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"Do you think this can make us famous?" Ruri squatted on the bed. A pulse beat on her forehead and her occiput tingled, not altogether pleasantly. The soles of her feet rose, hovered above the plain brown bedsheet, and rose higher. Satisfied, she let herself plop back down. "Like, get us featured on magazine covers or invited overseas?"
The silliness of the question seemed to offend Tia. "Go ahead if you want to be a world-famous freak," she muttered. Her back was to Ruri and she was bent over her Chemistry homework. "Next year we'll have to get into a good high school. That matters a whole lot more. You'll get far with education, not by whooshing around like some Supergirl cosplayer."
Ruri pouted. Her sister, who was born only a minute earlier, liked to lecture her, often more sharply than necessary. "Crotchety old Tia," Ruri muttered back. "What's wrong with cosplayers, anyway?"
"Don't change the subject. And get some sleep, we're leaving for Bandung first thing tomorrow. Traffic out of Jakarta can be jam-packed on long weekends."
"Hey, show me what you can do with that pen."
Instead of heaving a long-suffering sigh, Tia turned around and regarded her sister up and down. "Just once. This homework is giving me enough of a headache already. And a pen is too light."
"Deal." Ruri stuck out her legs over the side of the bed.
Tia raised her palm over a Hello Kitty plastic doll on her desk. The doll shuddered before half-leaping off the desk, bumping into Tia's palm. It stuck there for a second or two before Tia snatched her hand away. The doll floated down and settled back gently on the desk.
"Very precise." Ruri clapped her fingers against her own palm. "How do you keep your control over it for so long?"
"I'm sure it's much easier than keeping your entire body afloat. Never tried it with heavy objects like a chair, though."
Ruri bounced off the bed. "Plenty of opportunity for that," she said as she straightened the bedsheet, knowing Tia hated going to sleep on an already messy bed. "We've only had this ability for, what, two days? Can this be genetic? Maybe Mom also has it, or Dad, and they've just never told us?"
This had occurred to Tia, but neither of them had had any courage to broach the subject to their parents. "Let's just start dropping hints. At worst, they'd laugh us off," she added, as though there had been much laughter from their parents lately.
The quarrel began as soon as their car entered the Cikampek highway. Vehicles were lined up for kilometers ahead, crawling along at an infuriatingly sedate pace. Mom blamed Dad for not taking the Puncak route.
"Excuse me, but this was supposed to be the fastest route to Bandung," he intoned, tapping at the steering wheel. Dad had not looked at Mom or the girls ever since he had gotten into the car. Tia and Ruri found this disturbing. "Besides, this is a long weekend. The Puncak traffic isn't going to be any less congested than here."
Mom folded her hands across her stomach. "Just say it."
"You don't want to go to Bandung. You dislike having to ask my brother if there's a vacancy in his office, or if he knows anyone who has one in theirs. It hurts your pride. Well, your pride isn't going to feed the girls or pay for their school fees."
The tapping on the steering wheel stopped. "I've got plenty of friends right here in Jakarta," Dad said, his words clipped. "No need to go all the way to Bandung. What are you even thinking? It's Jakarta. There are bound to be more jobs here than in Bandung."
Tia and Ruri blinked at each other. Before today, Mom and Dad had never argued openly in front of them. However, Dad had been unemployed for nearly two months now, and constantly irritated about it. Sooner rather than later that irritation would spill over.
"You've been asking your friends, I know that," Mom said. "Have any of them given any answers? Not a positive answer, just an answer, other than 'Oh yes, we'd be on the lookout for you.' That's all they've done, being on the lookout and nothing else - "
In the back seat, Ruri clasped her fingers together. Glancing at her, Tia caught her breath. A sheen of sweat had formed above Ruri's upper lip. Her head was also higher than Tia's, which means she was floating above her seat.
Get down! Tia wanted to shout. She grabbed her sister's arm and tugged at it. With obvious reluctance, Ruri sank back into the car seat. She unclasped her fingers and clenched them instead.
"Look." Mom's tone became gentler, without a hint of coaxing. "My brother likes you, you know. Thinks you're a great guy. When the hotel closed down and you were laid off, he was very worried about us - you, me, the girls."
"I bet he doesn't think I'm such a great guy now, coming all the way from Jakarta to beg for a job."
"It's not begging! Times are hard, jobs are even harder to - "
Dad banged his fist against the steering wheel, and Ruri's head bumped against the car ceiling.
Tia's hands flew to her mouth. Mom and Dad turned their heads around, in time to see Ruri fall back to the seat. She looked both defiant and ready to burst into tears. The four of them stayed frozen for three more seconds, during which Tia dared not stir.
Mom whispered into the silence, "Ruri... Did we upset you?"
Ruri pursed her mouth, the tip of her nose going red. She was visibly struggling not to cry, and had no spare breath for an answer.
Dad sighed. The car in front of them inched forward, and he moved theirs accordingly. "Ruri, Tia," he said, "this is all very hard on you. On Mom and Dad too. But we'll get through this. I'll call in favors if I have to. You two don't need to worry, that's for Mom and Dad to do. All right?"
"Stop quarreling," Ruri murmured.
"Maybe we can visit your uncle another time, when the traffic is less busy." Mom didn't look at Dad as she said it. She reached out to touch Ruri, thought better of it, and withdrew her hand. "So I guess we'd better go home now. We can go to Bandung next weekend."
Ruri nodded, and, after a moment, so did Tia.
"Tia, you're the older sister," Mom continued as Dad began to turn their car around. "Take care of Ruri. Make sure she doesn't float away like that every time she's agitated. It's hard, but I learned to do it at your age. You can do it too, girls."
"I don't float," Tia said, finally finding her voice. "I do something that's actually cool."
"Dream on," Ruri retorted. Her color had returned to normal, and Tia was relieved.
Dad glanced at the girls from the driver's seat. That single, harried glance told Tia everything: Dad was wary of them. But a father wasn't supposed to be wary of his own children, was he? Then again, not all children could float, and not everyone had to live with wives who also could.
Mom smiled. It was a sad smile, one that didn't completely reach her eyes. It struck Tia how painful it must have been for Mom to keep her secret bottled up all these years.
"Tell me when we get home," Mom said. "Show me everything. Then maybe we can work something out."