07:55:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 819 words  
Categories: Announcements, Old Ventures: Refuge

ANNOUNCEMENT: NaNoWriMo 2018, Old Venture: Refuge

I'm sorry. I know, no man is an island, but I've had trouble even being one drop of rain in a river. It's difficult, these days, not to feel like the very foundations of sanity are shaking loose. And I have struggled under my burdens, as I know many of you do. I only yesterday finished last year's NaNo (which I'll be uploading soon to the blog) and I'm going to try and publish one chapter a day this NaNo. It's going to be a rough election cycle this year, and I'm hoping we can get through it together. But if you retain none of the words before or after this, remember these: you are not alone. Amidst all the chaos, and pain, and dehumanizing horror, you are known, you are cared about, you are loved. And so long as we continue to have each other, and to hold one another in our hearts, we have hope. Below is an excerpt, a preview of a chapter I realized was important enough to write and publish out of order, where it might still have some impact. As always, check back daily for updates, on this as well as on older projects that I got behind in posting publicly. And in the meantime, may you and yours stay safe and close in these trying times.

* * *

Jack stepped out onto the stage, and for a moment was blinded by the house lights, and then the chorus of flashbulbs from the media. "I'm happier than I can say to welcome a true American hero onto this stage," the man said, flashing a wide smile.

Jack shook his hand stiffly, then waited for him to clear the stage before speaking. "I'm not comfortable being here," Jack said, "and I'm sure that shows."

The audience chuckled nervously. "That's okay. You're laughing with me," he paused, "I think."

"But I've never been comfortable using my... celebrity, I guess, like this. I've marched, with John Lewis, Martin Luther King, for many varied human rights on many different occasions. You could say I've never been apolitical... but I've always attempted to keep who I am as a man separate from who I was as a symbol. I never wanted to trade on the good I've done, and even today, that's not my goal.

"But I can no longer abide my prior silence. This is not the usual push and pull of politics. This is the rise of something far more sinister, an enemy we fought a world war against, an enemy I hoped we vanquished for good. Maybe that was naïve of me. Maybe my generation failed to keep the flames of vigilance lit.

"I didn't decide to speak until last week. I waited, hoping that sanity would return, that someone, anyone, would be able to show the Republican candidate that he's not just trying to be the leader of conservative America, or scared America, that he'll need to lead all of us. He'll need to represent the will of all of us. He'll need to represent the hopes, as well as the fears, of all of us. And their convention convinced me that realization will forever evade him. At his core, he is a divisive and spiteful man. He doesn't like the idea of an America united, unless he can force us to unite behind him, not as a good and changed man, but as he is, angry, scared and lashing out.

"And with each passing day, the parallels with the fascist rise- a rise that cost our world millions of lives- become stronger, and harder to ignore. Every day, more language about how everyone but America is the problem is used, while more narrowly defining what counts as America. I have seen this ugliness before, I have seen what it does to good men and women caught up in its throes, and I have seen what they in turn do to those they deem unworthy of sharing soil with. I wish I could be here for any other reason, truly. But we do not get to choose our burdens, only how we rise to meet them.

"So please, vote. Not just for Democrats, but for democracy itself, for a return to normalcy, to respecting our differences, and the rights of others. For returning this country to an ideal for the rest of the world to envy. For a world where our most vulnerable are cared for, protected, and safe. For America as we want her to be, and need her to be, not what she was. Because viewing who she was through rose-tinted glasses can't erase those who were left behind or excluded in that past, and we know better, now, and we have to do better. The only hope I have to leave you with is this: we can do better. I've seen it. And I pray I'll live to see it again. Thank you."

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  10:43:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 825 words  
Categories: Lunacy

Lunacy: Savant

Rica was looking for Alisa. She didn't want sex, but she was jonesing for some companionship. The smell of something wonderful coming from the kitchen pulled her away from her search.

Alisa saw her and leaned outside the kitchen. ?Levy can cook.?

?Is that surprising?? Rica asked.

?Was that a fat joke?? she heard him ask from inside, amidst the banging of pots.

?No. I just kind of figured everyone can cook.?

?Not like this. Taste it,? Alisa held out a spoon covered in a red sauce with tiny green bits in it, and she licked it.

?I need my spoon back,? Levy said.

?You'll get your damn spoon back when I'm done with it,? Alisa called back, licking the spoon herself.


?Good, right?? Alisa asked. ?If I weren't an avid muff-diver, I would be completely all over him over this. I might anyway.?

?My ears are burning.? He said. She leaned back through the doorway and winged the spoon at him. ?Ah. Damnit. Now I have to wash... well, actually, I think our floors are probably pretty sterile. It's not like there's any dirt or dust for us to track around.?

Paul had been heading towards the gym, but noticed the gathering. ?What's up??

?Levy's cooking,? Rica said. ?And doing really well.?

?Thank God. I love fresh tomoatoes, but there is too much of a good thing. And the nutritionists have started bitching that we were eating too many moon pies.?

?No such thing,? Levy said.

?Well, nutriotionally, I think there is.?

?Any of you any good at making pasta? We could just use rice with the carbonara, but that just sounds...?

?Blasphemous,? Alisa said.

?I can help,? Paul said, walking into the kitchen.

?The dough's already made; it's basically just rice flour and water.   

?But if you're making a carbonara, what are you doing for the bacon and cheese?

?We have soy milk from the machine, so I've been experimenting making soy cheese.?

?I thought soy cheese is tofu.?

?Kind of. Mostly, soy cheese involves spices, and even more soy milk.?

?Okay. But bacon??

?I made tempeh.?

?I thought that was just a fancy word for tofu,? Rica said, following Alisa into the kitchen.

?They're similar. But tempeh is a block of fermented solid soy beans. And if you slice it, then fry it, you can get a bacony texture.?

?But... my God, it smells like bacon,? Paul said.

?Was your leg kicking?? Rica asked, fighting a laugh.

?Maybe. Bacon, or a woman who knows how to scratch a belly right have both been known to do that.?

?Yeah. We've got these, I guess, flavorings,? Levy said, opening up a cabinet to reveal rows of small bottles with dropper stoppers. ?It's like the concentrated flavorings companies use. After my first bacon experiment I actually went back and read up on these things. NASA bought flavoring secrets from dozens of companies, at cost, provided they only be used off-world. Our bacon flavor comes from a company that makes bacon bits. A bunch of the others come from a company that makes novelty jelly beans. It's kind of insane. But you can get tofu to taste like nearly anything. And they're super concentrated. We could have tempeh bacon every meal to Mars and back without running out of this stuff.?

?I remember NASA wanted us all to take cooking classes,? Paul explained. ?But Ken cancelled them- he said we could watch Julia Childs videos on our way to Mars.?

?I wasn't on the main team;? Rica said, ?I never heard about that.?

?They did send us with a buttload of recipes,? Levy said, ?all meticulously vetted to make sure we actually had all the ingredients- or modified accordingly.?

?Probably didn't want to amplify the feeling of isolation that comes with not having access to paprika.?

?Oh, we've got paprika,? Levy said, ?enough to choke a small donkey.?

?And we've got fresh capsicum, too,? Rica said. ?I rallied for some Hungarian species; they've actually got more vitamin c than lemon juice.?

?Yeah, we wouldn't want to come down with scurvy,? Paul said. ?But what's with the delicatassen all of a sudden? Just a few days ago we had stoneless stone soup.?

?I'd been having trouble sleeping. So I started puttering in the kitchen. I never learned to cook. I graduated with a dual doctorate at twenty four and immediately became an astronaut candidate; neither of which are conducive to home-cooking meals. So I ate almost exclusively from Wendy's my entire adult life.?

?I figured someone else would have stepped up with the cooking, by now, but we've been subsisting almost entirely on whatever could be stewed since we ate through our dry reserves. And I hate stew. So I'm teaching myself to cook.?

?It could use more basil,? Alisa said, tasting the sauce again.

?Okay,? Levy said, ?too many cooks in the kitchen. Everybody out. Except Paul. You're my pasta monkey. Keep grinding, pasta monkey.?

  04:01:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 1699 words  
Categories: The Singularity

The Singularity, Chapter Twenty-Nine, Decisions

Kevin's day had not been going well. He was kicking himself over Chris. He'd made the right call at every stage, but hindsight still made him feel like he should have suggested surgery earlier.

And that was what he heard, as a drumbeat, in his ears, while he was on the phone with Hollerman and Caulder, and with the life flight people. None of it was helped by the fact that between scans, the flight and surgery, he was spending a hundred thousand dollars, in a medical system already bloated by unecessary and expensive care- and at least some of that he was convinced was being spent because he hadn't recognized Chris' condition for what it was earlier.

He wasn't looking forward to facing Chris. He hesitated at the door handle, but he knew that cowardice was no solution, so he wrenched the door open. He was greeted by a cacaphony, and his first thought was that Chris was seizing, accompanied by another incidence of the singularity.

But as his eyes adjusted to the room, made more bright be light coming in through the westward facing windows, he could see the source of all the commotion: the room was full of people- everyone in the clinic, with the exception of Steph. And they were arguing heatedly.

?I'm pretty sure I'm medically not supposed to be surrounded by a lot of loud, opinionated people screaming at each other,? Chris bellowed to be heard above the crowd.

?What the hell is going on in here?? Kevin asked from the doorway.

?Well I think we were verging on a cat fight, before you showed up,? Knowles said. ?I think the old lady was one of the cats, though, so maybe that's for the best.?

Addie glared at Knowles.

?Okay, someone who isn't looking to aggravate things any further explain. Sam??

?We're arguing over causality.?



?I see. And why are we doing this in a patient's room??

?Because Claire thinks the singularity is coming. The tell ourselves how not to screw up our lives singularity.?

?That doesn't explain the yelling,? Kevin said.

?Maybe I can,? Trevor said. ?Because what's got some people rankled is the fact that we may not all be able to have our happy endings. So what you have here is a sad-sack-a-thon.?

?I would have described it as a nutsack-a-thon,? Knowles said. ?But it's basically all based off a known unknown. I don't want anything,? Knowles said. ?For the first time in my life, maybe, this isn't about me. And that's huge. Because I've always been a selfish, self-absorbed little bastard, but I can tell you right now, that I don't need anything more than what I have, right here. For the first time I'm having emotionally healthy and respectful relationships with women, I'm part of meaningful scientific work. And I don't completely hate myself. I'm reluctant to do any tinkering, honestly, anything that might take away what I have, but I get why other people might want what this means. So for me, it's just about trying to preserve that idea, isolate the variable we think matters most- or maybe the one that's the least likely to screw up everybody elses' lives.?

?A lot of it's just dependent on chronology, which is normally fairly linear. Your grandad's lightning strike came first. He decided to have kids, decided on your name, and I wouldn't be surprised if he got or will get some helpful advice about teaching his kids about drunk driving. Claire's thing happened thirty years ago- but it also seems like it's already happened. She doesn't need to be re-inspired to be a physicist. That's right around the time Addie wishes she left her husband- after they had their kids, but before she allowed her husband to convince her not to take a promotion at work because she had a child to raise at home.?

?Chris, who's the linchpin, really- though you both are part chicken and part egg- I mean, you're the doctor, so maybe you have a better idea of how long he could play football without risking permanent injury, but right now we've got it ballparked at three years earlier than he did- which would eliminate that really bad concussion he had in his second to last season, and that minor one he had after.?

?That's not what I want,? Chris said.

?I thought she was speaking for both of you,? Knowles said, pointing at Morgan.

?Normally, she does, but... that's why what I want is to to marry her.?

?You already did.? Knowles leaned over to Kevin. ?Has his mind gone soft again??

?I want to marry her earlier. I'm glad we're married, now, but I don't care about anything else- I want her to be happy- I want not to have hurt her as many times as I did fighting her on it.?

?Okay, so we haven't totally reached consensus, there,? Knowles said. ?And my thing, which like I already said with Claire's, happened already, occurred something like a year ago. Right after that, Trevor suffers his injuries in Afghanistan.?

?I don't care about my injuries,? Trevor said, angrily.

?His survivor guilt was born then,? Knowles said with annoyance. ?Sam-?

?I don't want to change anything, either,? Sam said. ?Whether or not Kerry and I get back together, I think everything that's happened- the experiences are important- they inform where we go from here and how. I think- I know- that without this experience I end up leaving in some other way.?

?Right. But the reason I listed things chronologically, is there's a possibility that only the first change will actually take- because everything else will be automatically altered over again- possibly preventing further corrections.?

?And the other possibility,? Sam said, ?is that we only get one possible shot at all of this, so trying to pass along everybody's messages is the only way.?

?So there's a lot of disagreement,? Knowles said. ?Hence all the arguing.?

?Okay,? Kevin said. ?We're going to do it this way, for right now. Everyone who thinks we have to do this one at a time- line up along the left side of Chris' bed.?

?Stage left or patient left?? Knowles asked.

?My left, and his right.? he said, touching the foot of Chris' bed with his right hand and pointing with his left. Knowles was the first to move to that side of the room.

?Coming through,? Trevor said, wheeling himself around Kevin.

Morgan stared at Chris; she hated that they were fighting about this, and she couldn't decide if her trying to block his selflessness made her selfish or not. But she didn't want to lose him, and that was all that really mattered, so she moved to his right, and took hold of his hand.

Claire squeezed Kevin's shoulder. She was glad to have him here, have him injecting sanity back into the conversation. But she also knew that it was the same discussion they'd been having for several days- and exactly where she stood, so she shrugged and moved over beside Morgan.

?And everyone who believes we get one chance, on my right.?

Sam didn't hesitate, which didn't surprise anyone, since he'd been the counterpoint to Knowles through most of the discussion. He walked over to Chris' left.   

Addie glanced around the room, before joining Sam.

?Of course she'd go with him,? Knowles said, ?she thought he was her husband until yesterday.?

?Yeah, but she hates her husband, remember?? Claire asked. ?You said so like three minutes ago.?

?You take all the fun out of irrational exuberance. You know that, don't you??

?And I'm in my right mind, now-? Addie protested, ?though not so much that I couldn't plea insanity for throwing you out of that window.?

Knowles unconsciously looked back through the window, and at the beach far below.

Kevin glanced at Claire, and they exchanged a look. He also noted that her side had twice as many people on it. But he couldn't help but vote on the hope that none of them would have to suffer through all of this over again.

?I don't get many opportunities to show off my fancily acquired learning skills,? Knowles said, ?but I know which number's bigger here- and it's our four to your three.?

?Not so damn fast,? Chris said. ?I may not be able to stand to my own left, but that's where my vote goes.?

?We probably don't have to wait for our resident boy genius to retally up the votes to know it's a tie,? Claire said.

?And in the event of a tie?? Morgan asked.

?Pie fight?? Claire suggested.

?Sounds like a waste of precious pies. And also a dead end.?

?I think Knowles was right,? Kevin said. ?We can't know the right answer- not until it's too late, anayway. But I know the wrong answer- and that would be asking any one of us to suffer for no good damn reason-  to relieve our tragedies just because we're... scared of the chance we've been given.?

?And here's the thing: we can argue like this, indefinitely, over who deserves this more. But the secret is that none of us deserves this second chance. We're all here because we screwed up, in our own little personal ways, we messed something up. But if we argue long enough, we will all of us miss this opportunity. And maybe I'm wrong. Maybe there is only the chance for one of us to get what they want- or maybe even what they need. But I'd risk my shot. I'm sure everyone agrees that my wife didn't deserve to die, that my daughter deserves to have her mother- and that's everything to me, but I would trade it, for the chance that all of us could spin this wheel together. For me, I'd rather maybe lose this chance in order to do what's right, than keep it for the most selfish reason.?

?And since we were deadlocked,? Claire said, ?all you need is to peel one of us off.? She glared across her side of Chris' bed. ?Well you've got one,? she said. ?We do this together- or it doesn't get done.?


  03:53:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 1993 words  
Categories: The Singularity

The Singularity, Chapter Twenty-Eight, Emergence

Claire stirred slowly in bed. The previous day had taken a lot out of her, and she'd been looking forward to sleeping in. And maybe bartering sex for a back rub- sometime after noon.

 That was why she couldn't understand it when her eyes opened. It was before ten, but late enough that there was too much light streaming in the bedroom window. A short, sharp noise peirced her ears, and she reached for the nightstand. Her phone wasn't ringing- it wasn't even on. Apparently she'd gone too long without charging it, and it had died sometime in the night.

But the noise continued. She groaned, and pushed herself out of bed enough to see the opposite nightstand, and Kevin's phone, which was vibrating as well as ringing. He was blissfully unconscious.

She reached across him for the phone, but by the time her fingers touched it his cell went silent. So she grabbed his shoulder and shook him violently. ?Kevin!? she said loudly. He didn't respond. So she slapped him.

?Gah!? he woke with a start. ?You slapped me!? he said with surprise.

?You were in a sex coma. And I had to wake you. Medical emergency.? She pointed to his phone. 

?And you never considered the Sleeping Beauty/Snow White approach?? he asked, kicking his legs off the bed. He ran his hands over his stubble, and reached for the phone and hit redial..

?I didn't know you wanted to be treated like a pretty, pretty princess,? Claire mocked, as they waited for the phone to ring through.

?Oh thank God,? Morgan said on the other end. ?Chris has been seizing for almost twenty minutes. The paramedics are here, and they want me to let them take him to a hospital. They said they wouldn't be able to transport him to you unless they could verify that you were ready to receive him.?

?Put them on the phone, please.? He heard the loud rustling as she handed the cell off.

?My name is Jason, I'm an EMT. Who am I speaking with??

?Dr. Kevin Guinne. I run a head trauma clinic on the edge of the state park.?

?I know it. And you're going to be ready to receive the patient in about ten minutes??

?We'll be ready.? Kevin heard the sound of the phone roughly changing hands again.

?They're transporting,? Morgan said, ?strapping him to one of those things.?

?Gurney,? Kevin said. ?Ride with them. You can help keep Chris calm.?

Kevin met them in front of the clinic eight minutes later. Jason stepped out of the driver's side. ?He stopped seizing on  the ride over here.?

?Did you give him anything?? Kevin asked.?Anticonvulsants? Anything.?

?Patient's wife said he's being treated here, that he had surgery just the other day, and that she couldn't be certain which medications he might have taken or been administered. She also said he's had a recent bout of seizure activity, for which he's also being treated. And since the seizure did not appear life threatening, we made the call to let you handle his meds.?

?Excellent. Thank you.?

?Chris??Kevin called into the back of the ambulance. 

?Doc?? the response came back weak.

Kevin put one foot on the bumper and leaned inside. Chris smiled at him. ?Enjoy your honeymoon??

?I did,? Chris said. ?But it was too short.?

Kevin laughed. ?Well, I'd been hoping that the blockage we dealt with would take care of the seizures. But no such luck. So you know what time it is.?

