Chapter 10: Serendipity
"There are nearly 7,000,000,000 people in the world. Out of those seven billion, you have to find the one person that's right for you."
This was a sign. Ned was sure of that. Suzie returning was a sign that he had done the right thing by staying friends with Moze. If he had told her he liked her at any time, for any reason, Suzie returning would have caused a fiasco.
He could just imagine it: Moze awkwardly stammering a hasty apology that she just wanted to be friends. Suzie crying and rending her garments, calling him a betrayer. Faymen riding in on a white horse, sweeping Moze off her feat, and laughing maniacally at Ned for thinking he was any match for the tall, dark, Brazilian import. Planet Earth being knocked off course by a giant meteor and hurling into the sun.
That might be a bit of a worse case scenario, but he was glad he avoided it all the same.
Still, as Suzie chatted at him happily from her seat beside him on the bus, his eyes kept flitting over to where Moze and Faymen were sitting across the isle, and he wondered: 'Would she have picked me?'
"This is definitely a sign." said Moze to Ms. Frizzle. The buses had finally arrived at their destination and everyone was spilling out and stretching their legs after the two hour ride.
"With Suzie back, Ned has girlfriend, and I have Faymen. Everyone has someone. We can all be happy." Moze continued.
"Of course," said Ms. Frizzle coyly, "you could just as easily be paired with Ned and Suzie can have Faymen."
Moze gave her a look like she had just suggested that the Palestinians and Israelis should just get along.
"My point," Moze said, "Is that everyone is happy, there's no need to upset the applecart, and we don't need to run the other test."
By now, all the students were off the bus and had gotten a good stretch. Vice Principal Crubbs stood on a bench and addressed the crowd through a megaphone. For some reason, the megaphone was wearing sunglasses.
"Good morning students!" he shouted. "Welcome to the World Showcase." he gestured broadly to the giant gate behind him.
The gate was a huge archway, big enough to accommodate a passenger plane. It was decorated by metal flags of all the nations of the world: the Union Jack (Britain), the Star Spangled Banner (America), The Rising Sun (Japan), a Train Racing an Octopus (The Greater Andaman Islands), and hundreds more. At the top of the arch, in bronze letters as tall as a grown man, were the words 'World Showcase'.
"For those of you who don't know," Crubbs continued, "This is a theme park. It's divided up into different enclosures, one for each major nation in the world. Each enclosure features life size buildings and architecture endemic to the culture. The Park has hired people from the actual countries to work in the enclosures. The park literally has miles worth of exhibits, which makes it easy to get lost. You all have ID tags," he held up an ID card he was wearing on a lanyard. "Keep these on! They have an RFID tag that will let us find you anytime if something goes wrong."
"Each teacher will have one of these." he held up a hand held device, which was also wearing sunglasses. "With it, we can find where anyone is, accurate to within 3 feet. We can find any lost student if they are wearing their tags. If you think someone is missing do not hesitate to ask a teacher. That being said, enjoy your day at the World Showcase."
"I definitely want to visit the Thai enclosure." said Suzie, looking over the park map. "These temples are so ornate. What their culture can do with spires is inspiring."
Ned, Suzie, Moze, Faymen, and Cookie were in the Croatian Enclosure. It was the first enclosure you came to after entering the park. It was decorated to look like a cape town on the seaside with outlying islands. Cookie was still scratching his head, wondering how they were hiding the real horizon with a perplexingly realistic sea.
"They really go all out in this place, don't they." said Cookie.
"I heard the Japanese enclosure has a live volcano." said Ned.
"And I forgot to bring the marshmallows." said Moze. Ned gave a laugh.
"Jennifer," said Faymen, "I want to take you to see the Brazilian Enclosure. They have a replica of the great Theater of Manaus."
"I'm going to see the Spanish Enclosure." said Cookie. "I heard Lisa say she wanted to see the Running of the Pampolona Bulls." with that, he raced off.
"I guess we'll catch up with you later Jennifer." said Suzie turning in the direction of Thailand.
"Wait, what?" said Moze.
Suzie turned back.
"Well, Ned and I are going to the Thai Enclosure and you're going to Brazil with Faymen." she said.
Ned shuddered as Suzie said 'going to Brazil with Faymen'. That sentence belonged only in his nightmares. Moze had to stop herself from saying 'Well, what if Ned wants to come with me?'
