Wilhelmina Winters: Thirty-Nine

Given the limited number of blue tables, Wil was surprised at how long she took to locate one containing the two people she knew would be sitting at it. She was about to give up, in fact, when she remembered the dimmer, less-populated overflow room of the cafeteria.

Sure enough, five expectant faces met her shy gaze when she poked around the doorway. It was enough of a shock to send her scurrying back out of the school, entirely. She was able to convince herself to stay, however; to walk fully into the room, and to sit in the last empty chair.

“So,” Derek said, “You guys all know Wil.” He smiled his kind, shy, hopeful smile around the table. Wil’s heart jumped a bit at the added attention, and especially at the smile.

She tried to look like she deserved to suddenly have people notice and befriend her, though acting was not her forte. As such, she ended up looking confused and nervous.

She knew the others seated by her -or, at least, knew their names. She had been surprised by that. Everyone at the blue table was in at least one of Wil’s classes. Derek was in two. But, so is Reagan, she thought defensively.

“We’ve been watching you, Wil,” Derek explained. This did not reassure Wil.

Art, a large teenage boy who shared her time in Mr. G.’s class, set down a roll and laughed. He had a nice laugh, the kind that came from deep inside and wasn’t too loud. “He means that in a good way,” Art said. Unlike Derek, Art’s voice sounded like it had already transitioned to a deeper tone.

“Oh.” Wil said.

Reagan rolled her eyes. “Derek,” she chastened. “You’re making us sound like stalkers.” She gave him a look, a laden fork dangerously dangling from her fingers.

“The thing is,” Reagan continued to Wil, “We are an elite group of talented teenagers. By ‘watching you,'” she imitated Derek’s voice sarcastically, “we mean that we think you should be part of the group.”

Wil’s face cleared, then clouded again. She wasn’t elite, or talented. She looked quickly at each person in assessment. Derek was kind and not bad-looking. Reagan was clearly very smart and good at acting. She knew Art was observant and intelligent. The other two members, Hope and Stephen, she didn’t know very well. She was naturally inclined to assume they had more to offer than she did.

Derek cleared his throat, attempting to keep its tone level. He leaned forward across his sack lunch, and held his hands out to gesture as he spoke. “Many of us felt left out, and like we didn’t have friends.” The others nodded as they watched him. Hope smiled slightly.

“I sat by Stephen one day, and saw that he drew really cool comics.” Derek looked at Stephen, who grinned and studied the pencil he was twirling in his right hand. “Then, I thought, ‘This is dumb. Stephen is so good at drawing. I get told I’m a good leader. I’m going to start a group of friends who are talented.'” He smiled again. He was good at smiling, too.

“We have a roster,” Hope finally spoke up. Her voice was very soft, in contrast to Reagan’s bold tones. She pulled a list from her binder and set it in front of Wil, between her plate of breaded meat and soggy vegetables. Many of the group looked around to ensure others weren’t watching. Their room was almost entirely empty.

The writing, Wil noticed first, was beautiful. She looked at Hope. “Stephen wrote it,” Hope said. “He’s good at writing and codes.” She pointed to Stephen’s name, down the list. Wil saw that it listed, “Stephen: Penmanship, Cryptography, Cartography.”

She quickly perused the rest of the page.

 

Continued from Thirty-Eight.
Keep reading to Forty.

Wilhelmina Winters: Thirty-Eight

Lone drifts of snow breeze touched lightly across deserted chairs, a table, a brick wall. The detritus collected in forsaken corners for moments, then was rudely pushed on its airborne way again. This empty land had seen no life for days -not even the echo of a footstep. Pale noon sunlight filtered through the hurried mists, illuminating the space in an ethereal glow.

A wall, a windowed door away, the soft glow filtered through to dimly reflect in a pair of thoughtful eyes. Wil remembered this place like it was only yesterday, or perhaps the day before. Would she ever forget?

She moved her head to look round the room she sat within -a room that still spoke of the presence of hundreds of persons. Their shadows -or, perhaps, their essence- lingered on the abandoned plastic furniture. There was also a chair overturned here, a table pushed aside there. The litter of their lives blew slightly in the ancient air heating system.

