He whispered directly into her ear as he hugged her close, and his voice exploded a little ball of joy that started in her chest and warmed her to the very tips of her fingers and toes. That voice that she’d recognized before she knew how to recognize. The voice that meant joy and punishment and pride and disappointment and everything in every direction in between, but most of all, Love. Safety. Protection. An unfaltering reminder that she’d always have a home here in his arms if she wanted it. She started to cry, and she didn’t care who saw.
Monthly Archives: March 2014
“So—Then you fell in love and now we’re going to live happily ever after with him, right?” Her seven year old looked up at her with such hope that she had to smile in spite of what she was going to say.
“I’m sorry, sweetie, it doesn’t really work like that.” She tucked the comforter a little tighter around her son.
“Why not? That’s how it worked with Daddy, right? You met, you feel in love, you had me, and if Daddy hadn’t gotten sick, you would still be living happily ever after.”
“Who told you that, Drew?”
She made a mental note to tell her sister to be careful about what she said to her son in the future. “Ah—Well—It was nice of Auntie Chrissy to tell you a love story, but she does tend to simplify things, so try to keep that in mind when Auntie Chrissy tells you things in the future.”
“Oh.” Drew’s eyebrows pulled together in an almost perfect tiny replication of her late husband when he was thinking. “So, you didn’t love Daddy?”
“Oh, no. Sweetie, of course, I loved your Daddy. I still love your daddy even though he’s gone. It’s just not as simple as meet, love, baby, ever after. It takes time, and energy and everyone to be in the right place at the right time. And I just don’t know if I’ve got the energy or time for it all right now, Buddy.”
Drew nodded, but then sat up straight with an idea. She tried not to groan, knowing it would be just that harder to get him to fall asleep now. “Mommy, if I stop taking up all your extra energy–if I try to be better—will you try?”
“Hey—“ She convinced Drew to lay back down with a gentle push to his shoulders, “You don’t take up all my extra energy.”
“It’s okay. I know I do. Auntie Chrissy says I’m exhausting. But if I try, will you call Charlie back?”
‘You’re Auntie Chrissy is a gem, isn’t she?” She worked the blankets back around Drew, wrapping him a little tighter than was strictly necessary. “Why are you so insistent that I call him?”
“Because you smile more when he’s around. So, please, Momma, if I try will you try?” He looked up at her, and once again she saw his father in his eyes.
“I don’t know.” She leaned down and kissed him on the forehead, “I’ll think about it. But right now you need to go sleep. It is bedtime for exhausted and exhausting little boys.”
Drew gave her a self-satisfied smile. “See, I told you I was exhausting.”
“Yeah, Yeah. G’night, Love.”
“G’night, Momma.” Drew yawned, eyes shut before she’d even reached the light switch.
“I wanted to tell you.” Lydia was still speaking clearly in spite of the tears rolling down her cheeks, “I really did. But how do you just bring that up? ‘Oh, hey. By the way–you know that man we’re all fighting against who people are referring to as the antichrist and scum that shouldn’t be allowed to walk the earth? He and I shared a womb for nine months. Yay me!'” She wiped furiously at her cheek for a second before continuing. “Why do you think I refused to run raids, even though I’m clearly well-trained for them? Why do you think I was obsessed with making sure we’d done our research properly before we could go after him? I know just how strong he is. I know how much damage he can do if we’re not one hundred percent prepared to fight him. And I know I’ll never be one hundred percent prepared to be in an attack on him. Part of me will always hope we can save him, that he can return to the boy who grew up in the next bedroom over. He’s my brother. Could you kill your brother, Tristan? Look me in the eye and tell me that you honestly could kill your brother even if he had hell to pay. I accept that I might be weak her, that I’m going against some of our training–but.” Lydia ran a frustrated hand through her hair, “Could you do it?”
Tristan held her gaze for just a moment longer. Her brother had done terrible things. Her brother was capable of a lot of damage and seemed to the public eye to have no redeeming features. But he was her brother. Could he do it? He dropped his gaze to his hands. “No, no, I don’t think I could.”
“Tell me, Tris, what am I supposed to do?” It was half-anger, half-desperation, and it almost brought Tristan to tears. He didn’t have an answer for her.
Three days had passed since Willow had brought Marcy back to the agency, and Marcy was bored to tears. Marcy had been given a nice little room to be her own bunk. It had a twin sized bed, a dresser, a desk, and a small bookshelf, and all in all was much nicer than the bedroom in her cheap little apartment at home. She also had a bathroom right off her room that was all hers, with an amazing massage head shower, which was pretty nice. Marcy was considering asking Willow if she could tell her where to buy one when she was done with all she was doing here.
