“Mi nombre es Leon.”
Manuela laughed as she held up her hand, signalling Leon to stop. “No Leon, you say “Me llamo Leon.” It means “I call myself Leon.”
“That seems a roundabout way of saying it.”
“True, but it’s the way we say it. Now try me” she commanded.
“Te...llamas Manuela?” he tried. Manuela clapped as she nodded.
“Perfecto! And the doctor?” she asked, nodding her head in the direction of the supervising doctor.
“Se llama Markus Timerick” he answered confidently. I might just be getting the hang of this, he reflected with a smile as Manuela applauded him.
“Not bad for starting this late” Manuela complimented.
“Hey, I didn’t get to learn both like a certain person here” he retorted, stretching in his seat. They had been at this most of the morning, and in fact, most of the past few days. It had originally been intended as a way for them to pass the time when nothing interesting had happened, or when it was a slow day for tests. Those had been occurring a lot less these days, simply as they realized that no matter how many tests they ran, there was nothing wrong with her. In fact, they said that starting tomorrow, she’d no longer be in the constant supervision list, and she’d get to interact with some of the normal patients.
“Yes, but you learned other things, did you not? And besides, my language training never taught me how to live here.”
“That’s true, but it’s not too hard to catch on. Work a job, pay the bills, and watch a lot of TV. Then you’ve become American.” Manuela laughed, a sound he’d come to appreciate greatly. The circumstances of their meeting hadn’t been the most pleasant, and they were making up for the tense meeting then with nice memories now.
“That might be true, but I’ll still need to learn that for myself.”
Today was Manuela’s first out-and-about day. For something a bit more low-key, but still populated, Leon had elected to visit an open air mall on an off day. At the time, most people would be at work or school. Being on the government paycheck had its benefits, Leon mused as he pulled into a parking space.
Beside him, Manuela was sitting comfortably, looking much more accustomed to life now. Still, traces of her heritage shone through in the manner of her sundress and sunhat, both of which she insisted on wearing despite the cooler temperatures. Still, even with her adjustments to life, she was still looking about, a motion Leon recognized as being nervous from his time with her.
“Everything alright?” he inquired, turning the vehicle off. Manuela nodded, though said nothing as they hopped out. She did, however, cling to his arm as they approached the alley-like halls of the malls. Leon allowed her, knowing she’d need her comforts.
“Where do you want to go first?” Perhaps if they started with something she liked, it’d be a more successful trip. Manuela thought for a moment, her head tilted up as if trying to find the answer in the clouds overhead.
“I’m not sure what they have at places like this...do they have a crafts store?” Leon found the proposal strange, but only momentarily. Having lived in a relatively rich family, she must have gotten accustomed to intricate design. When he thought about it, a little bit of design could spice up her room. It was a little plain, despite the small things they had added over the time spent there.
“I’m pretty sure they’ll have one here. There’s a map up ahead; let’s see what it says” he suggested, eyes swinging to each door as they passed them. Involuntarily, he felt himself tense as they passed each one. He smiled ironically as he realized that he was waiting for a zombie to burst forth. I’m probably one of the few people in the world who’s reasonably terrified of zombies…
Leon almost failed to notice they’d reached the map, nearly walking into the knee height object. Swiftly, he zeroed in on the crafts store, with a furniture store not too far from there. Maybe they’d stop by at the latter afterwards. It’d be a bit more stressful, what with the salesmen and all.
“There it is!” Manuela proclaimed, pointing to the destination while Leon was mulling over his plan. He nodded with a smile, not bothering to mention his expediency finding it. “That means we should turn left here, then it’ll be three doors down on the right, right?”
“Sounds about right. If you see anything interesting between here and there, just tell me and we’ll take a look, okay?” Manuela nodded and they began walking towards the craft store. Leon tried to focus his gaze forward as much as possible, but he could feel his finger twitch ever so slightly as they walked. Eventually, he took Manuela’s hand in his own, trying to disguise the motion with the binding. He didn’t realize the effect it had on her as they continued walking.
Trying to conceal his deep breath, Leon opened the door, stepping through first, doing a complete scan of the store before entering, holding the door open for Manuela. She walked inside, mesmerized by the assortment of pieces and colors displayed before her. Without hesitation or concern, she began perusing the shelves, eyes sparkling with excitement. Leon, meanwhile, glanced down the rows, checking the blind spots out of habit. He bit his tongue as he tried to force himself to remember that there were no zombies here. No tyrants to dodge, and no hordes to avoid.
“Finding anything you like?” asked a salesman manning the register. Leon looked to Manuela, who only nodded vigorously.
