Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Chapter 39: More Good-byes

Nola and Neith reached the Flynn cabin. A sharp pain in Neith’s chest answered her memory of the site where she’d feebly left a note to Miles before having met him; before she’d seen the light in his eyes when he explained how things worked.  She felt splintered by Elle’s willingness to let her go with Nola; Elle still trusted her, but her tone had made clear that this was more for Nola and Miles’ sake than it was for Neith.  Neith was bracing for the worst.  Elle no doubt wanted Neith to be decent about things – say good-bye to the people she’d let care about her before she left them. 

Like their wife and mother had.

What a mess. 

The best Neith could do with that mess, was hope to make this a pleasant visit; a tolerable memory.

Neith ran her fingers through her hair again and checked for rheum around her mouth and eyes; clear.  That was going to have to do.

They took the steps two at a time together, then stopped.  There was a piece of paper tacked into the door.  Not more notes, Neith thought.

Nola’s reaction was the reverse.  She began clapping.  She tugged the note down.  “It says, ‘You know where to go.’” Nola reported giddily. 

Should Neith be here?  This seemed like something precious between a father and daughter.  “And do you?  Know where to go?”  Neith asked.

“I’m pretty sure I do.”

“You know that makes one of us, right?”

“I was pretty sure of that too.”  Nola pointed through the trees behind her house.  “This way.”  They wound through the forest at the back of Nydia.  A few pinecones dangled from twine here and there, but otherwise, they were deep enough in the wood that there were few signs Nydia was behind them at all. 

Nola came to a sharp halt, released a squeal, then bolted forwards.  Neith ducked to her companion’s vantage point.  She could see what Nola had then – a bright red ladder mounted steadfast to a tree with a very wide trunk.  She picked up the pace. 

By the time Neith reached the bottom rung, Nola was disappearing at the top of the ladder, into what Neith could now see, without foliage to obscure her view.  It was the most darling tree house she had ever seen.  It was only the second tree house she had ever seen in the real, and the first had been the tiny tree house at the Nydia school, but still.  This tree house was big.  It featured a swing-bridge off to one side that connected to a second structure, as well as draperies in all of its windows.  Neith looked around, unsure what she was checking for – a place to wait?  She started to climb after the red-haired sprite – she was her guide, after all.

She reached the top of the ladder and found Miles.  He was smiling at Neith over Nola’s head – who was embracing him, fiercely.  Nola heard Neith’s creaking entry and released him.  She took Neith by the hand and walked her through the rooms of the tree house, explaining each addition, each small touch.

This had been Miles’ project, after the water clock.  This was where he came those afternoons Nola spent in the reading chair, at the Snow’s.

“It’s like the one in the book I told you about – the Swiss Family Robinson?”  Nola looked up at Neith, with her big browns.  “I knew Papa was up to something – I thought maybe he had built a model of it – but this?  Remember, I told you?”

“I remember.”

“Nice dress.”  Miles said towards the floor, as Neith passed him.  She pretended she hadn’t heard him.  He hadn’t missed she was in last night’s clothes beneath her usual jacket. 

Neith pulled her eyes from the wonder of the morning light streaming through the treehouse window – made from an array of smaller panes of glass – and the warmth promised on the verandah beyond.  She saw the kitchen shelves were stocked with food and dishes.  The beds were made up with linen.  “You’re going to live here.”  Neith looked to Miles, not quite forming a question, but it was clear she was revealing her late realisation.

Nola answered her, “Yes.  Can you believe it? Isn’t it the best Longest Day present ever?” 

Miles shrugged. “I still have to move some more things from our place – that’ll be easier, now the surprise is out, but yeah, we can live here.”

Neith’s gift-giving heart sang out in understanding.  He had laboured in secret for so long. 

“Our old place is for you.”  Neith heard the words, but they didn’t register.  She looked from the pipes she’d been eyeing running to the sink, up to Miles face.

“You’re talking to me?”  Neith asked.

Miles nodded

The house with the little house?

“Well, I was planning to bring that with us, but I guess you could…”

“I’m kidding!  You can’t give me a house!  Big or small.”

“Jamin told me there was a chance you might stay...” he let his sentence trail off.

Neith?  Stay in Nydia.  If only he knew; everything had changed 20 minutes ago. 

Miles gave Nola a look that suggested she busy herself.  She hesitated only briefly before climbing up into a bed built into the wall, above their heads and looking through the things arranged on a shelf in the wall above it.

Neith lowered her voice; “Remember how I told you I needed to have a conversation with Elle?  And after that I could fill you in on a few things?”

