The best thing about having a little brother, Sylvia thought, was that it provided a live-in homework buddy.
Zap made life feel somewhat normal.
“I decided I don’t like long division,” he confessed to his sister.
“But, Zap! Long division is amazing! What don’t you like about it?”
“I always feel bad for the remainders,” he said.
She chuckled. She had to admit he was pretty funny.
“Ok, then,” she asked him. “Figure this: Why do I always do multiplication exercises while sitting on the bed?”
“Um. Because multiplication gives you a stiff neck?”
“No, silly. Because the teacher told me not to use tables!”
“Stop!” He yelled between belly laughs. “You’re killing me!”
“Sylvia!” her ma called up the stairs. “Isn’t it time for your lesson with the Count?”
“Let us just finish our homework,” Sylvia called back, “and then I’ll go!”
But half an hour later, when she left, she didn’t head up the hill to the Straud estate. Instead, she walked through the courtyard to the edge of town to the light rail stop, where she hopped on the Windenburg Express.
Half an hour after that, she met Aylin in the New Town café.
Aylin entered smiling, as if it were no big deal that Sylvia ditched her lesson with the Count to meet with her, as if every girl had the right to choose her own teacher, traverse her own path, and toss aside a heritage that simply did not fit.
“I don’t know how you do it,” Sylvia said. “Come in here all cool and calm, like we’re not some kind of fugitives or anti-historical rebels!”
“But we’re neither,” Aylin said. “What a strange thing to say!”
“It’s not,” said Sylvia. “I totally ditched the Count to come here. I skipped my lesson! My ma doesn’t even know I’m here, and if she found out, I’d be grounded for life!”
Sylvia felt a thrill. She’d never done anything bad–ever, really. And the idea of being grounded! Then sneaking out through the garret window and climbing down the drain pipe while her ma and papa were otherwise occupied down in the cellar–it seemed romantic, like something out of a novel. For a moment, maybe for the first time in her life, Sylvia felt like the heroine of her own life.
“What makes you assume that one must always follow the wishes of one’s parents–or one’s elders, Sylvia?” Aylin asked. “Why, when I was young… or even now. Do you think that everyone in my life has always approved of everything I’ve done?”
Sylvia considered it for a moment. “I don’t think I’ve never known an actual rebel,” she said.
“It’s not being a rebel that’s the important thing,” Aylin said. “It’s following your own interests, not the interests that others think up for you.”
“I’m interested in math,” Sylvia said. “How does that fit with who I am and what I’m supposed to be?”
“I was interested in cooking,” replied Aylin, “despite the fact that I cannot eat mortal food. I’m interested in fitness, despite having supernatural strength. I’m interested in learning, despite possessing encyclopedic knowledge. So what did I do? I learned to cook. I studied yoga and dancing. I seek out mentors–even human ones. I do things because I want to, Sylvia, not because I have to.”
It was a lot to take in. Aylin’s gaze felt mesmerizing. Sylvia struggled to keep her eyes open.
Aylin nodded towards a couch in a corner of the café.
“Go. Lie down and rest,” she said. “I’ll still be here when you wake.”
Sylvia closed her eyes, imagining a younger Aylin standing in Virabhadrasana II. The scent of onion and ginger, sautéing in olive oil, wafted through her dreams, mixing with equations that described the rate of aroma dispersal through the atmosphere.
Laughter flowed. And while she dreamed, she heard voices.
“Being a detective’s not like that at all! No glamour, no sexy music or fast cars. Just long, long hours, following up on missing person’s reports.”
Missing persons–She latched onto the phrase. Oh, God! Her ma and papa would have noticed by now that she wasn’t home. How late was she? And the Count! What would he tell Ma about her not even showing? Whatever it was, she was sure it wouldn’t be good and that the word “hillbilly” would be tossed in there somewhere!
“You look worried, Sylvia,” Aylin said to her as she sat up, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
“It’s the cop,” whispered Sylvia. “Is she looking for me?”
“No, of course not!” Aylin replied. “She is on the missing person’s beat. But you’re not missing! You’re here with me! Why, you’ve stayed out all night before, haven’t you?”
“Good. Then there’s nothing to worry about. Your parents won’t even begin to worry unless you don’t show up after school. Which, of course, you will, right?”
“Excellent,” said Aylin. “In that case, why don’t you go introduce yourself to the detective, so you can see there’s no need for concern? Otherwise, you’ll just worry all through the school day, and that wouldn’t do for a young mathematician.”
Sylvia took a deep breath and headed out to say something to the detective, who was just leaving.
Her badge glared like a sun.
Sylvia had never spoken to a police officer before, let alone a detective.
“Eh, nice night!” she said.
“It is indeed,” said the detective, “if you’re inside, surrounded with others, in a safe place where nothing bad ever happens. But if you’re walking alone on the street… well, let’s just say, strange things have been happening.”
The detective didn’t stay to elaborate, and Sylvia felt relieved to see her retreat down the sidewalk.
Sylvia and Aylin stayed and talked some more. Aylin told more stories, and each one seemed to hinge around facing things: fear; worry; dread; conflict; anxiety. Facing them, rather than turning away. Sylvia thought about angles of refraction: A direct wave contained more power.
A pale sheen rose in the east–soon it would be day. Sylvia had just enough time to catch the morning Loogaroo Express and walk into her first class with the bell.
She willed the light rail to travel slowly, for she had much to ponder.
Author’s Note: Many thanks to Xantheanmar for providing the details of Aylin’s explorations in learning and for sharing Aylin with our Sims and story.