Old Ventures 2, Ch. 22

“Thank God,” Rose said, hanging up her phone. “That was Jack. They got Jalal and his family away safely. Ian has a friend in Canadian intelligence with some pull.”

India looked up from a cardboard box of supplies, “Friend?” She wrinkled her nose. “Ew.”

“He’s pretty sure they can get Jalal and his family settled there.”

India carried the box over to a similar stack. She marked the packing slip, and put it inside the box. “So our boys are all safe?” she asked.

“Boys?” Rose asked with a light laugh. “It’d warm their cockles to hear you call them that.”

“I was describing their maturity, not their decrepitude.”

“I’m hurt,” Laney said, mock-pouting from the door. “They’re resettling someone and didn’t even call me?”

“He’s Iraqi,” India said.

“Ah,” Laney said, her smile fading. “My contacts wouldn’t have helped get around the travel ban. If they were here already, like the people in the lobby, maybe, depending on the court challenges.” She parted the blinds to look at the parking lot, where ICE agents were sitting in a car with their logo on the side. “But with our own private Gestapo out there…”

“It’s why we didn’t ask,” Rose said. “Otherwise, we know you’d have moved Heaven and Earth to help us.”

“You may be giving me too much credit,” Laney said.

“I’m not sure there is such a thing,” Rose said, leaning her head on Laney’s shoulder. “Actress, inventor, aid worker, and wrangler of a certain aloof metal man’s affections…”

“Yeah,” India said, “credit where it’s due. I was beginning to think Hugh was just always going to be a confirmed bachelor his whole life, and then…”

“We’re failing the Bechdel test, ladies,” Laney said.

“We don’t have to talk about your love life,” India said with a shrug.

“But we don’t understand your research,” Rosie said.

“And your aid work is frankly exhausting to even think about, let alone keep up with.”

“That’s true,” Laney said. “But that’s why it’s important. There’s too much to do. Too many people in need of help. Which is why I need to get back out there. Though I promise I didn’t come back here to crack the whip. It’s exhausting work, as much emotionally as physically. And if you don’t take the time to take care of yourself, you’ll burn out, and miss out on helping more people in the long run. So you two take whatever time you need.”

“We’re pretty resilient ladies,” India said.

“Plus, the menfolk have notched a success under their belts,” Rose said, standing a little taller. “We need to do at least as much good as they have.”

“Under their belts? Jack’s poor under-belt area…” Rose raised her eyebrows at India. “What? Stop looking at me like that.”

“Like what?”

“Like I’m spending too much time thinking about your husband’s under-belt area.”

“You’re only human,” Rose said. “I had to make my peace with Jack being in an entire generation’s rotation.”

“No, um, for literally years I thought he might be my father, and I never understood the appeal of an Elektra complex, so…”

Rose laughed. “Can’t say I’m sad to lose the competition. No one could ever keep up with him, but especially at my age…”

“Don’t be a dummy,” India said. “You’re his world- you and Joe.”

“Maybe,” Rose said. “But his world has been in turmoil, and I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to calm those seas… especially not when it all falls to me…”

India took Rose’s hand, and squeezed it. “It’ll be okay,” she said, her voice betraying a gentility she usually kept hidden behind a layer of cynicism. “There isn’t anything you and Jack can’t get through… but you know, if you need help, we’re here, all of us. Whatever you need.”

“I think,” Rose sucked her lips, and wiped a tear away, “I think I need the world to live up to what Jack expects of it. He’s, he’s easily the best man I’ve ever known, and sometimes… he can’t help but expect the rest of us to live up to the same standard. And we can’t. I know that, I know it from nearly a lifetime married to him. But we’ve never fallen so far from that ideal before. We don’t have to be perfect, but… we need to be better than this, do better than we have. Otherwise, I think we’re killing him.”

“Rose, I-” a crash from the front of the office interrupted her.

“Later,” Rose said, listening for more.

“You armed?” India asked.

Rose made fists through a pair of leather gloves. “You?”

“Always,” India said, and opened her jacket to show her a revolver in a shoulder holster.

They crept cautiously to the swinging door separating the stock room from the front office. Rose flattened her palm against the door, and pressed so that she could see through a sliver of space between the door and its frame. Screams filtered through, and Rose saw a woman leap over the counter. “It’s a riot,” Rose said, and let the door close.

“What happened?” India asked.

“And what do we do?”

Laney pushed her way in, wrapping her bloodied hand in her shawl. “Whatever the hell we can,” she said.

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