Monday, September 9, 2013

Anika - Chapter Nine

Chapter Nine

Of What There
Is to Know

                        It’s a rather tired trope, by now.

           You see it on TV. You read it in books, in comics. You play it in games.

                    “Be careful what you say to your loved ones each day,
                            because your words may be the last ones you share.”

        Turns out, in real life, it doesn’t usually work that way. I mean, I’m sure it happens,
           but people don’t usually have a screaming fist-fight and then run outside
             to get killed by a falling piano.

Instead, they say something mundane.
              Something that takes the continued existence of their loved one for granted;
           something that takes the grand sum of Life So Far and
        turns it into just another episode of General Hospital.

The last time I saw Dad, I told him I would see him later.
My sister asked him for twenty dollars.
Mom told him not to forget the potatoes, again.

      Sure, I’d change it.
        I’d tell him I loved him. I’d tell him he was a great dad.
         Who wouldn’t say something nice to someone who was about to die?

                          But that’s a given. It isn’t important.
                    Like most of what we do when someone dies,
              none of it matters one little gram to the person that’s gone.

They’re dead. Cashed in. Poof, gone.
 Like money, or cars, or houses, any remaining fucks my dad might have given
        were abandoned  shortly after that truck driver fell asleep at the wheel.

They were left behind with the twenty-dollar scratch lotto in the glove box,
              a gallon of milk in a bag from the gas station down the street, and
                     a pair of panties under the seat that didn’t belong to my mother.

          I think a better trope might be something like:

                    “Be careful what you say and do each day,
                            because your loved ones might not ever forget.”

Dad’s last reply to me was a shrug.
He told my sister he didn’t have twenty dollars to spare.

And I guess he forgot the potatoes.

West Palm, Florida – Winter

          With a stifled huff, Rebekkah stuffed the last garment of clothing into the already-overladen suitcase. When she finally managed to zip it shut, she plopped onto her knees on the carpet with a tired sigh. Packing for Vala was always the worst experience. Vala never had an opinion on what to pack. When Rebekkah made suggestions for outfits they were unanimously greeted with uncertain mumbling, and every trip they made together culminated in Rebekkah shoving twice as many outfits as necessary into a suitcase the morning of departure.
          Thankfully, they still had some time. It couldn’t have been any later than six. At least, she hoped it wasn’t. Somehow the alarm in her phone had either been shut off the night before or ignored for long enough that it got offended and decided to keep to itself. There was a decent chance mixed drinks were to blame, but thankfully she’d been waking up at five-thirty every morning for the past two years for school and couldn’t sleep past it to save her life.
          Before coming home Vala had confessed her intention to keep the worst hours possible for the eight weeks between her graduation and deployment. It’d been three days since she got home and she’d slept ten or eleven hours each night. So, naturally, she was still asleep, her limbs splayed out across the bed like one of those chalk outlines of a body found on the sidewalk. She slept about as well as the dead, too.
          After a failed attempt at holding back a yawn, Rebekkah fetched a fuzzy green bath robe out of the closet, one with a hood fashioned after a dinosaur for no discernable reason other than to be awesome. Leaving the hood off, she made her way to the front door to fetch the local paper before heading to the kitchen. Breakfast would be simple: eggs, toast, and coffee.
          The paper met the counter and she skimmed the headlines while setting up the coffee maker, neglecting to pay the least attention to what she was doing. The coffee wound up no worse it. Four eggs were dumped into a bowl, some milk was added, and as she stirred she caught a view of the clock out of the corner of her eye. Black digits against a soft blue glow declared the time as 0632 – military time, like every other clock in the house.
          Shit. Rebekkah grimaced. That left them an hour to finish cooking, to eat, to bathe, and to load the car – or, realistically, thirty minutes to wake up Vala, eating would happen in the car, and bathing would happen in Texas. As much as it pained her, and as deeply as it went against all of her training, she turned up the heat on breakfast.
          While the eggs cooked, she hurried to throw some bread in the toaster. After she dug out a couple of plates and some silverware, she grabbed some condiments out of the fridge. The butter was tossed in the microwave, ten seconds were programmed in, a couple plates and coffee mugs filled, and suddenly breakfast was done. The eggs were a hair undercooked but she knew Vala would eat them, anyway. She’d have to make it up to her, later.
          The filled plates were placed in the microwave to protect them from the malicious intent of Mister Sprinkles – despite his age, his ability to steal breakfast had not been diminished in the least. Vala always liked to add her condiments herself, so Rebekkah dropped the creamer and butter on the table on the way back to the bedroom.
          Gonna be late, gonna be late, gonna be laaaaa—
          An involuntary squeal left Rebekkah as she jumped in place.
          Vala was sitting up in bed, half-covered in blankets, her gaze blank and tired and fixed on nothing in particular. When she heard her partner, she blinked wearily and glanced over. A small smirk tugged at her features. “Jumpy, much?”
          Rebekkah took a deep breath, steadying herself as her cheeks flushed crimson. “You’re… up?! Since when?”
          Vala offered a limp shrug. “I think I forgot how to sleep. Had a bad dream, too.” Tired fingers reached for the key hanging around her neck, trailing over the wolf’s features.
          Rebekkah couldn’t hold back a small smile. She drew a deep breath, trying to still the pulse beating in the back of her neck, and sat on the end of the bed. “You? Bad dreams? About what?
          Vala grinned. “Something about… demons, I guess, possessing angry New Yorkers and… I don’t know, taking over the world? It… probably would have made a good TV show.”
          She chuckled, shaking her head and scooting closer. She jabbed her forefinger against Vala’s forehead. “Your brain must be an interesting place to live.”
          “Only sometimes. I smell breakfast. Eggs and toast, breakfast of champions?”
          “Yuss.” She nodded. “Come on, let’s eat. We have less than an hour.”
          Vala nodded thoughtfully. “So, what you’re saying is, there’s no time for foreplay.”
          Rebekkah’s heartbeat spiked again. Her cheeks felt hot. “I… we’re gonna be… we need a shower, and…”
          The covers slipped away. Vala crawled closer, and soon Rebekkah felt moist lips against her ear.
          A gasp left her, and she felt a shiver work its way down her spine. She closed her eyes, and all she could see was the kitchen clock. “Gonna… be late…”
          “We’ll manage. I hate this robe. I’m getting you out of it.”
          Rebekkah swallowed. Her mind went blank. “…Yes, ma’am.”
          Out of the corner of her eye, she caught the time on the unused alarm clock.
          0642. 0642. 0642. 0643.
          She closed her eyes again. Held her breath.
          The clock could wait.

