This is the second part of “The Zodiac Stories.” The events in this part build from the first one, so I recommend reading that first! :)
I predict I have about twenty seconds before Austin comes back, with Mama in tow. Ugh. She’ll know that Austin was lying about having a project. There is no way around telling her about the recorder, but at least the battery’s dead, so she can’t listen to the conversation. Not that having ancient technology is illegal. But we overheard an Aries (I believe her name was Clarisse) and a Scorpio (unfortunately, we don’t know their name) planning to sneak into Lupus, another county, which is illegal. No one knows why. Just a rule the Lupus made. I believe it was Tasmira Valdis’ idea to make that a rule.
The door creaked, and I spun around. Austin walked in alone. “Miss me?”
I stared at him. “How did you get Mama to leave us alone? Wasn’t the project a ruse to make her go away?”
My brother sighed. “Did it ever occur to you that I might actually have a project in Astrology?” He paused and cocked his head. “Given your expression, I would say no.”
“Whatever. Thanks for distracting her, at least.” I turned back to the recorder. “I think the battery died. As soon as you left.”
“Shoot. It was fun while it lasted. It’s not like we were going to do anything with it anyways. Ready to go to Youths for Change? I believe we are finishing planning the Olympics. The funds go towards buying a new air freshener for the Cancers.”
“How can you just let go of this so easily? We overheard not one, but two people talk about doing a highly illegal activity! We have to stop them before they get arrested!”
Austin took a deep breath. “Aurora. It would not be smart to involve ourselves in that mess. Other people are not your responsibility. I know it, and so do you.”
Where did this serious and mature Austin come from? “Austin, you’ve only known me for a few months, and you might not know this about me, so I’ll forgive you. I never do nothing when I can do something.”
“Which is why we need to hurry and get to Y4C! We can make a difference there.” He grinned. “Besides, it’s on your checklist. Number three. ‘Do something for the community.’”
He has a point. Stupid checklist. “Fine. We can finish this discussion later.”
When Austin and I arrived at the meeting in the park, Jasmine (Austin’s girlfriend, from Lupus), Breanna (the Capricorn who started Y4C), and Ethan (a Sagittarius) were there. There were five others in the club that we were waiting for: James (from Cancer), Addison and Aidan, (our resident Gemini twins), Jonah (an old friend of mine from Leo), Jasper (a Taurus), and Arlyn (an Aquarius).
I hope I didn’t throw too many names at you. My apologies.
I turned to Ethan. He was usually friendly, and I wasn’t in the mood to deal with Austin. “So, how was your weekend?”
“Okay. I caught a cold, so I couldn’t go to the party that Jonah was hosting!”
A new voice joined the conversation. “Too bad for you. It was awesome!” Addison piped in.
“It really was!” her twin Aidan added.
Ethan groaned and rubbed his eyes. “Don’t rub it in.” He acted hurt, but everyone knew he was joking.
During the conversation, everyone had arrived except for Jonah, which didn’t surprise anybody. The Leo was usually a few minutes late. Arlyn looked at Bre and said, “We all know that he’ll be late. We might as well start.”
Our leader nodded. “Okay Zodiacs, I call this meeting to order. Let’s discuss the Olympics we plan to host next week. James, what do we have so far?”
“Um, we are going to have 13 events, one each of the Zodiacs would excel in. Of course, any Zodiac can participate in any event,” James said after glancing at his notepad. “And all funds we raise from admission goes to the air freshener.”
“Maybe we should just do three events. It would be easier to organize,” Aidan said.
“I like that,” Addison supported her brother.
“Maybe we could charge for admission to watch the games and a different cost if the Zodiacs want to participate,” Jonah says in-between breaths. It's clear he just sprinted here.
“Happy you could join us, Jonah,” Jasper teases.
“My pleasure.” He takes an exaggerated bow.
“Anyways,” my brother continues, rolling his eyes. “I think that what Jonah said about charging for playing and viewing the games is a great idea. What kind of games do we want?”
“Something athletic or competitive,” Jasmine says.
“And an intelligence test of some sort,” I chime in.
“And a test of leadership!” Arlyn concluded.
The list kept going until we had a solid plan for the games. Suddenly, I was looking forward to next Saturday.
The week passed quickly. Austin and I didn’t mention the Aries and Scorpio again. Every time I approached the subject, Austin called Mama over or continued our age long debate: Do you bite into string cheese or eat it strand by strand? (Of course, I must bring up my argument that it's called string cheese for a reason. It’s not bite cheese!) Unfortunately, Austin knows me well enough to know how to take my mind off the illegal activities of other Zodiacs...
Soon, it was Saturday. Somehow Austin and I got roped into selling tickets for those who were going to participate or watch, while the rest of Y4C got to help set up. It was monotonous, but definitely worth it. I loved community service, especially when it brought fun to the Zodiacs and benefitted the whole Zodiac community.
Austin was helping a Pisces get his ticket when an Aries walked in front of me. “I’d like to participate in the games,” she said in a familiar angry voice.
