They held a Council of War the following evening and asked Kat, Arabella and Pip to join them. First there was the unveiling of the feet, and this time Caroline was able to say, ‘I’m a hybrid,’ without even flinching. It was as if each time she said it, it made the reality less shocking, less shameful, and easier to bear. Then Pen and Teri introduced them to the basics about the Cabal, ETs, and so on. And finally Caroline told her story, with legal commentary from Pen.
‘Oh, you poor thing!’ said Pip.
‘Person,’ corrected Arabella.
‘Yes, of course,’ said Pip, blushing.
‘It hasn’t been that bad,’ said Caroline. ‘Many children have it much worse. My foster parents do love me, you know.’
‘But weren’t you lonely?’ asked Pip.
‘I was until recently,’ admitted Caroline, glancing at Teri.
‘And that horrible man in English Lit!’ said Kat. ‘We knew something wasn’t right there. What a snake!’
‘Totally vile,’ agreed Pip.
‘But I must say,’ said Arabella, ‘that I think your feet are quite beautiful, Caroline. Such an elegant shape.’
‘Now look here, can we…’ began Fran.
‘And the webs!’ continued Arabella, ‘What a stunning shade of blue!’
‘They’re gorgeous,’ agreed Pip, ‘All those modulations of blue and indigo and purple.’
‘You should wear that colour, Caroline,’ said Arabella. ‘It would be perfect against your skin tones.’
‘But right now,’ said Fran, ‘we have decide how to help Caroline come out of the closet.’
Silence fell, briefly.
‘A coming-out party!’ cried Arabella, to blank looks all round.
‘Oh really, Arabella, can’t you take this seriously?’ protested Fran.
‘I am taking it seriously. Why not a party? Everyone likes a party. We could invite the whole school.’
‘Look, the message needs to get out as widely as possible and as soon as possible. The obvious route is social media.’
‘Well yes, of course,’ agreed Arabella. ‘But why don’t we get the school involved? Get them all under one roof and tell them Caroline’s story, then they can go on Facebook and tell all their friends. They’ll have access to a whole range of age groups and interest groups, so they can spread it much wider and faster than we could do on our own.
‘We can’t do it at school,’ she continued, ‘because we’d just get into trouble and be stopped. It has to be outside the school but with everyone in attendance. So throw a party! Everyone will come.’
‘And that way it’s personal, too,’ added Pip. ‘They can say, “I was there, I heard her. She’s really nice, and she let me touch her feet.”’
‘But we could invite anyone,’ said Kat. ‘Why focus on the school?’
‘Well, if all the school kids are in the know,’ explained Arabella, ‘it will make Caroline much safer while she’s at the school. Surrounded by children who know the score, and want to protect her.’
‘Hang on a minute,’ said Pen, ‘You can’t expect children to protect Caroline from the Cabal.’
‘Well, I agree with Arabella,’ said Teri.
‘Thank you, Teri,’ said Arabella, beaming.
‘For several reasons,’ Teri continued, ‘Because if the English Lit Class had known about Caroline, Tom Price wouldn’t have had anything over her. Because if the Colonel sent someone to take her away, the kids would sound the alarm. And because our thoughts, expectations and intentions create our reality. If all the kids at the school are on Caroline’s side and want her safety, it will create a safer environment for her.’
‘I’m afraid that’s a bit too New Agey for me, Teri,’ said Pen.
‘Well, fair enough,’ said Teri. ‘But I’m with Arabella on this, anyway.’
‘Me too,’ said Pip.
‘And I think a coming-out party’s a fabulous idea,’ said Julia. ‘Sorry Fran, but I do. It makes perfect sense.’
‘In any case,’ said Teri, ‘It’s up to Caroline.’
‘It’s not just up to me, Teri,’ said Caroline.
‘Well it is, in the sense that it would be you standing up in front of all the kids and saying, “This is who I am and this is what I want and this is what I don’t want.”’
