"Good morning!" "Morning!" The students are milling into the classrooms, and the place rings with greetings. Not least where Benjamin Starborn goes. Fellow students stop and wave, no matter what class they are in. Everyone knows him. He smiles and waves back, but still ... when he has passed, nothing is new. Despite the words of acknowledgment, they don't know him any better than before, and he doesn't know them any better either.
As the beautiful blond boy enters the classroom, a girl in long flowing dress curtsies deeply. Elizabeth Katharina Eleanore Von den Hoyenburgh is already in place to welcome him. At a safe distance from her, another girl bows deeply. Takikawa Aiko has started to wear jeans and a cardigan, but she is still overly polite. Besides, the jeans and cardigan are tailor-made for her, although not everyone may notice.
"Welcome home, Ben" says Tom as the other sits down beside him.
"I thought it was you who watched me on InterView" replies the other. "I felt someone looking at me, after my mother's speech."
"You felt someone looking? I think more than a billion people were looking!"
"But someone special."
"Well, I did look, but I am hardly the most special guy in the world."
"So far, to me you are, except for my father I guess. But I know his eyes."
"You know when he is watching you on IV??"
"Sure. He is my father, after all."
"I can't remember if I have asked this, but can you read thoughts?"
"Not really. Only emotions."
"Oh yes. I think you may have said so already."
"Yes, I told that I always know where my mother is, but I cannot talk to her in words that way."
"Right. Well, I'm still not convinced it was me, but I did watch that time."
"As I expected. Of course, I would also have watched if you were on InterView."
"Hehe. That's not going to happen in a lifetime. But you are there so often that every child knows your face."
"Not every child in the world, of course."
"No, of course. I mean those who have IV. But I think most people have, these days."
Ben falls silent after that. He does not speak again until the first class is over.
Trine isn't home from school often. Even though she is doing well and is ahead with homework, she hates to be away from school and not know what she is missing. But today she makes an exception. She woke up totally pickled in snot, her voice all but gone, and for good measure it's that time of the month as well. "Tenderloins!" She snorts. Laughing would hurt her throat, and besides she never laughs alone. Automatically her eyes go to her bookshelves, jam packed with almost exclusively romance novels. And on her desk are a couple new ones that she hasn't even read yet. This seems like a good time. She grabs The River Valley Clan 14: Rebecca's Great Adventure and stretches out on her bed. This is bound to be good, Rebecca is her favorite character so far.
"What do you do when you are not in school?"
"You mean after school,or summer vacation and such?"
"For instance after school, or in the weekends."
"Well, after school I go home and eat. Then I usually do my homework. If Dad needs help on the farm, I do that, but that's not much now that we only have sheep and vegetables. Then I watch InterView mostly. Although sometimes Trine and I and sometimes Dad play some kind of game. Dad played more before."
"Trine is the name of someone in your family?"
"My sister. Have I really not mentioned her?"
"No. Only your father, and only briefly. I did not know you had any siblings."
"Trine is the only one. She is 15. We're the only ones ... Dad never married again."
"My mother died while she was pregnant with the third child. I think my Dad feels guilty for it in a way. He doesn't talk about it though."
"That must have been hard for you all."
"Yeah, well, I guess ... I was too small to really understand, I think."
But Ben doesn't answer. When Tom looks at his friend, he is surprised to see silent tears slowly leaking from closed eyes.
"Rebecca, there is something I have wanted to tell you."
"What is it, Paul?"
"You are going to think I am crazy for saying this."
"Never. Paul, you know you can tell me anything. Anything at all."
"Rebecca ... the first time I saw you, all I could remember was your eyes. They were so beautiful. And they still are."
"I knew it. You'll say I am crazy."
"No, no, that's not it. But this is not something a boy should say so casually!"
"I don't say it casually. Rebecca, I love you. I have always loved you."
"I knew it! Ah ... ah ... choo! I knew it!" Trine grabs another tissue. After reading a couple hundred romance novels, she has become a real expert on finding out not just who is in love with whom, but when and where and how they will confess. 'Perhaps I have a natural talent' she thinks. 'One day I may start writing my own novel. Now that would be something!'
"Tom, may I ask you a favor?"
