August 9, 2013 by Lyn
Monday, July 26, 2004
“Reese.” Arnbjorg stepped into the suite, making Reese squeak.
“You can’t… You graduated.”
“Evie and Dyfri gave me an invite as long as they’re here.” The imposing woman shrugged. “It helps, with… stuff.”
Lee glanced up at her, and then turned his attention back to the TV. He’d almost beat this level; after months and months of… his brain skidded off of that. After all that time, he was so behind on games. But he almost had this level beat… damn. He dropped the controller. “Hi, Arna.”
“Hey, Lee. Reese.”
“What?” Lee’s Keeper… Sigh. His Keeper squeaked and squirmed. “What-what?”
Lee, awkwardly, patted Reese’s knee. “Hey. Calm down. You’re getting all squeaky again.” He couldn’t have done that with Mis… Tess and Lucian, but Tess and Lucian had been an entirely different kettle of fish than the squirrel who owned him now. “Arna’s your friend, right?” He was pretty sure Arna was Reese’s friend. You couldn’t always be a hundred percent certain with Reese, though.
“She’s yelling at me.” Reese sulked in Lee’s general direction.
Lee winced. “So far, all she’s said is your name. If saying you name is yelling, I’m in trouble. Right?”
“Saying my name isn’t yelling. Saying my name like that is yelling. Like I’m doing something wrong.”
“That’s because you’re doing something wrong, Reese, and you know it.” When she put it that way, Lee could see why Reese thought it counted as yelling. “You wouldn’t think I was yelling at you if you weren’t already feeling guilty.”
“It’s not fair.” Reese wrapped an arm around Lee’s shoulders and pulled Lee against herself. She’d gotten better; she didn’t choke Lee this time. “I barely got Lee before the school year ended.”
“And Tess and Lucian had him before that. It’s not fair to Lee to keep him collared.”
“Uh, I think I need to go… um… check on dinner?”
Lee squirmed out of Reese’s hands, only to get pulled back against her. “Arna, you’re getting Lee all worked up.”
“I’m upsetting you, Reese, and that’s upsetting him.”
“Same thing?” Times like this, REese sounded like a little kid. Other times, she sounded a thousand years old. Lee was pretty certain she wasn’t entirely stable. Then again, she had a squirrel Change. That had to do something to your head. “You can’t tell me what to do anymore.”
“I can always tell you what to do. You just don’t have to listen anymore.”
“See?” Reese squeezed Lee tight. “I don’t want to let him go yet.”
“Kitchen?” Lee tried again.
Reese squeaked. “Okay. Go ahead, if you want.” It took her a while to actually listen, but when she did, she usually was a lot more… thing. She let Lee get away with a lot more, at least.
Lee fled to the kitchen. In there, he could make a lot of noise, moving pots and pans around, pulling out ingredients, boiling water. If he banged stuff around enough, he couldn’t hear Arna still talking to Reese.
Lee had a lot of practice in not paying attention to things. Even after Tess and Lucian had… Tess and Lucian had… lasagna. He had been getting really good at lasagna lately, and it wasn’t like it got hot down in the catacombs here. He had everything he needed, too… and Reese liked lasagna. Reese ate like a fiend, but, other than the baby weight… baby weight… Reese didn’t ever really put on any weight. Of course, Lee had lost weight in the Change and then just… kept losing weight.
And no matter how much he ate, now, he didn’t really gain any. If he kept on like this, he was going to blow away in a stiff breeze.
Which, come to think about it, might be nice.
He looked up, barely remembering that people here liked to use full names. “Yeah, Arn… Arnbjorg?” He hoped desperately that he got that right.
“I apologize. I shouldn’t have talked about that in front of you.”
“Meh.” He shrugged. The filling had to be spread just right, and then the sauce, slipping over it. With the oregano.
“If you need anything, call me.”
“The phones don’t call out. I tried, but they just end up with me talking to the Director’s secretary, and she doesn’t like me.” Oregano, and then a bit of parsley, and then the noodles over all of that.
