Sunday, September 13, 2015

32: The Color of the Soul

Emily and Will walked slowly back towards her boardinghouse, side by side, almost close enough to touch.  But not quite.
“Well,” she said, a tinge of bitterness in her voice.  “That was charitable of him.  He’s not going to make unwanted advances on me; instead, he’s choosing to auction me off to his friend, with or without my consent.  How noble and unselfish.”
“Cut the crap, Emily,” Will responded. 
Emily stopped in her tracks and stared open-mouthed at Will; he stopped as well, and returned her gaze levelly.  “Here is what just happened, Emily:  Jason tried to be kind to you.  I’m not going to explain his reasons, because he told them to me in confidence, and because I think they’re kind of insane, but he’s trying to be kind, as he always does, and I’m not interested in hearing you spit it back in his face!  He may not always be very good at being kind, and he may not always do the right thing for the right reasons, but he never stops trying.  And you can’t respect him for that, you could at least try to be nice about it!”
Her jaw worked; her eyes widened.  “Of all the…”  She stammered.  “I…this is ridiculous!  There’s no way in hell I’m going to apologize for objecting when people treat me like property!”  She shook her head, her face reddening.  “But I guess I should have known better to be honest about it.  I guess I should have known better than to violate the ‘bro code’…”
Will found himself almost shouting.  “There IS no ‘bro code,’ Emily!  There is no conspiracy of men who meet on alternate Tuesdays to come up with new ways to exploit and undermine you!  We are not some kind of hive!  We are just a bunch of individual people, and most of us are doing the best they can most of the time!”
She folded her arms in response.  “Wow,” she said.  “Looks like somebody grew a spine.”
“No, Emily, I did NOT just grow a spine.”  Will was seething.  “If you do a quick recap, I think you’ll remember that I’ve always been pretty damned brave, and even brave on your behalf, long before I had any idea who you were.  It’s never been my spine you’ve been concerned with, though, is it?  What you mean to say is that I grew some balls.  And my balls are all you can think about!  You’ve latched onto my balls, and you just can’t let go of them!”
Will stood there, fuming.  And Emily, the scarlet slowly draining from her face, raised a quizzical eyebrow at him.  And Will realized exactly what he’d just said.  “Oh…GODDAMNIT…look, I didn’t mean…”
 But Emily was suddenly doubled over, her shoulders shaking with laughter.  Will stood silent, and by the time Emily managed to look at him, there was no color in her face and no anger in her eyes, and he felt the tension drain away.  “Oh, Will,” she gasped.  “Words…they’re just not your friends, are they?” 
She gradually recovered.  He stood abashed, utterly ashamed, but to his surprise, Emily favored him with a sympathetic smile.  “Will…look.  I’m sorry, all right?  No…no, that’s not a real apology.  Let me try that again.”  She looked him straight in the eye.  “I’m sorry, Will.  Truly, I am.  You’re right.  I don’t trust men, and I don’t know why.  That’s an explanation for my behavior, but not an excuse.  And I know that you’re right.  You’re not ‘men.’  You’re just you.  And I’m going to do my best, from this point forward, not to judge you by your…”  She snickered a bit, then regained her composure.  “…by your balls.”
“No,” he replied.  “Just by my sparkling conversation.”  She laughed again, and things were suddenly and surprisingly okay in Will’s world.  “And…I’m sorry too.  You were right.  I was way, way wrong to lie to you, the way I did.  And I’ll try to do better.”
Emily smiled again at him, and extended her hand.  Her grasp was cool and firm as they shook on the matter.  Then they turned and continued up the road, the same distance between them, but a good deal less tension.
At length, Will spoke again.  “He was creepy, selfish, obnoxious, uncouth, and arrogant.  He was the worst possible person to represent his views.”
A brief pause.  Then the reply.  “And Will…” Emily was hesitant.  “I’m still not sure he was wrong.  At least, not entirely wrong.  I don’t forgive what he tried to do to you, that was wrong, but…but Will…he wasn’t wrong about everything.  Not about freedom.  Not about everyone having the same rights.  And he wasn’t wrong about Haven, either.  Not entirely.”  She stared at her feet as they walked.  “What happened to him was…it was probably necessary, but…it wasn’t entirely fair.”
“No,”Will answered.  “It wasn’t entirely fair.  But right at that moment, fairness wasn’t the most important thing, was it?”
“No,” she said. “No, it…”  She stopped walking.  He left her behind for a moment, then glanced back.  Her face was a puzzle.  “That’s what I said back when…”  She swallowed.  “You remembered.  God, you remember everything, don’t you?”
“I have a pretty good memory,” he said, “for the things that matter to me.”
She looked back at him for a long moment.  Then they continued walking.
Her voice was oddly quiet.  “What was my sister’s birthday, Will?”
“December ninth,” he replied.  It hadn’t even required a second thought.
Another few steps.  “What was her first word?”
“’Duck.’  The two of you were at a pond when she was just a toddler, and you pointed out a duck to her.  For the next six months, everything she saw that floated, flew, or had feathers, she’d point at and shout, ‘Duck.’”
Another few steps.  The bunkhouse was looming down the street.  “Okay.”  She put up a palm―still worn and callused from the harvest―in warning.  “Do you know what?  I’m going to go way out on a limb here.  I’m going to reverse a lifetime prohibition.”   She made an extravagant gesture.  “You may say her name now, Will,” she intoned, airily.
“Brianna,” he replied.  “Your sister’s name was Brianna.  And her last words to you were, ‘Will you watch over me?  Will you keep me safe?’”
Emily frowned.  “Okay, that’s a bit much,” she muttered.  “Don’t make me regret it.” 
But Will wasn’t listening.  “And if I can bring down the barrier, Emily, you can do exactly that.  You can go back to Earth.  You can watch over your sister―”
“Will.”  Her voice was firm again, and both palms were up.   “Stop.”
“―as long as you like, or if you wish―”
“―you can incarnate on Earth―”
Will.”  Her tone brooked no argument, and they were at the bunkhouse in any case.   She turned to him, her tone sharp, her face severe.  “Will, I keep telling you, I don’t want you to rescue me…”
“It’s not a matter of me rescuing you!”  Will suddenly found he was in earnest.  “It’s not about you, or not just about you, anyway.  It’s about everyone.  Ammerman’s right.  We’ve been exiled.  We’ve been cheated.  Even if human beings were meant to die, none of the rest of it is natural.  None of the rest of it was ever supposed to happen!” 
 The sentiments had been simmering inside him for weeks, and now, he was finally given vent to them.  Emily looked on, a bit awed, as they spewed forth.  “Death was never supposed to mean this!”  he almost shouted.  “They took it all!  They took everything!  They took our technology from us, our knowledge!  They took our understanding of how we’d become who we were.  They turned us into neurotic shells of ourselves!  They took Buck’s legacy away from him!  And the name of Harry’s wife!  And they took Brianna away from you!  And they took my whole life, Emily!
Emily stepped closer, concerned.  “Will.  Will, look at me.”  Her eyes were almost colorless under the twin moons.   “I’m sorry…I’m so sorry…about what they took from you.”  She stared up at him, and somehow seeing his own pain reflected in her face dulled the edge of his anger.  “I’m sorry that you don’t have any memories.  I treasure mine.  You know that.  But Will…loving my memories, and loving what I lost, doesn’t mean I need to have it all back.  I think…I think maybe it’s better if I don’t.”
He stared down at her, uncomprehending.  “How can you even say that?”  But her hands slid down to his, and held them, and he stopped thinking entirely.
“Will…memories are worth cherishing.  And you’re right, we’re not as strong without them.  But Haven has given you and I new lives, and a life can’t be spent just dwelling on old memories.  Being alive is about making new memories.”  Those colorless eyes were still looking up into his.  “Sometimes, people can make new memories together, Will.”
They stared at one another, and he fumbled for the right words.  And, as ever, they wouldn’t come.  “That,” he stammered, “is totally a princess thought.”
“Well,” she replied, “Nobody’s perfect.”  And she smiled at him, not with all of her, but in a way that seemed to suggest that future smiles might contain more.  “So.  I’ll see you tomorrow, then, Will?”
He allowed her hands to slide from his.  He wanted to explain.  But words were her friends, not his, and the right ones wouldn’t come.   “Good night, Emily.”

