The bottoms of Lyza's blue socks made muffled footfalls as she paced about her room.
It wasn't even two hours to noon, and she was already bored.
She could watch TV, but it was all re-runs until the summer.
She could play her flute, but she had done that so much for the past several years that it was beginning to feel more like a chore.
She could read a book, but her eyes were crossing and straining from all the reading she had been doing lately.
She could play a game on the computer, but her brother was using it.
She could practice more worksheets, but there was no test or examination looming in her future to make it worthwhile.
She could, she could; but nothing felt like it was interesting, or it came with some side-effect she didn't care for. So, she just paced, and thought of all these things she could do, but wouldn't.
She was antsy—an antsy little aardvark.
Her pace stuttered when she heard a knock at her door. “Yeah?” She asked.
The door opened enough for her brother to stick his ears and head through. “Hey, sis, you busy?” He asked, surveying the papers that were still littering the floor.
”...Not really,” she replied. “Why?”
”Okay, cuz I forgot to say Mrs. Isonheim called earlier this morning. She asked if I could babysit Rini for a bit, while she and Mr. Isonheim ran some errands. Is that okay?”
The rabbit stood still for a moment, before replying, “No.”
Her brother didn't miss a beat as his head slipped back through the cracked door and his voice back in; “Okay, well then I'll tell—”
Even while he was talking, Lyza ran to her door. “Oh, c'mon, I was just—”
She pulled her door open and saw her brother walking back down the hall, toward the girl that was standing at the junction, a few feet away.
”—kidding.” The rabbit finished, meeting eyes with the rat.
Rini raised up her hand, the other one holding onto the strap of her backpack. “Hey, Liz,” she greeted.
Her brother gave a smirk. “Well, glad you were cuz I think this is a nice way to say thanks for them taking you home.”
”Eh, that wasn't a big deal,” the rat replied to the older brother.
Kval shook his head. “No, I really appreciated it. I was worried about making sis wait.” He motioned for her to come out.
Lyza emerged from her room, joining the rat and her brother in at the junction of the hall.
”So, you guys wanna find something to do yourselves, or do I need to break out the home videos?”
”I brought some things we can do,” Rini said, twisting a bit to show her backpack, and patting it.
”Okie-dokie, then I'll get back to my paper, if that's okay.”
”Uh oh, paper?” The rat asked. “I thought you did all your finals.”
”I'm done with finals, but for one class I gotta write a research report instead. Kinda put it off.”
”Well,” the rat said, briefly glancing at Lyza. “I'm sure you'll do fine.”
”Well, thank'y',” the older brother smiled. “All right, I'm off to the compooter. Lemme know if you guys need anything.”
”Sure,” his sister said, as he slipped past them to head back down the hall.
Rini stepped aside to let Kval pass, and looked to his younger sister. When the rabbit turned to head back to her room, Rini followed, letting the door swing so that it was an inch or so ajar.
”So...” Rini said, as Lyza went to her bed to straighten it up a bit. “Before you say anything, your bro was telling the truth.”
Lyza looked back out of the corner of her eye. “What was I going to say?” She questioned, a bit defensively.
”Nothing, just,” the rat lifted her hands up peacefully. “I just wanted you to know that I didn't, like, ask to come over and bother you, or whatever.”
Lyza pivoted, and leaned against her bed. “I don't really care,” she said with a shrug. “Put your backpack wherever; make yourself at home,” she said, less than hospitably, waving her hand to gesture any spot in her room was fine—it was a mess already, anyway.
Rini slipped her shoulders free, setting the backpack down by the door. “Can I take my shoes off?” She asked.
Lyza shrugged. “Said make yourself at home,” she lifted up her own shoe-less foot, and curling her toes to pop them.
The rat squatted down, untying her laces. “You guys have a really pretty house.”
”You blind?” Lyza responded, as Rini slipped out of her shoes and looked for a spot to put them. “It's so dark it sucks up the color on the street. The HOA gave up on trying to get us to paint it years ago. They just send us a fine every month and dad pays it.”
”Well, I still like it,” the rat said. “It's dark, but not like... My house is so bright and carpeted, and it always smells like flowers or something.” She rubbed the ball of her foot on the wooden floor. “Something about the dim lighting, and the smell of the wood, makes me feel... Cozy.” She said, with a smile.