This was the Aries that wanted to break into Lupus!
I looked at Austin to see if he recognized her to find he was already looking at me. ‘Clarisse’ he mouthed. I nodded.
The girl looked at me and then Austin. “This is where I get tickets, right?” she asked a little impatiently.
I recovered first. “Um, yes, it is,” I replied. “Just write your name on the list of participants, and here is the ticket. She handed me some money, wrote ‘Kimi Harbinger’ on the list, and stalked off to where the other participants were gathering.
Austin and I stared a hole in the paper where she wrote her name. “Kimi?” Austin asked. “There is no way. I know that is the same girl we overheard in the park.”
“The name ‘Kimi’ means secret, right?”
“I- yes. It does. I didn’t think of that, but it's true.”
“That girl is hiding secrets. I know it.”
“Always the drama queen, Aurora,” my brother teased. “But what about her last name? Harbinger? Maybe she’s a harbinger of... destruction!”
I stared at him. “And I’m the drama queen?”
“Touche.” He grinned. “Come on, help me sell the rest of the tickets. We’ll keep an eye on her.” He moved to intercept the next person in line before I could, but I beat him to it. I looked back at him, and he stuck his tongue out in retaliation. I stuck mine out back, which evolved into a game of who could stick their tongue out the most without being caught by the Zodiacs buying tickets.
I would just like to point out that I won the who-can-be-the-most-sneaky-with- sticking-their-tongue-out-at-each-other contest. Just saying.
All of us in Y4C lined up in front of the contestants. We had to limit the amount of people who could participate to one from each Zodiac. Every Zodiac was represented except for Taurus, Pisces, and Cancer, who crowded the stands. As I scanned the crowd, my gaze fell on one person in particular: Tamisra Valdis. I nudged Austin and pointed her out. “She never comes to social gatherings anymore!”
He frowned. “That’s true.” Then, his face brightened. “Maybe it’s good publicity, and more people will donate because she’s here!”
I decided to share his optimism. I nodded enthusiastically.
Bre started to explain the rules. “So, there will be three challenges. All contestants must follow of the rules of the game, or else they are disqualified. Contestants can drop out at any time. No refunds. The more specific rules change depending on the game. Each challenge, the contestants will be awarded points, and the contestant with the most points at the end wins. There are 3 possible points for each contestant each round. Keep in mind, these Olympics are just for fun and a great way to raise money for a good cause. Any questions?”
The Scorpio raised his hand. "What's the prize?”
“Bragging rights,” Austin replied. “Pride and vanity. Knowing you helped a good cause.”
The Scorpio and several others grumbled, but no one commented or left the park. Of course, they didn't. There was no way they hadn’t noticed Valdis in the stands. To leave with her watching would make them look cowardly, which was something you didn’t want to be in front of her.
“So, everyone go line up to the right!” I shouted.
“Does the order matter?” the Lupus asked.
“Line yourselves up in alphabetical order from your first name,” Jonah answered.
“This is boring,” commented Kimi.
“Here’s the catch,” Jonah continued, ignoring her. “No talking, or else you are disqualified.”
“You have 5 minutes to complete the challenge,” Arlyn told them.
“Any questions?” Jasmine concluded. No one said anything. “It’s pretty straightforward. No talking starts now.”
There was a moment where all the contestants looked at each other.
Then all at once, everyone moved.
Kimi and the Scorpio started shoving each other.
The Leo and Gemini stared each other down.
The Libra started talking in sign language, and the Virgo quickly joined in.
The Capricorn stepped back and watched everyone else.
The Sagittarius and Aquarius started a round of rock-paper-scissors.
And the Lupus tried to organize everyone with crazy hand signals.
This was going to be a long day.
Austin and I glanced at James, Ethan, Aidan, Addison, and Jasper. They oversaw the scoring. Austin caught Ethan’s eye, raised his eyebrows, and mouthed ‘Good luck with scoring this.’ Ethan grinned and turned his attention back to observing the contestants.
I rolled my eyes and turned my attention back to the game. The Lupus, Virgo, and Libra had gotten together and were now organizing the others. The Virgo redirected the Sagittarius and Aquarius while attracting the attention of the Capricorn; The Lupus got between Kimi and the Scorpio; and the Libra tapped the Leo and Gemini, getting their attention. The Virgo and Lupus moved their hands into... something. I was confused until I saw Kimi make something resembling a K. Oh! They were making the letter of their first name. Smart. Soon enough, the others caught on, and there was a line of Zodiacs. Jasmine stopped her watch and checked the names to make sure they were right. She paused when she came to the Leo and Sagittarius.
“You should be Liam and then Marian,” she said. There was a second where everyone watching went through their alphabet, and I swear there was a silent hum going through the crowd as everyone hummed ‘LMNOP’. And then a general laugh as they realized that Jasmine was right. Jasmine turned back to the judges and said, “Everyone else is in order!”
It took a few minutes for the judges to score everyone. While they were scoring, Austin walked over to me.