?Brain irradiation?? Chris asked.


The paramedics helped lower the gurney. ?Can you stand?? Kevin asked. ?To get into the wheelchair, I mean.?

?I can try,? Chris said. He put one hand on the chair for leverage, and raised the other. Kevin grabbed it, and helped pull him up enough to sit down in the chair.

?Paperwork,? Jason said, handing Kevin a clipboard. He signed his name, and entered contact information into a box. ?Thanks. And he's all yours.?

Kevin nodded, and pushed Chris' wheelchair around to the imaging room entrance.

?This machine makes me feel like a real dick,? Chris said, as Kevin helped him onto the slab.

Kevin strapped Chris down, and walked into the safe area. He hit the intercom button. ?Ready??

?You forget that I'm not a virgin at this anymore,? he said.

?Right.? Kevin struck a few keys and the CT scanner moved Chris through the ring. 

?It's really not so much like giant robot sex,? Morgan said, ?since it's only his head going through the ring. It's more like giant robot foreplay- with my husband used as a sex toy.?

A 3 dimensional picture started to emerge on Kevin's screen. Kevin wanted to swear at the image, but he controlled himself enough to sigh instead. But Morgan caught onto him anyway.

?Kevin,? she said, in a voice that strongly reminded him of his mother.

?Well, on the bright side, the bleed is virtually unchanged since Chris' arrival. So it's not an emergency condition. But... it also means that all of the various dessicants and medications we've administerd to CHris haven't had an effect- or worse, they've only managed to match whatever growth it might be having.?

?And it seems likely it is causing his seizures. I'd like to have Chris taken to OHSU for surgery. I'm... somewhat qualified as a neurosurgeon, but the brain isn't a playground for amateurs. So I'd like him to see Dr. Caulder, a colleauge of Dr. Hollerman. She's very good at this kind of procedure. She's who I'd want cracking my walnut,? he knocked on his own skull for emphasis.

?But you could do it yourself?? Morgan asked.

?In a pinch. And I appreciate the implication,? Kevin said, ?but it is my professional opinion that your husband would be better having surgery elsewhere. Of course, I'll run it by Hollerman, for a second opinion, but if he concurs- and I expect he will- we'll get the surgery scheduled as soon as Caulder's available.?

?And Chris??

?It's not likely very necessary, but if money's not a concern, you could have an ambulance provide transport back to OHSU. I'd do it myself, but I don't like being that far away from the clinic. And it makes sure that he has qualified medical help on hand regardless.?

?What about a life flight?? Morgan asked.

?Well, medical flights are expensive. The base rate is about $12 grande, and then they charge another $150 per mile. It's about 80 miles, by road, and it's a pretty straight road, to OHSU, so figure another $12 grande.?

?And is that the safest way to get him from here to there?? Morgan asked.


?Then I'm not about to risk widowing myself over $24 grande.?

?I'll make arrangements, then,? Kevin said. ?Steph, can you help wheel him back to his room.?

?Sure,? she said.

Chris' strength had returned enough that he didn't need help getting into the wheelchair this time, but he let Steph push his chair.

When they arrived at his room, Claire was there, making adjustments to her MaD machine. She turned to greet them. ?I came as soon as you called, it's just... I wanted to be useful, and I thought the scanner might be useful, whereas me riding shotgun for a CT scan...?

?You could have helped me make giant robot foreplay jokes...? Morgan said. ?But this was probably the right call.?

?Once we get him back into bed I can make sure everything's calibrated and functioning at one hundred percent- not that there's any reason why it wouldn't be-?

?You just need something to do to keep you from going completely insane,? Morgan said. ?That compulsion I know intimately.?

Chris climbed into bed. ?And we don't just think that it's Kevin soaking my brain in radiation and then you just picking up traces, right??

Claire smiled. ?Nope. In fact, my equipment is sensitive enough that it's not picking up on the trace x-ray radiation. We checked that, though-we'd be pretty crappy scientists if we weren't taking efforts to isolate our variables. But I can show you the graph, sometime; manifestation activitiy stays completely flat after you've been scanned. It sort of makes sense that our equipment is this good; before you, we were chasing... almost the idea of things like what's going on here.?

?She means that before this moment,? Knowles said from the door, ?we were chasing sasquatches based solely on how possible sasquatch droppings tasted. And now, well, you're our sasquatch.?

?And if it isn't our resident sasquatch droppings taster,? Claire said.

?You say that like I was supposed to know that you were having a party here without me. You know, like I had maliciiously ignored a call, a text, or something. Wait- why aren't you on your honeymoon?? he asked Chris.

?Rough sex,? Chris said. ?So rough I had to be rushed back to the clinic.?

Knowles held up his hand towards Morgan and she slapped it.

?He was kidding, though,? Morgan said with a smile. ?He only needed first aid after the honeymoon.?

?Is everything okay?? he asked.

?Kind of,? Morgan said. ?In that he had another seizure, but seems okay. And sort of not, in that he's going to need surgery, at OHSU.?

Claire gasped.

?You two, are, of course, welcome to come along- monitoring equipment or no,? Morgan said.

?That wasn't,? Claire started, ?just come here,? she grabbed the other woman and pulled her against her and squeezed.

?I know,? Morgan said, ?but I was trying to keep you from getting all girly on me.?

?Oops,? Claire said, letting her go. ?Ahem.? she turned around, and struck a few keys on her laptop. Morgan laid her head against Claire's shoulder. ?Background manifestations are high- but they've been trending higher since Chris' arrival, and that's what we anticipated all along.?

?Isn't she obnoxious when she gets all proud of her scientific prowess?? Knowles asked.

Morgan turned towards Knowles. ?It's actually kind of adorable. It's kind of like... like what I imagine it's like when an eight year old brings home a crayon drawing from school they really want you to put up on the fridge- only they don't want to actually have to ask for the recognition.?

?Crap,? Claire said.

?Crap?? Morgan asked.

?Well... I don't want to be that person who is always looking for bigger and more hyperbolic ways to say things. But remember that time when I said the big one was coming??

?Yeah...? Morgan said, her dread coming through in her tone.

?Well this is his bigger brother. Much bigger. With an addiction to exercise and protein shakes. And a glandular thing. And possibly the health condition that Andre the Giant had.?

?Gigantism?? Knowles snarked.

?How soon?? Morgan asked.

?Well... that's a little harder to know, exactly,? Claire said. ?But it's hours. We're getting ripples from it. But I think it's the one we've been waiting for...?

?Waiting?? Morgan asked.

?The one we can use for the leap home. Sorry. Probably the wrong time for a Quantum Leap reference. But the one that will let us send something back- that will let us fix things.?   

?And what about Chris??

?It's bound to be a few hours, at least, before all the arrangements can be made, between the life flight people and the surgeon's schedule.?

?And if it's not?? Morgan asked.

Claire frowned. ?If it's not, then it's just like I told Kevin before the angioplasty: if that's the way things are supposed to work out, it's how they will. I'm not about to try and convince you to ignore what's best for your new husband- because I can't believe that the way to make sense of the universe is to do that. And that's an argument I could never win, anyway. I know better than to get between you and Chris.?

?Well, presuming that things all come together like you think, what do we do??

?Well,? Claire said, ?I guess we have to figure that out.? 


  03:47:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 2241 words  
Categories: The Singularity

The Singularity, Chapter Twenty-Seven, There Is Love

It?s getting dark, now, and Claire drops her off at the beach, where she finds Chris in a wheelchair and a tux, and Sam wearing his most priestly attire, in front of an arch with papier mache roses on it. He proposes, and they marry, then and there. Sam says she can kiss her husband, and that in case they want to round any more bases, they?ve taken the liberty of getting them a hotel room for the night. Her concern flares up, and she asks Kevin if it?s safe. ?Since we put the balloon in through his neck and not his groin, in my medical opinion? Rock his socks off. Just, try not to bash his head against the headboard too much.? ?I?ll put a pillow between.? ?The doctor just said you have to play nice with me.? ?All I heard was no new head trauma?? she said with an evil grin.

They leave, and he tells Sam, ?You did a good thing today. And here I thought you?d smothered your romantic side in its sleep 18 months ago.? He expected a laugh, but Sam didn?t say anything, just kept looking out at the waves crashing against the beach, and Kevin saw that his eyes were nearly as moist as the surf. ?I?m sorry, I didn?t mean-? ?It?s okay,? Sam said. ?You did. And I thought I had, too. We?ve all got our sore spots. And I love you, too, even if that sometimes comes with your foot in my stones.? They hugged, and Sam started up off the beach. ?Where?d you get the archway?? ?Uh, the high school. They?ll be wanting it back, too.? ?I got it,? Kevin said. ?You?ve been up since, what, dawn? Get some rest. You more than earned it.? But Sam dooesn?t go right to bed. He calls his wife. ?I?d like to see you, and the kids.? ?Oh,? she said, the trepidation heavy in her voice, but she relented immediately, ?okay.? ?I don?t want you to think- or to mislead you- I?m not saying we should be a family again. But I?d like to see you. All of you. And, to figure out where we should go from there.? ?Okay,? she said again.

 Morgan?s feet hurt. She wondered if she could convince Chris to rub her feet as she opened the door into his room. He was gone, and his blankets were folded. On top of them was the dress she?d bought earlier, but in white. She heard Claire behind her, and she turned to ask, ?Is this all what I think it is??

She smiled. ?I can neither confirm nor deny- but if you think it?s your bar mitzvah- you?re going to be really disappointed. But I think you?ll be happier in the white dress. And do you have any idea how hard it is to get someone to buy a dress, shoes, flowers and everything else without arousing suspicion??

?You were pretty suspicious. I thought you were coming onto me- especially that one time you did come onto me? plus, you know,? she touched her hair, still in her ponytail. 

?Crap. Hair. I knew I'd forget something. I?m such a bad girl.?

?Nah, you?re the best one.?

?Aw.? Claire blinked quickly. ?But you have to stop being sweet, or I?m going to cry, and my eyeliner will run and then I?ll look like a crack whore.?

?You should do what I do,? Morgan said, pulling down on her cheek, ?tattooed it on.?

?Ah,? Claire shuddered. ?Did that hurt as much as it sounds??

?More. But I don?t jab myself in the eye with eyeliner pencil once a week, so ultimately it?s a win.? She smiled. ?Can you help me do something with my hair??

?I?ve always been quite good at doing something? though I?m nearly as good at doing nothing at all.? She paused to think that over. ?And thank you for not turning that into a snark about my hair.?

?No prob. But could you, you know, avert your eyes while I change into the dress??

?I can?t tell if I?ve actually creeped you out, or if you?re to keep me from having to compare my body to yours.?  

?Um, whichever makes you feel better,? Morgan said. ?And could you zip me up.?

?Sure,? Claire said, and pulled the zipper from her lower back to her shoulders. ?Oh,? she snapped, ?when Steph got off shift, she ran and picked up the sluttiest make up she could find at the drug store.?

?Aw. You knew my favorite kind.?

?I had a hunch. But we can help each other skank up.? Morgan squinted at her. ?My guy?s going to be there, too.?

Morgan selected an eye shadow for herself. ?And just how slutty do you want to be??

?Expensive prostitute.?

?My specialty,? Morgan said with a smile. They hardly spoke as they applied each other?s make-up, because of the question still nagging at the back of Morgan?s mind. When they were finished getting ready, Claire led her out into the courtyard, and then down the treacherous path that led towards the beach. Morgan stopped, and noticed the bright purple hue of the sky. ?The sun?s setting, on a beach, I?m wearing a white dress, and holding a bouquet of lilacs and peonies. This isn?t just a double date, is it??

Claire was distracted. ?Yeah, and be careful; those heels look a little dicey and I was told I was specifically put on not letting you fall to your death duty- so please don?t make that job any harder than it already sounds.?

 Morgan stepped carefully, until they reached the bottom of the cliff. She had trouble walking in her heeled boots on the sand. ?Maybe I should have let you wear the flats,? Claire said.

?Or you might have at least mentioned I?d be walking on sand.?

?But then we?d have missed out on this moment.? Chris saw Morgan at the bottom of the hill, and he started towards her. ?Though not this next one??

 Chris put his right hand into his pocket and held it there, and didn?t take it back out until he was three feet from Morgan.

There was a small box in his palm, which he opened as he dropped to one knee. ?If this is just an elaborate presentation for some jewelry I will never forgive you,? she said.

?It isn?t,? he smiled.

?Then can you forget that I didn?t just say, ?yes? on the spot??

?Nope,? he said, and stood up, taking the ring out of the box and putting it on her left ring finger. She kissed him.

He smiled, and held up her hand so she could see the ring. ?There?s rubies, your birth stone, and sapphires- mine- and the clear one in the center?s a diamond, of course.?

?It?s perfect,? she said.

He took hold of her ringed hand, and pulled her towards the water. Sam was standing underneath an arch with papier mache flowers on it. Beside him was Kevin, wearing a suit and tie and looking uncomfortable, but happy.

?I know it?s short notice,? Chris said, ?but I want this. And as long as I live, I will want this. But I wanted to say it- for you to know it- in case I wake up tomorrow and don?t remember that this is what I want. And I know- I know that you would be okay with that. But I?m not. Not anymore.?

He put his hand into his other pocket. ?I was going to write my own vows, but I forgot,? he said with a grin. ?Thankfully,? he pulled a piece of paper out of his jacket, ?my wife writes everything down for me. One of our fights, culminated in, well, eventually in make-up sex, but before that, we had a long conversation. ?

?Last spring,? she said quietly to herself.

?That?s right. And she took exquisite notes. I don?t know if she knows it, but I?ve read that passage over again a hundred times. Morgan Emily Platt, I love you, and I do not deserve you. I forget to tell you how much you mean to me, and neglect to show you. I?ve lived with you almost half my life, and I?ve hurt you more times than I could count. I know I?ll hurt you more, and that tears at my soul. But I selfishly ask that you have me, because I need you. Not to take care of me. But because I can?t be the man I want to be without you. You are my heart. My kindness. My humility. And my empathy. Without you I am a dull and pointless shell of a man. But with you, I approach a man worthy of you.? 

?Do you take this man to be your husband?? Sam asked.

?I do, you jerk.? Chris? eyebrows went up. ?You could have warned me, so I could write something,? she said.

He handed her the piece of paper. ?Your response, remember? You took really thorough notes.?

?Was my handwriting ever that clean?? she asked, as she tried to find her  place on the page, but the words themselves were incomplete. She closed her eyes, and thought back to that night, and that fight- how hot it burned, and how empty it left the both of them afterwards. And she remembered at that moment he lowered his eyes to the floor, and she reached out and touched his cheek, Their eyes met, and she said, ?Chris. I pledged my life to you a long time ago. There is no power in Heaven or Hell that could tear me away from you. Least of all any ill-considered but ultimately meaningless words. Because you may not always say it, you may not even always show it to me, but I know you love me. Because I love you. My heart would know yours in the dark, struck deaf and numb. You're a part of me. I could no more leave you than I could walk away from my own soul. I'm yours. And you're mine. And no amount of words, by either of us, in front of a priest or not, could ever change that.?

?And do you take this woman??Sam asked.

?I do.?  

?Then by the power vested in me, you're married, and may kiss without worrying about your souls.? They did. It lasted a while. ?Ahem. I said kiss. By law, if that lasts even another second, it counts as public indecency. By which I mean, you don't have to fornicate out here,? he dangled a key in his hand, ?because we got you a room for the night..?

Morgan eyed Chris. ?Nothing to do with it,? he protested.

?Entirely my idea,? Sam said.

?Though we all agreed it would be nicer to spend the night in a room at the Stephanie Inn, rather than my medical clinic that smells all... medicinal,? Kevin added. ?And Knowles is waiting up at the Bronco, to chaffeur you to your love nest.?

?And I swore him to silence, on pain of death- so he shouldn't bug you,? Claire said. ?Hopefully.?

?It's...? Morgan was tearing up, and couldn't get further than that.

?Thanks,? Chris said, ?everyone, for everything. I wouldn't have been able to do any of this without you.?

Chris and Morgan went up the hill, hand in hand. Claire met Kevin's eyes and smiled. He looked over at Sam, who was watching the last crescent of the sun disappear behind the ocean. Kevin nodded for Claire to continue up the hill without him, then he sauntered over to Sam. ?You did a good thing today? he said. ?And here I thought you?d smothered your romantic side in its sleep 18 months ago.?

He expected a laugh, but Sam didn?t say anything, just kept looking out at the waves crashing against the beach, and Kevin saw that his eyes were nearly as moist as the surf. ?I?m sorry, I didn?t mean-?

?It?s okay,? Sam said. ?You did. And I kind of thought I had, too. We?ve all got our sore spots. And I love you, too, even if that sometimes comes with your foot in my stones.?

They hugged, and Sam started up off the beach. ?Where?d you get the archway?? Kevin asked.

?Uh, the high school,? Sam groaned, turning back towards it. ?They?ll be wanting it back, too.?

?I got it,? Kevin said. ?You?ve been up since, what, dawn? Get some rest. You more than earned it.?

?Yeah,? he said. ?I promised to bring it back to the gym, just set it under the awning. Janitor?ll come by to get it at the end of her shift.?

Sam walked up the hill in time to see the Bronco pull away. He went up the stairs, and down the hall to his room. He looked at his bed, then at his phone sitting on his nighstand. He picked it up and dialed.

It rang for the better part of a minute before it was picked up.

?I?d like to see you, and the kids,? he said.

?Oh,? his wife said, the trepidation heavy in her voice, but she relented immediately, ?okay.?

?I don?t want you to think- and I don't want to mislead you- I?m not saying we should be a family again. But I?d like to see you. All of you. And, to figure out where we should go from there.?

There was a pause, before she said, ?Okay,? again.


  03:40:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 4298 words  
Categories: The Singularity

The Singularity, Chapter Twenty-Six, Deserving

?I? still don?t understand,? Morgan said, blinking into the sun.

?Kevin needs to run some tests on Chris, anyway, after his surgery, the kind he has to do in the clean room,? Claire said, shutting the driver?s side door on Kevin?s Bronco. ?And we were talking, and we agreed, that you needed to get out. Not just because you won?t be able to see Chris today anyway, and not just because you?ve been cooped up in the clinic. But when was the last day you had to yourself, just to shop, and eat candy and be a normal human being who wasn?t babysitting an occasionally enraged Hulk??

?Chris smash!? Morgan said, lurching forward with Frankenstein steps, clumsily swinging her arms around. Then she laughed. ?Okay,? she said. ?It?s been a while since I?ve taken a day. But? shopping??

?I?ll admit,? Claire said, looking up and down Hemlock Street, ?the pickings are slimmer than I?d been hoping for. But I?ve heard good things about Bruce?s Candy Kitchen.?