“If you dial seven-one first, then you get an outside number. But I’m in the Village for another two weeks, anyway.” She wrote down two numbers on a piece of paper and tucked the paper in Lee’s back pocket. He barely registered the touch.
“Why? I mean, your kids and your girlfriend boyfriend whatever, they’re out somewhere else, aren’t they? I mean, other than that kid…” He was pretty sure she was pregnant, at least, although how she’d managed that with a girlfriend, Lee really didn’t want to know. More parsley. Some garlic powder. More sauce.
“Jovanna.” Arna’s sigh blew Lee’s hair around. “I’m… well, I’ll be around for another two weeks.”
“Kay.” Lee didn’t really want to know. “Good luck and stuff.”
“Ilian…” She puffed his hair with another sigh. “Good luck, yourself. And don’t forget the cheese.”
“Cheese.” He knew something was off. “Cheese, lots of cheese. You’d think she was a mouse and not a squirrel.” He scooted the noodles up and dropped in some cheese.
When he looked back up, Arna was gone.
Tuesday, July 27, 2004
“Reese.” Efrosin stepped into the suite. Reese squeaked and dropped her game controller.
“You can’t… You graduated.”
“Evie and Dyfri gave me an invite as long as they’re here.” The cat-boy shrugged. “I figure they know I’m the only one you listen to.”
“Arna talked to me yesterday!”
Lee handed Reese back the controller. “Come on, we’re almost done with this level.” And if he could get Reese to focus on the game again, then Efrosin wouldn’t end up talking about… things. “The next level is where it gets really fun.”
“We’re playing a game right now, Eff.” Reese pressed herself against Lee and picked up where she’d left off. Lee let out a breath. This was a tricky level, and they’d almost died when Reese had gotten interrupted.
“I can wait.” Effrosin plopped down on the couch on the other side of Reese. “I haven’t played this game yet.”
“It’s just out. The first few levels kind of suck – left, Reese, left – but it gets more fun the further you go on, and it gets really challenging on the last few levels, Reese, left, then up.” Lee leaned forward, fingers flying to overcompensate for Reese’s slower moves and obvious distraction. “It’s not as good as my favorite games but it’s got a lot better two-player options.” He leaned back against the couch as they died anyway.
“Sorry, Lee.” Reese’s ears went down and her tail was limp. Lee patted her without really thinking about it.
“It’s okay. It’s not your fault we got interrupted.”
“I’ll make it quick, and you can get back to your games.” Efrosin twisted to look at Reese. “You know why I’m here.”
“You like Lee’s cookies?”
“I’ll go get some.” Lee stood up.
“Sit down, Lee.”
Lee sat down. Efrosin grabbed Reese’s shoulders and turned her so that both Reese and Lee were facing Efrosin straight on.
“Lee, I know this sucks, and I’m sorry.”
“Then why does everyone keep doing it? Look, I’m fine.” he looked at Efrosin’s ears. They had tufts. He wondered why tufts.
“I’d believe you more if you hadn’t said the same thing when you were Kept by Tess and Lucian.”
“I was fine then, too.” Reese was making little noises. He glanced over at her, but she was looking away from him. All he could tell was that her ears were doing the sad thing again, and her tail was curled all the way under her. “Reese… boss… what’s up?” The cat-boy wasn’t all that important. Like the boss had said, he’d graduated.
“Nothing.” She squeaked it out in that way that could mean anything at all. “You’re fine. You said it.”
“And he was fine before. What’s that tell you, Reese?”
“He’s mine now. I bargained for him fair and square. I didn’t cheat, I didn’t lie, I didn’t even trick anyone! He’s mine now!”
Lee felt the peculiar surge of happiness-misery-panic-happiness that always happened when Reese got all squirrel-with-its-nut-hoard about him, and then promptly ignored it. He picked up the video game controller. “Do you think I can get Akatil to help me wire the place for internet, next year? I mean, even intranet would be something.”
“Lee, you don’t want to stay collared forever.”
