Chapter 20: Garden
As it turned out, Reese was quite the believer in the healing powers of nature. Or rather, a believer that Kai needed to get out of her room for at least an hour a day. To her, Kai’s desire to sleep through the two months of healing time was unacceptable. It felt to her as if the woman had no idea how long she’d spent running, spent exhausted. Couldn’t she see that a little sleep wasn’t the worst thing?
She found herself in a strange little patch of grass now, surrounded on three sides by tall, oddly well-kept hedges. Behind her was the hotel itself. She’d been helped to a bench, and then left there, only able to stare at the empty little yard. There was a hole full of muddy water dug in the ground that had at one point been a little pond, but that was it. It was actually kind of sad.
Another woman’s voice. Kai turned her head to look over her shoulder, finding a rather familiar face. This was Mae, the woman that had found her in the forest.
Mae moved to sit down beside her, the movement awkward and shuffling. She was very pretty, Kai thought, with a round frame and curly red hair held back in a bun. Her mannerisms, however, lacked the confidence she’d displayed in the forest. She seemed to be gentle at heart, and that wasn’t a bad thing. It was rare that gentle people stayed that way.
“How are you doing?”
“Good.” Mae bobbed her head, fingers drumming against her knee. She wore scrubs. Light blue ones that looked fairly new. “I thought I’d come out and say hi.”
“Yeah..Yeah. Thank you, by the way.” It seemed such a lame way to express such gratitude. “For finding me.”
The older woman paused. “You’re welcome, it’s not a big deal.”
“It kind of is. I’d be dead in the woods if you hadn’t.”
It was the beginning of an uncomfortable silence.
She perked up.
“How many patients are here?”
“Yes.” When else would she be asking about?”
“Just two, including you. Usually we send them back into the city with the weekly resupply people, but…”
She trailed off.
“Yeah.” Mae cleared her throat. “We don’t know if she’ll need more blood.”
“How is she?”
“Fine, I think. I’m not in charge of her. Peter, the other nurse, is.”
“I can ask him next time I see him.”
Kai nodded in thanks. The silence resumed.
“I’m going back inside. Do you want me to bring you in with me?”“Nah.”
Mae nodded, then stood. Kai was once more left alone with birdsong and the sound of wind in the trees. It was peaceful.
She resented it.
The young woman turned to crane her neck back at the building. It was four stories tall, with ten windows on each floor. She supposed these had to be the previous guest rooms, as this view was quite nice. Her gaze slowly traveled up to the fourth floor. Which room was Aster in? There were no lights on in any window that she could see. Was she asleep?
“Excuse me, young lady. How are you feeling? Reese sent me out.”
Kai slowly turned to face the speaker. He was an older man, probably in his mid-sixties, and mostly bald save for a stubborn ring of hair. Unlike the others, he wore nothing that would point to medical expertise. Rather, he wore a long sleeve plaid shirt and a pair of jeans riddled with patches and stains.
“Who are you?” Her tone was a bit harsher than intended, but she didn’t much care.
“Terry Owens. I own the place.”
A meaty hand with dirty fingernails was shoved in her face. She stared at it a moment before taking it, giving him a halfhearted handshake.
“Nice to meet you. I’m Kai Flint.”
Kai didn’t know why she included her last name along with her chosen name. It had simply felt right. Combining the two parts of herself, that was. The name itself ‘Kai Flint’ sounded a little bit dumb. Like a character out of a crappy novel.
“Kai? Is that short for something?”
It seemed she’d murdered another conversation. Terry, for all his good-natured appearance, stared at her with all the charisma of a smiley-face sticker. Kai cleared her throat.
“Really nice place you’ve got here.”
“Thanks. Been in the family a long time.”
“Oh. That’s nice.”
It was actually kind of a shame, Kai thought. It was a nice place, and clearly tourism had dried up. Vaguely, she wondered what the draw to this place had been. In truth, she didn’t even know what state she was in. She supposed it didn’t really matter. There were lots of trees, the land was pretty flat, and she couldn’t see any mountains or smell the sea. That ought to narrow it down, she thought. Or at least it should have. Unfortunately, her memory with respect to geography was lacking. That was the peril of being just a bit undereducated. She hadn’t had a normal day of school since she was about thirteen.
He nodded, drumming his fingers against his leg. Kai couldn’t help but wonder why he was out here. Reese had, of course, sent him, but there had to be a reason he’d lingered. Maybe he was just lonely. That was quite honestly equally as likely as anything else. Good company was as scarce as any other resource.
“So the alien..”
“What about her?” She leaned back, rolling her shoulders.
“What’s it doing?”
“Don’t know. Haven’t seen her today.” She emphasized the pronoun here, wanting to see if there was a reaction.
“Oh. I thought you two would be…Closer.”
“I dunno. I kind of just go where they put me. Not really loving it.” She gave an awkward chuckle, reaching up to draw a hand through her hair.
It had grown out a bit, she realized, now covering her ears fully. She briefly lifted her hands to tuck her hair behind her ears. She’d need to cut it soon. Or maybe she’d let it grow out, just for a change of pace. It was an entirely trivial matter, she realized. She didn’t know why her mind had traveled there. Perhaps being here, among people, had reignited her urge to appear more like she had been so long ago. Or rather, how she had just a little over two years ago. It was strange to think that it had only been five years since these creatures had arrived. She’d been thirteen then, and was approaching nineteen now.
Kai was brought back to reality with a jolt, head whipping back to Terry. “On what?”
The man gave a good-natured laugh. “A sandwich. I’m going to get one. Do you want one? I can leave it in your room.”
She supposed there were worse things in the world than a free sandwich. Kai nodded.
Terry nodded once more, dropping his hands to rest on his knees for a moment before he pushed himself up to stand. He looked back at Kai with another smile, one which she returned after a slight delay.
She didn’t bother watching him amble back toward the hotel. She knew where he was going, and there was something to be said for the vague illusion of being alone out here. It really was a sort of small place, she was beginning to realize. It wasn’t that nice either. The grass was quite patchy ,and most of the plants were dead.
It was becoming increasingly clear that she’d been put out here just to keep her away from something else.
That was all the more motivation to get inside.
However, she hadn’t been provided crutches, and her chair had been taken from her. It was infuriating. She slowly turned around in her seat, turning her gaze back to the hotel. This time, however, her gaze was met by a tall figure in the window. Aster. Though she couldn’t be seen with any clarity, being little more than a silhouette, did seem rather healthy. She was standing without any visible support. There was an IV pole beside her though. One that she was quite a bit taller than. It was sort of funny, somehow, but Kai was more concerned with figuring out what was in the IV bag than with the humor of the situation. She was a bit far away, but it didn’t look dark enough to be blood. Was there something else wrong with the alien? Something besides apparent blood loss?
Her focus was, however, broken as the shape of Aster lifted a hand to wave down at her.
She waved back after some hesitation, an awkward smile rising on her face. She was happy that she was far enough away that her expression would be difficult to make out. Aster didn’t need to know the height of her awkwardness. It truly had been quite some time since she’d had the necessity to interact with other people for any extended period of time, and she was certain it showed. She wondered what all of these people thought of her.
It didn’t really matter though, she thought. She intended to get out of here as quickly as possible.
Or rather, in a few months. Her pesky broken leg was the issue.
Footsteps on dying grass once more broke Kai from her thoughts. Mae had returned, this time with the wheelchair pushed in front of her. The woman’s face was drawn into a little smile, fingers drumming against the handles of the thing. There was distinct anxiety on her face, barely hidden by her smile.
“Ready to go back in?”Kai turned her gaze up to the window, where Aster could no longer be seen.
“Yeah, I am.”