansion 2F (Master Bedroom)

By Jeremy Chapter

"It is only with the heart that one can see rightly;
what is essential is invisible to the eye.

-de Saint-Exupery, Antoine
The Little Prince 


       Rinoa's eyes snapped open, finding only ivory ceiling boards staring right back at her.

       Where am I? she wondered, feeling the muscles around her stomach tighten involuntarily.

       It wasn't until she suddenly sat up that she realized that she had been lying down.

       I'm sitting on something cushy, she determined by running her hands over the silky surface while she waited for her eyes to focus.  She must have been asleep for quite some time, judging by how sore they now felt, breaking away from their previous span of inutility.

       A few blinks did the job, and she gasped with the recognition of the ambience.  A quick check revealed that this was indeed the place with which she was so familiar and to which she had no reason to feel alien.  The round lamp in the corner of the room that served as the room's sole light source, the square dresser, the walk-in closet, and the cluttered bookshelf were all in place. 

       In short, this was the last place she expected to be.  Concurrently, though, her initial fear had dissipated and, with the benign surprise that replaced it, came a wave of reassurance to wash over her.

       "Well," she conceded, "I suppose it could be worse."

       She hopped off the bed and straightened out her clothing.  She had always hated the feel of her shirt after she slept in it.

       "What time is it?" it occurred to her to ask aloud.

       Rinoa turned her head slightly and lowered it to sniff the tip of her glossy, bare shoulder.  She couldn't smell the perfume she had put on in her quarters in Balamb Garden before heading down to the parking garage.  She lifted her wrist to her nose and did the same thing, only to find the same null effect.  The last test was to lick it.

       Nothing, she ascertained.  I can't even taste it, which means I've been out for at least two hours.

       Recalling that he had never set a timepiece in his room, she walked over the blue carpet to the door, fully anticipating it to swing open and reveal the grandfather clock in the hallway.

       It was locked.

       "Jerk," she mouthed and spun back around to face the lonely, almost institutional furniture.  She did not understand how anyone could return every night to the same tasteless furniture and retire.

       Her objective still demanded attention, however, and she put her disbelief and grievance with the furniture selection aside where she was determined to let it rest until a more fortuitous time came up for her to bring it up again.

       There was now only one way left for her to find out the time.

       Rinoa walked over to the far side of the dreary room, grabbing the oaken bedpost that stretched to the ceiling and swinging herself halfway around in the process, before reaching the sagging blue drapes that hid the window through which she could look out onto the side lawn.

       Having thrown the heavy velvet drapery aside, she met her own reflection in the window behind the fresh metal grating.  Had it not been for the light shower of rain lapping onto the green that drew her focus past the image on the glass, a stranger to the environs might have mistook it for a perfect mirror, barring notice of the iron barricades that stretched across from sill to sill.

       "I wonder if it's raining in Trabia," she murmured and softly bit her lower lip as she heard her own unwarranted mental addition sound in her head.

       Hope Squall remembered to wear a jacket.

       Her intake on that breath was markedly sharp, unquestionably incited by the realization that once again her thoughts had beat her to the suggestion.  It was her line, after all, and she wanted to say it.  This way, it was as if she hadn't gotten the chance to express genuine concern; she had been cheated out of a sentimental victory and she would have to tolerate that fact while she stomached the insufferable cost of risking the semblance of banality.

       She saw the characteristic non-responsiveness of her reflection as its way of mocking her.

       She was getting worse and worse at this; if she continued to lose ground at their present rate, she would be losing to herself to checkers too, on top of chess.  She had to start practicing moving her lips faster, and hopefully work her way up to the point where she could speak before it could think it out.

       She glowered at her reflection, determined to grapple for a least part of her fleeting dignity.  It was amazing how well things came together in the act of escaping her.  At that moment, even the vestige of some prestige would be nice, and if that was all she had for which to settle, she would.  How elated she would have been had her predicament been a separate issue!

       Hehe, you're on!  her subconscious seemed to rejoin with a half-snigger.  The comfort with which it accepted her challenge could not have been good, she decided.

       And then the rub: Anytime, anywhere.

       Rinoa was furious; her mind was taunting her!

       "The nerve of it!" she growled.

       The emptiness in any real movement in the glass brought her out of her thoughts and back into the world.  The image of her inquisitive doppelganger hazed and to it what was left of the uniscopic observable framework shifted oppositely, her focus abruptly recalling itself to converge on the world beyond the plane, pulling along with it whatever part of her mind she had not foreseen would set itself up for a downward spiral of self-defeating rumination.

       So it's still dark outside, she noted, but when were these metal bars installed?

