New Haven had many spots where people liked to hang out. For Sara and her friends, Juli and Marian, it was a particular spot, a clearing, partially surrounded by trees.
Juli, a fair woman with fire-red hair, spun into the clearing, “I can’t believe William asked me to the ball.”
Marian teased, “Of course he did! There was no one else left for him to ask.” She and Sara laughed.
Juli pouted, “Don’t be so mean, Marian. Besides, it’s not true. He just had to make sure I wasn’t already going with someone.”
“I know, I know,” Marian snickered, “All the girls he asked already had someone to go with.”
Juli clinched her teeth, “Marian!” she grunted and quickly took off, trying to catch her antagonist.
“Careful!” Sara hollered as she watched her friends dart past the large rocks.
It didn’t take long for Juli to tackle Marian to the ground.
Marian tried to wrestle back but was laughing too hard, “Ow! You’re always playing so rough.”
“Say sorry,” Juli said, holding Marian’s arms down.
“Ok, sorry,” Marian said with a laugh.
Juli let go, but not before throwing a handful of grass at Marian.
Sara helped Marian back to her feet, “Don’t be upset, Juli. At least the both of you have someone to go with. Nobody’s asked me.”
“No one has to ask you. You’re a Guardian, you have to go, “Juli said.
Sara shrugged, “Just because the Guardians are hosting it doesn’t mean I have to go.”
“But you are going, right?” said Marian, “You have to go. It won’t be fun unless we’re all there.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll be there,” Sara assured.
Juli sat on one of the rocks. Marian leaned against another and Sara stood staring off into the distance past the cliff nearby. The view was incredible. They could see all of the docks along the shore. Dozens of large ships were coming and going.
Juli looked up and sighed, “Sky’s starting to clear up. At least the weather here is just like back home. I can’t wait for winter to come.”
“I hate the cold,” Marian said, disgusted.
“Sara, why don’t you ask someone?” Juli asked.
“The boy is supposed to ask.” Sara responded.
Marian looked sharply at Sara, “You know, there is one Guardian all of the girl’s dream of going to the ball with.”
Sara had a curious look on her face, “Really? I haven’t had any dreams like that.”
“Sure you haven’t,” Juli said with a spark of sarcasm.
Marian playfully punched Sara on the arm, “Don’t pretend like you don’t know who I’m talking about.”
Sara put her hand on her chin, acting as if she were trying to think of who her friends could possibly be speaking of.
Juli rolled her eyes, “Please, Sara. He’s only the strongest, bravest and most gorgeous Guardian to ever grace the earth.”
A devilish smile crossed Sara’s face, “Arthur may be strong and brave, but I definitely wouldn’t say he’s gorgeous.”
“Your teacher,” Juli said baffled, “Eww!”
“You know you want Richard just as much as any of us!” Marian said, lightly pushing Sara.
“Oh, Richard,” Sara said, “I thought he was already spoken for.”
Juli pouted her lips in disgust, “It would be a crime if ever that man didn’t have a girlfriend.”
Sara shrugged, “Why should I care about someone I can’t have?”
“What Juli meant by ‘girlfriend’ was friends that are girls,” Marian explained, “They don’t mean anything to him.”
“How would you know?” Sara asked.
Marian suddenly became coy, “I’ve talked to Richard, too.”
Sara, still smiling, folded her arms across her chest, “Oh, really. And what did he say to the likes of you?”
“You’d like to know, wouldn’t you?” Marian said.
Sara leaned against a huge boulder “You make it sound like I want to marry him.”
“And what if he asked you to?” Marian asked.
Sara was somewhat shocked by the question, “Of course not! I don’t know him that well.”
Juli hopped off the rock, landing between Marian and Sara, “I saw you talking to him the other day, and you expect us to believe you don’t know anything.”
“I said I didn’t know him that well,” Sara repeated.
Marian grabbed Sara by the wrists and pulled, “Sara, I’ve seen the way he looks at you when you talk. Don’t tell me you don’t see it.”
Frustrated, Sara pulled away, “I didn’t come here to find a husband! I came here to join the Guardians and be a Ranger like my sister. Ever since I was a child, I’ve always wanted to be like her. When I was young, she would tell me stories…”
“Cameron got married, didn’t she?” Marian asked.
“She did, to another Guardian,” Sara said, “Look at her now. She’s back in Gaia with her kids. I’m not ready to become a wife and mother. I would die if I just stayed at home doing nothing.”
Juli placed her hand against Sara’s forehead, “The good news is that you’re not sick. Bad news is that you’re crazy. How could you not want a man like Richard to care for you as you lie in the sun?”
“Easy. I don’t think about it,” Sara said, looking up.
Marian and Juli stared at their friend like a lost cause.
“It’s not like I’ll be single forever. I’m still young.” Marian’s eyes shot wide open, “Being a Guardian is your idea of fun?”
It was right then that Sara seemed as if she weren’t too sure of herself, “Maybe it’s the danger or something. I don’t know.”
“I’ve heard some of the stories,” Juli said, “If I ever saw one of those monsters, I think I would die screaming.”
Marian held Sara by the arm, “Sara, we know that you trained very hard to be a Guardian, and no one doubts you. But I’ve heard some of the stories, too. What if another war breaks out? They say that some assignments are just plain suicidal.”
Sara responded rather like a Guardian recruiter giving a pitch might, “That’s not true. Guardians are trained to easily handle any situation. We are also highly trained to fight and overcome any adversary.”
“Real funny, Sara,” Marian said, “Have you ever even seen a Vesuvian, or Fenrir, or whatever they’re called?”
“Don’t worry!” Sara said, “Believe me when I say that I know enough about them. If the Guardians didn’t think I was ready, they wouldn’t be giving me my first assignment tonight.”
“Tonight!” Juli said.
“What about the ceremony and all that stuff?” Marian asked.
Sara gave a small shrug. If she weren’t so ashamed of it, she might not have exaggerated the truth, “They usually have a big ceremony. My teacher said I did very well…so I guess that’s why I graduated alone.”
“Still, you could have told us you were graduating,” Juli said.
“Hey, it was a private ceremony for some reason,” Sara answered, “Believe me, I didn’t like it, and I would have felt horrible telling you guys you couldn’t go!”
The worried look on Juli and Marian’s face was clear.
“What’s going to happen? Where will they send you?” Juli asked.
“I don’t know, but the Marshal will give me my assignment in a few hours.” Sara answered.
Marian appeared as if she were going to cry, “You’re joking, aren’t you?”
Sara shook her head, “Don’t get mushy. It’s not like we’re never going to see each other again. Hopefully, I’ll stay here in New Haven, but if not, I promise to try and stay in touch.”
Marian and Juli wrapped their arms around Sara for a group hug and began to cry, which made Sara feel awkward.
“You’d better.” Marian said.
Sara did her best to remain stoic, “C’mon, you two,” she said, but after several moments she found herself on the brink of tears, “Both of you are just weird.”