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 and Linea read and Tace sits on the floor with her bad leg stretched out, doing quad flexes and filling out her medical questionnaire on Lin’s tablet because it’s just easier to type on than her handheld. Her headache is a low throb.
“Would you say … is my speech improving?” she asks.
“You’re much less hesitant. You don’t hunt for words as much,” Lin says without really looking away from Tace’s handheld. “So yes.”
Tace clicks yes, sighs when please explain in the box below comes up, and starts typing. “Maybe I’m just not using as many words,” she says absently.
“Reading more?” Lin asks. “We could get paper books, they’d be easier on your head.”
“We don’t have to get new ones,” Tace says as she clicks next, “I probably don’t remember the plots of the books we already have.”
“Tace,” Javi says, his voice soft. She glances at him; his face is drawn, a little stormy.
“Javi, it’s okay,” she says. She smiles, hopes he’ll smile back. He doesn’t, though. She goes back to the tablet, reminding herself that Javi is not her mother, that she won’t be a disappointment to him if she can’t recall the plot of Spindle’s Faith (which sits on the bottom shelf of the book case right in front of her face; she’s not even sure if they owned it before she left).
“I think I’m going to go to bed,” Javi says suddenly. He kisses them both goodnight–Tace holds his face for a moment, feels his cheekbones under her fingertips before he smiles tightly at her and pulls gently away. She doesn’t say anything, though she wants to. She needs more words. She can’t find any for this orange and pink swirl of confusion and uncertainty in her head.
She glances over at Lin, who watches Javi walk down the hall before glancing over to Tace and shrugging. “I don’t think he’s mad at you,” she says.
“Yeah, me either,” Tace says, before letting out a breath and going back to her exercises and her report.
“Could we go to the … um, the library?” Tace asks one weekend morning at breakfast. “Our library? Where we met?”
Javi and Lin glance at each other. “Sure?” Javi says, and Lin nods. “Could we hit a public library, too? I’d like to get books.”
“Um. Sure.” The idea of two libraries sounds daunting but not impossible. She should bring her cane, for all the walking, and a bag for the market–did they still have the purple quilted one? And–wait. “Did we–” Sje gropes for words for a second, then says, “This is–we did this.” She frowns; Javi and Lin are both smiling, looking surprised. “Days out? Outings? What did we … ?”
“Day trips,” Javi says.
“Adventures,” Lin adds.
It feels like the memories are blossoming in her head. “I can’t walk all day.”
“No,” Lin says, “that’s–”
“Yet,” Tace interrupts. “I will. Just not. Today. It’s fine. So–the car. Okay.”
“Are you–you want a whole day out, Tace?” Lin asks carefully.
Tace nods, ready to argue. Well, ready to get ready to argue. She starts marshaling her words.
“Okay,” Lin says. “Okay. We need to make sure you eat more than just a pretzel for lunch, but okay.”
Javi’s the one who says, “If it gets to be too much, ro your knee starts hurting, though, we can come home. If we end up starting small, it’s fine.”
Which–it makes sense. She’s not entirely sure she wants to spend a whole day out, really. But part of the day. Yes.
The smell of the Royal Library hits her like the softest, biggest, least comfortable pillow in the world. It slams Second Ardriyne Tace Flogyston back into her skin, but as familiar as it is to feel like this, it doesn’t fit. It’s alien.
Lin is greeting the Library staff. Tace reaches out and catches Javi’s hand, feels his rings against her fingers. It feels familiar and right, changed but still his hand. She looks at him, his smile and skin but older face, and the sense of herself-from-before fades, ebbs away. When Lin leads a couple of librarians over it recedes further until it’s just a wraith hovering at the back of her head.
Tace greets the librarians, smiles, speaks carefully, slips into First Ardriyne easily and out again when they’re left to their own devices. The three of them wander the stacks as the few people here today pretend not to notice the First Ardriyne, her lovers, and her discreet security detail. The indifference of its patrons was always one of the Royal Library’s draws.
She kisses Javi in his old writing alcove; he laughs against her mouth. Lin wraps an arm around Tace’s waist near their pair of chairs and leans her head on Tace’s shoulders. “I haven’t been back here in ages,” Lin says. “Since I finished my dissertation.”
Tace doesn’t remember the finishing. She does remember going to bed with Lin still working on it, the click of keys and she shadows of books along her cheekbones.
She feels off-balance, unable to decide of she’s happy or sad or anxious, and so she doesn’t protest when Lin and Javi are ready to leave.
The public library is a long visit while Javi looks for new books; Tace and Lin find a corner in which to read while they wait. Tace has a paper book, testing Lin’s theory about her headaches, while Lin is downloading to her tablet. Tace ignores the sounds of photos being taken, of people murmuring her name, just reads until Javi finds them, his arms laden with books and some vid sticks.
They eat an actual lunch at a cafe, sitting outside because the patio isn’t as crowded, and making each other laugh. They talk about Bitumen Falls and politics–both national and the departmental politics of Lin’s work. Javi flinches a little when Tace doesn’t remember any of Lin’s co-workers and has to be reminded or told who they are and what part they play, but he doesn’t say anything. They have a nice lunch.
“You still okay?” Lin asks as they go to the car. “Still up for the market?”
Tace considers, then nods. “I’ll probably need the cane,” she says.
Mr. Pointilleuse is delighted to see all three of them; he comes from behind his stand to hug them all and proceeds to haggle with Lin over the price of his honey just for the fun of it. Javi snakes an arm around Tace to watch them, grinning; she takes her weight from her cane and leans against Javi instead, takes a breath of the warm air, of Javi’s scent, of Lin laughing voice.
They’re wandering the book stalls when then twinging in Tace’s knee becomes too much to ignore and her head starts to buzz with too much.
“I think I’m ready to head home,” she says. Javi has a book open in his hands; Lin’s reading it over his shoulder. “Do you two want to stay? I can send the car back–”
“Can you wait long enough for me to pay for this?” Javi asks. “Then we can go? Lin?” Lin nods.
“Okay,” Tace says. “Let’s pay and go home.”
As soon as they drop their bags, Javi pulls them–careful of Tace’s knee–both into his room and topples them into his bed for a nap. “Tace in the middle,” he says. “She came up with the brilliant plan, so she gets a reward.”
And so Tace ends the outing snugged between Lin and Javi, drifting to sleep in a pile. When she wakes up two hours later, buzzing gone and knee stiff, she finds the two of them awake and reading their new book over her head. So she stretches and slides up between them to find out what’s so interesting they can’t take turns.
Trini sends her a message later that night: You are all over the ‘nets. Have a good day?
There are, of course, photos from the public library of Tace and Lin reading. Quite a few from the cafe–Javi downloads one of the three of them laughing, him with his head thrown back, Lin with a hand over her eyes, and Tace with her forehead on the table. She saves one of Mr. Pointilleuse beaming at them.
She makes another one her lock screen: the three of them at a book stall, browsing different books, but Lin has one shoulder leaned against Tace’s, and Javi is leaning in over Tace’s other shoulder to point at something in Lin’s book. Tace is looking up at both of them, smiling. She looks like … well, like Tace. Not Lieutenant, not Ardriyne. Tace.
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.