‘That’s right,’ said Pen. ‘You’d have to stand up for yourself in public.’
‘And not just in public – in front of all the kids you see every day,’ said Kat.
‘So what do you think, Caroline?’ asked Teri. ‘Would you be up for it?’
Caroline considered it for a minute or two. Finally she said, ‘Well, there’s little point in half-measures, is there? If I’m going to come out of the closet, I might as well do it properly.’
Arabella insisted on taking them shopping to buy a dress for the party.
‘Look,’ she said, ‘It’s true that you look stunning whatever you wear, Caroline. You’d look stunning in a roll of carpet. But this is a special occasion, and it’s time to don the full armour and knock ‘em dead. And since neither of you have any sense of style whatsoever…’
‘Cheek!’ said Teri.
‘… I’m coming with you as guide, mentor, and fashion dictator. I’m not asking you – I’m telling you, okay?’
Teri knew that in her own way Arabella was trying to make up for her former behaviour. She also knew that her old friend would be in her element, and have an absolute ball. So after talking it over with Caroline, they decided to let her take charge.
‘But no makeup!’ they told her. ‘That’s where we draw the line, okay?’
‘Oh, that’s a shame.’
‘No it isn’t,’ said Teri, ‘You know perfectly well that she doesn’t need it.’
So the three of them went shopping on the Saturday, and something that would have been stressful for Teri and Caroline on their own was surprisingly enjoyable with Arabella in charge. They’d walk into a boutique, Caroline would go to the changing room, Arabella would select the clothes and bring them to her, and Teri would provide moral support and feedback.
In the end they all fell in love with the same three-quarter length viscose dress, in a blue that matched the colour of Caroline’s eyes. The cut was simple but flowed lovingly over her gentle curves, and the skirt flared, allowing it to swing and swirl around her calves. There was a blue fluffy bolero to match. Neither was cheap, but Caroline had a healthy balance in her bank account, because so far in her life she’d never taken the slightest interest in clothes, shoes or jewellery, so her allowance had accumulated.
In an accessory shop, they found a necklace that looked like a ribbon of old gold, plus some blue fabric flowers – a large rose for her hair and two clusters of roses to jazz up her least frumpy pair of shoes.
At this point Arabella declared herself satisfied, and the others breathed a joint sigh of relief.
‘I hope you don’t mind me asking,’ said Arabella as they walked back to the bus stop, ‘But are you two an item? I just wondered. Tell me to mind my own business if you like.’
Teri and Caroline looked at each other, and smiled.
‘Yes,’ said Teri, ‘We are.’
‘Cool. And is it a secret, or can I tell the others?’
‘What do you think, Caroline?’ said Teri.
‘I don’t have a problem with it,’ said Caroline. ‘Do you?’
‘No. Not any more.’
And just like that, Teri came out of the closet.
They hired St Bart’s Church Hall for the occasion, and sent open invitations to every form in the school. They called it ‘Caroline’s Coming of Age Party” – which was fair enough, since her birthday was only three weeks away. And they hired a DJ, a band, and caterers.
‘Are you sure you can afford all this?’ asked Teri.
‘No problem. I hardly spend anything as it is,’ said Caroline. ‘But Teri, I’m worried about the Colonel and his friends. There hasn’t been a peep out of them, but they must know what’s going on. Tom Price knew what we were saying in my bedroom, so he must know about this.’
‘He seems to have disappeared, thank God,’ said Teri.
‘With no explanation,’ added Caroline. ‘Just that new teacher turning up out of the blue. It’s bizarre.’
‘It’s a big relief though. Look, I feel uneasy, too. But at the same time I know it’s all mind control – getting you to feel afraid if you go against them in any way, so you’re waiting for the sky to fall. They condition you to feel that way on purpose, so your expectations support their agenda.’
‘Yes, I do understand how it works, Teri. But understanding it doesn’t stop it from happening. I’m trying to be brave, honestly.’