But since she had arrived, she had spent most of her time alone in this room. Willow had shown up a couple of times to apologize for not being around more, before disappearing again. Marcy understood. Right now the entire world was focused on getting the other Top Tier Users to the agency, or at least the entire Ixi Agency was focused on that. Marcy also had a visit from a man named Hank, who came by to inform her that he was responsible for her security while she was under the agency’s protection. He also invited her to an open training session once all of the other top-tier users had arrived. Marcy also ambled down to the dining hall a couple of times a day to stuff her face, but other than that, she had been entirely alone in her room, usually reading or writing, but sometimes just staring at the ceiling, most of that time thinking that she thought being whisked away to a top-secret half magical facility would be more, well, exciting.
The night of the third day, while Marcy was having one of her staring contests with the ceiling, Willow showed up with a stack of folders and smile on her face. “I’ve got good news for you.”
“Good news? For me? You better not be teasing.” Marcy swung herself up to a sitting position on her bed.
“No teasing. All of the top tier users are in protective custody. Starting tomorrow the training begins, and there will be a lot more for you to do around here. These,” Willow threw the stack of files down on Marcy’s desk, “are copies of the files on the other five top-tier users. They are also getting copies that have information on you, in case you would like to read up on them, and vice versa.” Willow sank down into Marcy’s desk chair. “Tomorrow morning at nine am, you will report to a meeting with the top tiered users and Laurel, who will discuss what you are all supposed to be doing, or what you would like to do. What do you think? Did I deliver good news?” Willow smiled across the room, and Marcy was reminded briefly of a dog waiting for a treat after fetching the stick. If Willow had a tail, it would be wagging.
“You delivered great news. I thought I was going to go mad from the boredom of sitting alone and staring at the ceiling.” Marcy gave Willow both her treat and a little kick at the same time.
“Yeah. I’m sorry I couldn’t do much entertaining. I had to help find these guys, and apparently, Joey already has our next missions lined up for us, so I don’t think I’ll be around too much to entertain you even now.”
“I understand.” And Marcy truly did. “After all, you’ve got some pretty big responsibilities sitting on your head, the least of which are directly related to me. I understand wholeheartedly that you’re going to have to spend time worrying about other things. Besides, now I’m going to have other things to occupy my time. That Hank guy said there was going to be training for those who want it, and I’ll certainly want it. So at the very least, that will be something for me to do.”
“Ah, Hank. He’s a good man. Don’t tell him I told you this, but when it really comes to weapons, you’re going to want to ask Maria for help. She kicks some serious ass.” Willow tapped the side of her nose in a secret code kind of way.
“I’ll keep that in mind.” Marcy tapped her nose back.
“Anyway. I’ll leave you to your files and the like, and I’ll see you at oh-nine-hundred tomorrow. Have a good night.” Willow left, so Marcy stood up and crossed to her desk to look at the files.
There were five files, one each for the five different people, three male, and two female, but they covered six continents: A little boy from Africa, An older man from Australia, A teenager from Asia, a tanned girl from South America, and a twenty-year-old from Great Britain. At a cursory glance, they seemed to have absolutely nothing in common with each other, let alone Marcy herself, but then she read a little deeper into the files. Those who were old enough for College or University had all gone to school for literature in the primary language, with the intent of writing. The Asian teenager had already declared writing as a degree. The little boy had a tendency to make up stories about objects that he had come into contact with, especially when negative things happened with them. The Ixi file indicated that some of them were true stories that a Top Tier might encounter, but many of them were things that were just plain made up out of his own imagination.
Marcy found that strangely fascinating. Perhaps that sort of imagination came from being a top-tier user. Or perhaps, whatever it was that decided who was where on the ranks of power looked for that kind of quality. Either way, it was something that was worth noting. It was something that might bond them together. Marcy went to sleep thinking that maybe they might find something as a group to bind them and maybe they might even be able to become friends.
Oliver woke up slowly. He hadn’t slept well, but he had slept, and that was something. He sat up slowly too and blinked a few times. Rowan raised her chin from where she was resting it against Joss’s bed, bent forward in the waiting chair. As she came more into focus as he blinked away the sleep, he could see she was smiling slightly. “Feel better?”
“Much.” He scrambled out of his blankets and up to Joss’ other side. “Any change?”