?Only heard?? Morgan smiled knowingly.

?I?ve been busy. And I wasn?t paying much attention my first trip through town, or I probably would have stopped on the way in.?

?So you didn?t just happen to park on this end of Hemlock, did you??

?What are you implying??

?That you have a problem: a sweet tooth so big you don?t need braces, you need a dynamiting crew.?

Claire looked down at her feet, then looked up and said, ?They make the salt water taffy right in front of you.?

?Eh,? Morgan shrugged.

?Eh?? Claire asked in disbelief. ?How does it feel to be so jaded??

?Eh,? Morgan said again, laughed, and went inside.

Claire followed her through the front door. Morgan made a beeline for the counter, and their assortment of chocolates. A woman in an apron caught her attention and smiled at her. ?I?ll take one of the peanut butter logs,? Morgan started. ?And some of the dark chocolate fudge. A cashew crab. Couple of pecan sand dollars.?

She furrowed her brow. She already felt like a glutton- even though she knew everything she?d ordered were treats she was going to give to Chris. She looked over her shoulder at Claire. ?Oh my God, they have cranberry taffy!? the other woman squealed.

Morgan sighed. ?An Irish crème truffle. A coconut haystick. Truffle mints sound so good.?

?They?re my favorites,? the pleasantly plump woman behind the counter admitted. ?How many??

?Two,? she said, then thought better, ?three. Then, um??

?If you?re looking for a suggestion, the Johnny Pop.?

?Johnny Pop??

?Rice krispie treat dipped in white chocolate and peanut butter, then in chocolate.?

?I think I got contact weight gain just hearing a description,? Morgan said. ?But now I think I have to try it. And one of the caramel apples.?

?It?s not that simple,? the aproned woman said, spinning the display to reveal a whole assortment of different caramel apples sprinkled with different chocolates and sweets.

?So many choices?? Morgan said, mystified.

?Fifteen, last I counted. For a virgin, I?d say the apple pie is a good starting point- enough like your standard caramel apple to be familiar, only better.?

?I?ll take one,? Morgan said.

Morgan was typing her pin into the keypad when Claire slapped a big bag full of taffy onto the counter.

?What?? Claire asked. ?The best candies always come in sacks. And it makes me feel like I?ve been trick or treating- like I earned them. You know, by walking around and begging- not by having a job that lets me pay for them.? 

Morgan bit into her apple while she was waiting for Claire. ?Good?? Claire asked over her shoulder, loudly smacking her taffy.

Morgan held the door for her. ?Nuh-uh, you first,? she said. ?How?s the taffy??

?Eh,? Claire said around a mouthful.

?You jaded so quickly,? Morgan said.

?Eh,? Claire shrugged, and swallowed the candy. ?But how?s your apple??

?If you hadn?t been watching, I?d have had sex with it. And they had a Butterfinger one.?

?Ooh,? Claire said, ?hold me back- or I?ll have to go get myself one.?

?We are parked right here, so, you know, at the end of the day, if you?re still needing an apple??

?You?re right. We don?t want to carry a dozen apples around with us- or leave them in the car. Better to get them at the end of the day.?

?I should just quit before you want two dozen, shouldn?t I??

?Maybe even three,? Claire said with a grin.

They rounded the corner, and continued down Hemlock. Claire?s stomach rumbled. ?How do you feel about brunch- besides that it sounds pretentious when you actually call it brunch??

?You just ate half a candy store, and now you?re hungry??

?I only bought half a candy store. And I?ve only eaten a few pieces of taffy.?

?I?m kind of surprised you?re not dragging me into Cannon Beach Bakery?

?I?m not a complete glutton,? Claire protested. ?And I need to lay a base for the candy- otherwise I?ll get a tummy ache. How about there, the Lazy Susan Café. I don?t know who Susan is, but I like her style.?

?Laziness?? Morgan asked.

?I meant the hat on the lady on the sign, but yeah, that, too.?

They were seated and handed menus. It looked to be about the start of the lunch crowd, so it took their waitress several minutes to return. ?Are we ready to order?? she asked.

Morgan was still staring at the menu, trying to decide between the fiesta omelet and the shrimp scatter one. ?Could I possibly get a fiesta shrimp scatter?? she asked.

?That is my girl,? Claire said.

?Uh, I think so,? the waitress said, blinking. ?I?m sure I?d have to charge more for it.?

?Of course. Oh, and egg whites only, please.?

?Anything to drink??

?How about,? she scanned the menu, ?lemon ginger tea.?

?And for you, miss?? she asked Claire.

Claire trapped her tongue between her teeth while she struggled to decide, then said, ?I?ll have? the oatmeal waffle delight. And a side of potatoes. And a side of bacon. And a fresh-squeezed orange juice.?

The waitress walked back to the kitchen and Morgan leaned into Claire. ?You?re like Bill Murray in Groundhog?s Day.?

?Why?? Claire asked, with a hint of paranoia in her tone, ?Have we had this meal before??

?No, I mean? how are you not 3,000 pounds??

?Says the woman with tummy muscles I can see through her shirt.?

?But I eat like a normal person, and you eat like? Chris. Back when he was carb-loading for the start of the season?

?Only some days. I have plenty of salads and those green, leafy things?.


?Right, those,? she said contemptuously. ?But sometimes I have to remember it?s okay to treat myself- just do things to make me happy. I can worry about fitting into my jeans tomorrow; and in the meantime I always keep a pair of my really elastic jeans on hand. Not that most of my jeans aren?t the really elastic ones??

Claire took in a deep breath. ?But I?m proud of you. Going along with the gluttony. Deciding to treat yourself.?

?I don?t know if I?m quite ready to celebrate selfishness yet.?

?But it?s really not about selfishness. It?s about recognizing that, long term, to be functional, we have to be happy. And so doing what it takes to make you happy means you can be a productive, helpful person- which isn?t really selfish at all.?

?Maybe,? Morgan said. ?Or maybe those are the rationalizations of a young physicist whose metabolism hasn?t nosedived yet trying to justify her lifestyle.?

?Maybe,? Claire admitted. ?But if the fallout of that possible self-delusion is that I?m happy through the rest of my thirties, what?s the harm??

?The harm,? Morgan said, ?is trying to live like you?re in your thirties when you?re past them.?

?I?m not saying you should try and keep up with me, calorie for calorie. Just that calories aren?t the Nazis- it?s not like if we let a few into brunch, tomorrow they?re in the Sudetenland.?

?Um...? Morgan furrowed her brow, ?I think you lost me at Nazis.?

?My grandmother is like hyper-Jewish, so all of my childhood metaphors inevitably go back to Nazi Germany. But I?ll try again; something kills all of us. Food, adventure, liquor, or if we?re really boring, time. No amount of clean, healthy living will preserve us indefinitely. So past a certain point of keeping in shape, there?s diminishing returns, especially compared to occasionally eating like it?s your last meal and you?ve just popped the staples.?

?That was much cleaner without the Nazis.?

?Most things are.? The waitress slid their plates down, and gave them their drinks.  

Morgan salivated at the sight of her eggs, then she looked at Claire. ?Are you one of those people who likes to talk through every meal, and then by the time you?re halfway through eating your food?s all cold- or warm- whichever temperature it wasn?t when it started??

?It?s your day,? Claire said, ?and I?m flexible. You want me to make with the girly chit chat, I can- but I?m perfectly content to go into a food fugue- a foogue, as I just now decided I'm going to call it.?

?Don?t get me wrong,? Morgan said, ?I?ve been enjoying the girly chit chat- and want it to continue- but while I?m eating, I tend to get noncommunicative. And I wouldn?t want you to think I?m not having a good time or anything. And this food looks ridiculously good. So I'd be kind of happy to have the time to just... enjoy it.?

?That?s cool,? Claire said. ?I?ll just slip into my own ingestion trance. But I should text my assistant- just to make sure he isn?t doing anything gross or incompetent.?

?Or grossly incompetent?? Morgan asked.

Claire grinned. ?I would kiss you on the mouth if mine wasn?t full of waffle.?

?Please don?t,? Morgan said, ?waffle or no.?

?You?re no fun,? Claire said. ?But I?m not talking anymore, because that was a thing we agreed to not do.? She made a locking motion with her hand in front of her mouth, lifted another fork piled with waffles. She frowned at the waffles, then made the unlocking motion in front of her mouth, and resumed shoveling waffle into her mouth and texting with her other hand. Then she hit send.   

A moment later, Sam?s phone chirped.

?You?re sure this isn?t insane?? Chris asked.

?Maybe-,? Sam said, ?but if it?s insane, it?s normal person insane, not multiple head-traumas insane.?

?Gee, thanks,? Chris deadpanned. ?But you?re not concerned we?re going to run into them at the one formal dress shop in town.?

?Well, we could run into some trouble if you want to wear a formal dress, too,? Sam chortled, looking at his phone, ?but Claire?s got Morgan on the other end of town.?

?Yeah, but it?s a small town.?

?Not that small.? 

?But on the subject of size, you think they?ll have a tux mine?

?They should. I had to order one in the Spring,? Chris tilted his head, ?I was invited to a charity thing on a date, and it was a strictly black tie- though it turned out the only thing in my pants she was interested in was my wallet- donations for the charity, I should specify. But I?m about your size- with maybe a little extra in the front storage compartment,? he patted his belly.

?A little?? Chris teased. He opened the car door and exited. ?You coming??

Sam hit send on his message. ?Just confirming that we?re under way. Now, come on, Monstro. Let?s get you fitted for that straight jacket.?

?You mean tuxedo??

?Tomay-tow, tomah-toe.?

Claire had just finished up her meal when she checked her phone. It had gone off several minutes earlier, but she didn?t want to seem too enthusiastic to read it. ?Hmm,? she said.

?What?? Morgan asked, finishing her tea.

?Knowles. Texted back a smart ass reply about not trying to look down the day nurse?s shirt. How chivalrous of him.?

?He?s that age,? Morgan said. ?I was just like him at that age. Only I hope a little less awkward in the approach.?

?Let?s jet,? Claire said, slapping a pair of twenties down on the table.

?I should,? Morgan said, trying to wrestle her wallet out of her purse.

?It?s my treat,? Claire said. ?You?ll get the next one.?

?I feel odd about that; I haven?t paid for a meal since I got here- and yet no one?s tried to get in my pants.?

?I might, if I thought I?d fit; but I doubt they would, unless they?re really elastic. Speaking of which, I feel like a clothing splurge. And there happens to be a clothing store right across the street,? she pointed at the sign that read ?Dena?s Shop on the Corner.? 

?That might be the most literal store name I?ve ever heard,? Morgan said, ?though they might be playing a little fast and loose with what constitutes a 'corner.'?

Claire glanced across the street, but traffic was heavy enough she didn?t feel comfortable crossing away from the walk, so they started towards the end of the block. ?That theatre is cute,? Morgan said of the Coaster Theatre on their corner of the street. Claire could barely make out the name of the day?s performance written on a chalkboard stand.

?Oh my God, they?re playing Arsenic and Old Lace in an hour. That?s perfect,? she said.

?Why is that perfect?? Morgan asked.

?Because I love the movie version; I never really got the Carry Grant thing until that- he?s just perfect in it- handsome and insane. He makes Tom Hanks and Jimmy Stewart look like jerks in that movie.?

?Never saw it,? Morgan admitted, and Claire gasped. ?It?s hard enough to get Chris to sit down and watch a whole modern movie, let alone something in black and white. I?m pretty sure he booed through the first ten minutes of Citizen Kane when I tried to watch it with him.?

Claire walked over to the ticket office. ?Two,? she said, and handed over a bill. The usher gave her back change and two tickets.

?So I guess we?re seeing a show,? Morgan said wryly.

?I could take no for an answer. But I have the car keys, and either way you?d end up waiting for me.?

?Okay, but if I don?t enjoy it you buy dinner.?

?Deal. But it still counts as the first date, and I don?t tongue on the first date- just closed-mouth kissing- and light petting if you?re really good at it.?

Morgan shook her head, looked both ways, and crossed the street. Claire followed. Inside the door, they were greeted by a very friendly black lab. Claire stopped to pet him, and he mostly didn?t jump up on her. Mostly.

Morgan gravitated immediately to a slinky dress hanging on the wall. ?Ooh.? She took it down and layered it against her body. ?Would you do me?? she asked, dropping her voice down an octave, ?I?d do me. I?d do me hard.?

?Thank you,? Claire said.

?For what?? she asked, lowering the dress.

?For letting me be the hot one for a second.?


?Well, channeling a cross-dressing Buffalo Bill, for a second you were icky enough to not be the hot one. It was nice.?

?Oh shush, you?re pretty.?

?In a plain sort of way??

?In a normal way. In a way that says you don?t spend hours tanning, exercising, waxing, bleaching and dyeing. If I had it all to do all over again? I think I?d just be a normal kind of pretty. I think, if Chris were okay, I probably already would have given up on this whole regimen a long time ago, but? I think, by trying to keep myself looking as much like what I did when we met, I?m trying to keep a foot back then, when we were both happy and healthy, and??

?It?s okay,? Claire said. ?I?m dumb. Don?t let my insecurities crap up your day. We?re both pretty- even if I envy your porn star hotness.?

?And I envy you your simple, girl next door cuteness.?

?I would seriously kill somebody for your ass, though.?

?And I would kill two people not to have to maintain it.? A clerk that was passing by stopped, and her eyes bulged. ?Not you, though,? Morgan added.

?Too hard to kill them after you?ve seen their faces?? Claire asked.

?Exactly. I?m not a total sociopath.?

?Even though you quote one.?    

?Right. But what do you think?? Morgan asked, lifting the dress up again.

Claire examined it, then walked around Morgan, and pulled out one of the dresses that had been behind it on the wall. ?But they have it in white. Isn?t that pretty??

?I like black. It?s slimming, and sexy. If you?re going to encourage me to carpe diem, I?m going to need the former- and the latter just seems to be icing that the former can let me eat without worrying.? 

?But the white??

?Black dog, black dress.?

?So if there?d been a Dalmatian here??

?I would have gone all Cruella and demanded they sew me a spotted dress from it.?

?I?m beginning to think maybe you are a sociopath.?

?But we could still be friends, right??

?So long as you don?t try to sew me into shoes. Speaking of which, you need shoes.?

Morgan frowned. But then she spotted a bin of shoes based off ballet slippers. ?They?re so cute, and they look so comfortable.?

?You can?t wear a bend-me-over-the-kitchen-table dress with a pair of these-are-the-shoes-I-wear-when-I?m-not-sure-I?m-leaving-the-couch slippers.?

Morgan clutched a pair to her breast. ? Just because they aren?t an ensemble doesn?t mean I can?t have them.?

?I know. But a dress that fancy demands accompaniment.?

?You want me to buy a piano to go with the dress? Because I think that might cross the line from accessorizing into excess.?

?Over here,? Claire said, beckoning her towards a small section with footwear. ?Maybe something with a heel.?

?Like this one?? Morgan asked, taking a shoe off the wall.

?But it doesn?t come in white,? Claire complained.

?Why would I need it in white?? she asked. ?White scuffs easily, shows dirt and mud and everything- and this is the northest, so there's really no shortage of either. Plus I like the little half-bootiness. It?s dressy, but sexy.?

?I guess it?ll do,? Claire said.

?I thought you wanted me to indulge myself,? Morgan said.

?I do,? Claire covered, ?I just thought with your skin, that a white boot would make you glow.?

?Yeah, like a Chernobyl squirrel.?

?Then I guess it?s good they didn?t have it in white,? Claire said with a grin.

?But aren?t you even going to look for yourself??

?God no,? Claire said, ?I?m an educator- I can?t shop here.?

?Now I feel bad.? Morgan pouted, letting her goods hang limplyy in her hands. She didn't want to put them back, but she also didn't want to go on a spree in front of Claire.

?No, what I meant was- I indulge myself constantly. Take this morning at the candy shop. That is my life, in a candy shell.  Because of that, I can?t indulge in shoes today- but believe me, I have more than enough shoes choking the floor of my closet.?

?I?ve got this cute little organizer, it has like tiered shelves?? Morgan said as Claire shoveled her spoils onto the counter.

?I have a very nice organizer? but after a long day, who wants to engage in shoe categorizing? So they get kicked off onto the floor?? The clerk from earlier eyed them wearily, but wrung them up. Morgan paid with her card, then took the bag from the clerk.

Claire checked her phone. ?It?s show time.?

They left Dena?s, and crossed the street back over to the Coaster. They were seated quickly, moments before the show started. Claire took out her phone and started hitting keys.

?Isn?t it bad form texting during a show?? Morgan asked.

?You?re thinking of talking,? Claire whispered, ?which you're doing. And I?m nearly done. There.?

On the other side of town, Sam?s phone chirped again. ?Crap he said out loud.?

?What now?? Knowles whined.

?Well, it?s good that we have your rental, because apparently we have to pick up a dress.?

?I already told you,? Knowles said, ?I?m not being maid of honor.?

?Hysterical,? Sam said. He waived down one of the employees. ?How are the alterations coming?? he asked.

?I?m clothing a house,? he said impatiently. ?It?ll take more time.?

?Okay,? Sam said to Knowles. ?I?m taking the car. You stay here with Chris. And if there?s anything pressing you need me for, you?ve got my number.?

?Sure,? Knowles said.

After a half an hour, Claire?s phone vibrated. She checked it quickly. The text said, ?Got it.? They watched the rest of the play, and at the end Claire clapped wildly, and hooted a little when Mortimer Brewster took his bow.

?Well?? Claire asked excitably after the curtain. ?Forgiving the lead for not being Carey Grant.?

?It was okay. Madness and matrimony...?

?That reminds me, actually,? Claire said, ?since weddings have flowers, the last  of my favorite ways to treat myself. I?m pretty sure there?s a place around here somewhere.?

?Can we get the car?? Morgan asked. ?I?m starting to get weighed down with our hedonistic purchases, and my feet hurt.?


They walked back to the Bronco, Claire started it back up. She drove down Hemlock. ?I thought it was right here? huh,? she said, and turned down a parallel street. She made a circle, and came back down Hemlock. ?There,? she said, and pulled over to the side.

?This place seems? familiar,? Morgan said as she got out of the Bronco.

?I don?t know,? Claire said, and closed the driver's side door. ?Town?s like these? the architecture all blends together and I never know where I am.?

?But Basketcase?? Morgan asked, reading the sign. ?So they built a store just for you??

?It?s a florist. And come on, when was the last time you got flowers??

