The Willow Society

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Isabel watched from the railing of the second floor balcony as the five teens left. Her cream colored silk robe rustled as she moved away from the railing, towards one of the doors which had been closed when Taylor had searched. Also inside the room, Sue-Ann was bent near double over a laptop, typing away, the glasses she so often refused to wear hanging just off the bridge of her nose. She was decked out in a set of cushy, green pajamas. It was just before ten in the morning.

“They just left. All together.“ Isabel said, setting her cup of tea down gently. She glanced at her phone, which buzzed, before coming to stand behind Sue-Ann. Sue-Ann straightened from her laptop and looked back at Isabel. Isabel put her hand tenderly on Sue-Ann's shoulder; an intimate gesture. Sue-Ann's hand came up and covered Isabel's, squeezing.

“It's begun, then.“ Sue-Ann said, staring toward the wall, seeing something maybe which wasn't there. Isabel knew that look so well, the look Sue-Ann had when her mind was engaged in several things at once, what the other women pompously called “parallel processing.“ Isabel laughed, thinking what one of the kids would say to that.

As if.

It hadn't made either woman very happy, the realization that they had to work through the kids again. They had argued over it for months even as they worked and planned toward it, even as they searched for the right teenagers. The arguments had been fierce. At times only Helen's ever-present ability to cut to the quick had silenced the vehement arguing of the two old friends. Helen's name reverberated around Isabel's mind. Isabel had lost enough people in her life that losing another one wasn't near enough to cripple her, but she was surprised at how raw it made her feel. How exposed, vulnerable, old. Being old was something which still ironically seemed consistently new. The loss of her and Sue-Ann's oldest friend, only made the feeling of being truly and well old more prescient, newer. Isabel squeezed Sue-Ann's shoulder harder, the memory of Helen washed through her.

Over forty years of friendship had inured the women to each other's thoughts.

Sue-Ann sighed. “I miss her too, Bel.“ Sue-Ann turned to look Isabel in the eyes. “It won't be the same without her. Do you ever doubt what we're doing, Bel?“

The question seemed to hit Isabel like a knuckle to the nose. She resisted the urge to pull her hand back from Sue-Ann's shoulder, wrap her arms around herself protectively. Breathing deeply, hard, forcefully, she squeezed Sue-Ann's shoulder harder.

“Doubt, S'annie? Every other minute! But what choice do we have? I won't lose another. And so much hangs on what we do, so much more than a lost granddaughter.“

“Maybe we should just tell them what's really going on? They are smarter than we give them credit for, Bel. And better than we expect, I think.“

Sometimes, infrequently, but still on occasion Sue-Ann would say something like that, something which could momentarily knock Isabel off-balance. Leave her wondering if all those years together had hidden as many things as they had revealed. “Of course, they are, S'annie. But if they were smarter than I thought, they wouldn't need us now would they? Don't think I haven't thought of telling them. Lourdes, in particular. The moment just isn't right. Besides we don't know everything ourselves. We had no idea those heinous Behrstable girls had become so deeply involved with Command, did we? No. No, it's better this way. They will value it more if they discover it for themselves, if they must fight to know, it will mean more. And it must mean more to them, if they are to do what needs to be done. If they are not to...“ Isabel slowly pulled her hand off Sue-Ann's shoulder, squeezing the other woman's hand as she did so. Words failed had her.

She moved away to stare out the window, watching the five teenagers, distant now, walking away from Chatham House, towards the subway. They moved as a group. That was to the good. Isabel felt pride, similar to what she had once felt, in the beginning. A feeling of hollowness echoed with the pride, however. Bitter memories resurfaced.

“Why does it feel so hollow, S'annie? This what we have worked so hard for, is it not? Not entirely as we planned, still it worked, mostly.“ Isabel said.

Sue-Ann stood, came to the window as well. “What should it feel like, Bel? We are using those children, no matter how we spin it. Those children are doing what we should have taken care of long ago, before age robbed us of the opportunity and ability. Why shouldn't we feel hollow about such? After all, it is our fault.“ There was no accusation or blame in Sue-Ann's tone, no condemnation, only acceptance.

“Nothing we can do about that now.” Isabel said, wistful.

“Still, it's not so bad, is it? They really achieved far more than either of us thought they would for the the first salvo. And so quickly! With not a one of them seriously hurt. It is more than we could have asked for.” Sue-Ann said.

Isabel closed the curtains, moved away from the window. Sue-Ann picked up a remote control from a coffee table and unmuted a large television tucked inside the upper part of a huge, dark cherry armoire. Sound came rushing out of the slim device.

“And reports are that Mayor Goldberg has declared a State of Emergency in the immediate five block radius around the TransClarion Building, following the supposed terrorist attack there early Sunday. The entire area is closed to all traffic. Details are sketchy still, but it appears the terrorists died setting off a bomb in a laboratory on one of the upper floors. Nearby residents have been forcibly evacuated and warned to stay away for at least forty-eight hours as potentially noxious fumes are escaping from the building. Federal agents are reported to be on-site as well. The building, a joint partnership between the Port Authority of New York and TwinStar Communications is expected to be repaired. None of the agents we saw would comment, instead directing us to the National Security Advisor's press office and the White House. But I'm told the Head of the local Homeland Security office did just release a statement, through an Agent Alexander:

'The attack at the TransClarion building is being handled by all appropriate Federal and local agencies and all non-emergency personnel are advised to remain clear of the area until further notice. While we cannot comment on the nature of the attack, we can say there is no risk of further incident at this time. Thank You.'

“Not much of statement, but likely as much as we can expect from Homeland Security. In other news, the Mayor's Chief of State and CEO of TwinStar Communications, John A. Behrstable apparently is the first confirmed death in the attack. Not a good day for the city or TwinStar, is it Molly?”

Sue-Ann muted the television as the view on the screen shifted to another talking head. “Well, it's definitely, how do the kids say it, these days? It's ON.

Isabel nodded, the line of her mouth grim. But when she looked towards the window, towards the exquisite draperies covering it, in the direction of her beloved Isadore. Towards the group of disparate children she and Sue-Ann had forged and flung outward like a missile.

Command will not know what hit them.” Isabel replied.

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