They were going to make him talk. If it wasn’t Efrosin, it would be Arna, or Dyfri, or Evie. Someone was going to keep pushing him, keep pushing Reese, until someone snapped. He really didn’t want to see what Reese looked like when she snapped. He’d seen an angry squirrel before. It was no fun at all.
“I don’t see how that has anything to do with anything. And I don’t see why you get to keep bullying Reese when she’s not yours anymore. You took the collar off. She gets to make decisions on her own now.”
“…Reese…?” The cat was looking like he’d swallowed something strange.
“It’a all right.” Reese shrugged. “He does that sometimes. Well, okay, all the time.”
“You didn’t like it when I did it.” The cat’s ears raked backwards. Lee had absolutely no idea what he was talking about, which kind of made him happy.
“You were Keeping me. It was different.” Reese patted Lee’s shoulder. “Lee’s okay.”
“I don’t think he is, not really. Have you talked to Dr. Mendosa?”
Not there again. Lee fiddled with the controller.
“I did.” Reese shrugged. “He doesn’t want to and I’m not going to force him. He tried it once, that’s all.”
Reese, in a rare display of real empathy, hadn’t asked any questions when Lee had come back from the shrink’s, and hadn’t made him go again. Lee didn’t understand why everyone thought that talking to shrinks was going to help, somehow.
“Maybe you ought to force him, if you’re going to keep him.”
“Oh, that’s helpful.” Lee glared at Efrosin. “And you’re such a good example of a good Keeper, too, that you get to lecture Reese about it.”
“Woah, woah.” And now the cat’s ears were flat against his head, and his tail was lashing. Reese was trying to hide behind Lee, which just made Lee all the angrier. “Where are you getting that? Where do you get off saying I’m a bad Keeper? Especially when I’m trying to help you!”
“Look at Reese. Just look at her. That’s how she gets whenever you come up.” Lee cuddled his Keeper protectively. “I might not be the brightest guy around, but that’s pretty obvious. You scare her.”
“Lee…” Reese peeked up at him through her tail. “It’s not… It’s…”
“Sometimes people need to be a little scared to stay in line. Otherwise they go wild. Met Lolly?”
“The nutjob? Yeah.” He didn’t like where this was going. But the cat was going to freaking keep talking.
Lee kept talking first instead. “Reese isn’t anything like Lolly. She’s not a nutjob.”
Efrosin made gestures with both hands that were probably supposed to be calming. Lee didn’t feel calmed. “No. Reese isn’t a nutjob-”
“Hee. Nuts.” Reese giggled into Lee’s side.
Efrosin kept going as if he hadn’t heard. “-but Reese isn’t the most stable squirrel, either. Well, that’s not a fair sentence. Reese is unstable because of the Change.”
“Hey.” Reese poked her head up. “I resemble that remark.”
“You do, squirrelface.” Efrosin patted Reese’s head. “I get it.”
“…What?” Lee looked down at Reese. “You’re okay with him saying that about you?”
“Well, it’s right. Our Changes, well, you know, Change us.” Reese shrugged. “I get really kind of MPD, if I’m not really focusing, and I get all over the place. Also, sometimes, evil.”
Lee glared at Reese. “You’re not evil.”
“Well, not normally. But, you know, amoral. Hoard-hoard-hoard.”
“Okay, so you hoard. What does that have to do with cat-boy here bullying you?”
Reese squirmed. “Everyone needs a conscience.”
“Most people have it built in. They don’t need someone yelling at them.” Lee knew about consciences. He was pretty sure he had one, back there in all the voices he’d shut up when he was… earlier in the year. It didn’t matter, so much. He didn’t have choices, much, to worry about whether or not he was doing the right thing.
“Yeah, well, most people…” Reese shrugged.
“Most people aren’t Ellehemaei.” Efrosin filled in the blank. “Most Ellehemaei don’t have animal Changes – okay, outside of Addergoole, most Ellehemaei don’t have animal Changes. And I really do try not to bully Reese, so I wish you’d stop calling it that.”
