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“Liberation”

 

 

by

 

Linda Ambrosia




©Copyright 2008 by

Romance at Heart Publications E-Novels

ISBN 10: 0-9799423-8-1

ISBN 13: 978-0-9799423-8-9

Edited by Melissa Wathington

Cover Art by Linda Ballard


Publication by Romance at Heart ©2008
http://rahpubs.com/



All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information and storage retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author's imagination, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.

 

 

PUBLISHED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

 


 

eBooks are not transferable.

They cannot be sold, shared or given away.

It is an infringement on the copyright of this work and prosecutable under the laws of copyright.

 

Copyright © 2007 by Linda Ambrosia

Cover art by Linda Ballard

First published by:

Lavender Isis Press

http://www.lavenderisis.com/

 

Second Edition published by:

Romance At Heart Publications

http://rahpubs.com/

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner including but not limited to printing, file sharing, and email, without prior written permission from Romance At Heart Publications, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

 

Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

 

Romance At Heart Publications

Second Electronic Edition By Romance At Heart Publications: April 2008

 

 


 

Dedication:

 

Dedicated to the late Gege Pruchniewski, a wonderful friend and artist.

 

 

“Tell me what company thou keepest, and I’ll tell thee what thou art.”

 

~Miguel de Cervantes

 

 


 

LIBERATION

By

Linda Ambrosia


 

Chapter 1

 

      For most Americans, the summer of 1976 was a welcome drought after years of stormy weather.  Warfare and scandal were finally things of the past.  Colleges became centers of learning again, not hotbeds of revolution.  Broadcasters concentrated on “happy news,” because that was all anyone wanted to hear.  Another crises was bound to come down the pike someday, but for this moment it was time to stretch out under the soothing sun.  Time for a break.

     The world seemed calm as the placid waters of Lake Michigan that stretched out in front of Loretta Trask.  Standing on the new pier lining the renovated waterfront of Sunbeam Township, she had only two things on her teenage mind.  One was the Bicentennial Fair she was assigned to cover for Sunbeam High’s student newspaper.  The other was the owner of the small boat languidly heading for the dock, the light June breeze giving little push to the craft’s single sail.

     Clutching pad and pencil against a checkered shirt, Loretta could feel that tiny wind lift her feathery red hair.   A whistle from behind made her flash a quick smile to a passing bicycle rider.  The new designer jeans, hugging tight to her slim but curvaceous hips, were doing the trick.  She wondered if they’d turn the eye of the incoming boat owner.

     "What the hell's taking him so long?" grumbled a thick voice from the two-masted sharpie docked beside Loretta.  Her father jumped off the deck with a lithe power and confidence he'd gained from a career in the Navy.  At two inches past six feet, Jason Trask's massive build exhibited power through the starched business suit he seemed to wear everywhere, even when inspecting his private yacht.  If the heat was bothering him, you'd never know it from the fierce glare stamped on his granite face.  It was a look that intimidated friend and foe alike, which was all well and good to the silver-haired man everyone knew as "the Commodore."

     His daughter was one of the few people he couldn't shake with a growl.  "Mellow out, Dad," she said, playfully adjusting his tie.  "He's probably just enjoying himself.  It's a great day for sailing."

     "He doesn't have to sail.  That skiff's equipped with an engine, I can see it from here.  Or can't any of these damned foreigners run an engine?"

     Sighing, Loretta strolled down the pier a little.  "Oh Dad, don't start that again."

     The Commodore followed her.  "I can speak my mind, it's a free country.  That's why we're whooping it up for this Bicentennial, right?"

      "So don't forget  what it says on the Statue of Liberty--'send us your hungry and poor' and all that good jazz."

      "The poor I don't mind so much--it's when they send us their rich that I get riled.  Then they come here and take over our companies."  Folding his arms together, Jason eyed the boat suspiciously.  "I'd like to know what this character's up to, coming to our town instead of Detroit."

      Loretta snickered.  "I doubt he's moving here just to steal your customers away from you.  He's a political refugee, remember."

      "We've got more than enough of these Eastern refugees--and they all seem to like Michigan!"