"Okay," she said, forcing herself to sound cheerful. "We'll see you guys later. We're bound to run to each other some time."
"Yeah," said Ned. "How big can the world be?"
The Great Theater of Manaus was stunning. The replica in the Brazilian Enclosure wasn't bad either. The dome of the building was tiled in bright colors. The exterior of the building was interspersed with statues. Moze and Faymen were standing on the portico of the theater looking out over the rest of the enclosure.
"Your home really looks like this?" Moze asked. From her vantage point, she could see an incredibly realistic rainforest and the Amazon River. Seriously, how did you fit a whole rainforest in one enclosure. She couldn't even fit her purse in her school locker.
"Yes," said Faymen. "During the rainy season my family would take a boat down river to a house in the jungle."
"That sounds like a fairytale." said Moze.
Faymen sidled closer to her and put an arm around her waist.
"Maybe," he said, "some day you could make the trip yourself." he leaned down to whisper in her ear. "With me."
"Um. . ." she had to think fast or answer truthfully. Fortunately, she saw a lifeline in the courtyard below.
"Look!" she cried, pointing to the people kicking a ball around. "They're playing soccer!"
She felt a blast of wind go by as Faymen vaulted over the hand rail and ran into the fray. Moze sighed in relief. In spite of how sure she was that she was doing the right thing, there was that part of her that would rather be stuck in a grocery line with Ned than going on a cruise with anyone else.
"Your friend is very passionate about football." she heard behind her.
She turned around to see a Brazilian woman standing behind her. She was wearing a loose fitting cotton frock and had her hair in a long braid.
"Yeah." Moze agreed. "He's my boyfriend."
"You don't seem to thrilled about that." the woman said as she walked up to lean against the hand rail.
"I am." Moze defended. "He's really nice. And he's cute. And he's cool."
"But..." the woman said suggestively.
"But there's this other guy I like." Moze said quickly.
"Ah," the woman said.
There was quiet for a while. Then, the woman turned to Moze.
"Do you know the story of Iurupari?" the woman asked.
"No." said Moze.
"It is one of the stories of our people." said the woman. "In the time when there were tribes and no cities, an Amazon Woman fell in love with a warrior from another tribe. Their tribes would not permit them to be together, and, out of loyalty to their tribe, they stayed far away from each other."
"As time passed, their feelings did not lessen, and the pain they felt from being apart grew more onerous. The God of Dreams, Iurupari, saw their plight and was resolved to ease their sadness. Every night, in their dreams, Iurupari would bring them together. In the dream world they grew closer and their love became stronger."
"One day, the warrior could not stand to be physically separate from the woman he loved any longer and went to her tribe's land. When her tribe caught him, they were greatly angry, and sentenced him to die. The woman who loved him, helpless to save his life, clung to him and refused to let go."
"Then Iurupari appeared in fire and storm. He waved his hand, and the spirits of the two lovers left their bodies. He gathered them up and spirited them away to the next world." the woman finished.
"That's beautiful." said Moze.
"I always thought so." said the Woman. "They could have gotten over each other, found someone else in their own tribes, lived longer, but then what kind of story would that be?"
"It wouldn't have the same charm." admitted Moze.
"Sure, they would have avoided an early death," said the woman. "but I imagine the pain of losing your true love would be an ongoing burn for the rest of your life."
"I hadn't thought of that." said Moze. "and that burn lives right next door."
"If you aren't prepared to take a risk," the woman said, "nothing great is ever going to happen to you."
"Suzie was right." said Ned. "These are some amazing spires."
Ned was admiring one of the temples in the Thai enclosure. Suzie was getting a massage, so he had an hour to explore without having to pretend he didn't feel internal turmoil. He was so focused on the Ong Bak he didn't notice the temple monk until he crashed into the poor man.
"Sorry, sir." Ned said.
"Quite all right." said the monk, adjusting his sash. "If I can forgive the tourists that drew on my face while I was meditating, you don't present an issue."
"That's terrible." said Ned.
"Speaking of terrible." said the monk putting a hand on Ned's chest. "You seem to have an energy obstruction in your Heart Chakra stemming from a kundalini emanating from your Solar Plexus."
"Eh?" asked Ned.
"You have girl trouble." the monk clarified.
