Below is the next bit of my novella, Dropping Slow, which I am posting serially during the month of June, as part of the Every Single Day Challenge to raise money for Sharon the Light. If you’re enjoying the story, please feel free to donate via my Crowdrise page ($10 minimum donation) or directly, at this link (no minimum donation). Everyone who donates will receive an ebook copy of Dropping Slow, once it’s all posted (if you donate directly, please leave a comment to let me know!).
Javi comes into her room, she’s not sure how much later. She remembers this, the awkwardness of navigating a fight between the other two. She remembers being annoyed at the two of them for fighting in the first place, but Javi just seems quiet. She’s not sure how to talk to him.
“So … did you have a panic attack?” he asks her, sitting down a little ways from her on her floor. “Like, do you need a pill or anything?”
Tace thinks about it. It might calm her brain down a little; it would probably put her to sleep for the rest of the night. Which is tempting, but she feels like it will just add to Lin’s point, or something.
She finds words, again. “No,” she says. “No to both. I just … couldn’t settle down, after the … after the market.”
“Too many people?” Javi asks, not unsympathetically.
“Maybe. Not in a bad way. Overstimulation. I saw the beekeeper.”
Tace shuts her eyes, lets out a long breath, manages to not start crying again as she repeats, “Mr. Pointilleuse.”
Javi’s voice is careful. “I’m sure he was pleased to see you. He asks about you all the time.”
She nods, eyes still shut. “He was very nice.”
“What do you need, Tace?” Javi asks, quiet and still not sounding angry. Tace leans her head back against the bed, watches the dark behind her eyes. Colors bloom and twist there.
“I don’t know,” she says. “Just … I think being alone would be good.”
She can’t tell from his voice if he’s hurt or not as he says “Okay,” and gets up, shutting the door gently behind him. She sits there for a long time before her handheld chimes at her. It chimes again before she reaches up onto her bed to grope for it.
How was the market? You looked good!
Tace frowns at the message from Trini, takes a few minutes to compose her reply due to the light tremor lingering in her fingers. Who the hell was taking photos? she asks. She hadn’t seen anyone aiming a handheld or a camera at her.
I think it was a shopper. A few seconds later the photo blooms on the screen–literally; Trini’s added a flowering effect to the thing–and there she is, smiling at Mr. Pointilleuse over her jar of honey. Even with the hat and the sunglasses, there’s no way of hiding the nose.
I do look good, she replies. Tank top and jeans, maybe a little pale, but her muscle tone looks all right and she’s gained some weight. She’s never going to be a great beauty–too much Flogyston inbreeding doomed her and Trini both to “striking” at best and “handsome” at worst at least two generations ago–but she looks healthy, and it’s been a while since she could say that. She stares at herself–the stranger’s view of her, familiar from her mirror but also from so many other candid pictures in the press and the general networks. Ardriyne Tace Flogyston is always smiling, always cheerful, carefree and confident in her heritage and her wealth, knows her duty. If she looks the right way, she can see Lieutenant Tace Flogyston in the way she stands: her posture, even as she’s exuding “relaxed,” is impeccable.
I’m going to post it, so get ready for your face to saturate the gen net.
Thanks for the warning. Although she knew it was coming as soon as the photo blossomed on her handheld. The only other pictures of her recently are from her return to Holtzdorrne House and that day in Formes. Showing a healthy, smiling First Ardriyne is practically a requirement from their PR people. Better from Trini than her mother.
The FamFriend notification rings–Calitrinia Flogyston (Official) has mentioned you in a post!
She pokes it, and the app opens. There’s the photo. Tace, feeling better and out shopping–thanks whoever took this photo, she never sends me pics! :P
Trini is a much less formal Cisare than their father, Tace thinks wryly, and puts the phone aside before tilting her head back on the bed again. The jittery, anxious feeling has eased enough that she can ignore it, and she breathes for a while in what calm she has. She wonders if Javi and Lin follow her sister on the nets.
Eventually, Tace comes out of her room and finds Lin at the kitchen table, reading the news feeds. Tace gets a glass and fills it at the sink. The silence is heavy, like wet wool. The floor is cleaned up.
Lin’s voice is low when she asks, “Did–um. Did you have a good time at the market?” She doesn’t seem mad or impatient anymore.
Tace swallows her water and says, “Not exactly.”
Before she can go on, Lin asks, “What do you mean?”
Tace says nothing about that because she’d really like this argument to be over, so she pours more water into her glass and says, “It was crowded. Loud. Things had shut down or changed … moved. I couldn’t remember … um.”
“Where things were?” Lin asks.
“No.” Tace knows what she wants to say, the words are all there, but she waits for a minute, eyes on Lin, to see what she’ll do. Lin looks back, a blush creeping up her neck, and Tace feels guilty. “The beekeeper. Mr. Pointilleuse. I forgot his name.”
“Well, you do have memory loss,” Lin says gently.
There’s a joke she could make there, but she’s not up for it. “Yeah,” she says. “It was nice to be out, though. Doing things.”
“I saw the picture Trini posted,” Lin says, and Tace can’t read the tone of her voice. Wistful? Sad? “You look happy in it.”
“I suppose I do,” she says, pauses, looks for words. Second–First–Ardriyne has long been a persona she could slip on. She has always known, instinctively, when to wear it–as soon as she steps out her door, whether that door is to this house or her bedroom at home or Trini’s rooms and offices in Holtzdorrne. Javi and Lin used to tease her about it. “Maybe some things are so ground into me that I can’t forget them.”
“Muscle memory,” Lin says, nodding.
There’s no apology–with Tace and Lin there rarely is. The next day, the shoes are still wherever they took them off the night before; the clean dishes are in the washer and the dirty ones are in the sink. Tace finds Linea’s handheld on the couch and when she goes to place it on the charging pad, the screen lights up to reveal a lock screen background of Tace at the market.
Copyright 2017 by Laura E. Price. Feel free to link to this story–signal boosting is welcome!–but please don’t reproduce it without permission.