The Old New
rating: +14+x

Chapter II.II

It was another Sunday morning. The meeting was in some hours from now. I couldn't go back to sleep, so I sat up on my bed and wondered what there was to do with my time. I eyed my computer, and thought of how much preparation I could be getting done, which made me wince. That can wait, I assured myself. There has to be something else to do.

My eyes scanned the environment.

My room wasn't much bigger than my office. Well, my previous office, anyways. The rectangular sliver, to the left of the shed; there was a tiny hallway when you came in, to the left of which was a door to my bathroom. Past that came a bedroom you could tell was just the left half of a large storage room at some point. Some of the insulation was visible, the wooden floor looked cheap. My bed sat next to the tiny window on the left wall. On the right was a TV on the drawers where I kept my clothes that didn't need to hang. To the left of that was my desk, which I used for whatever work I could do from home. On the far wall was my closet, built into the wall with sliding doors. It wasn't a prestigious room.

But it was my room, and just being in my room was an instantaneous relief. These walls were shields between my world and their worlds. I sighed, and my body sighed with me. Home. Privacy.

Privacy. My mind clung to the word. Oh, I realized, right. There was something I was supposed to be doing, which I had been putting off doing, which I had been trying not to think about how I'd been putting off doing it. Something that required seclusion.

I winced again. Really? I tried to search for an excuse, but the only thing my eyes came back to was the computer. Work. Before lunch? No, I wasn't going to do work on a Sunday. Fine. I stood up, and breathed through my teeth. It was something to do.

Despite the feeling of privacy, to make this room actually private would be a real hassle. The first things to do would be to turn everything off, so I went to my desk and shut down my laptop. I followed that up by pulling my phone out of my pocket and powering that down as well; I then stuffed both inside a drawer with my socks and underwear, partially burying them before closing.

Those were the most obvious devices I could think to be suspicious of. For good measure, I also draped a blanket over the television, closed the curtains to my room (who knows what vantage points there were), and turned off the light. I learned at some point that the Supervisors had bugged my mom's house in San Diego all those years ago. Knowing what I did, I wasn't as upset about it as I probably should have been. I understood, on a level, the objective. But that didn't make me any less paranoid.

Alright, I thought to myself, that should do it. I slid open my closet and pushed some hanging dresses out of the way to locate a cardboard box. My (somewhat) secret stash. I kept it right next to the ventilation to keep the chocolates cold in summer, stubbornly refusing to simply use my fridge for something so special. It worked… for the most part. I grabbed the entire box and brought it to my bed, pulling it and myself under the covers. I fished a flashlight out of my pocket that I had grabbed from the kitchen (it was only recently that I had started wearing jeans again; in the past seven years, I had shunned them, but something changed recently and I wasn't sure what).

I opened the box, dug through the truffles, and located the letter.

The letter in the yellow envelope, with the curly purple writing that read: Open Me at your Earliest Convenience. I frowned slightly. This was definitely not my first and earliest convenience, not to mention that this wasn't the most private location, though I'd done my best. I was lightly curious why I hadn't been more eager to open the letter before, but I pushed that feeling out of mind as I began to tear at the edges of the smooth paper.

As the gum of the envelope parted, a smell began to spill out into the tent I'd made around myself with the blankets. It was something I couldn't place rightly, but it was something smooth, creamy, and outdoorsy. Sandalwood, I thought.

As I pulled the folded letter out, the aroma became stronger. I was struck by how fancy the presentation was; it felt and looked like tissue paper. My flashlight passed right through it. As an opposite to the envelope, it was purple, and was written on with what might have been literal gold ink. The penmanship was so beautiful I took a moment just to appreciate it.

But the moment was brief.

Hello,
I think you will find this letter uniquely sparse, and for that I apologize, but there are simply other considerations. Considerations of privacy, I mean. In case this falls into the wrong hands, it would be nice to not have names attached. I'm sure you'll agree.
For now, all I am here to do is tell you how to establish a more private contact between us. And, as proof that you are who you should be, I'll give you something only a select few can decode. It's a bit of a drive, but it's bushwhacked. I believe someone called it their "thinking spot". I'm certain you know who, and I'm certain you know where, and I'm certain very few others do. It might not be the best code but it should be good enough. Write a letter with any questions you may have, bring it there, and you'll know what to do with it.
Sincerely,
Someone Mysterious
P.S. I really don't mean to be obtuse, but as long as we have to, it's fun to play into it, isn't it? I think so. So while we're playing it up, you might want to burn or otherwise destroy this letter as soon as you have all the necessary details memorized.

