Alea Iacta Est
Part Two: Enlightenment
[A/N: Dinah's dialogue assisted by a friend of mine with teenage daughters.]
Dinah Alcott wished that her headache would go away. It lay across her brain like a malevolent kitten, digging in claws that felt like railroad spikes. Painkillers barely dented it; she could hardly eat, and she had to drag herself up the stairs to her room while the latest round of her parents' ongoing argument echoed from the living room.
Her parents had been fighting about stuff since Christmas, but she had only started getting the headaches since the yelling and slamming doors had begun happening. A couple of weeks ago, just after New Years', she had come downstairs to find her father sleeping – rather uncomfortably, it seemed – on the sofa. He had awakened at her startled gasp, and made a joke about 'camping out'. But she had gone to school terrified that when she got back, one of her parents would be gone forever.
I don't want that to happen.
The screaming downstairs was reaching a crescendo, and – wait for it – a door would be slammed, any moment SLAM now. She had heard these arguments so often that she could read the pattern, the flow, of them. It was as if she didn't even need to hear the words; she just knew what was coming next.
It's so stupid.
The thought bobbed up into her mind, and waited for her to notice it.
She frowned. Stupid how? Well, she knew it was stupid; she just didn't know how to fix it.
They're arguing about two different things, and they can't see it.
That revelation was enough to get her out of bed. Cautiously, she climbed out of bed and tottered out of her room, to the top of the stairs. Sitting down, she hugged the bannisters for support. Now, she could hear the words that were being shouted at each other.
She blinked; she could hear the words behind the words. The words that they weren't saying.
I know what's wrong.
I can fix this.
Carefully, she pulled herself to her feet, and stumbled downstairs. Her parents were in the living room, facing each other; they turned to look at her as she entered the room.
"Honey, what's up?" asked her mother. "Did we disturb you?"
"Of course you disturbed her, Anna," her father muttered gruffly. "Screeching like a banshee -"
"Mom," Dinah interrupted him. "Dad. I know why you're arguing. I know why you're mad at each other."
That brought a few seconds of pause, as the two adults looked at one another, then back at her.
"Sweetie, it's really complicated -" her father began.
"No, Dad, it's actually not," she interrupted him again. Looking at him, at her mother, she could see the network of what was going on. The stress patterns. The deep issues. The reasons. And she could see how to fix it. If only they would let her.
"Honey, it's late," decided her mother. "You should be in bed."
She stood her ground. "Why, so you two can keep arguing?" she asked, with a tremor in her voice. "Is this what you really want, that you get so mad that you can't stop?"
"We're pretty well there now," her father muttered.
Her mother shot him an angry look, then knelt down before her. "No, of course we don't, honey. We love each other, we really do. It's just that there are some things -"
"It's gonna be all over between you two if this keeps going," Dinah stated clearly. "You're not gonna be able to help yourselves. You'll start thinking about divorce. And that's the last thing I want."
Her mother hugged her; Dinah hugged her back. "Oh honey, we're not going to go that far."
"Oh, yes, you are," Dinah insisted. "But I know what's wrong, and if you're willing to listen to me, I can fix it."
Her father looked dubious, but said nothing. Her mother pulled back and looked at her carefully. "What do you mean, honey?"
"I mean that I can see what's happening to you," Dinah told her simply. "And excuse my French, but it's crap."
"You can ... see ... what's happening?"
Dinah nodded earnestly. "You think Dad's mad at you for spending your money, right?"
Anna Alcott nodded. "Well, that's part of it ... "
"Not even close." Dinah shook her head vigorously, her straight brown hair waving back and forth.
Her mother paused. "No?"
"Nope." Dinah pointed at her father. "He's mad because he thinks you like someone else."
Slowly, her mother turned to look at her father. " ... what?"
He shuffled his feet and looked a little embarrassed. "I don't really think that, but with all the new clothing you've been buying, and the new perfumes ..."
"You think I might be looking around?" Her mother's mouth opened in shock. "No. God, no. There's no-one but you. There's never been anyone but you."
"So why the new perfumes, the new hairstyles, the new clothes?"
She looked at him blankly, as if she were unable to figure out how he couldn't understand this.
Dinah went to her rescue. "For god's sake, it's for you, Dad. She wants to make herself look good for you."
