In the Real World, Chapter Two of The Portal Closed

Chapter One

“I’ve been delegated to ask what the four of you think you’re doing.” Mr. Richardson, the school’s guidance counselor, looked more than a little amused as he stared at them over folded hands. “So: what, exactly, do the four of you think you’re doing?”

What they had been doing was sorting out life here on earth at the same time as they tried to prepare themselves for their next adventure. It hadn’t occurred to them that the staff of their school would notice. They stared at Mr. Richardson, attempting to slot a staff that paid attention into their plans.

Barbara recovered first, if weakly. “College?” she tried. “College entrance reports.”

“It was you, I believe, who told me three months ago that you couldn’t give a fig about college, that it was years away. And after that you, Clarence, added that ‘who knew if you’d get to college anyway,’ which seemed more than a bit fatalistic for such bright children, I might add.” His bushy eyebrows went up. “So something has changed. I repeat: what are you doing?”

Ralph sat up a bit straighter. “There comes a time when the doors of childhood slam shut in your face and you must face adulthood, whether or not you’re ready.” Ralph had spent five years as a troubador, and his turn of phrase brought him no end of romantic attention – when he was in a body which could grow a beard and had a voice which didn’t still sound like a girl’s. “We’re simply stepping forward as adults now. Which requires some preparation.”

Mr. Richardson looked down at his notes. “Fencing club. Heavy weapons club. I’ll note that both of these are new – no, pardon me. Fencing club was reinstated.”

Barbara had done the research; Diane had convinced Mr. Prewitt, their gym teacher, to reinstate Fencing Club. Clarence had done his best Hurt Masculinity act and gotten Mr. Prewitt to also start a “proper swordfighting” club. They were finding the clubs helpful, if occasionally frustrating. Diane had this habit of attempting to run the targets all the way through.

“Don’t forget trying to restart debate club,” Clarence offered helpfully. “It’s not like we haven’t done that one before, it’s just that we had a little… conflict… about how it should go.”

“You mean that you and Barbara trounced everyone and were insufficiently apologetic about winning.” Mr. Richardson’s mustache moved in what had to be a concealed smile.

Barbara jutted her chin forward. “We were good. I don’t see any reason to apologize for being good.”

“And you shouldn’t.” Mr. Richardson nodded approvingly. “However, I understand that not everyone in the school feels that way.”

“What, exactly, are these unknown people concerned about, sir?” Diana was sitting very primly, her hands folded in her lap. Barbara couldn’t help but wonder if Mr. Richardson had seen Diane’s fencing targets. Or her archery targets. “We’re not doing anything wrong.

“I don’t suppose you could?” He brushed the request off with a hand, smiling widely enough to show beneath the mustache. “No, no. Of course not. But when four bright students who have been actively disengaged change all of a sudden, and all together, I suppose the administration worries they’re missing something.”

“If they are,” Ralph offered, “it is only that we have always worked as a team, and so we’re… well, we’re growing up as a team. Paying attention to our physical and mental health together, that sort of thing.”

“Mmm.” Mr. Richardson made a note in his folder. “I’ll tell them that. And if you’re planning on starting any more clubs, come talk to me first, all right? I’m sure I can find a way to soften the blow to the Administration. Children being active. Heaven forbid.”

Barbara found herself smiling at the man. They should have engaged his help years ago; he might not be a sorceress, he might not be Verdana, but he seemed plenty wise enough for them.


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