it! Right now!"
The voice cut through all conversation at Denver International's
Gate B46. Every face turned toward the center of the waiting area.
"Doesn't your mother ever make you behave?"
The harsh words, at odds with the man's conservative business suit,
were aimed across the aisle at two children fighting for an armrest.
The boy, who looked to be about nine, and the girl, perhaps a few
years younger, shared the same fair skin and auburn hair.
"Put your hands in your laps!"
The children, both neatly dressed, glanced at each other.
"Now!" their father ordered, oblivious to the watching
eyes and the growing silence around him.
The children obeyed.
He leaned forward, pointing a finger. "When you get off that
plane, you tell your mother just how badly you behaved this week!
Do you understand?"
Both children nodded.
He glared at them for a long moment, then took a newspaper from
the seat next to him, shook it open, and snapped it once to take
out the creases. He raised the paper, making a wall between him
and the children, and began reading. Bystanders looked uncomfortably
at each other, glanced at the now-still children, and turned away.
Rachel Scott, waiting in line at the check-in counter, did not look
away. She saw the boy reach his right hand across his body and,
from his hip, pull out a long, imaginary sword, point it at the
newspaper, and slash a Z into the back of the pages. Young Zorro
triumphantly slammed his sword back into its sheath, then grinned
at his sister. She giggled.
The newspaper jerked down, but the two children were staring straight
ahead, hands in their laps, all humor gone. With no excuse to reprimand
them, their father could only glare at them.
Little survivors, Rachel thought. He hadn't been able to break them.
A tall girl with chestnut hair hurried into the waiting area for
Gate B46 and stopped next to Rachel. "You won't believe what
I found at the newsstand!"
Rachel looked into the green eyes that were now level with her own.
This was taking some getting used to, she thought. The child who'd
fallen asleep on her shoulder a thousand times was now 5-foot-7
and pretty enough to turn heads when she walked through a crowd.
"What did you get?"
"The absolute best movie encyclopedia!" Clare held up
a thick, paperback book. "Every movie ever made is in here!
And there's an index for all the stars and directors!"
"Great," Rachel said, "but I don't need it. Whenever
I want to know something, I just ask you."
"I don't know everything."
"Oh? Who was in Cimarron Star?"
"Robert Hutchins and Julia Morrison," Clare shrugged.
"With John Fletcher as the bad guy."
"And who directed Yesterday Lost? Michael Isaacs or Aaron Whitfield?"
Clare laughed. "Too easy. Give me something harder."
"What year was Mr. Paradise made?
"Trick question. Made in '81 but not released until '84 because
the studio went bankrupt."
Rachel smiled. "My daughter, the walking encyclopedia."
Visibly pleased, Clare began skimming through the book. Rachel looked
past her daughter at the children sitting in obedient silence. So
familiar, she thought. Too familiar.
At the first boarding call, their father tossed the newspaper onto
the next chair and stood up. His children understood the implicit
command and got up, pulled their knapsacks from under their seats,
and followed him to the gate.
At the door to the jetway, their boarding passes were checked and
handed to the father, who gave the ticket folders to the boy. "Don't
lose these or they'll throw you off the plane." The little
girl moved a half-step closer to her brother. Rachel was aware that
Clare was now watching.
One of the gate attendants, a short woman with a round, friendly
face, stepped forward and said to the father, "Good morning.
I'll take them on board and get them settled for you."
"Wonderful." The word was loaded with sarcasm. Rachel
couldn't guess his business, but she was sure that his secretary
"And who will be meeting them in Los Angeles?" The gate
attendant's tone was determinedly pleasant.
"Their mother's supposed to be there. If she doesn't show up,
I guess they're your problem."
The gate attendant turned to the children. "Do you live in
They said they did.
"Good! So, if the pilot needs any directions, he can come back
and ask you?"
"Oh, yes," the little girl nodded confidently.
"Excellent, I'll tell him that."
The gate attendant looked at the father, then stepped back so that
he could give his children a hug or kiss good-bye.
"Do what you're told. And try not to be little jerks,"
he said, then turned and walked away. The gate attendant stared
at his back for only a second; then she smiled at the children and
took the little girl's hand. "Off we go," she said, and
the three of them headed down the ramp.
"Wow!" Clare said softly. "Is that guy human?"
"Barely," Rachel replied, watching to see if the father
would look back. He turned a corner and disappeared.