*           *           *

          A quiet, tired grunt left Rebekkah. Her limbs were tingly and numb. She felt limp and sticky and fantastic and she was pretty sure she could lay here all d—
          Rebekkah’s eyes fluttered lazily open. Her head rolled slowly toward the clock.
          “Oh, God. Vala! Vala, whhhhyyyy?!”
          The blonde woman opened a single eye. “Mmm?”
          Rebekkah sat upright too quickly, and her head went light. Her arms trembled below her. “Look at the clock! We have to leave in ten minutes!” Rolling out of bed, she climbed unsteadily to her feet, stumbling a bit and almost falling over on the night stand.
          Vala rolled slowly onto her side. “Uuughh. Time, my eternal nemesis. I’m… getting up. I promise.”
          Rebekkah was already at the closet. Clothes began to fly toward the bed. A painfully bright sundress for herself, a red polka dot skirt and faded Minnie Mouse t-shirt for Vala. By the time she reached the underwear drawer, she could already hear a groan of disapproval from across the room.
          “I haven’t worn this since high school!”
          “Too bad!” A matching set of red polka dot underwear flew toward Vala’s head. “You gave up your right to decide your outfit when you decided to eat anything other than the breakfast I worked so hard on.”
          A half-grin crossed Vala’s lips. She reached for the bra she’d been given. “Please. You could shit a perfect breakfast. In your sleep.” The bra snapped into place, and she yanked the t-shirt off the bed. She gave it a brief, disapproving scowl and put it on. “Your future post-apocalyptic mutant superpower will be laying pre-scrambled eggs.”
          Rebekkah rolled her eyes, but couldn’t help but smile. She looked at her sundress, which faded into white below the hip, then brown around the knees, and was covered in a winding black vine pattern. She slipped it over her torso, and she was ready to go. “And yours will be procrastination.”
          “No. Pantsless procrastination.”
          A laugh burst from her lips. She shook her head. “Yeaaahhh, okay. Good point. Now, finish being pantsless and move breakfast to some paper plates. I’m going to load the car.”
          Vala grumbled as she climbed out from under the covers. “You’re lucky I’m used to taking orders.”
          Rebekkah replied with a smirk. “Yes. Otherwise we’d miss our flight.”