       Rinoa was torn between two directions of thought.  Half of her wanted to question how recently the bars had been installed and whether their purpose was to keep thieves out or keep her in.  The other half was busy figuring out what day it was, the obvious problem being that there was no way she could have left Balamb that evening and wound up here that same night – the trip would take at least nine hours.  Yet, here she was, looking at the moon on the other side of the glass, and Rinoa was sure that unless she had been heavily drugged, it would have been impossible for an entire day to pass while she was unconsciousness.

       "So how did I wind up here?" she asked her reflection, which just tilted one of its eyebrows amusingly back at her.

       When the answer didn't come to her after a moment of staring at the glass expectantly, she forced herself to accept the fact that there was a rather potent new drug out on the market, the underground one if not the legal.

       Better keep it away from Irvine, Rinoa considered.  That boy always finds the time of day and the method to abuse to this kinda stuff.

       She smiled and playfully tugged at her hair to test its bounciness as she pondered further, I wonder how Selphie keeps him on a leash when he's just dying to escape her all the time.

       Her musings were interrupted by a huge gurgle from her stomach, loud enough to make her jump and drop the ebony strands of hair that she had placed in her mouth without realizing it.  She blushed, even though there was no one there except the other Rinoa in the dark windowpane, hands covering her stomach with an embarrassed look on her face.

       Though she wasn't entirely sure about the accuracy of her reading because of her lingering disorientation from just waking up, her initial conjecture from the decibel level of the groan was that it could not have signified a hunger one day more ravenous than when she had previously heard her stomach rumble.  Obviously she had either misheard the growl or what little she had of her sandwich ages ago in the cafeteria had only sped up her digestive tract.

       Her eyes narrowed with malevolence directed towards the imaginary sandwich that she recreated to float in front of her, taking care to make it look as guilty as possible.

       "Yeah," she scoffed, "you'd better be sorry, you ingrate!  After all the trouble I took to eat you, you evil, evil sandwich!"

       Rinoa felt her face growing red and, to top off her little tantrum, she grabbed one of the pillows from the bed and flung it at the imaginary, floating sandwich, just to remind it who was the boss.  Next time, before messing with her, it would remember to be more filling and less extensive spatially rather than the other way around.

       Her stomach growled again and she began to pout, chastising the rest of her body for expending so much energy while she was asleep.  It took her less than three seconds after her tirade to decide to look at her predicament in a more optimistic light.

       "At least no one fed you while I was asleep," she remarked to her belly, "because that would have completely defeated the purpose of this strict diet I'm on."

       She purposely scrunched up her nose in the process of chuckling more heartily, priding herself for being able to find something good in all the scenarios with which she was faced.  Besides, all it took was a light heart and a quick mouth to conquer the world.

       What in the name of-

       Having heard a light rapping, Rinoa turned her eyes from the bed back to the wall from which the sound had emanated.  She lifted her hand and covered her mouth in surprise, realizing that it was impossible for someone to be on the opposite side knocking on the wall because this was one of the outermost rooms of the building.  Short of someone scaling the wall from the outside and slapping it, there was no way-

       Another rap.

       Rinoa tensed and intuitively moved away from her position plainly in front of the window and slid up against the curtains where she could remain safely out of view from any voyeurs lurking on the lawn below or those planning to infiltrate the structure by climbing up its sides. 

       She tilted her head cautiously around the sill and tried to peek through the pane to discover the cause of the noise.  Rinoa instinctively moved her right hand over her left wrist to cock her blaster edge, but feeling nothing she looked down and blanched upon the realization that she was weaponless.

       She picked up the next best thing that her cell allotted and held it up against her.  As Rinoa around the edge of the window, her eyes did not catch anything that appeared to be out of the ordinary.  Nevertheless, she entertained the idea of thrusting the poker she had grabbed from the fireplace through the three inches of brick and limestone that separated her and, if she was right, the would-be wall-climber.

       It occurred to Rinoa shortly after that even three inches of paper would be difficult for her to puncture, so she readjusted her grip into a position that would expedite her swinging the poker as a bat should the occasion arise for her to do so.

       "This guy has no idea whom he is messing with," she growled carnally, slowly swinging the poker back and forth in anticipation of striking whatever tried to crawl through the window.

       Rinoa jumped out of her skin and dropped the poker when something struck the glass and caused it to rattle abruptly.

       She darted down to recover it before her mind registered what exactly it was of an immediate threat that faced her.

       "Hey," she checked herself, "that was a rock."

       Rinoa found herself halfway crouched over, frozen in that position from indecision about whether to actually grab the poker or to just leave it and investigate the introduction of the rock.

       "Up or down," she asked herself, "up or down?"

       Still unable to decide, she pulled back her hand every time it sneaked back towards the rod.