"I hope their mother's nicer to them than he is," Clare
"I guess we'll know in a couple of hours."
A few minutes later, mother and daughter boarded the flight and
found their seats in Row 22, across the aisle from the children.
The little girl was in Seat A, next to the window, and her brother
was in Seat B. On the armrest between them lay an open picture book.
The boy was reading aloud.
"'The children waited in the classroom for Miss Johnson, and
they waited and they waited ...'"
But his sister wasn't looking at the book - she knows every word
and picture by heart, Rachel guessed - instead, the little girl
was watching the passengers walking past them. Sitting alone among
strangers, it was the reassurance of her brother's voice that was
important, and Rachel was sure that the boy intuitively understood
The flight attendants began counting passengers, checking seat belts,
and closing overhead storage bins. The boy adjusted his sister's
seat belt so that it would fit, but let her click the belt together.
A caretaker, Rachel thought. In loco parentis. In place of parent.
"Do you have our tickets?" the little girl asked her brother.
"Are you sure?"
The boy reached forward, pulled his knapsack onto his lap, and showed
his sister the tickets sticking out of a side pocket. "Don't
worry, they won't throw us off. He said that just to scare us."
"Are you sure?"
"I'm sure." He put a finger under each eyebrow and raised
them, then rolled his eyes down until only the white of each eye
showed. "Would I lie to you?" he asked. His sister laughed.
The distraction game, Rachel thought. He already knew how to play
A loudspeaker hummed overhead and the pre-flight announcements began
as the plane rolled back from the gate and headed out to the runway.
A lull in the morning air traffic resulted in almost immediate clearance
for takeoff. Engines roaring, the plane accelerated, lifted off,
and began its climb.
Rachel looked to her right, where Clare remained immersed in her
encyclopedia. The similarities between mother and daughter were
unmistakable, Rachel thought, same hair, same eyes, same smile,
and, by a quirk of fate, the same birth date - May 14. Tomorrow,
Clare would turn 16 and Rachel 41. They took turns deciding how
to spend their annual shared day, and this year, because odd-numbered
years were Clare's choice, they were going to Los Angeles. For a
girl who loved the movies, three days of studio tours, seeing movie
sets, learning about special effects, and keeping a lookout for
movie stars was the perfect birthday.
Rachel understood her daughter's attraction to films; it was logical.
And yet she hadn't been surprised when she overheard a friend of
Clare's ask, "Wouldn't you love to be a famous actress?"
And beautiful Clare, horrified, had replied, "Never!"
She had been spared the actor's appetite for anonymous affection,
the "look-at-me" need to be on-stage. But Clare could
talk about genres, dialogue, and camera angles as if she'd grown
up in Beverly Hills instead of Boulder, Colorado.
Clare was making the teenage years look easy, Rachel thought. In
place of the usual anxieties, there was humor and enthusiasm. Rachel
was enjoying her daughter's transition from girl to woman.
During the past year, Clare's thoughts and observations had deepened.
Without the usual teenager's self-absorption, she was able to look
outside herself. Sorting through the words and actions of the people
around her, Clare would piece together personalities, characters,
and motives. "Sometimes it all fits together," she said.
And despite her age, her perceptions were often acute.
The plane leveled off at its cruising altitude and Rachel glanced
across the aisle, where the engines' heavy droning had already done
its trick: Brother and sister were lost in the heavy sleep of children,
her head resting against his shoulder.
Rachel regarded them for several minutes, then from under the seat
in front of her, she pulled out her purse. She unzipped a side compartment
and withdrew a small, black-and-white photograph. In the picture,
a boy and girl, younger than the two across the aisle, were posed
stiffly against a high, white fence. Clare looked up and saw the
photo in her mother's hand. She craned her neck to see it better.
"Who are they?"
"Your uncle and me."
"No!" Clare peered at the boy and girl who wore bathing
suits and wary smiles. The photographer's shadow stretched to their
"That's not you," Clare concluded. "The eyes are
too different. That girl looks so angry - like she's mad at everyone."
"It's me, and I was mad at everyone."
"How old were you?"
"So Uncle Ron was eight?"
"What were you so mad about?"
"Everything, and everyone."
"You've never talked to me about your childhood."
"But you must think about it sometimes."
"I do - a lot, in fact."
"Why haven't you told me about it?"
"You were too young."
"Now I think you're old enough."
(End of excerpt)