“We have our plans, then?“ Izzy said to everyone and to herself after hours more had been spent in the works. “We'll hit the building Sunday. Does everyone know what they need to do between now and then?“
Everyone nodded. Tate had nodded off, which he did surprisingly often. Lou wondered why he had never done it in class. She remembered Tate often disappeared to his office for long stretches. It had been a decidedly odd experience, spending time close to the fat teacher. Aside from his constant scratching of his flaking ears, and his falling asleep, he possessed a child-like glee over the ordeal they were planning. When compared to the deviously funny, mysteriously snide teacher he normally saw, always presented from the standpoint of a teacher, this Tate was plain odd. But not a bad odd.
Even Winston lost most of his rancor by the end of the planning session. The more they planned, the more he pored over the building's blueprints, the more excited the boy had become. The more like his normal, non-combative, ever-smiling self Winston became. Winston was smiling, pleased, eager.
Lou looked at the faces around her, eager and excited, especially Taylor, Winston, and Tate. All three, despite looking and being so different, were just then mirror images of little boys getting away with something just under their parents' noses. Lou knew the look well, had seen it in group homes many times, only without parents involved. It almost made her laugh. But images haunted her: her friends beaten, dead, in jail, or worst; zapped by some fantasy device. These images would have prevented her from laughing, even were she inclined. She held deep reservations that nothing but sheer dumb luck or an act of some sympathetic god could make this mission succeed. She wasn't sure how the others couldn't see it, how they could not feel the same as she did, so she kept her doubts to herself. The overwhelming wave of doubt did not threaten them every moment, looming, ready to crash down and bury them.
“Let's get everything prepared and meet back here tomorrow night to finalize.“ Izzy said. “Eleven AM, Sunday. We have to be ready, so everyone stays here tomorrow night.“ Izzy was maybe just repeating what everyone already knew, clearly nervous, not a normal thing for her. “And remember, don't do anything between now and Sunday which could call attention to yourselves. No risks.“ Izzy ordered.
Lou and Myth left together. Izzy went off on her own. Taylor and Winston were going to stay at Winston's. Tate was woken up was off to his apartment.
Later that night, as Lou and Myth walked down the street Myth looked up at the taller girl and said, “Will you always see me as a little girl, Lou?“
Lou blinked, unprepared for the question or the earnest, curious look the small girl gave her. It wasn't a challenging look, or an angry look, just an expectant, needy one. Myth wanted an answer, perhaps needed one. Lou wasn't sure, but thought maybe she owed the girl one.
“I've never had a sister. No family I can remember.“ It felt very, very strange to say that out loud. Lou had thought it many times, but never admitted it to someone else. Even someone as safe as Myth, felt risky. Yet she hadn't hesitated. That was odd as well. She strode forward as she talked without looking at Myth further. “But I've been around a lot of girls. Smaller girls who got beaten, taken advantage of, hurt bad. Sometimes I wanted to help and most times I couldn't, and when I did, the few times I tried, it only ended up getting me hurt, and them hurt worse. I won't go through it again, not with you. I may not have been able to protect any of those girls, but I can protect you. From threats, from yourself, from everything. I can. I will. You're my best friend.“ Lou said the words solemnly, and she was surprised to feel the emotion welling within her. My family. It came hard and fast, so much so she knew if made eye contact with Myth just then she might cry. Lou noticed she was alone. Myth had stopped several steps back.
Lou walked back, her emotions pushed down, if barely. She determined not to make eye contact, looked past Myth.
“Look at me, Lou!“ Myth said, firmly, but not loud. Lou refused.
“Lou! Look at me!“ Myth said, angry, pleading. “I need you to hear this! I need you to understand! Look at me!“
A whirlwind of emotions whirled inside Lou. She was caught up in it, whether she wanted or not. All those years of holding that vortex close, freezing it solid and projecting that iciness outward to the world were threatened. Her control was about to fracture, fly apart into a thousand million icy pieces. Finally she looked at Myth, slowly, but with determination made eye contact. Myth had teared up, eyes wide with sincerity and concern, need. Lou swallowed hard, holding on to her stoic demeanor by the tip of an eyelash. She held eye contact with Myth by sheer force of will despite every part of her being telling her to cease, leave, flee.
“I love you, Lou.“ Myth said. “You're the sister I've never had, that I always needed, always wanted. You have to know that, you have to believe it. But you can't protect me from life! And you shouldn't want to! You've overcome so much, more than just about anyone I've ever known, and somehow come through it, become this amazing person, the best I've ever known. But you can't protect me from everything! That's not how I want to live, not how you should want me to live. You might even have been right to keep me out that building, but I want to make sure you understand the limits! You're not my mom. She's dead! You have to let me face life on my terms, win or lose, by my own ability. I won't be happy with anything less.“
Lou was floored. It wasn't the kind of thing she would expect to hear out of Myth's mouth, as young as she was. Lou wasn't sure she herself would have been aware enough to say such things. Myth's father was very hands off, even if he did pamper her mercilessly. She was far smarter than Lou herself, in Lou's opinion. Myth had all but raised herself. They had at least that in common. Lou knew Myth was saying truth. She would never respect herself as much as she did and have the confidence in herself she had, to be herself. A person she was proud to be. If someone had tried and succeeded in shielding her from the challenges she had faced, all the adversity she had battled in becoming who she was, then she would obviously not be anything like what she was. Myth is right. Slowly, she nodded. Tried to hide her face as she wiped at her eyes.
“OK. I will do my best.“ Lou said swallowing.
“Don't get me wrong, Lou. Protect me when I need it, when you can! But when I say no, you have to respect my decision.“ Myth replied. That's a fine a line to walk. She really wanted to close herself off, felt herself to do it, naturally, instinctively. The image of Myth lying face down in a pool of her own blood roared back, hovering in Lou's mind.
Myth nudged her playfully and the image fled. “You OK?“
“So. You love me, eh?“ she said.
Lou tucked her smile away.
“Good. I'll see you tomorrow night.“ Myth seemed on edge, like she was waiting for Lou to say something else, do something else. But Lou had nothing. She turned and walked away.