Ten: Part Two
I dream about the first month I was here. I went hiking everyday and sometimes went camping, as long as I was out of this new house. At least in nature I was somewhere familiar, something kind of like home. I would pass camp sites full of laughter and happiness and scowl, enjoy it while it lasts.
The second month I would spend one day at the house and spend the rest outside. The cold forced me back inside. I woke up one day and cleaned around the house. I discovered the books in the library and learned how to use the mobile phone and laptop that I found on the desk in the library.
I will never call this place a home, no matter how familiar it becomes with me, never.
Third person’s pov
Aided by multiple batches of coffee and several pieces of Laura’s pumpkin bread, the Elsters and the Hawkins finally came up with a plan to get Elsie back to them. It was the early hours, everyone else was asleep, but Leo couldn’t.
He paced. It’s not something he does, but at the moment he was wearing a spot on the kitchen floor. His fingers were pressed to twitching lips as he replayed memories of her in his mind. That he did as often as he took a breath.
He naturally starts at the beginning, when he spots her across the street on the opposite sidewalk. He sees her tear stained cheeks and damp eyes in the cafe when they first met. How her face delicately crumples in confusion as he told her there was only one other person to feed.
By the time he had reached the winter clothing trip in his collection of memories, Laura shuffles into the room and sets about to make a pot of coffee in her french press.
“Did you get any sleep?” Laura asks as her dark coffee brews.
Leo shakes his head and Laura sighs. His eyes snap to hers.
“At least try a nap, you wouldn’t want to fall asleep when we are trying to find her.” Laura explains in a calm voice.
Leo grumbles and lays on the extra couch. He replays the memory of her in his arms, happy and their bare skin pressed flush together. Leo falls asleep counting her dark eyelashes.
Mattie is the second one up that morning. She quickly throws on her clothes before going downstairs. She grips her backpack and shoves Elsie’s clothes from yesterday.
The group is on a tight schedule today. They are catching the first ferry of the day, which departs at 6:30. It is five in the morning right now.
Joe comes in the front door when Toby steps into the kitchen. Mia comes in carrying a bleary eyed Sophie. She sets her down gently and Sophie starts nibbling on her breakfast.
By half past five, everyone is up and ready to go. The thick determination in the cool summer air can’t be missed as they pile into the family car and pull out of the driveway.
I groan when I wake up on the floor in front of the fireplace. I wince as I recognize the crick in my neck for the first time. As I wearily climb to my feet, my stomach aches for food. I ignore the kitchen and head up to the tower where the bedroom is, and more importantly, the hot shower.
My fingers circle the knot of tight muscles in my neck as water massages my back. I whimper in pain as I push harder, coaxing the knot undone. I sigh as the pain fades and I stand in the hypnotic noise of the water lost in thought.
It’s the first morning in my cabin. For once, I feel happy since my aunt’s death. I feel hope, security, positive feelings. I’m thinking about building a hen house for some chickens that lay eggs. I’m thinking about four. By myself in this cabin, I let jazz soak into the fresh walls as I put things in proper order.
I make a list of things I need, like an air conditioner and material for a coop. Sweat beads on my exposed collarbones, and I collapse on my bed after a truly wonderful day.
I gasp for breath as I come back to the present. So much has changed since then. In my mind the cabin is in the distant mountain range and Leo is waiting for me, still asleep. Max and Mia are downstairs charging and the cabin is quiet.
I shut the water off and step out of the shower. I quickly dry off and get dressed. I toss Mattie’s clothes in the wash along with the towels I used earlier and some more dirty clothes.
The sun is barely peeking in the sky, so it must be before 6 am. I pack a light backpack fit for hiking and pull on my sturdy brown hiking boots. I look outside and sigh. It’s starting to rain, but it isn’t heavy. One thing I leaned about this new place and its weather is that rain always turns heavy. That won’t stop me though. I flip the hood of my pine green windbreaker and lock the front door behind me.
I take a deep breath and let the rain saturated air enter my lungs. My exhaled breath comes in a little cloud and I start moving towards the mountain that looms behind the house.
As I start up the gradual slope at the base, I let my body take over and I recount the events in the past two days. I left Ireland, met the Hawkins, saw Max’s smile, cried while Mia held me, slapped Leo, bought a bike, and I left them all the next morning. That was yesterday.
My legs are burning as I start to sprint and I break into my favorite clearing. It reminds me of a spot back home in a way.