       "Come on, Rinoa, up or down?" she urged herself.

       She exhaled and then propelled herself upwards the window grating.  Leaning as close to the glass as the bars allowed, she shielded the part of the pane through which she was trying to peer from the lamplight behind her, revealing the reality behind the reflection.

       A thought of how dangerous a position into which she had placed herself ran through her head.  In response, Rinoa rolled sideways along the wall, away from the window.

       The weird knocking sounds could have been shotgun shells! she chastised herself.

       Rinoa ran over to the single lit lamp and turned it off, cloaking the room in obscurity.

       After waiting a short while for her pupils to dilate, she returned to the window by which it was now safe to stand.  The dark but distinct features of the green were illuminated to her eyes, and through the shimmering raindrops she quickly picked up the recognizable silhouettes of small trees and bushes.  She scrutinizes each shape and jumped quickly from one to the next, screening out the familiars and hoping to pick out the oddball.

       She found it.  Ten meters out and five degrees over.

       "Gotcha!" she cried.

       Wait a minute!

       She realized there was a second silhouette that did not belong.  More shocked than curious, Rinoa studied the two intruders attentively.

       She made out an arm, no, two arms, two legs, and a head on one.  On the other were the same characteristics.  Two humanoids.

       "What are they up to?" she whispered to the glass.

       One of the humanoids drew back its arm and flung it forwards.  In the next second, Rinoa heard the same loud rap coming from wall just off to her right.  The other humanoid followed in fashion and another rap sounded from her left.

       Red-hot embers of vehemence plunged into the moody waters within her and flash-boiled the scanty reservoir of composure she had been storing.  Who were these people that were trying to pelt her with stones?  Didn't they realize that they could hit something and break it?

       The intake of that last breath was rather sharp as it dawned on her how shattering the window was their main objective.

       "Vandals!" she cursed indignantly.

       For a split-second Rinoa entertained the idea of how she could preclude giving them the pleasure of defacing the property by breaking the window herself, after which she could follow up by casting the poker out through the metal bars and harpooning one of them.  It seemed reasonable enough, so she bent down and picked up the poker.

       The cold brazen handle warmed to her touch just like her rosy fingers blushed in reciprocal acknowledgement of contingence.

       How greatly did this crimson flush contrast with the snow-white pallor that seized her face as she rose, her eyes settling on the newest wave of rocks.  Her lips quivered, perhaps feeling the blood rush out of them, just as she now felt the projectile nearing its intended target, its well-aimed course dead set upon the diaphanous sheet in front of her face.

       It was definitely going to hit.

       Even as she dropped her poker to lift her hands to her face and shy away from the broken shards of glass that she foresaw would explode before her eyes, she recognized the option of personally shattering the window that her flinch had foregone.  At that she would have screamed "Damn!" had she not been preoccupied with cringing.

       In that moment of fear, when Rinoa squealed and raised her hands, the glass vanished in a blinding flash, leaving her more stunned than before.

       "What the hell-" she began to murmur.

       In her bedazzled blindness, the missile sailed through where the pane used to be and past the bars.  She did not see it among the flickering spots that harassed her vision until it was too late to dodge.  The stone struck her on the forehead and ricocheted onto her exposed shin. 

       Her body having registered the jab of pain, Rinoa collapsed with a cry onto the carpet like a wounded doe onto a grassy cushion.

       There was some commotion below, either revelry or confusion, but more likely the former.

       Sprawled on the floor and trembling in response to both pain and anger, Rinoa rubbed her head furiously with one hand and kneaded her leg with the other.  Someone was going to pay.

       She struggled onto her feet and limped over to window, still clutching her forehead where a nice bruise had sprouted.  On the way, she scooped up the offending rock.  If one missed the cursing, the position of her eyebrows was still clear indication of how she was not happy.

       Rinoa grabbed onto the bars for support and glared down at the two prowlers on the lawn.  They looked up waved, the last thing she expected them to do; uninvited guests usually bailed out upon their discovery.  So who exactly were these two?

       "Hey!  Rinoa!" the first called out, jumping up and down.

       Though her outline was slightly blurred by the sprinkling of raindrops, her mellifluous voice was readily identifiable to Rinoa's ears.  Rinoa gnashed her teeth.

       "Dabel LeBard," she mouthed.  What a name.  Geez, I haven't seen Darby for Shiva knows how long!

       After spending ten or eleven years together in the private and prestigious Trinity School for Ladies of Galbadia, every moment of which Rinoa had found to be suffocating and stringent, Rinoa had left on her own to join the Timber Owls resistance group full-time.  Dabel and the rest of their circle of close friends had applied and gotten into a highly selective art school located right in Deling City.  She had often wondered how different her life would have turned out had she spent that last year with the rest of the gang instead of running off to liberate the town.

