Things started off small.
(They always do.)
On weekdays Kamila would hop off the bus, let herself in, take care of Missile, do her homework, and generally keep herself busy until Lynne got home. Lynne always had the best stories, when the two of them would eat dinner on the couch and share about their lives. Her tales of work as an officer (and eventually detective, and Kamila was so proud of her that day it was like she was the older sister) reminded Kamila of her father; they reminded her of now-quiet and faded memories, little more remaining than the soothing cadence of his voice and the gentle coarseness of his beard against her cheek.
An animated meter and a tendency for chicken to fly from lips and forks while speaking was nothing at all alike, but she was reminded all the same.
And so time passed, as it did, and Kamila listened to stories. She woke up early, hours before the bus arrived, just so she could catch Lynne before she ran off and have her tie her hair ribbon. (Lynne's bows were never as perfect as her mama's, but she would never say that.) Light fingers worked through short hair and today I'll be working at the precinct with Inspector Cabanela, you remember him, don'cha? He was one of your papa's best friends, and he helped me on my detective's exams and everything! I bet he'll put me on some exciting cases! She laughed confidently and Missile let out a bark and Kamila gave her best smile and said, I'm happy if you're happy, Sis!
When Lynne walked through the door that evening, Kamila looked up from her book and beamed. Welcome back! How was your day? Did you get those big cases you were talking about?
Lynne leaned against the door like it was a liferaft, and Kamila had to say her name twice before she looked up, her expression unreadable. What...? O-Oh. It was fine. Her eyes darted down, and a frown flitted to her face for the length of an intake of breath -- before she stood upright and smiled. Everything went fine. Mmm, is that tomato sauce I smell? What's cooking?
Like the way she told fewer stories. Or, well, she was just as willing to talk as always, whenever Kamila started the conversation. Then Lynne would be thrilled to offer her opinions on her new schoolfriend Amelie, or the best way to give Missile a bee ay tee aitch, or how to ace her science fair. (What do you need ~science~ for, anyway! Regular people don't have to know that kind of stuff!)
But when Kamila asked Lynne about her job, about working on the force, about being a detective -- it had been near impossible to get her to stop talking about it all, before -- she grew quiet. Her eyes seemed to dim, even under the incandescent apartment lights, just for a second. Then her mouth twitched and she put her hand on Kamila's shoulder and said, Aw, you don't want to hear that. Just boring old grown-up stuff. Nothing exciting, honest. So come on, what was it Amelie said about that boy?
Like the way she jerked back violently when Kamila touched her on the arm, after she had been staring into the open refrigerator for some minutes. Lynne's eyes flew open wide. Oh my gosh, Kamila, I'm sorry! Ah, did I h-hurt you? ... Oh, phew, that's good. No, you just startled me, that's all. Sorry about that!
She closed the door and walked off, leaving Kamila to decipher the meanings she knew were hidden, locked away the stuttering of hurt and a thin purple bruise on the back of her arm.
Or like the way that when Kamila gave her the receiver after talking with her papa one evening, Lynne took the call back to her bedroom, door closed. That had never happened before, not ever; she would always sit on the couch, laughing and idly undoing her hairtie with one hand while telling her papa (she still called him Detective Jowd, even now) the kind of day-to-day stories she told her.
The first night it happened, after the usual amount of time she spent with him had come and gone twice over, Kamila tiptoed on the cold wooden floor, placed her ear against the door. She caught murmurs Inspector and mutters not sure if he and mumbles guess you're right before it went quiet, and the bedroom door swung open before she realised she should go.
Lynne looked at the girl with surprise and ... something else. (Fear, Kamila thought she saw in the gulp of her throat, but that was nonsense; Lynne was afraid of nothing.) Wh-- What's the matter? Lynne said, and then got defensive. It's not nice to listen in on someone's private conversations, Kamila. Before she could think of an excuse or apology, Lynne closed the door again and sighed. I think I'll just hit the hay early tonight, she heard, muffled. You should get some rest too.
Kamila stared at the wooden door for some minutes, formulating actions and questions and doing her very best not to cry, before finally ... turning back to her own bedroom without a sound.
