“There’s something each of us needs to know.”
Emily sat hunched on a bench in the Redoubt, staring at the heartlight, dreading the next few minutes. She took a deep breath, and made herself continue.
“I will never, ever stop being grateful for what you’ve done for me. But I’d be cheating you if I didn’t make you aware of exactly who you’ve been working with all of this time. If I didn’t tell you exactly who you saved. You deserve the real me. All of me. The good parts, the bad parts, and the parts I don’t fully understand.” She swallowed. “Especially those parts, I think.”
“So, here’s the thing. You and I are surrounded, on all sides, by all these men. There’s a lot of dudes here. Something like seventeen out of twenty people in Haven are men, including everybody who’s given even a scrap of authority. And I don’t trust that. And I don’t trust them. Men, I mean.” She raised her hands, palms outwards. “Look, I’m sure it’s nobody’s fault. And I don’t hate men. But this is weird. There’s a lot of dudes here. And they don’t bother me because they’re dudes. They bother me because nobody ever seems to ask where all the women are. Maybe they once did, but they don’t anymore.”
Emily shook her head and continued. “And they act very much like men do, always trying to one-up one another, always eager to run off and stab something. And they think of women as prizes to be sought and fought over. And they all seem to think that should be awesome for us, and it’s not, and they just don’t get that. To them, even to the nice ones, I’m a prize, not a person. They’re always talking, but never TO me; always AT me. Putting on a show. Never really listening; too busy making the right facial expressions to demonstrate what good listeners they are. Or just pretending to listen while they figure out what to say next. Being impressive.” Her eyes roved to the far wall, her face a mask of frustration and disgust.
She shook her head again. “And what’s worse than what it does to them is what it does to us. You’ve seen Rosemary. You deal with her every day.” She raised her palms again. “I’m not saying she’s not great. She’s kind, she’s generous, she’s patient, she’s smart as hell. But look at what this is doing to her. She’s turned into the sort of person who only tells people what they want to hear. And she’s always supporting others, never asserting herself, because she’s a woman, and everybody’s decided that’s her role. And she’s gone along with it. And I can’t believe that’s who she is―at least, that’s not all of who she is. I just can’t.” She paused. “Harriet’s gone the other way. She’s fierce, and she’s tough, and she never tells anyone what they want to hear. And that’s not her, either.”
“And then there’s me.”
“I don’t know who I am. At all.” She licked her lips. “I don’t remember. But I want to find out. I want to know what I like, and what I hate. I want to know what I’m good for. And here’s what terrifies me. I’m terrified that, in a town full of men, the version of me that emerges isn’t going to be me at all. It’s going to be something I make up, subconsciously, in order to get along. In order to please the men.” She shuddered. “And if that happens, I will never have come back to life at all. The real me will be dead. Not just my body, but my soul. I will have counterfeited myself, and I will never even know I’ve done it.” She shook her head. “And I refuse to let that happen.”
“Which is why I need to know something about you as well.”
Emily paused for a moment, staring at the heartlight, then wandered over to one of the racks on the wall and pulled down a long-handled spear. Using the butt of the spear, she etched a circle in the cave’s dusty floor, then continued, etching a line at an angle extending outwards below it. She drew the arrow at the end, completing the symbol of Mars. Male.
“I’ve been assuming. I just assumed…based on the way you treated me, back there on Earth. The way you waited. The way you helped. The way you never, ever used your flying to humiliate me, only to make me better.” A few strides away from the sign of Mars, she drew a second symbol. A circle, and a cross extending downwards from it. The symbol of Venus. Female. It’s meant to represent a handmirror. Which is just sexist as hell.
She took a deep breath, then stared at the heartlight. “You are what you are, okay? Just…I need to know. I promise, it won’t matter.”
But it will, Emily thought.
But it will, Will thought.
In the many, many hours Will had spent alone with his thoughts, he had developed a keen sense of his own faults and insecurities. Even without memories, he was gaining a sense of who he was. And above all else, he had discovered that he hated, hated, HATED to do a thing badly.
Will was bad at incarnation. In fact, it seemed to him that he was as bad at it as it was possible to be. It had been a solid week since Emily had emerged into the material world; he still malingered in the world of the spirit. Every morning, Emily sat calmly in the cave with Rosemary and him, silently supporting his efforts. And those efforts had produced…nothing. Not a spark. He had not managed to stir so much as a single grain of sand or a wisp of vapor from the cairns. And now, having overheard Ben’s conversation with Ammerman, Will knew that Rosemary had been telling Ben that she thought his case might be hopeless.
Will had Emily’s goodwill. He had the prospect of helping her discover who she truly was. And he had absolutely nothing else in the universe. Not a memory, not a friend, not even a body to call his own.
Will imagined the light fading from Emily’s face as she discovered the truth about his gender. He imagined the apologies that would follow, the reassurances that she’d offer. And then, with every ensuing day, there would less and less of her in his life. Even when she was with him, she wouldn’t be her; she’d be the version of herself that she allowed men to see. Never again would he see her smile with all of herself, but only with that part of herself which she felt secure in revealing. And then eventually, he wouldn’t be worth a smile at all, just a polite nod. Not her confidant, just another “dude.” Just that weird light that could make nothing more of itself, that wouldn’t go out, yet wouldn’t go away.
Emily stared at the heartlight as it hovered between the two symbols. Then, slowly, it drifted to the right, atop the symbol of Venus, and relief flooded through her, and she let out the breath she didn’t even realize she’d been holding. “Okay,” she said, and she permitted the huge smile inside her to show itself. “Okay. I won’t lie, that’s kind of a relief. Because I need this. I need someone I can be me with.” She grinned broadly. “And now that won’t be a problem. Anyway, I have to get going.”
On the way out of the cave, Emily turned back for a moment. “Oh. And I don’t say it enough―thanks for being here for me. Like I said, there’s a lot of dudes here. It can get a little overwhelming at times.” The smile became a wry grin. “And I’m sorry I keep monopolizing the conversation.” And then she was off; dinner would be served at the bunkhouse, and she knew she’d spend it being ogled, objectified, and performed for. But at least now she had something better to look forward to. There were better days ahead.
You and me against the world, Buddy, she thought, grinning. We’re going to turn this town on it’s ear. We’re going to show them all what a woman can do.
Will hovered in place, and the guilt came crashing down on him in waves.
It’s okay, he told himself. You did the right thing. You’re doing her a favor.
Besides, let’s face facts. You’re not making any progress here. You probably never will. Chances are, you’ll never get a chance―she’ll never get a chance― to know the real you.
You can be there for her. She can talk to you. You can listen. She likes that. It makes her happy. It’s the right thing to do. It’s the fair thing.
Nobody will ever know.