      "Didn't stop you from selling this one the McGregor place," his daughter teased.

     The remark didn't phase him.  "I don't turn down any offer when the money's good.  Besides, if I got competition moving in, I'd rather have him close enough to keep an eye on the sucker."

     Loretta wondered if that meant he'd be spying on the McGregor place with binoculars.  This was about the only way you could see it from their estate.  Though the nearest property to the Trask mansion, the McGregor house was equally isolated from the rest of town.  In fact, it was the most isolated private home in the area.

     "Just try to get along with him, Dad.  He's practically our next door neighbor now, even if he lives a mile from us."

     The small boat finally pulled close enough for someone to step off  to the pier and start hitching a line to the nearest piling.

     "Come on," said the Commodore, motioning to his daughter.  "Let's go meet the boy next door."

     Approaching the stranger, Loretta was disappointed to see an older man in  wrinkled working clothes, a red turban wrapped tight on his head.  "I thought he was supposed to be younger," she muttered, almost to herself.

     "Hey you," Jason said, going right up to the stranger.  "Are you Rama Chandra?"

     With heavy knots the man secured the line, then stood straight and looked Jason in the eye.  Loretta almost stepped back with a gasp, not just at the stranger's craggy, weather-beaten face, but also because of his height.  She couldn't remember ever seeing someone taller than her father. 

     Jason himself was nearly as taken aback, but then the stranger started talking in a strange, guttural dialect.  "Figures," sighed the Commodore, immediately recovering his composure.  "Listen, you speakee some English?  Eh?  Do you understand me or not?"

     Chuckling as if such rudeness was amusing, the stranger said something else incomprehensible, then walked past Jason and moved toward the back of the boat.  With the bow tied in place, he now picked up a line dangling at the stern and knelt to wrap it around a pier cleat.

     "See here!" said Jason, following behind him.  "I'm supposed to meet with this guy Chandra right about now.  If you're him you must recognize your own name, even if you don't know the language!”

     "Please, Dad!" Loretta pleaded, embarrassed by her father's notorious lack of tact.  "Maybe we've made a mistake.  This could be the wrong boat."

     Ignored by the stranger, Jason turned his bluster on his daughter.   "Sure we've made a mistake!   We're supposed to meet some foreigner here at the dock come high noon.  He was coming in on his private boat, ain't that what they told us?    Well, it’s noon, here's the boat, and here's the foreigner.  If he's not Rama Chandra, than where the hell is he?"

     "Just look behind you!"  The cheerful, accented voice made the Trasks turn sharply as the  boat's sail swung out  over the pier, apparently of its own accord.   When the other side of the mast came into view, a lanky youth in white shirt and shorts was revealed standing upright on the boom, clutching with one hand to the edge of the canvas.  In a single bound, he leaped off the boom, his tennis shoes thumping on the pier as he instantly straightened and threw up his arms in the manner of a stage magician.  "Voila!  You have only to say my name, and I appear!"

     This grinning youngster, who couldn’t possibly be over eighteen, startled the normally unshakable Jason.  Loretta eyed his trim figure and dark bronze skin with fascination.  Wavy black hair curled down over a boyish face with bright brown eyes, and a thin mustache beneath a sharply angled nose.  He lowered his sinewy arms, which stretched far out of his  short sleeves, and offered a hand to the Commodore.

     "I am Rama Chandra, sir.  And you must be Mr. Trask.  My grandfather spoke highly of you.  He always admires a man who strikes a hard bargain."

     Jason appeared reluctant to take the youth's hand, but shook it anyway.  "Yes, he was good at barter himself.  Seemed to know his business."

     "Indeed.  That's how he amassed such a fortune over the years.  If he didn't have investments here in America, he would have lost everything when the soldiers took over our old country." 

     The man who'd been tying the boat down now addressed Rama.  They exchanged a few words in their own language, Rama giving him a friendly pat on the arm and sending him along to do some chores on the boat.  Gazing at the small town that extended beyond the waterfront, the lad nodded his head in approval.

     "This is going to be a fine place to live," he commented, turning to Jason again.  "It was very kind of your government to allow my family refuge in this wonderful land.  We are all very grateful."

