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The Ephemera - Chapter Four and Five
This is part of my new book, The Ephemera. I’m publishing it here as I write it, without revision, because readers asked to see my process. You can find previously-published chapters of The Ephemera here.
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There were hot dogs in her fridge.
Then they were long red lengths of imitation crab. Which was what they’d actually been all along.
Elara grabbed a Coke. Classic, not New Coke. Which she hadn’t liked. Because New Coke just wasn’t the same. Or at least that’s how it’d seemed at the time, and everyone had been so up in arms that the formula was changed at all. She thought it’d happened about the same time as Hands Across America. Which obviously she hadn’t been around for. She didn’t think consciously about it. She was far too tired.
She cracked open the can and closed the refrigerator, in that order. Then she walked to her living room couch and fell onto it, realizing only once she was horizontal that she was shit-scared out of her mind.
Watchers. They left a person’s brain scrambled. The one thing you had that was truly your own was your mind. Your mind was the one thing nobody could touch. Until you realized they could. And would. And did. Elara was only now feeling the aftershocks of … well … shock. Those bastards had slipped on brain gloves and used them to fist her in the head. She felt raw. Unsure. Unstable. She sipped her Coke. Not New Coke. New Coke had been as big a joke as Hands Across America, which she supposed she must’ve seen on TV sometime.
1980s. Long before your time.
Elara closed her eyes. Sunlight through her front window played over her eyelids, turning her close-eyed world to flickering orange. Like the light of a campfire. She could almost hear crackling. Almost smell the nothing-quite-like it scent of creosote.
Dreams. Or not dreams, because she wasn’t asleep.
She wanted to call Callum, to find out where he’d gone, why the Watchers were after him, and why he’d gotten her involved. She supposed she was angry. Or maybe not angry at all. Because that’s how they’d been back then, wasn’t it: angry? Sometimes Elara had caused the trouble and sometimes it’d been Callum, but trouble always seemed to arise either way.
She remembered the time they’d broken into the cafeteria to steal more than their fair share of ice cream only to discover soft-serve was liquid at room temperature, so they’d taken a bag and later drank it like milkshakes, of course making themselves sick. She remembered when they’d gotten so drunk and high, at age seventeen, that Callum had spent the whole night naked, demanding to know how the hell Elara could possibly resist all of this whether she was into girls or not. They’d laughed until they’d thrown up, both of them. But most of all she remembered the time they’d broken into the abandoned restaurant by the bay and discovered the tunnels underneath where a pirate ship was hidden in a cavern. It’d been stuffed with enough gold to save the Goondocks from those real estate developers.
Her eyes opened. She said to the room, “No. That was The Goonies.”
Or was it? She remembered herself having such grand adventures with the whole gang. Callum. Chunk. Sloth. Joe Pantaliano and the old lady from Throw Momma From the Train.
Her eyes closed again. Maybe she wasn’t thinking straight. Her head hurt. She didn’t want to think. She only wanted to let go.
Callum. She needed to call Callum and see if he was okay. Only, she didn’t have his number.
You remember it, he’d said.
But that was dumb, even setting aside the fact that he was playing games and for some reason hadn’t been willing to just tell her what she wanted to know. She didn’t remember his phone number at all. For one, he hadn’t even had his current phone back when they’d been at summer camp. He couldn’t have given it to her over hot dogs
even if he’d wanted to, because back then he’d had no number. He’d only had hot dogs
and that was all there was to it. That, and charm. Callum had always had charm.
She sat up. Her mind swam, then cleared.
“It was marshmallows,” she said aloud. Her apartment did not answer.
Of course it’d been marshmallows. They’d eaten so many, they’d barfed all over. Their friendship, now that she thought about it, had always included a lot of barfing. She would have barfed if they’d speed-eaten hot dogs instead, but Elara would never do that. She hated hot dogs. She’d seen a movie once where they said that hot dogs were made of lips and assholes, and that was an image she’d never been able to shake. What movie was that? She had no idea at all.
Lips and assholes. She wanted to retch just thinking about it.
She thought about it anyway.