“What would you call it, when she cringes every time you talk?” Lee was sick of this guy. “Why don’t you just leave us alone?”
“Because Reese is my friend, and there are things… she… knows are wrong, that… she… is just ignoring. And sometimes, you need a friend to point out something that you already know. That’s what I’m for.”
Lee squirmed. “That’s stupid.”
“Sometimes it is. But Reese hasn’t asked me to leave yet, and I’ve always made it clear that if I’m asked to leave, I will.”
“No.” Reese shook her head. “Eff’s right. I mean, Eff is usually right, and Eff is really right this time. I don’t want to…”
“Don’t say it, okay? Not now? Not now.” Lee could remember, vaguely, what it had felt like when Tess and Lucian had handed him over to Cynara, and the second jerk when Cya had passed him to Reese. He didn’t want to feel that again. He sure as hell didn’t want to even think about it around the cat-boy.
“Not now.” Reese nodded. “Not today. I promise.”
Lee relaxed. Efrosin was sulking, but he could go and sulk all he wanted. He nodded at the game. “Play winner?” he offered.
“Sure. But only if you give me the controller Reese hasn’t been using. Teeth marks.”
Wednesday, July 28, 2004
When Dyfri walked into the living room and said “Reese” in that disappointed tone of voice, Lee almost threw his controller into the guy.
Reese patted his knee, though, so he didn’t do anything. Well, he killed another ogre, but that was what he’d been doing when Dyfri walked in.
“Eff talked to me. And Arna talked to me. And Evie tried, but she’s really bad at it.” Reese shrugged. “I know what I’m doing this time, Dyfri. And if everyone keeps yelling at me, they’re only going to freak Lee out.”
Lee was already freaked out. Ogres. He was killing ogres.
“You have your sincere voice on, Reese.”
“It usually works on you.” Reese was grinning; Lee could tell from her voice.
“I did a Quipia before I walked in here.”
“That’s totally cheating!” And, all of a sudden, Reese was angry again. Without thinking about it – he’d get all stupid if he tried thinking about it, anyway – Lee grabbed her leg and pulled her into his lap before she got the tantrum really started.
“Easy, squirrel girl. I’ve got you.” He pushed her against his chest and held her tight. Early experience (And a few pointers from Arna) had shown him that he had to pretty much immobilize her for about a minute. Otherwise she’d scratch and claw and scream, and it wasn’t fun for anyone (herself included). “Hold on, hold on. I’ve got you.”
She got an arm free enough to scratch him, but he was getting good at this, and he kept her tight enough that she couldn’t do himself or her any real harm. Fifty-eight, fifty-nine… he counted the seconds in his head. Sixty three, sixty-four…
“I’m okay.” She squirmed in his arms. “I’m okay, Lee. Il-lee-an.”
That was the cue, and he released her. He had this urge to apologize, so instead he patted both of her arms for a few moment.
Dyfri shook his head. “You’re sure you know what you’re doing?”
He was asking Reese, but Lee answered anyway. “I’ve got this.”
“Do you really know…”
Lee was getting sick of this. “Fourth Keeper this year. I think I know what I’m doing. And none of the rest of you are sleeping with her, or taking care of her little fits, or doing anything but yelling at her, so, if you don’t mind, could you go away and let me do my job?”
“Your job?” Dyfri looked snotty and constipated and was probably trying to look doubtful.
Lee wasn’t having any more of his shit. “My job. Yeah. Helping my Keeper out. Right?” He patted Reese on the head uncertainly. “She’s my Keeper, I take care of her.”
“It’s okay. He does that.” Reese wiggled into a more comfortable position. “I know what I’m doing, Dyfri. And I talked to Dr. Mendosa about it, too, so this isn’t just me being squirrelly.”
“You’re squirrelly all the time, Reese.”
Lee’s temper got the better of him. “You’re fishy all the time, but you don’t hear us complaining, do you? You heard her. We’ve got this.”
“Fine, fine.” Fish-face held up both hands. “I won’t interfere. But I’m just trying to help.”