That was annoying, but replaying everything I had to do to feel safe even reading it, I couldn't stay upset too long. I stuffed the letter back into the envelope, and then the envelope back into the box, and grabbed two white chocolate truffles.

I got out of bed, put the stash away, pulled the curtains open and the blanket off the TV, replaced my phone in my pocket and my laptop on my desk, and then turned the light back on. Alright. If they really did have surveillance of my shed, that would have looked terribly suspicious, but I wasn't sure if there was anything they could do about it. Confront me? The Supervisors were certainly not supposed to be monitoring us at this point. Not so closely, anyways.They would only be able to have their suspicions, and that was all I was going to give them.

A knock at my door startled me.

"Breakfast's ready," Anders said.

"Coming."

At the table, I took few bites. I was trying to write my response in my head.




The cafe was small, brown, and had that strong local feeling that made me trust any business more. The squeaky floors, the unpolished corners, the waiters without perfect manners, whose smiles were genuine or weren't there at all. Something made it more human than Starbucks or Dutch Bros., and just by being human they could serve the same things and have them taste better. I sipped at an iced chai latte, my feet dangling off of the tall stool by the bar.

Alex sat next to me, with his dimpled cheeks and boyish face. He looked a lot younger than he was, and he was already considerably young. He had this Irish look to him. Green eyes, reddish hair, a modest peppering of freckles. He once had pale skin, but he'd been tanning due to how much time he spent outdoors. He met my eyes, and grinned a bit, before sipping his coffee. He wasn't a black coffee type. His was actually a mocha — chocolate, sugar, cream, the whole thing. "Coffee tastes best when it doesn't taste like coffee," he once told me. I didn't like coffee to begin with, so I guess I understood.

"Big move, then, huh?"

"Big move," I responded. I'd just gotten out of the meeting which penned me in as Tim Wilson's successor. The turnout was larger than the meeting of the previous week — jack-of-all-trades Hagimatsu Yufuyu showed up, as well as our Head of Communications Gary Harp, a good number of the Castaways, and even Alex Molina if only to show his support. Noticeably absent was Robin… and noticeably unenthused was Dr. Yana.

"How does it feel? Any different from before."

I sipped my chai. "It does feel different. But, somehow, not by… much. I mean, as they said, I already was doing most of the job. I'm just official now."

"Yeah. Seems like a big leap in responsibility, though. Correct me if I'm wrong, but before that was mostly by choice, right? Now, it's going to be your job, as in, what you get paid for. That's different."

"It's different," I agreed.

"Kind of exciting though, right?"

"Mmm…" I thought for a moment. "Exciting? It's, well, it means I'm going to be spending a lot more time at the Shelter. I'm probably going to get to know a lot more people, I'm going to be required at every meeting. I'm going to have to memorize the Boring Agreement. On the other hand I'll get paid better. Actually I'll get to decide what I get paid so that's nice."

Alex smiled. "Gonna upgrade from the shed?"

"I don't think scraping that much off the top would be in the spirit of a non-profit."

He chuckled, and I smiled back at him. "I dunno, feels like you should get a house at some point."

"Do I need one, really? My house is a bed and a fridge."

"That reminds me, you and I should learn fencing from Alice."

"As I've said before, I love that idea, but when? I didn't have much free time before, and now I'm going to have even less."

"Well, how about doing that instead of going out for coffee?"

I pouted a bit. "But I like our coffee dates."

"Heheh," he looked out the window opposite us. "I like them too. I, uh," he took my free hand I had on the counter, "I remember when I first asked you out to go on a coffee date. You said you didn't like coffee."

I chuckled. "That wasn't very polite of me."

"No," he laughed with me, "it wasn't! But, I pushed and, well, here we are, the very same cafe."

