Without the skull we return back to the London. I’m so relieved to be home. Our home as a married couple. Really, once we left Tibet we haven’t been able to just be married and I’m going to enforce a strictly domestic home policy for at least a week. With Lara paranoid about the artifacts we do have it’s an uphill battle that I’m losing, but when I dump one of the cats in her lap I finally get her nose out of her journals.
She scritches Grim’s head and looks up at me. “Okay I get it, I’ve been neglecting you.”
The tabby meows in agreement while I nod my head vigorously. “Married couple stuff, Lara. You need to get out of the house. I need to get out of the house. It’s stupid, I know it is but we need to be normal for a little while.”
“It’s not stupid.” Lara closes her journal and gently puts the cat on the floor. She gets up and puts her arm around me as she guides me out of the study. “I was on the phone with Soraya earlier. She said she had a lead, but she’s not going to call again for a few hours.”
“And you’d rather spend your time waiting with me than researching, right?” I don’t want to be the kind of wife that makes her spouse drop everything at the drop of a hat for her. I don’t. I feel guilty saying that as soon as it’s out of my mouth. “God I’m being a selfish bitch!”
She stops moving and gives out a little sigh and strokes my cheek. “I’m being a little selfish too. Getting absorbed in something like this.”
I burst into a smile, still feeling way more selfish than Lara has a right to. But I’m not gonna argue. “Okay I’ll drive. That way you can read up on your phone while we’re on the way!”
Lara gets this adorably panicked look on her face but I’ve already grabbed the keys and I’m running for the garage. I can hear her behind me as I turn and try not to break my neck on the stairs. There’s this crashing sound and Lara has jumped off the stairs and landed on a table. She rolls to her feet and looks okay so I dart past her. She nearly grabs my arm but I shake her off.
The best part is she’s laughing as she chases me to the car, just a little too late, because I dive into the driver’s seat. She stands next to the door, leaning against it as we both pant for breath.
“How old was that table you just broke?” It looked expensive, but not old. I’m not going to tell her it probably cost a few hundred pounds though.
“Oh god. Thirty years, I think?” She leans in and pecks my cheek. “Just try to drive like a normal person? Please?”
“Says the lady who just dropped twenty feet in a mad dash for the right to drive.” I buckle up and start the car. Once Lara is settled, I tear out of the garage. Lara lets out this gasp and grabs onto the handle above the door. She’s never forgotten this big accident I had when I was seventeen. I don’t remember anything about it. One minute we were in my Aston Martin and the next I was in the hospital with Lara sleeping in the chair next to the bed. She’d looked pretty banged up and it was good to wake up to her being okay, but I still feel guilty.
Maybe not guilty enough. It didn’t really do much to make me drive any differently. Life is too short not to have fun, right? But now I have reasons to live so I sort of drive a little safer. A little. Kind of.
“Sam, eyes on the road.”
“Sorry sweetie. You just look kind of funny right now. You’re pale. You should do your research!”
She swallows and shakes her head, staring straight ahead. “I’m okay. Just...oh god.” Lara’s eyes close and I giggle. This never gets old.
“Where are we going?” She’s relaxed a little, since I haven’t run any lights and only nearly hit the median once. Twice. And then a third near miss. I shake my head, not ready to tell her just yet. It’s a surprise, and like all surprises must only be revealed when it’s supposed to be.
I park in front of a store and Lara gets out to take care of the meter while I stand there taking it in. “It’s good to be back! My babies, I missed you all!” I sweep my arms out like I’m trying to hug all the stores.
“We were only gone a few weeks,” Lara says, laughter in her voice.
I flash a grin. “I know but my babies still missed me.”
“So you wanted to go shopping?” She pets her arm around me and I lean in. I hope she’s not disappointed.
“Kind of. I wanted to do us shopping. Stuff for us. I mean the mansion has all kinds of things from the past but there’s no...us. Our future.” I turn in her arms and look into her eyes, trying to convey my meaning with my eyes. “I want us, Lara. I want to fill that place with us. You, and me, and I’m not saying we need to pull out all that old gorgeous furniture, but if we’re going to live there I want it to feel like a home.”
Lara’s smile is a little mysterious. Soft and fond but also a little sad. I’m not sure I get it. She holds up her fingers. “One and two; the study and library aren’t touched. And three, my mother’s art room. But everything else we can make a mixture of old and new.”
How many times will she have to say it before it sinks in? She really does love me. I throw my arms around her and kiss her soundly. “Okay. That’s fair.” I grab her hand and start to pull her alongs. It’s literally the law as newlyweds that we have to look at curtains so that’s the first stop and Lara laughs at me while I hold up increasingly crazy designs.
We settle on something in a dark green with shimmery thread patterns for the bedroom, which’ll kind of set the tone for everything else, but that’s okay with me. We walk towards the next store, with our hands swinging back and forth as we moved.
