Author's Note: Well, this is where we start to get into deeper waters, so to speak…Sorry it took me so long, school held me hostage. I even missed my birthday:( Unfortunately, I don't think it's going to get any better, so I won't be making any promises for updates from now on.
This chapter gets into a little religious imagery (not that that's anything new for fans of the FMA anime like me). It's important for the story though, so I'm not just sticking it in there for no reason :) If anyone has any problems with this, just left me know and I'll change it!
Stranger Than Fiction
Chapter Twenty-Two: Telephone Tag?
There had never been a time in Lauren's life before when she'd wanted so desperately to get away from one person, and yet see them at the same time. Well, that wasn't entirely true (take Salome for example), but it was close to it. Which was probably why she had sneaked down to check the answering machines for messages, and wait hopefully for him to call her so she could apologize for her behaviour. If she could form a coherent thought if he did call her, of course.
Which he wouldn't.
And so she sat there in that comfortable armchair, staring at the answering machine so intensely it was surprising it hadn't burst into flames. The phone rang, and she immediately snatched it.
"Hey, Lauren?" It was Chris. She relaxed, both disappointed and relieved at the same time.
"No, I'm afraid not Christopher, this is Mrs. Mackenzie. Lauren can't come to the phone right now, she's grounded."
Lauren dared not even breath, hoping against hope her mother wouldn't discover that she wasn't in her (thankfully locked) room. Climbing out her window had been risky, but it had been the only way she could get downstairs without being seen.
"Oh, okay. Thank you." To say he sounded depressed would be an understatement. "When she can call me back, could you do tell her I called? I've got a bit of a problem...tell her it has to do with Fullmetal Alchemist."
"I will. Good bye."
They both hung up. Lauren blinked, than raised her eyebrow. What on earth could that have been about? Chris didn't even like that show!
She was given no time to ponder the matter, as she heard someone coming down the stairs. Jumping up quickly and hiding behind the chair, she heard her mother shout up the stairs, presumably so she (and Jared, who was still locked in his room as well) could hear her.
"Lauren, I know this is a bit last minute, but I have to go back to work! In case you need anything, Dad's downstairs and will be coming up to check on you every fifteen minutes. Behave and you might be out sooner then you think!" And with a slam of the door and the sound of the garage door opening and closing, she was gone.
And just as Lauren was certain she could leave, the phone rang. She was immediately back in the chair, eyes glued to the phone. But Lauren knew better then to answer the phone, just in case she got someone other than Ed, Leigh or Helen.
"Hello, are you there Lauren? It's Jennifer." It would figure one of her closest friends, whom she hadn't seen in over a month, would call at a time like this. Of course, this wasn't the first time Lauren had gone without hearing from her for that long; Jennifer Williams was extremely polite, and rarely wished to trouble anyone with a phone call.
"I…I know you must be wondering where I've been for the past half week…" Lauren raised an eyebrow. Didn't Jennifer remember that the school had burned down? And with her Dad madly running around and receiving phone calls left and right (a couple of buildings that belonged to the company he worked for had burned down. Ten guesses as to who the culprit had been), she hadn't heard anything from anyone lately, at least when it came to phone calls.
"…But I can't tell you until your birthday party. Sorry, but I really have to go!" There was a click, and Lauren knew she had hung up.
Well…that was…curious…There was obviously something off about Jennifer, and normally Lauren would have called back straight away and asked her about it, but Lauren had to wait for that other phone call first.
She still felt guilty about it anyways.
But strangely enough, the rest of Saturday passed by harmlessly enough, with no dire news bulletins or any other phone calls from her friends. This greatly surprised Lauren, who had been expecting…well, some sort of final showdown. After all, that's how it normally went…wasn't it?
She could only suppose that someone up there really liked her. Especially since, judging by what Murphy's Law stated, she should have been put into another awkward situation with Ed.
Still, she didn't see or hear from them all of Saturday afternoon and night. No matter how long she waited next to the phone (a difficult thing to do, considering her mother assumed she was upstairs in her locked room like a good girl), no one called her. Which was a bit of a mixed blessing at this point. She'd actually been able to get all her homework done and watch a movie. Probably because she hadn't wanted to spend the night pondering why exactly they hadn't called her, but she'd managed to do that anyways before finally falling asleep.
"Lauren! Time to get ready for church!"
The fifteen-year-old woke with a start, nearly falling out of her bed. Rubbing her eyes, she reluctantly peeled back her sweat-soaked covers to per at her nearby calendar. It wasn't exactly up to date; probably because she'd spent most of the past week worrying over Ed. Blearily, she noticed it was only two days until her sixteenth birthday.