Morgan pretended to have to think had, then said, ?Last week. Chris? one of our traditions, he?d buy me fresh flowers every week. When he started? forgetting, it was one of the first things I noticed. We even fought about it. But when we realized what was going on he said to me, ?I may not always remember to show you how much I care, and I know it? cheapens the sentiment some, but I never want you to go without just because I don?t remember to treat you.? Anyway, basically he told me to always buy flowers every week, from him. And about every third week it means we end up without two bouquets in the house instead of one- when he actually remember to do it himself- but that way I always have fresh flowers, and when he gets them for me it's an extra treat.?

?Okay, well, for those of us who don?t have nearly perfect boyfriends, we sometimes have to stoop to buying ourselves flowers. And, for moral support, as well as because I suspect you have impeccable taste in flowers, I could use the company.?

Claire followed Morgan inside. She inspected a few of the flowers, then exhaled dramatically. ?This is why I need back-up,? Claire said. ?I kind of like the red ones, but the orange are nice, and those little purply ones would probably look really good on my credenza- or is it a buffet? And pretty soon I?m flummoxed. I usually walk out of the florist with nothing but insecurity about my femininity.?

?Slow down, Speedy Girlzales. There?s no wrong way to like flowers. Some people like bouquets that have no flowers whatsoever, just leaves and green tendrils. But as far as I know, there?s no snarky Us Weekly column about the ugly flowers celebrities put in a vase about their mantles. I?ve always been partial to lilacs and peonies, but whatever looks pretty to you is fine- what?s important is that you?re happy.?

?I feel suitably empowered,? Claire said. ?Now where?s the flower girl??


?Whatever.? She spotted a gray-haired woman wearing the name tag, ?Martha,? on her apron. ?Martha, I?m going to need something with lilacs and peonies.?

?About how big?? she asked. Claire held out her hands like she was holding a human head. ?And you?ll be wanting those to go, or for a special occasion.?

?Now would be great,? Claire said.

?If you?ll follow me,? Martha said, walking past several bins of freshly cut flowers. She took several stalks as she passed, and then walked around the side of an arranging table. ?Now I have a purple ribbon,? she said.

?White, if you have it,? Claire said, ?I think that would offset the peonies.? Claire watched intently as the older woman assembled the flowers. Claire paid for them in cash, and immediately turned around and handed the flowers to Morgan. ?For you.?

?For the record, I never liked kissing girls- not even in college.?

?Can?t a girl buy another girl flowers without it becoming a thing.? 

?It looks very bridal to be a friendly bouquet.?

?You are terrible at just accepting the gesture, aren?t you??

?God awful at it,? Morgan said. ?They?re beautiful.?

?Like you in the moonlight??

?Stop it. And the sun isn?t even down yet.?

?Okay,? Claire said with a grin, checking her phone for messages. ?But I hope you had a good day.?

?I did, actually. How?s Chris??

?I wasn?t checking up on him,? Claire said.


?But Kevin says he?s doing good. Really good. Better, even, than before the procedure.?

?Then it was a good day,? Morgan sighed.  


  03:37:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 974 words  
Categories: The Singularity

The Singularity, Chapter Twenty-Five, Causality

?You're staring at me,? Kevin said, uneasy. ?Do I have a piece of fry in my nose??

Claire grinned. ?You saved a life today,? she beamed.

?I went drilling for oil in a man's skull,? he replied testily. ?What I mean is... him not dying isn't cause for celebration. He very well could end up having complications, or enough brain damage that all I did was preserve a vegetable.?

She put her hand over his. ?You saved a life,? she said. ?That battle may not be over, but it's already an awesome accomplishment. And I'm not too jaded to bask in it.?

?Okay,? Kevin said. ?But get it out of the way. Because Morgan's not going to be in a basking mood when we get back. She won't have left his bedside. She won't have eaten. If we don't monitor her, she'll probably forget to even drink water. And until Chris is up and awake and we know one way or another she's not going to be up for basking.?

Claire wasn't about to let him rain on her parade- even if it was one she was throwing for him, and he was glad when the server stopped at the edge of the table.

?Are you ready for the check or would you like anything else?? the server asked politely.

?My boyfriend saves lives,? Claire replied.

?We're good, thanks,? Kevin added. The server nodded, and dropped the check face down in front of him, but he barely noticed. He was lost in thought. ?Something has been bugging me. You said we had to unravel things in the right way- in the right order- to prevent the entire house of Jenga blocks from collapsing. But how do we know which order is right??

?We can't. Not really.?

?I mean... I assume the... I guess the most important elements, the ones that brought all of us together are my car accident, and Chris' brain damage. So it makes sense that we'd have to fix those last- because otherwise we'd end up I guess orphaning other people's problems. And maybe from there it just makes sense to otherwise operate in reverse chronological order- Trevor and Addie being the most recent, and acute examples.?

?I'm not sure that?s how that works...? she said. 

?No... but is that skepticism because you think it doesn?t make logical sense? or hope that we aren?t go to be pitted against each other- competing, in essence, for who gets to save their soul??

?I?m not sure I?d say I?m optimistic??

?You're optimistic about everything, including bleeding brains.?

?It doesn?t make me wrong.?

?And I don?t want you to be. But it makes it hard to believe you?re right- based on faith.?

?But faith is the only thing that's appropriate- we're beyond the realms of science. Hard science is about what we know. But we can never know everything. And in some ways, the more we know, the more we verify how little we know- or can know.?

?But science is also about tempering expectations. I don't expect to jump and reach escape velocity playing basketball- because experience says that doesn?t happen to human beings. And life has led me to expect that everything isn't going to be okay- not just because we want it badly enough.?

She frowned and looked down at the table cloth. Then she looked back into his eyes. ?But while we?re airing nagging concerns,? she started, ?I've been wondering something, too. The singularity connects points in time that otherwise wouldn't be connected. What if, and this might sound a little nuts to a doctor, but what if it's connecting your patients to themselves- but to older- temporally- but physically younger, healthier versions of themselves.?

?That's... I can't even imagine how that would work, physically,? Kevin said. ?Even in the most literal sense- a wormhole connecting the bloodstreams of a younger patient with their older self- that?s just a blood transfusion- maybe blood doping at a maximum. But that wouldn?t even begin to explain reversing dementia. But I agree with your general hypothesis- that something's happening. I mean, I don't have a huge patient load right now, so it's possible that it's just a fluke, three patients with the kinds of injuries that more or less miraculously get better with little to no intervention. But that's about the medical equivalent of being convinced that Jesus heals- I don't mean to assail anyone's faith with that, only that?

?You're a scientist, at the core, and 'Jesus heals' isn't an answer- it's an abdication. It's saying that ?The truth is complicated and hard to get to, so why bother?? I get it. And, you know, it's not like Jesus couldn't be the mechanism by which the complicated processes of healing plays out.?

?That's above my pay grade,? Kevin said with a smile. ?I just try to figure out what's happening- not who's behind the wheel.? 

?But does that mean that whatever happens with the singularity, your patients get worse??

?That... I don't know. But it's also academic. Because Chris can't go on like this. If the angioplasty didn't put an end to his seizures... his brain- a brain already pretty well slapped around- has taken a beating the last week. I'm not sure he'll survive another week like the one he just had- and medically, I could never ethically ask him to ignore the dangers to his health just because I'm superstitious that his condition might be affecting others'.?

?Of course not,? Claire said. ?I just...?

?I know. It sucks, seeing people finally find hope, only for it to be yanked away from them. That's why I hope you're wrong. I want the spontaneous miracle, because I don?t want to have to tell my patients that they?re going to get worse again- and that there?s nothing I can do to stop it.?


  03:37:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 1981 words  
Categories: The Singularity

The Singularity, Chapter Twenty-Four, Creative Destruction

Claire felt self-conscious sneaking down the steps from Kevin's bedroom. She was already late, but that didn't matter. She shared a room with Knowles, so it was certain he was aware that she hadn't returned home, and what that meant. And of course she was still wearing the same clothes.

She slunk down the hall, and into Chris' room. She thought maybe she'd managed to remain undetected, until Knowles said, ?There you are. I was beginning to wonder,? he said. ?And I have some readings I wanted you to look over.? He turned the laptop towards her. ?But it looks to me like he's going to seize again.?

She traced down the columns of readings with her finger. ?Yeah. Uff. Looks like a nasty one. How long ago?? she asked, tracing down a row. ?Jeez. We're probably only a couple of minutes before it hits?

?Should I go find Steph?? he asked.

?You just want another chance to chat her up,? Claire said, ?though it might not be a bad idea to have her on hand.? And she knew Kevin wasn't up yet- she'd seen to that.

Knowles stepped away, and there was a springiness to his stepping.

?How bad?? asked Morgan.

Claire had nearly forgotten about the other woman in the room. She thought about lying, but chose not to. ?Every day, the readings get worse. I don't know... I'm not the right kind of doctor to tell you if his seizures have been getting correspondingly worse. But I'd be surprised, since there is a strong correlation between the two, if he isn't getting worse.?

?Oh,? Morgan said. ?Is there anything...?  she started to ask, but couldn't quite get through the thought.

?Just, be there for him,? Claire said. ?Whether I'm right or wrong, being there for him is the best thing you can do.?

As if on cue, Chris started shaking violently. Morgan abandoned her conversation with Claire, and returned to her seat. She stroked Chris' forehead, and took hold of one of his hands.

Without anyone else in the room, Claire felt even more self-conscious to be privvy to the moment. It was stolen intimacy, in the face of violent, impending chaos. She pushed her hands into her pockets, planning to shuffle in the opposite direction, so she could at least pretend not to be intruding.

Her fingers brushed up against something that made a crinkling sound. Her curiosity got the better of her, and she pulled it out. It was the Snickers wrapper from the previous day.

For some reason, it reminded her of the incident that had initially set off her Snickers craving: Knowles finding a wrapper on him. She looked over to the place where Knowles had landed, at the foot of Chris' bed, after getting kicked in the face. Already Chris was bathing the room in a soft light.

Claire balled the wrapper in her fist, and crossed the room.

?What's going on?? Morgan asked.

?Science,? Claire muttered. She held her closed fist over Chris as his body began to jitter violently. She glanced back at her laptop, and knew that the energy was going to peak in a few seconds. She opened her hand, and watched as the wrapper floated along the air, before being swallowed by white light.

?What the hell?? Knowles asked from the door. ?Is that how I ended up with a candy bar wrapper on me?? Knowles asked. ?You like to litter on people during white flashes??

?You're right,? Claire said, ?but not for the reasons you think you are.?

?That... doesn't illuminate things at all.?

?I mean I did drop the candy wrapper on you. But I just did it, just now.?

The room was silent, as the implication took hold. ?You sent it back?? Knowles asked.

?I think so,? Claire said. ?It makes sense.?

Steph pushed past Claire. ?I need to check on the patient,? she said impatiently.  

They'd all gotten so used to Chris' seizures that they paid her no mind. ?You had another Snickers this morning?? Knowles asked Claire in disbelief. ?You are sprinting down the road to diabetes.?

?It was from yesterday,? she said, before realizing what she was admitting.

?That means you're wearing the same jeans as yesterday. You never made it back to the hotel last night.?

?Shouldn't you already know that? Unless...?

?I kind of went back to Steph's. We just... I got tipsy on wine coolers and we fell asleep on her couch. Completely innocent. Ish. Gentlemanly, anyway.?

?I'm so proud of you.?

?I'm less proud of you. Because I at least made it back to the hotel to shower and change. You are officially skanky.?

?I'm a girl. We can get away rewearing clothes for a day.?

?Yeah, but crossing the 24 hour threshold without showering...?

?Who said I didn't shower??

Knowles grinned. ?My bad. Apparently you are an entirely different kind of skanky.?

She glared at him. ?I'll allow it,? she said, ?but only because I don't think you were slut-shaming- just word-playing.?

?Absolutely. I would never shame sluts. Some of my favorite women are sluts. I'd say all, but I'm not sure about my mom's promiscuity. Though my grams was a giant ho-bag.?

?I need all of you to leave the room,? Steph said. ?And I'd appreciate it if one of you could call Dr. Guinne on your way out.?

Knowles put his arm around Morgan and steered her towards the door. She was nearly catatonic, caught between wanting to shake Steph and demand answers, and knowing she needed to not interfere.

Claire dialed her phone. ?Morning,? Kevin said happily, if sleepily.

?Chris is seizing,? Claire said. ?It's bad. And Steph asked me to call.?

?Why? What's changed??

Steph craned her neck to listen, and Claire could see the muscles on one side of Chris' face hanging limply. The nurse yelled into the phone, ?I think he's having a stroke.?

 ?I want you to prep warfarin, I'll be right down,? Kevin said.

Steph went to the cabinet and retrieved a dose. Kevin shoved his way through the door before she set it down on the counter. ?Status?? he asked.

?Nonresponsive. And he seems to be having trouble tracking with his eyes.?

?I want a CT, now,? Kevin said. ?We need to know if the event is ischemic or hemorrhagic.?

?But we know he has a hemorrhage,? Steph said.

?But we don't know if this has anything to do with that,? he said.

Steph wheeled the extra-large wheelchair next to Chris' bed. ?Team lift,? Kevin said, positioning himself at Chris' shoulders. Steph grabbed under his knees and they moved Chris into the chair. ?Doors,? he said, and pushed the chair forward.

?Mrs. Mereta,? Kevin said as he passed her in the hall. ?If you'd like to accompany me, we're getting your husband some imaging.?

Morgan seemed to barely comprehend the words. Claire took her hand and  pulled her down the hall.

?What am I doing?? Knowles asked as she went.

?Get the MaD,? she said. ?We may need it.?

Kevin had Chris strapped into the CT scanner by the time Claire and Morgan made it into the room.

?Everybody over here,? he said loudly, beckoning to the controls. Kevin hit several keys and the scanner started.

?I know Chris has been doing better the last few days. He didn't... he didn't seem to want to talk to me about it- probably worried that the moment he did it'd go away.?

?I hadn't wanted to say anything, either, ?Morgan said sadly.

?That's okay. We've kept an eye on him, and I'm confident there isn't anything we should have been doing for him that we haven't. There's- and I know it's maddening- but there's a waiting game involved with this kind of brain injury. And the good news is the waiting seems to be over. One way or another, we're going to have an answer, and a clear direction to take his care.?

?What are the likely culprits?? Morgan asked tentatively.

?He's stroking. That we know. It's either ischemic- a blockage preventing blood from getting through his brain. Or it's hemorrhagic- it's a bleed in his brain. And like I said last time, the medicines for each are contraindicated; the fix for one would kill him in the opposite case.?

?And which do we hope for?? she asked.

?Both are life threatening conditions, and both I am clinically trained to handle. But the key isn't the flavor; it's in the severity. So we hope for limited damage. Us catching it early, and having the facilities to immediately get him assistance- that already goes a long way.?

She swallowed. ?Do we think he's going to keep his progress??

?There's a chance,? Kevin said, ?that his progress was a symptom, and that it was never real. I'm sorry- but you have to be prepared that Chris is going to go back to where he was when he arrived- and that that might be one of the more optimistic outcomes. I want your husband to be okay, and I'm going to do everything I can to help him, but he has an already compromised brain, and it's being damaged further as we speak. Excuse me,? he pushed his way to the monitors.

?He's ischemic. And it looks like we've got a blockage- a clot, maybe from the bleed a few days ago. Steph, prep for a balloon angioplasty.?

?Right away,? she said, and she waited until he'd shut off the scanner to leave the safe area.

?Morgan, you should walk with me, and I'll explain the procedure. It's similar to an intervention for a heart attack. A tiny balloon is fed through the veins to the blockage, then inflated. This stretches the veins, which are meant to be a little pliable, and clears the blockage- usually breaking it apart.?

?And it's dangerous?? she asked.

?We're feeding a tube through veins,? he said. ?A wrong turn at Albuquerque either makes a new off-ramp for blood- or makes the bleeding in his brain worse. It's dangerous, but it's also the safest intervention I can think of- and without intervention, Chris will die.?

?Do it,? she said. ?I'll sign whatever I have to. But save him.?

?I have to scrub in. You should wait in the lobby. We'll keep you informed. Claire, I'd like to talk.?

He pushed through a pair of heavy metal doors with signs reading ?medical procedure room? and variations on the phrase, ?observe cleanliness protocols.?

?Don't touch anything,? Kevin said, leaning over a sink. His hands tripped a sensor, and the faucet started poured water on his hands. He held one of them out for soap, and a dispenser squirted a large pile of it into his palm. He pulled a mask over his face, and a cap onto his head, then started washing his hands all over again.

?Wow,? she said, ?you're like OCD incarnate.?

?We're poking a hole into a man's brain,? Kevin said. ?It's warranted.?

?Oh, I know,? she said. ?It's just funny to watch. But I'm still trying to figure out why you wanted me in here.?  

?I thought you'd want to argue with me, seeing as I?m about to destroy the entrance to your singularity.?

She gave him a smile that was perhaps a little patronizing. ?I don?t think you are. I don?t think I could argue you into recklessly risking your patient?s life on a wild ass guess. So I think what you?re doing- what you?re about to do- is help the singularity be born. I think this baby's been breach the whole time, and now you're going to help yank it into this world.?

?You?re a very positive person.?

?It?s just causality. If it?s supposed to happen, it will. And I?m far more comfortable banking on your professional ethics than my rhetorical acumen.?

?I love you,? Kevin said through his paper mask.

?I know,? she said.     


  11:35:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 2834 words  
Categories: The Singularity

The Singularity, Chapter Twenty-Three, Regrets

Sam told himself that Claire and Kevin were making too much noise for him to be able to sleep. It was easier to blame it on the spanky sex than to admit to himself that he was feeling lonesome.

That wasn't why he was stealing quietly into Chris' room. Kevin had given Morgan something to help her sleep, and put her in the next room over. Sam felt a kinship with her loneliness, but he also knew that his seclusion was more of his own making than hers.

Chris? eyes were shut, and his breathing was deep, in, very slowly, over seconds, and then out again. ?I know you're awake,? Sam said to him. ?I've seen it often enough, patients pretending they?re out when they aren?t. I don?t care, either way, but I can't sleep, and if you?d like company as opposed to not, I'm not opposed to keeping you company.?

Chris sighed. ?Sorry,? he muttered.

?Don't be,? Sam said. ?I get it. You're not well, and you weren't sure whether or not you wanted to talk to another human being. And sometimes it's... easier not to have to make that decision in a snap. And I don't take that personally. Unless it was just me you didn't want to talk to.? He realized the second he'd said it that Chris had a very good reason not to want to talk to him- if he knew about Morgan propositioning him. ?How're you feeling??

?Am I back to being a moron?? Chris asked. ?Not yet. I'm on some fairly heavy pain killers, so I'm about as mentally agile as a drunk, but I'm aware of it. And that's not something I was, before. Then... it was, have you ever had in earplugs, and you forgot you were wearing them? And people talk to you, and the world continues as normal, and the only difference is that you miss things, and there's this... layer of separation keeping you from really being completely a part of the world. It was like that, but like that if you also happened to be hung over, sick with the flu and reeling from a bad bar fight the night before- that level of disorientation, I mean.?