She started to walk, but very quickly stepped on one of the pieces of paper decorating the floor. She glanced down at it, lifting her foot away. It was a worksheet; it looked like one of the vocabulary sheets they did, where they had to write a word that was missing in the sentence. Each of the blanks was caked over with white-out, with a word written on top of it.
When Rini looked back up, the rabbit was gritting her teeth behind her closed muzzle, and pushed off the bed.
She knelt down, and started gathering up the nearby papers.
Rini squatted, “I'll help,” she offered, picking up the papers nearby her. Each one was a worksheet: one for math, one for science, one for social studies, and then a few more vocab sheets. But, on these sheets, she saw Kval's name, along with the same whited-out blanks with Lyza's own handwriting scribbled in.
She flinched when the sheets were snatched from her fingers. She watched the rabbit gather a few more papers, and then slide them underneath her bed, as if to hide them away. Sort of like how Rini sometimes concealed junk food she wasn't supposed to have in her room.
”Huh... Never thought of that,” Rini muttered.
”Thought of what?” Lyza questioned, in half-trepidation that the remark was rhetorical.
”Using my older brothers' worksheets to help me study,” she explained. “I mean,” she fell back from her squat, to a sit; “guess that's why you got an A and commended, and I just barely squeaked out of a U-3.”
The rabbit's fingers curled as she balled a loose fist just beside her.
”Hey, so...” Rini stood up. “What're you selling for Market Day?”
Lyza's eyes went half-lidded, and she looked at her left foot. “...I don't know.” She answered, a bit curtly.
”Hey, so...” The rat said, in a way that sounded exactly like before. “Wanna see what I brought?” She asked, lifting her backpack up by the hook-loop.
”Fine,” the rabbit said, with disinterest.
Rini approached the rabbit by her bed, setting the backpack down and unzipping the main compartment. She began pulling things from within.
Lyza sat, and followed Rini's hand as she pulled out several items: a pair of scissors, a reel of masking tape, a brown bottle of tacky-glue, a package of fifty-or-so off-brand dixie cups, two spools of multi-colored yarn, and a loose string of yarn that was wadded up.
She set these things down between them, and then sat back.
”What the heck is all this?” The rabbit asked, squinting an eye.
”Oh, right, it's in this pocket,” Rini remarked to herself, as she opened up the next-biggest compartment in front of the main one. She fished inside for a few seconds, before her lip curled up in a bit of dismay. “Got a little smooshed,” she grumbled, pulling it out. She spent a second trying to fix it, before setting it between them.
Lyza saw that it was one of the dixie cups, but with the yarn wrapped all around it. The yarn had gone astray where the brim had been dented in, but otherwise it was a fairly steady weave all about the outside, like a cozy.
”What is it?” The rabbit asked.
The rat picked it up by thumb and forefinger, holding it up and tilting it at different angles. “It's supposed to be, like, a Native-American-style basket,” she answered, setting it back down with a soft tap upon the wood.
She reached into the bag of dixie cups, pulling two out. “Wanna make one with me?” She asked, setting the two bare cups down between them. One fell over, and she quickly righted it back up.
”I dunno how,” Lyza replied.
Rini smiled. “Well, I meant you want me to show you,” she rephrased. “It'll be fun.”
”Not like I have anything better to do,” the rabbit replied, swiveling her ears back and sitting more forward.
”Cool, it's really easy,” she said, moving the finished one out of the way and picking up the scissors. “So we'll start by taking the cup,” she picked the cup up an inch and set it back down, “and then just...” She opened the scissors, sliding each blade over the sides of the cup from the top, almost all the way down to the bottom. She closed the blades, and a satisfying slice of the paper hit their ears.
”Cut like almost right down to the bottom, and I usually start right next to the seam, see?” She rotated the cup so the rabbit could see she had cut just to the right of where the cylinder overlapped on itself. “Then you just do it four more times, as even as you can...” The rat raised up on her knees so she was looking top-down at the cup, measuring as evenly as she could.