At first, the whole camp that night had been sitting around the fire. The younger kids had tired quickly, though, and gone off to bed. The counselors were only a year older than Elara and Callum, so Elara, Callum, and the counselors had formed a wartime friendship of sorts. The counselors worked at the camp because their parents made them. Elara and Callum (a year too young for counselorship) were there because their parents couldn’t control them. They were too old for camp. Too old by far. The only reason teens that old went to summer camp was to be murdered by a quasi-supernatural serial killer while having sex with each other. But there’d been no killer that summer … although the more she thought about it, Elara seemed to remember fleeing a serial killer during a different, previous summer.
You’ll put out the fire for us, won’t you?
That was Counselor Jill, whose boyfriend was Counselor Jack. Jack and Jill. You can’t make this shit up. Each had a roommate, but they’d bribed their roommates to swap that night so they could be alone together as soon as the damn kids they were in charge of went to bed. That night, Jack and Jill had plans to go up the hill together. To fetch a pail of water, probably, but then to fuck as loudly as a bear attack. Maybe a serial killer would get them. That kind of thing only seemed to happen when your tits were out.
Sure, Callum had said about the fire. No problem. But Jack? Leave the hot dogs.
(No. Marshmallows. It’d been marshmallows. Elara liked to burn them on the outside, then pull off the dark skin to show their cool white centers. She liked to throw them into the fire whole and watch them burn. Marshmallows grew when they burned, extruding feather-light black ash in long and winding turds, like firework snakes. When she’d burned marshmallows as a kid, like a little kid, her mom used to get angry. Said it was the same as burning money. That became the joke for the rest of her father’s life: Throwing marshmallows into the fire was burning money. And so of course they’d done it again and again.)
No problem, Jack replied. Have all the hot dogs you want.
Then they’d gone up. Leaving Elara and Callum alone. Callum immediately speared two hot dogs on the trident-shaped fork and stuck them into the fire and …
Elara sat up straight. Grabbed a piece of paper. Wrote Callum’s phone number on it, because now that she’d looked back — now that she’d allowed for the possibility of hot dogs even though she knew otherwise — of course she remembered Callum giving it to her.
Mystified, she sat back. The number hadn’t been in her head, but then it was. She’d just suddenly remembered it all at once.
“It was probably marshmallows,” said someone sitting beside her. “You’ve always hated hot dogs, with their lips and assholes.”
Elara turned her head. The newcomer was her brother Rhys, with his handsome features and hip-hop haircut and the street-Brit accent he’d kept from before he’d been adopted, living with his birth parents overseas. He was there because Elara was dreaming. Had to be. Somehow. There were several clues. For one, Rhys wasn’t in her life these days. He’d vanished not long after they’d moved here. She didn’t know where he was, but he for damn sure wasn’t in her apartment — not right now, and not recently. Elara knew her apartment, and nobody lived in it but her. Unless Rhys had spent several years hiding in her utility closet. Which she was pretty sure he hadn’t, because she kept her cleaning supplies in there.
Rhys was also wearing a headdress right now. One like the storybooks showed on the Three Wise Men of Bethlehem. He was carrying one of those long sticks, too: a crook, it was called, shaped like a question mark with a really long tail and no dot at the bottom. Three dirty sheep milled between them and the coffee table.
“Rhys,” she said.
“You’re not really here.”
He looked offended. “Maybe you’re the one who’s not really here.”
“I’m dreaming,” Elara said.
He nodded sarcastically. “Because that’s how it works. People have hallucinations, then say that they’re dreaming.”
“Then it was the Watchers. The Watchers did something to my mind.”
“Of course they did something to your mind. Tell me, Elara: Did the Kool-Aid man ever actually break through our wall and say, ‘AW-YEAH’?”
“I think it was ‘OOH-YEEEAH!’”
“It was ‘AW-YEAH.’ You’re thinking of Macho Man Randy Savage. He said ‘OOH-YEEEAH!’” Rhys grunted properly to deliver the catch phrase. He also squinted hard, like he might poop himself.
Elara took Rhys’s point. No, to her knowledge the Kool-Aid man had never visited them personally. To her knowledge. It might have happened when she was out of the house sometime, but even then she kind of doubted it.
But that flash, about the Kool-Aid man? It’d come before the Watchers. Scratch one mindfuck theory on that one.
“I know it came before the Watchers took you,” Rhys said as if she’d spoken aloud. “My point remains.”
“You just said the Watchers messed with my memory.”
“Well,” he said, twirling his crook, “someone did.”
“Don’t take this personally.”
He nodded. “You’re wondering if I’m really here.”
“The answer is maybe,” he said.