?But I'm also paranoid. Every single moment where I can't find the perfect word, every name I nearly forget, no matter how briefly- I worry that I'm going back. I might have been living through a fuzzy-brained filter, but I  know more clearly than anything how much happier Morgan's been since we got here.? He swallowed before he continued. ?And... I feel guilty, too.?

?Guilty?? Sam asked, at the edges of his mind hoping for a dark secret that might make his earlier betrayal- admittedly of a man he barely knew, but a betrayal nonetheless- a little more palatable.

?I know she feels better because she hasn't had to take care of me. Hasn't had to fuss over me every second, or worry that I might put my hand on the stove, or any number of other idiot child injuries that I've attempted and occasionally succeeded to inflict on myself. No one should have to deal with that. But... I refused to let her make it her job.?

?I don't follow,? Sam said. ?Because I'm pretty sure you aren't saying she applied to be your live-in candy striper- because even in your unright mind I can't imagine you turning that down- if only to see her fill out the uniform.? Sam wondered if that had been too far; but he was a letch; suddenly unletching might be overcorrecting.

Chris grinned at the mental image, ignoring Sam's internal conflict before he contined. ?I mean... when we got together, we were both pretty young. Well, she was young and pretty, and I was... well, I didn't have the crows' feet. But we were naïve enough that we thought we knew what we wanted from life. And she was independent, and I was... well, I was a man, and didn't like the idea of being tied to someone. And she was still fresh from an education that told her that marriage was mostly a contract for the ownership of a woman. So we concluded fairly readily that it wasn't for us.?

?Only we couldn't stay stupid and youthful forever- though God knows I've fought hard to hold onto the former,? he smiled self-deprecatingly. ?We grew together, and grew up. She's been with me... God, I don't even know how long, now. But it was just before your cousin convinced me to retire, and she told me... she told me she wanted to have my name. She said she didn't like just being the girl who lives with me, the one I screw...?

?And I told her that I thought we'd settled that a long time ago. That... turned into one of the more epic fights of our entire relationship- and there have been some impressive ones. And at the end of it... I don't know why I dug in so hard. I think it was just... I didn't like being pushed. I didn't have any real, substantive objections; I can't imagine my life without her in it. And for her part, she said she wasn't going to leave me over it; she knew she was going to be with me for the rest of my life, regardless.?

?It remained a point of contention. She'd get upset any time one of her friends got engaged, or divorced, or whatever, but to me it still didn't seem like a big deal. It wasn't like a wedding changed anything about our relationship, or said anything to our friends or our family we hadn't already said. And it didn't seem... important. We had our whole lives, right??

?And then the extent of my injuries became apparent- well, apparent to everybody else, because most of the time I was too damn stupid to know the difference. For my part, I mostly noticed Morgan getting pissed at me. She was frustrated, all the time. And I told her I didn't remember her telling me things, her asking for things, reminding me, me saying I'd do them, whatever. We had a pretty horrible few months, there, where it didn't take much at all to get us screaming at each other, and I always felt confused and put-upon- and it made me quicker to anger, I think, being confused all the time. I forgave easier- because I never remembered why I was pissed- but sometimes I still was- still full of adrenaline and aggression even if I didn?t know what I was supposed to be doing with it. I hated our life then.?

?But that was when Morgan called your cousin. He found us a decent neurologist in Salem, and that was when I was diagnosed with dementia. And we were a little relieved, at first, because we weren?t drifting apart, we hadn?t stopped caring about each other- I was sick.?

?Then I got terrified. Being this size, there aren't a lot of things that put mortal terror into me. But I was scared for my mind, and where my life might go. And I remember in one of my more lucid moments that this was irony coming back to bite me- me not wanting to tie myself to Morgan- it mean that she was free to leave, now that I was going to be nothing but a dead weight for her. That I had argued to give her license to leave me in my hour of need. And that was what really, really terrified me.?

?And she could have. I couldn?t be responsible for the bills anymore, so she had all of our accounts, all of my cards and my pins, and I was signing anything she asked because it didn?t matter how slowly she explained things, I just couldn?t get what she needed. If she'd wanted to drain away an ex-wife's worth of my bank account, she could have; she could have put me in a home, married someone else and kept what we had for her new family.?

?When I needed her most, Morgan... she changed, overnight. She started carrying around a binder for me. She writes down everything; conversations I have, things I tell people I'll take care of. Even fights we have. Everything that I could possibly need to remember, she writes down for me, because if it isn't written down, if I can't reread it over and over again, I won't remember it- no matter how much I might want to- no matter how important it is.?

?And I usually don't have the wherewithal to even recognize it, let alone really appreciate it, but... that isn't something you expect out of a girlfriend. It isn't something you ask of someone- not ever- let alone someone you aren't willing to commit your life to. Maybe it's just seeing it- actually seeing what she said in action- that she isn't going anywhere, that makes me realize what a complete fucking moron I've been.?

?But I've done a lot of thinking, about all of this, this time travel stuff. Claire said we can change things, send messages back to ourselves. And? I know what I want to do.?

?Not play football?? Sam asked with a grin. ?At least wear a thicker helmet??

?I want to marry her.?

?Hmm?? Sam said.

?I don?t get a lot of lucid moments. I haven?t really had any since I quit the game. But the one regret I?ve got, is that I haven't shown the beautiful, loving woman and the whole damned world how much I love her. And I doubt I?ll be able to, for much longer.?

?Why wait?? Sam asked.


?I mean why gamble your happiness on whatever it is my cousin's girlfriend keeps babbling about? Why not take care of it, definitively, now?? It was plain from Chris? expression that he still wasn't getting through. ?I?m technically an ordained minister,? he said. 


?It was a mail order thing. But it?s legal enough. Be a day or two before we could get you the marriage certificate.?

Chris swallowed. ?We should do it now. Before, you know, anything. The words are what?s important. I don?t need a ring or the paper to keep her, but I want to be able to tell her how much she means. She?s my world, and she?s the only thing I know I?m going to remember tomorrow.?

?Okay,? Sam said, ?if that?s what you want, we can do it tomorrow. But as a happily separated man, I feel it?d be disingenuous of me not to at least say, I don?t know if I?d do it all over again- the wife and kids bit.?

Chris smiled. ?I like this. I miss this.?

?What?? Sam asked, confused.

?Seeing things other people don?t. Usually I?m on the other end of this- not recognizing what should be fricking obvious things about my own life- even missing or losing things other people tell me directly. But I can see it, even if you don't: you?re not happy.?

?I?m not??

?You didn?t try to bang Morgan because you?re happy. You did it because,? he swallowed, ?you were both lonely.?

?I-? Sam started, but didn?t have anywhere else to go.

?I?m not looking for a fight, man,? he said, putting up his hands. ?I want her to be happy. And I want you to be happy. That?s why I?m telling you this, because clearly you haven?t heard it enough: you aren?t happy. And maybe that has nothing to do with being without our wife and kids- I don?t know. Maybe all of you are happier being apart. But you can see why I?d take your sentiments about marriage with a grain of salt.?

?I wasn?t happy with Kerry, either,? Sam said.

?But if you were unhappy with her, and are unhappy without her- maybe the important variable wasn?t her.?

?I do remember being happy with her before the kids??

Chris laughed. ?Not what I meant.?

?I know. And I love having kids. Being without them? it?s been the most tangible thing making me unhappy. But it?s also external- that happened after I left.?

?So why do you think you?re unhappy??

?I don?t know. I thought it was Kerry. I thought it was having the weight of the world pressing down on me- two kids whose future depended on my being able to keep an industrial job that wasn?t going to last- no matter how much overtime I put in in the interrim.?

?But it wasn?t,? Chris said. ?And I think you?ve been living with that reality long enough to have thought it through. But if not? how about this: the singularity. If you could change something, what would it be??

Sam looked down at the floor, and exhaled. ?I don?t know.?

?I don?t think that?s true,? Chris said.

?And I think you?ve been taking my cousin?s counseling sessions too seriously.?

?Now you?re just deflecting,? Chris said. ?That?s sad.?

?I,? Sam?s mouth hung open, words refusing to come out, until, ?nothing. I wouldn?t change anything,? he said. ?Because even though I know, now, that it wasn?t Kerry or the kids, I think that?s something I need to know. I think, there?s nothing anyone could say to me- myself included, to keep me from needing to figure that out for myself.?

?That?s a fair answer,? Chris said, ?if incomplete. But it is something you should be thinking about.?

?I will,? he said. ?But you really believe? In this singularity??

He sighed. ?I?m? not sure. I want to. Because? Morgan doesn?t deserve the shit I gave her. The doubt I displayed so willfully- and that she bucked so gracefully.?

?But what if that doubt was important?? Sam asked. ?What if that challenged her, and hardened her, so that when the time came, she able to be there for you, when without it, she would have vindicated your fears??

?If that?s the case?? Chris asked. ?I?d want her to go. If I bullied her into committing to me so thoroughly? I know what?s she?s giving up- not for our life together, because it?s not really a life I?m leaving her with if I revert- but what she?s giving up for me. She?s has been supremely selfless. And I owe it to her to give that back.? Chris wiped tears from his eyes. ?I love her. And I need her. And the both of those are strong enough that I would gladly give her up to make things right between us- to give her the small, little token she asked for- because what she?s given me is so much more.?

?So what I?m hearing,? Sam started, trying to choose his words carefully, ?is you would go through all of this again- willingly cripple your own brain- for her??

?Without question.?

Sam?s eyebrows went up. ?And you believe it?s true??

?The first few times that the singularity ?occurred? after I got here- I didn?t ?see? it. I was seizing. But what Claire described, I?d seen it before. It was my first concussion. I was a beanpole, when I started playing football in high school. Men in my family grow up lean. I barely made the team, sophomore year- and it wasn't a big team, because it wasn't a big high school, so almost nobody ended up cut- and still I almost got cut. But I played, and I remember this linebacker from Salem just collided with me,? he punched his palm for emphasis. ?I tasted blood. And I remember landing on my back, and looking up into a dark, cloudy sky, and having rain fall directly into my eyes. It hurt, but I couldn't move- not even to close my eyes- to stop it.?

?Then my eyes rolled up into my head, and I remember the sensation of falling, and falling, and falling, and then there was a white light. I don't remember much of anything, after that. I mean, severe brain trauma does that to the memory- I'm living proof of that. But I do remember? I really loved football after that. I mean, before, it was just a diversion, something I did between classes and chasing girls. And in part because of training for football, I really filled out, which helped in the girl chasing department. But football made me happy- and more than a little of that I?ve attributed to that concussion, because after that football made me feel, when I was running, when I was moving, that momentary bliss, that flash of light, that peace, all over again.?

?Somehow, I knew, that playing was going to make me happy. And for the longest time, that was a self-fulfilling prophecy: I thought it would make me happy, so it did. And because of football, I met Morgan- and I finally knew what being happy really meant. So yes, I believe in the singularity. But I don?t just think it can change my life. I wonder if it already has.?

  10:42:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 1739 words  
Categories: Whores

Whores .35: Asylum

The first paddy wagon was too small to hold all of the women, but they crammed enough in that Officer Wilkerson could fit the last few in his patrol car. Looking at the women, stacked in the back like steer, Lisa felt lucky. But turning back to Wilkerson, whose hands she could still feel in her, she didn't.

Lisa was the last woman put into the police car, on the passenger side in the front. Wilkerson noticed the front door of the Shelter was open. He sighed, and went to close it up. He tripped, and fell inside. Lisa craned her neck, mild human curiosity making her wonder if he'd hit his head, but she couldn't quite see.

Then the front door shut, and she saw a blur of motion which she assumed was Wilkerson, and the driver's side door opened. It was Mae, wearing Wilkerson's radio on her belt. She slid into the seat and started the car. She pulled it around to the back of the Shelter, where her car was parked. There was also another woman, one Lisa had never met. Mae loosed the girls from the back seat and uncuffed them, and put them in the back of the other woman's car.

?This is Samarra's sister,? Mae told Lisa.

?Samarra?? Lisa asked.

?Jezebel's real name. The cops will know it by now, so there's no reason you shouldn't. But they won't have widened the net enough to be looking for her sister- not yet. So she should be able to get these girls out of the city, and to safety.? 

?What about us?? Lisa asked, wondering about their safety.

?Well,? Mae thought for a moment, because she hadn't thought about Lisa wanting to leave with the other girls. ?If you want, you can go with them. They'll probably end up in Detroit, if you think you can hack living there.?

?I'm not leaving,? Lisa said. ?I meant what are we doing??

?We'll see you around,? Mae said, ?and drive safe.? Samarra's sister nodded, got into her car, and drove off. ?We've got work to do. For starters, we've got a safe house. We set it up in the event the Shelter ever got raided. But I don't know that our safe house is safe.? Lisa got in her side and Mae pulled away. 

?You still have your phone?? Mae asked. Lisa shook her head.

?Cops took them.?

Mae pulled in at a gas station. Mae turned her phone back on and duct-taped it under the wheel well of an 18-wheeler that was parked. Then she got back in the car and drove off.

?Once cops knew where the Shelter was, they could use local cell tower histories to figure out anybody who spent time there. They'll use our phones to track us. But not these,? Mae handed her a disposable phone. 

?It was Jeanine,? Lisa said.


?Jeanine. She was against us, the whole time. The cops even knew her- though from what I could tell she wasn't undercover. And they used her to get to Clint. He almost turned me in.?


?He had a change of heart.?

?Shit,? she said. ?It was Samarra who called me, and told me what was going on. She?s waiting at the safe house, surveilling it from a distance.? Mae dialed her number and put her on speaker. ?You ditch your old phone??

?Yeah. Never thought we'd actually have to use Plan B; I honestly thought you and Anna were paranoid neurotics.?

?You're only paranoid if they never come after you. Apparently it was Jeanine who sold us out. And they flipped Clint.?

?I never liked that bitch. And him... he just had a face you couldn't trust.?

?It had its moments. But how's the safe house? We good??

?So far I haven't seen signs of an ambush. But if there is one, they could be waiting, to see how many people might gather.?

?Right. Crap.?

?Let me out,? Lisa said.

?Huh?? Mae said.

?At the safe house. Let me out. Then drive off. I'll start walking in the opposite direction. If someone is watching and they think we're all that's going to show, and more, if they think we aren't going to stick around, they'll figure one or maybe two is better than nothing.?

?It's not worth the risk,? Samarra said.

?It is if there are any other girls in the wind- girls we could keep from spending years in prison, and likely living with the stigma. And the kind of hard-ball they're playing with Mary, we could be saving their lives.?

?I'll keep a watch out,? Samarra said.

?And I'll keep an ear peeled. I took the radio off the officer I bushwhacked.? Mae stopped the car. ?See that shanty, looks like a pile of aluminum siding bolted together. That's the 'safe' house. Well, it's the front entrance, anyway. There's a basement underneath that's pretty well fortified, and supplied. There's also a back door. But I wouldn't go in. There's a fake potted plant, it's the only thing in the house. To get into the basement you have to move it over- so it's visible in the front window. Anybody who knows about the house will know to move the flower so it can be seen.?

?And get into the glove box.? Lisa opened it up. There was a gun, and she took it out. Mae took it from her, pulled back on the slide, thumbed off the safety and handed it back to her. ?It's a 9 mm Glock; mostly plastic, but they're deceptively well put-together guns. Don't show it to anyone unless you're going to shoot them. Aim for center mass, in the chest, and pull the trigger until it's empty or they go down. But only if you have to; if at all possible, run. But here, let me conference you in, so you can hear Samarra and I-?

?Don't,? Lisa said. ?It'd make me feel better. But if I get caught, and I'm the one most likely to, you would lose your sole remaining means of communication. If the cops are here, no amount of warning will do me any good. But I'll see you at the end of the street.? Lisa got out and started walking towards the house. She tucked the Glock under her shirt behind her back.

?I've got her,? Samarra said over the phone. ?And so far she's got no- wait. Black truck, just pulled up not very far from where she is.?

?That's Clint,? Mae said, ?I recognize the truck- and the weasely face. Shit.? Mae did a quick U-turn. She stopped a few feet away from Lisa and got out of the car. ?Get in,? she said to Lisa. She had her .357 magnum pointed at Clint. He put his hands up. 

?I didn't bring the cops,? he said. ?And there's no chatter,? he turned around, so she could see a radio he'd stolen clipped behind his back.

?Great minds think alike,? Mae said, and held up her radio.

?He's alone. You could shoot him,? Samarra said. ?I would. But he isn't lying, either. He put one cop in the morgue and the other in the hospital. It hit the police radios right before the Shelter raid.?

?I'm actually not alone,? he said, ?not exactly. I brought someone with me. She's keeping her head down.?

Lisa walked slowly over to his truck, keeping her distance from him. Then she saw legs, and stood up on her tip toes. She saw Ofelia, who smiled when she noticed her. She had Matthew wrapped in a blanket tied around her shoulder, and concealing her arm. ?It's safe?? Lisa asked Mae. She nodded, and Lisa opened the truck door. Ofelia slid out.

?Where the hell have you been?? Mae asked, lowering her revolver. They all started walking towards one another.

?I took Matthew for a walk. When I got back there were cops at the Shelter, so I just kept walking.?

?And how'd you find her?? Mae asked, still reluctant to put her revolver away.

?She hadn't ditched her phone,? Clint said. ?I didn't expect to get away. When I did, I tried to call Lisa. But I didn't get through.?

?Cops had my phone in evidence,? Lisa said. ?All of our phones were put into bags.?

?I thought if she'd made it back to the Shelter she'd be with Ofelia, so I tried her next, and-?

?I was freaking right the fuck out,? Ofelia admitted, embarrassed. ?I got as far as Mr. Liu's before realizing I had no idea where to go. I remembered once Mae driving me by the safe house and telling me things. But I couldn't remember where it was- or where the key was hidden or what the signal was that I was there. So I was just wandering. And when Clint called?

?I found out where she was, and picked her up. Then I came here.?

Mae finally holstered her revolver. ?Phone?? she asked of Clint. He handed it over.

?I already tossed Ofelia's on the way here, into a trash can waiting for pickup. That should run the cops a merry chase.? Mae dropped his phone and stomped on it. ?That was my backup.?

?And if we can't trust you, it was also compromised.?

?Shit,? he said.

?What?? Lisa asked.

?He just figured out the second part of that thought.?

?She's going to have to strip search me.?

?So close.?

?I know, it was wishful thinking; cavity search.?

?I know that feeling,? Lisa said bitterly.

?We still cool?? Mae asked into her phone.

?Devensian,? Samarra said.