She cut four more slits into the cup, and relaxed back onto her heels. “Then when you're done, spread it out so it makes a flower-shape,” she did so, coaxing the “petals” apart until the cup was unfolded and flat upon the floor.
”Here,” she said, proffering Lyza the scissors, “your turn.”
The rabbit took the scissors, but when she tugged, the rat didn't let go. She tugged again.
”You're supposed to say 'thank you,'” the rat said.
Wrinkling the side of her nose, the rabbit muttered the thanks, and the scissors were relinquished.
”It's a Scout-thing,” Rini mentioned. “You say that when handing a sharp object over so the other person knows you have it. It's...” She shrugged. “It's a habit my brothers obnoxiously got me into.”
Rini watched quietly as Lyza made the first cut into her cup.
The rabbit was meticulous, taking quite much longer than Rini had. Maybe it was because she had never done it before. She spent quite a bit of time lining the scissors up with the seam, nudging them closer, then farther, then closer again; tilting the blades toward her, then away, then toward again, ever-so-slightly.
Finally, she slowly closed the handle together.
The thick brim of the cup crinkled in, causing the blades to twist to the side, throwing off her whole effort; the paper kinked, and the blades did not cut in where she intended.
She opened the scissors and let them fall, picking up the cup to look at what she'd done.
”I forgot to mention,” the rat said, “you probably wanna just cut quick so it slices through th—”
The paper protested as it crumpled, crushed within the rabbit's fist. It squeaked and gurgled as the fist closed more tightly. Finally, the clamp relaxed, and a thin, wrinkly, grotesque length of paper-cup fell upon the wooden floor.
After a pause, the rat reached for the bag of cups, plucking another one. “Let's try that again. This time...” She set the cup down. “Just... It's okay, you don't gotta think so much. A quick cut is a clean cut,” she quipped.
Still, Lyza took another moment before she moved, once again lining up the blades with the seam, and rotating the cup just enough so that the seam was out of the way. She took a breath, and quickly closed her fingers.
The scissors sliced through the thicker brim, cutting all the way through.
The rat let out her held breath. “There, see? Now just do that a few more times.”
Lyza relaxed the scissors and turned the cup a bit. She tried not to think that much; snip. Another turn, another snip; and two more, right after. She set the scissors down, and started to peel apart the petals of the flower. Even before she had flattened it out, she saw that one petal was dramatically wider than the others.
”It's fine,” the rat said, almost in anticipation of the rabbit's reaction, like she could see the flash of lightning before the thunder. “Doesn't have to be perfect. As long as it folds out like that, you're fine.”
Lyza flattened her cup just like the rat had.
”Oh, don't smooth out the bottom all the way,” the rat warned. “Otherwise it won't go back right.”
”Okay,” Lyza stopped her efforts. She looked to hers, and looked to the rat's.
Rini's was nearly pristine, while hers was... clunky, ugly-looking. Crude.
”I've practiced a few times,” Rini mentioned. “That's your... Well, yeah, that's your first one; you'll get the hang of it, pretty soon, Liz-Whiz.”
Lyza grimaced. “What... did you just call me?”
The rat got a bit nervous. “Sorry, I was just... trying to make a fun joke. Liz and whiz rhyme, so...” She let out a chuckle. “F-Forget it, anyway, uhm...” She picked up the wadded-up string of yarn, and started untangling it. “So, now we need to cut about thirty feet of yarn,” she said. “I use this as a guide, it's three feet of yarn,” she pulled all the coils and curls out, and set it on the ground, straightening it taught.
”So this is really simple, all you do is just... Take the spool,” she picked up the spool and pulled out the dangling end, unraveling it as she went. “Line it up end-to-end,” she did so, and then rolled the spool along the ground to give the other end some slack. “Get it next to the ruler-one... Then, pinch this part,” she pinched the end by the spool that lined up right next to the end of her three-foot measure, “and use this at the end and start over.”
The rabbit followed her hand as she set the pinched-end down and let the rest of the slack fall away wherever it wanted. She lined up another spot to pinch, and then that took the place of the second starting-point.