"You look just fine as you are?" he ventured, frowning in puzzlement.
"So why haven't you been paying attention to me?" she burst out.
"What? Sure I've been paying attention." He looked almost indignant at that.
"No. You really haven't. You've been working late since mid December, and when you're home you're really distracted."
"No, I've been working extra hours to earn a bonus, so …" He trailed off.
His wife picked up on that immediately, of course. "So …?" she prompted.
Defeated, he slumped. "So I could take you away for a weekend on our anniversary."
"Which you missed," she snapped.
"Yeah." He sighed. "I got too caught up in stuff, and it happened before I was able to make arrangements. Sorry."
Her lips tightened. "That's not -" She stopped herself.
"That's not what?" he asked.
"Mom thinks that you're hiding something," Dinah supplied. "And she's not wrong, is she?"
They both looked at her, then at each other.
"Are you hiding something?" she asked.
"Sort of," he admitted. "But I didn't want it to come out like this."
"Like what?" When he didn't answer, she compressed her lips together. "I found a receipt in your pants pocket when I put it in the wash. It was from a jeweller's. What did you buy … and who was it for?"
"Why didn't you ask me when you found it?" he demanded.
"Because I wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt!" she shouted.
"Mom! Dad!" Dinah's high voice rose over both of theirs. Again, they looked at her. "Dad, please, will you just shut up and give it to her?"
He took in a deep breath. "Right. Okay. One second." Turning, he vanished into his study. Moments later, he emerged with a box in his hand; a few inches wide by several inches long, it drew the attention by the fact that it lacked any sort of ostentation.
"I wanted to keep this for until we were doing better," he explained in a vague tone of apology. "Didn't want it to seem like a bribe to make you be happy." Running out of words, he handed the box over.
Carefully, she opened it; the first thing that came to her eye was a small card. Open, it read, To my dearest Anna. This is my apology for missing our anniversary. I promise that I'll do better next time.
Beneath it, glinting softly in the living room lights, was a necklace of intertwined gold and silver chains. Dinah's mother caught her breath as she stared at it. "Oh," she murmured. "Oh my."
He lifted it from the box. "Do you want me to put it on you?"
Her eyes lifted to his; they were soft, lacking the anger of moments before. Her lips slightly parted, she breathed, "Yes. Please."
As Anna turned her back to her husband, carefully sweeping her hair out of the way, Dinah backed out of the room and crept up the stairs. The rift between her parents was almost closed; the hurt would heal in time. They were willing to listen to each other now. They're willing to listen to each other. My job is done. Now, who should I send the bill to, and how many zeroes should I put on it?
As she settled back into bed, hugging her pillow and listening to the gentle murmur of her parents conversing downstairs, she realised that her headache was gone; it had vanished without a trace.
Mom and Dad are talking again, and I think I've got super-powers.
Best. Day. Ever.
She fell asleep with a smile on her face.
"I want to do that!"
"Carly, you're doing the gluing."
"Because no-one else is gonna do it."
"Dinah, are you okay?"
Dinah opened her eyes at that; she realised that she'd been sitting back with her eyes closed and her fingers pressed into her temples. Blonde-haired Briony was looking at her with some concern. Behind Briony, she could see Xavier doodling on the corner of the piece of paper he was supposed to be cutting shapes out of, and Hank whispering something to Kayla to make her giggle. Carly, with a glue pot in one hand and a mutinous expression on her face, was staring daggers at Briony's back.
"Got a headache," she mumbled.
"Should I get Mrs Smith?"
Dinah shook her head. "Wouldn't help. But I think you might be doing it wrong."
"That's what I said!" Carly broke in. Dinah winced at her tone.
"You mean I don't know what I'm doing?" Briony retorted, her tone hurt.
"No, I mean that you've got the right idea, but there's a better way to do it." She waved her hand. "Everyone else is half done, and we're barely started."
"That's because me and Carly are the only ones who are doing anything," Briony retorted. "You've got a headache, Xavier's scribbling and Hank and Kayla are playing house over there."
Dinah took a deep breath. "Carly, I'll take over gluing, okay?"
"All right!" crowed Carly. "Scissors please!"
"No," Briony told her. "It's Xavier's job to do the cutting."
