Kali Cutter spent her childhood in important places like embassies and large companies. Her father sat her down one day and explained that since her mother died giving birth to Kali, it was now Kali’s job to be the consummate hostess. Since Kali loved her father, thought he walked on water, she agreed. She was honored, even, that he would consider her worthy of such a big and important task.
It was only much later, in a village on a small island off Portugal, that Kali realized if he really loved her, he wouldn’t have needed anything from her. She would have been enough, alone. But Typhon Cutter needed everything to have a purpose, and Kali did.
Until the shark, that is.
Dr. O’Keefe scared her at first. Later, she realized that this was because Dr. Ball and her dad spent a long time convincing her that Dr. O’Keefe was a bad man, a traitor to his country, etc. But the O’Keefes took her back to their strange house on the other side of Gaea, they gave her a room that had been Adam’s, and in the morning, they brought her breakfast. Not the red-headed child, the one she actually helped her father kidnap, but the boys. And the small girl they called Peggy. Kali thought it was a pretty awful name, but then after learning Poly’s full name, she thought Peggy got off easy.
Kali wasn’t getting off easy. Her arm hurt, all the time. She couldn’t go swimming, not that it mattered, because she never wanted to go near the ocean again. Every day Dr. O’Keefe looked at her arm, and sometimes they went to the village, where they examined a younger girl. The back and forth was too much for Kali in the beginning, but she gathered that this was the human Daddy had been so concerned about, and the reason that nice handsome young Joshua Archer was killed. Kali paid as much attention as she could she could tell Daddy everything.
But the more that time passed, the more Kali realized nothing terrible was happening. The girl, Temis, had her finger reattached. Without Temis, they would never be trying this on Kali. And it didn’t always work. She saw animals with strange growths, but she also heard the O’Keefes mentioning a dolphin named Macrina. Sometimes at night, Kali listened to the water outside her window and every now and then, she would want to go down there. But her bandages needed to stay dry, and she couldn’t do anything to mess up her treatment.
What good was a hostess who only had one arm? She was an abomination.
When the Cutters first came to the embassy in Portugal, Kali was the talk of the whole place. Her blond hair, her bright eyes, her charming and polite manners had everyone watching her. She reveled in it, of course, as any young girl would
And then there was Joshua. He was young, and clearly very bright. But he didn’t look at her the way the others did. He barely looked at her at all. He was handsome too, and smart, but it was as if he could see right through her.
One day they were at the same party, and she grabbed a flute of champagne and waltzed her way over to him.
“I thought you might want some company.” She smiled her most charming smile, and looked up at him through her long lashes. Kali twirled the flute in her hand, debating whether or not to offer it to Joshua or drink it herself.
He looked at her. “I’m doing all right,” he said, with the smallest of smiles on his face. Kali knew an opening when she saw one.
“Just all right? Well, why don’t you tell me how I can make it better?” There was a slight purr in her voice. It was the tone she used when she wanted men to do what she wanted – it had proved a valuable skill.
He looked at her, straight into her eyes. It was almost unnerving, given how he had pretty much pretended she didn’t exist until now.
“You know what you can do, Kali Cutter. You don’t need to play these games with me.” He looked away then, and sighed. She thought Joshua looked old, for a moment.
She also didn’t like how he seemed to know her, know about her and Daddy. Her eyes narrowed, and she took a drink of bubbly from the glass, deciding Joshua no longer deserved it. “I don’t know what you are talking about, Joshua Archer. I am simply trying to be polite, like any good lady would. I don’t know where you were brought up, but I have had the finest of tutors from around the world. No one here is more capable of handling this room than me, except maybe my father. I know what is happening with everyone is this room. The ambassador from Spain? He’s been sleeping with a young – very young, if you know what I mean – Portuguese girl from the more seedy side of town. Now, can you imagine what the ambassador’s wife would say if that got out? Or if the Spanish – or Portuguese – government found out? That is why it’s important to know how to behave in places like this. Loose lips sink ships, and you never know who is red around here.”
She didn’t realize how tall he was until she realized he was looking down at her.
“Don’t underestimate what other people know, Carolyn Cutter. What people know about your father, also, and why he is here. Or what his oh-so-American motivations actually are. It’s amazing what people can get away with in the name of patriotism, isn’t it?” She glared at him, but his tone was light and breezy, as if he couldn’t care less.
Kali honestly didn’t know what irked her more – the idea that he was spreading vicious rumors about her daddy, or the fact that he didn’t take her seriously. The nerve of this boy!
She gave a carefree laugh and turned away. Her hips moved in just the right way, and Kali could feel Joshua’s eyes on her. She looked back over her shoulder, “Have a good night! Let me know if I can do anything to make you more comfortable here!”
