Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Chapter 38: Game Over




Neith awoke with a shiver.  She was still in the cotton dress she’d worn to the dance.

“Neith?  You okay?” Elle spoke quietly.   She was up, kneading dough at the table. 

Neith sat up on the couch.  “Yeah,” she said, as she wrung her hair with her hands.    She wasn’t okay.  She’d made a promise to come clean today; to see if application of Elle’s hand analogy from Day 1 would see her hand crashing down in disappointment.  Would she see the anger she had the day they’d talked about Wren?

“So...does this mean you guys sorted things out?  You were out there a while...”  Elle still used a hushed tone, but her face was loud and expectant.

Neith wanted to say yes and gush and tell stories; to supply the details of a second date with a guy who had her rethinking her future.  She wanted to keep on talking with Elle about pleasant things.  But that would only make tackling the unpleasant harder.  She chewed her lip instead of answering.

“I was going to go over to see Rose and Kit this morning.  She’s had trouble getting a good latch, and yesterday must’ve been a long day for her.  But I think that needs to wait, because brother or not, I want to hear about this.  I’m in.  It would make me so happy to see you both happy.”

There was never going to be a good time. The quiet stillness behind the bookcase suggested the kids were asleep.  Exhausted from the previous day’s activities and later bedtime, no doubt.

“Elle, we need to talk.” 

Elle picked the ball of dough up from the table and dropped it in a bowl, dragging a tea towel over it without looking.  “What is it?”

“Outside?”

“Okay.”  Elle looked towards her treasured ones and pulled on a cardigan.  It was cool in the house, the night having been starry – no blanket of clouds to trap the sun from Longest Day.

Neith slung on her favourite coat and she and Elle went out onto the step; the step.  It was going to be another beautiful day.

“Is this about Miles?  How long did you two talk?”

“It’s about everything. When you said my phone was just a husk, I didn’t correct you.  Because it is.  Mostly.  The thing is, there’s something inside me,” Neith rubbed near her hip bone through the white dress, “and when my phone pairs with it, it is a transmitting device.  They asked me to report on my progress regularly.  They didn’t want to wait for a presentation.”  Neith saw Elle had moved away from her slightly.  “I meant what I said in the hall.  I didn’t ask to come here.  In fact, I begged not to.  But they made it clear there wasn’t really a choice.  They…” her breath caught a little as she inhaled, “…they threatened me and my family.  Regularly.  Reminding me this entire visit had to be on their terms.  I have to tell you, Elle.  I may not have ever planned coming here, but I have come to love this place, and all of you.  Hiding the phone from you never felt right.  I always made sure I wasn’t near you or any of the kids when I sent my reports, but I know that doesn’t make it okay.  I was sent here to gain your trust, but the conditions of my assignment and sending those reports was an abuse of that trust.  And I did it, for a long time.  I did it even though you told me you believe transmissions could hurt people here.  I was under your roof, doing something you believed could hurt you…the kids.  I am so, so sorry.”  Neith wasn’t sure it was only Elle’s way of thinking anymore.  Maybe the transmissions were another City variable they’d be better without.

Elle remained quiet, and now still.  She wasn’t only still, she was quiet and angry. 

Neith released a sound of disgust. “Oh, and I build androids for a living.  I’m not a researcher.  I’m just the loneliest 2K they could find.”  Neith’s tears were meeting on the edge of her face and falling down onto Elle’s beautiful dress.  “That’s not all.  I’ve met the guy who sanctioned coming here for Wren.  And while I know I’m meant to be here to convince you to trust the Ministry – show you we can take it slow, and be different…I’m not convinced of that.  He makes my skin crawl, Elle.  I’ve had a few ideas of how we could…stop him, maybe?  But then I learned Jamin feels you need the truce as much the 2K’s do.  I couldn’t go on trying to weigh up this decision on my own – not when it affects you and your family; their future is yours to consider, not mine alone.”

Elle choked on a sob.  She was crying too.

“That’s everything though.  There’s nothing I haven’t told you now.”

They both heard it – footsteps, inside.

“Aunty Elle?”  Nola.  She pushed the door open, eyes thinning in response to the light.  She stepped outside, goose bumps on her arms.

Elle wiped her face.  So did Neith. 

“Morning La.  Your Papa will be missing you, back at your place.  You run back and see him.”

Nola smiled, knowingly.  “Can Nee come?”  Elle twisted her head as though realigning her neck. “Please?  Because I think I know why you want me to go right away.  I remembered when I woke up this morning – Papa hasn’t given me a Longest Day present, and he always gives me a Longest Day present.  He’s been up to something.  Please, can Nee come?  I can feel this year is going to be good.”

Elle paused only briefly before nodding grimly.  Neith now understood the exchange between Elle and Miles when Nola had wanted to sleep over at the Snows – Elle had broken the sibling code, by briefly forgetting her brother had a surprise for his daughter last night.  She’d agreed to a sleep-over that took Nola elsewhere.  She’d ruined a reveal.

Elle looked back into the house and then all around.  She then looked Neith straight in the eye, answering Nola, but addressing both of them, when she spoke.  “Okay, but you say good-bye real quick, you understand.  Walk there, say good-bye, and part ways.”  She bristled at the threat seeping into her manner and added, “I’ve gotta get over to Rose’s place early, okay?  And Neith – we’re not done here.  I need to say my piece about this, but I’m not ready to do that yet.”  Neith could almost see the anger-steam coming off of calm, patient Elle.

Nola looked a little confused.  “Okay.  We’ll be really quick then.”  Nola’s voice was quiet, and unsure.  She could feel the air was thick with things unsaid. 

Was Neith done in Nydia?  Was it time to really say good-bye to Nola? 

And Miles?