Dark stone walls race towards the sky on either side of me and get closer as I squeeze between the two. The clouds have blocked the sun, so it still looks like twilight, which is my favorite time of day. I now stand before a ledge jutting out about ten feet above the clear lake before me. Rain ripples on the surface of the water. A deer dips it’s tongue into the water from the fringe of pine trees. I store my backpack in the nook I found when I first discovered this place and start to strip quickly so my clothes aren’t wet from the still sprinkling rain.
Clad in only a bra and underwear, I press the tips of my fingers in a point above my head and dive off of the ledge into the water below. The harsh temperature of the water clears my mind from the murkiness like the fog shrouding the mountain I’m currently on. I stay under until my lungs start to burn and I surface.
I tip my head back and the sprinkle has turned into fat rain drops. Thunder booms distantly and I go back under. It’s nice, I think as all I can hear and focus on is my pulsing heartbeat. The sound of my heart beating in my ears and seeing Leo’s face crumple in a pure state of euphoria above me makes me claw to the surface for air.
I slap the water in anger. Damn him. I swim until I hear thunder directly over me. I slice through the water and climb the ladder back to my clothes.
My stomach grumbles and I scarf down a breakfast sandwich I threw together in a hurry to leave. I groan quietly as I stretch, ready to go back down. Unlike the hike up, I take my time going down. It’s not like anyone is waiting for me down there. No one ever is.
Laura stands with her back to her family, lost in thought as she stares out at the stormy sea waves, a cold, harsh grey. She wonders how hard and lonely Elsie’s life was...is. In the waves she sees her mother’s scowling face and turns away.
The Elsters and Hawkins have a blanket thrown over their laps as they huddle together. Max has given Sophie his jacket and Laura smiles at how big it looks on her small form. Niska is sitting beside her. Mia and Mattie are talking, and based on Mia’s smile and exaggerated hand gestures it must be a good story. Leo sits beside them.
Leo’s eyes are glazed over in thought and his eyes match the color of the waves. Laura can see his fingers twitching underneath the blanket. Toby and Joe are walking around ferry. Laura gets under the blanket and turns to Leo. She opens her mouth to speak to him when they all hear a scream.
Her eyes find Joe and he makes his way with Toby towards the rest of the group. Laura discovers why someone screamed. A synth had “woken up”. It, she, had short brown hair and was dressed in the new red synth uniform. Her dark blue eyes were wild, shocked.
Laura knew it was hard for the Elsters to watch, because so many who had woken up were hunted, killed, before they ever tasted of life.
Mattie turns away from the scene, as a uniformed and heavily armed member of the PMSA, Persona Malfunctioning Synthetic Appliances task force aims and fires at the synth. She cries out and flails on the ground before going still.
PMSA shortly came into the world after the first three cases of conscious synths surfaced. The first conscious synth was right here in England. The second was in the United States, and the third was in Russia.
She has seen one too many. Mattie remembers the day when one of the school synths had woken up. Mattie and Toby was in the cafeteria when one of the cleaning synths had dropped the mop handle and looked around, suddenly aware of it’s surroundings. It was like watching a baby deer stand up on it’s shaky legs. He was never seen again. Toby was quiet in his room that night and skipped dinner.
Mia slips her hand into Mattie’s curled one for comfort and empathy. She didn’t like it either, her kind being massacred in front of her and unable to do anything to stop it. Soon the ferry docks and they leave the blanket on the bench. Mia gives the cabbie directions to Elsie’s house. Leo hopes he isn’t too late.
I let the door swing open and stand outside. I always do this, coming back to this place. It doesn’t feel like anything sentimental to my life, just a temporary place until I go somewhere else. I stand in the rain for a few more seconds before stepping inside, closing the door, and peeling off my rain drenched clothes. I wrap the worn plaid housecoat tight around my naked body and go to the living room.
I grab some kindle and a small log for the fireplace. Once the fire grows I collect the wet clothing and toss it in the washer. I pull on some clothes and socks before padding into the library where I left the mobile phone.
I sit down at the desk and stare at the black screen. I drum my fingers before holding down the lock button and watching it light up. Half of me expected a flurry of text messages from Mattie, but there were none. I sigh and shuffle the music. I turn the volume all the way up before abandoning it for the kitchen. The oven reads 11:34, time for lunch. I open the fridge and take out the container of spaghetti. I made a big batch a few days ago. As the microwave beeps when it is done, the music lowers for a second or two before resuming.