Well, looks like I'll have to hold my party a bit late this year, She thought absently. The thought didn't really bother her, mostly because she needed to get further in her work before Christmas anyways.
Later on, she would dimly recall getting dressed in her best clothes and grabbing her notes, before heading out the door. Her mother nodded silently when she saw her get into the car; Jared rarely ever came anymore anyway, and Lauren knew as soon as they left he would be waiting by the telephone in her place. It was quite a long drive downtown, but Lauren barely noticed, caught up in her thoughts and watching the raindrops trickle down her window.
The teenager felt herself relax slightly when the familiar building came into view. To most people, Lauren was sure it looked like just another small, slightly shabby apartment building at first glance. To her, it represented a fall back into the old routine, and a sign that things were once again returning to normal. No bothersome state alchemists traipsing about messing up her carefully plotted schedule!
But Lauren didn't allow herself to dwell on that last thought for long; she still felt guilty about how she'd acted the day before. Besides, she comforted herself with the thought that even if Ed had been there with her, he would have found it very boring. Religion wasn't exactly a topic Lauren usually liked getting into with other people, and she was very eager to avoid discussing the subject with him especially…among other things she'd rather not contemplate…
Lauren was brought out of her musings when she absently noticed a commotion near the front doors. A large, sleek black limousine was parked next to a huge crowd of people, and she realized most of them were reporters when she was temporarily blinded by the bright flashes of light from the many cameras.
I wonder what all the fuss is about! She thought curiously, squinting and trying to make it out. But all too soon they passed it, and her mother found a place to park in the nearby lot.
"Lauren, is there anything you want to talk about?" Her mother asked, as she locked the car doors and they made their way towards the entrance. She appeared hesitant, having obviously noticed Lauren's uncharacteristic silence on the way there.
Lauren watched as the front doors and black limousine came closer and closer, not looking away from the large crowd. "No mom. Everything's fine."
And that was that, as they managed to push through the crowd and went into the church. Her mother gave her one final concerned look, before reluctantly heading up the stairs that lead to the sanctuary. Lauren however took a different route, heading down a separate set of stairs to the area where the teachers normally taught Sunday school.
It was admittedly not very holy-looking or grand as she imagined the ones in Paris or London were. Just a very large room, with light blue walls, sturdy grey carpets and small rooms branching off from it. There was also a stairway that lead to the stage above in the sanctuary, and a few offices for the ministers and other important staff, carefully roped off the beaten path.
The first thing Lauren noticed was that no one else besides the other teachers had arrived yet. Good news, since she needed to get materials and grab some Bibles for her lesson. Just as she was about to head for the craft cupboard to do just that, she felt a hand on her shoulder.
Looking back, Lauren immediately realized it was the church school coordinator, Roberta Stuart. She was a nice older woman with a heart-shaped face, blue eyes and red hair swept back into a neat bun. As a matter of fact, she looked a bit like an older Helen. Lauren firmly put an end to that train of thought.
"Oh, hello." Lauren said, sounding much more cheerful than she felt. "How are you? I was just about to go get set up-"
"Thank goodness I've found you!" Mrs. Stuart interrupted, panting. She winced shortly after she realized how rude she sounded (she was the sort of women who valued politeness very highly), but nevertheless continued.
"What I mean to say is, you won't be teaching the Grade six class today. Ms. Eccleston came in yesterday to request a class for a day, and I'm afraid you're the least experienced of the teachers, so I…oh bother, I'm sorry Lauren. She just donated a substantial amount of money to the church, and it would have looked bad if I'd refused her, especially since I'd mentioned how we needed more teachers at the last meeting. I was going to call you last night, but with that school pestering me about using the Sunday school area tomorrow for their classes, I just-"
"It's alright, Mrs. Stuart." Lauren blinked, bemused as to why she thought it would bother her. Then the implications finally sank in. "Wait…'Ms. Eccleston'?"
"Yes, you know, that important businesswoman in the papers." Mrs. Stuart said dismissively. "She used to go to here a few years ago. Weren't you and her good friends? I remember she used to help out in your class when you were knee-high to a grasshopper."
"Oh…yes…I remember her." Barely managing to force them past her gritted teeth, the words were bitterly ironic. How could Lauren not remember her, after all? "Could I volunteer in another class, then?"
Mrs. Stuart's apologetic look said it all.
"You've got to be kidding me…we've been short on volunteers since September, and now is when they decide?" Lauren said, exasperated.
"I'm afraid so," She confirmed. "It is close to Christmas, after all. You don't have to help out, but Ms. Eccleston does need a helper. Grade six has had a remarkably high attendance lately."
