Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Chapter 3: Home


“So, is there a Grace Whittaker-sized scorch march on the beach of Mishun Bay?”  Owen Cole, Neith’s father, opened with this wise-crack as Neith nudged closed her family’s front door.

Neith resisted smiling only for a moment before letting one rip in all its splendour.  She could let some of her beauty out of the box at home.  Her cheeks gathered, plump and pink.  Her smile revealed straight teeth that had never known Old World candies or nicotine.  The expression only accentuated the upside-down teardrop shape of her face. “The answer is proverbially yes, my best friend just exploded.”  She hung her faithful jacket on a hook in the hall and dumped the used pair of reusable cups in the kitchen sink.  Neith always brought the cups, Grace counted on it.  Neith liked to be counted on.

“It feels so good just imagining what her face must have been like, so it’s hard to guess what you must be feeling!  Tell me somebody cast it.”  Lucienne, or Mama Cole, as Neith affectionately called her, placed a soft hand on Neith’s upper back, having come to meet her at the door.  Neith deliberated over whether or not to inform a screen addict that a cyberpunk might have caught a snippet.  Mama Cole failed to see the irony in how she stayed home to avoid being cast by others but depended on casts to see the world.  Being a polite celebrity exhausted her.   “Where is she?  I thought you’d both come back here.”  Lucienne made an obvious scan of the Grace-free zone directly behind Neith.

“The days of sleep-overs are dead, Ma.  Besides, Grace has a new bed-mate,” Neith unhooked a mug.  She considered the hot chocolate earlier a first course.

“She’s found someone!”  Neith’s mother almost levitated.

“I believe she’s referring to her new android, hon’,” called Owen, from the living room, where he then ordered the wall screen to mute; “guan.” He had no doubt been streaming the government channel’s display of lantern launches across the city.  Hearing his approach, Neith pulled down two more mugs.

“Oh.”  Lucienne deflated.  Her expression then changed to alarm. “You don’t mean…”

“No, I’m not in the business of that kind of And, Mum.  I’m kidding.”

Lucienne sighed in relief again and withdrew small spoons from a drawer to mix their tea.

“Let me do it,” said Neith.

“Okay, I’m sorry.  You do it.”  Lucienne would do everything for Neith still, if Neith would let her.

It was clear Lucienne wasn’t done with this topic of finding someone.  She was doing that thing where she sucked in some breath, thought better of it, pursed her lips, and then repeated the cycle.  It was like mouth yoga.  Neith slid her mother her tea and waited for the words to come.  Owen saddled a bar stool next to where his wife stood and joined in the waiting.  He knew.

“So that’s it then?”  Here they came, Lucienne’s worries, extricated by way of a stretching lotus of the lips.

Neith’s eyes narrowed.  She tipped her head over her steaming mug, held in two hands close to her face.  For all that lip-pursing, that’s all Mama Cole came up with?  Neith decided to flush out the crux of concern with a stare.  She held it.

“Iron Man instead of an actual man?”  Lucienne elaborated.

“I.M.,” Neith replied, flatly.

“Sorry?”

“We’re calling him I.M. now.” Neith hoped it would catch on in the Cole household. 

“I’m serious, Nee.  Your talent with this sort of thing is something we’ve always admired about you.  We get it is something you enjoy, and to have such success straight out of school?  We’re thrilled.”  Buuut?  Neith was poised to hear it.  “And we love Grace, you know we do.  But we worry.  Tonight most 2K’s are still out – at tower parties, exploring possibilities with their Matches, or at least joining in the casts online.  You two are already home, ready to go to bed?”

“Most 2K’s operate on an animal level.  I’ve got opposable thumbs, Ma.” Neith put down her tea and wiggled her most useful digits with a show-grin.

Owen coughed out a little tea but carried on sipping as though his reaction was simply the result of a mis-sip.  Neith watched him to see if he was truly a part of this “we” cited in the worries of Mama Cole.  He frowned sympathetically, looked to his wife, then turned back to Neith.  “You know I’ve never pressured you, Nee.  But I share a lot of your mother’s concerns.  I’m with you – it’s hardly fair for your generation to shoulder the kind of responsibility everyone seems to be lumping you with.  But whether you were born a 2K or not, I would be concerned for your happiness; I’d think plenty on Neith Cole’s future.  Finding your mother brought me a lot of happiness.  It’s fair for us to hope you’ll know what we’ve known, isn’t it?”

Lucienne squeezed her husband on the thigh, appreciatively.

So it was to be a team assault, then.

“If I had a shot at what you both have, this would be more straightforward.” She thought of Rawiri at the station.  She still couldn’t believe he’d opted to settle down.  She guessed some still did – there was an argument that regular coitus with a single partner was as noble an effort (and “safer”) than seeking many partners in pursuit of success.  Her parents were proof a pair could endure the celebrity of parenthood if they were truly friends.  And that synthetic wigs and eyes needn’t come with the bargain.  Neith eyed her mother’s black hair, which she wore out and long, to her waist.  Owen adored Lucienne as she was.  Neith adored them both.  For choosing to build a family and a home in a hub of quarantine.   She had watched them.  She saw the way small disagreements between them were always that; the way an underlying, unwavering bond between them meant they remained optimistic.  The Coles could compromise, could cope no matter what.  Because the impossible had already happened for them.  They’d had Neith.  Although the miracle of parenthood had come with benefits, it had its price too.  Their friendship made the attention and public scrutiny bearable.  Sadly, Neith had only found a singular enduring friendship, and it didn’t come with sexual attraction.  “But I don’t.  I don’t have a shot at what you have.”

Lucienne micro-winced.  “You don’t know that for sure,” she said, quietly.

“Oh, I know.”  Neith chinked her mug and spoon into the sink and washed it with the reusables from earlier.  Upending them to dry, she left, taking the stairs two at a time up to her loft and refuge.  Her parents could return to their screens now.  Time to begin brainstorming the next project Neith could lose herself in.  She needed her own escape.

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