Deep Red, Chapter Thirty-Two

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lioness and cub

July 27, 1978: I returned from Montana today and immediately found myself part of a ceremony. My wedding ceremony. It looked so much like the pictures I remember from visiting my grandmother’s house. My mom was married here, too. Have I, now, become one of the unlucky? It’s the way it feels…July 29, 1978: The wedding night was so awkward. Kenneth has an uncanny ability for make-believe. I think he truly believes I love him. I wonder how long it will be before I have a squalling infant to take care of. Mom tells me it is the most beautiful and rewarding experience I will have. Grammy says it is a beautiful burden, but she is glad to have me. I don’t feel happy about any of the situation–except. Except Cynthia. She’s at Haven, too. While Derek does not pay mind to our relationship, Kenneth would most definitely take me away or hurt Cynthia (likely die trying) if he found out. Consequently, secrets have become my life, and yet I feel more free than ever. Let Victoria and Kenneth have their illusion. I’m fine right here…January 18, 1980: last night I gave birth to a little boy. Victoria and Kenneth were both disappointed, which I think makes me love him more. I’ve decided to call him Isaak. He’s the most beautiful baby, already with a mop of black curls. He looks like Kenneth, which isn’t surprising. I prefer to think he looks like Cynthia. After all, I’m more her partner than Kenneth is mine. She still hasn’t had children, which neither she nor Derek seem especially concerned by. Meanwhile, she helps me take care of Isaak…July 27, 1980: Kenneth discovered Cynthia and I’s relationship. I’m not sure how, but suspect Victoria is behind it. She wants Derek to have children, and she wants me to have a girl. Kenneth isn’t curious or suspicious enough to have suspected and discovered our relationship on his own. At any rate, he threatened to take Isaak away if I do not leave. He doesn’t even want Isaak, but he’ll do it just to spite me, and no one will care, because Isaak’s a boy. As much as I love Cynthia, I love Isaak more, and I know if Victoria does not get her way she will make us all suffer. I will go, but I won’t forget…July 27, 1981: a month ago, Kenneth and I moved from Denver to Colorado Springs. It’s so full of nature here, but I didn’t want to come on account of my mother. We even moved into her neighborhood. She is endless in her demand for another grandchild. She says our clan is nothing without its legacy. I don’t argue, because I no longer care. I miss Cynthia. I even miss Haven and all its secrets. Before I left, I was transcribing some pretty interesting information, but I can’t do it here for fear of discovery. I am one of the lucky again–one of the ignorant lucky–but my mother doesn’t rule me any more. No one does. When I am with Kenneth now I cry. I cry for what I’ve lost and I cry for what I must endure. He notices now and asks what’s wrong, as if he doesn’t understand…September 17, 1982: Derek still meets me in my dreams. He passes on messages, including Cynthia’s love, but I cannot hold her. The only comfort in my life is my son. I’m not sure any Cayce woman, or any Otherworld woman at all, for that matter, has ever loved a little boy as I love this one. I would do anything for him, and I will make sure he knows that for the rest of his life. Or the rest of mine…March 3, 1983: My mother finally got her wish. Today I gave birth to a little girl. When I was in my post-birth stupor, Derek visited me and told me Cynthia, too, had just given birth to a little girl. Zoe. I wonder if it happened at the same moment. I wonder if she was thinking of me, as I was of her. I wish our little girls could know each other. This child will be named after the original Cayce. Margaret. I want her to grow up strong. I hope that she will not have to do what I have, that she will not have to live a lie, but will–instead–live her own life. The only way to ensure my hopes is to stay with Kenneth, and to continue the charade of obedience….

from The Diary of Bobbi Cayce, 1978-1983. Untranslated.

Happy Birthday!

Chapter Thirty-Two

The Nature of Belonging

or

Happy Birthday!

 Marlo awoke on March 3rd with complete indifference. It wasn’t until Drew shuffled her into the dining hall to the decorated table, complete with an enormous cake, that she began to feel a sense of what it was like to have a birthday. The last celebration she even remembered was the one right before her mother died, which was still a blur. This was the first time, too, that she associated her birthday with snow.

The dining hall had a large wall-to-wall window where Marlo could see large flakes snow falling onto the inches thick, unblemished mounds of fluff. Marlo felt a freakish urge to run out into the snow and dive in, like Linus dove into the leaves in It’s a Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. It’s a Happy Birthday, 3/3, she thought. She could drag Q with her and force him to have some fun. She resisted the urge and, instead, sat down at the birthday table.

Q was already at the table when she arrived. She saw him smirk, look out into the snow and shake his head, and she knew he’d experienced her fantasy. Katrina and Zoe joined the three of them a few minutes later, and Alexis arrived shortly afterward. Their table usually had more than just the 3/3 members, but the day was obviously special, because the dining hall was empty except for them.