       Frankly it was tough for Rinoa to fantasize about going to art school because her artistic abilities had always been denigrated by her close peers.  Most often her drawing skills were compared to her singing talent.  That made her especially mad because she had always assumed that the quality of her pipes was hereditary.

       Her mother was a great singer, so why wasn't it obvious to anyone else that she was just as gifted?  Dabel had repeatedly humiliated her by begging that she not give them a demonstration.  The group always sided with Dabel anyway, so Rinoa did not find it necessary to take heed in their assent for Rinoa not to open her mouth and impugn the natural beauty of lyrics.  An obsequious, dependent bunch they were – of that she was sure.

       "Did I ever see her after that?" Rinoa asked herself softly, trying to remember.

       The last activity she could recall clearly in which both of them participated was her sleepover party at the end of the summer.  It was one of the last nights that she would stay in her father's mansion.  She had invited the entire crew consisting of Autumn, Belbe, Cary Kay, Chemie, Darby, Elissa, Glassy, Harting, Jenna, Larissa, Rambey, Teeny, and Tilly after they raided the Deling shopping center that afternoon.  She secretly suspected that none of them would have accepted had they not been so curious about her boyfriend about whom she had been tantalizing them with sporadic pitches, calling him her dreamy mystery man.  Whether or not they believed a word of her gloating was irrelevant, as they had all fervently agreed to go home with her.  Rinoa had similarly been in so ebullient a high from the entire day's shopping, all of which she billed to her father, and from seeing each of the boys who were working construction over the summer drop their tools and gawk as the fourteen girls frolicked down the sidewalk and waved at them with their shopping bags in hand, that she did not concern herself with finding out which of the girls actually accepted her invitation to spend time with her and not the Seifer whom everyone had heard so much about but had never seen.

       From below, Dabel waved again and then said something to her companion whom Rinoa still could not make out, as if she cared.

       Dabel was going to get it.

       "Take this, Darby," Rinoa growled as she took aim of her former playmate's head.

       Rinoa sent the stone back down, which whistled as it worked its way through the thin sheets of water.

       Dabel cried out in surprise but managed to move out of the way.

       "What gives?" she screamed at Rinoa.

       "Blast!" Rinoa swore, jumping up and down.  "I missed!"

       Dabel's friend stepped forward into the gleam of moonlight.

       Rinoa scowled, seeing the signature white t-shirt, torn jeans, and red socks of her other schoolmate Cary Kay.  Rinoa was sure that if she had been standing next to the girl in broad daylight, she would have been able to find some tacky statement knitted on Cary Kay's sleeve.  “Bite Me” was the most promising contender.

       Cary Kay had also attended Rinoa's summer slumber party.  All the girls had decided to give her two names because it amused them to make her last name, Kazeno, diminutive.  Cary Kay was one of those people who did not mesh well with Seifer; not only did their personalities clash, but how seriously they each took the board game that everyone ended up playing, "FF: World Domination," ignited a fiery polemic that Rinoa was thrust into arbitrating.

       Apparently Seifer thought it to be more realistic if, instead of being able to fortify one territory with any number of regiments from an adjacent district at the end of his turn, he should be able to fortify into any district of his so long as they were all connected, as any military expert would have no doubt extended supply lines and transport routes throughout secure territory.  Of course, he had figured the weathering of the supply lines by the length at which it was necessary to maintain, so he proposed the cost of sacrificing an increasing number regiments for each additional district traversed.  Hence, where players could only move maybe ten units to one adjacent region before, Seifer's proposal would have paved the way for players everywhere to move ten units to that area, then nine to a neighboring sector, then eight to the next local, and so forth until only one unit remained, at which point no more fortification could be done.

       Cary Kay had thought that the idea was the stupidest thing she had ever heard of.  She would rather treat the penciled board decorations of the White SeeD ship and the huge sea monster as transport vehicles between Galbadia and Trabia and between the Deep Sea Research Center and the Island Closest to Hell respectively, and she told him so.  Seifer did not take well to being patronized.  After stopping Seifer from ending the dogged altercation "his way," meaning going to his Hyperion and lopping off Cary Kay's head, Rinoa had to restrict each one to a different room.

       After enough rain had fallen, Rinoa greeted Cary Kay calmly, "Hey, what's up?"

       Cary Kay coolly took a puff of the Malboro tentacle roll that she had between her fingers and handed it back to Dabel.

       "You are," Cary Kay replied, turning back to her.

       "Looks like I have to light it again," Dabel commented crossly after looking back a forth between the drizzling sky and the soggy cigarette butt.

