It was already the weekend. The last week was a mess in Aster's recollection, dominated by the ongoing family situation and only half-remembered classes. Maybe a short break from responsibilities was what she needed, but Aster didn't feel great about it. It was two days when she didn't have anything to do, but also two days when she didn't know what to do. She wasn't excited for a Saturday, for once. She was sitting in her room, not really doing anything, when she got a text.
'Hi aster! U around?'
'Hello Emily. This is a good time, I can talk.'
'I wanted to ask
Could u hang out today'
'Oh. If you want to, sure. I'm not doing anything else.'
'What would you want to do?'
'Dunno. Well figure something out right'
'Well, alright. But where and when do we get together to figure that out?'
'I could get a ride to your place whenever if thats okay. My house is a lil hectic rn'
'I'll ask if I can have a friend over, I'm sure my parents won't mind. I don't know how much there is to do here, though.'
'Cool! Like i said im sure well think up something'
Aster left her room, and stepped down the hall into the living room. Her dad was sitting on the couch, while what looked like a documentary played on the television. She stepped over to the side of the couch, and found herself watching it too, listening to a voiceover and watching slowly panning photographs. She recognized most of them, or at least most of the subjects. Early examples of preternatural phenomena, the disembodied permanent effects, not powers. The narrator discussed how they had represented most of the discovered phenomena back in 2014, as the background transitioned to a picture of a stretch of ocean. There was a large section missing, like a curved divot. The view pulled outwards, and suspended above it in the air was the missing water, the perfect size and shape to fit in the gap, except upside-down. The narration didn't comment on it, simply noting that new such phenomena still sometimes occurred, but were now less common than people developing powers. It was possible, the voice said, that they were caused by the same mysterious mechanism, responding to the emotions of someone present in the location. There was some evidence to support it, with some reports of people believing they might have caused the event, but far from anything conclusive.
Eventually it went to a commercial break, and she turned to her dad. He turned to her and smiled, nodding his head to the TV.
"Crazy, huh? That sea picture was something else."
"It really was. You know, there's video of it, too. You can find it online."
"Yeah. It's still there, in the ocean I mean. A sphere where things fall the wrong way. Thankfully it isn't that big."
"Huh. Again, crazy. I mean it's honestly hard to believe. We think we know how everything works and then bam, magic is real all of a sudden. And only four years later it's on TV like we're just about ready to understand everything again. Like we can't go out and take pictures of the impossible."
"Well... Yeah. Uh. Nobody has figured out why any of this is happening, or how it's happening in general. But we can try and figure out how the specific phenomena work, and try and find out the circumstances that can lead to them. And it generally works. I mean, it's not like this is actually impossible. If it was, if it couldn't happen, it wouldn't happen. We just don't understand why it's possible yet."
"Good point, Aster. You know I wouldn't be surprised if you wind up one of those people who figure out how this all makes sense after all."
"Well, with some luck, maybe I will be."
"You don't need luck. I mean, I won't lie to you, that is important in life. But you're bright enough to make it, whatever you decide to do."
"Oh. ...Thanks, dad."
He smiled, and reached out to pat her on the shoulder. She smiled back, and let a quiet moment pass by, soaking in that compliment. Well, quiet, if she ignored the commercials. It felt like the moment was starting to pass, so she spoke up.
"I meant to ask. Could I have a friend over? Emily wanted to hang out today."
"Sure. I think it's a good idea. Might help things feel more..."
"Sorry. Uh. If you two want we could get a pizza. If Emily stays for dinner."
"Thanks, I'll let her know. We don't have real plans yet, but I'll get back to you."
"Sure. Have fun."
Aster nodded, and wandered into the kitchen. She felt a little guilty, then, but knew that was stupid. She tried her best to put the feeling out of her mind. Aster texted Emily that she was free to come over whenever, and about the offer of pizza. She got a reply that was mostly emoji, and a little while later a notice that she was on the way. A car pulled into her driveway, but it was actually her mother. She helped to put the groceries away, finishing up just a couple minutes before Emily actually did get dropped off.
"Hello Emily. Come inside—"
Emily had bounded up to her and given her a little hug. She returned it, briefly, before pulling away. She smiled sheepishly, while Emily started to laugh. They both stepped inside, and Emily gave a big wave to her parents. They both smiled, and her dad gave a little wave back.
"Hello, Mr. and Mrs. White! Thanks for letting me come over."
"Oh, sure. You're welcome any time."
"Yeah. You two have fun."
Emily was the friend Aster had over the most often, though in turn probably the one she visited the least, behind Chester and Diana. Her parents were used to her, and her usual high energy demeanor. Still, Aster didn't want to be a nuisance, and invited Emily to hang out in her bedroom. She sat on her bed, while Emily turned around the chair at her desk. Emily glanced around and whistled.