Someone has sent me a text message. I smile as I see who it is from. This is the first time Lily has contacted me. I’m not sure how she got my number, but something tells me a certain female synth gave it to her.
My breath hitches in my throat as I open the message. The first one is the coop. Four new chickens are in the small enclosure, standing in a short sea of emerald, looking for bugs to eat. The next several pictures are inside the cabin, how she hasn’t changed it. She is sleeping in the guest bedroom and that makes me feel something I can’t describe. The picture she gave me before I let must have been a copy since the same picture is in a frame on the mantle in the living room. She took a picture of the sunrise with the cabin and the last picture is a “selfie” with the Strong Current in the background. It’s early morning.
Under the last photo was a lengthy text message. My vision blurs with tears as I read the last line.
“Remember you can come back anytime you want. I will always welcome you home.”
My shoulders shake as tears well in my eyes. The music still plays as I cry for myself, my late parents, my late aunt, and for the cabin I abruptly abandoned. I have to go back.
I open the laptop and search for the first flight to leave Ireland. It takes me a few minutes to find one and I buy the tickets. With the music still blaring and the fire crackling, I pack my duffle and set it by the front door.
I’m crouched in front of the fire place to extinguish the fire when a knock makes my head snap to the door. I see the top of the auburn hair I met two days ago and my blood feels as cold as the mountain lake I swam in earlier.
I stand up as Laura knocks again. I turn the knob and slowly open the door.
“You’re here! Hooray!” Sophie exclaims beside Max, almost swallowed in his jacket on her.
Laura and Mia stand equal in the front with matching expressions. Somewhere between worry and love and relief. Niska stands gloomy to the side like always, Mattie has a puzzled expression, Toby and Joe look annoyed about the heavy rain, Max looks happy to see me, and I can’t see Leo but I know he is here.
I wait a few seconds before standing to the side and letting them in. I place two logs and kindle to start the fire again and go into the kitchen to make some hot drinks for my guests.
My back is to the doorway as I stare at the curtain of water, lost in thought.
“Why did you leave.” Leo asks.
“Why did you.” I throw back at him.
I don’t turn around when I hear his tentative footsteps come closer. I thought my heart would be racing, but it is not. I am calm.
“Elsie.” He whispers right behind me.
My eyes flutter shut on their own. As I move to turn around, my phone beeps.
It’s an email notification about my flight, it’s been rescheduled two hours later. Now that the Hawkins and Elsters are here, should I stay? Or should I go back home?
The tin kettle on the stove whistles that it is done. Leo moves out of the way as I pour the hot water into four of the seven mugs sitting on the counter. Toby comes in and helps me carry the mugs of tea out to most of the Hawkins. Mattie, Leo and I wait in the kitchen for the water to boil again.
Mattie nods to the backpack on the kitchen table.
“Your clothes are in there.” She says to me.
“Yours are in the dryer, let me go and check to see if they are done now. Excuse me.” I tell the duo before leaving the kitchen.
Leo follows me, trails behind me like a kicked puppy.
“Elsie...” He starts.
I slam the lid of the dryer as I pile Mattie’s clothes on top.
I blurt out, “You leave me in the dark, not one shred of contact from you for eight damn months. But by pure chance we run into each other. How am I suppose to act around you? I thought you were dead!”
His face slips into a scowl but crumples to desperation at the last second.
“I did it to protect you,” he raises a hand for silence when I open my mouth to speak, “and now I’m back and I’m never letting you out of my sights again. I love you Elsie. I always have and I will wait until you are ready to start again with me.”
I take the pile of clothes in my arms and start to walk out. At the last second I turn on my heel and drop the pile of clothes to push Leo up against the wall and crash my lips harshly against his. I grip the soft material of the shirt he is wearing in trembling fists, pulling him closer. His hands soon grip my waist hard enough to leave bruises.
He groans softly before angling his head to deepen the kiss. He swipes his tongue across my bottom lip as the kiss translates all of the feelings that words can’t; all of the tension, the desire, the hunger, the possessiveness, the urgency.
The next thing I know I am pushed against the wall. I unclench my fists and rake my nails down his chest as he grinds his hips against mine. Our tongues dance as my hands start to fiddle with his belt to tease him. My head tilts back against the wall as his lips drag down my neck. I faintly hear the kettle screaming with steam in the kitchen. He knows that if he marks my neck the others would know, so he hooks his thumb under the collar of my shirt and kisses a spot near the base of my neck. I gasp as he bites and sucks a harsh mark on the spot. One of my hands slide under his shirt and I dig my nails into his hip. I roll my hips back against his, creating a rhythm that has us both moaning.
