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First Step

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Molly still wasn't exactly sure what a spleen did, but having had one shot out of her sure slowed her down at the Logging Festival. Fortunately, Gus had been there at every step, offering various objects and pulling out chairs and asking about every ten minutes if Molly was tired, or hungry, or tired and hungry. She'd been both by the end, so when Gus had bought her a turkey leg and gone to retrieve the car from the lot a half-mile down the road, she hadn't been in much of a place to protest.

Greta was there too, munching on her own turkey leg. She had her dad together had damn near eaten the festival bare, and Molly was pleased to see a girl that age who wasn't so concerned with her weight that she couldn't eat her own funnel cake and then polish off the bits of Molly's own that she hadn't been able to finish. Greta was so unlike the way Molly had been at her age, so vibrant and confident -- she wore an embroidery-floss bracelet with block-letter beads spelling GRETA IS GREATA -- that sometimes Molly felt like throwing her arms around her and hugging her until maybe some of what Greta had rubbed back off on the girl Molly was long ago.

"If you marry Dad, are we going to move to Bemedji?" asked Greta, staring out at the sea of pedestrians and cars in front of them. She'd sounded casual when she'd said it, but that was only enough to fool a dad, not a detective.

There were plenty of things to say, such as this isn't even a date, you know or maybe we're a long ways off from talking about that, except Molly knew what Greta knew -- and maybe what everybody else in the world except Gus knew, by this point -- which was that barring catastrophe, this was it. You had a lot of dates when you could when you were young, and some lasted a short time and some lasted a long time, but they were all rehearsal. By the time you were thirty-one, there wasn't a lot of point in fighting the conclusion.

"Probably," Molly said, following Greta's line of sight out toward the snail-like progression of cars through the venue grounds. "I mean, I've got my job, and your dad, he's--"

"Fired," Greta finished, sounding just as casual.

"Well, no, not necessarily fired. But...." Molly took a deep breath; she hadn't needed a very detailed recap of the hearings to understand how they'd gone. "You know he doesn't really like that job, don't you?"

Greta nodded and took another bite of her turkey leg, and Molly waited in silence for her to finish chewing and swallowing. At last, she sighed and tucked her feet up so she sat cross-legged on the bench. "I know," she said. Her fingers worried at her bracelet. "All my friends are in Duluth."

And there were plenty of nice responses to that one, such as oh, you'll keep in touch! and you can still come see them! and the worst of the bunch, you'll make plenty of new friends! "How many friends?" asked Molly.

There was a pause, and then Greta held up three fingers.

"Three, huh?" Molly nodded. The silhouette of Gus' car rounded the bend in the growing dusk, but it would be several minutes yet before he got anywhere near where they were. "When I was a kid, I had a whole two. Bernie and Bertie. Twin boys, a year older than me. Lived across the street. We used to go fishing together with our dads. Then they moved to Boise when I was ten."

"Bernie and Bertie in Boise?" laughed Greta, and now that she finally turned to look at Molly, Molly could see the edge of redness around her eyes. Molly had almost chased it from her memory, the feeling of what it was like to be at that age, to have everything in your life at the mercy of someone else's decisions. As though the world itself weren't terrifying enough on its own merits, your dad could fall in love with a strange woman from halfway across the state and all of a sudden, it'd be you who'd have to tear out your whole life and hope it took root somewhere three hours away.

"I hope they opened a bubble bath boutique," Molly quipped, which made Greta giggle. Molly sighed and considered the gesture for a moment, then went ahead and put her hand on Greta's shoulder. "I want you to know that you can talk to me. About ... whatever. If you're scared about something or sad or just ... thought up a really funny joke and there's no one around to say it to, you can call and say it to me. I'd really like that."

Greta's expression didn't change, but there was still something behind her eyes, a little hardness that softened right then. If there was one thing Greta was, it was a fighter -- but maybe Molly could work to help make this less of a battle, and she could save her strength for when she'd need it in the months and years to come. "Okay," said Greta, extending her hand, and when Molly took it, Greta gave it a firm shake and didn't quite let go when it was done. "Hey, how do you catch a unique rabbit?"

Baffled by the sudden change of topic, Molly frowned. "I don't know, maybe you could--"

"Unique up on it," Greta interrupted, delivering the punchline with such a deadpan hit that for a moment, Molly wasn't sure a joke was what she'd heard at all. As the corners of her mouth shot up into a smile, Greta's own face became a quieter mirror of the expression. "How do you catch a tame rabbit?"

"No clue," said Molly.

"Tame way."

Molly groaned and gave Greta a gentle shoulder punch, which Greta returned with equal tenderness, and by the time Gus had the car up to where they were, they were still laughing and making the best approximations they could of a 'unique rabbit noise'. Gus opened the door and frowned, startled by their gestures, which only made them laugh until tears streamed down Molly's cheeks and the hole through her belly began to throb. That was all right, though; after all that had happened, all that had been gained and lost and pitched into such frustrating limbo, it felt good to have that kind of reason to cry.