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Chaperones, Echoes, and Plans Gone Awry

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This class trip to the living history museum several towns over had sounded like a lot more fun before Allison’s dad signed up to be a chaperone.  When Lydia’s mom announced that she’d also be coming, even though she was the science teacher, it seemed like just another nail in the coffin of what had been going to be a great day.  Kira reminded them that she and Scott weren’t exactly going to be making out in corners with her dad around, either, but it didn’t really make them feel any better.  It just made Lydia even more determined to find a way to make the day as good as they’d originally hoped it would be.  Luckily, the museum’s website had a map of the grounds, and she could plan ahead.

On the bus ride, all of their group was very well behaved.  They sat in couples, but they kept their hands off of each other and even tried not to talk too loudly.  Lydia was just biding her time, waiting until they could get to the museum, a late 18th-century mission that still operated more or less like it had in its heyday.  Or, at least, if you ignored the fact that its operators liked to pretend the Native Americans who had worked there weren’t slaves and that what had happened to them was “education” instead of genocide, it was running like it had in the past.  More importantly, it was large and sprawling, and there would be room for her to work. There was a glint in Malia’s eye that suggested she was having similar thoughts - which Lydia could work with, frankly.  It would be a good distraction to have Malia making trouble, and then she and Allison could sneak out from under the watchful eyes of their parents.

Chaos reigned the moment they all got off the busses.  The entire junior class was here, and as they poured out of multiple busses into a single crowd, previously-established groupings vanished.  The chaperones struggled to restore order and get everyone back into their groups by class period, while Dr. Yukimura tried to get a head count in spite of the constant motion around them.  For a moment, Lydia thought she and Allison could just vanish now, without all her plans, but then Mr. Argent appeared behind them, seeming to materialize out of the crowd as soon as she thought about making a break for it.  Lydia hid her disappointment and reminded herself that at least she still had a plan.

More problematic was the buzz she could feel underneath the noise of her classmates.  Thousands of people had died here, and died angry and broken and sad, torn from their families and forced into a life they’d never wanted.  Their voices weren’t speaking, precisely, but with so many, it was impossible for her not to feel that they were there.  Even so, she thought it could be manageable.  If they stayed a buzz or a hum instead of becoming clear, she would be ok.  And even if she wasn’t, she’d put her best face on it.  Nothing and nobody got the best of Lydia Martin, not even the echoes of genocide.

The chaos gradually reorganized itself as Dr. Yukimura and the other parents asserted their authority over the situation.  The teens regrouped to stay within range of their assigned chaperones, then everybody moved into the museum’s welcome center.  They were met by a smiling tour guide in a friar’s robes.  He was all high energy and smiles, and Lydia bet he went over great with elementary schoolers.  Now, his overexcited greeting was met with a chorus of groans.  She smirked in spite of herself.  This wasn’t part of the plan, but it was going to make the other students more restless, and take some attention off her and Allison - another thing she could work with.

At the end of the guide’s introductory speech, he announced that they’d be taking a bathroom break before they got started, since he knew they’d had an hour-long drive to get here.  Lydia struggled to hide her grin - she hadn’t accounted for this, but it actually made her plan work even better.  Her plan involved a carefully-timed bathroom break later in the day, and now it was less likely that one of the other girls would have to tag along.  Better and better!

As Allison started toward the already-forming line in front of the ladies’ room, Lydia grabbed her girlfriend’s arm to stop her.  "Lydia Martin,” she announced decidedly, “Does not wait in lines.  If we have to go, we’ll do it later.”  She hadn’t told Allison her plan, just that she had one, but her girlfriend knew her well enough to recognize this as part of the plan.  Anything that required use of the persona she’d created around herself, instead of just being herself, had to be part of a plan.  And they both knew it.  Allison nodded, and they went off to talk to the boys until the guide-sponsored bathroom break was over.

As soon as they stepped outside of the new building, the fancy modern lobby that had been added when they turned this place into a museum, the voices intensified from a buzz into a murmur, and Lydia had to stop for a moment to catch her breath.

"You ok?"  Allison asked, worry evident in her voice.

Lydia forced herself to smile.  ”Yeah, fine.”

Allison’s dad drifted closer to them again, quiet, but clearly focused on both girls.  He wanted them to know he was keeping an eye on the banshee.  But Lydia wished he wouldn’t.  This was going to make things harder, and while she appreciated the hunter’s concern, she didn’t need it.  She started walking faster, swiveling her hips subtly so that her skirt swirled around her and made her look like that bratty kid she’d always been, like she hadn’t a care in the world.

The farther they went into the museum, the worse the voices got, but now that she knew Mr. Argent was watching, Lydia was extra careful not to let anything show on her face, even as her head began to ache.  Once they’d reached the key point, the place halfway between the museum’s exhibits in the main cluster of buildings and the exhibits out in the fields where they were farthest from a bathroom and would have to leave the group completely to find one, she could get them their freedom.  And then maybe she’d ditch the things she’d meant to go see and they’d go back to the bus.  Making out with her girlfriend was probably the best cure for her headache anyway.