(It had been Lynne herself who had given her advice on how to observe without being noticed. A practical skill for a detective, she had said, about a year ago. Before she'd become a detective herself.
Before she'd started working with him.)
Kamila is hardly a stupid girl, not by far. (Her mother taught her one day that modesty has its place, but so does honest accuracy.) There are a few things she knows for sure now, and more that she could guess.
What she knows:
Last month, Lynne came home with loads of paperwork, a heavy sigh, and five little round welts by her shoulder. Just under the hem of her shirt sleeve, four to the left of the back of her arm and a larger one to the right.
(Kamila asked her how it happened. Lynne twisted the skin around her arm and paled at the sight, hastily reassured her it was nothing, and that next weekend went out and bought a high-collared blouse and long-sleeved coat, no reason, just 'cause it looked nice, ha ha!)
Last week, Lynne started coming home a little later each day, a little more out of breath. They're really starting me on that fieldwork, haha! she said when Kamila mentioned it. I get to all corners of the city now. Sorry! Don't feel like you have to hold off eating dinner for me.
(Which was odd, because from what she remembered with her dad, detective fieldwork didn't mean a lot of walking, or a lot of different places.)
Yesterday, Kamila wanted to listen to music. The headphones were technically Lynne's (and new, they'd come back the day she bought the clothes), but the two of them shared practically everything; Kamila was sure she wouldn't mind.
And then she went and dropped them in the fish tank. They were set kind of high up, and she just fumbled them out of her hands and into the water. Bad luck, she thought, peering at the small shock of electronics being waterlogged, petite fingers clutched against the glass edge. Ah well, accidents happened. Maybe the gods were playing tricks on her.
Of course it had to be that moment that Lynne stumbled through the door, her appearance even more drained than that of the day earlier, and the first thing she saw was Kamila standing on tiptoe over the tank, her new headphones sunk uselessly at the bottom.
Kamila braced herself for a reprimand, a 'try not to do that again' at worst.
She got an explosion.
For gods' sake, Kamila, what did you do?
Well, sorry, Sis, it was an accident.
Accident? "Accident" won't pay for all the nice things I get for you if you keep breaking them!
Hey! Maybe if you weren't gone all the time, I wouldn't be bored and want to listen to music!
Oh, so now it's my fault you can't keep yourself entertained?
No, I just... You're never around anymore!
Listen, I'm out there working to put food on our table, I don't have time to be your mom too! Sheesh, you broke one of those alre--
... Gods, Kamila, I'm... I didn't mean... You know I'd never...
Just shut up! I hate you!
The girl ran into her room and slammed the door so hard she heard the neighbour complain. Lynne never tried to come in.
What Kamila can guess:
It's that inspector's fault.
She doesn't know much about him personally, other than that he was a friend of her father's. (Is? He's never mentioned his name to her, and she's never asked.) He might have come over to her house a few times, too; she has a lingering ... impression, not so much a solid memory, of a tall man dressed all in black who laughed often and never smiled.
It was after Lynne mentioned his name that she started getting this way. Lynne goes to work and comes back from work and it's like the ocean wearing away at a strong rock (the only rock Kamila has left) until it gets smaller and smaller and there's nothing left but sand. And all Kamila really wants to do is help, however she can, help Lynne like Lynne's helped her...
But she can't turn sand into stone. And she can't hold back a tidal wave.
She can't do anything.
She remembers something from that time on her father's lap, with his soothing voice and gentle coarseness, something that wasn't a story but just as important.
She remembers that in times of emergency, if there was a fire or flood or someone was dying and her parents couldn't help, she was supposed to take the phone and dial three numbers, to call the police. The police would come in, sirens blaring, and whatever was wrong, they could be counted on to make it better.
She clutches her knees against the fire in her chest and squeezes against the flood behind her eyelids and wonders what to do when it's the police who are the emergency.
Today, Kamila staggers off the bus, works her key into the lock, glances once at Missile, throws her backpack on the floor of her room, and flings herself onto her bed, face buried in her pillow. It might not be Lynne's fault she's acting like a jerk, but that doesn't mean Kamila has to spend any more time with her than necessary. Honestly, Kamila thinks she would rather not talk with Lynne at all today.