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An Unexpected Surprise

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She blinks at the sight of the man in front of her. It’s been years since last their paths crossed, but she instantly recognizes him. After all, while there may be any number of portly, bald men dressed in clerical cassocks, the absence of eyebrows identifies him fairly definitively.

She considers simply going on. After all, she once considered this man her enemy, and while that may no longer be true, neither does she feel the least desire to acquire a confessor. But she finds that she cannot.

“Father Tallis,” she greets him, and he turns back to her and gives her a second, confused look. She is not, after all, the teenaged girl she was when last he saw her, but a woman in her twenties.

His gaze sweeps over her. The top she’s wearing leaves the shoulder of her good arm bare, while covering her other arm in a long sleeve. She’s wearing a glove on that hand, as is her custom, while the other hand is bare. She can identify the moment--not so much of recognition as understanding--when he realizes who she is.

“Miss Cutter,” Tallis greets her politely, her own surprise at their unplanned meeting mirrored on his face. “This is an unexpected surprise, to be sure.”

“A surprise could hardly be otherwise,” Kali points out.

Tallis nods in acquiescence. “Touché.”

“Are you still located in London?” Kali asks, unsure of what else to say.

“I am,” Tallis agrees.

“Are you free?” she asks. Perhaps she does have need of a confessor, after all.

Tallis looks pensive. “Strangely enough,” he answers slowly, “I’m planning on meeting--” He breaks off as a tall girl with fiery red hair, a few years younger than Kali herself, rounds the turn. “Uncle Father!” she says, addressing Tallis. “There you are.”

Kali’s heart falls, because in truth there’s really only one person this could be, and it would be the mildest of understatements to say that, despite the months of enforced companionship they shared during her convalescence, she and Polyhymnia O’Keefe did not exactly part the dearest of friends.

“Polly,” Tallis says, “you remember Carolyn Cutter, of course.”

In an instant, Polly’s face goes blank, not betraying the least modicum of emotion. “Of course,” she echoes, her voice just as impassive. It is not, Kali thinks ruefully, as if Polly would have easily forgotten someone who had killed one of her best friends. “How are you, Kali?”

“Good,” Kali answers honestly, trying not to shrink away under the force of Polly’s expressionless stare. “Adulthood agrees with me.”

“I’m glad,” Polly answers, politely and without either warmth or unkindness.

“I fully understood if you choose to decline, Kali” Tallis interjects, perhaps in an attempt to move the conversation to a new subject, “but--would you mind indulging an old man’s curiosity?”

Kali glances between Tallis and Polly, but to her own surprise finds she doesn’t actually mind showing them. They’ve both seen it before, after all: before them, she holds no secrets, a fact she finds oddly freeing in its own way. She pulls off her glove, then pushes up the sleeve to display an unblemished, unexceptional arm.

“I don’t even know why I keep it covered,” she admits. “It’s like the exact opposite of a phantom limb. I know it’s there, I know it’s mine, but I almost feel like it isn’t.”

“Not even a scar,” Tallis says admiringly. “And ‘they say miracles are past.’”

“‘Uncertain life and sure death,’” Kali quotes back at the clergyman. “Although Polly’s father might not appreciate you giving miracles the credit for his hard work.”

“Only a fool thinks that God cannot use the acts of men to perform his miracles,” Tallis chides gently. “And Calvin O’Keefe is no fool.”

“No,” Kali agrees softly. “He is not.”

“Nor are you, Carolyn Cutter,” he continues, more sternly, but there is a twinkle in his eye.

“Polly?” a young man interjects. Kali turns to see a strikingly handsome young man staring intently at Polly,

“Zach?”

Kali looks between the two, trying to decipher the tension between them. Polly clearly is not glad to see him; the distaste in her eyes is almost as great as it had been towards Kali herself. Zach, on the other hand, is clearly thrilled to see Polly. Clearly the two have some kind of history.

“Apparently it is a day for unexpected surprises,” Tallis notes wryly, sotte voce.

“This is my--this is Zach,” Polly introduces him.

“John Tallis,” Tallis says as he extends his hand to the boy.

“Zachary Gray,” Zach answers, shaking Tallis’ hand.

“And this is Carolyn Cutter,” Polly introduces Kali to Zach. “She stayed with us for a time when we lived in Portugal.” Well, that’s an accurate, if incredibly misleading, description of the facts, Kali supposes.

Zach turns to her and Kali is gratified to see that apparently it’s not quite the case that he only has eyes for Polly. “Call me Kali,” she says, gracing him with one of her best smiles.


“Well, I suppose that’s one way to get rid of unwanted guests,” Polly says at she sits down with her godfather in the museum café. At Tallis’ look, she adds, “Oh, I know I ought to be charitable, but really, the two of them deserve each other.”

“I suppose they do,” Tallis acknowledged. “I suspect they’re either going to be very good for each other, or absolutely horrible for each other. I believe there may be some reason to hold out hope for them, though.”

“Maybe. Either way, I’m glad I don’t have to be the one to worry about it,” Polly says with a shrug. “Although it was strange running into both of them on the same day. What are the chances of that happening, do you think?”

“I would not have expected you to still believe in coincidence after all you’ve seen, my dear,” Tallis points out.

“Fair enough,” Polly acknowledges with a slight laugh. “But it really was an unexpected surprise.”

Tallis laughs as well, a warm, kind chuckle. “It was that, Polly. It certainly was that.”