Lauren was not pleased, though she knew she couldn't blame Mrs. Stuart. Coordinating the Sunday school was a big job, and she did it voluntarily on top of her paying job. Sometimes, a monkey wrench or two would get in the works; it was bound to happen. Besides, it was only a day; how bad could that be?
"I'll do it."
"Excellent! Thank you so much Lauren, I'll make it up to you somehow. She's already in the classroom getting set up. The children will be down here in a minute or two, so you'd best get started!" And then she hurried away to get ready for her own class.
Lauren knew at once that the sooner she got the painful reunion over with, the smoother things would go. Taking a deep breathe, she marched over to the Grade six classroom and, seeing the door was open, looked in.
The room wasn't very big. Maybe five metres in length and width, at the most. The walls and carpet were the same as in the main room, but the absence of any overhead lights and only a few small windows on the top of the opposite wall made it look a bit creepy. A long, wooden table had been stuffed through the small door somehow, taking up most of the space and leaving very little elbow room. Lauren spotted a dark figure hunched over a pile of notes, and hesitantly cleared her throat. Salome turned abruptly.
"Yes?" She said mildly, smiling.
Lauren realized she was staring, and looked away immediately. She hadn't been able to help it. This was obviously the same Salome Eccleston she had known as a little girl, but so much…older. More mature.
But it wasn't even something as simple as her age that bothered Lauren. There was something cold about her. Something hard and cautious behind that seemingly gentle smile. Lauren felt a shiver run down her spine.
Desperate for something else to focus on, she looked at the blackboard, surprised to see untidily scrawled words on it. It was a quote from the Bible.
Salome followed her gaze. "I thought I'd take a slightly different approach to the lesson this time, to which that quote will play an important part. Matthew, chapter 7, verses 7 to 8, which says-"
"-'Ask, and it shall be given you; seek; and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.'" Lauren recited, her eyes trailing over the words and coming rest on Salome.
Salome gave her an impressed, yet appraising look. "Very good. Do you know many Biblical quotes?"
Lauren shook her head. "No, only that one. My sister's the one who managed to memorize quotes; that used to be her favourite one."
Salome nodded. "It's a very interesting quote. Interesting, isn't it? To think that you would only need to ask, or 'seek', to receive something. It's a pity life isn't that easy, and people don't always find what they're looking for."
"No, it isn't." Lauren agreed. "But I don't think that's the point. The point is, if you work hard enough for something, you'll probably get it. Or get something else in return. Sort of…I dunno, equivalent exchange. It's not the one law that governs the universe, but it's important to know all the same. It gives people hope."
Salome smiled again. "You've obviously given this a lot of thought."
Lauren shrugged. "Well, I seem to be running into the concept a lot lately. My name's Lauren Mackenzie, by the way."
Salome laughed, then reached to shake her hand. "Oh! You're that new teacher I've heard so much about. It's a pleasure to meet you. I'm sorry for temporarily hijacking your class and insisting on you, but it's been so long since I've taught Sunday school, and I suppose I got a bit carried away."
Yeah, right. Lauren thought distantly, shaking the offered hand automatically. How could Salome have forgotten her so easily? However, she was spared from her thoughts when she heard the sound of many footsteps pounding down the stairs and into the main room.
"Oh, it appears I finished setting up just in time!" Salome sighed exaggeratedly, sitting down at Lauren's customary spot nearest the blackboard as the eleven-year-olds came streaming in. Lauren sat down at her right, giving her a perplexed look.
There was something fishy going on here. The question was what.
"Hey, Lauren! I heard about you school burning…who's this?" Blinking, Lauren turned to see that, unsurprisingly, her students looked confused by Salome's unexplained presence.
The brief silence was broken by the sound of a ring tone, which sounded suspiciously like Girl by the Beatles. Salome took out her cellphone, and preceded to ignore all of them as she talked to some employee or other. This was perfectly fine with Lauren, who found herself suddenly the center of attention.
"First of all," She said briskly, "It's 'Ms. Mackenzie', not Lauren, if you please. Secondly, Salome's teaching this class for today. I'm just helping out."
"That doesn't make any sense." Replied one of the boys, Thomas, who gave her a pointed look. "Why did they replace you?"
"Well…" She hesitated. "…That's hard to explain-"
"Lauren? Would you mind taking over for a bit?" Salome interrupted, a bit too cheerful. "I have to go down to the office for a minute. I'll see you in half an hour or so." And with that said, she left abruptly.
Lauren blinked, barely able to process this new development quickly enough. Then it sunk in, and she attempted to rush after Salome, stopping at the doorway when she remembered she couldn't leave her students unsupervised.