”Three... four... five...” Rini counted, as she quickly ran through each length of three feet. “Nine, and.... Ten.” She held the spot that measured about thirty feet. “And then, it doesn't hurt to have a little extra,” she said, measuring about a foot of lee-way before taking the scissors to cut the yarn. “There ya go,” she finished, collecting her length of yarn and coiling it up. “Your turn,” she said, picking the spool up and proffering it to the rabbit.
Lyza took the spool and started measuring her own thirty feet, using the rat's pinching-end as her starting-end.
Rini watched while the rabbit once again set about her task more meticulously than was practically necessary. She wanted to say something, but held her tongue.
She recalled the flute lessons, where the rabbit had gotten so frustrated and upset over her mistakes while playing.
Ms. Miskerwitz came across as harsh, so it wasn't that much of a surprise how worked up Lyza had gotten.
But, the way Lyza had crumpled the cup after messing up brought back the flash of memory when she threw her flute at the couch.
The rat was brought back to the present when she saw the yarn pinched between the rabbit's fingers fall free when Lyza tugged the next bit from the spool.
For a moment, the rabbit stared at the spot where she had once pinched; or rather near to it, for she had lost it precisely. Her hand tensed, fingers shaking and knuckles prominent. But the gesture faded, and in silence she set the spool down, and pulled the slack she had measured out nearby it, setting the end flush with the end of the measuring-length.
Starting from the beginning, she measured again, re-measuring what she had already measured before. Just as meticulous, just as careful. This time, she pinched, and then held the length with the rest of her hand, so that it wouldn't fall if she accidentally let go.
After the fifth measure, she was back where she had been before.
When she finally finished, the rat let out her held breath. “Don't forget to—”
Lyza flinched, letting go of where she had been pinching. The yarn moved away, losing track of where it had been. She stared at it again, with a look of despair on her face.
”I was just gonna say,” the rat spoke quickly, realizing what may be about to happen, “give it some extra lee-way,” she finished, reaching for the yarn and tugging a bit more from the spool. “It's... It doesn't have to be exact,” she reassured, “in fact, it's okay to have more than enough, so...” She took the scissors, “if you drop it again, don't worry, just pick it up where it's at and start from there, and give it a bit more, and everything's fine.”
Rini cut the length, committing the rabbit to it. She coiled it up, and set it down next to the rabbit's cup. “Okay, so... Now's the fun part, I think,” Rini said. “You can use tape,” she picked up the reel of tape, “or glue,” she touched the bottle of tacky-glue, and it toppled over. “Oops,” she picked it up. “I um... I found that using tape to hold it in place, and then gluing it and taking the tape away works pretty well.”
”Tape what in place?” Lyza asked.
”Oh, yeah, maybe I'm getting ahead of myself,” the rat chuckled. “Um... Okay, so, we have our yarn,” she held up the end of hers, “and our flattened-out cup,” she tapped her cup within the center. “So... We just wanna take a piece of masking tape,” she picked at the reel, peeling a half-inch of tape away, tearing it. “And tape the end in the middle, like this.”
She set the end across the middle, and taped it down, pressing the tape to smooth it.
Lyza picked up the reel of tape, and peeled some. She ripped it, but it didn't tear quite right; a bit of it kept going down the reel for an inch or so, giving it a kind of tail. She picked up the the end of her yarn, placing it across the bottom of the cup.
She placed the tape over the end, but the tail of the tape snuck underneath, causing it to have a lump and wrinkle. Dissatisfied, she pulled the tape up, but that caused some of the paper from the cup to come with it, leaving behind an rough patch at the bottom of the cup.
”Sometimes,” the rat interjected right away, picking up the reel of tape, “it's easier to just...” She peeled the end away, but kept it to the reel. She placed a spot a couple inches down from the end of the yarn onto the cup, and laid the tape attached to the reel over it. She then used the scissors to cut the tape, and smoothed it out.
”There, and the rough spot's all covered up, so like it never happened,” she remarked. She used the scissors to cut the excess yarn, and botched tape-attempt, off. “So, we've got it taped down. Now, just take the slack and fit in between the closest notch. Then go under... and then on the next one go over... then go under... and over... and under...”
As she mentioned each motion, she threaded the yarn over and under each petal, turning the cup as she did. “Kind of tug it a little now and again, to make sure it's snug,” she mentioned. “And... Yeah,” she said with a shrug. “Just keep doing that for a while. It'll start to kind of reshape into a cup as you go.”