"What? No, I don't." said Ned. "But if I did what do I do? Do you know any magic?"
"I'm a monk not a wizard." said the monk affronted. "The wizards are in the British Enclosure."
"Sorry." said Ned, making a note to visit Britain.
"What I can give you is the knowledge of our culture." said the monk "We have a legend of the faithful wife Sita. Sita was the wife of Rama, the king of Ayodhya. One day, Rama was overthrown by the evil Ravana and exiled into the wilderness. Sita was offered a chance to stay in the palace and enjoy the privileges of royalty, but instead decided to go with her husband. Ravana was beset by terrible jealousy and kidnapped her. He held her prisoner in his palace for years, where she pined for her husband."
"The enraged Rama gathered his friends and they searched for Sita. She was found by Hanuman the monkey, but he was caught before he could bring word back to Rama. As punishment for siding with Rama, Ravana ordered Hanuman to be thrown into a fire."
"However, Hanuman escaped the fire and ran through the palace trailing embers behind him. Before long, the palace was up in flames. Rama saw the pillar of fire on the horizon and went to rescue his wife."
"Before he made it to the palace, he crossed paths with Ravana, who was fleeing from the inferno. He was alone and defenseless, and was slaughtered by the angry Rama."
"When Rama arrived at the burning palace he saw Sita walking through the flames toward him. As she walked through the fire, the flames she stepped on turned to lotus flowers. Rama ran to meet her, and they were together again, never to be separated." the monk finished.
"Cool." said Ned, appreciatively. "But what does it mean?"
"Well, for one thing, never set fire to a monkey." said the monk.
"So true." said Ned.
"The other," the monk added, "is that the true strength of a relationship is the loyalty you have for each other."
The samurai blocked the blade that had come within an inch of his jugular. He swung his blade around and narrowly missed his opponents leg. He drew back and stabbed right at the heart, but had his blade knocked aside. All in all, it was pretty boring.
Faymen didn't find it boring, he'd been watching the Samurai exhibition since they had arrived in the Japanese Enclosure. In spite of the style and artistry, it wasn't really Moze's thing. She kept getting dragged back to the time Ned had won their bet with his project on Japan. She really wished she had stayed in the Jamaican Enclosure, and they had left just as she wanted to try goat racing.
Faymen was paying rapt attention to the match. Moze slowly backed away without him noticing and made her way out of the audience. There had to be something else here. She looked around and saw a garden path.
The garden was very tranquil. She didn't walk into anyone else on the path. The garden had the effect of removing all other distractions, which, unfortunately, brought Ned to the front of her mind.
No matter how much she agonized over it, the fact of the matter was that Suzie was back, the girl he had liked since second grade. She couldn't compete with that kind of devotion/obsession.
That thought settling in, she flopped down under a tree. It was already late afternoon and the sun was hot. Maybe they had a blizzard set up in the Norwegian Enclosure.
"I see you have found comfort in the shade of the sacred tree." said a voice.
Moze's eyes flew open and she saw a Japanese woman in white.
"It's sacred?" said Moze. "Sorry, it just looked...well, it just looked like a tree."
"No matter, as priestess of the Enclosure I can assure you that resting under it is not sacrilege." said the lady in white. "Just don't cut it down and we'll all get along."
"Deal." said Moze. "So, why is it sacred?" she asked.
"This is the tree we decorate with lanterns on Tanabata day." the priestess answered.
"Oh, of course," said Moze, "Tanabata day." she had never heard of it.
"Well, as you know," said the priestess, smiling slightly, "It occurs on the seventh day of the seventh month. It's the day the God of Heaven grants wishes of love."
"The legend says that the God of Heaven had a daughter and a ox herder. And you know that can only lead to one thing." said the priestess.
"The ox herder fell in love with the daughter." guessed Moze.
"Correct." said the priestess. "More importantly, she fell in love with him. They were so enamored of each other that for each of them only the other existed. So much did they think about each other, that they neglected their other duties. The God of Heaven looked down one day to see that the oxen were wandering lost across the land. The God of Heaven was furious and sent his daughter to the other side of the universe to keep the two apart."
"The two were beset by terrible sorrow." said the priestess. "The End."
"What?" said Moze. "What kind of ending is that? Aren't they supposed to live happily ever after?"