It was all so clear to Dinah now. "No, Carly's got smaller hands. She'll do a neater job. Xavier, you're good at drawing. Can you trace some shapes for Carly, then draw decorative designs on the bits you've already cut out?"
"Uh, sure," Xavier replied in surprise. "Briony?"
"Uh, yeah, that's a good idea," Briony belatedly agreed. She turned to Dinah and hissed, "I'm in charge of this project!"
"I know," Dinah told her at once. "My dad taught me about 'delegation'. It's how you get people to tell people to do stuff for you. You're just delegating me to do the job."
" … oh." Briony thought about that. "Delegation. Yeah, that sounds about right. So, how do we delegate Hank and Kayla to do stuff?"
"Well," Dinah replied, as if she hadn't already thought it through, "how about Kayla colours in the drawings that Xavier's making, and Hank sorts the pieces out, so that we know what goes where?"
Kayla had already perked up at the mention of colouring; Briony nodded. "Yeah, that makes sense. So is there anything I can do?"
Dinah shrugged. "Uh … hold the pieces together so that I can glue it more easily?"
Briony smiled. "I can do that."
When Mrs Smith passed by their table a few moments later, everyone was busy; Carly was cutting out the shapes drawn for her by Xavier, who was busily decorating the pieces already cut out. Kayla was carefully shading in crayon work to enhance Xavier's line drawings of dragons and castles. Briony was helping Dinah attach the finished shapes, put in order by Hank, to each string in turn.
"Well, I am impressed, Briony," she murmured to the blonde. "I hadn't thought you were this organised before, but here you are."
"Thank you, ma'am," the girl replied. "It's all about delegation. Dinah told me about it."
"Well done, Dinah," praised Mrs Smith. "And you too, Briony. And the rest of you, too. It looks like you're really working together. I can't wait to see your finished piece."
As she walked off, Briony punched Dinah lightly on the shoulder; surprised, Dinah looked around to see the other girl grinning at her. "What?"
"She's right. We're all really working together. And it's all because you saw how we should do it."
Dinah ducked her head to hide a slight flush. "Dad says that a good boss knows when to delegate."
"Well, when I'm running the world, I know who I want working for me."
Dinah giggled. "Well, how about we finish making this mobile first?"
Briony rolled her eyes. "Details, details." But she picked up the next two pieces and held them together for Dinah to glue. "Say, isn't your headache bothering you?"
"Uh, no." Dinah blinked, a little surprised herself. "No, it's gone away."
"Good. I was wondering if you were faking it so you wouldn't have to play sports this afternoon."
"Faking it?" Dinah shook her head. "Uh, no. No, I'm fine."
"Good." Briony smiled. "I want you on my team. I like the way you think."
"Oh." Dinah looked at her, then nodded. "Okay."
And they went back to building the mobile.
Briony was not happy, Dinah decided. It wasn't hard to figure out why; she had been counting on being picked as a team captain, but this hadn't happened. Instead, Samantha and Gretel had ended up as captains, and had commenced picking out their teams for the upcoming soccer game.
"Same team," murmured Briony from beside her. "Same team."
Dinah shrugged. "If I can," she agreed. It didn't really matter to her; she wasn't good at the game. Half the time, when she went to kick the ball, it just wasn't there.
Briony, being tall and reasonably athletic, was an early pick for Samantha's side. She trudged to her captain's group, and was handed the red cloth that she was supposed to tie around her arm to mark her as part of that team. Other girls were picked for each team; once she had the cloth tied properly, Briony began to talk insistently to Samantha, gesturing in Dinah's direction. Samantha, however, had other ideas, and picked out Kayla instead.
Gretel picked Carly, who grinned at Dinah as she departed for the team sporting the blue cloths.
Samantha picked Francine; Briony looked unhappy as Gretel cast her eye over the remainder of the girls. The ones who were actually good at sports had been taken; of the remainder, Jasmine was painfully thin and used an inhaler, Ingrid wore Coke-bottle glasses, Helen was more than a little overweight, and Dinah was … Dinah. Ordinary, average, everyday.
As Gretel opened her mouth, Dinah started coughing heavily, finishing off with a hawking sound that didn't actually bring anything up but sounded positively disgusting. Gretel closed her mouth and switched her gaze. "Helen," she called.