?Good. But we can't stay here; the safe house isn't safe. They will break Anna, that's only a matter of time. And their priority will be on us- finding us. So the safe house is the obvious target- it?s what they?ll be trying to get out of her first. But less obvious, and a lower priority, I think, will be the clinic outside the city.?

?So Clint and I are going to go inside the safe house. Samarra, you'll take the girls and head to the clinic. As soon as I finish up with Clint, we'll follow, but don't wait for us. The girls at the clinic should have cleared out by now. So hopefully it'll be empty and you won't get a shotgun in the face when you get there, but it should make for a decent back-up.?


  11:29:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 1112 words  
Categories: The Singularity

The Singularity, Chapter Twenty-Two, Truth and Consequences

?So,? Kevin said, melting into the cushions on the opposite end of the couch.

?So...? Claire said, amused at his delaying.

?I'm not saying I believe you- that I accept that the singularity really exists; but if I did, and if we changed things... we'd never meet, would we??

?Probably not, no. It's possible we'd run into each other someday, passersby at a hotel hosting two separate conferences... but no, I don't think we'd ever lay eyes on each other.?

?You knew that, didn't you??

?Didn't you?? she asked.

He sighed. ?I guess... I haven't wanted to think it through. Because thinking it through is admitting that I'm losing someone. Either you, or my wife...? he picked up his wine glass, and drained it, and immediately thought back to that night with Sam, pouring out the last of another bottle. ?Not that there was ever a question. I... I really care about you. A lot. But if there's even a chance to save her- I'd have to take it.?

She smiled. ? Duh.?


She set her wine glass down on the end table. ?I care about you, too. I might even be in the early stages of love. But your wife died; your little girl's mother is gone. I'm nowhere near selfish monster enough to deny either of you the chance to... make your family whole again. To save the life of the most important woman either of you have ever known.?

?Then what are we doing here?? Kevin asked, gesturing to his couch.

?I think,? Claire said, looking at him through the white wine in her glass, ?we're trying to talk ourselves into having sex. Or out of it. That part I'm not quite sure about.?

?Why not??

?Well... I can count the number of meaningful sexual partners I've had on one hand- maybe two. It's still a big decision for me. And two- I do really like you. And I've been in relationships that basically end the moment I take my clothes off. And I'm not sure I want to chance it.?

?If it helps,? Kevin said, ?I'm a doctor; so whatever odd thing you might have that's scared other guys off, I'm sure I've seen it before, only worse.?

?I think,? she said, eyeing him seriously, ?that by saying that you're trying to talk me out of sex,?

?And why would I do that??

?Because for the first time since your died, you have to think about the possibility that you could have her back. And faced with that... I bet you're wondering if you need to be faithful to her. And I know that because... I've been wondering the same thing.?

?But we're going to change the past. Today doesn't matter. That's either a license for hedonism, or...

?The most depressing of notions. But it's also wrong. Because it matters. Even if we change the past, the reasons we do it, the ways we try to, those matter.  They matter more than whatever effect we might have on the past, because they're the only things we can know for sure- and they're the only things we can really control.?

?But if we're so divided about having sex, shouldn't that just tell us that we shouldn't do it, at least, not tonight??

?There isn't always a tomorrow,? Claire said, but thought better of reminding him that he knew that better than most. ?If you always put off for tomorrow, then tomorrow's always empty,?

?So you think we should have sex- but also that maybe we shouldn't?? Kevin asked.

?Women are complicated,? she admitted. ?And I'm horny. And for more than a day I've been thinking about your hands on my skin, my mouth on yours. I'm not completely altruistic; I want to be happy, too- even if I wonder if that happiness might be fleeting- or even stolen.?

That flipped a switch in his mind. ?You don't think we end up here,? he said, working through the idea, ?so what happens to you??

She smiled warmly at him. ?I think... that's complicated. I think all of us being here, it's like the end result of a long game of Jenga. We end up here because dependent events happened, Chris meeting Morgan, Chris getting injured, you convincing Chris to stop playing, Morgan realizing he's getting worse. I think that saving people is like unraveling a ball of string, and that if we do it right- and in the right order- we all end up where we want to be- instead of where we needed to be.?

?Except you,? Kevin said. She bit her lip. ?You've been chasing the singularity your whole adult life. And you've been lonely- at least lately. Not only don't you get a damn thing out of it- you lose.?

She smiled. ?Someone has a high opinion of himself. Or a lot of sexual confidence.?

?You know what I mean.?

?I get to help, you, Morgan...?

?But what happens to you??

?I still exist,? Claire said. ?And I'm probably still chasing after the singularity... only next time I end up chasing it somewhere else- maybe even with an entirely different group of people.?

?That sounds... lonely.?

?It would be, if I thought I'd remember everything I'm giving up.?

?I wish you didn't have to.?

?That's sweet,? she said. ?But we're talking about a broken heart I probably won't remember. And your wife- her you'll never forget. But it?s better... to have loved and lost than to spend the rest of my spinsterhood killing vibrators.? He blushed. ?What?? she asked, grinning. ?We're mulling over sex, but the mention of a masturbation aid has you flustered? I haven't stumbled into a Big situation, have I? You aren't really a little boy??

?Men just can?t talk that frankly about masturbating.?

?You?ve apparently met none of the men I grew up around. They talked about little else. And you're a doctor. If anybody should be able to talk frankly about it...?

?What I mean is it?s not the same. Men touching themselves isn't attractive- we just look like bonobo chimps.?

She smiled. ?Not always. Well, okay, from behind, there is some definite chimpishness. But it's cute. With you being a handsome, successful doctor- I don't get many chances to see you insecure. And it's adorable.?

She scooted closer, and rested her hand on his leg.

?So you've made up your mind?? he asked.

?Of course not,? she said, ?except about kissing you. I couldn't come this far- have this conversation- to not even try that.?

?In my experience, people are never really satisfied with just one kiss.?

?You're thinking of potato chips,? she said breathily, and pushed her lips to his.

  10:41:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 577 words  
Categories: Lunacy

Lunacy: Mai, Oh Mai

Mai was in the shower. When only she and Maria were awake, she'd leave the door cracked, ever so slightly, to entice her.

But for the first time, the door to the shower slid open behind Mai as she lathered up.

?You're having your period.? Maria said.

?I am??

?Why is that such a turn-on?? Maria pressed her breasts against Mai's moist back, and laced her fingers around Mai's hands. She rubbed their joined hands over Mai's flat stomach, over her breasts. The smaller woman moaned softly.

Maria released Mai's hands, and ran hers, now soapy, down her legs. She rubbed her way up Mai's left leg, starting at her ankle, then her calve, kneading a little more intensely at a knot she found there.

?Careful,? Mai said, ?You do that any better and I'll marry you on the spot.?

?Do we have gay marriage on the Moon??

?It's an international station- so technically we don't have any marriage.? Maria kept going, up her thigh, then detouring to her buttocks. ?Tease,? Mai said, ?not that I'm asking you to stop teasing.?

But she did stop, and knelt back down, and started over at her right ankle. She made it all the way up to her thigh, then the water shut off. ?Crap,? Mai said. ?Stupid water stipend.?

?I've got it,? Maria said. ?Speed, queue up my allotment.?

The water kicked back on. ?You have another ten minutes,? Speed said.

?That should be enough to get started,? Maria said.

They used half the water then, and the other half to rinse off after sex. While they were drying off in Mai's room, she asked, ?I hadn't even started spotting, yet. How'd you- is this one of those hormonal synch-up things??

?No, I... I guess I just sensed it, was all, though now I can see the red whirlpool around the drain. But it reminded me of my ex-husband. When he was here, we had the craziest thing, and it seemed to at least partially revolve around my bleeding. I think the nostalgia just got my head swimming.?

?So you were thinking of your husband the whole time??

?Ex husband, but no. Not until I started to wonder what spurred this. So I only thought of him post-coital. And even then, probably just because I'm so completely orgasm-fuddled.?

?So you weren't thinking of him because he's the father of your possible baby, and your seduction of me is because you're looking for someone to tag-team raising it??

?Not exactly a first-date topic of discussion,? Maria said.

?And that wasn't exactly a first date. First seduction, sure- and I still can't believe you made the first move.?

?You've been first-moving on me since day one.?

?I put out the welcome mat. But I still figured at best you were just going to roll out yours- and I'd still get to be the man.?

?The man? Lesbians still use 'the man.'?

?Today 'lesbians' includes you. But 'the man' is still more convenient shorthand than sexual protagonist- which is better than aggressor, but still a little confusing, since protagonists, despite the name, are usually pretty passive. And antagonist has nearly the same connotations as aggressor. And not to get all aggressive on you or anything, but round 2??

?You're going to have to give me a few. My jaw's popping like popcorn.?

?You suck.?

?And blow. Lick. And flick. I'm sexually rather versatile.?

?Clit-tease,? Mai said, and laid her head on Mary's breast.


  03:04:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 1401 words  
Categories: The Singularity

The Singularity, Chapter Twenty-One, The Talk

Molly was annoyed. Her uncle, Sam was late picking her up after school. She didn't mind waiting around; she still hadn't finished three-starring all of Angry Birds Space on her phone. But she got looks from people who went by. Only losers waited that long after school for their parents to show up, and her frustration was building. She knew it wasn't Sam's fault, exactly, but she knew she was probably going to unload on him when he got there.

Her dad's Bronco pulled up. She sighed passive aggressively, and opened up the passenger side door and climbed in. But all of her frustration disappeared when she realized it was her father behind the wheel. ?You're not supposed to be driving,? she said.

?That's not entirely true.? He handed her a paper driving permit, with the day's date under the issued on column.

?You renewed your license?? she asked, and failed to hide the pleasure in her voice. ?Aw, my dad's all growed up.?

He swallowed. ?I think it was time. Past time, really. Now buckle up.?

?Yes, dad,? she said, but her sarcasm was mostly overwhelmed by the bubbly tone in her voice.

?You've met Claire. And embarassed her.?

?I'm your daughter; it's what you taught me to do.?

He grinned. ?I know. I like her. I like her enough, I'm getting serious about her. She's not... I'm not trying to replace your mom. No one could ever replace your mom; we'll both always love her- always. But I want to have someone to love again, someone to love who's... here, who can love me- love us- back. Does that make any sense??

?Are you trying to tell me you want to have sex with her??

?Oh my God,? Kevin said, drifting into the opposite lane and swerving back. ?I was not ready for you to ask me that.?

She sighed patiently. ?Dad,? she said, ?I'm not old enough to be kissing boys, but I've been getting more action than you.?

?Thanks for that,? he said. ?That phrase is basically a summation of every father's fears and insecurities. That my daughter is sexually aware and that I'm sexually-?

?Pitiful? Isn't that what Sam called his 'barrista slut' said about you.?

?I really wish she hadn't said that so loud...? Kevin said. ?But essentially, yes, I'm telling you I want to have an intimate, physical, adult relationship with her.?


?Yeah,? Kevin smiled, ?but it's part of adult relationships- an important part.?

?Dad, I'm old enough to ?get? sex- without wanting to have sex. But I get sex enough to understand that it's important to adults. And that grosses me out, so I don't really want to talk about it, any more than we have to. But what I need, dad, is for you to be happy and whole. And if a skanky physicist-?

?She's not skanky.?

?Sam said you have a type.?

?I'm going to have to have a talk with him...?

?As awkward as this one??

?Hopefully not. But Claire's been perfect- as much of a lady as your mother- maybe more so, because she's sat through me talking about your mom, she accepts that I still love your mother with grace... and that's not easy to do.?

?She's not better than mom...? Molly said, but there was a question buried in it.

?No. No,? Kevin said. ?I just meant... your mom met us when we were young, and simple. And because of your mom, and losing her... we're complicated, now. And it's an extra challenge, accepting our complications. I'm just saying Claire's coming to us at a different time- and in a different situation, so it's- we shouldn't compare her to your mom. We love your mom; we love even the crap about her that drove us crazy. So we shouldn't- we should try to love them both separately.?

?Does she want a daughter?? Molly asked.

?Who couldn't love a girl like you?? he asked, beaming a little.

?Plenty of people. But you haven't talked about it, have you? Way to do your due dilligence, dad.?

?Well, I didn't think we're not to the starting a family phase of the relationship.? Molly folded her arms and looked out the window. Kevin pulled the Bronco to the side of the road. ?Hey, look at me. Claire is optional, understand? She's ice cream a la mode. But you- you're my daughter, and I love you, and you come first. You're my family. Claire's auditioning to join our family. If she doesn't like that, if she doesn't want that- she can sit and spin.?

?Sit on what and spin??

?Sam will tell you.?

?When I'm older??

?I'm sure he'll tell you long before it's appropriate,? Kevin said, pulling back onto the road. Then he slid his cell phone out of his pocket, dialed it, and put it to his ear.

?It's your first day with your license, and you're already driving distracted??

?I know,? he said, ?but bear with me. Claire? Molly had a point, something that I foolishly didn't bring up before, but, you know, is about the most important question I could have asked you. How do you feel about men with daughters??

Kevin listened intently, then smiled. ?Okay, I'm going to put you on speaker, so Molly can hear it. ?I said, 'Der.' I wouldn't date a man with a daughter if I wasn't cool with stepmomming said daughter. Sons... I don't know, I'm not sure how I'd handle those, but little girls are awesome- girls I love- and Moll seems doubly awesome. Plus she comes pre-potty-trained, so, bonus.?

?In the interests of disclosure, I sometimes poop the bed,? Molly said.

?So do I,? Claire said.

?I see this going poorly for me,? Kevin said. ?I feel like I've just introduced Vader to the Emperor. Of poop.?

?Use your anus, young Skywalker,? Claire said over the speakerphone.

?Okay, I'm nipping this in the butt,? Kevin said, ?we'll talk later, Claire. And thanks.? He hung up the phone and set it in the console between the seats.

He bit his lip. ?But there's something else I need to talk to you about, and I'm not sure how much I should say. But have you heard anything about Claire's research, into the singularity??

?Sam told me.?

?I thought he might,? Kevin said. He knew he'd been a lousy father since Molly's mom died, and watching Sam pick up his slack made him feel worse- but at least it meant that she didn't have to do without.

?Well, if Claire's right, we could send a message back, possibly through your grandfather, to warn me about that night. Maybe we'd just tell ourselves to stay in, celebrate your mom's promotion by cooking something for her instead of going out. But the idea is- maybe we could save your mom from that drunk driver... and from me.?

?I think,? she stopped to ponder, ?I think mom was right, and that God does everything for a reason. But I can't imagine why God would take mom away from us. So maybe the purpose was so we could help other people, the Meretas, and Sam, and your other patients, that we could help them get to where they need to be, before we get mom back.?

?Maybe it's a second chance for us,? he said. ?I don't know what to think exactly, other than that it's an opportunity.?

?You kind of sound like you joined a religion; and I like that you're acting like the dad I remembers from my little girlhood, but I don?t want your healing to hinge on Hale Bop.?

?Your uncle gave you that reference, didn?t he??

?Yeah, it had something to with Waco, right?? as Kevin pulled the Bronco to the vehicle gate at the clinic. He hit the opener button and it slid to the side.

?Something like that. But I?m not drinking any arsenic-laced Kool-aid. I just... the thing the singularity?s given me that I haven?t been able to get myself- is hope. For the first time in...? he swallowed, ?since, I?m hopeful that our lives might turn out all right, after all. It's not just something I want- it seems possible again.? Kevin stopped the Bronco by the front door.

Moll unbuckled her seatbelt, leaned across he console and hugged him. ?Just... you're fragile, dad. Be careful. I don't think I could handle you getting broken again.?


  11:52:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 3134 words  
Categories: The Singularity

The Singularity, Chapter Twenty, Understanding

?You didn?t sleep with him,? Chris said, ?but you wanted to.?

Morgan took a sip from her cocoa and coffee, because she didn't want him to be able to see her face.

?I know I get pissed easy,? he said. ?I yelled at you til I was hoarse once just because you made me the wrong soup.?

She blinked at him. ?You remember that??

?I do. And I'm ashamed of it. But even though I've always had a temper, and that it got exponentially worse after my injury... I can't be mad about this. A lot of that, is I know exactly what do for me- what you've given up for me, what you're willing to give up for me. I know I'm not really the man you fell in love with- most of the time I'm barely a man by the most generous definition. But I'm lucid right now- more than I've been since I quit playing ball. I don't know if I'm going to stay that way, and that's why I need to say this now. I don't want you to feel chained to me. You gave me some of the best years of your life, and I love you more than anything for that. But it doesn't obligate you to stay with me. Nothing could. Not even if I'd... you deserved a beautiful wedding, and a ring, and it's so easy to see, now, that my pathetic pride wasn't worth denying you those things. But even marriage- it shouldn't mean suffering your whole life just to be near a mindless monument to someone you used to care about- someone who could maybe at least sometimes make you happy. I haven't been able to provide for your needs; that doesn't mean you should have to live without. I'm giving you your freedom back.?

?You stupid ass,? she said, and set down her cocoa, and walked across the room. ?I don't want freedom- or permission to abandon you- I want you.? She kissed his cheek. ?If that means our life stays on the same path- even if that means you get worse, and I'm sponge-bathing you, and feeding you baby food, and wiping you- your life is our life. It doesn't matter that you never married me,? she said, though she couldn't make it true on her face, ?but I'm yours.?

She hesitated, because she knew it would hurt him just to admit even a little that she wasn't completely happy- even though they both knew it. ?But there is... maybe it doesn't have to be that way. Have you kept up with everything Claire said about the singularity??

?I'm not even sure even without brain damage that I'd have been able to follow along,? he said. ?But it sounds crazy.?

?Oh, it is,? Morgan said. ?But she seems like a wizard. She can predict your seizures to within a half an hour of when they happen. And with the light... I know it's nuts, but... what if it could work??

?What if it works,? Chris said, and touched her cheek, ?and I never got to meet you.?

?There is no way I don't find you,? she said, ?in any reality.?

?But if...? he said.

?It'd be worth losing you, worth being miserable without you, to know you're healthy, and safe.?

?But you wouldn't know it,? he said.

?Okay,? she said, hardening her resolve. She took hold of his cheek and forced him to look at her. ?I would gladly inflict that pain on myself, knowing that other me wouldn't understand it, and wouldn't appreciate it, but I would happily do that to help you.?

?I don't know if I could let you,? he said. He put his arm around her, and they didn't talk for a while. After her coffee wore off, Morgan fell asleep leaned against him. He carried her to her chair, and covered her in a small blanket.

Claire arrived shortly after the sun came up. She busied herself logging data from her MaD machine, and tried to keep out of Chris' hair. ?Aw crap,? she muttered, as her readings spiked and set off the audible alarm. Morgan stirred.

