a little late for a change of plan

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Jenny claws her way out of the dream, feeling the fear cinching her throat tight. She calls out, kicking free of the threadbare sheet and drops to the floor. It's easy, then, to cry. Because she's broken the skin of her left knee, because it really fucking smarts, because she's crying out for a mother who'll never come. Who wouldn't even if she asked.

John's there, then, his big hand pulling her hair back over her shoulder and swiping at a line of tears. Jenny swallows and it sounds like a motor dying, during over. No worry, he says, sometimes I feel like that too.

He looks off, out the window, the early-morning light of the city reflecting in his eyes. I'll get you a bandage.

He doesn't mention, but she sees it, the drops of blood collecting on the hardwood, and her stomach lurches.

*

Spain makes a measure of sense, even if John does take sharp glances around granite corners and even if Jenny knows he's seen a flash of red. Of course, they aren't John and Jenny any longer, they can't be. (Doesn't change that John still shifts in his sleep and whispers "Alice," his lips curling.)

Jenny's left her hair down and loose for days, the wind whipping at it, cutting invisible marks into her cheeks and nose. Spain might be full of ghosts, John told her, but they aren't the ones we're running from.

Are we then? Running?

(Still, not-Jenny isn't keen on closing her eyes. The blood follows her vision after, doing her head right in. Not-John nods when he sees her, wide-eyed, pressing his mouth thin.)

*

He's restless after only a week in the flat, constantly reaching for the cell that won't be at his breast or in his pocket or on the table. They're bound to be looking, now. Jenny doesn't ask who, knowing the answer is longer than the question. She flips a page in her beginners language workbook and thinks quien, knows she's pronouncing it wrong, even in her head.

*

Do you have a picture of her, then?

He looks up, surprised. Jenny can't quite see his eyes, his brows are so low and thick and worried. Of Alice? And the way he says her name confirms something -- Jenny isn't sure what, but her heart settles a little, sinks.

*

She has the answers ready when he asks her to run to the market for some decent food -- Jennifer Aaron, la trabaja de mi padre, gracias, gracias -- and blinks in surprise when he doesn't run her through the gamut.

He must notice it, her hand pausing on the door knob, because he laughs, a sound she hasn't heard in months. I trust you, silly girl, he says, and still Jenny blinks once more before stepping out of the flat.

There are things she'd like to say to him as well. Not least among them thank you, but they've drawn up a sort of truce. They don't ask, they don't share.

She drops a ripe orange into his hand when she returns, and it feels like enough.

*

Spain really isn't anything like Jenny expected, not from what little John knew or from growing up with a mother who thought anyplace that wasn't England as exotic as Paris. Still, she can't quite get rid of the feeling that there's something magical here, that the differences in architecture and climate equate to something more than strictly that.

Jenny sleeps with the windows open, waking slowly to the sounds on the street outside when morning comes. You'll need to start looking for a job soon, John tells her.

So will you, she smirks.

It's easier, every day, to forget.

*

It should happen somewhere special, somewhere memorable. Instead, Jenny turns the corner on her daily walk and there she is -- Alice -- sitting on a bench and reading. She can't remember the street, later, or the time of day. She just remembers the sunlight on Alice's hair, the quirk of her upper lip. She knows immediately, she remembers that.

*

I went to the morgue, you know, Alice says, sliding easily into a folding chair in their living room. It's such an arbitrary part of the process, considering. Nothing is as cut and dry as they like to make it, especially not death.

She pauses, sucks in a long, calculated breath.

You'd expect me to like it, wouldn't you? The science of the thing appealing to my... sensibilities? Oh, hardly. There's nothing appealing to me about dragging an empty sack across town, slicing it up, plumping it. Sewing the pieces back together like a prom dress.

It's just another symptom of an overly-sensitive societal structure that relies on pretense and routine and tired traditions. One must sip the tea elegantly.

Alice holds out a pinky, smiling at Jenny, smiling at John.

One must iron one's skirt for primary. One must call me mum and not Fredericka. One must. One must. One must.

John sits back, lacing his fingers together. One must not murder one's parents? he suggests, and Jenny can taste iron in the air. (No, not the air. She's bitten her lip. The taste of crimson dribbling over her tongue.)

She sniffs, dropping her hand and folding it in her lap. They treated her well, John.

*

The door is closed, but neither have any pretense of privacy. She can't just stay here, John, Jenny hisses, fingers clenched at her sides.

Here's a good a place as any, he answers, rubbing his head.

He doesn't say No, she can't, or No, this is our place. He looks at the door and tugs Jenny's braid. He doesn't bother smiling, this time.

*

I thought you might enjoy a cup of tea, says Alice, suddenly in the doorway to Jenny's room. She's wearing one of John's shirts over -- she shifts -- a pair of pristine knickers. She refuses to think about what it means, will continue to refuse until it all becomes painfully clear, as she's sure it will.

One must sip the tea elegantly? Jenny suggests, making no move to accept the olive branch.

Alice smiles, and there's a sickness behind it. One must, she echoes, and sets the mug on the very edge of Jenny's bedside table. If I breathe, she thinks, the whole thing will drop.