As their flight touches down, Myka glances at Christina and smiles, relieved the jostle of wheels hitting tarmac hasn't phased her. The girl barely stirred when she pushed her off her lap to buckle her in and she remains eyes closed, slumped in her seat, head pressed up against the wall. This being Christina's first flight, she’s impressed she’s slept so soundly and also a little jealous; she's barely slept a wink the whole time. But the gesture bodes well for the future; who knows how long they’ll be lost in a holding pattern, traveling in circles visiting Helena.
The line snaking through customs is enormous, and Christina leans sleepily into Myka’s leg as they navigate, arms wrapped tightly around her thigh, head resting on her hip as if it were a pillow. Myka lays a hand on Christina's back to herd her along but is thankful for her groggy state, aware the minute she’s fully cognizant a stream of questions will pour out of her mouth like sand.
As they shuffle along, Myka recalls how patient Christina's been over the last month, a beacon of positivity save the occasional act of sullenness, studiously counting down the days until this trip. She wishes she could say the same for herself, but unfortunately the obstacles at play, the ones beyond a child’s scope of being, keep getting in the way.
“Your daughter’s curls are lovely,” a thickly accented woman compliments out of the blue, bumping Myka out of her introspective haze.
“Thank you," Myka replies and smiles politely at the woman standing across from her, dressed a bright pink sari. "We both had haircuts before we left." She leaves the matter there, refraining from expository details, as experience has proven they confuse matters more than clarify.
Christina snuggles further into Myka's leg and she smooths down her curls, fondly remembering Christina's instructions for the haircut. "Just like Myka's," she said, eagerly, and was overjoyed with the results.
“I always wanted a girl, you know, but the universe had other plans,” the woman confesses while eyeing the three droopy young boys surrounding her. “At least they’re as tired as yours after that flight."
“I hope so,” Myka replies, raising her eyebrows in acknowledgment of the woman’s heavy load. She can’t imagine having three kids to keep track of, let alone all boys; the few days she's spent minding Christina and her friends has been hectic enough.
Conversation drops as the line lurches forward and everyone's focus shifts ahead. Once passports are stamped and baggage claimed, Myka and Christina follow the flow of traffic past the “no re-entry" sign into the “arrivals” area. Myka takes hold of Christina’s hand as she skips ahead; it’d be all too easy to lose her in the chaos beyond. As she’s pulled along, she searches the sea of faces lined up behind the railing, but only strangers stare back; Helena seems not among them.
As the walkway spills into the larger lobby, Christina yanks her hand from Myka’s and bolts across the floor. Myka grabs Christina’s luggage and hurries to follow but slows when Christina jumps into the arms of a woman wearing dark sunglasses. The woman lifts Christina up and twirls her around, placing frantic kisses on her cheek, a whirlwind of black hair trailing behind.
Myka watches with a weary smile as the two continue spinning until Helena starts to wobble. Christina clings to Helena as she slips down her torso, her arms circling Helena’s legs tightly once she hits the ground. Helena rests a hand on her back, and presses slightly, holding her close.
Helena’s smile, already straining to be contained by her face, widens further as her gaze meets Myka's. Myka’s smile brightens then flattens, her chest tightening at the sight of Helena’s split, swollen lip.
“What happened?” she blurts, stepping into Helena’s personal space, touching her fingers to Helena’s lip. Dismayed by the redness coloring Helena's left cheek, she slips her glasses off and sees they're masking a puffy, bruised eye.
“We talked last night. You didn’t say anything about—"
Helena’s lips cover her own in an instant, halting her thought in its tracks. As the familiar sensation registers in her mind, her worry turns to want and her hands lift to cup Helena’s jaw, maneuvering their mouths closer together, her lips moving to return the gesture in kind. The kiss lingers until they part for air, and she lists forward as Helena pulls back, not wanting the connection to end just yet.
As they separate, their eyes stay locked; Myka's heartbeat races at the joy and relief radiating from Helena. As she wets her lips, her elation dims, the taste of blood prompting her want to shift back to worry. Lowering her eyes, she sees a red dot blooming from Helena’s wound, yet Helena seems unfazed; she hopes it’s not as painful as it looks.
Christina nabs the sunglasses from her hand and slides them over her ears, holding the onto the frames to keep them from falling. “Do I look like Mom?” she petitions.