"Wait! The class ends in half an hour!" She called to Salome's retreating back. But it was too late, the women was too far away to hear her, and she disappeared around a bend.
Lauren slumped into a nearby chair, massaging her forehead and wondering when her life had become so…busy.
She sighed irritably. "You mean 'Ms. Mackenzie'."
Thomas gave her a 'why should I care?' look. "Right, whatever. Are we going to start the lesson now? I have to practice for the church Christmas pageant after this."
That's right. Like it or not, Lauren would have to take over while Salome was gone…which apparently would be for quite awhile. Standing up, she closed the door and maneuvered her way past the chairs towards the blackboard, gesturing for them to sit down.
"Alright, now…I guess Salome wants me to teach you something about…uh…" Lauren was at a loss. She hadn't prepared the lesson plan, and judging by the lack of notes nearby, Salome hadn't written it down either. How was she supposed to teach a lesson if she didn't know what she was teaching?
The teenager sighed, and then decided to proceed anyway. "Turn to Matthew, chapter 7, verses 7 to 8. Salome wanted to teach you the meaning behind this quote, and I think she wanted us to discuss how it applies to…life, I guess."
They did, reading silently for a few minutes As Lauren gathered her thoughts. She put everything out of her mind relating to Ed, fictional characters and other worlds, and tried her best to focus on the situation at hand. Now, how should she go about explaining this…? It wasn't exactly a complicated idea, but it sure was a hard one to explain.
And then she realized she was approaching it from the wrong angle. "Umm…can anyone tell me what it means?"
Finding only blank stares directed her way, Lauren started to write on the board, speaking all the while. "It's…basically sort of like a concept a friend of mine likes to call 'equivalent exchange'. To obtain, something of equal value must be lost-"
"That doesn't always work." Thomas snorted. "You don't always have to give up something in order to get something."
Lauren shifted, again finding herself wondering how to explain the quote properly. "Well, yes, that's true. It's not an idea that encompasses life, the universe and everything else. Not everyone or everything operates on a give-or-take basis But if you think about it, 'equivalent exchange' does cover a lot in our daily lives…sort of like how you do chores to earn an allowance, or do homework to learn how to perform certain tasks."
"So why is that important?" Asked one of the girls curiously.
Lauren smiled. "I'm glad you asked that. In some ways, we can think of that as being an important characteristic of the human race. People often work better if they have something to strive for, and it's the foundation of our society. In some ways, even the good things we do are done because we think 'this is the right thing to do', and that we gain something valuable from doing them: self-satisfaction. You could almost argue there's no such thing as 'altruism', because we do gain something. Can anyone tell me what the underlying message of that is? What does the part 'and to him that knocketh it shall be opened' mean?"
"It means…you have to work for things?" Another boy offered. "Because we're all searching for something?"
The teenager nodded. "Yes, and no. The meaning behind the quote is that you're supposed to work hard and live life as best you can. This includes being truthful to yourself and to others and trying to look for the truth where you can. The search for truth is something that humans have strived for centuries to find and expressed in many different ways…even that mystical stuff like alchemy, mythology, and other forms of…superstition…"
She paused, wondering if alchemy really counted under superstition in this case, considering she'd seen it performed in front of her. Shrugging, she decided to continue on. "…that attempted to unlock the mysteries of the world. I'm not going into religion or politics in relation to this (because I think I already covered the first one anyway), but they reflect a person's philosophy on life and how they view the world."
"This is too deep for me." Thomas said, throwing up his hands in exasperation.
Lauren smiled sadly. "Well, I'm probably not right on all accounts anyway. That's how I interpret that quote, although I'm sure there are plenty of people who think differently. I don't even know if I'm right, really. I guess what I'm saying is it's important to keep going, and to think about these things and try to find the answers yourself."
One of the boys nodded, laughing. "Well, it was interesting, I'll give you that much."
And then, as if to punctuate that statement, a rather beat up Edward Elric came crashing through the window. Lauren and her students barely managed to duck under the table before he hit the wall. She quickly yanked him underneath the table as large shards of glass embedded themselves on the table, carpet, blackboard and walls. Her heart racing as she hyperventilated, Lauren could only stare at the sharp pieces of glass mere inches away from her hand.
"Sorry about that." He murmured dazedly, his eyes half-closed as he bled from various minor cuts. "I didn't mean to crash through the window…Oh, Lauren, it's you." He managed a weak smile, then grimaced and clutched his chest.
"Who the heck is this?" One of the boys asked incredulously, taking in the red coat, leather and braid and undoubtedly coming to a strange conclusion.
"A friend of mine." She said quickly, turning to Ed. "What are you doing here?! You could have gotten yourself killed pulling a stunt like that!"