“Yeah?” He was whispering too.

“Well, we’ve started that conversation...but I wouldn’t say we’re done.”  Neith needed to talk more with Elle first.  She understood Elle wanted her to go say good-bye to Miles – but she also said they weren’t through.  Elle and Neith’s conversation had stopped when Nola had joined them, and Nola was still close by, so Neith didn’t want to disclose anything now that Elle had thought it better not to share. 

“Okaaaay,” Miles said.

“The talk isn’t over, according to Elle.  Moving into your old place,” she still couldn’t believe he’s suggested it, “It’s not so simple.  I have to consider Elle.  It’s complicated.”

“It was already complicated.”

Didn’t she know it?  Complicated was having your third date with someone chained to a Nydia-tree or complicated was asking the guy you’ve developed feelings for if he wants to do long distance with someone on MinSci’s death row. 

Complicated was feeling loyalty to a woman who might hate you now, but whom you need to see things through with before you attempt to see things through with anyone else; one shocking reveal at a time.

“Does this have to do with how you need to say good-bye?  And all the weirdness back at Aunty Elle’s?”  Nola leaned down from the loft bed, hair falling beside her cheeks.  She’d been listening.  Did she or Miles read more into Elle’s instructions than short-term farewells? 

“Something like that.  I do have to go.  She promised to help Rose and the baby this morning, I’m helping Ruthie with Amos and Davey …”  Neith wasn’t ready to do this yet, not until she knew where she stood with Elle, which might hint at where she would stand with Nydia.  If Elle decided dealing with Prescott was too much of a risk, maybe they could flesh out the outbreak façade.  Or she might decide to proceed with someone else she could trust, for Nydia’s sake.  Or would they resume mistrust; had she failed Nydia and MinSci in gaining any ground?  She prayed now Elle could forgive her.  Neith wanted to ask Jamin how serious he was about her staying.  She wanted to know if Prescott would allow the scout to remain.

Miles smiled.  “Okay, go!   But come back for lunch?”  She wanted to see him every day.

“I will if I can.  But if I can’t...good-bye.”
Neith did her best to get back to the Snow’s place quickly, but it was hard without her little guide.  She wanted to avoid passing by too many dwellings so early in the morning – who knew where Rose and Kit’s place was?  She didn’t want to be responsible for clumsily waking a family who had finally snatched some sleep. So Neith arced around through the trees along what she thought was the village border spanning the camp between Elle’s and the tree house.  This area reminded her of the waterfall track – Ruth had taken her once, when things got more lax.  Neith began looking for the tree swings she had so often taken Amos to, and later Davey.  Nola had even come once, thanks to After School Club wearing her down and getting her talking. 

Once she’d opened up, and let Neith in.

She wondered how fast Elle expected her to say good-byes and what kind of good-byes they were.  She wanted to talk to Miles again.  It had been clear Elle wanted her to see him one more time at least, but that they might spend some time apart while they figured things out at the Snows was also abundantly clear.  Elle was protecting her brother, Neith got it.  Neith dreaded facing her, but she would prefer to finish ripping this band-aid off quickly.

Where were those rope swings?  The rock wall?  She did not want to make Elle wait any longer.

She was too high up on the slope, she was sure of it.  Neith started to work her way down closer to camp, stepping sideways.  She slipped a foot or two on loose pine needles but remained standing.   She laughed aloud at herself.  It was time to slow down.  She was in a hurry, but not a break-your-back-trying-to-get-there, hurry.  Bending at the knees a little more, she resumed side-stepping more carefully.  She slipped again, this time sailing past five or six trees – stepping and sliding upright – before landing on her rump.  It hadn’t hurt too badly.  She was pushing herself up and taking steadying breaths when she first heard sounds suggesting she wasn’t alone.  Maybe Elle’s kids were up now, heading for the swings.  Or maybe early birds were doing their thing.  She looked at her feet, mentally instructing them to do well by her, then raised her head on alert, waiting for further sound to guide her back to Elle’s; sound bite breadcrumbs. 

Before she could attune to any such thing, the crack came; a cracking on the side of her head.  The point of impact ran from her left ear across to her forehead on the same side.  She registered saliva leaving her mouth from the force of the blow.  Her eyes hurt where they slammed inside her skull.  Sling-shotted strings of fluids left her body with the first whip of her head, the whip away from the crack before the returning lash.  Stinging heat flooded her left side. She made a search of the see-sawing landscape, her own eyelashes sabotaging her efforts to see someone, anyone.


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