Within the Inn the past few days, the fact that Arlene and I only appear to be sixteen didn't matter that much. That she had taken charge the first night certainly made a difference, but at least the other nine people in the building knew that we weren't who we appeared to be, and treated us accordingly.
Once we got outside, it was a different story. Two teenage girls asking strange questions got us brushed off, and by nightfall on Saturday we were both ready for a drink, but no-one was going to serve us. In fact, we started getting a little panicky about simply eating - neither of us had much cash on us when we changed, and we worried that we might get in trouble for using our ATM cards, or those of Don and Jillian Lasker. Betty Okonkwo had arrived in America so recently that she didn't even have a bank account set up yet, and Heidi Lasker's only contained enough for emergencies.
We spent a lot of time showing tourists and locals pictures from Heidi's phone, asking if they had seen these people. No-one had, and we were having a council of war over pancakes Monday morning when... I guess you could say our problems were solved.
A shabbily-dressed couple was arguing outside, but Arlene and I were so focused on our own issues that we weren't hearing the words, only the noise. One of them came in with a slam of the door, and pushed passed Arlene so roughly that she spilled juice on herself. I looked up to chew him out, but froze halfway through a curse. I asked her to give me the phone, and she grumbled while trying to pull it out of her pocket while wiping herself off. I turned it on, pulled up the picture of Donald Lasker, and held it up so I could compare the picture with the face of the person counting out nickels at the counter. He was covered in dirt and scowling compared to the vacation pictures we had to compare with, but maybe... I flicked to the next one, and turned around to face the window. Tough to tell under that bulky jacket and hat, but...
Arlene saw what I was doing, grabbed the phone and did the same comparisons. She was not pleased; "Oh, hell no!" were her exact words.
The new Don gave her an angry look. "What the hell are you looking at?"
"Nothing... Daddy." She turned the phone around so that he could see the picture of a much more clean-cut version of himself.
The man started quivering, and then bolted from the cafe, knocking a table over before grabbing the woman and dragging her after him. Arlene rested her chin on her fists and then pouted. "Great. Just great. What's the point of a new start if you're just going to get shitty parents all over again?"
I was about to say something to her, but realized there were more pressing concerns. I told her to wait right there, got up, and ran after the pair.
They hadn't gotten far, but far enough that I was pretty winded when I finally skidded to a stop in front of them so that they'd stop running. I muttered something under my breath about thinking Africans were supposed to be good at running. "Let me guess," I said, "you two were somewhere around the Trading Post Inn Friday night, and woke up new people?"
The woman ran up and grabbed me. "How do you know? Did you do this to us? We've been trying to tell people, and everyone looks at us like we're crazy!"
"Take it easy! The same thing happened to us. We're not really kids, but..."
"--but we need you guys." Arlene had caught up with us. "Now, I don't know what happens if we try to take over Heidi's and Betty's lives without at least one parent to cover for us, but I suspect it involves me going into foster care or staying with some relative who doesn't know what's going on, and Marc here getting deported. Tell me, Marc, if you get sent to Africa, do you think you'll be able to get your old life back?"
"I didn't think so. So, here's your choices - you can come back to the Inn with us, get a shower, some clean clothes, and drive us to our new home in Newton, Massachusetts... Or you can keep sleeping on the street, maybe sticking close to the Inn so that you can get your old lives back. Because they were clearly awesome."
The two of them looked at each other - and us - warily. The woman pointed at the man. "He's been trying to fuck me for the past two days. I don't have to do that, do I? I mean, we're probably married, bein' your parents and all..."
Even if she didn't have a look on her face saying that it might be a deal-breaker, my answer would have been the same. "I don't see why you should."
"That's right," Arlene said. "I mean, they're sending their daughter to private school and serving as a host family for another girl. They've probably got a big house."
"With spare bedrooms."
"And we can share a room if necessary. After all--" She elbowed me in the side. "--that's what got us into the situation we're in, isn't it?"
I felt myself blushing, although I don't know if anybody could see it under my darker skin. The new Jillian said she figured that would be fine, and while the new Donald looked disappointed, he guessed that was all right. That settled, we led them back to the Inn.
We learned their stories as they got cleaned up and changed. They introduced themselves as "Big Dave" and "Little Dave"; as luck would have it, "Big Dave" was the one who had become Jillian. Neither was exactly forthcoming with why they were living on the streets. I don't think either put much into their letters, either, and Arlene didn't spend much time on hers, either. She said it didn't much matter - whoever became her could do what they wanted with her life. She was just giving information, not instructions.
I, however, did give instructions - as much as I am oddly relieved to no longer have certain responsibilities awaiting me back home, I do hope that whoever becomes Marc Levesque follows through with them, as they are important.
Once that was done, we had an awkward first family meal at one of the local pizza places, and then drove "home". I'm not certain, but I think it took roughly twice as long as it was supposed to - neither of the Daves had been behind the wheel in a while, neither "Betty" nor "Heidi" has a driver's license, and the batteries in the GPS were dead.
I should post this now, as my lunch period is almost over; details about my first day in my second time through high school will have to wait.