“No. They’re still running tests, but no change. Although, in this case, that’s good news.” Rowan took her sister’s hand in hers. Under her breath, she whispered, “Lucky Bitch.”
Oliver knew the teasing. When they were young they’d all been convinced that there was only one lucky gene per birth, and they’d spent most of their lives teasing and going back and forth that one of the others seemed to have gotten it. But, he failed to see how it applied to this situation.
Rowan responded to his thought. “She just gets to lie there, oblivious to the world, while you and I get to stand vigil at her bedside, wringing our hands and hoping that she might wake up soon. She’s the lucky one here.”
Oliver laughed in spite of himself. It felt weird to laugh. “Okay, point to Rowan. Remind me to tell Joss it’s her turn when she wakes up.” Oliver reached out and took Joss’ other hand. “For what it’s worth–” Oliver said quickly, hoping that Joss couldn’t hear them in her coma, at least for the moment, “And I will deny it if you ever mention it again, but I’m glad you’re the conscious one.”
Rowan raised an eyebrow “Thanks. I think?”
“Well–I’m a bookstore owner, and Joss is a kindergarten teacher. What the fuck do we know? You’re a doctor. You can tell me that no change is good news at the moment. If something is wrong with Joss–really wrong–you can tell me how serious it is despite the sugar-coating. You can call people on their bullshit. So, you know, I would prefer it if both of my sisters refrained from slipping into comas in the future, but if one has to help me through it–well, I’m glad you’re here to help me.”
“Aw–” Rowan leaned down to stage whisper in Joss’ ear, “Ollie loves me more. Did you hear that?”
“That’s not what I said! Joss, you know that’s not what I said.” Oliver protested loudly, for a second forgetting that Joss would be able to respond anyway. For a second, it all seemed so normal, that the crash back to their current reality hurt a bit.
“I’m just scared,” Rowan said softly.
Oliver reached out to take Rowan’s hand, completing their little triangle. “Me too.”
He knew he should go to bed. He’d been awake for almost seventy hours straight, which meant he’d long passed the point of being any help to anyone. And yet…
She was still unconscious. He tried not to think about it, maybe (most likely) that was the reason he couldn’t bring himself to lay down. “She’s doing enough sleeping for the both of us,” he casually teased with just enough edge to his voice that no one would push it.
But, he couldn’t sit at her bedside either. That wouldn’t help his nerves. So he paced the hospital halls, never too far from her room in case something changed, but far enough away that he could get his legs really moving, his blood pumping, and his adrenaline up. He’d even taken to not answering when people called his name, because he knew they would just try to convince him to go get some sleep. He didn’t want to hear another argument about it.
That was until he heard “Oliver!” in an all too familiar tone that he knew he couldn’t ignore.
“Rowan.” He said softly. He turned and waited for her to catch up to him. He tried not to look her in the face, it’d seem too surreal, but he allowed himself to be pulled into a hug. Even though he was about six inches taller than her, he let her pull him down and kiss him gently on the forehead. A left over comfort from when the girls were taller than him.
“Let’s go see her, huh?” Rowan suggested softly.
Oliver didn’t trust his voice, so he nodded. They headed down the hall until the reach the door labeled “Hill, Joss.” The staff didn’t even try to give Rowan the family only speech because it would have been a pointless argument. After all, Rowan and Joss were practically identical.
Oliver had always been proud of being the “Spare” in their “Pair and Spare” triplets. He had all the comforts and the best friends of being part of a multiple birth, without any of the name confusion or people making assumptions at face value. His sisters used to tell him to be jealous of the advantages of being identical, but he never quite believed them.
But, every now and then, he looked at them and was shocked by it, amazed by them. He was jealous of them, not because of the fact that they were identical, but because of the women they’d grown into. They had drastically different lives, but they focused so single mindedly on their goals, and they had managed to achieve so much in their relatively short lives thus far.
Still, He had always been the only one who could tell them without hesitation, and it had been years since anyone put them in identical outfits–but to look at them side by side, Oliver was still amazed sometimes by just how similar they still looked all these years later.
But to see one practically dead to the world, and the other in such pain–It was almost too much for Oliver to bear. “I’m so sorry, Rowan. I wanted to fix this. I want Joss back.” Oliver covered his mouth after his outburst, yet a single strangled sob slipped through his fingers.
Rowan gave him a cold, calculated look. “Ollie, when was the last time you slept?”
