CHAPTER ONE

part VII

Dumbstruck, Roe looked to Bell then back at Ari, whose conviction did not waver. Then she burst into hysteric laughter.

Bell, seeking to salvage the uncomfortable situation, turned to Ari, “Sweetie, I’m sorry, but that’s an... unusual thing to say. We don’t really understand.”

Ari, watching Roe wipe away her tears of laughter, nervously chewed her cheek and struggled to find her words, “I--it’s...” She sighed in frustration and unconsciously rubbed her gloved right hand with her left. “It’s... complicated and very serious, I promise you. I’m sorry, I can’t... I’m forbidden from saying much more than that... and it sounded better in my head--”

Roe finally steadied herself and interjected, “Wait, wait, wait, forbidden? Are you serious? Do you know how stupid that sounds?”

“Zero!” Bell cut in.

“No, Grandma, I’m sorry, but I’m done,” Roe’s expression grew serious, and her temper flared. “These people are always coming around looking for that asshole and his ancient alien bullshit, and, now, he sends his rust-brained assistant halfway across the planet to tell me I’m key to some doom-and-gloom crap, and she can’t even tell me what the hell it is? No. It’s a scam. Just like the rest of it. Think about it. You’re turning 100, and it’s gotta be near the end of the road for him by now--“

Ari attempted to interject but saw it was no use.

“--He just wants some kind of fucked up family reunion,” Roe railed on, “So he can act like he’s done nothing wrong all these years and we can all live happily ever after together in the Church of Empyreal Assholes.”

A terrible silence came over the room.

Ari stared at the ground. Roe took a breath, shaken, the venom in her words only now just settling in. She looked to Bell, who’s quiet fury amplified the sting of guilt now climbing up her neck, “Zero. Meridian. Apologize. Now.”

Roe attempted to backtrack, “Look--I’m--you seem like a nice person, okay, but I--“

Ari shook her head and raised her hand to stop Roe, the pain of embarrassment flush on her face, “No, please, I... I shouldn’t have come.” She stood up.

Bell did the same, “Ari, please--“

“No, Bell, thank you, but it’s okay,” Ari said as she forced a smile, “This--was a bad idea. I need to go. Thank you for allowing me into your home,” before walking past Roe towards the front entryway.

Roe stood there at a loss as she passed. Bell gave her a grave look to which Roe couldn’t even respond before Bell took off after Ari. Roe sighed and looked to W0RM who chittered at her from the couch-back. “I know,” she groaned before heading after them.

“--I’ll be fine, really, thank you,” Roe overheard Ari say, as she found Bell helping her pull on her woven backpack and what looked like some kind of staff in a shoulder sling.

“You won’t get in trouble with--well, whoever?” Bell asked.

Ari saw Roe approach from the doorway behind Bell. She looked at her with a momentary, reserved sadness but pushed through it and turned back to Bell. She smiled. “You’re even more kind and beautiful than he described,” Ari said taking Bell’s hand. “I hope we meet again under… different circumstances.”

Then she turned and left.

Roe stared at her grandmother’s back, as Bell stood in the warm bit of air that had drifted in from the outside, staring at the front door that had just closed a moment ago.

Bell turned to find Roe behind her.

“Grandma, I didn’t mean to--“ Roe implored. “I mean, come on. It’s... he’s...” But she gave up, unable to defend herself. “I’m sorry.”

A moment passed before Bell spoke, a quiet disappointment in her voice, “Take the tanks to town. And see if you can find a used generator.”

“Okay,” Roe said, ruefully, “Look--I’m--“ but Bell had already walked past her, leaving Roe alone and ashamed.


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