The game went on for three more rounds, another hour and half. The woman won by exactly two points, the minimal amount needed to win—even though the man had a clear opportunity to pull ahead in the penultimate round.
“If we ever do meet you,” the man was whispering, and it took Lily a second to realize he was whispering to her. After all, he hadn’t addressed her directly in almost nineteen years. “If we ever do meet you, don’t tell her the truth. She’s rather proud of her Rocks win-loss ratio, and I’d hate to burst her bubble.”
“What are you muttering?” The woman asked.
“Nothing. Nothing at all.”
“You weren’t talking to her, were you?” She can listen all she wants, but she made her opinion very clear—and we have to follow the rules.”
“Oh, come on, she was six.”
“Laws are laws. We must follow the law to the letter, or this whole thing will go belly up before we ever get it started. If you’re sure that she’s the one we need, we cannot afford to mess this up, are we clear?”
“Again, she was six. She couldn’t have realized that by telling her imaginary friends to not talk to her anymore she was binding them legally to never speak to her directly, even though they might need her help, and they need her formal permission to speak to her again. I don’t think she would have left things that way if she knew what she was doing.”
“Stop it. I see what you’re doing there, and I want to you to stop. Don’t try to convince her to talk to us if she doesn’t want to.”
“I’m not trying to convince anyone to do anything. I’m just making sure that she knows all she needs to know to make an educated decision with her life. Is that so wrong?”
“When what you are trying to do is manipulate her into speaking –then yes—that’s wrong.”
“I’m not—hey! Will you please stop judging me on what you think I might be doing, or what you might do? I genuinely just want her to be informed. And I am talking to you, not her, so I’m not breaking the law, not even by the strictest letter. You said so yourself, she’s allowed to listen all she wants.”
“We live our lives in a technicality. Don’t even try to deny it.”
“Lily?” Lily jumped about a foot, as voice outside her head called her name. She hadn’t realized it, but she had stopped scrubbing and sat back on her heels to listen to the man and woman argue about her, and was so enthralled that she hadn’t realized that Rachael had come into the back to check on her. “Lily, are you okay? You looked a bit spaced out there for a moment.”
“I—uh—yeah. Sorry. Must have zoned out there for a moment. It’s easy to let your mind wander when you’re alone back here, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. Go take a ten. Walk around a little and get out of the chemicals reach. It’ll probably do you some good.” Rachael suggested. Lily nodded, slipped off the cleaning apron, and disappeared out the back door of the store.
She headed straight for her car, and laid the seat back so no one would be able to see her. Feeling slightly silly, she coughed quietly, and then said aloud, “Um. Hello?”
“Is she talking to us?” The woman asked, startled.
“She’s alone in her car. Who else would she be talking to?”
“She could be talking to herself.”
“Do you start conversations to yourself with ‘Hello?’” He snapped back.
“I’m talking to you.” Lilly said quickly, sensing an argument looming and wanting to nip it in the bud. “I mean, if you can hear me, and if you actually real and not just figments of my imagination—then yeah, I’m not talking to myself.”
“We are real. We, are. Hello, Lily. It’s nice to talk to you again.” The man said eagerly.
“Hello, Lily.” The woman said, a little bit more sternly. “You didn’t feel in any way coerced into speaking with us, did you?”
“I didn’t know I still could,” Lily said truthfully, “That’s all, I didn’t know.”
“But you’re formally giving us permission to speak with you again?”
“Say it please.”
“Oh come on—“ the man interjected.
“No, ‘come on,’ she needs to say it.” The woman said sternly.
“Covering your ass—no I get it.” Lily butted into the conversation, “I formally give you permission to speak with me again. But—I should get back into work right now, and I can afford to be talking to myself around my co-workers. It wouldn’t look very good for my sanity and what not.” Lily sat her chair up.
“Right. We’ll talk later?” The man asked eagerly.
“Yes,” Lily said simply—crawling out of the car.
Right before Lily “turned off” the tuner in her head, she heard the man say happily, in an almost childlike manner. “See? What did I tell you?”
“We’ll see.” The woman responded.
And then silence—and Lily went back in to make her date with the cleaning fluids and the back room.