"Okay," Helen agreed, and trundled over. "I can't run much."
"That's all right," Gretel told her. "You can be the goalie."
Briony prodded Samantha and gestured toward Dinah again. Samantha looked her over dubiously; Dinah smiled slightly and nodded back. She needs to see confidence. After a long pause, Samantha called out, "Dinah."
Over she trotted; Briony slapped her on the shoulder, but she barely noticed. The team was standing around, some bored, some alert. She could, more than ever before, see the potential there. Each of them had strengths and weaknesses, some more obvious than others. She could see how to get them to work together, how to weld them into a cohesive whole.
If only they would let her.
A few minutes before half-time, it wasn't going well. Jasmine and Ingrid, by general agreement, had been tapped to keep track of the score; Ms Hendricks was watching to ensure that the rules were adhered to, and that no fights broke out.
Samantha had a lot of enthusiasm, and was a fair soccer player herself, but she had trouble accepting that the others in her team lacked her skill and capabilities. Briony was good, and a few of the others also knew what they were doing, but for the most part, they seemed to be just blundering around the field, looking around for the ball.
Dinah's headache had returned in full force; as she watched the players run around the field, she could see how it could be made to work. Each player's capabilities were mapped out in full to her eye, both Samantha's side and Gretel's. She could see how Gretel was organising her players, the strengths and weaknesses in the opposing side's strategy. She knew how to break it; all she needed was the chance to do so. But each time she saw how it could be done, and didn't do anything about it, the pain increased yet again.
Talking to Samantha wouldn't help; she could see that. Their side was down four goals to nil already, and the bigger girl was not going to listen to guidance from her. Briony, however ...
"Briony," she gasped, finally catching up to the girl. "I can fix this. But I need your help."
Briony eyed her, then at where the ball was heading for their goal again. Samantha was urgently screaming and gesturing for her to intercept it. "Talk to Samantha," she told Dinah, then ran off. Dinah watched as she was body-blocked by two of Gretel's bigger players, allowing the ball to get past. By the time Dinah caught up with her, she was picking herself up off of the ground, and a yell from the opposing side signalled yet another goal. At the same time, Ms Hendricks blew her whistle to signal half-time.
"I can't," Dinah responded. "Samantha won't listen to me. But she'll listen to you."
"She didn't before," Briony stated flatly, as they started back toward their goal line.
"Try it now," Dinah urged her. "But say this to her ... "
She spoke, and Briony listened.
"Okay, guys, we're being murdered out there," Samantha pointed out, pushing sweaty strands of hair back from her face. "Seriously, we need to stop slacking off and get into position, and kick the damn ball. Not just wave your feet in its general direction."
"We're doing our best," Francine protested. "Gretel's got her people all over us."
"Well, you're obviously not doing your best," Samantha shot back, "or we'd be winning."
"Uh, Samantha," Briony ventured before an argument could start. "I've been watching them, and I think I've got them figured out."
Samantha turned to her. "Okay, let's hear it. How do we beat them?"
"Okay, first off, we put Dinah in as goalie." Briony nodded to Dinah. "We all know she isn't that great out on the field."
Dinah shrugged. "It's true."
"Okay," Samantha agreed. "Dinah, you're goalie. It's not like you can do a worse job than Francine."
"Hey, I never asked to be goalie," Francine objected.
Dinah said nothing. To speak up now would do more harm than good, especially if she revealed that Francine had not tried at all to stop any of the goals. That Francine was deliberately letting the side down because of her friendship with some of the girls on Gretel's side. No-one would believe me. Better to just get her out of the goalie position, where she can do a lot less harm.
"So, you got any other ideas?" asked Samantha.
"Yeah, I got ideas for plays," Briony told her. She pointed at those girls who were best at handling the ball; this did not include Francine. "Come on, I'll fill you in."
"Hey, what do the rest of us do?" asked Francine.
"Get in the way of their players," Briony suggested.
"I'm still team captain," Samantha warned Briony as they walked off a little way with the picked players.
"Well, yeah," Briony agreed. "You're just delegating strategy to me."
Dinah waited with the others; she had explained it clearly enough to Briony that the other girl was able to impress on each of the others what her role was to be. It would be a rough and ready system, but she should be able to make a difference if she played it right.
