“It’s complicated,” Hazel tells her, over and over.
Partially because, yes, it is. He barely understands it, and he might know it better than anyone in the world - having one through seven as reference material, and then of course Eight, the rotten meat of it in his stomach, the strings still caught in his teeth. The Magician is good, but Hazel actually remembers the world before Eight.
It still vexes him, of course. He has pages and pages of theories and gaps. Still, he thinks he has the shape of it, in so far as it has a shape in the world – he knows its rough course, its footprints, what it sounds and tastes like.
He’s just… not sure how to talk about it, in a way that won’t bring it all crashing down over them. He doesn’t want to patronize her – he really wants Yumiko to come out alright, and for that to happen, Carly needs to know what he knows.
But also, once upon a time, he told everything he knew to Emily Masterson, as clearly and explicitly as he could manage. And she ended up dying, and he said “fuck you” to the cosmic chessmasters in charge of Rabbits, and the universe maybe started collapsing, and also she ended up dying. In his arms.
So, what the fuck. Forgive him for having reservations.
He decides he’s “Jones”, this time through. He’s not trying to drop riddles, per say, but he’s not going out of his way to spell it out, either. While he tries to figure out if he’s doing the right thing at all, if maybe Yumiko just isn’t his problem, Carly rewards his sensible secrecy by dogging him and turning up every stone in her reach. Something about her makes her thinks of Emily. He drives his motorcycle down from Northgate to Capitol Hill at rush hour to save her ass when she gets too deep.
She’s clearly a Player, even if she hasn’t accepted it yet.
The other half of it clicks, one day.
“You love her,” he says. It’s maybe the third time they’ve talked in person, and they’re eating milkshakes and burgers from Dicks in Cal Anderson park. It’s deceptively sunny.
Carly pauses over her cheeseburger, looking him over. “Yes,” she says, eventually.
“You keep saying you’re looking for your friend, not for your girlfriend,” he ventures. “I get the sense it’s not just to avoid pissing off your family.”
“Yeah, that ship sailed a long time ago,” Carly says. “Half of them can’t even get my name right, and it’s been a whole decade. No, it’s – things were complicated, between us, before she disappeared.”
Eventually, she goes on. “Miko and I were best friends as kids, but we only started dating in college. We were long-distance while she was in California. We were open, and she dated a lot of people, and I didn’t. We had a heart-to-heart where we learned we were still crazy about each other. She ended up moving back to Seattle. We started dating again, but we’d had a couple fights about whether we wanted an open relationship or not. We lived in separate apartments.
“Things weren’t bad between us, it just wasn’t the same as it was when we were in college or even long distance, and we were giving each other some space before figuring out what we wanted to do next. But it’s like – I can’t explain that to a radio audience, right? They won’t understand all of that, and I don’t want to sound like… like the stalker ex that probably drove her into hiding in the first place.”
“Because you aren’t.”
“No. No. Miko and I are still each other’s confidants. We hung out all the time. We’re still in love. Whether people think she’s my best friend, or my girlfriend. I’m just…” Carly stops, and a deep fury suddenly moves over her face.
Her voice breaks. “It seems like I’m the only one who's willing to find her.”
“Yeah,” says Hazel. “Yeah, I get it.”
His heart is sinking, he takes a long sip of his milkshake to buy time. The issue isn’t that Carly reminds him of Emily. It’s that Carly reminds him of himself.
That seals it. He has no choice but to help her as far as he can.
Weeks pass, and Carly comes back, again and again, to the impossible photo. She and Yumiko look happy. Her arms are thrown around Miko. Miko is smiling unselfconsciously, with her eyes closed, like she doesn’t know the photo is being taken right at that instant. The camera was right in front of them, though. At first, it haunts her. What does it mean? What the hell does it mean?
As she comes back to it throughout her investigation, though, and the world gets weirder and weirder around her, it’s almost reassuring. Despite the issues in their relationship, despite the specter of parallel worlds or strange attractors or time, splitting and bending like paths of water in a river – here is concrete evidence that her and Yumiko are together, and happy.
During her reading on parallel universes, Carly had learned about the anthropic bias. It’s the big question of how much reasoning you can do from a sample size of one, when the sample directly affects the fact that you can observe it. For instance, the Fermi Paradox is about how rare life is in the universe, and people try to extrapolate from life on earth to guess about how often life evolves. But if earth had never evolved life, you wouldn’t be able to include it in your statistical analysis – the fact that life evolved at all is the only reason that any humans are around to make this analysis in the first place. But if you decide to ignore earth entirely, you’ve thrown out your only interesting data point. It’s a conundrum.
Carly’s had her share of doubts about her relationships, if her and Yumiko were going to split up eventually, if it’s just coincidence that they’ve lasted this long. She doesn’t really believe in God, or in spiritual soulmates. She believes in statistics as far as she understands them, which isn’t this far. She’s certainly not convinced about these parallel world theories that Jones hints at, or that she would understand it even if she believed he was onto something.
That other picture, though, of her and Yumiko, is from… somewhere else. Somewhere, she imagines, where she hadn’t sworn up a storm when she got home from a Los Angeles laundromat at finding that a favorite shirt of hers had gone missing, and Yumiko hadn’t laughed and loaned her one of her own shirts. And she hadn’t worn Yumiko’s shirt into town, even though she didn’t actually need a new shirt right then, out of fun. And where, much later, they had gone to a new Starbucks together like that, once it opened, and some unknown friend had taken their picture, and…
In that other place, wherever that was, whatever else had happened, they’d still been together, and they’d been happy.