‘You are being brave. And remember – we have protection.’
‘I wish I could be so sure.’
‘Alright clever clogs, so what are the chances of a hotshot lawyer who knows about the Cabal and ETs and hybrids turning up and offering to help us, just when we needed it? Eh? Tell me that.’
‘So you think the angels organised that, do you?’
‘And you don’t? Look, you’re the genius. What’s the probability of it happening purely by chance?’
A sheepish smile lifted a corner of Caroline’s mouth. ‘Oh, right… Millions to one, I suppose.’
‘Exactly. It’s called Synchronicity, and it means we’re on the right path, and we’re being looked after. So try to relax, sweetie. And trust. How’s the speech coming along?’
‘Oh, Kat’s great. I think we’re almost there. What amazes me is that none of your friends seem the least bit bothered about me being a hybrid. They’ve all just taken it in their stride. Do you know, I’m starting to think that maybe I could fit into human society after all.’
‘Of course you can, darling. Did you doubt it?’
‘Well, to be honest, Teri, I did… Yes, I did.’
‘Oh, sweetheart, don’t cry. Come here. Or rather, do cry. Let it out. That’s the way.’
The party came round all too fast, and the first half of the evening passed in a flash.
‘Teri, I don’t think I can do this,’ said Caroline. She was pale and sweating, her lips were trembling, and she’d been to the toilet half a dozen times. In her blue outfit she looked more like a goddess than ever, but a goddess in trouble.
‘Darling, of course you can do it,’ said Teri. ‘You’ve rehearsed it so many times it’s automatic. All you have to do is get yourself up in front of that microphone and open your mouth, and it will just happen. You’ll be just fine.’
But despite all that, it wasn’t exactly plain sailing. As she climbed the steps onto the platform Caroline was so nervous that she tripped and fell, grazing a knee and ripping a hole in the new dress. But somehow she managed to stumble to the mike and open her mouth. And after that – as Teri had predicted – it just happened.
‘Thank you all for coming along this evening,’ she began. ‘Especially since most of you don’t know me from a bar of soap. But I want to put that right by telling you a little bit about myself now.
‘First of all, I’ve never met my real parents or any of my relatives, and to be honest, I’ve been quite lonely for most of my life. My foster parents are kind people, and I’m lucky to have them – but we don’t have much in common. And I haven’t got any brothers or sisters. And we’ve moved so often it’s been difficult to make friends.
But there’s another reason for feeling lonely. You see, I have a secret, and ever since I was a little girl it’s been drummed into me that I must never, ever tell anyone what that secret is.’
There was absolute silence. She had everyone’s attention.
‘And I’ve kept that secret all my life. Until three weeks ago, when I let it out by accident. At first I felt dreadful about it, but since then I’ve started to think that perhaps it was a good thing, after all.
The first person I told was Teri. Then I told Fran and Julia and Fran’s mother, Pen. Then I told Arabella and Pip and Kat.
‘And you know, they have all taken my secret in their stride. I had thought it was such a terrible secret that anyone who found out about it wouldn’t want to know me any more. But they showed me that wasn’t true.
‘So I want to say thank you to those people. You’ve made me think that other people might come to accept me, too. And that it might be possible for me to live a normal life.’
At this point her voice cracked, and she stumbled to a halt.
But that’s fine, thought Teri. It just shows everyone that she has human feelings just like they do. So long as she can carry on.
And she did.
‘So I’ve had a bit of practice in telling my secret, now. But this is the big one, because tonight I want to tell all of you, all at once.
‘But first I need to ask you, do you want to hear my secret?’
Straight away, a group of First Year girls called out, ‘Yes!’ making everyone else laugh.
‘Well, some of you do, but I don’t know about the rest. So I’ll ask again. Do you want to hear my secret?’
This time there was a much bigger ‘YES!’ with even more laughter.
‘Okay. Is there anyone here who doesn’t want to hear my secret?’