"What's that all about?" complained Francine, gesturing to the group with Samantha and Briony. "What are they talking about?"
"Don't know, don't care," lied Dinah. She knew full well that if Francine was in that group, that she'd do her best to disrupt the instructions with questions and chatter. Which is why she's here, rather than there. She's a blue cloth in the red team. We're just gonna have to play around her.
All too soon, Ms Hendricks' whistle blew, and the team gathered together once more.
"Okay, team," Samantha addressed everyone. "You're clear on what we're gonna do?"
Serious nods greeted her; predictably, Francine spoke up. "What are you gonna do?"
Briony answered her, grinning broadly. "We're gonna win this game, that's what we're gonna do."
With the kickoff, given that the blue team had scored the most recent goal, Samantha's team had the ball. She passed it immediately to Briony, then fell in before her, moving forward to prevent anyone from marking her. Just as a player slipped past Samantha toward Briony, the ball was passed sideways to where a flying wedge of three of the other players was waiting toward the edge of the field. They started moving fast up toward the blue goal, kicking the ball between them.
The players designated as cover started moving among the blue players, getting in their way and making it hard to get to the ones who had the ball. But Gretel saw what they were up to, and had a phalanx of her heftiest girls ready to come in hard.
Just as they were about to hit, one of the girls dropped back; Briony glanced back, Dinah gave her the hand signal, and Briony nodded to Samantha. Samantha called out, one of the girls kicked the ball backward just before they were overwhelmed by weight of numbers, and the third one out booted it sideways through the air. Samantha, waiting midfield, headed it forwards, to where Briony had run to; Briony trapped it, then kicked hard, lofting it into the blue team goal net, inches away from Helen's reaching fingers.
There was an instant of surprise, then shock, before the red team erupted with cheering. One goal to five wasn't a great score by any stretch, but it was a start. As the red team came walking back toward the midline, Gretel went over to her goalkeeper, and appeared to be having words with her. Briony sought out Dinah with her eyes and gave her a discreet thumbs-up.
Okay, they'll be looking for that one now. Let's hope the next one works as well as that did.
As the teams set up for the kick-off, Dinah read the blue team's intent, and figured out which play was best needed. When Briony looked around at her, she made a great show of scratching her right ear; Briony nodded, then turned to Samantha. Samantha gave orders, and some of the team members started fading backward toward the goal line.
The play worked almost perfectly, with red team players frustrating the blue team's attempts to come downfield. It would have worked perfectly, except that Francine, running right instead of left, 'accidentally' blundered in front of Samantha, just before the team captain would have booted the ball back upfield. Dinah pursed her lips as the ball got through the red defence at last and came blasting downfield, with the blue team thundering after it. Again, she read their intent, and figured out a play to beat it. Fortunately, it was one of a few simple patterns that she had communicated to Briony. She rubbed her nose vigorously as the ball came closer and closer; then, she had no time at all.
Gretel was coming in for the kick; it looked to be a smash into the slightly larger section of net to Dinah's right. But Dinah's power read the deception loud and clear; Gretel was going to double-step and kick with her other foot. She held until Gretel was committed, then moved left; the ball left the toe of the blue captain's boot, and flew straight into her hands. She threw it back again, over the heads of the closest blue players, to where Briony was waiting. Samantha, alerted by her friend, took it from there; between her and Briony, they shepherded it most of the way up the field before the blue team even caught up with them. Even without Dinah's direction, they pulled off a feint-and-kick that put another goal on the scoreboard for the red team. Dinah found herself yelling shrilly, pumping her fists in the air. They scored that time, and I didn't even have to help them!
The red team were grinning like maniacs as they came back to the midline for the kickoff once more; Gretel's teammates were looking somewhat more grim. Two goals to five was a little more substantial than one goal to five. They still didn't consider that they were going to lose, but it looked like they were in for a fight.
This time, Gretel had a different strategy in mind, and Dinah alerted Briony accordingly. Samantha had severe words with Francine about getting in her way; the girl slunk off to her allotted place with more than one glare back at the red captain.
With the kickoff, Gretel's team came blasting through in a bull-rush, intended to overwhelm the defences of the red team. But Dinah had planned for that; she barely had to give Briony any direction at all, as she and Samantha coordinated a response that saw the ball taken away from the blue team when it was barely five yards from the red goal. Back upfield it went, back and forth between the red players, who were really starting to hit their stride now. It nearly fell prey to an interception near the blue goal, but Samantha bulled her way through and nailed another goal that bounced off the top bar and ended up in the rear net.