       Cary Kay took up the bottom fold of her soaked, white t-shirt and rolled it up in her hands, making an effort to squeeze the water out.  It turned up sorely wrinkled upon her release, a sight that she found to her disliking.  To rectify the visual disaster, Cary Kay grabbed the creased area with both hands and wrenched it in opposite directions.  It took one more tear to create a nice triangular hole in the shirt that she found more acceptable before settling down again.

       "So are you going to invite us in or what?" Cary Kay asked, now with her hands on her hips.

       "What are you doing here?" Rinoa returned quickly.

       "Was there ever any doubt that we came to visit you?" Dabel questioned with an eyebrow raised.

       For effect, obviously, Rinoa calculated.  How she has mastered it!

       "Darby, dear, you came to break the window," she corrected her friend verbally.

       "Did not," Dabel insisted and acted hurt before responding, "but to think you would accuse us of wandering all the way over here just to break windows!"

       Cary Kay snickered in accordance. 

       "Besides," Dabel added, "I don't even see a broken window."

       "Neither do I," Cary Kay concurred, "but she did manage to get your attention."

       "You two geniuses can't even tell which one is my window!" Rinoa practically screamed at her visitors.  "Did you think this was my room?"

       "Geez, don't blow a fuse," Dabel replied.  "This was the only lit room in the place."

       That was strange.

       "Why are all the lights out in the rest of the house?" Rinoa asked herself dubiously.

       "Can we talk inside?" Cary Kay asked again with a noticeably more irritated tone, "because it is getting awfully wet out here."

       "Aren't you afraid of the dogs?" Rinoa called down, ignoring the question.

       "If you let us in quickly," Cary Kay spelled out for her condescendingly, "that won't be a problem."

       "First tell me how you knew I was here before I even realized it," Rinoa bargained.

       Cary Kay took her torn shirt back up in her hands and thrust it in Rinoa's direction.

       "Can't you see that I'm wet?" she asked.

       "If you don't think it's worth it," Rinoa replied, "you're free to go."

       Dabel shrugged and tossed her Malboro onto the lawn.  She then grabbed Cary Kay's arm and beckoned her to leave.

       Cary Kay shook her companion's grasp off.

       "Darby, can't you see that I'm just trying to catch up with my old buddy?" she protested in a way that seemed to be more directed at Rinoa than at Dabel.

       Dabel hesitated long enough for Rinoa to discern from her perch that the girl was weighing the expected utility of seeing the inside of the house against the estimated number of additional gallons of water she would have to suffer before Rinoa would be most likely to consent to their entry.

       Oh, Dabel thought bitterly, but that require her to lift a finger.  That's the problem with the upper class, nowadays – they consider themselves royalty and try to imitate it.  Stagnation!

       Cary Kay saw right through her.

       "Oh, will you quit acting so melodramatic, Darbs?" she sneered.

       Dabel was no less impressed than she was deterred.

       "You can stay here if you want," Dabel spelled out for Cary Kay, "but I have better things to do than to appease some spoiled hussy on an ego-trip."

       Cary Kay's eyes sparkled with glee, not believing that Dabel had blurted out their true opinion of Rinoa that they all had tactfully kept to themselves for the longest time.

       "How does it feel to get that out in the open?" Cary Kay asked excitedly.

       Dabel grinned evilly and replied, "Surreal."

       "Stop talking as if I can't hear you!" Rinoa shouted violently from her perch.

       O Shiva, she thought with alarm mixed with disgust, is that what my friends really think of me?

       Cary Kay squinted in response and turned to Dabel.

       "Hey, Darby," she said, "did you hear something?"

       Fuming, Rinoa debated whether the clapping sounds of her shoes against Cary Kay and Dabel's heads were worth the cost of buying a new pair in case the girls decided to confiscate them.

       Whatever, she decided, I can always get my dad to buy me some replacements.

       Rinoa bent down conspicuously to undo her laces.  She had no reason to be furtive if they didn't anticipate her intention to sock them.

       "This is going to feel so good," she giddily assured herself.

       Her two visitors were still chattering when she managed to free herself from her footwear and let fly the shoes down towards their two unsuspecting targets.  They shrieked at the late realization and tried to bat the projectiles away.  The commotion that ensued would not go unnoticed.  The dogs were sure to be on them now.

       Rinoa, little concerned with the repercussions of trespassing with which her friends would be faced should they be apprehended by the standard security procedures that she knew by heart, doubled over laughing.  They had less than fifty seconds.

       I was right, she reveled, it was worth it!

       Cary Kay rubbed her head gingerly and shouted with her fist raised, "You're even worse than Seifer!"