“That’s not an answer.”
“It’s as good an answer as any. But what’s even better is the thing that you’ll wonder after I’m gone.”
“And what’s that?” she asked.
“If I was here.”
“How’s that different?”
“I don’t know,” Rhys said. “How’s your memory? Because I don’t know that I’d trust it.” He nodded to the can on the coffee table. “You weren’t around for New Coke. You weren’t around for Hands Across America. You weren’t even around for Robocop.”
“Who’s talking about Robocop?”
“I’ve never once mentioned Robocop.”
Now Rhys was the one to shrug. “You remember it your way; I’ll remember it mine. Kind of their whole point, really.”
“Whose whole point?”
He leaned in. Gestured with the crook he was holding. “Let me ask you a question.”
“What makes you so sure you ate marshmallows that night instead of hot dogs?”
“I’d never eat hot dogs. I hate hot dogs.”
“Yeah,” Rhys said, “but that doesn’t count. You’re deducing, not actually thinking back. So think back. And tell me, based on what you remember, why you’re so sure it was marshmallows.”
Elara thought. Then she thought again. It was impossible to articulate.
“I don’t know. I just remember it.”
“Sure I’m sure!”
“Sure as you are about the Kool-Aid man?”
But she didn’t know. Obviously that never happened. And yet it felt the same, like it did happen.
“Tell you something, Elara. It’s a secret. Do you want to know a secret?”
“Memories are collaborative.”
“You heard me.”
“Yeah,” she said. “And I have no idea what you mean.”
“Tell you another something,” he told her.
“Fine. I don’t get the first ‘something,’ but fine.”
“It wasn’t hot dogs.”
“I know it wasn’t.”
“And it wasn’t marshmallows.”
“No,” she said. “No, it actually was marshmallows.”
He nodded as if indulging her. “Fair point. But I want you to consider something. And it’s that maybe it wasn’t.”
“You aren’t making sense.”
“I know it seems that way,” he said. “But that’s the whole point. You don’t make sense. But that’s a good thing, because nobody knows it.”
“Am I here, Elara? Think about it. Think very hard.”
She thought. The discussion they were having felt real, but clearly it wasn’t. Couldn’t possibly be. She’d had lucid dreams before, though, and she knew how incredibly real they could be. Real enough that if you didn’t notice the moment of waking, you’d swear they actually happened.
“No. You’re not here.”
He nodded. “Very good. Technically I’m not. Technically, later on, I never was.”
She let that go. Fucking Dream Rhys, talking in riddles.
“When Callum gave you his number—”
“He didn’t. He never did give me his number.”
“When he retroactively gave you his number, in the past, in the market today, all he could do was to open a door.”
“Wait.” Things were starting to make sense. She remembered a bright white flash. It’d happened when Callum first took her hands. Was it possible he’d sent her a memory? She’d taken them voluntarily before, and just recently she’d had one forced on her by Watchers, but the flash felt nothing like either of those things. The memory of Rhys now (or dream, or whatever it was; it would be a memory soon enough) was different somehow. She was interacting with it in real time, remembering her interaction almost before the real-time happened. Rhys’s line came back to her: Memories are collaborative.
“Is that what happened? Callum somehow put a memory in my head? A memory that contained his phone number? Why would he do that? Why wouldn’t he just write it down?”
“Because what he sent you also contained other things.”
It took her a moment. “You? You’re part of what Callum sent me?”
“Let me ask you a question to answer your question.” He paused for effect. “Do you remember this happening for real?”
Elara felt annoyed. “Just because it never happened for real doesn’t mean it’s a memory. Maybe it’s something else. Something implanted in the phone number memory Callum gave me in the market. This is happening right now. Memories are in the past.”
“I don’t suppose you’ve heard the idea that time is a human construct. That there’s not really a past or present or future, and therefore that whether or not what you’re experiencing in the moment could properly be called a ‘memory’ is a semantic distinction?”
“Don’t philosophize me,” she said. She was barely able to follow his sentence, let alone its meaning. She’d forgotten how annoyingly cerebral Rhys used to be. All those smarts had disappeared when he became a junkie. She wanted to ask him how he’d managed to become a memory addict if the past was just a construct. How he’d let preoccupation with what-used-to-be become his one and only … and to hell with Elara and their mother.
“I’m not philosophizing.”
“This isn’t a memory,” Elara insisted.