            Emily watched him go.
            He’s gone, she thought.  He’s actually going to do it.  Well, I tried.
            But why did I try?  Isn’t this EXACTLY what I wanted?
I have Jason off my case, and probably the Hairy Little Ba…probably Will, as well.  Neither of them resents me for it.  Everybody’s parting on good terms.
            I have the respect of the whole town.  I’ve shown them all how strong a woman can be.  I have important knowledge I needed from Ammerman, and a role to play in making the community stronger.  I’ve put a damper on Ben, and I don’t have to go back to work with the Creeper Patrol tomorrow, or worry about somebody cutting my throat in a back alley. If I had known the day would end like this when I woke up this morning, I’d have danced with joy.
            So why don’t I feel like dancing?  And why the HELL did I do that, just now?  Why the HELL did I say that to him, when I’m not even sure I meant it?
            But she knew why.
            Because Jason is gone, she thought.  And Will’s gone.  And now that I’m finally rid of them, it’s just me.  Me and the princess.  And I’m totally fine with that!  I’m fine being alone!
            But the princess…well, the princess will have her say, won’t she?  And the princess doesn’t want to be abandoned.

Will turned.  Walked down the street.  Down the path leading to the riverside and Phillip’s farm, thinking about what Emily had said.  Past the farm, down to where the path curved and ran uphill to the north, then up the hill, then around the bend and up Greta’s Bluff.  Up to the top of the bluff.  Then he sat down, the lights of Haven twinkling far below.  Thinking, all of the time, about what Emily had said.
Sometimes people can make new memories together, Will.
Will wanted those new memories.  He wanted them very much.  But what he wanted didn’t matter.
Because it’s not my memories that define me.  It never has been.  It’s the questions I ask that make me who I am.
And if I don’t find out who I was—who I was before, who I was on Earth―it will nag at me forever.  I will never, ever be able to let it go.  And some part of me will always resent the people who kept me from finding out.  I will come to hate those who most deserve my love.
I don’t want to go.  But if I didn’t go, I wouldn’t be me.
I have to see.

Will reached into his tunic, and withdrew the flask that he had stolen from the back shelf at Ben’s apothecary.  It was yellow-green and almost luminous in the starlight; it was the color of the soul.

No comments:

Post a Comment