"You've still growing your collection, I see."
"Yeah, of clutter. I am actually impressed how you manage to fit it all in your room without running out of space."
"Oh. Hah, hah. My organization—or lack thereof—aside, is there anything you want to talk about? I still haven't thought up any plan for today."
"Pfft, we're clearly just gonna have to wing this. It's a bit late to be trying to plan it, let's be honest. And anyways, I do have something juicy to share."
"Dare I ask what that is?"
"Chester and Diana are totally on a daaaate right now."
Emily giggled, and then grinned ear-to-ear. Aster blinked. That wasn't what she had expected Emily to say, although she had to admit the idea they were dating wasn't a huge surprise. It felt a little weird to be told it by a third party, but she knew Emily wasn't being malicious. If she wasn't supposed to share that, she wouldn't have. Or rather, if they had told her she wasn't supposed to share it, she wouldn't have.
"Oh, really? Did they tell you about it?"
"So how do you know?"
"I've just got a feeling about it this time. They've been talking about their plans for today for most of the week, right?"
"I guess I do remember that, now that you mention it. I didn't think much of it."
"Those two have pretty clearly been thinking a lot about it. And Chester mentioned to me that he's felt nervous about something coming up, lately."
"If he specifically told you that, then you probably shouldn't have told me."
"Oh, no no, it wasn't like a secret or anything. Except maybe to Diana. Besides, you've had something or other on your own plate to deal with."
"Yeah, fair enough."
"But yeah, trust me, that's totally what's going on. I mean, they're hanging out just the two of them right now. Totally a date."
"Uh huh. Well, normally I wouldn't weigh in on your rampant speculation, but I think there is something you are overlooking, in your date assessment."
"We are also hanging out, just the two of us, right now."
"But that would mean... mon Dieu!"
Emily put her hand up to her forehead and feigned a swoon, before bursting out cackling. Aster cracked up with her, trying not to laugh too hard before getting swept up in it. She decided there wasn't much to Emily's little theory, not that it really mattered either way. Whatever the nature of their plans, she just hoped they were having fun. Emily's laughter finally wound down, and Aster composed herself as Emily caught her breath.
"Okay, okay, you got me. Maybe jumping the gun here. Not like it matters. And see, we're having fun already, no plan at all."
"I'll give you that. Although we've perhaps mined that first conversational vein bare."
"True. Oh, I have an idea. Do you want to see a trick? I'll need a piece of paper."
She got up from her bed and pulled a notebook off of her desk. It was her scrap paper notebook, though the first few pages had various old doodles and notes scrawled in there. She tore out a piece of paper, and handed it over. Emily closed her eyes, and when she opened them again there were only two. Aster glanced down, and saw the third one staring up at her from the paper. Emily lifted up the paper, and the eye went with it. She knew Emily could do that, she was even pretty sure she would do it, and yet it was still surprising to actually see it. It was as if it grew out of the piece of paper, complete with eyelids and lashes. She nodded and smiled, but then Emily held up a finger, still holding onto the page. Her third eye closed shut, and she slowly turned the page around. The back was normal, blank paper. Then she tilted the paper over so it was parallel to the floor. Half the eyeball, or what should have been half, was bulging out from the top side. But there was nothing on the other edge.
"So that's how it fits in my head! Or anywhere else I put it. It doesn't go in. It just goes on."
"Wow, yeah! That's really interesting. It makes sense, though it makes me wonder how it works..."
"Yeah. Now I'm wonder what it looks like on the bottom side. You know, if there even is one. But I don't think anything's thin enough for it to poke out the other side of."
"No, probably not. But have you tried manifesting it on glass, or something else transparent?"
"Good idea! Can I borrow a window of yours? I want to try it."
"Okay, you have me really curious too. Let's try it."
Aster nodded, and Emily beamed. It was a strange thought, but it was a little odd now to see Emily without her extra eye on her forehead. Emily was able to manifest her eye on any surface she could see with her regular two. Even though she didn't have to have it manifested at all, she almost always had it there. Everyone knew about her power, and thus her ability to be somewhat stealthily spying at any given time. Keeping it on her face told everyone she wasn't doing that, made it clear she wasn't cheating on tests or staring at people without their notice. But she generally kept it there in private, too, so it wasn't entirely something Emily only did because she felt she had to.
Aster pulled aside a curtain, and Emily moved her eye to the glass. It stared back at them from the inside edge of the window. After a failed attempt to crane her neck and look at the back half through the window, Emily tried to move her eye to the other edge of the window. After all, she could technically see it. But that didn't pan out either, and she placed her eye back on their side of the window. They both headed out of Aster's bedroom, hurrying to the front door. Aster caught her mom giving them a curious look, but she didn't actually ask a question.