She’d done all her research and planned everything to the second, but she still wasn’t prepared for the force the voices hit her with when they stepped into the monjerío.  The voices of the dead were louder here, and there were more of them, but the worst part was that among the women who had died here, crammed into too small a space with too little sanitation and too much disease, there had been several banshees.  The voices in this room didn’t murmur, and they didn’t speak.  They screamed, and she doubled over with the force of it.  Mr. Argent was beside them in an instant, though luckily her mother was distracted by a rowdier group of students at the other end of this big crowd.  As one of their two actual teachers, she was in charge of a lot more people than chaperones like Mr. Argent.  And as long as her mother didn’t figure out something was up, everything else would be salvageable.

She meant to tell him that it was just her banshee hearing and she’d be alright in a moment, but what she actually heard herself gasping out through the sudden pain in her head was “I have to go to the bathroom.”  No!  Her mind rebelled for a moment.  This wasn’t the right time, and she wasn’t sure she could get away with another bathroom break later if she took one now.  But then the voices, suddenly aware that someone was listening grew even louder and she knew she was going to throw up if she didn’t get out from under them.  Her plan might be falling apart, but it felt like her head was too, and maybe there were more important things to worry about than trying to kiss Allison at the top of the bell tower.

Mr. Argent nodded, and he and Allison helped her toward where a modern restroom had been built onto the building in the latest renovations.  Lydia leaned into both of them, feeling vaguely ashamed of herself for falling apart so fast.  But the feeling of death here was stronger than she’d felt in a long time, maybe ever, and even if it was old death, it still carried meaning, and meaning enough to hurt.

Mr. Argent let go of her outside the restroom door and Allison helped her the rest of the way inside.  ”Are you going to throw up?  Do you need water?” Allison asked, a careful, trained calm in her voice that reminded Lydia just how well she’d placed her faith in the other girl when she picked her for a friend.  She’d always had a cool head in times of an emergency, and all of a sudden, this felt like one.  Lydia staggered her way toward the sinks and grabbed the side of one, leaning into it and looking into the mirror to try to find herself again.

Her hand itched suddenly, like it needed to be writing, like the compulsions that had made her draw tree after tree after tree a few months ago.  ”Lipstick,” she gasped, gripping the sink tighter.  “Now.”

Allison nodded, digging through the purse on Lydia’s shoulder until she found one of the tubes of lipstick Lydia carried with her.  It was one of her nicer ones, and she refused to take it, shaking her head.  ”Cheap kind.  For the mirror.”  Her hand was itching worse now, shaking like it was about to start moving on its own, writing implement or no writing implement.  But she wasn’t about to use her good makeup to write on the walls.  Not while she had some control over the situation.

Allison handed her a different tube of lipstick a moment later, and Lydia gave in to the urge in her fingers, starting at the top of the mirror and writing until she ran out of space and had to start over on the wall itself.  Some of the words were Spanish, but more of them were in a language she didn’t even recognize, probably the native language of the women who had been brought here.  She suddenly realized with a wave of guilt that she didn’t even know what tribes they had come from.

Allison’s dad shouted in from outside, “Should I go get her mom?”

Lydia shook her head frantically.  ”She doesn’t know about banshees,” she said as she continued to write, voices in her head calmer now that they were being expressed, albeit in words she didn’t understand and through writing she couldn’t control.

Allison nodded.  ”Anyone else?  We could get Kira or Malia in here to see if they can read it or if they know what could help you.”

Lydia shook her head.  ”Just tell your dad to come in.  We’re the only ones in here and… frankly, if we stay together long enough he’ll practically be my dad, too.”

Allison nodded, stopping for a moment to kiss Lydia’s forehead before she went to the door and let her dad in.

It was almost a relief when Mr. Argent took charge of the situation, having Allison take pictures of the words with her phone before he washed them away, hoping they could avoid both getting in trouble with the museum staff and getting caught with whatever secrets were there to be uncovered in translation.

It was definitely a relief that Mr. Argent was there when she reached the end of the wall, the end of the message, and the end of her strength all at once.  Listening like this took its toll on her, and at the end, she collapsed.  Mr. Argent picked her up like it was nothing, holding her up off the bathroom floor.  ”You weigh even less than Allison,” he commented.

Lydia had the strength left to roll her eyes.  ”That’s because I’m shorter, Mr. Argent,” she explained impatiently.  Behind her, Allison rolled her eyes too.  Dads could be so tactless sometimes, but he meant well.

He also called Dr. Yukimura to tell him Lydia wasn’t feeling well and that he was taking the girls back to the bus to wait for the rest of them.  When Dr. Yukimura suggested that Mr. Argent stay with Lydia and send Allison to join the rest of the class, he’d lied to the teacher and said that he thought Allison might be coming down with whatever had made Lydia sick, and Lydia suddenly felt like she’d won the man’s approval somehow.

She hadn’t meant to spend half of the day sleeping on the bus, but she’d never complain about half a day spent curled up in her girlfriend’s arms.  And it was nice to think her girlfriend’s family liked her, even if “family” just meant “father” these days.  Falling asleep against Allison on the extra-long seat at the back of the bus, she decided that as much as her plans had been foiled, and as much as whatever message she’d gotten today was going to cause trouble, it had turned out not to be such a bad class trip as it might have been.  Allison kissed her forehead again just as she was drifting off, and even the fuzzy, shadowed things echoing through her dreams couldn’t keep the smile off her face.