“It seems so” he replied curtly. The salesman went back to scrawling something on a paper, possibly a ledger. It didn’t matter to Leon really, so long as the man left Manuela sufficiently alone. It’d be awkward enough when they went to check-out.
“Leon! Come look at this!” Manuela’s beckoning snagged his attention, and he hurried over, finding himself looking at a selection of painting materials. If Leon didn’t know better, he swore he had entered a scene from one of those cheesy romantic comedy movies.
“Serves me right for watchin’ em” Leon mumbled to himself as he moved beside Manuela. She tilted her head, having not entirely heard him. “Painting huh? Didn’t know you were a painter?”
“I’m not” she admitted. “But it seems like it’d be a nice thing to learn to do. Besides, then I can paint a picture of home” she trailed. Leon’s mind was made at that moment.
“Alright, then let’s get some of these things. Let me see...you’ll need paintbrushes, paints...canvas…”
“And a stand so that I can work outside” she added, picking a simple one out. For a girl of rich heritage, she seemed to have a preference for the simple. Maybe it was corrective.
“Let’s go get these paid for. Government’s covering the rehab costs, so feel free to grab some other stuff if you want” Leon chuckled. Might counteract some of the other things they’ve spent on.
Manuela shook her head. “Might as well save a reason for another trip out, no?” she smiled, taking his arm again as they headed to the counter. Leon could only smile as he rang up the items. Luckily, the man gave them no trouble.
Maybe Leon should have knocked on wood. It wasn’t long after that Leon had come to visit Manuela one day. Had he known what was going to happen, he might have taken her and skipped the state, but he wasn’t gifted with preternatural awareness. Hell, he didn’t even have luck.
Manuela had been accustomating herself to both the way of life and her paint tools. She had gotten better and better, and now her art was exceeding what might expect of simple talent.
The painting right now was of the courtyard below, as seen through the window of Manuela’s room. Leon had taken a picture, should she need the lighting reference, but she was sketching at the moment, so it wouldn’t take too long to get the basis in. She was close to finishing when they were interrupted.
“Mr. Kennedy. Your presence is required.” Leon turned to see a man he had not seen before waiting at the door. He didn’t have to have seen him to know who he was. The way he held himself was self-important, the glance he gave Manuela suggested he knew the history, and his overall attitude suggested business. It looked like someone was calling in favors on him.
“I’ll be right back Manuela” he promised, standing and following the man. Manuela looked on in slight confusion and anxiety, though she didn’t protest. “What do you want?” Leon asked, cutting to the point.
“President’s asking for you on assignment” the man stated, handing Leon a paper. With a grim expression, Leon scanned through it. It boiled down to being a bodyguard type, watching after the President’s daughter during social events and such.
“I don’t suppose I can say no can I?”
“We’ll expect you to report to the office at 8:00 tomorrow” the man replied, turning and leaving. Leon sighed, alone in the hallway with the paper.
Finally, he decided he would have to break it to Manuela. Heading back into the room, he saw that she had finished the rough sketch of the painting. No color had gone down yet, only pencil lines.
“What did he want?” she asked, her eyes betraying her suspicions. Leon handed her the paper, collapsing into a nearby chair. Manuela’s eyes widened. “This is from the President! Why would he call on someone like you?”
“Not sure myself, considering that the only people who like me are under government suspicion. But nonetheless I’ve been called.”
“You don’t sound happy. Shouldn’t this be a big thing?” she asked, genuinely confused.
“It’s not that simple. If I work for him, that means I’ll be busy a lot. But I don’t really have a choice.”
“And why is that?”
“Because you’re their betting card. I have to do what they want, otherwise you get taken away in the blink of an eye” Leon admitted, his head throbbing in aggravation.
Manuela gasped as she put two and two together. But then she surprised Leon. Her expression changed to a determined one. “Not if I can help it. I’m gonna make it so they have to keep me near you” she offered mysteriously.
“Manuela, are you…?” Leon began to rise from his chair, only for Manuela to motion for him to sit back down.
“I’m gonna become an agent. I know that you’re worried!” she defended. “But, listen to me first. You’re the only person I know here, so if they take you away, I’d be completely lost. And then there’s the other reason. We met because of your mission. You were sent in to investigate, to help. I lost my father and mother to the horrors of that...that virus. I don’t want anyone else to. If I become an agent, I’ll be able to help people.”
Leon could detect a hint of a question in that last statement. Words struggled to escape his mouth, but as he saw Manuela’s expression harden, he knew that he was never going to convince her.
“Why are they always stubborn?” he asked with a mirthless laugh, trying to gather his thoughts.“Because you couldn’t tolerate us any other way” Manuela returned with a smile.