A Misbegotten New Year

It’s New Year’s Eve! I don’t have a thing that I want to say about 2017 other than, perhaps, “don’t let the door hit you on the way out,” so for my twelfth and final blog post of the year (resolution achieved!), I wrote a little scene for my dear friends who know the characters of MISBEGOTTEN CREATURES. If you don’t know these characters, I hope you likethe scene as well, though it’ll likely be a bit confusing, just because I didn’t want to spoil many details from the book. This is a little prequel scene from around eight or nine months before the story starts, actually, and the protagonist of MC isn’t actually in it (sorry, Millie). Instead, it’s told from the POV of Rosie, by special request (which delights me for a number of reasons, not least of all because Rosie is ridiculously fun to write). This got longer than I intended, just like the last post of 2016, which was a vignette about characters from THE CHILDREN’S WAR. So like that, I’m going to put this behind a cut. If you decide to read, I hope you enjoy it! Maybe I’ll make this a New Year’s Eve tradition!

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you all take 2018 by storm.

“Rosie!”

What?

Gret scowled at me from the doorway. I glared back.

“You said we could watch on your laptop,” she said. “Everyone’s waiting.”

“And everyone will be waiting for another eight minutes,” I pointed out. “So can I finish what I’m doing, please?”

Gret opened her mouth to reply, but Luc called her name from the kitchen. We both ground our teeth. In the nearly three months since I’d moved to this forsaken corner of the world, Gret and I had agreed on precisely one thing: we hated when Luc refereed our arguments. Unfortunately, there was no use yelling at him about it. He obviously already knew and didn’t care.

Gret turned on her heel and marched away without closing my door. I felt my upper lip curling over my teeth, but I forced it back down and returned my attention to the screen. It wasn’t like Gret didn’t make me find information for her all the time. How did she know that I wasn’t doing any of the eighteen favors she’d asked right now? (I wasn’t, but that was hardly the point.) Some days I didn’t know how she’d managed to navigate the Unconscious at all before I showed up.

Of course, if she hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here. Neither would Luc. He’d still be in the hospital, slowly losing his mind, and I –

I’d have found somewhere else, I told myself. I had contacts all over the country – all over the world – through the Unconscious. Sure, some of the people I’d thought I could trust stopped responding as soon as I’d sent out that first frantic message from my father’s old car in the middle of the desert: IN BIG TROUBLE. NEED A PLACE QUICK. Even more of them dropped me after they asked “legal?” and I was forced to say yes. But then an address had popped up from a user I’d never messaged before. I almost ignored her because she was too close by – based on the scene I’d left behind, I was pretty sure the police were going to cast a pretty wide net – but then I remembered I was driving a stolen car and should probably stop doing that as soon as possible.

So here I was now in Supplicants Grove.

I looked at the time and hissed softly. I wasn’t going to find any new information before midnight. Even though I’d only been five years old, I could vividly remember the media circus from when all the adaptationists’ labs had been raided. But whoever was in charge of whatever current investigation was going on ninety miles to the south was doing an obnoxiously great job of keeping everything quiet. Of course, the government had wanted the world to see how shocked and appalled we were the first time around. Now, I could only assume they wanted the world to believe that whole disaster was over forever.

I heard a knock and snapped my head up, all set to shout at Gret. Instead, I bit back whatever I was about to say (I certainly didn’t know) just in time. Luc smiled wanly at me, his head resting on the doorframe.

“I still have five minutes,” I said.

“I know,” he said in that weird, careful voice that had been slowly grating my nerves into dust for weeks. “But if you don’t mind, I actually prefer starting a New Year without stewing in barely controlled rage, so maybe you could just come out here and enjoy the countdown with the rest of us?”

I stared at him. He visibly braced himself, gripping the arms of his wheelchair.

“You – you can’t say stuff like that!” I spluttered. “Can you?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “It’s probably super unfair. In my defense, I’m really angry right now.”

Which was another jab at me. A few indignant noises came out of my throat, but they didn’t turn into words or shouts. The thing was, Luc didn’t look angry. He looked a little worried, maybe, and tired, too, but that wasn’t new. He half-smiled again.