“Spitting image if you ask me," Helena says, smiling in amusement. She crouches down to Christina's level and pulls gently on a curl. "Though your hairstyle resembles Myka’s rather remarkably these days.” She slides the glasses off Christina's face and assists Christina in slipping them back onto her own.
“Does it hurt?” Christina asks as she pads her fingers near Helena's swollen lip.
“Did you get punched, like in cartoons?"
Helena smiles. “Similarly, but not quite. Kenpo accident. When you're older and further along in your training, you’ll learn how to have this not happen. I’m a bit rusty—"
“You never said you were doing Kenpo again,” Myka interrupts, a slight annoyance in her tone.
Helena slips the glasses down her nose and looks over their rims at Myka.
“M-maybe you did,” Myka quickly counters, the look in Helena’s eyes relaying a clear signal of warning.
Christina flops onto Helena and throws her arms around her shoulders. Helena turns and lifts her up; the two fitting effortlessly together as they rise. “You need to stop growing, love. Soon, I’ll not be able to carry you.”
“I’m sleepy,” Christina mumbles and snuggles into the crook of Helena’s neck.
“We’ll all nap once we’re settled,” Helena announces. She glances at Myka, eyes full of asking, while heaving Christina further up on her hip.
“Let’s get outta here,” Myka says. She gathers their luggage then looks down at an item Helena is studying closely.
"Dewy? Yeah. A friend of a friend makes custom backpacks for kids; that’s Dewy’s fluffy face. Thankfully, it arrived yesterday, or we might have had a mini meltdown.”
"I'm sure she adores it," Helena says, tilting her head to touch Christina’s, speaking towards her ear.
Christina nods wearily into Helena’s shoulder and squeezes her tighter. Helena sweeps a lock of hair out of her face and places a kiss on her newly exposed skin.
“I’m so pleased both my girls are here,” Helena says.
The faint quiver in Helena's voice tugs at Myka’s heart, and she slips Helena's glasses off to see what’s happening underneath. She nearly tears up at what she finds, Helena's bruised eye twitching, struggling to contain the moisture gathering there.
Myka steps forward and Helena lowers Christina to the ground, arms reaching to circle each other; their bodies soon intertwined.
“Thank you for bringing my daughter to see me," Helena says, her body sinking closer, hands gripping fistfuls of Myka's coat.
“I wouldn’t have come without her,” Myka replies, a lump forming in her throat at the gratitude in Helena’s voice.
They separate slowly, hands skimming down arms, fingers slipping apart, but remain gazing at each other with soft, glowing eyes. Christina attaches herself to Helena’s leg, and the trance is broken; Myka slides Helena's glasses back over her ears and gives the bridge a tap. Helena looks down at Christina and offers a hand. Myka corrals their luggage, and they walk together towards the taxi stand.
Lying stiffly on her back, eyes closed tightly, Myka breathes in deep, measured breaths, matching the rhythm of Helena’s gentle snoring; the expansion and contraction of muscles meant coax her body and mind to relax. It's silly, really, that she can't fall asleep; with Helena lying next to her she thought she'd be out like a light, but nothing this morning seems to be doing to trick. Reluctantly, she declares the exercise failed and shifts onto her side.
Helena’s hair fans out in front of her, and she combs her fingers through, lightly at first, then more insistently, losing herself in its silky texture and glossy sheen. During their separation, it took her by surprise that the small intimacies of being close were the ones she longed for the most; she's pleased simply reaching out touching Helena has prompted a long dormant warmth to radiate from her chest.
Helena groans softly as Myka’s fingers graze her scalp and she lightens her touch, not wanting to wake her. From the looks of it, last night’s activities, and subsequent injuries, were completely draining; she passed out with Christina immediately upon entering their vacation flat. Best to leave them dozing as long as possible, at least until she’s on her way out the door.
She rolls off the bed and pads into the sitting area, then steals off to the second bedroom, luggage in tow. While taking stock of her belongings, she decides to shower then unpack; her hair will take longer than usual to tame due to the varied composition of water.
Post shower, hair dyer at full whirl, she jumps at the sight of a head popping over her shoulder in the mirror. She switches off the dryer and sets it down, then leans back into Helena’s arms as they snake around her midriff.