Morgan welcomed the cacaphony of Claire's device. ?I hate that stupid thing,? Chris said. ?Having seizures is bad enough. But having an early warning detector, telling me, 'you're brain's going to wet its pants' it ruins the moments before the seizures, because I spend that time waiting for it, knowing it's coming, and dreading it.?

?I don't know. For me, it, it demystifies it,? Morgan said. ?It makes the seizures feel less... random and chaotic. Makes them feel part of a larger something,? she said.

?That's just because it's not your head the smoke detectors are going off in,? Chris pouted.

He leaned back in his bed. He'd been counting down, and so he knew, down to a second or two, when the seizure was going to start. He braced for it, best he could; then his body was wracked with spasms.

Morgan forcefully took hold of Chris' hand.

Knowles opened the door. ?Should I get Kevin? Or Steph?? he asked.

Claire looked at the readout. ?It should be over in about thirty seconds- and Kevin's in a session.? She noticed Knowles shoulders shrink. ?But it couldn't hurt to get the nurse, just to be sure.?

He brightened up. ?Right away,? and the door shut behind him.

Alone again with the seizing man and Morgan, Claire suddenly felt self-conscious. ?I'm sorry,? she said.

?It's okay,? Morgan replied. ?Actually, I feel much better that you're here. You give me a sense of security.?

?I just hope it's not false.?

?I understand,? she said, ?that there's not a guarantee, just... this would all seem even more insane without you here.?

?A few more seconds,? Claire said. Chris' body relaxed. ?There.?

?Thanks,? Morgan mouthed.

Knowles poked his head in the door. ?How are things? I'm having trouble finding,? he noticed Chris waving at him, smiling weakly?oh.?

?I think I need a pick me up,? Claire said. ?Can you show me where the vending machines are?? she asked Knowles.

?Oh, sure,? he said.

?Wait,? Chris held up his hand. ?How long do I have, before the next tremors??

Claire looked over the data on her laptop. ?You should have a few minutes, maybe even an hour, before the next one?

?Cool,? Chris said. ?Thanks. And, it's not that I don't appreciate everything you've done, it's just... my brain feels like a ticking time bomb, and your machine is sometimes like the sound of the ticking, just reminding me that my brain's going to blow up.?

Claire smiled at him, and gave him a nod. Knowles held the door open for her, and closed it gently behind her. ?That was cool of you,? he said, ?giving them a moment alone.?

?Yeah, well, it was that- and I've had a hankering for a Snickers since the other day, when someone used you as a trash can.?

?Having spent time with everybody who was in that room,? Knowles said, ?I can't imagine somebody took the time to be a dick while Chris was seizing, so I assume it was just in somebody's pocket, and fell out in the confusion. Still, it made Steph look at me funny, so, you know, all isn't forgiven.?

He walked her past the lobby. There was a little room, like a closet without a door. ?Here you are,? he said.

?Are you going to go search for Steph some more?? she asked.

?Nah, not right now. I think looking for her is nice, maybe sweet. Stalking her in her workplace...?

?Yeah, creepy. Glad you're learning.? Claire put some change into the machine, pushed E, then 7, and retrieved her candy bar. She peeled away the wrapper, and took a bite. ?Do you remember those old commercials with athletes pausing in the middle of vigorous exercise for a Snickers? Like just because you add some roasted peanuts to the chocolate and caramel and suddenly it's a health food?? she asked.

?And nouget,? he added helpfully. ?Come on, I'm going to get some coffee.?

She swallowed, followed him back towards the lobby, and took another bite. ?Don't get me wrong, it's worth occasionally having to wear fatter pants- oh, so worth it. It was just some silly advertising.?

?But not as silly as the one about the football player at the Super Bowl, who takes a whacking and then says, 'I'm Batman.'?

?Right! Best commercial of all evers. It didn't really make me want a Snickers, but I seriously wanted my own Batman- or at least a brain-damaged football player.?

?I always knew you were after my man,? Morgan said with a smile, closing the door behind herself.

?That... was inopportune,? Claire said.

?No worries,? Morgan said. ?You have no idea how many things touch on brain injuries until suddenly it's the biggest thing in your life. And you can either choose not to take offense where none's intended, or really choose to stop enjoying a lot of things. But that 'I'm Batman' commercial was hysterical; oh,? she groaned, ?now my stomach's demanding a Snickers. Vending machines?? she asked, pointing to Claire's nearly empty wrapper.

?I can show you where they are,? Knowles said.

?And I should go check on Chris, see if we're expecting any more activity today.?

?Keep it above the waist, physicist; I've got my eyes on you.?

Steph was checking Chris' vitals. ?Oh, hey,? she said to Claire.

?Hi,? she said back, and settled in place beside her MaD. She hadn't been gone long enough for the manifestation picture to change significantly, but she pretended to be engrossed not to get in Steph's way.

Knowles burst suddenly into the room. ?I came as soon as I heard.?

?Heard what?? Steph asked innocently.

?That you were here,? Morgan said. ?I didn't even get to the vending machine for my Snickers.?

?Here,? Claire said, sighing, ?we'll let them talk, you and I can go get more Snickers.?

?More?? Morgan asked.

?You can't eat just one.?

?Isn't that potato chips??

?I've heard it both ways.?

?How are you not diabetic?? she asked.

?I'm working on it,? Claire said, walking past Addie?s closed door.

Inside, Sam stroked his chin. He knew that Addie wasn't holding all her marbles, so he passed on a multi-jump, and moved another checker that could only jump one of her pieces. Which of course meant that Addie had an opportunity for the same jump, but in reverse. That was nothing new; he had routinely thrown games to keep her from losing in the first handful of moves. But this time she reached for the piece that would have changed the game, then hesitated, and moved her hand away.

Sam's eyes opened up wide. She took up another piece, and moved it harmlessly to an empty square, and his eyes narrowed. She met them. ?I know you're not my husband,? she said.

Sam reacted with shock, not least because it was the most coherent sentence she'd ever put together. ?I didn't know that yesterday; I wasn't faking. But I know it today. I'm getting better- though I suspect- I think- it's not going to last. Maybe that's fear. Maybe it's... a connection, one that I feel that I never have, and one that I'm aware is tenuous. I'm not one of those hippy, new agey chicks,? she sighed. ?My daughter... just because I went through a period of not shaving my armpits in the seventies, she never let me live it down.?

She swallowed. ?I never expected my husband to get her.? Sam tilted his head. ?We never divorced- not on paper- but I always used to joke to that he got her in the divorce. That hurt, more than anything. Because... they didn't even like each other. She wasn't daddy's girl, and he barely remembered he had a daughter most days. But I lost my daughter. She still comes around, once and a while, to see if I've died, but we stopped going to the farmer?s market together, stopped having conversations on the phone that lasted more than forty-five seconds.?

?But I never expected Steve to leave me, either. It?s? a different world, today,? she said. ?That?s not my mind being hazy, or me being a fuddy duddy. It can be hard to remember that not that long ago divorce was still taboo. Our church even frowned on jewelry until fifteen years ago. I remember one of our deacons giving a talk about how non-Christian symbols were evil; a grown man railing against a peace sign as a tool of the devil.?

?Isn?t it based on something pagan?? Sam asked.

?You mean like Christmas?? she asked with a sly smile. ?Or Easter? But no, actually, the peace symbol was designed for the nuclear disarmament movement in the 50s.?

?I thought you said you weren?t a hippy.?

?I wasn?t. But history isn?t the strict purview of the hippies.?

?Christians can be a superstitious, cowardly lot,? Sam said with a grin.

?If I hadn?t heard you talk about your own faith- if I didn?t know that ?criticism? comes from within- I?d slap your bigoted mouth.? Sam?s eyebrows shot up. ?And so you?re not confused, that?s for you, Sam- not Steve.?

?You are exactly like my mom,? Sam said with a grin.

?Though I imagine I?m a good bit older.?

?Not? she died. Brain tumor. It was? Christ it was fast. She went to the doctor with headaches, and within the week??

?I?m sorry,? Addie said.

?Yeah,? Sam mumbled. ?In a way, it was good. There wasn?t a long period of suffering. But because of that, sometimes it doesn?t feel real. I?ll think to myself, ?It?s been a while, I should give mom a call.? And it?s really only when I start to work through the steps in my head, getting out my phone, scrolling to her name, hitting send, and waiting for her to pick up? that I realize she?s never going to pick up.?

?It?s rough, losing a parent,? Addie said. ?I didn?t get along with my mom- I dreaded her getting old and sick enough that she?d have to stay with me. She didn?t like me, either. I suspected for most of my life that she was just a hateful person- that it was who she was, but that changed when I had a daughter. She loved Carla. And it hurt even more, watching her? love my daughter unconditionally, while still barely tolerating me. She made me miserable- our moms get unique access to us that lets them hurt us, if they choose. But I bawled like an eight year old when she passed.?

?She was neutral, when it came to Steve- but I think that?s because when it came to people who hurt me she saw in him a kindred spirit. But unlike Steve, I knew she always loved me, even if she wasn?t able to always show it. I always wondered, if I hadn?t been a more progressive woman, if I wasn?t working myself, if he?d have left me sooner. But that?s part of how I?m here- your cousin is donating a portion of my care- that much I know- but the rest is covered by my insurance.?

?I?d wondered??

?But you were polite enough not to ask. I have excellent insurance. I worked at Jantzen for... it must have been thirty years,? she recognized his confusion, ?Jantzen swimwear. Founded in Portland just north of here. When I retired, I got full benefits and a stipend- not full pay, but certainly better than anyone working in apparel can expect these days.?

?But?? she hesitated, ?insurance doesn?t do you any good when no one notices you?re not well- and I was certainly in no position to. I?ve been worse, since the fall, but- I?d been sliding for years. I tried to tell myself it was all old age, finally catching up to me. But? I knew, too. My mom was like this, and we always suspected dad was, too. But he died when he was 50, from a heart attack, so we only ever saw the earliest elements of it.?

?Mom struggled so hard after that. It was a different world, then. Women wished they could bring in seventy percent of what men did. Sometimes... I knew she didn't eat. She'd tell me and my sister that she ate while she was cooking, that what was left was for us. But I knew she was lying- and she was so committed to the lie, that if we tried not to eat everything she gave us, she?d throw it out. She starved for us... and I watched her slowly lose her mind. She ended up in a shitty home- nothing- like this place. They abused her there; I could tell that much- but she was so crazy by then, that I couldn't even begin to separate out what was abuse and what was her being crazy.?

?I? would have taken her into my home, but Albert said no. And most of my life, I believed that I stayed with Albert because I didn't believe in divorce, because I thought marriage was a commitment you played out, no matter what. We didn't love each other, not for years. I think... I think he hated me. I know I hated him, by the end. But I knew that I was like my mom. I always knew. And I knew I was going to end up crazy. And I didn't want to end up crazy alone. And that's why I couldn't leave Albert.?

?But Albert lives on the other coast,? Sam said.

?I know...? she said sadly. ?I mortgaged my happiness my whole life just so I'd be taken care of. And at the end of it, the prick left me all alone and moved in with someone else; he didn't divorce me, so that he wouldn't have the possibility of having to split his assets- but he abandoned me in every other sense of the word. I hated him already- we'd spent more years in our marriage out of love than in it- but the sheer cowardice... I wouldn't have begrudged him a mistress; I didn't hate him so much I wanted him to be unhappy. But at the end of everything, he refused to take care of me, refused me the one thing I'd ever asked of him in this world. That still shocks me.?

?But you're getting better,? Sam said.

?We all are- Trevor, too. And maybe Chris is a miracle, a brain-damaged Jesus here to heal the sick,? she said bitterly. ?But I don't think it's going to last. I certainly wouldn't bet my sanity on it. But that's the wager, isn't it? Whether I agree to it or not.?


  09:54:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 2768 words  
Categories: The Singularity

The Singularity, Chapter Nineteen, Guilt

The lights were off inside Trevor's room. He had a single set of blinds opened, so he could look out at the beach. ?Thanks for rescheduling, I know it was inconvenient,? Kevin said.

?Not like I had anywhere to be,? Tervor said. ?I?m a captive audience, remember??

?You aren?t a prisoner here.?

?There may be no shackles involved, but I?m in the middle of nowhere, in a wheelchair, on the wrong coast. But I think you?re avoiding something by rescheduling.?

?And I think you?re avoiding your session. Which, if you don?t mind, I?d like to start.?

?I always mind, but you know me- I?m agreeable, and it?s your hour.?

?We?ll start with your status this last week. How was your BDI??

?I?ve noticed your nurse giving me the beady eye, but I?ve been out of the dating game long enough that I?m not sure if it means she?s interested, or really disinterested.?

?We can talk about your interactions with women later, if you?d like, but you know I meant the Beck Depression Index.?


?And you remember a score between 29 and 63 is categorized as severe depression??

?I would have thought all you needed was number 9; I think about killing myself.?

?The purpose of the BDI isn?t to diagnose depression; it?s to monitor the level of depression. Do you think you?re a danger to yourself??

?I want to live, doc- that?s why I?m here. Well, that, and my family has money- otherwise I?d be languishing in Walter Reed.?

?Do you feel guilty about that??

?Most guys who join the service aren?t in it for the glory. They?re scared, stupid kids whose home towns didn?t have a paper mill or an auto factory, so the best jobs available to them were in the Army. And the ones who get hurt- most of their parents can?t afford you. But do I feel guilt? No. I feel pissed off. At a God that does this. At a world that does it. At a country that isn?t bending over backwards to make sure every one of us has the absolute best in care. I?ve got plenty of guilt, but over being born luckier than some? No.?

?Okay,? Kevin said soothingly. ?How was your anxiety score??

?35. But I still say the test is biased against cripples. It?s difficult to have wobbliness in the legs when I only have one and a half of them- and there?s no being unsteady on wheels- unless there?s an earthquake.?

?Anything exceeding a 36 is cause for concern, and a 35 is still high. But you feel the test is underreporting your anxiety??

?I think the test might be stupid. And you?re not stupid- and I?m not stupid, so I?m not sure who we?re doing the test for.?

?The purpose of the test, in my experience, is to encourage reflection. Make you look at situations where you may have elevated anxiety, and to ask yourself why, and what can be done about them.?

?My ?situation? is probably untraditional, in that sense,? Trevor said, his voice grave, ?because I don?t think therapy?s going to grow me back a leg, unscramble my egg, or undetonate that IED.?

?We nearly stumbled into Dr. Seuss territory,? Kevin said with a smile. ?But the point of therapy isn?t to return you to your old physical status quo; it?s about acclimating your expectations and perceptions to your situation.?

?My situation? Christ, if I thought you?d ever even heard of the Jersey Shore I?d take offense at that.?

?I?m less concerned with your metrics. Like I said, they?re tests designed to help you reflect. But I want to know how you feel you?ve been this week??

Trevor exhaled slowly, drawing it out while he thought. ?I like the new patient. Time was, you, with your working legs, I would have felt, if you?ll pardon it, that we were on even footing. Even enough, anyway. But the big gorilla, he always would have made me feel inadequate; there?s comic book men he?d make feel inadequate. And that?s a nice feeling- knowing I can still feel crappy about myself without it having to be about my self-pity.?

?So you see that as a positive development?? Kevin asked.

?Absolutely. There?s nothing inherently wrong with knowing someone outshines you. I?d feel like a doofus playing Kasparov at chess, or talking time travel with Stephen Hawking- but that doesn?t necessarily mean that I feel like I?m a doofus more generally. You, I could probably still beat at arm-wrestling, and I?m sure I could do more push-ups, after figuring out the balancing issue,? he tilted his hand from side to side for emphasis.

?And have you had a conversation with Chris.?

?Yeah, I met him. And maybe I wasn?t clear. I don?t just like him because he?s somebody I?m comfortable being jealous of. He seems nice. And I feel a kinship with him. He was crippled in the head in the line of duty; I was just crippled.?

?Okay,? Kevin said. ?Anything else you want to tell me about what?s happened since our last session??

?I thought I was vibing with Jeannie, and I made a genuine pass. She gave me the pity face, and yet, no pity sex. That just seems unfair.?

?Well, there are ethical concerns, there,? Kevin said. ?If you really want a relationship with her, you?d have to wait until you?re not longer her patient.?

?But by then she?ll have gotten to know me, and it?ll definitely be too late.? Trevor smiled. ?Besides, I don?t see myself not going back to Raleigh, when all?s said and done.?

?So you weren?t interested in a long-term relationship, then?? Kevin asked.

?Serious and temporary aren?t mutually exclusive conditions for a relationship,? Trevor said.

?They are for some,? Kevin countered. ?But I?d like to move on. You had homework, in addition to your scoring.?

?I really wish we could call it something else. It makes me feel like I?m back in high school- and it makes me homesick, all in one wallop.?

?It?s the name in the literature; but if you prefer, assignments, duties, details??

?Assignment?s good.?

?And do you remember what your assignment was??

?To examine a stressful situation and identify the thoughts, behaviors and, uh??

?Emotions,? Kevin said, ?TBE.?

?Damnit, I thought it was a ?D,? but I knew ?demotions? didn?t make any kind of sense.?

?And what did you find.?

?Well, I looked into my reaction to Jeannie. There was a lot going on. Physical therapy, the new patient, you running around with that physicist. I don?t know what I expected, but somehow I didn?t expect her to say ?No.??

?And what thoughts went through your head, right then??

?I saw like a cartoon airplane, smoking from the tail section, falling out of the sky, making that brrrrrrrew noise as it goes down. And then I thought, I wish I hadn?t seen her pity face. I?ve been rejected plenty of times in my life. But that face she made- there is no way to feel good about that face. And I couldn?t help but think that that was going to be my dating experience from now on. Women who like me, who get me, who if I wasn?t in the body I?m in, wouldn?t hesitate to spend time with me and maybe even fall in love, making that face, for the rest of my life. And I dropped it real fast, and we went back around our session, but every time she looked at me after that, I saw that face, saw that reality staring at me from the horizon. It wasn?t pleasant.?

?It doesn?t sound like it,? Kevin said. ?And how did it make you feel??

?Like crap. But like sad crap, like a little mouse baby in owl droppings, where people stop and say, ?Aw, da powr widdle fing.??

?And how did you react??

?In the moment??

?More generally.?

?Depression. I spent the next morning bed, way past how long I usually stay there, even on days when the pain?s worse. I didn?t eat breakfast. I missed a game of checkers with Addie.?

?And do you think you can glean anything from the exercise??

?I gleaned that rejection sucks. Rejection based on disability sucks more. But what sucks worse is putting those feelings under a microscope,? he folded his arms, and folded his body, too, like an accordion.

?Jeannie?s a hell of a physical therapist,? Kevin said. ?But do you think her reaction to you show?s an aptitude for empathy??

?I?d probably have described it as a sort of cold fishiness.?

