The phone is ringing. Actually, it is bleating, because someone has a weird sense of humor and has chosen a ring tone that reminds everyone of a lamb. Trine can hear it, but she is in the middle of a good story, and Tom is closer anyway. "Tom! The phone!"
"Yeah. I have ears." She can hear him pick it up in the middle of a bleat. "Lithus. Oh, hi Ben. What's happened? You don't usually call. Hmm? Trine? Well, sure. She's not far off. TRINE! It's for you!"
But Trine is not present. In the sofa is a statue that for all purposes looks like Trine, except it does not move and does not think.
Tom shows up. "Who has no ears? It's for you!"
"Yeah. And he's asking for you."
"I can't take it!"
"You take it or I'll spank your behind till my hands hurt!"
"Look" her brother hisses, "I don't mind you wallowing in self-pity every day. It is your prerogeractive..."
"... but if you play mind games with Ben, I'm not going to go easy on you! You don't need to agree with anything he says, if you don't want to, but don't hide under your bed like he's some monster. If you don't want anything to do with him, tell him. I won't, because I don't believe you."
"I can't talk! I can't even think!"
"Tell that to him."
"Threats of physical violence."
"OK, OK! But we'll both regret this!"
"On my deathbed? I'll see that when I believe it."
"Uhm, hello? I mean, it is Trine."
"Hello Trine! My sister tells me that the two of you have become quite good friends over the last couple weeks."
"We have? I mean ... yes ... we usually speak a bitte litt .... a little bit ... after school."
"She is very excited to have a real friend her own age, and someone who is not hired by her parents."
A real friend ... That is what she calls me? Yes, I like her ... she is as funny as a child yet as smart as a bright adult, and she is so incredibly honest and yet she never wants to hurt anyone ... she is a wonderful friend really. But every time I speak with her, every time I think of her, I think about you. But I can't say that. It is just the way it is, no matter how much she wants to be my friend, she is always in your shadow. And I can't do anything about it, no more than I can stop the sun from rising and setting. Listen to me, I have read way too many cheap romance novels. But I can't say that either, can never tell you what I really think. Oh no, I should have said something, but what? What? He is waiting for me to say something!
"Sorry, I had not expected you to call."
He laughs, and it is more beautiful than music, or the song of birds in spring. "I know I cannot replace her, but..."
"No, no! That's not it! It is just fine! I just was surprised, that's all!"
"You see, it turns out that we won't be available for the next few weekends, for you to visit the Manor or the other way around...."
"Don't think about it! I am fine. I know you are, you know, important to the world. I would never think about intruding."
"I am sure there will be a chance later. But as it is, Rita will come see my place in town tomorrow, stay over and then go back to the Manor with me on Friday. We would love for you to stop by my place too, if you have the time. And your brother of course."
"But why did you call me? Why not just ask Tom?"
"Because if you don't come, neither does Rita. She'll wait for another time when she can see you as well."
"Yes, really. You are important to her as well as to me, now. Of course Tom is too, but it seems easier for him to make time."
Ouch. That hurt. And she knows he did not even mean to accuse her. He really believes she has had valid reasons to hide from him all these weeks. He doesn't know anything about ... mind games.
"I will come. I promise. I really look forward to meeting Rita."
And you. I really want to meet you again, but I am terrified because I just know I am going to humiliate myself again. I wish I knew what real girls do when they are in love, but all I know is what they do in cheap romance novels. How I wish this was a novel and I was a main character, then it would all work out somehow!
"I just knew you would know the way." Is that jealousy I'm feeling? That would be ridiculous!
"Actually I've never been inside either. Kinda strange once you think about it, I've been to the Manor but not this house."
"It isn't big, compared to what all those new girls have. Each of them live in a small palace, while Ben lives in an old little townhouse."
"Well, he doesn't have as many servants as them. Actually I'm not sure if Johnson is a servant at all. There are a few people like that at the Manor, but I never saw them when I was there and the Starborn lived entirely like a normal family, making their own food and all."