       Dabel took a break from massaging her wrist where it had been struck while she was shielding herself.  Looking at her companion, she imparted upon her sagaciously the words, "At least you didn't get hit by a gun-blade."

       "Why doesn't that make me feel any better?" Cary Kay shot back.

       Dabel shrugged and resumed nursing her wrist.

       Rinoa had meanwhile picked herself up and was amusedly listening in on their exchange.  At the mention of Seifer, though, her smile faded and she assumed a more pensive look.

       To her recollection, Seifer had not threatened more than a few times to hurl that gun-blade of his at Cary Kay.  That gun-blade was trouble.  That gun-blade was competition.  It went wherever he did, hugging his hip.  How unfair was that?  It was the only thing closer to him than was she!  He even had a name for it – Hyperion.  If it had a name, it was competition.

       In the end, though, Hyperion won out.  She recalled wishing that he would just leave it home one day and save her the trouble of standing between him and the neck of whoever offended him whenever they went on a date.

       Rinoa never figured out whether he was so inimical to Cary Kay because she felt the need to disagree with him on every point and had ventured to keep him under her surveillance like a watchdog, or Cary Kay was antagonistic to and scrutinized Seifer because he was so hostile to her.  Cary Kay had warned her about Seifer.  He was too creepy, and his eyes were wandering all over the place.  Rinoa had taken that as a compliment until Cary Kay informed her that Seifer's eyes never wandered over her.

       It was so ridiculous a notion that Rinoa had laughed it off.  Cary Kay had not found the matter as risible.  Rather than push Rinoa past the point exercising her good graces, though, Cary Kay conceded and left Rinoa in her deluded exultation.  Still, Cary Kay was unsatisfied and added quickly that Seifer was up to something.  More accurately, he was looking for something, and she should be careful.  Rinoa had more of an idea then than had she now what Seifer could have been after.

       "What a couple you two make," Cary Kay shouted bitterly at Rinoa, interrupting her ruminations.

       "We're not together anymore," Rinoa answered so quietly that Cary Kay was just barely able to pick it up.

       "What happened?" Cary Kay probed, suddenly interested in what could very well turn out to be a winning piece of Sunday bowling night gossip.

       Probably forgot their ten thousand-minute anniversary, Dabel guessed.  Matters a lot to some weird people I know.

       "He tried to kill me," Rinoa muttered slowly.

       Cary Kay nodded knowingly and remarked, "Yeah, that would do it."

       This is juicier than I thought, she acknowledged.

       "Cute," Dabel agreed and licked her lips.  What a smoothie!

       "Was it like for an anniversary gift or something?" Cary Kay asked with a smirk.

       Rinoa scowled at both of them but was too angry to say anything.

       "So who are you with now?" Cary Kay questioned with a glint of curiosity in her eye.

       Rinoa mouth dropped to the floor.

       "What do you take me for?" she screamed at them.

       "I think Dabel said it a few minutes ago," Cary Kay replied lightly.

       Rinoa bitterly regretted not having a third leg that could provide her with a third shoe to hurl at her slanderers.  She looked around frenetically for any loose pieces of furniture that no one would miss.  She was sure that she would not miss.

       Reading Rinoa's facial expression perfectly, both Cary Kay and Dabel backed a few steps away from the window.  They could handle the shoes, the books, and even the lamp, but the fact that Rinoa had access to the freestanding bed was not an empty threat that they wished to entertain.  Dabel urged the General constantly to nail all the furniture to the floor, but Cary Kay had pointed out that it would be much cheaper and more effective to just nail Rinoa down.  True, the bed was much larger than the window, but with Rinoa, one never knew.  In their minds, to retreat a few steps was a small price to pay to avoid catching the bed with their heads.

       "Obviously her temper hasn't improved between that creepy mercenary and the midget druggie," Cary Kay grumbled to Dabel.

       "What's that supposed to mean?" Rinoa demanded, putting her hands on her hips with her jaw jutting out.

       "Face it, Rinoa," Cary Kay laid it out for her, "you can't be alone."

       Dabel nodded, adding, "The only thing that frightens you more than having your credit card rejected is being by yourself."

       "You're the most needy, dependent, attention-craving person we know," Cary Kay finished off the thought.

       Rinoa was about to protest out of habit before she felt a hole gnawing on the insides of her stomach.  The emptiness began to spread, growing quickly in size, and swallowed her whole.  She wasn't sure if her cry was stifled because her body numbed up or because her mind had.   The only thing she could be sure of was that the entire process took place in no more than a blink of an eye, given that she didn't even have time to react to the panic attack.  They had become more frequent since that night in the corridor with the two Iguions.  She would freeze just as she froze then.