*           *           *

          “Vala! Hurry, we’re gonna miss our flight!”
          “Comin’, comin’.”
          Rebekkah watched Vala pull their single large, rolling suitcase over a curb with an effortless heft. She quickly grabbed the door, holding it open for her partner.
          Vala grinned at her as she passed. “Chill out, Rebutters. That two-hours-ahead policy is a little on the generous side.”
          Rebekkah couldn’t hold back a slight grimace. She’d rather be early and know she was early than risk barely making it, or worse. Still, there was no sense arguing. Pursing her lips, she adjusted the messenger bag slung over her shoulder. She headed toward the baggage check-in as fast as she could manage without breaking into a jog, leaving Vala behind with the larger bag.
          The line wasn’t too bad, and she breathed a little easier knowing that one of the more time-consuming parts of their voyage would soon be over with. Snatching a spot in line, she looked over her shoulder to wave Vala over.
          Vala was looking away, walking in her general direction at little more than a stumble. Her eyes were fixed in the direction of a young woman, short with long curly red hair, freckles on her cheeks, ruby lipstick applied with expert precision. Vala’s stare was so obvious that Rebekkah could see the young woman trying to steal glances toward her, looking increasingly nervous.
          Rebekkah’s brow furrowed. Vala was a bit of a—no, she was a huge sleaze—but the woman knew something of the meaning of subtlety, even after four years in Virginia. Besides. The girl wasn’t that cute. Was she? Well, maybe, but—
          Vala stopped, her head tilting a bit to the side. She looked lost.
          Rebekkah grit her teeth, taking a single step toward Vala before stopping. Five people in three separate parties had piled up behind her in the last minute. She didn’t want to shout and make a scene. She also didn’t want to lose her place in line. Lifting her hand a bit to try to catch her partner’s attention, she stopped herself when Vala started moving again. A slow step, then another, then something resembling a normal stride, but she was still staring, still walking without looking, then faster, a brisk blind stride, and Rebekkah's heart jumped a bit and she was opening her mouth to shout when Vala’s foot struck an information kiosk with enough force to send her tumbling toward the floor.
          “Fuck!!” She caught herself with an arm, rolling over as she landed, even as the baggage toppled onto the floor beside her. Her hands reached for her foot, clenching it tight, and obvious pain struck her features. “Shitting fucks, God damnit!
          Rebekkah’s concern for her place in line evaporated, and before she realized she’d moved she was kneeling on the ground by the shorter woman, one hand in her hair and the other on her arm. “Oh, God. Ohhh, God. Shit shit. Are you okay? Do you need me to get somebody?”
          Vala shook her head, then shook it again. “No, no, I’m… fffff. Sorry. I don’t… my head went somewhere, and I just didn’t see it. Sorry.” Gritting her teeth, she took a deep breath and let it out slowly. One of her hands left her foot, and she pushed herself up to a half-seated position. “Damnit. I’m gonna make us late.”
          Rebekkah hurried to her feet, reaching down to help Vala off the ground. She brushed off Minnie Mouse and the polka-dot skirt, then offered her partner a sympathetic smile. “I think you flashed that redhead. Hopefully she liked it.”
          Vala’s face twisted into a scowl. “I guess. Good for her.” With a small shudder, she hobbled over toward the luggage.
          Before Rebekkah could stop her, Vala was tugging it along again, limping with each step. “Ugh, what’d you pack, a week of clothes?”
          With a small smirk, she shook her head.  Vala was always grumpy when she was hurt. “Nah, just four days. And yes, I know we’re only going to be gone for three.” Stepping over to Vala, she tried to take the large, rolling suitcase from her. “Here, we can switch again when your foot feels better.”
          Vala tightened her grip on the luggage. “I’ve carried a grown person for over a hundred yards. I can handle the suitcase.”
          Rebekkah gently pressed a foot down on Vala’s toe, stopping when the pain registered on her partner’s face. “Don’t be dumb. I think you broke it. Take the bag.”
          Vala took a deep breath and settled into a pout. Releasing the suitcase, she took the carry-on bag from Rebekkah and slung it over her shoulder. “Fine, fine. I… thanks. Sorry. Let’s… get to our plane.”
          Rebekkah paused, then flashed a mischievous grin over her shoulder. “I didn’t catch the back, by the way. How was it?”
          Vala’s face registered confusion as she stepped into line. “The… what?”
          Rebekkah raised an eyebrow. “The girl you were mercilessly undressing with your laser-beam eye-rays. The one you tripped staring at?”
          Vala blinked. Recognition crossed her features. “Oh. Her. Uh. I don’t… something just… she bothered me. I don’t know. Let’s just… ugghh, goddamn my foot hurts. Let’s just get this done. I want to sit down.”
          For a moment, Rebekkah just stared. The urge to pry and the urge to leave Vala alone tugged at her in equal measure, until the line took a step forward. The bag lurched, a small crack sounded, and Rebekkah spotted a broken wheel.
          The redheaded girl was forgotten.

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