“Sleeping isn’t helping anyone,” he responded quickly. Oliver knew better than to make the “enough for both of us” quip to Rowan.
“It will help me. My life will be much better if my brother is some level of sane and if I don’t have to have him admitted for sleep deprivation. I know that sane is a stretch for you–but still, when was the last time you sleep?”
“About seventy hours.”
Rowan made a tsk sound with her tongue, and then took in the hospital room. In the movements of a woman well aware of how hospitals worked, she gathered together a pillow and a spare set of blankets. Then, in the movements of a sister well aware of how her brother worked, she folded and tucked the blankets into a proper little nest, not dissimilar to the one Ollie used to make in the corner of the girls room when he was too scared to sleep in his own room during a thunderstorm, tucked back in the corner of the hospital room.
“Sleep. We’ll talk when you’re rested and not a second before, understand?”
“Yes, Ma’am.” He gave his conscious sister a hug and pressed a quick kiss to the cheek of the unconscious one, before curling down into the nest of blankets. Maybe some sleep would do him some good.
“They have to be told.” It was a constant refrain between Bradley, Marta, and myself. It was a passive sentence, none of us wanted to say “We” should tell them. Just, they had to be told. Eventually, Momma and Dad would notice. True, we would graduate high school before the baby was born, but Marta’s pregnancy would become apparent well before then. All three of us agreed it would not be in our best interest to just wait around until they figured it out on their own, we had to tell them.
“Maybe, they’ll respect your maturity in coming clean about it and will come down on you a little less harsh?” Bradley offered, sitting in the bean bag chair in the corner of his room. I spun his desk chair to give him a look, and I guess Marta did the same from her seat on the edge of his bed because he threw up both his hands in a surrender. “Okay, I’m sorry for being hopeful. No need to twin evil glare me. You’re vicious when you do that.”
I turned back to the computer and continued to mess around with the project we were using an excuse for why we were all hanging around. It was already mostly done, but I had to put some work into so I didn’t feel guilty when Momma asked if we’d made progress.
“No. There will be no respect,” Marta sighed, falling backward onto the bed, “In fact, we’ll be lucky we aren’t shipped off to a nunnery of some sort. Me, to hide my shame, and Avery to protect her innocence. Men are corrupting influences, Bradley. We shouldn’t be involved with them at all. If Momma had her way, the interaction would be minimal, polite nods in school and church supervised outings, only Daddy decided that we would need to interact with men to be well-rounded and successful woman in this day and age.”
“Why do I feel like that was an actual conversation that took place in your house?” Bradley laughed.
“Oh, it was a dinner table conversation around the time we turned eleven. I think that was also about the time that Momma suggested homeschooling.” I grinned, turning around again, the project close enough to done that I could ignore it for the rest of the afternoon.
“Yeah. Try to imagine that, Brad. Imagine who Avery and I would be if we were homeschooled by our mother for the past seven years.” Marta laughed.
Bradley stared at me for a second, blinking in silence. “I want to say I would still love you…” he said halfheartedly.
I laughed and squished next to him in the bean bag chair. “It’s okay. If you ever end up in a parallel universe where I was homeschooled by my mother from Middle School on, feel free to not be in love with me.”
“You’re the best.” Bradley leaned over and kissed me, pulling me in a little tighter to his side.
“You’re sickening.” Marta offered from the bed.
“No one asked you, Marta,” I sing-songed, before turning to look at Bradley again, “No, but you might as well know the truth of it, Brad. Our every known interaction with boys is very carefully monitored and thoroughly discussed. We’d been dating six weeks before the dinner table discussions about us came to a close and they gave me permission to ‘Go Steady’ with you.”
“No,” Bradley whispered, turning to Marta for confirmation.
She nodded without actually lifting her head from the bed. “There is a very distinct reason that I’ve never ‘officially’ dated anyone in the eyes of our parents. As far as Momma and Dad are concerned I’ve never so much as shaken a man’s hand without adult supervision.” Marta turned on her side and looked down at us. “And that’s why we’re pretty much dead.”
It was silent for a very long time. Bradley squeezed me gently around the waist. Marta let out a small sigh.
“They have to be told.” I broke the quiet.
Marta nodded. “Just—let’s turn eighteen, okay? Let’s have one last big, happy family event before Momma thinks I’m going to hell. Is that fair?”
“Yeah.” I agreed and felt Bradley nod beside me. “One more big moment, but then they have to be told.”
Marta took a deep breath and rolled onto her back.