At night, after dinner, Kali retreats to her room. Her arm restricts a lot of what she would like to do, but mostly she doesn’t want to do anything. Some nights she hears the entire O’Keefe family, singing songs together. The sound brings tears to her eyes, every time, though she’s never quite sure why. And sometimes they sing the Tallis canon, especially when Father Tom is around. He doesn’t scare her anymore. In fact, she kind of likes him, though she can’t admit that.
There are a lot of things Kali can’t admit, it seems.
Kali’s arm doesn’t heal correctly. Part of her never expected it to.
But in the beginning, it was because she thought the O’Keefes would never truly help her. As the weeks went on, and Kali became used to the routine on the scientific side of Gaea, she listened more and more at dinner to Dr. O’Keefe and Mrs. O’Keefe and Poly discussing the animals. (Kali wasn’t allowed near the lab, and at another time, she might have cared. But after everything that had happened, after only getting one call from her dad that was basically a threat to Dr. O’Keefe . . . She cried at night in bed, and Peggy came and crawled under the covers with her. Kali felt safe in a way she hadn’t ever before.)
There were mutations that couldn’t be explained. Limbs that wouldn’t regenerate. And no one could hide their looks of worry from Kali anymore.
There was a knock on her door, and Charles Wallace peered around the door, somewhat sheepishly. “She really wanted to see you,” he said by way of apology. Peggy came into the room and climbed on Kali’s bed, being careful to avoid Kali’s arm.
But then Peggy turned and kissed Kali’s bad arm, the one that everyone in this family was trying to keep together, and rested her head on Kali’s chest.
“We all loved him, you know,” Charles Wallace said. Kali looked at the small boy and felt helpless.
“I know,” she said. “I’m sorry.” She thought of Joshua’s eyes and of a glass of sparkly champagne.
“Sorrys don’t change things,” he said, looking at her squarely, “Actions do.”
In the morning, Kali looked for Poly. It was the first time they had really interacted, without prompting.
“I need to speak with your father,” Kali said, aware that she sounded strangely formal.
“He’s at the lab,” Poly said, wrinkling her nose. Her blue eyes looked at Kali, and Kali felt strangely unnerved, in a way she hadn’t felt since the first time Joshua Archer looked at her, really looked at her.
Poly seemed to be deciding something. “I shouldn’t say anything,” she finally said.
Kali smiled, and it was a real smile. “My arm isn’t getting better. It isn’t going to get better. I need to ask your dad to amputate it for me.” Saying it out loud made it real, but it also made Kali feel lighter than ever.
Poly didn’t seem to be able to help herself – a hand covered her mouth in shock.
“It’s not that bad yet! You don’t need to give up now. Giving up will only give you less of a chance for a recovery. Daddy can do some amazing things, you’ve seen Temis’s finger, and Joshua wouldn’t like this, no, please, it’s not . . .” Poly trailed off.
“It’s not your father’s fault, Poly. But I’ve been paying attention. The animals that get injured by people? They have trouble regenerating. There’s something about the intent that matters, right, Poly? And the shark may not have had bad intentions, but I did. I was swimming in the water when I knew I shouldn’t. Adam was a better swimmer, and I endangered him too. If you hadn’t given him that knife, if he hadn’t trusted you to carry it with him all the time . . . there’s not use playing ‘What if’ now. It’s happened. But I had bad intentions, Poly. I was mad at Adam. Joshua had just died, and it was all because of my father, but I loved Daddy so much I just couldn’t see . . . you know I’m right, Poly. Please.”
Poly’s face turned ashen, her freckles even seeming to dim.
“I don’t want you to be right,” Poly said softly. “In the beginning, I didn’t even want to help you. I was so mad at you, especially because we lost Josh. But Josh always said that you have to care about the sparrow, and you can’t choose who the sparrow is. That you don’t get to choose what you love. And so I’ve been trying, I’ve been trying so hard to love you and helping Daddy think of ways to fix your arm – I even asked Macrina! But you aren’t getting better, and even Peggy knows, and I don’t know what to do.”
Kali smiled. “To start, you can call me Carolyn. And then you can take me to your dad, so we can see what to do about my arm.”
Poly sniffled, and gave a deep sigh. “Okay, Carolyn. I’ll take you.” She reached out for Kali’s good hand, and closed her own around it.
She stopped at the door and whirled quickly on Kali. “But just because you want to be Carolyn now doesn’t mean you can call me Polyhymnia. It’s still a terrible, terrible name to be saddled with.”
Kali laughed, promising, and following Poly O’Keefe out of the house, and into a future neither of the girls could see.