June 3, 2016 by Lyn
Let me take the wheel and I’ll crash this car
Do you have to make this so hard?
Kailani spent Sunday morning racking her brain for an answer that wouldn’t come. It was a relatively new experience, and she found it off-putting, disconcerting, even frustrating. She did her best to go through the motions of the day without talking about it, but apparently she was more transparent than she would have wished; Taro questioned her as they headed out to the Team Misfit study session.
“What’s been eating you this morning? You were practically in another world at breakfast. Something going on?”
How could she answer that, when the answer was that she didn’t know how to tell him something? Here she was, on the way to a group meeting, a practice, a strategy session, with a group that she intended to make lose. To ask if they would lose, for her, for their classmates. Getting some of the worst Keepers away from their charges for a few weeks was the right thing to do; and their team didn’t have a single Keeper on it. Except her, of course; but she wasn’t a bad Keeper. Was she?
“There’s just so much going on,” she replied. “I’m trying to keep up with everything, and learn everything, and do right by Conrad… am I doing right by Conrad?”
“Hell, you’d have to ask him that, really. Trick is, he may not know the straight answer, much less be able to tell you.”
That was what she was afraid of. They’d been doing so much better. He seemed honestly happy with her. How much of that was real, though, and how much was this thing she’d done to him?
“There’s no way to know for sure, is there?”
“It’s not an objective measure anyway, Kai. This may come as a shock to you, but you can’t use science on feelings. There are no hard and fast rules, no controlled environment, and sometimes you only get one try at it. Think about this though – you cared enough to be concerned with how you’re doing.”
She mulled over that one for a moment. “I’ve never done it before, though… been a Keeper, I mean,” she blurted hurriedly. “Wouldn’t it be natural to worry about how I was doing?”
“You’d like to think that. Plenty of people just take a stab in the dark and bull ahead.”
“That seems pretty irresponsible.” She looked at him thoughtfully, and added, a bit hesitantly, “especially with children involved.”
“Well, Maureen ends up with a lot of them… hell, maybe most of them. Enough of the mothers either don’t care or can’t do it.”
“I can’t say I blame them,” Kai admitted. She would have to face the reality of what was going on in her body soon enough, and… “a forced pregnancy, from someone they didn’t choose,” she frowned, and changed the subject. “What about you and Megan?”
“Carrig’s grandma takes care of him mostly.” Sudden terseness, check. Clipped words, check. Faint scowl, check. It was a sore subject. She was getting better at this! She nodded her understanding. “I don’t know what I’ll do,” she mused. It was easier to think about in the abstract – child care, rather than a baby inside of her.
“Ah. Are you, then?”
“Probably.” She really should get around to getting to the doctor’s. “How good a chance do you think we have of winning?”
“Probably?” He stopped her, turning in the hall. “Go talk to Caitrin, Kai. We can start without you. Honestly, we’ve got a shot if we’re lucky, but I wouldn’t bet on it anyway.”
She winced. “Let’s talk about it a little bit, and then I’ll go to Caitrin’s, okay?” She didn’t want to. She didn’t want to hear she wasn’t carrying Conrad’s baby, didn’t want to be carrying Anatoliy’s child.
“Okay,” he nodded, waiting for her to continue.
“Inside?” she suggested, indicating the door to Wren’s nest.
“Yeah, okay. I’m serious, though.”
“Okay.” She took a breath as she knocked on the door. “I promise I will visit Dr. Caitrin’s office by the end of the day today, regarding my potential pregnancy.” She swallowed the last word with a gulp, as the air wiggled and popped. “Even if I am, it’s still very early on, Taro.”
“I know,” he said, with maybe even a touch of sympathy. “It’s better to know, though.”
He was just finishing his sentence when Wren opened the door and invited them in.
Kai took a deep breath as she found a place to settle on a soft cushion. They were the last ones there today, having dallied in the hall; she was running out of excuses to not bring up her idea. Well, if nothing else, talking about throwing the competition would distract her from her other concerns.