       It's different when you have company because when you're alone, it's a lot harder to hide from yourself.  That's when you stare at yourself, right in the face, and see who you really are.

       Was this her mind talking or her now?

       If someone chances upon you while you think you're alone, then it is even harder to hide yourself from him.  By the time you're through staring at yourself eye to eye, he's seen it all.

       Maybe it was both.

       I'm just crying to be discovered.  Maybe then, that someone might save me from what I don't even dare to face myself.  I'm so alone.

       Was that really her?  How sad.

       I'm so alone.  And I'm so scared.  Scared of what I might see when I'm this alone.  I wouldn't know what to do.  Can Squall see me?  Did Seifer?  What do they think?  Can they rescue me?  I'm so scared.  Don't leave me Squall.  Please, don't.

       Rinoa was about to cry.

       "Yo!" Cary Kay called, shattering the suffocating, cocoon-like blanket of despair around her,  "Earth to Rinoa."

       "That's not what I was asking," Rinoa clarified numbly, coming back to her senses.  "I meant, what did you mean by the 'midget' thing?"

       "Isn't your new boyfriend a dwarf?" Dabel asked with a look of confusion creeping into her delicate features.

       "No," Rinoa replied, matching Dabel's perplexed expression, "why would you think that?"

       "Some short guy had to carry you and Angelo out of the car and into the house," Cary Kay explained in good humor, obviously figuring that she would have to go along with Rinoa for a length before trumping her.

       "We figured you all overdosed or something," Dabel followed up.  "You should tell your new lover boy no to drive while he is high."

       Cary Kay slapped her thigh and snickered, "I can't believe you even gave Angelo a hit."

       "That's so typical of Rinoa," Dabel commented with a hint of scorn in her voice.

       Still clueless, Rinoa began to ask, "What are you two babbling ab-"

       She stopped as the buildings' external lights turned on, lifting the obscurity from the lawn and startling her two visitors.  The sudden flood of light dazzled Rinoa's eyes, forcing her to squint before her irises constricted to a more comfortable size of reception.

       "There they are!  Get them!" blared over loudspeaker in the courtyard, echoed instantly by three gunshots.

       Cary Kay and Dabel jumped at the sounds but were too startled at first to move.  The barking of what one would like to hope wasn’t a pack of hungry canines in the area quickly remedied their paralysis, though, and the two girls took off into the undergrowth.  Whether or not they would leave the perimeter unscathed would depend on how nimbly they could scale the fence on the other side of the dense shrubbery.  The agility of the dogs was such that it left no room for error, much less for sloth.

       Rinoa was too busy pondering their cryptic conversation to worry herself over their perilous situation.  Subconsciously she felt justified in her way of prioritizing, having already allotted a time in the future to mourn for them should the hounds manage to catch them and proceed to tear apart their bodies.

       "So whoever he is, he got Angelo too," Rinoa whispered to herself, still trying to figure everything out.

       "Let go, you mutt!" she heard Cary Kay scream from a distance.

       Three sharp raps sounded from the door.  Rinoa spun around and watched as the brass knob turn a third of a revolution and the door slowly swung open.  The hinges were well greased, and the sturdy wood turned round about noiselessly, revealing in the doorway a middle-aged man in a military uniform that sported various medals and an insignia of a high-ranking official.

       "Why did you lock me in here, General Caraway?" she asked him coldly.

       "I would think that 'Dad' or 'Father' would save you about four syllables," he answered dryly, deliberately avoiding answering her question.

       "I asked you a question," Rinoa repeated, not willing to be denied.

       "That you did," Caraway agreed, but making no effort to straighten the situation.

       Something is up, Rinoa told herself.  He's not being obsequious to me anymore.  Usually he kills himself to succor my good will.  Has he given up?  But I need those shoes!

       "If you don't tell me why you had one of your henchmen abduct me, I'm walking," she huffed, and made her way to the door with a confident toss of her hair over her shoulder for effect.  She knew how convincing it looked to men, indexing just the message she needed – that she wasn't going to put up with any crap and that she had made up her mind.

       As she tried to walk past him, he stuck his hand out, planting it firmly against the wall, and thus blocking her exit.  Lip quivering, Rinoa looked up at him in shock.

       "Sit down," he grumbled without turning his head to look at her.

       "Who do you think you-" she began to protest.

       He interrupted her unexpectedly by shouting, "Sit down!"

       Rinoa felt the blood drain from her face as she fell into the nearby chair, wondering what had come over her father.

       "You pathetic ingrate," he reproached her coldly, "do you have any idea how much trouble you've caused me?"

       Before she could answer, he continued to vent at her, "You use my own money to fund your resistance group against Galbadia and neglect to inform me of your whereabouts for weeks?"