Looking at her own cup, the rabbit started off just as Rini had, slipping the yarn between the fattest petal and one next to it. She slipped it under, and then over, and then under, and then over; the odd number ensured that on the next row, her last over would now be countered with an under, and vice-versa.
Lyza quickly fell into a trance with the rhythm. It was... soothing, in a way. The repetitive motion was methodical and simple. A pattern that occupied her, like the ticking of a metronome.
”Kinda fun, isn't it?” Rini asked with a giggle.
The rabbit broke from her meditation.
Rini saw the smile crack and shatter back to a frown. “Making the pot, it's kinda fun? This is the part I like,” she mentioned, showing how she was mirroring the rabbit, though she had made a bit more progress on her pot.
”...I guess,” the rabbit said, pausing to look at her work. She was about halfway done, the cup having started to reshape, each row bringing the space between the petals at the brim closer and closer together.
She turned it, looking at the way the colors of the yarn criss-crossed, giving it a rhythmic visual pattern, while still slowly gradating from one base-color to the next as her eye flicked up and down the pot.
Then, she spotted something.
”What's wrong?” The rat asked, noticing her concerned expression.
”I... messed up,” the rabbit muttered, turning the pot so the rat could see.
”Oh, yeah, I do that, too,” Rini replied. “I get so caught up, I sometimes get flipped around on my over-unders. But, it's okay, I don't even—”
The rabbit turned her cup over, and used her fingers to pull down the whole woven work. The yarn unraveled, until it was once more a curled string, hanging from the center, where it was secured by the tape.
Lyza set the pot down on the floor, and slipped the yarn between the fat petal and one next to it once again, moving it under and over the next.
”You didn't... Have to start all over...” The rat mumbled.
Lyza paused for a moment. Then, she kept going, quietly murmuring: “Over... Under... Over... Under...”
”Hey,” Rini spoke, and her fur stood on-end from the look Lyza gave her. “I... You wanna trade?” The rat offered. “Mine's almost done.”
”No.” The rabbit growled. “I don't want to trade.” She continued. “Under... Over... Under... Over...”
What before was meditative, had now been corrupted into an exercise in focus and attention. It was so easy to go under or over twice in a row without realizing it.
The rat listened to the soft chanting. It was slow, careful. She could tell when the rabbit lost focus, because the rabbit would pause and really consider what action she had just done, and inspect the cup.
These were tense moments, as Rini almost feared, even dreaded, that a mistake might be spotted.
She had come to realize now that mistakes were not something to just be corrected; they meant starting all the way back from the beginning.
Just like the flute practice. Ms. Miskerwitz made them start over from the beginning each time.
”You're almost to the top,” Rini said, causing the rabbit to lose her focus. But, it was safely lost, as she had timed it while Lyza was tugging and securing the last bit of section she had done. “Let me get caught up, so we can finish them together, cuz the end is a bit tricky.” She held up her cup, that she had not made any progress on since the rabbit had restarted.
Lyza set her cup down. “Okay.” She replied.
Rini started her progress again. “So...” She said, as she worked. “The spools of yarn were about four bucks each. The tape and the cups together were like two... two-fifty. Dunno about the scissors and the glue, but... Doesn't matter, maybe.”
”So?” The rabbit questioned.
”So...” The rat pulled out a mistake she had made. “That's about ten bucks total... There's enough yarn to make... Maybe, forty baskets? Sell 'em at a buck each, that's forty bucks; thirty bucks profit.”
”Kinda figured you were tricking me into helping you with your Market Day project,” the rabbit muttered.
”My Market Day project? Nah,” Rini replied. “I'm making crazy-pencils. I just... thought this might be a fun activity for us to do, y'know?” She mentioned. “I like... doing stuff. When I hang out with Bitty, Betty, Kelly-Elly and the others... We just kinda... Take teen-mag quizzes and look at fashion zines, stuff like that.” She tugged the yarn to tighten the weave.
”But,” she looked up from her basket, meeting eyes with the rabbit. “If... If I can... I do have a favor to ask you.”
Lyza's pupils flitted to the side. “What?”