Rhys pointed at her wall clock. It ticked twice. Then he said, “Now it is.”
“Stop it, Rhys. You always talked circles around me. It’s not fair.”
“Besides, if this were a memory, you’d look more like I remember you. I wouldn’t think of you with sheep and whatever. I wouldn’t imagine you here and now, in my apartment.”
“You’re forgetting what I said about Callum flashing his phone number into your past, back in the market. About how maybe this right now is part of a memory he slipped you before the Watchers came.”
“It’s not a memory!”
“You’re acting like memories aren’t collaborative. You’re acting like they’re made in a vacuum. You’ve taken ports before, Elara. I know you have. You’re scared you’ll end up an addict like me, but you’ve for-damn-sure relived plenty of external memories of your own. Memories of Dad. Memories of life before all the trouble. Maybe even memories of me.”
That was true, but she didn’t want to admit it. Especially the last part. Of course she’d revisited Rhys memories, and not just ones she’d made herself. She’d managed to find her father’s memories of Rhys, and her mother’s, and even one from his street friends before things went bad. She supposed his point now was the way you could always tell the difference between your own memories and someone else’s when you relived them, but she wasn’t entirely sure. He was philosophizing whether he denied it or not. Not very well, either. His arguments were all over the place.
“Goddammit, Rhys. Why don’t you just tell me what you mean instead of dicking around with bullshit and metaphors, if you’re so smart?”
“Because I can’t say anything when I’m inside your head, that’s why,” he told her. “Not all the way. This isn’t just the message I made for you and it’s not just your brain doing its processing. It’s both at the same time. Memories aren’t like messages written on paper. Messages on paper are fixed and unchanging, but memories aren’t like that. The fact that memories are experienced means there are always two parts to them — and if the memory moves from one person to another, those two parts become two parties. There’s the original experiencer’s mind, and then there’s the receiver’s mind. I keep telling you: Memories are collaborative.”
“And I keep telling you this isn’t a memory!”
A beat later, though, Elara found her own shouted words clanging back inside her head. Maybe it hadn’t been a memory when she’d spoken … but thanks to a bit of passing time, it was now.
“I can’t do whatever I want inside your head,” Rhys said. “I can only say what you allow me. Be what you allow me.”
Elara stood up and began pacing. “I’m sick of this stupid dream. I need to wake up. I want to wake up.”
“Unless you’re already awake.”
“Wake up. Wake up. WAKE UP!” She began to pinch herself, but nothing happened.
“Things are changing for all of us, Elara. I had to send Callum to find you. I had to take the risk.”
“You left,” she said. “You gave up on me, gave up on Mom, gave up on yourself. After Dad, when Mom was sick, you just up and left!”
“Find me, then,” he said.
Elara huffed, walked to the window, and began to rap her knuckles on it. Glass was hard. Glass was cold. Glass was real. Whatever fake, imaginary bullshit episode she was in the middle of right now, she needed to keep reminding herself what was real.
Behind her, Rhys rose from the couch. He was wearing a long white robe now, to go with his headdress. The sheep followed him.
Elara wanted to ignore him, but she couldn’t. She missed her brother every day. The Frosts had taken him in when he was an orphan, back when he’d had nothing. She missed the way he spoke. The way he used words like mate. The way he so coolly and casually called people cunts.
“Go away,” she said. She loved him, and this was too cruel a tease.
“If you want me to go, I’ll go,” Rhys said. She turned to watch him as he moved to her knickknack shelf. Pausing, he opened a tiny drawer at the bottom of the music box her mother had given her, the one that had been in the room they’d shared as kids, and seemed to place something inside. He closed the drawer and faced her. “But when you’re ready, you know where to find me.”
The tears were coming. This was far too real to be unreal. Emotion was starting to overwhelm her. It was the day she’d had that’d made her so fragile — so broken in mind that any of this could be happening. Would tomorrow be any better? It was Rhys’s birthday tomorrow, which meant it’d be full of reminders. That’s why she was having this vision, she decided. It was the tumor she must have. Flashes. Hallucinations. She wasn’t in consensus reality anymore.
“That’s just the thing, Rhys,” she said, more gentle than angry. “I don’t have any idea. I don’t know where to find you.”
“When you’re ready,” he said. Then Elara blinked, and in that moment he was gone.