“Or you could keep being angry,” he said mildly. “But if you do that, I’d appreciate it if you gave me some examples of things to be angry about. Otherwise, it’s just an aimless mess.” He gestured at his own head, making small explosion motions with his fingers.

“Not a mind reader,” I said dryly, repeating his constant reminder.

“Nope,” he agreed.

“Don’t you have plenty of your own stuff to be angry about?”

“Sure, but I’m a little bored of it.”

I hesitated, then said, “I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of mine.”

I cleared my throat pointlessly; it wasn’t like Luc of all people was going to mistake the rawness in my voice for a dry throat. His smile was so gentle that I had to sit up and push my laptop away before I broke it in half.

“You might,” he said. “So come on, then. What should I be pissed about?”

I rolled my eyes and shook my head, but he just sat there patiently. Finally, I said, “I don’t know, groups of people who take up the whole sidewalk when they walk?”

“That is a very good answer for someone in a wheelchair,” he said gravely. “What else?”

“Guys who wear too much cologne because they want you to notice it was expensive.”

Yes,” he said emphatically. The corner of my lip twitched. Unlike Gret and Sandra, Luc had grown up with as many social climbers as I had. “It’s not like I could tell them apart, anyway. They all smell the same. Anything else?”

“People who can’t learn even the most basic computer functions?”

He raised an eyebrow at me. “I prefer not to be mad at Gret on New Year’s, either.”

I burst out laughing. The sound startled me; at first I thought, that’s not what my laugh sounds like, but it had been kind of a while. Maybe I wouldn’t know. Luc grinned widely, though he looked a little sheepish.

“She’s really not that bad,” he said.

“No, no, you can’t take it back now!” I said, still laughing.

From the kitchen, Gret and Sandra both shouted, “Rosie!

“Ugh, coming!” I shouted back, but I surprised myself again by winking at Luc. I pulled my laptop back towards me and clicked on a tab that I had already opened hours ago. A countdown clock blinked in the corner. Forty seconds.

I passed the laptop to Luc and pushed him into the kitchen while he fiddled with the volume. The excited murmuring of faraway rich people filled the room. I felt a sharp pang. It wasn’t like my mother and I ever traveled – polite society had any number of reasons for scorning us – but we would spend our holidays comfortable and together, surrounded by art and light, not boarded windows and crumbling walls.

“Rosie,” Luc whispered.

I swallowed hard, then whispered back, “Just despairing about cologne.”

Of course he didn’t believe me, but he said, “Okay, good.” I didn’t have a name for whatever I felt in response, but I hoped he appreciated it.

We set the laptop down on the kitchen table with seventeen seconds to spare. Sandra knelt directly in front of it, shoving her face as close to the screen as she could without blocking anyone else’s view. (Well, she kind of did block our views a little, but no one mentioned it.) The rest of us crowded around, pushing our heads close together. I didn’t look at Gret and she didn’t look at me, but I didn’t mind right then that we were both in that kitchen together. Not being Luc, I didn’t know if she felt the same way, but I hoped she did.

The countdown clock flashed. Sandra said, “Ten – nine-come-on-you-guys-you-have-to-count-eight – seven –“

Gret let out a small huff of laughter and joined in. “Six – five –”

Luc elbowed me, and the four of us finished it out together: “Four – three – two – one!”

On the screen, fireworks exploded. Red, blue, gold, and white starbursts lit the dark sky hundreds of miles to the north. The celebration wasn’t for us, but we stole it. That was, it seemed, what we did best. And even though I knew it was a silly thought, I couldn’t help feeling like each bright new detonation was art on our walls, if only for a moment.

Sandra was squinting but smiling, her face reflecting the flashing colors of the fireworks. “Out with the old, in with the new,” she said happily.

“Good riddance,” I said.

Gret glanced over at me and our eyes briefly met. I thought I saw something like understanding on her face. She did, after all, once have a year almost as bad as mine had been.

“Happy New Year,” she said.

“Happy New Year,” said the rest of the little pack – Sandra, Luc, and now me.

I still was certain I could have found somewhere else. But maybe I was glad that I didn’t have to.

 

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