Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Rambunctious Adventures of Jalasso Pei, part one


Jalasso had hoped the additional insulation and pricey soundproofing of her room would do the job. She needed it to muffle steady footfalls and shoe squeaks, to dampen the sharp smacks of tennis balls bouncing off the floor, and to smother her outraged cries as Miranda scored sneaky points.

And maybe it had worked. But even so, even the best soundproofing did nothing to hide a shattered bedroom window. Especially when the bright yellow tennis ball Jalasso had so terribly mishit sailed out that window, a shimmering trail of glass in its wake. Not when the spherical missile fell in bright noontime daylight four stories to the family estate’s vast green lawn. And not when the blasted thing then bounced, hopped, and rolled to a stop only a few yards from where her mother stood, discussing the details of Jalasso’s upcoming birthday lawn party with the groundskeeper.

As Jalasso stood looking out the windows and saw her mother’s beautiful pale moon of a face turn and look up at her angrily, she knew she would never be able to talk her way out of this one.

“So is that the match?” Miranda asked from over Jalasso’s shoulder as they watched Mrs. Pei walk stiffly toward the house.

Jalasso leapt down from the window seat and yanked one of the long, flowing curtains over the broken window. The wind outside gusted, pulling the curtain toward the jagged hole in the glass.

“What do you think, Miranda?” Jalasso asked testily, looking around the room at the obvious damage their game had caused.

“I think yeah,” Miranda said in a light tone. “But I’m just saying . . .”

Jalasso barely heard her. She had begun to run around her enormous bedroom, righting objects knocked over during the game, kicking stray tennis balls into her garage-sized walk-in closet, tucking the racquet she had been using under the mattress of her canopy bed. She did all this by force of habit, because she knew full well she could never get that window fixed before her mother made the long trek up to the fourth floor and down the long corridors toward the wing of the house that contained Jalasso’s bedroom. Besides, how would she ever have explained the ball? And all that glass outside? The makeshift net of antique afghan throws strung between two Chippendale chairs in the middle of the room?

Suddenly, she spun back toward Miranda, who still stood by the window, her racquet gripped lightly in her left hand. She glared. “You’re just saying what?” Jalasso asked suspiciously.

Miranda shrugged. “You’re down a set.”

Jalasso’s mouth fell open in astonishment. “What a cheap win!” she exclaimed. “That’s what it means to you when my mother’s about to come in here and revoke all my court privileges for the rest of the spring?”

Miranda tried to look hurt, but the expression was so unnatural for her that she looked instead like she was just recovering from a bad sneeze. “Like you wouldn’t! You’re still counting that game when I had an allergic reaction to that bee sting!”

For a moment, Jalasso forgot about the impending doom of Mrs. Pei. “That was totally fair,” she said. “Forfeiting for medical reasons.”

“My throat was going to close up!” Miranda yelled.

Jalasso threw her hands in the air. “So you made the right decision!”

Miranda grinned triumphantly. “So now it’s your turn,” she said. “Do we continue the game, or are you going to forfeit?”

Jalasso jumped up and down several times in frustration. She stomped her feet. “Why can’t we play it later?” she whined.

Miranda looked at her bare wrist as if she had a watch on it. “It’s match time now.”

Jalasso stopped suddenly and let her shoulders drop. She felt defeated, and she wanted just to fall down on the floor.

“Forfeit?” Miranda asked. She twirled her racquet in her hand.

Jalasso looked up at her sometime-friend and her small face broke into a grin. Her dark eyes glared up from under her choppy bangs. “Fine,” she said, “we’ll play. It’s still your serve.”

It was Miranda’s turn to look sincerely outraged. “What?” she asked. “We can’t play now! Your mom is coming up here to ground you for the rest of forever.”

Jalasso feigned an unconvincing look of innocence. “We can’t play?”

Miranda shook her head at Jalasso’s stupidity. “Of course not!”

Jalasso grinned wickedly and pumped her small fist. “Okay, then,” she said. “If we can’t play, then I don’t forfeit. Game postponed due to weather.”

“There’s nothing wrong with the weather,” Miranda protested.

Jalasso nodded. “Well, it’s about to get really bad in here. Stormy, even.”

Miranda tossed her head in irritation and stomped toward her tennis bag to gather her belongings. “Fine, Jalasso, the game’s postponed,” she said icily. “But I’m writing down the score. We’ll play again when you can go out, in like ten years.”

[next chapter]