“Yeah, well, don’t.”
Lee glared at Fish-face until he retreated into his room. “Geeze, what a jerk.”
“They really are trying to help, Lee.”
“What, by…” The voices in his head that might be his conscience and might be his eroded sanity finally got too loud for him to ignore. “…by getting you to let me go. Because, what? They care now that school is over?”
“Because it’s only supposed to last until the school year ends. That’s why Evie released Luna, even though she didn’t want to. I mean, not everyone does…”
“But otherwise, you’re stuck in school all summer or you spend the whole time wondering what your Keeper is up to.” For the first time in ages, Lee tugged on his collar. Most of the time, he just ignored its presence. “That would suck. Going home without you, I mean.”
“I know.” Reese patted his shoulder.
“Being away from your Keeper isn’t fun.”
Lee twisted until he could actually look Reese in the eye. “Getting let go sucks, too.”
“I know.” Reese hugged him. “I remember, when Efrosin let me go. It sucked. I destroyed my bed.”
“Chewed it up.” Reese colored a little. “I’d Keep you forever if I could.”
A warm surge of happiness washed over Lee. I’m good. She wants to Keep me. Somewhere deep in his mind, a tiny voice was sounding alarms. Lee ignored that voice. All it ever did was get him in trouble. “Wrap me up and put me in a tree, that sort of thing? Because if we could wire the tree for internet, well, maybe that would be okay then, but if I didn’t have my games and why doesn’t this place have internet?”
Reese stopped him with a kiss, which was probably the nicest way to get shut up. “If I ever put you in a tree – or a pumpkin shell, or anything like that – I promise it will have internets. And power.”
It was probably the kiss, more than the promise – a tree with internet! – but Lee relaxed a little bit. “It better. And room for a TV.”
“Of course. You’re adorable when you’re nerdy.”
Lee hated adorable but from Reese it just mostly felt good. He smiled, knowing it was a goofy sort of expression. “So, always?”
“Always.” She took a breath. “I’m sorry, Lee.”
“Sorry for what? I mean, I like being here. You’re a lot better than… You’re just better. And you can cook, which is nice, and you play video games, which is even nicer. And there’s only one of you.” Lee’s brain skittered away from that. There was a reason only one of Reese was a good thing. He didn’t want to think about that, any more than he wanted to think about why Reese would be sorry.
“I like you.” It was lame and silly and it was true.
“I like you, too, Lee. And I really do want to shove you in a tree and keep you forever. But…”
“No, no, I can’t hear you.” He put his hands over his ears and closed his eyes. “La, la, la, red butterflies and pink zebras and I can’t hear you.” He peeked with one eye to see if it was working, just in time to see Reese reaching for his collar. “No, no-no-no, no, come on, please, I’m good, I’ve been good I don’t even care about the… I’ll call you whatever you want me to call you, Please?”
The collar was off. Lee’s neck felt weird. He closed his eyes again, but Reese had her hands around his wrists. She was moving his hands. She was a lot stronger than she looked, or maybe he just couldn’t really fight her.
“I’m sorry, Lee. I release you.”
Snap. It felt like a rubberband breaking, like the worst whiplash ever, like someone cutting all of his strings. It felt like he had failed at everything he’d ever tried, as if he’d never be allowed to succeed at anything, ever. It felt like a weight lifting off his chest, and like sudden unplanned freefall.
Lee looked at the squirrel who’d been Keeping him. At the… squirrel pregnant with his kid. Squirrel. Not girl. And sh… it… Reese had bought him from Cynara, who had bought him from Thessaly and Lucian for reasons unknown and sold him for reasons just as unknown. And Tess and Lucian, who had, who had…
Lee fled. He pulled out of Reese’s grip and took off running, rebounding off walls, ricocheting when he missed a turn, heading nowhere but away, away from his own mind and the terrible thoughts that suddenly wouldn’t shut up.
Saturday, July 31, 2004
“Lee?” The thump on the door sounded like the coach, and so did the voice. “Lee, let me in.”