?And how important do you think it?s going to be for you to have someone in your life who can empathize with you??

Trevor thought a moment. ?Very. Wait. You?re not coming on to me, are you doc? Because if you are, I?m going to need a second to warm up my pity face.?

?Ethically, I?m not permitted to come onto my patients. But I?m glad your assignment was useful; I know you were skeptical when we discussed it. But we?ve still got our on-going ?to-do? list. It?s only been a few days, but has anything changed, is there anything you think is now a more central issue, or just something you?d like to address??

?It?s probably because it?s fresh in my mind, but I?d really like not to get rejected anymore.?

?A fear of rejection is understandable. Do you worry that fear is going to become controlling, or that it?s going to alter your behavior??

?Once bitten, twice shy? There are times I wish it would. But I like the other ways that women bite enough to take the temporary emotional hit along the way.?

?So long as it?s temporary??

?And so long as it doesn?t always end in rejection. I been blessed in life to bat like Tip O?Neill- the major league slugger- and I get that my stats will suffer for my injuries- I just hope my batting average doesn?t start to resemble Tip O?Neill the politician?s.?

?And why do you think that?s a possibility?? Kevin asked.

?Why might women be superficial and judgmental? Because I have. I still am, really. I think your day nurse might not be in my league.?

?And why do you think that?s important to you??

?To be physically attracted to someone? I think it?s an essential part of a relationship. But there?s also? social concerns, I guess. About status, and virility. I think if I settle for someone I?m not physically attracted to, it?s saying I?m willing to settle in life, to have a mediocre life.?

?Are you afraid people will find you mediocre, now??

?Yes. Because even I think I might.?

?But do you think that?s right? You?ve spoken positively about your intelligence, I know you?re a confident person. Do you think your injuries, or even their circumstances, preclude you from being a worthwhile human being??

?No,? he said. ?No, I don?t.?

?And you don?t have any doubt??

?No. When it?s put to me like that? No.?


?I?d like to address your traumatic brain injury for a moment,? Kevin said. ?Last you reported, you were symptom-free, which was excellent, but there can be a lot of overlap with depression, PTSD and TBI. We?ve gone over the symptoms of a physical injury-?

?Ad nauseum.?

?Should I take that to mean you don?t want me to go over those symptoms again??


?So do you think that at this point we?re dealing with purely psychological issues??

?As much as you can separate out form from function, yeah, I think it?s a functional issue.?

?Okay. And I ask because it matters in how we approach the problem. But that brings us to the bigger fish we have to fry- your white whale.?

?I don?t know if I like that metaphor. Ahab went down with his white whale. Or did you just like the symmetry, since Ahab had a peg leg, and I have a peg leg??

?I honestly had not made that connection. Which you like to talk about that??

?We?ll talk about guilt, doc; no need to pussy foot.?

?Good,? he said. ?You blame yourself for the bomb in Afghanistan. Why??

?It was my job to disarm it. My duty to safeguard the lives of innocent people and those around me.?

?But don't you think that the people who placed the bomb deserve some of the credit??

?The Taleban and al Qaeda are peas in a pod. They don't care about local Muslims any more than politicians stateside care about their constituents. Sure, they'll tout their record, but here's the thing; they wouldn't lift a finger to give help to people who need it. It's only when they fear losing a vote, or their power, that you see real action from them.?

?And political rants to the side, I get what you're trying to say. I wasn't alone in the whole bomb/disarming thing. But I was alone in being the sole perosn trying to fix things- the only guy who wanted the bomb not to go off who failed.?

?A pregnant woman was injured in the blast.?

?That's right. She took some shrapnel in the abdomen. And it caused her to miscarry the baby.?

?How do you feel about that??

?Well, genereally speaking, I'm against dead babies- but I get the sense that, had she not been living in an oppressively Muslim culture, she probably would have considered abortion. So on the one hand, infanticide, but on the other, I was spreading western values.?

?Do you feel responsible for the death of that woman's child??

?No,? Trevor said. ?I've never really been in a situation that tested me on the life/choice issue- but I'd say that an incubator free baby is more alive than an enwombed one.?

?Since you brought the boy... why do you think you still feel responsible for his death??

?I...? he furrowed his brow. ?I don't think there's a rational thought-process behind my guilt.?

?That's good??

?Irrationality is good??

?Recognizing it is. Do you usually punish yourself for irrational reasons??

?When you ask questions like that, it's really hard not to just answer like a jackass. But no, I don't.?

?Then is there something you think you could have- should have- done differently, in order to save boy??

Trevor closed his eyes to think, but when he came up empty, this time he didn't bother verbalizing it.

?For my own curiousity, then: was there some flaw in your work? A corner you cut. Procedure you violated? Anything like that??

?No,? Trevor admitted.

?If you had the entire thing to do over again, what would you change??

?I...? Trevor sighed. ?I'd put myself between the boy and the bomb.?

?And what do you think that would accomplish?? Kevin asked.

?In all likelihood? Not a damn thing. But if I'd put myself between the kid and harm... I wouldn't have to wonder, would I??

?Do you think you'd have survived if you'd acted that way??

?No. But dying doesn?t scare me anymore. The idea of not being alive kind of bugs me; there?s some book series and TV shows I?d like to see finished. But I've thought about ending it. And the end itself, I?m smart enough to make sure it hurts as little as it needs to. The end doesn?t scare me.?

?But you said you wanted to live.?

?Yep, I?m a complicated guy,? Trevor said. ?If you?re asking me about the tension between those two different ideas- I?m not sure I want to resolve it. I think you?re good enough at math to know that solving that problem goes only one of two ways.?

?That's not an answer,? Kevin said, ?but it might have to suffice for today. And I know you'll be excited, but I have a new home- assignment for you,? Kevin said. ?I?d like you to keep a journal of dysfunctional thoughts. When you become stressed, I simply want you to note down what you were doing prior.

?Okay,? Trevor said, eyeing him suspiciously. He knew the doctor well enough to understand that he wasn?t being assigned random busy work, and wanted to know the point. ?So what?s the method in this madness??

?Cognitive therapy works by helping us discover our assumptions- the criteria by which we judge the world and ourselves. I had a patient that cried uncontrollably after even the most mundane argument with his girlfriend. What we discovered was that he associated arguments with the end of relationships, which made him cry. The journal helps us figure out what you?re thinking when you get upset. And from there, we can proceed to probe why.?

?Hmm,? Trevor said, nodding approvingly.


  11:38:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 2564 words  
Categories: The Singularity

The Singularity, Chapter Eighteen, New Dawn

Kevin stared at his alarm clock. It was too late to call. But he couldn't sleep. He frowned, but he picked up his cell, and dialed. ?Hey,? he said, as soon as he heard it picked up.

?Hey,? Claire said.

?Can't sleep??

?Nope. I was sleeping like a puppy dog. On your office couch. Until my assistant roused me to come back to the hotel. Since then? Kind of.?

?I'd hoped... well, I hoped you'd pick up. But I figured I'd leave you a message.?

?And in this message??

?I was going to ask if I could buy you breakfast- and I mean that in the least booty-calling way possible.?

?You're kind of bipolar, you know that??

?Yeah,? he said, laughing. ?So I'll understand if the answer is the you'd rather I take the issues hanging around my neck and go drown in the ocean.?

?Seems a bit harsh. You might deserve a light waterboarding, but not a drowning. Besides, I've had a day that reminds me... I've got my baggage, too.?

?Cool. If it's heavy baggage, I can pick you up at your hotel, so you don't have to carry it alone.?

?That's sweet. And I'm a sucker for damaged, sweet guys. To a point.?

?You've been more than understanding,? Kevin said. ?I know that.?

?Then I'll have breakfast with you. Now go to bed.?

Kevin tossed and turned after that, but eventually he slept. Down the hall, Sam was having trouble sleeping. That wasn't unusal, or even something new. It was half the reason Kevin hired him on as security; because he knew he got restless and went walking late at night and early in the mornings- and this way that restlessness had a point.

But with Kevin spending more time with Claire, he'd been feeling more lonesome. And if he was honest, part of the reason he couldn't sleep was Morgan. He couldn't stop thinking about the way she kissed him, or what she had to look like naked. He also knew she didn't sleep well, and that she was often awake when he made his rounds. That was what brought him to Chris' room at that time of the morning.

He barely got the door open before he saw that was asleep in her chair. He eased the door shut, or he would have, had he not seen a shadowy figure standing in the room. He balled his fists, and pushed the door in, expecting to have to take a swing at someone.

?Hey,? Chris said, smiling.

Sam felt immediately foolish. ?I didn't expect anyone awake,? he explained.

?That explains the fists,? Chris said.

?I didn't know you were... so talkative,? Sam said.

?Yeah,? Chris said, and winced. ?I've been feeling better. Not leaps and bounds, but it's spring fog, now, not fall.?

?Out here they're about the same, but I grew up further from the coast, so I know what you mean.?

?You're a big enough guy. You ever play ball??

?As a kid, scrimmage at lunch time, or at church camp. But never seriously. When I was young I didn't have the size, and as I got older, and bigger, I lost the speed.?

?Yeah. It's... it's a bear getting that balance. You need to work the muscles the right or-?

?What's going on?? Morgan asked.

?I was just doing my rounds,? Sam said, but he couldn't look at her when he lied. Her eyes flicked to Chris.

?We were just talking.?

?You should be resting,? she said, and glared at Chris. ?And you,? she turned her withering gaze to Sam, ?should escort me to some cocoa.?

?Shouldn't I? Chris started, but he didn't even bother finishing; he could tell from her eyes that he was going to get shot down.

Sam heaved a sigh, and opened the door into the hall for her.

She waited until the door closed behind her. ?What the hell were you doing in our room?? she asked.

?I patrol. I saw somebody moving around, and I thought...?

?I know what you thought,? she said angrily. ?It was inappropriate for you to come into our room like that. Especially for that.?

?It was inappropriate of you to kiss me.?

?It was a mistake,? she said bitterly.

?That's fine,? he said. ?But it is part of my job to walk around, and make sure things are okay, and that patients aren't wandering off. The new surroundings pretty often freak patients out. They're more likely to wander off, or act out.?

?Yeah,? Morgan said, ?subtle dig at my expense received. I'm sorry.?

?Yeah, well, me, too. But we should get that cocoa, so your husband doesn't get too suspicious.?

?I want it in some coffee. I slept way too much yesterday as it is- and I want to be awake for a bit.?

?That's good,? Sam said, leading her down the hall. ?Because it's right next to the coffee maker.? He walked past it, to some cabinets, and fished her out a packet, and one for himself. He handed her a mug, and let her fill hers first.

She took a sip and nearly spit it out. ?It's awful,? she said.

?It's from yesterday,? Sam said. ?Coffee that old gets character.?

?Not the word I would have used,? she took a second sip, ?but it's not so bad when you're not blindsided by it.?

?Sorry. I thought you knew.? He took a drink. The coffee was bitter, which seemed to offset the cocoa in the worst way. But it contrasted with the last delicious drink he'd had, which grabbed his attention. ?Claire told me about her, what was it, singularity? Given that the thing is growing out of your husband- er, boyfriend, I guess- what do you make of all of it??

?It all sounds like a cruel joke. His brain's ruined, and now there's this miracle inside him, that people can use to change... something. Probably send themselves messages, like Claire's. But I don't think it could help Chris. I can't believe, not for a second, that it's going to help him. I think that all it is, that all it could ever be, is false hope.?

?But what if it isn't??

?I wouldn't hesitate to use it,? she said quietly. ?I wouldn't care if it might destroy the universe, or might result in Chris and I never meeting. It's been the hardest thing watching him go through this- the hardest life, really, that I can imagine- I would give it up in an instant, for him to be able to have a normal life again.?

?And what does he think??

?I'm not sure that he does,? she said solemnly. ?He's been in the room for most of it, but... I wouldn't be surprised if he hasn't really picked up on any of it.?

?Maybe,? Sam said. ?But don't you think you shoud find out?? he asked.

She sighed. ?I'm not so sure,? she said.

?What are you afraid of?? he asked.

?It would crush me, if I really thought I could get him back, only to have that dashed. Chris is in constant pain. So he's got so much more to gain, and at the same time, he'd lose so much more. And the pain just means... it would be harder still for him to take.?

?That I understand,? Sam said. ?You think we should bring him a cocoa??

?He's probably asleep,? she said. And if he isn't, he doesn't deserve a treat for disobeying me,? she smiled. ?But if he wants, he can have some of mine.?

Sam walked her back to Chris' room, opened the door for her, and walked away. He took his cocoa back upstairs, wondering if he could find something interesting on TV to try to doze to.

Sitting on the couch, tying his shoes, was Kevin.

?Where are you going?? Sam asked.

?We'll,? he started, ?nowhere, yet. But I'm having breakfast with Claire- you know, when a reasonable hour for that to actually happen gets here. And right now I'm pretty antsy. So I figured I could get dressed and maybe...?

?Maybe what?? Sam asked, sipping at his cocoa.

?I'm sort of winging that part,? Kevin admitted.

?How about we watch whatever's on AMC??


Sam plopped down on the edge of the Ottoman, and flicked on the television, and changed the channel. They watched the second half of Rio Bravo.

?You think it's too early for breakfast?? Kevin asked excitedly as the credits started to roll.

?I think it's less early than it was,? he said. ?Why don't you just call her??

?What if she's one of those people who need their beauty sleep. If she's going to be ugly, I'm in less of a hurry to have breakfast with her.?

?Kevin's phone chirped.?

?Sam scooped it off the counter. ?Not sleeping well. Breakfast??

?Great dysfunctional minds think alike,? he sprung up off the couch and bounded down the stairs. ?Tell her I'm on my way.? Sam stared down the steps, perplexed. A moment later, a slightly red-faced Kevin walked back up them. ?On second thought, I may need my phone,? he said, and plucked it out of Sam's fingers.

Claire was already ready when he arrived at her place. ?Should we invite Knowles?? Kevin asked, immediately regretting it.

?He's asleep,? she said. ?And I thought you wanted to do a whole intimate breakfast thing.?

?Yeah, sorry,? he said. I'm brain-fried.?

They drove in relative silence. Kevin felt elated to even be near her again. He took her to a small chain restaurant. ?My favorite for breakfast,? he told her. ?Two, please,? he told the waiter, who led them to their seat. Claire had barely sat down when he started in. ?German pancakes, which is kind of like a thick crepe, sprinkled with powdered sugar, with lemon wedges on top. And something about the textures, and the way the lemon juice mixes with the sugar- it's really good. I couldn't recommend it highly enough.?

She captivated by the menu. ?Or, I could totally order something else delicious, and snipe bites off your plate.?

?I'm happy to share family style with you,? he said.

She ended up ordering a sampler platter. ?When in doubt,? she said, ?order everything.?

?Words to live obesely by,? he said with a grin.?

She smiled at him. But after the waiter disappeared, her expression changed. ?So, the non-booty late-night call. I assume you have more of an explanation than simply insomnia.?

?I've been... a crazy person. And at a minimum I owe you an explanation. I haven't... been with anyone, since my wife. At my cousin's urging, I've been on a couple of dates, but they never went anywhere, because I wasn't ready for them to. But with you, I've felt... ready, I guess. For a relationship, I mean, not, uh-?

?To give me your second virginity??

?Well, if you want it, I guess, but...? he put his hand over hers, ?this feels right. For the first time in- God, it's been so long since anything has felt right. And there's a part of me that feels guilty about that, about even thinking about moving on. And I've...? he shut his eyes, ?I've been seeing my wife,? he openen them, ?as clear as I see you, there. Yesterday, I couldn't stop seeing her. And I don't know if it's a hallucination brought on by my guilt, or...?

?If the singularity's drawing out imagery from the past? Because it's theoretically possible. The light we see, coming out of Chris, it could be light from other moments in time, other places. And one of those might be the night your wife died.?

?I'm sure I would have remembered an aurora borealis there in the street,? he said.?

?You're a neurologist. You suffered two traumas that night, the physical damage from a rough car accident, and the death of your wife. Ignore that it's you, and that you feel like you should somehow live up to a different standard. If a patient came to you, with your symptoms, would you trust their version of events? Wouldn't you at least question whether or not there was something more??

?Probably. But I wasn't anywhere near Chris when it happened.?

?You wouldn't necessarily need to be. Chris is the epicenter of the event. But it's like a hurricane. It's strongest in the funnel, but the effects can be felt for miles.?

?So you don't think I'm a crazy person??

?Oh, I'm not saying that. One, I'm not that kind of doctor.?

?You've been waiting to say that since you met me, haven't you??

?Yes, indeed. And, two, you're seeing dead people. Maybe there's a rational explanation. But that rational explanation might very well be you're coocoo for Cocoa Puffs.?

?That's fair,? he grinned.

She turned her hand, so his fell into her palm. ?But bonkers or no, I'm glad you told me. Because as frustrating as parts of this have been, this feels like exactly where I'm supposed to be.?

?You're awfully big into predetermination, aren't you?? Kevin winced. ?My mom. Highly religious. She actually... we fought, after my wife died, because she told me it was God's plan for me. I can take making mistakes that hurt those I care about... I have more trouble with the idea that I'm suffering solely because someone else decided I should.?

?Well,? Claire thought about it a moment, ?that's the thing: it isn't predetermined at all. The first time, that initial reality, I probably became a piano teacher, married a plumber that was more Mario than Super, and sort of threw my wish into a well without knowing it would change my life. And now... it's like if there were a scientifically verifiable God, and I got to be one of his prophets. I'm...?


?Not literally, right? Because that would have serious consequences for my theories.?


?But can you imagine, if time travel was a communicable phenomena? The nature of our reality as a knowable constant would change forever. The world would be in constant flux. I can't help but wonder how... elastic reality is, whether or not there could be a critical mass where reality was bending and shift so much it broke.?

?I'm not sure I'm following...?

?Sorry. I think I fell into a theoretical black hole- you know, babbling about possibilities, but nothing escapes, not even coherence. But it's... I'm passionate about my research, and frequently that passion gets me into trouble. A ton of respected physicists have pontificated on the possibility of time travel. But I... well, like I said, I'm practically evangelizing. But it's because I know it changed my life. And I'm sure it can save yours. And Chris'. And I think similar events have changed countless lives, and by studying the phenomenon and understanding it, we can change and potentially save countless more. And maybe it?s just a silly little existential quest for meaning- but I think the existence of the quest is more important than whatever it might lead to.?

Kevin's watch started to beep. ?Crap,? he said.

?What?? Claire asked. ?Time for you to get all cold and stand-offish again??

?No,? he grinned, ?I have that penciled in for four-thirty this afternoon. That is to remind me that I've got a session to get to.?

?Oh?? she asked.

?Yeah,? he nodded at their waiter, and pantomimed signing the check.

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