     Scowling, Jason reached for a pocket on the inner lining of his blazer.  "Yes, we're generous to a fault helping those down on their luck...When they deserve it, that is..."  Pulling out a bundle of folded paperwork, he eyed Rama strangely.  "How do I know you're who you say you are?  I didn't think Arabs were so dark skinned...Your grandfather doesn't look like you at all."

      If Rama knew he'd just been insulted, it didn't show through his smile.  "Perhaps his suntan oil is less effective than mine, Mr.Trask."  He gave Jason a wink.  "But then older people don't absorb sunlight as easily as the young.  You ought to know that yourself."

     Seeing how her father was bristling, Loretta intervened.  "Give him a break, Dad.  You're not in the Border Patrol, for pity's sake!"

     "Thank you, my dear," Rama said, bringing a billfold out of his back pocket.  "But I have no problem showing him my identification."  He opened it toward the Commodore.  "I have a feeling I obtained this green card more easily than I'll receive the deed to my new estate."

     Glancing at the card, Jason snorted and handed over the papers.  "Here.  It's all signed, notarized and legal.  You grandfather took care of everything.  You...eh...got any plans now that you're settling in?  I mean...er...going to do anything here in our community?"

     Rama unfolded the papers, looking through them carelessly.  "For the time being, Mr. Trask, I only plan on enjoying the life of the idle rich.  Far as the community goes, all I want to do is make friends..."   He cast a look Loretta's way.  "With all the local people, of course."

     "Being friendly's okay, far as it goes," Jason said sternly.  "Just be sure to make the right connections.  Life can be pretty difficult around here if you don't."  Without another word, he turned and marched off toward the town's business district, a block away from the docks.

     Genuinely confused, Rama called after him.  "It...It was a pleasure to meet you, sir.  I mean that, I...I..."

     When the Commodore just continued on his way, never bothering to look back, Loretta tried to smooth things over.  "You have to excuse my father, Mr. Chandra.  He still thinks he's back in the Navy.  When you've been in charge of an aircraft carrier, it's hard to stop giving orders."

     Rama refolded the documents.  "Actually, miss, what I heard sounded more like a veiled threat than an order.  If your father is the 'right connection' I'm supposed to make, I believe he just pulled the plug on me." 

     Charmed by his infectious grin, Loretta smiled back.  "You shouldn't take him so seriously, Mr. Chandra.  Dad likes to think he owns this town, but he still lets the mayor run the place."

     "Generous of him."  Reaching across to the boat, Rama passed his papers over to the turbaned man.  "But no more of these formalities.  After all, there couldn't be more than a year between my age and yours, if  I'm any judge of a young lady's face."  He gave her a mock gentleman's bow.  "Rama, at your service.  And I certainly don't want to be calling you Miss Trask."

     "Loretta--at your beck and call," she replied, giving an equally mock curtsey.  Together they started walking down the dock.  Stuffing the papers into a pants pocket, the turbaned giant grunted as he watched them go, then turned to lower and fold the sail.

     "Your father must be a very wealthy man," Rama said casually.

     "His money helped pay for this waterfront," Loretta replied as they came up to the sharpie.  "That's why the town council lets him  park our new yacht here day and night."   She motioned toward the yacht.  "Dad bought it for a steal.  He plans to sail it all the way to Florida next week."

     "Certainly looks seaworthy enough for such a voyage."  Rama paused to look the sharpie over.  "I'd never take my little boat that far--though it brought us from Detroit with no problem."  He noticed the yacht's name, painted on the bow in archaic lettering.  "The Iron Maiden.  Isn't that an instrument of torture?"

     Loretta shrugged.  "My father's idea of a joke.  Since you're supposed to name ships after women, he decided to dedicate this one to my mother."

     Rama looked shocked.  "That's what he thinks of his wife?"

     "She walked out on him back when I was a kid.  He hasn't seen her since the divorce, and neither have I." 

     Her casual, almost flippant attitude appeared to disturb the lad.  "Divorce is nearly unknown back in my old country.  Most marriages there last for life."