"Stories don't always end happily ever after." said the priestess. "The only reprieve they get is that on the seventh of the seventh the ox herder makes a wish to see his lover again. If he as been dutiful in his responsibilities, the God of Heaven will bring his daughter to see him, but only for that day."
"That's still a real downer." said Moze.
"I do wonder what they felt." said the priestess, looking at the lotus in the Koi pond. "The excruciating pain they felt when a whole universe was put between them must have been quite a learning experience. You never really learn how important something is until someone takes it away."
Moze pondered this as she walked back out of the garden. She remembered when Ned stared dating Suzie and hadn't had as much time for her. Eventually, he had made time for her as well, but before he did, she felt like a limb was missing. They had gotten so close since the year started. She found herself looking forward to their evenings spent with one of his new recipes. That had become the best part of her day.
In spite of how well things had worked out with Suzie coming back, she didn't feel any better. She needed a solution to all this. She saw Principal Wright in a nearby Pagoda and ran up to him.
"Principal Wright?" she asked.
"Jennifer," he said, "what can I do for you?"
"I need to know where Ms. Frizzle is." she said.
The lights were going on all over Britain. The sun was setting and the street lamps were going on in the rose garden the British Enclosure was cultivating.
"This is romantic Ned." said Suzie. "Thanks for bringing me here."
"Your welcome." said Ned, distracted. He was on the lookout for any wizards. That monk better not have lied to him.
"You know, you've been a little distracted all day." said Suzie.
"It's just a lot to take in." said Ned. "We've visited Australia, India, Gabon, Uruguay...it's all just so enriching." Where the sod were those bloody wizards?
"Well," said Suzie, taking both his hands, "we could take a break from academic enrichment, and focus on the romance of this scene."
She raised her lips to his, kissing him. It wasn't like kissing Moze. With Suzie he felt butterflies in his stomach. With Moze there weren't any butterflies. With Moze it was deeper; not a reaction in the body, but a vibration in his soul.
"Isn't this romantic." said a voice behind him.
Suzie and Ned broke apart to see who the intruder was. A man stepped into view from behind one of the hedges. He was wearing a gray suit with a watch chain dangling from a vest pocket. He had a burning cigar in his hand. He was a dead ringer for Winston Churchill.
"Excuse me." said Suzie, indignant.
"Your excused." he said. "What do you think of the statue?" he asked pointing behind them.
Ned turned to look. He saw a pedestal coming out of the ground, but there was nothing on it.
"It's an artists rendering of a Boojum." the man said.
"I've never seen a Boojum." said Ned, utterly mystified.
"Well, beware, my little friend the day, if you do meet a Boojum, for then, you will softly and suddenly vanish away, and never be met with again." the man said.
"Huh?" said Suzie, loosing patience with the stranger.
"There's a story about the Boojum." the man said. "Once upon a time there was a Boojum..."
He stopped and thought for a bit.
"I forget the rest of the story." he admitted. "There's a moral, but I forget that, too."
Ned and Suzie stared at him, wondering if they were having Oktoberfest in the German Enclosure.
"Look," he said suddenly, "the point is, if you want something, take it." and he walked away.
It was night, and the French Enclosure was lit up like a diamond studded disco ball. In the main square of the enclosure, a band was playing and the crowd below was dancing. The upbeat tempo and the endless pastries had the party in full swing.
From the top of the Eiffel Tower, Ms. Frizzle watched the revelry.
"The French have a story about a man who was turned into a beast." she said. "He was so hideous that no one could stand to be around him. There was one woman that came to live in his castle, as payment for saving her father. The longer she lived there, the more she understood him, the more she grew to love him, and the more she loved him was the more beautiful he became."
"It always sounded like Stockholm syndrome to me." said Moze.
Ms. Frizzle chuckled.
"That depends on which version you hear." she said. "The point is that love beautifies people like nothing else can. Love changes everything."
She turned away from the crowd below, towards Moze.
"But you didn't come here to hear me tell love stories." said Ms. Frizzle.
Moze shifted her weight. There was no going back if she did this. She took a deep breath and stared Ms. Frizzle squarely in the face.
"You said there was one more test." she said.
"And you want to go through with it?" Ms. Frizzle asked.
"Yes." Moze said, after a moments hesitation.
"Very well." said Ms. Frizzle, as she walked towards the staircase. "Wait here." and she went down the stairs.