“Aurora! I was wondering if you could help me with my checklist. I have to help someone. Is there something you need me to help you with?”
“Austin, you are literally helping lead an entire event in Y4C. I think that counts as helping someone.”
A second of silence. Then Austin laughs. “Duh. So, do you think we should watch Kimi or Tamisra Valdis?”
“Both, but mostly Kimi. Valdis would never do anything wrong. She pretty much singlehandedly created the Lupus.”
“True.” He opened his mouth to say more, but Arlyn interrupted him.
“Aurora! Austin! Come on! We’re about to announce the scores!” Arlyn shouted.
The scores were 3 points for the Lupus, Virgo, and Libra; 2 points for the Capricorn, Kimi, and the Gemini (they were the quickest to catch on to making the first letter of their name with their hands); and 1 point for the Scorpio, Leo, Sagittarius, and Aquarius.
I looked at Valdis to see her watching the contestants closely. Kimi noticed her too, and nodded her head when Valdis scrutinized her.
“We are ready to explain the next challenge,” Addison yelled over the crowd. There was immediate silence. “We are going to split the contestants into two groups. This is an athletic challenge: an obstacle course. However, there are higher stakes. The winning team will move on, while those who lose will be eliminated.” She paused, waiting for the complaints. I think she was just as surprised as I was that there weren't any.
Aidan continued explaining, “Everyone in the audience was required to give us their name when they paid admission. So, we will now choose two random people from the audience to compete with the teams. Of course, playing is optional, but the person from the audience on the winning team will be allowed to continue to the final round. If they were to win, their prize is 10% of the money collected today.” Cue excited chatters from the audience.
Austin spoke up. “Before we will announce the names of those in the audience who will be participating, I will announce the teams. Libra, Capricorn, Scorpio, Lupus and Gemini! You are the blue team. Virgo, Aries, Leo, Sagittarius, and Aquarius! Red team!”
“And now for the audience!” I shouted. James came running up to me with a top hat filled to the brim with slips of paper. Guess we were choosing the names the old-fashioned way. I grabbed the hat and thrust my hand amid the papers. Grabbing one, I read, “Luna Pisces! Will you please join the blue team?” A younger girl, about twelve, jumped up and ran to join her teammates. Grabbing a slip of paper from the top, I shouted, “Joining the read team, we have-” I cut off as soon as I read the name on the paper. Austin came up behind me and read the name over my shoulder.
“Tasmira Valdis, come on down!” He informed the audience, sounding like a game show announcer from the old world. As one, the audience gasped and turned to look at Valdis, mouths gaping.
There was a pause as everyone waited to see what she would do. I expected her to refuse, and I’m sure everyone else here did too. She surprised us all when she said to the audience, “You’ll catch flies with your mouths hanging open like that.” In one swift move, she stood up and started walking to where the red team was standing. When she got to her team, I thought I noticed Kimi shift closer to Valdis. Maybe I just have an overactive imagination.
“Let’s start! I don’t have all day,” Valdis drawled.
“R-right!” Jonah stuttered. In all the time I’ve known Jonah, I have never known him to not be confident. This was new. What I would’ve given to have that moment recorded on my tape recorder forever... “So, the blue team will run the course first! Line up blue team! Red, go sit on the sidelines!” Once everyone was in their place, Jonah yelled, “The team with the fastest time wins. All team members must cross the line for us to stop the clock. No points will be awarded this round. GO!”
And the blue team took off. Luna slipped and fell first thing, only to have the Capricorn scoop her up. The others slid across the mud, the first obstacle. When they hit the climbing wall, their shoes and hands were slippery from the mud. The Virgo, Gemini, and Luna were obviously not used to so much physical activity, but the Capricorn, Lupus, and Scorpio excelled. They scrambled over the wall first. The Capricorn and Lupus turned around to pull up their exhausted teammates. The Scorpio ran towards what the people in the old world called “monkey bars.” Whatever a monkey was, it must have been interesting. The, um, athletically challenged members of the blue team struggled, with the Virgo falling twice. Finally, the team scrambled across the finish line.
“7:57.03 minutes!” Jasmine called. “You’re up, red team!”
They took off once Bre shouted, “GO!”
No one stumbled even once as they sprinted through the mud. I don’t think anyone was even watching the team; everyone’s eyes were on Valdis. She ran with ease, and even assisted the Leo and Sagittarius when they failed to get up the wall fast enough for her liking. Kimi grabbed the forearms of the Aquarius when he was close enough, and they booked it to the monkey bars. Valdis made sure everyone else went before her before she grabbed the first rung. She began swinging her body back and forth to gain momentum, and everyone expected her to swing her way across like the other contestants. But she surprised everyone again by doing a backwards flip to land on top of the obstacle. She then walked on top of the rungs on her way across. She completed the act by doing a forwards flip, landing behind the finish line.
Jasmine called, “4:45.89! The red team wins!”
Austin and I looked at each other as we realized what this meant: Tasmira Valdis would be moving on to the final challenge.
Part 3 will come soon!