     Aware that she'd made a mistake, Loretta quickly changed the subject.  "Oh silly me!  Here I've been jabbering about my Dad all this time, when I really came here to interview you, Rama."

     "Yes, I've been wondering about that pad and pencil."  His unease wasn't abated by her coyness.  "Do your newspapers hire many reporters your age?"

     "Only the school paper."  Loretta curved her red, sensuous lips into the most innocent smile she could muster.  "Believe it or not, I'm technically in class right now.  My journalism teacher figured you'd make good copy, the way you're coming to live in this country and all.  I mean, here it is the two hundredth anniversary of the nation and everything.  Why, you've arrived just in time for our Bicentennial Fair!"

     Walking together again, they strolled across the sidewalk that separated the docks from a vast expanse of green grass.  It was a long, wide field, the emptiness broken only by an occasional tree or park bench.

      "Your mayor mailed me an invitation to speak at this celebration.  But I suppose you know about that already."

     "Why, there's nothing you can hide from a good reporter.  Even a student journalist has her resources.  The town's going to put on the whole shebang right here in Lakeside Park."  Loretta swept her hand in front of them, showing the park off.  "There'll an orchestra, and dancing, even a special football game between my school's frosh team and a rival school."

     This seemed to lighten Rama up again.  "Ah, football!  I was a good goalie in the old country.  I could bounce the ball off my head before it ever reached the net."

     Loretta giggled.  "We call that soccer here.  I meant American-style football."   Rama looked puzzled.  "I'll show you.  My brother's helping out  our frosh team, and they're practicing today.  That's Sunbeam High up ahead."

     Across the street from the park loomed a three-story building with a field of its own behind it, taking up a whole city block.  Loretta chatted away as they journeyed to the school and rounded its concrete corners.  Rama found it odd that she kept on boasting about either the school or the town.   She had yet to ask him a single question.

     "I'm beginning to wonder when you're going to use that pencil, Loretta," he said offhandedly, breaking into a lengthy tirade on how this was such a progressive school.  "I don't want to sound egotistical, but am I not the topic of your interview?"

      She giggled again as they emerged into a football field bordered by bleachers.  "Naturally, I just wanted to fill you in on the nature of American education.  I'm sure something like this is quite different from schools where you came from."

     "I wouldn't know--I never attended school there.  Manish has been my only tutor since childhood.”

     "Manish?"

     "The rather tall gentleman who tied up my boat."  Rama grinned wryly.  "And with a teacher like that, believe me, I paid very close attention to my lessons."

     "I thought he was a servant or something."

     "Don't let him hear you say that!  The man has a multitude of degrees from universities in the Far East."  Taking in the scene before him, Rama observed uniformed, helmeted students charging and crashing into each other mid-field.  "Is this the version of football you mentioned?  Looks more like sumo wrestling!"

     The coach on the sidelines yelled at a boy who was huskier than the other players and made him sit on a wooden bench.  "That's my brother Brad," Loretta said proudly, leading Rama toward him.  "Let me introduce you."

     Annoyed at how she found ways to control the conversation, Rama nevertheless maintained a polite silence.  It was if Loretta had already made up her mind about him, and didn't care to hear anything that would contradict her views.

     While pondering all this, Rama chanced to spot an unusual figure jogging along the dirt track encircling the football field.  Though the jogger was at the opposite end of the field from him, Rama felt strangely compelled to stop and study this apparition.  Even from such a distance, he could tell the jogger was a girl, from her light gait and carriage.  But how old a girl was the question.  She was so small, much too small to be attending a school of this nature.  Did they allow children to use their athletic spaces, or--

     "Hey Rama!" Loretta called, waving for him to come over by her brother.

     Reluctantly turning his attention from the jogger, Rama went to the bench where Brad Trask was seated.  Taking off his helmet, Brad reached into a metal bucket at his feet, and tossed handfuls of water over his plump head.  So thick was his neck, it nearly butted against his uniform's shoulder pads.  The way his muscles strained against the uniform shirt, it was  plain he'd inherited his father's powerful physique. 

     "Brad's a sophomore now, but he was on the freshman team last year," Loretta blabbed, not giving Rama a chance to speak.  "The coach is letting him give pointers to this year's frosh players."

