She lay face down on her bed, clutching her pillow over the back of her head, and moaned, “It’s useless. Useless!”
In the hallway outside her bedroom, Brianna’s mom had the linen closet open and was stacking sheets in it: Bri could smell the lavender water from here as her mom sprayed it onto layer after layer. And for the moment, the light clean scent infuriated her. Her mother’s compulsive housewifeliness didn’t usually bother Brianna so much except at moments like this, when the world was ending, and how nice the sheets smelled wasn’t even slightly germane.
“Sweetie,” her mom said, “maybe you should just wait a few days and ask him again.”
“It wouldn’t help,” Brianna muttered. “He’d just get the idea I really wanted to do this project with him.”
“Yes, but you do really want to do this project with him.”
“That’s not the point!!”
From out in the hall came the perhaps understandable long silence as her mother tried to parse this statement. Unfortunately Brianna had noticed that her logic and her mom’s sometimes just didn’t intersect, and occasionally serious annotation became necessary. “If I ask him again,” Bri said, pulling the pillow up a little so she wouldn’t have to shout, “he’ll tell everybody that I was desperate. It’ll be all over school. My rep will never recover.”
“Which rep are we talking about, honey?” her mother said, pausing to spray some more lavender water, and then to sneeze. Her mom was allergic to lavender, which always added a slightly surreal quality to this operation in Brianna’s eyes.
“My reputation as an independent kid who doesn’t need anybody’s help to get the job done!”
“Well, you don’t, if you ask me. So do it without him. If he’s not smart enough to want to pair up with you on this science fair thing — ”
“Parascience, please, Mom! This is not just people fussing around with anemometers and toy erupting volcanoes: it’s going to be the main event of Heritage Week!” Though she had seen Carol Anne Naylor’s plan for a real miniature exploding volcano, genuine magma and all, and had been consumed by envy at not having thought of it first. If it worked, it would be terrific, and even if it malfunctioned, that could still potentially be desperately cool. After all, there was never any guarantee when you were working with a fire elemental, even a baby one, that it wouldn’t get out of hand —
Another few sneezes came from outside, and then the sound of her mother shutting the linen cupboard. A few seconds later her mom came in and sat down on the bed beside Brianna, smelling strongly of lavender. “All right,” she said to Brianna, “I’m missing something here. What exactly is it that makes Arthur Etchison so necessary to what you’ve got in mind?”
His eyes. His shoulder muscles. His haircut. His – But there was no point in getting into this line of reasoning with her mother. Brianna pulled the pillow up over her head again, this time with reason, as she was blushing again. It was the curse of her life: she had always been an easy blusher, and this year when Arthur arrived at school from England, an exchange student, yes, and I’d exchange any ten of our guys for one of him, he is just so — Brianna moaned again, feeling like her face should just about be able to scorch the sheets under it at this point. “Mom, it’s just such a good idea! He’s the King of Shop: he’s got a way with metal, it listens to him. You should see him under the hood — ” Wouldn’t I like to get under his hood!! said one completely unrepentant part of her mind: in response, the blush scaled right up to blowtorch level. She started talking faster, hoping to distract herself. “And nobody, nobody else has even thought about doing anything with the paraphysics of magic swords. Everybody’s all hung up on organics this year, the specific gravity of potions and catalytic thaumachemistry. Or else this vague paperwork stuff, diagramming hexes, the structural analysis of spells.” She waved a hand from under the pillow. “Airy-fairy stuff where nothing’s likely to blow up or make a mess. Nothing concrete. Nothing practical.”
Her mother sat quiet for a moment. “Okay,” her mom said. “So if you can’t ask him again to help you, what are you going to do?”
Brianna was tempted to cover her head with the pillow again… except that wouldn’t help her solve the problem. “Think of some other project?” she said after a moment.
And she does. Then matters ensue which are not merely hilarity.
A lot of good company in this anthology: Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Laura Resnick, Jody Lynn Nye, Esther Friesner, Debra Dixon… Worth a look, I’d say.