“I kind of miss the flat.”
“Yeah? I do too, sweetie, but it was way too small for all the stuff we’re collecting.” I glance at her, wondering what she’s getting at.
“The manor is so…huge and lonely. Just the two of us and Winston…And the cats.” She rests her head against mine for a moment. “But you’re right on room. The flat would be too small to live the rest of our lives in….”
Lara is obviously conflicted. On the one hand, it’s hers. I know she wouldn’t want to waste a property by not using it, but she’s right. It’s kind of big and lonely. “That’s why we have to make it homey and warm and welcome and full of people.”
“Full of people?”
“Well, yeah?” I lead her into another store. “I don’t know how yet. But some day it would be nice to have all the bedrooms filled.”
“Right…” Lara’s voice is barely a whisper, and from the look on her face I swear she’s traumatized. I don’t know why until I see a man walk by carrying a kid and then all the breaks in my head and my feet screech to a halt. Lara bumps into me.
Whirling around I put my hands on her shoulders. “Okay I just realized what that sounds like and I don’t mean for us to like have a million kids or anything, just a couple. I meant friends, or a renter, or something. I mean aren’t there a couple old houses that get run for tourists so they can afford upkeep? Couldn’t we do that for the first floor and then donate the proceeds to local charity?”
“I...uh...well I need to think about that.” Lara rubs the back of her neck, looking at me in concern. “...Just a couple?” She exhales and cups my cheeks in her hands. “Sam, we really need to talk about -”
“We’re talking about that later. Lets keep shopping.” I slide out of her grasp and bolt down the aisle. I don’t even know where those thoughts came from and I can’t even blame Himiko for it. Considering the kinds of parents we both had? Why would we ever want kids? I’d be terrible! I can only imagine the thoughts running through Lara’s head. Like what if she died on an expedition?
We’re out most of the day and probably spend more money than most people make in a month, but it’s more of a long term investment deal so Lara doesn’t seem to mind. That, or she’s just indulging me. Once we got past the conversation we didn’t actually have it’s smooth sailing, and we end the day with a nice dinner at a pub with excellent fish and chips.
Lara seems a little distracted so I lean in over my beer. “Sweetie. Lara. Eyes … well eyes anywhere on me would be nice.”
Her eyes snap over to my face, and dip down in appreciation as she flushes. “Sorry.”
I glance around. “Are you staring at a hottie?”
“No, I just can’t shake the feeling we’re being watched.”
“Fuck no.” I slap my hand on the bar. “I’m not having any of that! Not tonight! Not...ever!”
“Sam…” She grabs my hand. “I haven’t seen anything. It’s probably me being paranoid but …”
I feel myself deflate. “I know. We can’t take any chances. Maybe we should go home.” That, by the way, is the other reason kids will never happen. Even if I kind of do want a little girl with Lara’s eyes and my sense of style.
Lara looks at me a moment, then licks her lips and moves her head towards the ladies room. I blink at her, then glance where she’s looking and raise my eyebrows. “Really? It’s not like...a make Sam feel better thing?”
“You have ten seconds to decide before I start walking to the car,” Lara warns as I feel her hand move up my leg under the bar. Not fair. I’m up and marching towards the bathroom before she gets to five.
We don’t even get home until like after eight. I’m a little tipsy, and Lara’s mood is improved over what it was like in the pub. I’m really kind of happy we can still go into honeymoon mode at the drop of a hat. Well I can. Lara runs cooler most of the time but I know her buttons and I’ve learned to be patient since it takes her longer to warm up.
She’s really warm up still and I have every intention of spending the rest of the night christening the pool with her. Except she has a different idea, pinning me to the wall and kissing me like it’s the end of the world.
“Get a room.”
The voice startles us both and Lara jumps back so quickly that I slide down the wall. I pick myself up and stare at the woman in the hall. “..Reyes?!”
Running up to her I give her a hug. Lara hangs back a little bit, flushing from embarrassment and looking a little awkward. Reyes pats my back and pulls away. “I know you probably had plans for the night, but we came in earlier than we thought we would.”
“It’s all right,” Lara says, holding up her hand. “We don’t see you enough as it is. Are you on holiday? Winston let you in?”
“‘Raya did, actually. It’s sort of a vacation. I wanted to show her things about Roth.”
“Soraya’s here?” I look around, but instead of the mercenary Alisha comes out of the common room. I give her a great big hug. Oh god, all we really needed was Jonas and this would be perfect. I glance at Lara. The house suddenly feels a lot more lively. I can tell she’s seeing that too.
“Yeah, and she brought a couple of friends.” Reyes keeps a straight face, but it’s obvious she doesn’t like talking about Soraya. They have to be here about Roth too. Lara and I had paid to have our friends brought home and buried properly. I wish Alisha could have known Roth was her dad before all this.