"It's a nice cafe."

"It is! But, you know, I'd like to change things up a bit, right?"

I took a sip. "No more cafes?"

"Not no more cafes, just, less cafes."

I nodded, silently mourning the loss of the cafe regularity. "Alright. I'll ask Alice if she'll teach us tonight."

Alex smiled, and rubbed a thumb into my palm. He then turned back towards the window, and took a drink of his mocha. We sat in comfortable silence, looking at the cars passing by, and admiring the distant treeline, thanking the room temperature for allowing me to have an iced chai and him to have a hot mocha without either of us feeling uncomfortable. For this reason, separating winter drinks and summer drinks never made sense to me.

"Umm, speaking of Alice… how's everyone recovering?"

"Recovering?" He only raised his eyebrows at me. "Oh, right. I think we've reached normalcy. It's been over a month, you know."

"I know."

"Alice was the first to get back on her feet. I think it must have something to do with her 'rituals'. Chanting, meditating. Oh, and ritual as in routine. Like fencing. Or jogging. She's become a lot more active recently and that's definitely a consequence of Tim. But she runs the library fine, and she smiles, and she's gotten back into her habits."

"Smiles?" Alex asked, and I let out a huff of amusement.

"Yes, she does sometimes. You see it more often when you live with her. After that, Anders followed suit, though he was a lot less…" I fished for an appropriate word. "A lot more… no, what I mean to say is that… I expected it to affect him. It didn't affect him more than I expected it to. He just showed it more than I expected."

"Oh mhmm."

"I thought he'd be the type to try and push on and pretend nothing happened. So that came as a surprise. I would say Robin is still reeling a bit. That brings us to the present."

"What about you?"

"Hmm?" I fiddled about with my cup.

Alex let some time pass. I didn't respond.

"How are you feeling?"

"Oh. I'm alright."

Alex looked uncomfortable. He returned his gaze to the window, but didn't bring his cup to his lips. He just sat there. I stared at him for a bit, and then joined him in gazing. Someone outside was walking a dog. Looked to be an untrained puppy, the way it jumped and gazelle'd about. The lady was having trouble keeping her hat from getting taken by the wind, but combined with the dog dragging her this way and that, it looked like a cartoon.

"Fae?"

"Mmm?"

"We haven't talked much recently. Since your dad died, I mean."

"Mmm." I sipped at my chai.

"I know you must have a lot of strong feelings. Alright? I mean, when my great uncle died, it was… maybe the worst three months of my life. I know people grieve differently. But I want to let you know that I'm here. Always. Okay?"

I looked him straight in the eyes, but waited.

"That's all I wanted to say. I'm here. If ever you need me."

I looked down. "Thank you."

"No need for… yeah, you're welcome, is what I meant to say."

I scooted the stool close to him and pulled him into a hug. Into his unkempt hair, I said: "If I need to talk to anyone, I'll talk to you."

"Thanks." He swallowed. "Alright, and if you don't tell me, tell someone, alright?"

"Alright."

I pulled away, and sipped at my chai again. It was sweet. It was caffeinated. It was all I could really hold onto at that moment. Well, and Alex. I thought he was very sweet too.

"Are you looking for company the rest of the day?"

I always appreciated how forward Alex was. "No, I think I'm going to go home and while it away somehow."

"Alright." He flashed me a smile, but it disappeared as he turned to look out the window again. I decided it would be best to ignore.




I pulled into the driveway, parked, and exited the car. It was a warm August afternoon with a bit more cloud cover than expected. The Wilson's house is big, brown, and unremarkable. While it itself is tied to no farm, it was clearly meant to be at some point. It is sandwiched between a field of corn and a pasture of sheep. The shed I lived in was on the sheep side, and they had come close to the fence where I could reach them through the chainlinks. I strode over, and scratched at the wool behind their ears.

"Welcome back, Fae." Alice's nasal alto came out muffled from somewhere behind me. I turned around, and saw her outfitted in fencing gear; the beekeeper-like mask, the white plastic armor, and her purple lamé.

"Hi Alice. Is all of that necessary?"

"Tournament coming up. I have to practice in the suit."

"Aren't you hot in there?"