“I don’t have to.” He still had a few trips he needed to make to the Store, but he could do those late at night; the late-night lady didn’t seem to care what he did, as long as he was quiet about it and let her read.
“No, you don’t. But I’d like you to, anyway.”
“I don’t have to.” It was an odd feeling. He was pretty sure he still needed to eat, and he’d been sleeping a lot, but he didn’t have to do almost anything else. Even think.
“No, you don’t. I can’t force my way in – and I wouldn’t, anyway. But I’d like it if you’d come out for a bit.”
“Why?” He could barely hear the coach through the door, but it was enough.
“Several people are worried about you.”
“People are always worried about me.” Lee shrugged, even though he knew the coach couldn’t see him. “Let them be worried.”
“Lee, Reese is worried about you.”
He could hear – or maybe imagine – the irritation in the coach’s voice. The coach was always irritated with Reese. “Leave her alone.” He thought about that for a second. Longer than he wanted to think about Reese right now – or about anything – but she needed that much. “Leave me alone, too. Tell Reese I’m okay?”
“I don’t lie to my students, Lee.”
“You’re not going to go away unless I talk to you, are you?”
“I am not.” There was the sound of someone sitting down outside. Maybe the flapping of wings.
Lee sighed. “All right, one minute.” He moved a few sandbags and a couple of bricks, until he could pull the door open. “I’m here.”
Sunday, August 1, 2004
Ceinwen was having trouble focusing.
It wasn’t as if she was surprised by that: she was home for the summer, after a school year unlike any she had ever known before. She had a baby boy, who was a handful and a half even if he wasn’t, technically, a baby owlbear. She was trying to talk to her old friends, without giving anything away about Addergoole, and without revealing how out-of-place she felt.
That would have been more than enough.
The worst part, for her, was that she missed Thorburn. Not with the ache of the bond; that had faded over the last month and a half. This was an empty feeling in the bed, a turn-to-talk-to-him sort of sensation. It was weird.
She’d picked up the phone to dial him at least once a day since she got home. Only once had she actually dialed – and she’d gotten no answer. That had used up her courage (or need, or whatever it was) for another two weeks.
She’d started dreaming about him after that, though. She couldn’t tell if that made it easier or harder. It made her sleep shorter, that much she knew – and Quill, her baby owlbear, was already doing enough of that on his own.
Thorburn’s dreams were troubled, or, at least, Ceinwen’s dreams of Thorburn were troubled. She was states away from him; it seemed unbelievable that she’d be able to touch his sleep the way she had when she’d been sleeping against him.
Then again, she had turned into a swan-maiden, and she’d been living with… Thor’s bear?… in a magical slavery. Her thoughts about “believable” had changed a lot in the last year.
“Like you, little owlbear.” She kissed her son’s forehead. “Like… like liking Thorburn.”
Annnd she was talking to an infant. About love. She glanced over at the phone. Maybe… What could it hurt?
Well, everything. Going home for the summer had been her way of reminding Thorburn and herself that he didn’t own her anymore. It had also been her way of trying to remember what normal was.
If the dreams were any indication, she’d succeeded in the first. As for the second, she was pretty sure her inability to focus was just as much of an indication. “I think ‘normal’ is gone for us, owlbear.” And what did that leave?
Well, it left abnormal. And her-and-Thorburn really counted as abnormal. She picked up the phone.
She had the number memorized. She hadn’t actually called him, not really, but she’d certainly dialed it enough times in her mind.
One ring. Two rings.
She caught her breath. He sounded like he looked in her dreams – a little bit lost and a little bit rough around the edges.
She gathered herself together. Her neck was bare. She had to remember that. “Ah. Hi.”
“Ceinwen?” His voice rose half an octave and nearly cracked. “Damn… Ceinwen, is that you?”
She cleared her throat. “Yeah. Yeah, it’s me. I thought… Well… Hi.”
The pause was long enough to be painful. “Hi.”
Addergoole: Year Nine updates every Wednesday evening EST. Want more?