"Well, he drove you. Perhaps he's just a chauffeur."
why would he stay here all week rather than just drive down to fetch
him on Friday?"
"Goodness knows. At least we're here now."
As Tom steps up to ring the bell, the door explodes outward just in time to not hit him, and a shape surrounded by golden flame sails through the air toward him. No, make that golden, flame-like hair, lots of it. The shape resolves into a pubescent girl as it lands with its arms around his neck. "Tom! So good to see you again!" Before he can move, she disentangles herself and, in another feat of athleticism, jumps straight to Trine to embrace her likewise. "Triiine! You are just like I expected!" The girl looks deeply into her eyes. "I knew it. Ben was right, you have very pretty eyes. Like a cow."
"Well, not as big of course. Come on in, come on in! You have to see how Ben lives. And Johnson, of course."
"Ah, right." As Trine is still stunned by the somewhat Hinduistic compliment, Tom speaks instead. "Rita, do you know Johnson?"
"Of course! He use to live at the Manor, and his wife is with me every day. They are really nice people, of course. Mommy says that only special people get close to us. People who are loved by fate."
"Right. It sure is an honor. So, do you know what he does? For work, I mean."
"Of course! He studies thaumaturgy. Both of them do."
"Thaw-muh-tuhr-jee. Or perhaps it is called thaumaturgology when they study it as a science?"
"And that means...?"
"Miracle-working. You know, all the weird things that happen around us. The Johnsons try to find out what happens. Everyone knows that stuff happens, but nobody knows when and where and why and how and to whom. It seems to just happen, you know? So by studying Mommy and Ben and me, they hope to find out more about it. Imagine if everyone could do miracles! Or even if miracles could happen to everyone. It is very important."
"Right. I had no idea what he was doing."
"Tee hee. He should wear a small name plate saying 'thaumaturgologist' or something. He probably thinks he is so famous that he doesn't need to."
"Perhaps he is. I am just a farmboy, so I probably know less about tautomology than most people."
They are inside now. The house has recently been renovated, it seems. It is also organized in such a way as to make the best use of the limited space. Well, limited ... it is smaller than the farm house, but then again only two people live here. It may not be so bad. The bedrooms and bathroom are downstairs, while the living room is upstairs. It seems to double as a study, there is some office equipment on one side of the room.
"Oh, and Johnson also helps with the mail and the phones."
"Tom! Trine! Welcome to my home away from home!"
Trine's heart skips a beat, then starts dancing to a strange rhythm. How can any teen, even a quarter angel, look so regal and yet so kind? Like a king and a trusted servant at the same time. Those bright blue eyes show no sign of remembering the things they saw last she met him. She does, of course, and looks away.
"Did I warn you not to eat before coming here?"
"I told her."
"My little sister came in time to make a feast worthy of kings and queens. With the kings and queens conspicuously absent, you two will simply have to take their place."
"I have done my best because you all are my best friends!" She strikes a pose: "How deeply I have longed in my heart to eat this supper with you!" For some reason, Tom seems greatly amused.
Indeed, from the smell that is coming out of the small kitchen, some practical miracle-working has taken place there. The work-like table has been dressed up for the occasion. Although everything is plain and practical and the knives are stainless steel, the precision with which it is laid out still makes it look like they were indeed waiting on royalty. Johnson emerges from the kitchen, bows politely but not overly formally, and helps Rita carry in the food while Ben seats the guests. Needless to say, Rita moves at twice the speed of the grown man and still somehow manages to brake in time to not cover them all in sauce. Miracles indeed.
They savor the food in quiet, only interspersed with softly spoken praise for the food and general declarations of sympathy, the first mostly from the guests and the latter mostly from the hosts. No one wants to really take their mind off the meal. There will be time enough for talk, surely. Even Trine gradually relaxes as the meal progresses without her belching, farting or overturning bowls of food as she had expected. She manages to look at him – that would be Ben, of course – a few times without anyone becoming suspicious. All is well with the world, for once. Then, as the meal winds down, a contented hush falls around the table. And then Rita says, very clearly:
"Trine, would you like to be Ben's girlfriend?"