She found herself lying down. She hadn’t blinked; she’d opened her eyes. From sleep. Yes, from sleep.
Memories are collaborative. I can only say what you allow me. Be how you allow me.
The dream was clear. It hadn’t faded in the way dreams usually do.
He’d been so real, but now he was like yesterday. Like five minutes ago. Like a hundred years ago.
Just another memory.
A cup of tea — not because she wanted tea or even liked tea, but because that’s what people did when they really needed to relax.
After, standing with the sink pressing into her front at the hip-line, Elara bent forward to look at herself more closely in the mirror. There were water spots on it, presumably from her vigorous tooth-brushing. She picked up a towel to wipe them away as she always did, but this time something stopped her. She didn’t want her mirror spic-and-span today. Earlier, when she’d made her tea, the mug had left a water ring on the kitchen counter and she hadn’t wiped that up, either. You don’t leave water rings or spots on the mirror; Mom had taught them that after Dad was no longer around to tell her to back off and let the kids be kids. This time Elara had stared at the water ring, and the spots on the mirror, and dared an authority to make her fix it.
“I’m an adult now, and my brother is dead,” she told her reflection.
Saying it gave her a chill. She didn’t know if Rhys was dead, but it felt safest to assume. He was certainly as good as dead. He’d been a good boy, but he’d had a bunch of old memories extracted and tubed before leaving England, and although Elara wouldn’t have thought those memories would be a problem, they definitely were. At first Rhys was the ideal kid, never making waves. Then, a year or two after the adoption, he began spending forever in the bathroom every day. Elara assumed he was masturbating and didn’t particularly want to catch him at it, so she never banged on the door to force him out. Her non-interference (the whole family’s non-interference, really) allowed it to spread. Soon Elara was coming home from her part-time job to find the room they shared locked, Rhys incommunicado inside.
Later she learned how he spent all that alone time: re-living the days when he’d had parents. Once his secret was out, he’d sometimes even do it in front of her. It gave her the creeps, the way his eyes rolled back when he had a rig on his head. Normal people didn’t do that when porting memories. For most, experiencing an externalized memory was like watching a movie with extra dimensions, but it couldn’t have been that way for Rhys. Rhys had been very young when he’d lost his parents, and that meant his memories of them had been made by very young mind. He had some adults’ memories that he’d purchased as a tween from the black market (the Archive had a system; supposedly it could find memories of anything), but most of what Rhys immersed in were his own better times. When he revisited those times, he was basically reviving his younger brain. It was phenomenally unhealthy, psychologically speaking.
Studies had been done. Adults had to be careful, re-living memories from their or anyone else’s teen years. Teens had to be even more careful. It was mostly safe to age up, but teens aging down created a perfect storm of shit: Young and immature memories revisited by young and volatile brains. It was like taking a rocket ship and strapping a rocket ship to it. What would it be like, to revisit the headspace you’d had at age two, three, or four? Most people hadn’t remembered those years before technology allowed them to do so. Psychologists said it was healthy to forget, and for that reason (because porting youth was therefore unhealthy) you had to be careful how far back you went in your own stream. Memories weren’t movies whether they sometimes seemed that way or not. To at least some degree, the viewing brain took on the thoughtspace of the source brain. And that’s how Rhys had spent his teens: forcibly regressing himself, then jolting back to the present. He was unable move on. Every time Rhys took off his rig, he lost his parents all over again.
Dad tried to take the memories away when he realized the damage they were causing. Mom was for once the kinder parent; she offered to take Rhys’s tubes and have them transcoded so that instead of living old times with his parents, he could watch them on a screen instead. But Rhys would have none of it. That was the first time he ran away, but not the last. Every time he went, he took a rig with him.
It’d been three years since Elara last saw her brother. If Rhys was still alive, he’d be more of an addict than ever — likely worse than ever. Addicts eventually tired of the same-old. They wanted more and more and more, and the black market was happy to provide. You didn’t even have to settle for things that’d happened. Predictive AI could take real memories as source material and create new, false memories from them. Supposedly fabricated memories (“predicts” they were called) felt entirely real — and not just from a sense perspective, but also from a deep memory perspective. When they were over, you’d almost believe they’d happened.
Predicts were expensive, though. That’s why Rhys had begun selling his own memories. In their last year together, Rhys had traded his real life piece by piece for a life that’d never happened. Today, he’d be as drained and crazy as Vespera … or dead … or a completely different person.