I barely hear the footsteps over the soft moans and my heart pulsing in my ears, so I break away in time to gather Mattie’s clothes in my arms as she walks in. I’m sure that if we had more time, the make out session would have turned into something more. We trade bundles of clothes and I walk past the others to stuff the clothes into the duffle.
I go back into the kitchen and make the rest of the tea. Mattie and Leo follow me into the living room, where the quiet chatter mingles with the crackling fire. Niska keeps her attention on the window.
I settle by the mantle, leaning against it with my mug of tea cradled in my hands.
“This isn’t only about the clothes, is it?” I assume to the group in front of me.
The mark that Leo gave me burns as everyone looks at me.
“Why did you leave?” Sophie asks in a gentle voice.
“You didn’t have to leave, you know, you’re welcome in our home.” Joe adds hastily.
My eyes find the rug in front of me interesting as I try to come up with an explanation on why I left.
“Elsie?” Mia brings my gaze back to her.
“I was scared alright! I was overwhelmed when you all showed up at the house, it had been such a long time. I thought that if I left first, I technically didn’t lose you again. If I went first this time, it wouldn’t hurt as much. I learned that it doesn’t matter the order, it hurts all the same.” I finish my speech by looking down at my still full mug.
I take a big drink of it and don’t look at the others, I can’t stand to see their reactions, their faces full of pity. I look at Niska, whose neutral face helps me form the mask on mine.
Toby addresses the other elephant in the room, the nondescript black one by the door.
“Where are you going?” He asks me.
“A friend sent me some pictures of my cabin. I built it all by myself and had to leave it. The pictures make me want to go home. But right now, I don’t know what home is anymore, if it’s even a place.” I glance at Leo when I say this.
“It’s not wise to go back. What if they had taken your friend’s phone to lure you back and kill you?” Niska injects.
I bite my lip in thought because she has a good point.
“I would go back anyway. Some part of me is still in the cabin by the stream. Plus, it has been eight months. Surely they have given up looking for me there.” I reason with Niska.
Laura shakes her head, “They still will be. Hobbs and his men are always watching and listening.”
Mattie wraps an arm around her mother’s shoulders in comfort. I look at Joe who nods and confirms my suspicions that what she is saying is true.
“When does your flight leave?” Max asks.
“Around five-thirty.” I tell him.
“We still have time.” Leo says.
“Time for what?” I ask.
“Time to convince you.” Laura answers.
I scoff and take the empty seat by the door between Toby and Niska.
“Elsie, we know how much the cabin means to you, but we also know how much we mean to you as well. You’ve been on your own for so long, it’s time to have others in your life. No one deserves to be alone. We won’t stop you from going, we want you here because we care about you and love you. The reason we left you at the airport was to protect you. There wasn’t a day that went by where you didn’t cross our minds. Max saw chickens about a month after we left and started crying. Hell, we all did. We missed you, and we are so glad we found you again. Now that we are all back together, we won’t leave you again. We promise.” Mia explains.
She knows how much she means to me, practically family.
With tears in my eyes I say, “I have to go back. I need to see it at least one last time on my terms.”
“I’ll go with you.” Leo says, towards me.
I look at him with a hard stare.
“I said I wouldn’t let you go again.” He grumbles.
“Do you know how long you are staying?” Joe asks.
I wring my hands in my lap, “I think a few weeks after what Mia said.”
Mia smiles at me and I shoot her a quick smile back.
“I don’t know about you all, but I’m worn out.” Toby confesses suddenly.
We all laugh in the moment and I single out Leo’s laugh with a full smile and light eyes. It makes me forget about my anger towards him and the sadness in my heart disappears for a moment.
Hours later we stand in front of the cabin. Lily met us in town at the diner for an early breakfast and drove us out here. We stand on the front porch and I take a deep breath and close my eyes. I’m home.
I yelp in surprise as Leo scoops me up and takes me inside the cabin. I laugh as he bounds up the stairs and carries me to my room, our room, and closes the door behind him.
After dinner, I set the glass of wine down in front of Leo as he stares at his laptop, the dim light contrasting the purple bruises on his pale neck.
He laughs suddenly and shouts.
“What is it Leo?” I ask as he twirls me around in the middle of the kitchen.
“I found a way to cure Fred. We can all be together now.” Leo rushes out.
I sigh and look around the cabin, until next time.