It means that her sample size, for her and Yumiko across all timelines and shifting streams, is officially two. And that’s still not much, but the preliminary results are looking good.
Hazel is a mess, even after all these years, and not in a good place to be giving himself to anyone. He might not even be capable of it - not right now. But he thinks he could love Carly, with time.
He can see the shape of his love in her. In her constant digging, her competitive streak. She has exquisite taste, which goes hand-in-hand with her cleverness.
Taste, he thinks, is an act of perception – you have to have a sense of the thing in your mind, be it a craft beer or a pinball machine or a roof, and then you have to take what’s in front of you and examine it. You have to taste every corner of it. And you have to notice your reactions to it, as well, while not losing sight of what the thing is , its platonic form, and where it’s taking you.
Carly has stellar taste.
That doesn’t mean that she and Hazel agree about everything. They were talking about Captain America: Civil War, once, and Carly had mused about how earlier superhero movies were mostly about the heroes’ conflicts with regular life and society. This lead to most of the emotional arcs centering about the hero revealing their true identity to their loved ones, which meant “they keep telling the same story over and over.” (Hazel loves those moments – for reasons he isn’t going to think about too hard – but he has to admit she has a point.)
She further posited that Marvel’s latest burst of films represented a maturation of the theme, as they expanded into different genres, but also that the logical conclusion of the audience getting used to the idea of a hero-populated modern day world was unavoidably science fiction.
Hazel thought that was interesting, and he probed a little more. He found out that while Carly had seen a few of the most popular ones (a couple of the Tobey Maguire spiderman films, The Dark Knight Rises, the Avengers, Iron Man 3, Civil War), she wasn’t all that into superhero films or even superhero comics. She just paid a lot of attention to what she watched, and to what her friends were talking about, and she’d drawn some threads between them. She's just… good at noticing important patterns.
It's what makes her a good journalist.
It's what makes her so damn good at Rabbits.
She isn't, however, going to look at him the same way. Maybe, maybe after, if there is an after. If they’re still open - or if Yumiko just said no thanks to Carly, or if she didn't end up able to say anything at all - well, it's not like Hazel is hoping for anything like that.
Carly is a woman possessed of one mission. It burns in all her words and in the fire behind her eyes. Find her. Bring her home.
If Hazel loves Carly, just a little, it is for that fire. It doesn't matter who it burns for.
Carly needs a guide, and Hazel can, and will, help with this.
Later, near the end, they pass into Canada late. They miss the ferry. They’re both out of it, like something changed in the hours-long wait at the Peace Arch border crossing. It’s probably just them. It feels like the whole world. Jones is wrestling with something, for a long time, but when it comes out of him, it’s still… Jones being Jones.
“After all of this, just…” he starts. “Just don’t look back.”
“Don’t look back.”
“Jones,” Carly subdues herself from making some kind of impulsive movement. She doesn’t know what she was itching to do. She’s so pent-up she’s going to peel off her fucking skin. “What the hell does that mean? We’re past this.” She makes We’re past this sound remarkably like Go fuck yourself.
“I -” Jones puts up his hand. “I don’t mean that as some kind of cryptic clue. We’re in the end game now; what I know, you know. This is just… a feeling.”
“Okay,” says Carly, relenting. She believes him, even, maybe. Then: “Go on.”
“I just… something’s going to happen. I can feel it. Once we get there, and find the house. I don’t know what it’ll be, or what happens after. Just… When this is done, don’t… don’t look back on this.”
“You mean, don’t question it? Don’t look into this once we’ve found Yumiko? Stop there?” Carly starts to bristle. Yes, she is in this to find Yumiko, more than anything, but this is a new development, and she’s a reporter. Like, has he met her?
“No! Nothing like that. Just… Don’t doubt this. Don’t doubt yourself. We’re on the trail of something, you can feel it. It’s in the air.”
Carly would make some kind of cutting jab, except, it is in the air – heavy and electric, cold and thick. The sky is mildly overcast at most, but her mind expects thunder any second now.
“Anyways,” Jones goes on, “If this works, if you think back – when you think back – don’t look back and be like, what was I thinking, what the hell was that. You know what this is.”
“I know that… A bunch of crazy bullshit has happened. And that I’m here to find my girlfriend.”
“You know a lot more than that. But - Yes. That. That’s what I mean. That’s what brought you here. Don’t look back on this.”
Jones holds her eye contact for a few seconds, then his eyes dart back to the dashboard. They’re first in line for the next ferry, so the road terminates, just past the boarding lane, in the wooden dock posts. Beyond those, the Salish Sea churns. It’s gray, gray, gray, lashed with white.
They try to guess if the next island in sight is Galiano, or if it’s the one past it. It doesn’t really matter.
Carly has no real reason to think that Yumiko is nearby, but her image springs to mind, and comforts her. She’s a calm west wind over the fevered, roiling surface of Carly's brain.
Jones swallows. “Do you want some food? I can look for something in town. You stay with the car?”
“Sure,” says Carly. Wait for me, she thinks, not for the first time, I’m coming.
Jones leaves. Carly watches the wind blow the gray water white and black, and waits for Jones to return, and waits for Charon to arrive and ferry them to the other side, into whatever happens next.