"Sweating like a pig."

I took myself from the fence and walked closer to the dummy she was practicing on. "How much practice can you really get out of a dummy?"

"Not a ton," Alice admitted while shoving her foil into the center of the thing's chest. "Takes a good deal of imagination. For right now, I'm trying to imagine he's backing away from me while I lunge. That's why I'm lurching forward so much. I'm practicing my balance."

I watched her demonstrate the very thing she just described several times. From an untrained eye such as mine, her movements seemed fluid, her footing well placed. Her foil hit its target — even if said target was absolutely stationary. After a minute or so of observation, she lifted her mask, and looked at me.

"Why the sudden interest?"

"Mmm? Oh, Alex was talking about fencing today."

"Alex?"

"My partner."

"What about it?"

"Uhh…" I stood in place for another moment, trying to sort my thoughts. "Just general interest."

She raised the foil at me, its pointed end nearing my chin. "Tell him I'd be thrilled to have a sparring buddy." In true Alice style, she didn't sound thrilled. She put her mask back on and returned to her lunges at the dummy, whose base was twisted with overgrown grass.

"He doesn't have any practice."

"Not a problem. I love winning."

Alice grinned at me briefly, and then resumed her routine. I shrugged, and turned to walk inside through the glass sliding door into the dining area.

"Oh, and congratulations."

Alice's voice made me pause, but only for a moment. Then, I walked inside, and found Anders cooking again.

"Hey, brother."

He turned around and smiled at me. "Hi Fae."

"Cooking again?"

"It's the new norm. And I'd like to repeat what Mom said. Congratulations."

"Thanks."

"Life's turning a new page, and the Shelter is getting new management. It's kind of exciting, isn't it?"

"Well, you certainly seem to be in good spirits."

"I'm just looking forward."

"To what?"

"No, just looking forward. Seeing the future. The rest of life. How did your date go?"

I sidled into the kitchen, and pulled the open recipe book towards me. Without taking in the actual dish, I looked through the ingredients and made note of everything that needed to be chopped or diced. I pulled a bell pepper towards me, took a knife off the rack, and started to work.

"Our date went very well, as always."

"Thanks for the help."

"No problem. Your good mood is contagious."

"Anxious about work tomorrow?"

I shrugged. "Not particularly."

"I'm sure that will change."

I continued to dice the pepper in silence, as Anders put on a pot of water and poured olive oil into a skillet. I don't think it will, I thought to myself. Aromas filled the kitchen as onions began to fry, dusted with several spices, the strongest of which I could pick out as cumin.

"Speaking of change, Robin said to bring the dinner up to him."

"He's not going to eat with us?"

"No."

I put the pepper aside, and began to peel a cucumber. I didn't have anything I really wanted to say about that so I elected to say nothing. Anders respected my silence for the moment, but turned to me while stirring the onion, spices, and recently dumped-in peppers.

"I think you ought to talk to him."

"Mmm," I responded.

"He's really upset that neither him nor I got the job. I'm sure you caught that." Time passed. "Ever since Dad made the Shelter, it was sort of assumed one of us was the next one up to bat, right? Family businesses and all. You weren't in the picture at the time that we, as teens, put two and two together."

"Are you upset?"

"Not at all. You're the best person for the job."

I avoided eye contact. The cucumber was a perfect excuse; ribbons of dark green skin flaked into the trashcan to my right.

"I've already tried talking sense into him," Anders continued at a low volume, "I just think reaching out, you know, closing the distance between you and him could be good. For the both of you."

I nodded, but it served the same purpose as a shrug would. Acknowledgment. In reality, I sorted out the request, and filed it somewhere in the back of my head, but I didn't care to remember under what heading. Into a cabinet it went. The drawer pushed in, and suddenly everything was flush against the wall again. With each nod, a stray paper clip tink-ed against a metal corner in the maze of information.

Anders smiled at me, and then turned back to stirring. I looked over my shoulder at him and paused. A deep breath passed through me like a draft swings through a cave. I finished peeling the cucumber, cut it into slices, and then put the knife down.

Dinner was uneventful, if a little bit quiet. It took effort to forget that there was one less voice.




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