Myka's two years old when she reads her first word, pushes her chubby fingers along the cereal box, shaping the letters and sounding out the letters as best she can, but the sounds feel too big for her mouth and her lips are like rubber, and she exhales each syllable, luh, kee, tchya, mmm, suh like each one is a discovery, and she falls in love with words from that point on.
When Myka falls, she falls hard.
Tracy copies her word, like Tracy always copies her hard work later in their childhood, coasting behind Myka despite her extra years, skidding along in Myka's academic slipstream and emerging just in time for her parents to see; so much of their life it's Myka's clumsy duckling versus Tracy's beautiful swan, and it doesn't matter if Myka was smart first, it's not who is smart first that counts, it's who is seen as being smart first, so Myka is three years old when she realises that being organised is the best way to do that, you had to scheme to fall into the light first, and even when Myka does it, spins into the spotlight with the right answer, and it's always the right answer, she's still not as pretty as Tracy, and that's like a burn that won't ever go away (until a friend with too much kindness tells the air around her, speaks an awkward truth that flutters down Myka's spine, curls around her kidneys and settles in low in her body like a foundation of this person that Myka's become) and a year later she joins the Girl Scouts because she can.
Myka's nine when their parents buy the bookstore, and she sits on the sidewalk in a pair of pink shorts that make her feel too girlish, and girls don't run and girls don't climb and girls aren't angles, and Myka's all of those things, growing too tall for her age, shooting up like a stalk, and she's graceless with it. She sits on the sidewalk in her shorts and rolls in the dust and watches the sign painter with wide, wide eyes as he adds in a careful hand 'and Sons' in a shimmering gold color that darkens with Myka's mood, and weathers like Myka's heart and she looks down at her dust-covered shorts and wonders if her parents wanted a boy, and is her decision to do boyish things her rebelling against Tracy's girlishness, or is she fulfilling a prophecy that never came true? Or is she giving up now on the concept of ever being able to truly compete with Tracy's perfect body and effortless curves in the right places? Is she so enamored of first place that dropping out of the race is the only option? All Myka has at age nine and beyond is questions, questions without answers, questions that feel unhurried and urgent all at once.
When Myka's ten she learns French from the lady in the bakery, getting lessons in return for helping pick up things small hands could grip that old hands could not. By twelve she can speak French, Russian and Latin. At school, she gets great marks and reviews from the teachers, but can't talk to people her own age. She can speak French, Russian, Latin and a little Mandarin Chinese, but English is beyond her.
She's thirteen when she gets her first fencing trophy, even though the association takes it away when they realise the genderless name Myka belongs to a girl, and the whole competition was for boys. Myka says she doesn't mind, and she doesn't, the boys who flock around Tracy with adoration now side-eye her with admiration, and maybe fear, maybe the boys are scared of Myka, because she does better than everyone in school, she is ruthless and organised, and now she can kick anyone's ass with the flick of a wrist or an elegant balestra, and that knowledge makes leaving the Girl Scouts a year later hurt less.
It still hurts. When Myka falls she falls hard.
She's fifteen when the idea of College strikes, hot and warm on the back of her neck as she idles in Lincoln High School amongst the detritus of the other children her age, who move around, languid and untroubled, unaware they're wasting crucial development time. She can't stand the way they posture, move around, slow and callous, hurtful and giving; she can't stand how slow they are, how stupid. They can't see that High School is a petri dish, and they're all percolating and growing and developing, and Myka is creating the framework that will serve her for the rest of her life. College was always an inevitability, but she had assumed it would be English Literature – working in the bookshop seemed almost as inevitable as College did, putting up with her father's constant demands for eternity, but Myka knows there's more than their small bookshop in the world, and it's the contents of the shop that have taught her this amazing lesson. With the pages of the tomes in the shop are a thousand different worlds, worlds Myka's travelled her whole life. She's been with Gulliver and the Lilliputians, she's danced with Oberon and Titania, spent hours rewriting her history to expose the fact she's really Meg Murry. She's languished with Heathcliff and Jane Eyre on the moors, and spun into space with Dave and HAL, and faced her worst fears in room 101 with Winston and Julia. Books have widened her world, and now Myka knows she can step into that world, and grow, and maybe find a home that's more than shelves and someone else's (read: her father's) expectations. Her father doesn't want her to leave, doesn't want her to work for the government; it makes those decisions easier.
She's sixteen when she falls in love for the first time. Kurt can't speak her language – Maths. Myka can speak French, Russian, Latin and Mandarin Chinese, but it's English that's beyond her – and Kurt falls away from her, an impossible daydream, and Myka hates herself for punching above her weight; boys are Tracy's game and not hers. She vows never to love again, but that's just a peak of hormones, Myka's well enough read to realize that. She cannot understand herself, but books let her understand just enough.
She's twenty-three when she falls in love again, and Myka never does anything by halves. When she falls, she falls hard, so much that the repercussions and the echoes of the fallout last for years. When Sam dies (murder), there are no words (but murder, murder, murder). She can speak French, Russian, Latin and Mandarin Chinese, but sometimes it's English that's beyond her. All she has left is her organisation, her eye for detail, the prize of promotion- so when she's relocated to the Warehouse it feels at first like a physical blow, a thud in the place her heart used to be.
She's twenty-six when she realises she got relocated home, and twenty-seven when she leaves the Warehouse for good, Pete's eyes scraping her back, Helena's guilt weighing each step down, and leaving the Warehouse is hard, so hard, but it's always been true - when Myka falls, she falls hard.
When she comes back to the Warehouse, there are still no words. She can speak French, Russian, Latin and Mandarin Chinese, and English is beyond her. She learns to speak Pete, and Artie, and Claudia instead; they're languages all on their own. She's still twenty-seven, and once again, she's in love; with the Warehouse, with them, with her life. When Myka falls, she falls hard, but now, now, now she has people to catch her.
When the Warehouse itself eventually falls, it falls hard, because that's the only thing Myka will allow.