"Sure! If I can do it, I will."
"Could I visit your home?"
"Huh? The farm? Why?"
"I wish to see how you live. To see your family. To see the world that is yours."
"Well, sure. Anytime."
"Huh? Well, uhm, sure. Why not?"
"Thank you. I will tell Johnson that I go with you." Ben picks up a pocket telegraph. While they are not all that common, they are growing more popular. Ben's is a very plain model, but functional with a standard keyboard. It almost looks strange to see him with something so decidedly non-magical as a pocket telegraph. Of course, he hits the small keys with fast, unerring precision. Tom really can't imagine how he would avoid pressing down at least two at a time with those sausages he got for fingers. But then again, farmers don't wear pocket telegraphs.
Of course, after the mandatory confession of love, the novel starts to heat up. Having read the 13 first books in the series, not to mention the previous series by the same author, Trine knows what's in store. A couple more chapters and things will get quite steamy. And she won't have that today. She is so not in the mood. Hot love does not mix well with snot and tears and ... well, pretty much every imaginable body fluid known to man, or rather to woman. This is not her day. Changing back into her well-worn pajamas, she burrows deeply in her bed and tries to sleep.
"These fall days are really beautiful, don't you think?" says Ben as they start on the long road home.
"Well, I guess, when it's not raining."
"But rain has its own beauty. Water is, after all, the true elixir of life."
"Still, I would rather see some of it fall in Sahara and other places that really need it. It's not exactly something Norway is short of."
"To me, each part of the world has its own beauty. From the majestic naked mountains covered in snow to the hot jungles completely overgrown with life, there is so much variation just on this one planet! How wonderful a place this world is. And we have not yet truly seen the countless other worlds out there. Who knows what beauty and drama they hold?"
"Not me. And I'm afraid I'm never going to know, either."
Ben smiles. "To find beauty and satisfaction in the things that are always at hand is the greatest good of all."
From another, such invincible cheerfulness might have been irritating. But with Ben, it is contagious. Looking around, Tom can see the hundred colors of the trees that are still just beginning to change into their fall colors. The colors get muted when the shadow of a cloud passes over them, then explodes into brightness again when the rays of the sun touch them.
"Do you know what it means that you can sense beauty, Tom?"
"Huh? Well, it means that things are pretty."
"Ah. I ask in a clumsy way. What I mean is, do you know what it signifies? What it tells us?"
"Never thought about that. I thought everyone could see beauty except the blind."
"But the blind can find beauty in music, and even the deaf can appreciate the smell of a flower, or spices, or a well made meal."
"Well, yeah. I don't think I really get your question."
"When you can sense beauty, it means your spirit is alive!"
"The body absorbs energy from food we eat. But the spirit can absorb spiritual energy in different ways. From other people, from nature, or through pure spiritual opening to the invisible power. When we are hungry and eat, we feel pleasure. When we absorb spiritual energy, the pleasure is called beauty."
"Wow. I never thought of it that way."
"The higher the energy level we absorb, the more intense is the beauty. Those whose spirit is almost dead can only absorb low energies such as hate and fear, and will try to provoke these emotions in others. This gives them a kind of satisfaction. But those who can feel love will without fail be able to see beauty. And those who are awake to the energy all around us, will see beauty all around as well."
"So you who can connect directly to the Power, you live in a beautiful world all the time?"
"Yes, we do. Everything is aglow with beauty. And I feel that you can sense some of it too."
"I guess. A little."
And as he looks around again, things look a little more beautiful than they did before. It may be just his imagination, but if so, it is good imagination.
She has been awake again for a while, although just barely, drifting between pain that wants to keep her awake and lethargy that wants her to sleep. But when she hears clatter and Tom's voice in the hallway, she gets to her feet. Slightly woozy, she leans against the wall for a few heartbeats before her strength returns. Then she waddles out on bare feet, still in her too small and washed-out pajamas. "Tom? I'm drowning in snot and having a bad case of girl day here. Pliiz go make ... me ... a ..."
The hallway is unnaturally bright. And in the center of the brightness stands the world's most beautiful boy, the prince of her dreams, the incarnation of perfection, every hair exactly where it should be. His large blue eyes are wide open, staring straight at her.