Back to the midline they went once more; as the blue team was assembling, and Dinah was studying them to figure out their next play, she was startled when Francine planted herself directly in front of the goal area. Directly in front of Dinah, to be more precise.
Dinah read her intent immediately; she wanted to block Dinah's view of where the ball was, under the pretext of 'covering the goal area'. Which also blocked her view of what was going to happen, so she couldn't clue Briony in on what play to use.
"Francine, get out of the way. I need to see what's going on."
"No, I'm good right here." Francine threw her a snarky grin. "Just think of me as a second goalie."
Dinah moved to the right; Francine moved that way as well. "Francine, I need to see."
"Give it a rest," Francine told her. "Just because you fluked a catch doesn't make you Goalie of the Year."
Dinah was getting desperate. The kickoff had gone, and the mob was stampeding toward the goal line, and she couldn't see, couldn't formulate a play. Taking a chance, she darted forward, past Francine and out of the goal area, so that she could see what was happening.
It was bad, but it wasn't totally lost. Gretel was being strategic, but Briony was thinking on her feet and coordinating with Samantha. The ball was getting close, but -
"For crap's sake, if you're gonna be the goalie, get in the goal area!" Francine grabbed Dinah and almost threw her backward; Dinah stumbled and caught herself on the rear net.
At that moment, Samantha yelled out, "Francine! Stop that ball!"
Francine looked around at the sound of her name, and Dinah lurched to the side; the ball was in free flight, heading for the goal area. Francine ran toward it, intending to kick it not away from the goal area, but into it. And kick it she did; right into Dinah's arms once more.
She threw it back out again, right to the point where Samantha's boot was ready and waiting. Briony barely needed the signal for the play, and the ball was heading up-field once more. Gretel's team was all out of place, and once again, the red team romped in a win. As they came back once more for the kickoff, Dinah took a chance; she pointed at Francine, who hadn't strayed much away from the goal line. Catching Briony's eye, she drew her finger briefly across her throat.
As the team got ready for the kickoff, Briony spoke to Samantha. Samantha listened, shook her head. Briony spoke again, more urgently. Eventually, Samantha nodded, and spoke to Francine. The girl wanted to argue, but Samantha pointed firmly at the side of the field. Reluctantly, Francine trudged off, and the underweight team prepared once more for the kickoff.
Even down a player, the game result was no longer in doubt. Red team scored two more goals in style; a last-ditch effort by Gretel's team to force a tie was foiled at the last moment by a concerted play by both Samantha and Briony. Just as it looked like the blue team was going to try again, the whistle blew for full time.
"Well, that was some inspired play," Ms Hendricks announced as she strolled on to the field. "Samantha, your first half was pretty lacklustre, but you certainly pulled it together in the second. What changed?"
Samantha scratched her head. "I think it was Dinah," she announced. Dinah froze; she hadn't thought anyone had realised what she was doing, apart from Briony. She studied the girl; no, she didn't know either. So what does she mean?
"What do you mean? The way she saved those goals?" Ms Hendricks studied Dinah. "I have to admit, you were pretty good there."
"Well, it certainly helped," Samantha noted. "If she'd let them through, we'd still be behind."
"See, I told you she was good luck," Briony told her team captain, putting her arm around Dinah's shoulders and squeezing.
"Yeah well, I should've listened earlier," Samantha agreed. She put her hand on Dinah's shoulder. "You did good out there. Briony did the right thing, putting you in as goalie."
Dinah ducked her head and shrugged. "It was easier than it looked."
"Yeah well." Samantha mussed Dinah's hair playfully. "You can play on my team any time."
"Come on!" Briony grabbed Dinah's hand. "Race you to the showers!"
As they pounded up the path toward the school buildings, Dinah felt a warm glow of pride. My power helped win that game.
I wonder what else it can do?
End of Part Two
[A/N 2: Dinah has the QA shard. Once she has a goal in mind, she can assess the motivations and capabilities of people, as regards the goal at hand, and she knows how to integrate them into a team best suited for reaching that goal.]