       He struck the wall with his fist, prompting Rinoa to jump out of her skin.  She could see the dents in the tough plaster.  Apparently it wasn't tough enough.  This surprised her because it seemed as sturdy as rock from the outside.

       "How dare you?  Do you know how worried I was?" he hollered.  "How many scouts I sent out just to ascertain whether or not you were even alive?"

       Either he didn't notice that his daughter was hanging her head in shame, being too scared and ashamed to look him in the eye, or that tears had begun to fall into her lap, because he went on, "Informants don't come cheap, Rinoa!  I had to pay good Gil just to find out you were in good health, and even more to discover where you were hiding.  This is your home you've renounced!  And all you can think about now are your stupid shoes!"

       Rinoa felt how dry the ceiling of her mouth was and realized that her lower jaw had been hanging open for quite some time.  It probably fell when she was forced into the chair by his lashing words.  She had no success trying to moisten it with her tongue though; her entire mouth was parched.  She felt so horrible for the consternation she had caused her father to suffer.

       Rinoa was not prepared for her father to force her to her feet by grabbing the back of her shirt collar.  He shoved her in front of the doorway just so she could peer out at the long carpeted path flanked by numerous nameless doors, each identical and all indifferent to her individual plight.

       One of the doors at the far end of corridor was open and the room was lit.  If her memory served her correctly, that was the communication room.  Following a buzz of static, an audio transmission came through clearly from the transceiver, "Hello?  General, are you there?"

       Rinoa scowled, trying to remember to whom that voice belonged.  She had heard it somewhere, that same goofy, half-witted phonation.  Could it possibly be Laguna's voice?  It had to be, she decided.

       With his iron grip still squeezing her collar, Caraway told her, "And despite all of this, here I am, setting up with the President of Esthar your betrothal to Squall Leonhart, that SeeD."

       Rinoa could hardly believe her ears.  The image of her trying on various wedding dresses in front of her girlfriends flashed before her eyes.  Yet, something about the lighting, even though it was just a mental picture, was wrong.  The entire picture lacked the brightness she had come to associate with most wedding pictures.  Did it mean anything, or was it just her imagination?  Was this a classic case of the mind playing tricks on the light?  Why shouldn't it be, if so often in reality the light played tricks with the mind?

       "So if you know what is good for you, you self-centered brat, stay in this room," General Caraway menaced, throwing her back in her seat.  "Otherwise, if you want this job as a father, you can have it!"

       "I'm sorry," she managed to utter, teary-eyed and choking up.  "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry."

       Feeling that he had said all he needed to say, the General lifted his chin and turned away from her, still repeating her apologies, to leave.

       "But all of my dolls and playthings are in my room!" Rinoa wailed suddenly, lifting her head and gesturing in the direction of her room down the hall.

       He spun around, lifting his index finger with a look on his face so serious that it deterred her from testing him.

       "Grow up, Rinoa," he growled, his face coloring slightly.  "You'll live, I'm sure."

       "What about Angelo?" Rinoa ventured to ask, not sure where she unearthed the courage to do so.

       "That mutt won't stop barking in his kennel," Caraway replied to her surprise.  "I'll see to it that he's brought here.  Maybe you can shut him up."

       He left with a sinister smirk on his face.  Something about how he curled the edge of his lips bothered Rinoa.  It was almost as if he was sure that she would fail in the endeavor he had just dared her to take, and he was humored by it!

       He stepped out of the room, closing the door behind him.  There were sounds of the key slipping into the keyhole and setting the lock back in place.

       "Oh, and no other visitors," she heard him say from the other side of the door.

       Rinoa listened as his heavy footsteps grew softer until they escaped her auditory detection completely.  A second later she heard the door to the communication room slam shut.  Only then did she let out a sigh, followed by a few deep breaths.

       Where is my father?  she wondered, feeling her arms and legs trembling.

       Exhausted by the lecture, but reliving its horrors as the words echoed in her ears, Rinoa numbly made her way to the bed.  She grabbed one of the larger, fluffier pillows and slid down on the ground beside the bed, whimpering softly.

       "I'm so alone," she repeated to herself, burying her head in the pillow and clutching it close,  "Please, Squall, don't leave me."

       I'm so scared, scared, scared…

* * ** *** ***** ********

Jeremy's Scribbles:

I would appreciate your reviews for this chapter so I can see what you are thinking or feeling, so as better to go back and make corrections for other readers if I see that everyone is stumbling between the same two chapters.  Also, if you catch any spelling or grammar mistakes, would you please notify me via email so that I may correct them as soon as possible?  Thanks in advance.

Setting 16

Jeremy Chapter's Fanfiction