After each person had blown out one of the six candles, Q did the honors of cutting the beautiful, chocolate cake. He cut two pieces, one for himself and one for Katrina. The others chatted about nonsense, mostly the children, until Q and Katrina finished eating.

“Presents!” Alexis said in an unusual show of enthusiasm.

Drew laughed. “I’ll text Damon and ask him to bring them in.”

Damon was one of the Resident thralls kept in the house. Marlo bit her tongue and waited. She hadn’t bought any gifts for anyone, and doubted anyone had gotten anything for her. She had so little experience with gifts. One Christmas Eve, Lucy let her sleep at her friend Nadine’s house. The next morning, Nadine’s mother had made them all pancakes and bacon. Nadine and her brother, Nate, had received so many gifts. Clothes and video games and CDs and everything Nadine said she asked for. Marlo had watched with wonder and longing. She wished her family was normal and that she could have a single break from her studies where either Lucy or Victoria made her feel as loved as Garret or Nadine’s family did.

Nadine’s mother had handed Marlo a stocking before the gifting commenced.

“Santa didn’t forget you, Marlo.” Nadine’s mother had winked.

Marlo had liked Nadine’s mother. She’d made Marlo feel special. She’d also made Marlo long for her own mother. “Bobbi would have let me have insert super cool experience or present here,” Marlo would say to Lucy when Victoria wasn’t around. Lucy assured Marlo that Bobbi would have done nothing of the kind (whichever kind Marlo thought up at the time), but Marlo didn’t believe her. After junior high, Nadine and Marlo had parted ways. Nadine moved to another military town, following her mother’s job, and Marlo stayed put.

Ironically, in this room of delight, among these near-strangers, save Q and Drew, Marlo had little expectation of feeling special or particularly happy. Zoe’s cold demeanor during their visits told her that she had not, and may never, forgive her for what happened to Katrina. Katrina’s eye and ear healed, but she still had trouble hearing out of the damaged ear. Even now, as they all talked to and over one another, Katrina subtly inclined her good ear toward the group. Marlo knew that their being together held little danger now, but she did not feel like Katrina should forgive her. Marlo’s interaction with Alexis, similarly, was strictly action-oriented, and usually ended with Marlo’s face looking like a giant, swollen bruise.

When the presents arrived, they were divided by five and Marlo swallowed the large lump in her throat. Even diminished expectations were no true brace for reality. Stupid, she thought, berating her hidden hope.

“One of mine is yours, Marlo,” Drew said, handing a small, gold-wrapped gift to her. Marlo smiled and touched the heavy rectangular package.

“Me, too,” Alexis said. Her gold-wrapped present was large and flat.

“Me, too,” chimed Katrina and Zoe. Theirs were different shapes, but still had the same wrapping.

“This was a stupid idea,” Q said. He handed Marlo another gift and rolled his eyes. “I would have said something to you, but there wasn’t time. I told you guys she’s sensitive.”

Marlo smiled, trying to hold back the tears. “Thank you,” she said. She smiled at Q and shrugged. “It’s nice.” He had become almost an Isaak double. His ability to read her mind not-withstanding, he tried to understand her, which was nice. He cared.

“I’m sorry I didn’t get any of you anything,” she said as she began to delicately unwrap each of the gifts. “I honestly forgot today was our birthday.”

“It’s okay,” everyone said, each with their own varied response.

“Of course, you’ll be giving us all gifts later in the temple,” Alexis said.

“That sounds dirty,” Katrina said. “Or ominous.” She looked at Marlo. “It isn’t either. Q’s gift from you to us is going to be your first elemental test, which I–for one–am looking forward to.”

Marlo felt blindsided again. She wasn’t ready for a test, especially not in front of a group of people.

Q leaned over. “You’re ready, and the closest to real-life pressure you might actually face is something like this.”

“How thoughtful of you,” Marlo said. “So much for being sensitive.”

Q laughed. “I was being sensitive. Imagine if you had known this yesterday. Your lack of a good night’s sleep would have been even more disturbed than usual.” He was referring to the fact that she hadn’t slept more than two hours a night since her first change. “Now, finish opening your presents so we can get started.”

Marlo’s enjoyment of what she received was not dampened, only because of the nature of the gifts. Each was a different piece of an impressive set of art supplies. “How did you–”

“You were such a wiz at art when we were kids–” Alexis started.

“And Steve’s books can only offer so much distraction–” Katrina said.

“And there’s got to be more to your life than training and studying,” Drew said.

“Plus,” Zoe said. “Jack told us.”

“Well, I’m grateful, no matter what the reason.” Marlo looked at Zoe pointedly. “To all of you.” Zoe blushed and turned away. Her behavior remained a mystery to Marlo. Marlo didn’t know if she would ever like, trust, or even appreciate Zoe, but Zoe did seem to care, in her own way. That was something.

Chapter Thirty-Three→