She looked around the gathered group, and took a deep breath. “I’ve been talking to a lot of people about Keeping, and how bad of situations some people are in,” she started.
“Bad situations?” Wren asked, tilting her head sideways like the bird she was named for.
“Yes,” she started, and then faltered. “Abusive?” she offered hesitantly.
“I’ve heard about some of that,” Caity nodded.
“Yeah,” Nydia whispered.
“So, how is that relevant to what we’re doing here?” Ren asked, shifting uncomfortably.
Kai shifted, no more comfortably. “Well… what if some of those Keepers left town for a while?”
Taro, at least, hadn’t caught on yet. “Left town?”
“Won the contest,” she clarified.
“Y’know, that’s not a bad idea,” Caity said brightly; then, her face fell. “Wait, that’d mean not us though…”
“I know,” Kai admitted. “It’s a sacrifice.”
“I don’t want to let someone else go instead!,” Renata protested, but Taro forestalled her with a raised hand. “Who are we talking about, here?”
“Cy’Linden,” she said easily, “and,” this part was less certain, “probably cy’Solomon.”
Caity nodded quickly. “People like Ib, Ardell, Rand.”
“Agatha,” Nydia added quietly.
“Yeah,” Kai agreed, “Agatha.” She wasn’t sure about Ib, but that wasn’t the first time she’d heard the name used in that context. “So what do you think?”
“How would we do it?” Taro asked. “Aside from losing ourselves.”
Wren and Nydia listened with interest; Caity and Renata seemed less sanguine about the idea.
“I’m still working out the details,” she admitted, “but it would involve strategic wins and losses; we’d have to beat everyone else, and lose against those teams.”
“Losing on purpose?” Renata frowned.
“We don’t want to look stupid,” Caity added.
“I certainly don’t,” Kai agreed, “but it’s for a good cause.”
“She’s right,” Wren said. “If we can do it, I think we should.”
Nydia nodded her agreement; Kai smiled at her, then turned to Taro for his opinion.
“Yeah, yeah,” he said grudgingly. “We didn’t have that good of a chance anyway.”
That, of course, was the problem – she really did think they’d had a chance, and she was pretty sure Renata and Caity did as well. She turned back to them, worried. This hinged on them.
“I don’t see how this is going to help us,” Renata complained. “Don’t we deserve a vacation?”
“Well,” Kai said slowly, “I could use a break. I’m sure Taro could use one, and Nydia… we all could. But then there’s Bowen, and there’s Callista, and I think, if we feel like we need a vacation, they probably need one even more.”
“It’s Callista’s last year anyway. And why does Bowen need a break more than I do? He’s not even… well.” Ren’s words cut off, but she shook her head, setting a hand on her belly.
Kai blinked at her. Was she serious? On the other hand, was she actually in a bad spot and they just hadn’t noticed? Aneislis had said that he hadn’t seen much of her since she’d been Kept, after all. She looked between Taro and Wren helplessly, hoping the upperclassmen would have some insight.
It was Caity who spoke up, though. “Kai’s right. Other people have needs too, Ren.”
She was right? That was a new one. She blinked at the smaller girl thoughtfully.
Caity continued while Renata stared at her, flabbergasted.
“My crew talks about some of what goes on here. They don’t do any of the bad stuff themselves – they don’t even Keep people at all – but aside from taking in a new person or two every year though, like me, that’s all they ever do: talk. We have a chance to actually do something to help people, without anyone being able to jump down our throats for it.”
Kai nodded. “Exactly,” she murmured, her hand over her stomach. She knew what “jumping down your throat” could end up like. “It’s totally within the Law, no-one can fault us for it.”
“Fine,” the little blonde huffed. “At least we don’t have to study, then.”
Was she really that oblivious? “I thought you didn’t want to look stupid,” she pointed out. “To do this right, we still have to nearly win.”
With a resigned sigh and an overly dramatic pout, she opened her books. “Okay then.”