     "Yeah, gotta shape these wimps up," Brad said hoarsely, shaking the water off his shaggy hair the way a stray dog would.  "They'll need to be tougher than this to beat Cedarville High at that Bicentennial game."

     "How do you like our new neighbor?" his sister asked.

     Brad fixed Rama with a penetrating stare.  "I wasn't expecting a colored guy.  Thought he was from some Arab country."

     Rama's smile dropped.  "I am only half Arab, sir.  My father was East Indian, and I take after him--much the way you take after your father.  He too was overly concerned about my skin color."

     The coach called for Brad to return to practice.  Standing, Brad put his helmet on and adjusted its straps.  "Can't blame him for being cautious, dude."  He grinned wickedly.  "Hell, if you were any darker you'd pass for black!"

     Before Rama could react, Brad trotted back to the other players.

     Rama was fuming.  "Is your brother a sterling example of your 'progressive' education, Loretta?"

     "Don't take it to heart," the girl replied awkwardly.  "That's just how jocks are, always talking trash.  He didn't mean anything by it."  When Rama looked unconvinced, she tried making a joke of the situation.  "After all, we invented free speech in the States.  And when it comes to shooting off our mouths, we really practice what we preach!"

     "Yes, there's much here I'm not used to."  Rama wasn't in the least amused.  Fed up with the whole Trask family, he decided to cut this bogus interview short.  "Loretta, I don't think that--"

     A  commotion of high-pitched voices interrupted him.  Turning, Rama was pleasantly surprised to see a gang of teenage girls, all clad in yellow tee shirts and skimpy blue gym shorts, eagerly flocking around him.

     Rama couldn't help but laugh.  "Well, we never had anything  like this in the old country!"    

     "The girl's freshman  class!" Loretta announced, the young ladies laughing and clucking about Rama like excited hens.  "They must have heard I was bringing you over today."

     "Did we ever!" said one girl, practically drooling at Rama.

     "The whole school's been buzzing about an Arab prince coming to town," babbled another.  "But to see him in person!"

     "Yeah, he's right outta the Arabian Nights!" snickered someone else.

     Rama chuckled.  "Oh, I don't think I'd go that far.  It's true enough my grandfather was the headman of our old village, but as to being a prince--"

     He stopped when he saw something on the track straight ahead.  That jogger he'd observed earlier had turned the corner of the field and was now only a few yards away.  She evidently noticed him too, for she halted and stood staring in his direction.  He couldn't quite make out her face, but she wore the same gym clothes as the other girls, so was probably a member of this very class.  Yet there was something decidedly different about her.  Maybe it was her blonde hair, not long and wavy like the others, but cropped close to her head, almost like a boy's haircut.  Or perhaps it was the purple headband tied around her brow, adding to her boyish appearance.  Certainly she was much shorter in height than the rest of these girls...

     "Ah, you must be the famous Mr. Chandra," said an adult voice, as a woman toting a clipboard pushed through the crowd surrounding Rama.  "I'm Mrs. Turner, the girl's physical ed instructor.  They're all supposed to be running around the track right now, but, well, once they saw you there was no holding them back."

     "It appears my fame has preceded me," Rama said, concealing how he was far from pleased at having a ready-made reputation.

     Mrs. Turner nodded toward at Loretta.  "A certain junior on the school paper has been spreading the word about you since her father sold the McGregor place."

     "That explains everything." Rama sighed.  "I don't want to disappoint you people, but I doubt that I'll live up to your expectations--"

     "Loretta was right about one thing," chimed in a girl.  "She promised us a hunk, and she wasn't kidding!"

     With everyone laughing at this comment, Rama noted that the jogger was now moving fast toward them.  But she wasn't jogging this time.  She was moving in what looked like an angry stride, her arms swinging huffishly.

      The teacher distracted him.  "If you'd like to squelch any false rumors, Mr. Chandra, I could easily arrange to have you address the whole school.  We've been having guest speakers come to special lunch hour rallies in the auditorium--"

     "And they've all been boring," joked a student.  "That's why no one attends them!"

     "This one won't be dull," said another, gazing at Rama dreamily.