"That stained glass is going to cost a lost to repair." Thomas mused. Ed clapped his hands together, and touched the carpet. With a bright flash of blue light, the glass was gone and the damage repaired. It was as if the whole thing had never happened.
There was an unanimous gasp, and the questions started quickly, including the ones Lauren didn't want to answer.
"How did you do that?!"
"Why'd you fall through the window?"
"Who are you?"
"Alright, that's enough!" She interrupted sharply. They quieted immediately, realizing that they were in a serious situation.
Ed sighed. "Lauren, it was nice talking to you, but I have to go…Sloth's after me, and I've got to get back to the convention-"
"Sloth? Convention?" She said in amazement. "What's this all about?!"
"We don't have time." Ed interjected impatiently. "I'll explain later. First, I need to get out of here without her seeing me. I don't think she'll just break in like Envy, since she knows I'm not going to stay here very long with Al, Helen and- Oh hell, I'll tell you later!" And with that, he unsteadily got to his feet.
"I'm coming with you." Lauren replied instantly. "Thomas, go tell Mrs. Stuart I had to leave urgently, and I'll be back soon, alright?"
The boy nodded, and Lauren carefully guided Ed out of the classroom, sitting him down on a nearby couch. "Okay, where is this convention?"
"Richardson avenue." He said wearily, looking around the room. "Wait, where is this?"
She quickly did the math. Richardson avenue was probably only three blocks away. They could make it there quickly if they hurried. "You're at my church. This is the Sunday school."
Ed gave her a blank look. "Sunday school?"
She sighed. "Never mind, we'll catch up later. First, let's get to that convention."
For those of you who don't know, Jennifer Williams is my OC from Wishful Thinking :) Yes, that's really her. Sorry about the rushed nature of this chapter, especially considering how long I took to write it. I've been so busy this past month or two…and now the short:
'FMA cliché #13: The Fullmetal Homunculus'
By Arktos (though you already knew that…)
"Sooo….bored…" Lauren moaned.
It was a dull, grey afternoon, and Lauren was sitting in the Mackenzie kitchen, doing nothing. She was currently hunched over the counter with a rather bored expression, toying with the idea of spiking Jared's left over Halloween candy.
Breaking the serenity, an explosion, then a large flash of blue light came from the basement, followed by another large explosion. Dust and pieces of plaster rained down from the ceiling, but Lauren barely noticed, staring blankly at a fixed point on the fridge.
"AL, WHAT DID YOU DO?!"
"I'M SORRY BROTHER!" The angry voices gradually got louder, until the basement down was roughly pushed open, nearly broken off it's hinges.
Lauren sighed, and then turned around. "So, what was it this time? I hope you haven't turned Ed into a chimera aga-…Oh…"
Ed glared. "What?" He was wearing clothes somewhat…err…similar to Envy's, his hair was loose and not in his trademark braid, and he was covered in strange tattoos. He was showing way to much skin, in Lauren's opinion.
She blinked, blushing slightly. "Oh, uh…nothing!"
"Brother, I'm really sorry!" Al replied nervously. "I didn't mean to bring you back as a homunculus after that support beam fell on you-"
Lauren seemed to snap out of a trance. "A support beam?!"
There was a guilty pause.
"Well, we wanted to spar..."
"…And we thought it would be a good idea to outside..."
"…And things got a bit out of hand."
"My parents will kill me!" Lauren sobbed, running downstairs to access the damage.
"Well, can you think of a good punch line?" Ed asked Al, sarcastic and obviously still mad.
"Uh…no…" Al replied nervously.
Ed mock saluted. "Okay then, could you guys leave? Yeah, I mean you, the readers! And remember, don't make me dress up like Envy to pay homage to Bluebird's Illusion…or I will hunt you down and torture you!"
AND ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST
Explanation: Bluebird's Illusion is a fan-made Chinese game based on Fullmetal Alchemist. As you may have noticed, there are pictures of Ed dressed as a homunculus randomly scattered across the internet, taken from or inspired by one of the alternate endings of the game, where Ed turns into the homunculi Pride. Unfortunately, I've noticed lately that there seem to be a lot of fanfic homages to it…and it's getting to be a pretty formidable cliché. Hence the short :)
Two last things: I've got a forum dedicated to Parental!RoyEd now, so you might want to check that out if you love those sorts of fics :) I've also got a C2 for good FMA fanfiction, so that's a looker as well, along with my new DevantArt account. The latter has a few extra pieces of new STF art, so treasure it well. I won't be doing much fanart for my stories anymore; I simply don't get the time. Maybe over Christmas?