They headed around to the back of the house, and walked up to peer into Aster's bedroom's window. Emily's eye was still where she left it, and they could finally see the back of it. Aster was a little hesitant to look, but it was nothing she had to worry about. Rather than the sort of cross-section she had very much tried not to imagine, the flat back of Emily's eye was skin. It looked like the rest of her eyelids, which made sense, since it seemed to be a continuation of the upper and lower eyelids, wrapped around the eye's behind. Still, it was satisfying to have the mystery answered, and the result was more pleasant to look at than most of the alternatives Aster could think of. After some time to examine it, Emily returned it to her face.
When they went back inside, Aster's mother looked over from where she was sitting at the table.
"Hey Aster, hun. Would you and Emily be willing to go pick up the pizzas, if I order some? It's the place just down the road, you should be able to get back with them still hot."
"I don't mind at all. Emily?"
"That's fine. I mean, I'm not going to complain, I'm getting pizza."
"Great. I'll put in the call, then. Unless you two aren't hungry yet? And Emily, what do you want on it?"
"Cheese and pepperoni. Or just cheese, if that's what you guys get."
"Pepperoni it is, then."
"Thank you very much!"
"Yeah, thanks mom."
Aster and Emily managed to pass the time pretty quickly, and soon enough it was time to walk to the pizza place. It really wasn't very far, and genuinely not worth the gas to drive down to it. Emily didn't seem to be bothered at all, and they kept chatting as they walked there. They got there a bit early in case their order had been finished a bit early, but it hadn't. There was someone else waiting in the lobby, another girl who was maybe their age, but not anyone Aster recognized from school. She was wearing a dark blue tracksuit. Emily walked up to her, and Aster followed.
"I see you got sent in to play gopher as well as us, huh?"
"She means delivery girl, not the animal. I don't know why that's the slang for that, but it is."
"Yeah, it's 'cuz you go-pher whatever you're supposed to get."
The other girl had just said "Heh" aloud, as a word. Aster might have thought that was sarcasm, but it was accompanied with a genuine-looking smile. And whatever she made of it, Emily didn't seem to be deterred, smiling back. Aster saw the girl's eyes look up at Emily's extra eye and then back down again, with no change in her expression. She was paying attention to these things, but mostly in her head was debating over whether the etymology of a gopher-as-in-courier could really be that simple.
"Chores aside, I hope you're having a good day."
"Oh. Yes. I'm having a very nice day. In fact, I'm happy to be doing this chore, as you put it."
"Because you'll get pizza?"
"Yes. And also I get to meet a few new people, at least a little bit."
"Now that is an admirable attitude! I'm Emily."
"My name is Aster. It's nice to meet you."
"It's very nice to meet both of you, as well. I'm Takwin. September Takwin."
"Uh. Nevermind. Heh."
This time September smiled rather awkwardly. Emily shot Aster a glance, but she didn't get the joke either. They decided to let it lie, since September didn't seem to want to explain it.
"So, does that mean you're new in town? Or just visiting?"
"Oh. I've newly moved here, yes."
"Does that mean you'll be transferring to the local school?"
"It doesn't. I'm being homeschooled."
"Oh, dang. Well you can definitely still make friends here. With any luck, we'll see each other around, yeah?"
"That would be fortunate."
"Yeah. Polk is a nice town, I'm sure you'll fit right in."
"Thank you both for the kind reception."
The guy at the counter spoke a little bit after that, announcing the order for Takwin was ready. He said it like tack-win, rather than how September had said it, something like tah-kween-uh. Aster couldn't blame him, since she almost certainly had been spelling it wrong in her head if the actual spelling could possibly be misread like that. It didn't seem to cause any trouble, though, as September quietly walked up to the counter and took her order. She smiled at Aster and Emily as she walked out, from behind a stack of eight large pizza boxes. Huh.
It wasn't long after that when their order was ready, and Emily and Aster started back for their home. Aster carried the two pizza boxes, although Emily had offered to take one or both. It made sense to keep them one atop the other, to reduce the heat loss a little, not that it was super important. When they got back to her house, the pizzas were still hot, but not too hot to eat. They were pretty good.
Emily stayed a little longer, before someone came to pick her up. It had been a really nice day. A surprisingly nice day. She felt a lot better by the end of it. But... Should she have? It wasn't like the situation that had her feeling bad in the first place was any better. She sighed, and shook her head. Moping and feeling guilty was worse than pointless. She would keep in good spirits, and be better able to help raise the rest of her family's, in turn. Even just a little.