‘Nobody. That’s cool. Well, before I tell you what it is, I want to show you something. Well, two things, actually. I want to show you my feet. Doesn’t sound very exciting, does it? But I think you’ll find them quite interesting. Could I have the First Year along the front of the platform here, please? That’s the way. After that the Second Year can come up for a look, and so on. Pip, can I have the spotlight now, please?’
And as the spotlight came on, Caroline took off her shoes and stepped into the circle of light. A hush fell on the room.
Finally it was broken by a First Year girl, asking in a breathless voice: ‘Are you an alien?’
And by Caroline replying in a clear, calm voice that carried to every corner of the hall: ‘No, I’m a hybrid.’
‘What’s a hybrid?’ piped up the next little girl along the row.
‘It means that one of my parents was an ET.’
‘You don’t look like an ET,’ said a third girl, conversationally.
‘Some ETs look like ordinary people,’ said Caroline.
‘You’re very pretty,’ said the second. ‘I wouldn’t mind being a… a what?’
‘A hybrid,’ said Caroline.
‘I wouldn’t mind being a hybrid if I was as pretty as you.’
‘Can I touch your feet?’ asked another.
And so it went.
The viewing of the feet took a long time, because everyone wanted to talk to Caroline or touch her feet or take photographs. And as time went on, Teri started to worry that the parents of the First Years would arrive to collect them before Caroline had a chance to say the rest of what needed to be said.
She looked around. Apart from Pip, who was manning the spotlight, the rest of the gang had dispersed around the room and were chatting. Nobody else seemed to realise the urgency of the situation. Teri felt a rising panic. Somebody had to do something about this – but who? It couldn’t be Caroline – she was still showing her feet to Year Four.
Oh, surely her guides didn’t expect her to do this herself? The very idea brought on an attack of stage fright, squeezing her bowels and making her feel sick. But straight away she heard herself saying to Caroline, ‘Of course you can do it. All you have to do is get yourself up in front of that microphone and open your mouth, and it will just happen. You’ll be fine.’ Oh, shit, she thought. If it’s true for her, it’s true for me, too. And she felt the amusement of her guides. Yes, very funny, she thought.
So there was nothing else for it. She took a deep breath, and trembled her way to the microphone.
‘Excuse me,’ she said. The microphone shrieked, every eye turned upon her, and the bile rose to her mouth. But she forced herself to continue. ‘Excuse me everyone. There’s something I need to say. Can you stop talking, please, just for a moment, and listen to me?’
The noise simmered down to a murmur.
‘Thank you. There are a couple of things that Caroline hasn’t said yet, and I want to make sure you hear them before anyone has to go.
‘The first thing is, the people who arranged for Caroline to be born think she belongs to them, and that they can do anything they like with her. So they might try to kidnap her and do experiments on her, or even worse things than that. It’s completely against the law, but these people are used to breaking the law and getting away with it. Now, we don’t want that to happen to Caroline, do we?’
‘No!’ called out a group of First Years.
‘I’ll try that again. We don’t want that to happen to Caroline, do we?’
‘NO!’ and the shout came from every corner of the room.
‘Good. I’m glad to hear it. So if you see any suspicious characters around the school, please report them to the school secretary, or come and tell one of us.
‘The other thing I have to say is even more important. We need to make sure that Caroline’s secret is not a secret any more. Because the more people who know about it, the safer she’s going to be. So I want you to do something for Caroline when you get home tonight. I want you to get on Facebook and tell all of your friends, all of your family, everyone you know. And post pictures of Caroline’s feet, and pictures of you and Caroline together. And if you do that, you will be helping to make her safe.
‘Thank you, everybody. There’s going to be more music now, so please enjoy the rest of your evening.’
Well now, said her spirit guides, that wasn’t so bad, was it?
Final part soon
© Sue J Davis 2016
Please see Copyright Notice on the ‘About’ page.