Rini started the over-under part of her weave again. “My birthday is the week after school's out. I usually have a party at some place, but this year... My bros and my dad are training to go on some rugged hiking-camp or something, so the house is going to be empty. Just me and mom.
”So, I thought I'd have a slumber-party as my birthday party. Just... Hang out, play games, stay up late, whatever.
”You're invited, of course,” she mentioned, tugging her weave tight again. “But, don't bring a present or anything; I just want to hang out with friends.
”Anyway,” she shifted, her foot getting pins and needles from her sitting posture. “...Do you know Ark's number?” She asked, almost interrupting her own thoughts.
”Ark.” The rat repeated. “Emmy's boyfriend?”
The rabbit blinked, her ears swiveling up. “I... Don't know what you're talking about.”
”Oh...” Rini looked to Lyza. “She didn't... Mention anything to you?” She asked.
”You hear what I just said?” The rabbit asked, a bit agitated.
”Well, I can't tell if... I mean... I know she's kinda shy about it,” the rat admitted. “Only reason I know is cuz I saw his name on her phone once,” she explained. “I didn't mean to bring it up, if it's supposed to just be between you and her.”
”It's not, apparently; I dunno anything about that.”
”Oh... Well,” the rat set her cup down. “So, I was going to say... I mean, maybe you still can. See, I got mom to agree to let Goren sleep over, but only if there are other boys, too; like, at least a few, so they can sleep in a different room. Mom wants to make sure it's okay with all their parents... So... I was thinking I'd invite Emmy and Ark, too.”
”So... Ask Emmy.”
”Well, I would, but... Um...” Rini fidgeted for a few seconds. “See, I don't want Emmy to get all excited, if it turns out he can't. So, like, I was hoping you knew his number, so I could have mom call his mom and stuff.”
”Sorry... I don't,” the rabbit replied.
”That's okay. Maybe... I dunno, we can talk about it later... You ready to finish these?”
”Sure,” Lyza picked up her pot. “Over... Under...” She whispered.
”Don't worry about tightening this last bit, we want a little bit of wiggle-room,” the rat mentioned.
”Okay.” She continued to focus, quietly, until she couldn't really thread much more.
”Yup that's good, so you've got plenty of slack,” she said, lifting up her own slack, which dangled down a bit longer than the rabbit's, since she had given herself more lee-way. “So now, we want to finish it off, but we can also do the handles at the same time. So... I haven't been able to do this part without a needle, but, I'll give it a shot.”
The rabbit scooted closer as the rat lifted her cup to demonstrate.
”Loop it underneath a couple of rows and in between this two petals, and then move it here...” She did so, with a bit of trouble. The string of yarn crossed over the mouth of the cup, close to one side, giving it a bit of a handle just below the mouth.
“Loop it around the back and do the same on the other side... It gets a bit snug,” she remarked, trying to squeeze the end of the yarn through.
”Then, push it back inside again and kind of tie it off around the handle,” she did so, looping it and tying a tight knot that disguised itself against the second taught strand she made that served as a handle.
”Cut the excess off and... That's it!” She declared, setting hers down.
The rabbit looked at her own basket. She unraveled a bit of the weave she had done, as Rini's example didn't quite go completely flush to the top.
Rini watched, tensely, while the rabbit started to make the handles. She didn't know what would happen if there was a mistake.
Would she undo the handle part and start that over again? Or would she unravel it all the way back to the tape?
Or, would she crush it, rejecting it altogether, and start afresh with a brand new cup?
The rat was surprised when the rabbit's fingers deftly slipped the yarn through the weave one way, then the other, and tied it off, without any real trouble at all.
”Like that?” Lyza asked.
Rini chuckled. “Y-Yeah,” she nodded. “You made that look easy.”
They set their cups down next to each other, and the original one that had been scuffed and scarred from loose backpack travel.
The rabbit reached into the package of cups, pulling out another one.
”Oh, you wanna keep going?” Rini asked.
Lyza paused, and started to put the cup back. “I... I dunno, were you wanting to do something else?”
Rini shrugged. “I'm fine making more,” she replied, reaching for the scissors. “We can probably at least get enough done so that you could break even on Market Day, if you can't get any more done by then.”