     "No, it'll just be stupid!"

     The loud, peculiar voice cracked through the hubbub of feminine chatter.  Everyone went silent at once.  Mrs. Turner looked embarrassed, but the girls were downright angry.  Loretta bit her lip, as if holding back a flood of foul language.  But all their eyes were finally turned from Rama to a diminutive shape standing just outside the crowd--someone wearing a purple headband.

     "Excuse me, please..."  Walking through the encircling teenagers, Rama at last got a closer view of the jogger he'd been watching from a distance. 

     He had to look down; the girl was no more than five feet tall, if she reached that far.  Green eyes blazed up at him out of a chubby-cheeked face, the freckles on those cheeks giving her an almost doll-like appearance.  Though not fat, there was still a slight plumpness to her figure, especially on her short legs, accented by lumpy, bony knees.

     Rama smiled broadly.  "Now who is our little friend?" he said, not knowing why that just slipped out of him. 

     "The mighty midget," somebody snarled.

     "Yeah, Joan of Arc in miniature," sneered another girl.

     "Our resident troll!" said yet another, even more bluntly.

     Surprised at the teacher's failure to rebuke such remarks, Rama turned to Mrs. Turner, only to see that her rage was directed at the jogger.

"What's the matter with you, Bess?" she snapped.  "Why weren't you with the other girls?"

     Not in the least intimidated, the jogger faced her squarely.  "I was going around the track like you told us to do."  She pointed at the others.  "Why don't you holler at them?  They're the ones who disobeyed you--so they could come and gawk at Mr. Macho!"

     Mrs. Turner glared at Bess.  "How dare you say that in front of our guest!"

     "What guest?  Nobody invited him.  I certainly didn't!  It's a disgrace that he's allowed here!”

     Before Mrs. Turner could respond, Rama spoke up.  "Wait, madam.  I do believe the young lady has mistaken me for someone else."  He looked at Bess.  "Miss, I can assure you that my name is Chandra--Rama Chandra--not Macho."

     The other girls giggled, but Bess was dead serious.  "It's not 'miss,' buster, it's 'ms'!  Ms. Bess Hawkins to you!  And I know full well who you are--the chauvinist creep who's moving in next door to us!"

     "Next door to you?"  Puzzled, Rama looked toward Loretta.  "I thought the only home close to mine was--"

     "It is," Loretta answered, as if ashamed.  "Bess...eh...Bess lives with us."

     "And you ought to teach your cousin a little self-control!"  Mrs. Turner said crossly.

     "That's just what Bess has got," jeered a girl.  "Little self-control!"

     "Why not?" piped in another.  "She's a little person--with a very little mind!"

     "There's no need for this!" interjected Rama, compelled to come to the small girl's defense.  He faced Bess again.  "Perhaps you have some misunderstanding about me, Miss Hawkins--"

     "Ms. Hawkins!" Bess corrected.  "And I know all I need to know about you!  You're from that country where they treat women like cattle!"

     "Oh no," groaned someone.  "Here we go again!"

     "It's the truth!" stated Bess.  "My mother wrote a whole chapter about his country!  Women have no rights at all there.  They can't go to school, they can't own property, they're not even allowed to drive!  And--and they have to walk around wearing veils--"

      "That's not entirely true," Rama said.  "I don't know what your mother wrote, but not all women are compelled to be veiled in public.  That varies from village to village.  As for the other things, it's true enough women there are not allowed as many privileges as they have here--"

     "Those aren't privileges, those are rights!" Bess interrupted.

     Rama wasn't at all shaken by her behavior.  "If you were in my old country, most women would argue with you on that point.  You have to remember, our ways are based on traditions that go back thousands of years.  Customs that have stood the test of time, because they keep families strong.  Back there, women don't even want some of the 'rights' you mentioned.  Especially driving.  They wouldn't know how to handle automobiles."  He chuckled.  "Since coming to America, I've heard it said that women shouldn't be allowed to drive here either!"

     The others broke into gales of laughter, infuriating Bess.  "Don't tell me you all agree with him!  If he had his way, every one of you would be chained to the kitchen stove your whole lives!"