Elara looked at her reflection. She had to see past the water spots to do it. The water spots she refused to clean because she’d once been more troublemaker than obedient drone, and rebellion was how troublemakers protected their fragile hearts.
“He’s dead,” she said again.
Her fragile heart broke a little more. Tomorrow was his birthday. She remembered when they were young together. Rhys at seven, blowing out candles.
“Do you hear me?” she demanded. “He’s dead! If he’s not dead, he’s as good as dead!” She hadn’t known she was angry. She’d wanted to be sad, and she was, but even more it seemed she was both at once: a hybrid of sorrow and fury. She hit the mirror with her palm, half-hoping it would break. Tears came without spectacle, falling to her cheeks like rain.
She couldn’t stop shaking. Her usually-well-behaved voice had become a scream.
“Fucking junkie! Fucking deadbeat! Serves you right, for leaving us alone!”
A sudden and terrifying bolt of psychic pain hit her stomach like a punch. She folded double, then almost staggered to the ground. She sobbed in huge, shaking gasps. The fury of it had come from nowhere — or perhaps from just below the surface. New and Docile Elara had gotten very good stuffing herself down. At not making waves.
When it was over, she found herself gripping sink’s edge with bloodless white fingers, trying to catch her breath. Clarity returned very slowly. She sighed, raised her gaze, and spoke again to her reflection — this time with far more measure: “He’s dead, and you need to accept it or you’ll go nuts,” she told herself. “Do you hear me?”
And a voice seemed to echo within: Do you hear me, Elara?
In a blink, the bathroom was gone as she slipped into recall of the past. She found herself barefoot on rough shag carpet she’d always hated: a horrid pink-red mess in a color the builders called dusty rose. There was a new-but-old smell in the air: the stale reek of a hamper swirled with scent from a candle. No matter how much she’d hoped, one did not cancel the other out.
Rhys — maybe fifteen years old — stood in front of her in her flash of memory. He was holding something in front of her face in the same way a dog’s owner rubs its nose in pee on the rug. It was a guitar pick. His favorite guitar pick. He had hundreds, but he liked this one best. He liked it because it’d been chipped just so, and it sounded on his guitar’s strings just so, and no matter how many times he tried to cut other picks to match that unintentional and random chip, they never sounded the same. The problem was that Elara also liked Rhys’s favorite pick. It was chipped just so, and shaped her pottery just so, and all the tools and picks in her potting arsenal couldn’t quite match it.
It’s mine, is what it is, he said to her very sternly. Doesn’t matter for shit if you wanna use it because it i’nt yours, now is it?
She’d been nineteen. Half moved-out, back mostly to help their mother after her surgery. Rhys had still been himself a lot of the time, but definitely on the downslide. She saw his younger self perfectly now: black hair shaved on the sides and lush on the top, a light spray of freckles across the cheeks, the almost aggressively Caucasian sharpness of his features as he glared hard into her eyes. Oh, how the girls had loved him. His mouth moved differently when he was angry. It made him clip T’s from the ends of words and turn R’s into almost a sigh: here becoming heah.
She’d tried to protest. She always washed the pick off when she was done — and in all fairness, even though he’d told her over and over never EVER to use his favorite pick again, she hadn’t known he’d be home so soon to catch her.
You keep what’s yours and I’ll keep what’s mine, then, he said, even though she hadn’t made a valid enough counterpoint to warrant a “then.” We’ll just keep to what’s ours. Right? Do you hear me, Elara?
Elara blinked. She was back in the bathroom again, still wearing a towel. The flash of memory had been ordinary, but its recall had been insistent. It’d come the way urgent memories come: Suddenly remembering you’d forgotten a baby in the car on a hot day, for instance.
Do you hear me, Elara?
All day she’d had that insignificant bit of reproach stuck in her head. It’d taken up residence and kept poking her like a song lyric. Sometimes her mind even gave it rhythm when she walked. Until just now, she’d had no idea of the context. Of where it came from.
Why was it on her mind? Their standoff over the stupid pick had hardly been worth knowing. She remembered now that the day she’d just recalled had been Rhys’s last straw. He’d hidden the pick somewhere. She’d never seen it again, unless she saw it between the forefinger and thumb of his right hand.
She left the bathroom for the bedroom still dripping just because, because it was one more thing her mother used to tell her not to do.
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