Ned and Suzie were in the French Enclosure. Suzie had asked to sit down before she started dancing in the street. She had walked all over the world in heels today.
Ned took the time to watch the people dancing. They were singing, laughing, and dancing for joy. Everyone sees this kind of thing when they're in a bad mood. The Universe can be cruel.
He saw Cookie dancing with Anne Brando. While they were dancing, Cookie's head would occasionally swing away and look elsewhere. After this happened several times, Ned followed his gaze and saw Lisa Zemo dancing with someone else a few feet away from Cookie. Cookie was dancing in a tight circle around her and her partner. Ned realized it was a holding pattern. The minute Lisa was available, Cookie would jump from Anne to Lisa.
Ned reflected that that arrangement wasn't very fair to Anne. Ned didn't think he'd lead a girl on and drop her at the first opportunity. A thought occurred to him and he turned to look at Suzie, who was putting her heels back on.
Ned realized that he would do that. He could go out with Suzie, and Moze could go out with Faymen. He would be passably happy and less lonely with that arrangement. However, the minute Faymen was out of the equation, he would drop Suzie and admit to Moze that he liked her.
And that wasn't fair to Suzie. And Moze deserved someone better than a person who would do that.
"Okay," said Suzie, getting up, "I'm ready to bust a move."
"Suzie," Ned said, taking her hands, "I'm glad your back."
"Thanks, Ned." she said, smiling.
"And I'm glad we can be friends again." he added.
"Eh?" the smile slipped off.
"But I just want to be friends." he finished.
"Eh?" and now there was a scowl.
"Hey, Suzie." said Loomer, coming out of the crowd. "Ms. Frizzle said I would find you here. Wanna dance?"
She looked him over. He'd ditched the leather and bad attitude since she last saw him.
"Why not?" she said, and they went into the crowd.
"That worked out nicely." said Ms. Frizzle, appearing beside him.
"Yeah, for everyone else." Ned grumbled.
"It might work out for you, too." said Ms. Frizzle. "You just need a different perspective."
"Like what?" he asked her.
"Like the perspective you get from looking out from the top of the Eiffel tower." she answered him.
After an arduous climb, Ned was at the top of the Eiffel tower. It was a mercy they had built it to scale instead of life sized.
There was only one other person on at the time. She was leaned over the railing, looking at the party below.
Ned thought the view was spectacular. It wasn't the lights of Paris below, or the hundreds of bodies moving to the rhythm, but the gentle light that illuminated Moze's face.
"Hi." he said.
She looked up, and smiled at him.
"Hey," she said, "why aren't you with Suzie."
"I left Suzie." he answered, walking up to her.
She looked surprised.
"Where's Faymen?" he asked.
"I left him in the conga line in Trinidad." she answered. "Why...are you here?" she asked, in a tremulous tone, like the answer would be fearsome. From down on the ground, a sweet, soulful melody started up. The bodies in the crowd below started swaying slowly.
Ned's mind was still a mess of What Ifs, Maybes, and Could It Bes, but there was one part of him that knew exactly what to do, and it got control of his mouth.
"Do you want to dance with me?" he asked, offering her his hand.
Moze hesitated. She knew the question meant a lot more than what he said.
"But," she asked, "what about Suzie?"
"I want to dance with you." he said. "Only with you."
Moze felt a sensation deep inside her chest. It was like a flood gate had opened and a torrent was spreading through her body. In spite of the magnitude of the flood, it's only visible appearance was a tear going down her cheek. And the flood swept all the doubt away.
She reached out and took his hand. He pulled her closer to him and they wound their arms around each other. She nestled her head in the crook of his neck and they started to sway with the rhythm from the ground.
At some level, Moze new there was more to come. At some point, she would have to tell Faymen. They would both have to deal with Suzie. Her parents would insist on supervision when she went over to Ned's house from now on.
Right now though, those thoughts didn't even enter her mind. It was only her and Ned, and the feeling of exhilaration racing through her body. Her heart felt so full. A smile kept tugging on her lips.
Ned pulled back slightly and looked deeply into her eyes. His hand rose to touch her face. His thumb wiped away the tear that had fallen earlier.
They both moved together slowly and kissed. Ned could feel Moze smile briefly against his lips.
Overhead, fireworks went off.