“I wish someone had called me,” Lara murmured, slipping past us. “I’ll brew some tea.”
“Winston already took care of that, Lara.” Reyes stops my wife in her tracks.
“Well, I suppose we should greet everyone.” Lara heads towards the common room and the rest of us follow her.The mood feels a lot more somber, and Lara is less happy than she was earlier. I think she’s put out about the tea thing. When we get there, Soraya is sitting on the couch in front of the fireplace with Leda in her lap. The Greek woman is leaning in, whispering in her ear. She waves a hand at us and I wave back.
I spot another woman but before I could get a good look at her giant arms have encircled me. Jonas’ voice booms in my ear. “Samantha! Little Bird!”
An actual squee escapes my mouth as I hug Jonas back. It really is a reunion now! Our fucked up little family. Even Soraya is a part of it now, really. There’s that new girl but she’s hanging back, probably a little nervous or something. There’s a lot of people around and if I wasn’t extroverted that would be a problem for me, so I get it.
I give him a big smooch on the cheek and let him crush Lara for a bit. I think I hear one of her ribs crack but she’ll get better. Probably. It’s a Jonah hug and they’re pretty hard to beat.
Heading over to Soraya and her girlfriend, I leave Lara to the islander’s mercy. They’re so adorable together that I decide not to interrupt them. Everyone is still greeting everyone, except the blonde girl hanging out in the corner. So I figure, hey, I might as well try out being the good host-wife my mother always wanted me to be and approach her.
“Hey. I’m Sam.” I offer my hand out to her. She’s taller than me, and maybe has an inch or two on Lara. Her hair hangs loosely around her face and a bit past her shoulders and is the sort of platinum blonde that comes out of a bottle. She’s wearing all black. Her shirt is low cut and distracting, but she’s standing a little defensively, arms crossed over her chest and shoulders hunched a little. It’s a stance I’m familiar with - Lara stood like that a lot when we went clubbing and I’d left her so I could dance with some guy. New girl is uncomfortable.
She looks at my hand, then at me, and makes a tsch sound before she quickly shakes my hand and returns to her previous stance. I wonder who she came with. She stares at me a moment more, and her accent is American when she finally speaks, “I’m Amanda. I came with, uhm. Jonah.”
I glance back at Jonah, who still has Lara in a death grip. My wife seems to have accepted it and is talking animatedly with Reyes and Alisha. Maybe Reyes doesn’t hate us after all. Jonah glances over and smiles warmly, and I return my eyes to Amanda and grin like an idiot. Oh man Jonah did good for himself! I mean, Amanda is hot. She’s got this dark eye make-up thing going and manages to pull it off almost as well as Soraya does. I need to see if I can work that.
“So you and Jonah are a thing?” Maybe she’s just feeling out of sorts. She’s kind of being introduced to Jonah’s extended family. It has to be scary. Especially when that family includes Reyes and Lara. “How long have you been going out.”
Amanda rolls her eyes, but there’s a faint smile on her lips. “Five months now. He sort of sprang this trip on me last minute. Uhm...I almost said no but I couldn’t miss the opportunity.” She nodded her head in the direction of Jonah and my wife. “He’s told me a lot about her, I mean. I didn’t know Roth. My field of study is social anthropology, so there’s some overlap with her field.”
It takes me a moment to process that. She’s a scientist? In a similar field to Lara? I rub my arms. “Wow. You don’t hear much about other women doing this kind of thing.”
“You didn’t at all until her. So I owe her for raising awareness.” Her tone is so dry that I can’t actually tell if she’s serious or not. Amanda glances back at me and she smiles again. It’s a really pretty one. “She’s probably never heard of me.”
Considering how much research Lara does it’s more likely than Amanda thinks, but I keep my mouth shut. I don’t want to embarrass Lara, even if I do love to talk her up. “I’m usually the one stringing together video instead of learning things. I have to do a lot of research but I kinda rely on Lara to fill me in on details.”
“Yeah. I’ve seen your youtube channel.”
Not the first time I’ve heard that from someone and I’m reminded of Giovanna. I give her the eye. “No comments on the crazy?”
She reached over and pushes up my sleeve. The markings on my arms glow faintly and I yank the cloth back down. Amanda just shrugs a shoulder. “I’ve seen too many strange things to discount anything. I know the signs. ”
Turning away from me, she walks towards Jonah and Lara. I watch her give the big man a kiss. Me, Lara, Reyes and Jonah have all experiences with the supernatural thanks to Yamatai and those skulls. These people keep coming into our lives because of Shaw and his artifacts. I have this terrible feeling, and Himiko stirs in the back of my consciousness. Don’t trust anyone she tells me.
“That’s helpful,” I mutter. But no one hears me.