“At least that still works,” Wil thought to herself, as she recalled the icy winds swirling beyond the glass doors. She hugged her arms around her thinning body and checked the knot of her fraying black scarf.

She glanced at the working clock hanging crookedly on the wall. Its second-hand foundered eternally at the six, pulsing helplessly; but its other hands continued on unaffected. They gestured to Wil that her wait was nearly over.

They would arrive soon.

Wil tried to distract herself in preparations, but knew it was no use. She had used up the remaining food just that morning. She carried no weapons. She had been forced to leave her pack and materials inside a small metal box just inside this labyrinthine building. If this meeting proved favorable, she would retrieve them after. If not, her information would remain safe beyond their hands.

A low, muted note sounded, startling Wil. One more automatic system was still in place, then. So much for silence and subtlety.

She rose from her slouch; pushed the blue chair underneath its matching table. Instinct had taken over: she sensed food. She would forage first, and meet her odd party after.

“It’s always better to meet uncertainty on a full stomach,” she reminded herself.

Moving to a doorway in the wall, she saw that her suspicions had been correct. There was food here. Or, at least, there were the remains of what started out as food. She peered through the yellowing sneeze guards at a few pathetic trays of the stuff. She wondered if consumption would sustain life, or bring its end more quickly.

Deciding on the former, Wil slid one of the trays out and into her hands. She turned and headed back to the tables. Others were arriving; she recognized a few.

It was time.

 

Continued from Thirty-Seven.
Keep reading to Thirty-Nine.

Wilhelmina Winters: Thirty-Seven

Rob and Jakob pushed open the door in their usual chatty silence to find a truly noisy scene in their living room. Wil and her mother were trying to stop laughing, which also meant Cynthia was coughing in-between chuckles.

They both looked up and noticed the solemn men about the same time. Wil suppressed a rising giggle, her eyes still sparkling and her cheeks flushed. Cynthia finally calmed her breathing, but her happy features looked ready to burst in coughing chortles again.

Rob and Jakob looked between Wil and her mother. Their wintry seriousness melted into relaxed smiles. Happiness had not dawned in the Winters household for a long time.

“So?” Jakob asked, dropping his backpack on his chair. “What’s so funny?” He looked at them in his usual slumped stance, with raised eyebrows.

Rob clumped over to set his things down and wash his hands before coming to the couch.

“Well,” Cynthia began, as she sat up to make room for her husband to sit, “Wil was just telling me about her day.” She was good at keeping secrets, and caught Wil’s eye to be certain Wil wasn’t bothered by what she was saying.

Wil smiled gratefully at her mother. She didn’t mind them knowing, but guessed they wouldn’t be as amused as she and Cynthia had been.

“I got a secret note to solve, and we were trying all kinds of ideas to break the puzzle,” Wil said. She watched their expressions. Her mother looked at her encouragingly, her father looked mildly surprised, and Jakob kept his questioning face.

Wil smiled, then giggled a bit. “We realized the text was just backwards! Mom figured it out, then we read it in her makeup mirror.”

The men didn’t laugh.

“You see,” Cynthia explained, “We thought it was so much harder, then the solution was so simple!” She looked at Rob, who couldn’t help returning her beautiful smile.

He forced a believable chuckle. “Oh,” he said. “That is funny.” He looked over the couch at Jakob.

Jakob rolled his eyes, gave Wil a look and a sigh, then walked down the hall to his room.

Rob cleared his throat. “So,” he said. Wil and his wife turned to look at him. He cleared his throat again. “So, what did the note say?”

“Oh.” Wil said. She looked around her, located and grabbed the note and mirror, then gave them to her father.

“Special invitation to join our secret society,” he slowly read. He looked up at Wil, noting her excited expression. He sighed and smiled slightly at his favorite daughter’s moods, then continued reading, “If you accept, meet at the blue table at lunchtime tomorrow.”

 

Continued from Thirty-Six.
Keep reading to Thirty-Eight.