     "This has gone far enough," said Mrs. Turner.  "Bess, you like to jog so much, you can do an extra five laps around the track.  The rest of you girls go do your normal rounds."

     Bess locked eyes with Rama, who just kept smiling at her.  There was an anger in her, all right, but one that went beyond animosity toward him.  Strong hurts buried deep inside.  As if realizing he was reading all this from her gaze, she turned abruptly and joined the other girls, who were already heading toward the track.

     "Be seeing you," a girl whispered into Rama's ear as she passed him.  Others kept casting doe-eyed glances in his direction as they jogged away, some waving good-bye to him.  He paid little attention to these.  His stare was fixed on Bess Hawkins, who was fighting to keep up with her swifter and more agile classmates.

     "Well, you appear to have created quite a sensation, Mr. Chandra," said the teacher.

      "This is so," he answered listlessly, not sure that he liked Mrs. Turner any better than the rest of them.  But she had given him an idea.  "I'd like to take you up on that suggestion you made earlier--about speaking to the school."

     "Why, that's excellent.  There are no speakers scheduled a week from today.  That's the last day of the school year.  I can arrange for it easily."

     "And just in time to get it into the final edition of the school paper," chimed Loretta.  "What a scoop!  I'll be the envy of the whole staff!"

     Irritated by Loretta's childishness, Rama ignored her.  "Then we're agreed.  This will be my way of 'clearing the air,' as you Americans say.  It is obvious that some people here have misconceptions about what I stand for."

     "Only one person," said Mrs. Turner, casting an irate glance toward Bess.  "You shouldn't take her seriously, Mr. Chandra.   Every school has its troublemaker.  Bess is our own pet nuisance."

     The rest of the class had already gone around the track once and were coming up behind Bess.  As they passed her, several girls took turns pushing Bess hard across the back, until she lost her footing and fell face down in the dirt.  Laughing, the girls continued on, leaving her behind.

     Rama was shocked.  "You saw that, Mrs. Turner!  Why don't you do something?"

     The teacher was unconcerned--even pleased.  "Yes, I think I will."  She strutted over to the fallen girl, who was slowly getting to her feet and brushing herself off.  "Come on, Bess, get your lazy butt in gear!"

     Bess wearily resumed her jog, the teacher following close behind shouting instructions.

     "That'll show her," Loretta stated happily.  "Come on, Rama.  I'll take you to the auditorium where you'll be speaking."

     Sickened by what he'd witnessed, Rama was in the mood to go right back to the docks, but thought better of it.  He needed to obtain information, but could only do so by playing along with Loretta.  They walked toward the school complex, and this time it was Rama who initiated the conversation.

     "This Bess Hawkins...Your cousin...You say she lives with your family?"

     "Unfortunately, yes.  Dad took her under his wing when her parents were killed in a car wreck two years ago."  Loretta shuddered.  "And it's been more like two centuries!  You just had a small taste of what she's like.  Can you imagine listening to that gibberish for two years?"

     Rama thought it could be no worse than Loretta's gibberish, but decided to use this to his advantage.  "Clearly your father must have some strong feelings toward Bess to...er...put up with her sharp tongue."

     "Pure sentiment.  Her mother was his only sister--his kid sister."

     "Bess said something about her mother--she'd written a book?"

     Loretta looked nauseated.  "Oh Lord, yes!  That awful book.  It was the biggest scandal to ever hit the family."

     "You make it sound like pornography!"

     "Worse.  One of those feminist propaganda pieces.  Grace Hawkins was a dyed-in-the-wool women's libber, and her daughter's every bit as bad!"

     "Women's libber?  I don't understand."

     "You haven't been in this country long enough.  You'll hear about them soon.  They're those fanatics who hate men--think that women ought to be equal in everything."

     "And you don't believe this yourself?"

     "Of course not."  Smiling, she gazed longingly at Rama, batting her long eyelashes.  "It's still a man's world, and I for one don't mind them being in charge.  Hey, if I'm in danger, I'd like a big, strong man there to rescue me!" 

     Rama nodded thoughtfully.  "And I'm sure you'll always have one, Loretta..."


 

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