"Did you sleep at all?" Helena asks while sliding a hand boldly under the flap of Myka’s towel, stopping when her fingertips reach bare flesh.
"A little," Myka says, her skin tingling at Helena’s touch. "Did I wake you?" she asks, suddenly feeling guilty about the noise.
“Not really,” Helena says and smiles suggestively at Myka's reflection. “Christina’s still out, by the way."
Myka hears the innuendo in Helena’s words but can’t stop staring at her eye, worried that it’s darkened even further since they met. She turns in Helena’s arms and lifts a hand, skimming her fingertips lightly over Helena’s swollen eyelid. Helena’s eyes flutter closed, but her lips curl up at the ends.
"What really happened to you?"
“Slipped in the shower?”
“Your phone screen's broken, I saw it in the cab.”
As Myka waits for a factual reply, she trails her fingers down Helena’s cheek and runs a thumb across her split lip. Helena’s warm, quickening breath coursing over her skin clouds her resolve; suddenly Helena’s answer seems less pressing than her rising arousal. She’s like to kiss her instead of waiting, but if she starts, she won’t stop, and there’s no time for distractions, not this morning. She moves her hand away and lays it palm down on Helena’s shoulder.
Helena's eyes open to a plaintive Myka staring back.
“Alright,” she concedes. “I covered a shift, last minute, for a friend at a bar last night. I thought 'why not;’ I knew I’d be up anyway, awaiting your arrival.” She releases her hold on Myka’s waist and takes a small step back. “The shift ended quite late and as I walked to my flat, a young man tried to knick my bag. The phone was damaged in the struggle."
“You were mugged?” Myka blurts. Of all the things she’d thought might have happened, this was not one of them.
"I suppose one might call it that—"
"And you fought him?”
“Yes. He eventually ran off, flustered a woman half his size could best him in a fight.” Helena's lips rise into a smug grin.
Myka glares in return. “What if he had a gun or a knife?”
“This is London, not New York."
“You once told me London was dangerous. Remember?”
"If your flight was delayed and you couldn’t reach me, I’d have been furious—"
“I’d have been furious if we got here and you were in the hospital because of your...your phone."
“I can care for myself, you know—”
“I see that,” Myka snaps, swirling a hand dramatically in front of Helena’s face. She leans back on the sink and crosses her arms, clearly affronted by Helena’s complacency.
“Myka..." Helena says in her most appeasing tone. She steps forward and gently peels Myka’s arms apart, taking hold of both of her hands. "This is about more than my injuries."
Myka narrows her eyes; Helena’s deflecting, but she’ll allow it. She wants to see where this goes.
“You’re stretched thin, and it’s wearing on you. Work has been full on lately and Christina’s care, ceaseless. Cohabitation with Claudia can be exasperating at best. While you’re here, allow me to lessen your burden."
“I’m not burdened."
“Yes, you are, though you’ll never admit it,” Helena says, her words filled with both reverence and authority. Her hands skim up the sides of Myka’s arms, rounding her shoulders then cupping her jaw, guiding her lips forward into a soft, persuasive kiss.
Myka gives herself over to Helena’s charms until the weight of their conversation begins to sink in. Helena was mugged last night, mugged, and she’s downplaying it as if it were nothing. Claudia, while well intentioned, is exasperating; she and Myka often clash over the most insignificant things. Work has been full on since adding London to the mix; and truthfully, there’s not enough time to discuss any of it before her meeting today. Everything will have to wait and hopefully she’ll have the wherewithal for discussions and kissing after work.
Myka breaks the kiss and pulls back. “Can we talk about this later? I should finish getting ready.”
Helena withdraws her hands. “Of course,” she says with a light nod and a tight smile. “Busy day ahead.”
Helena steps toward the door but Myka grabs her arm and tugs her back.
“Thank you,” she says, wishing she weren’t the reason for the hurtful look in Helena's eyes.
“Telling me the truth."
“No more secrets,” Helena says, the gravity of the statement hitting Myka squarely in the gut. "You have my word."
Sorry for the lag in the update, all the usual suspects seem to have gotten in the way: work, holidays, the destruction of America as we know it (wait, that last one can't be right, can it? So much work to be done. #resist). I hope to get an update up sooner in the future, at least once a month. "
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Words blur together as Myka rereads the paragraph she just typed, her droopy lids hindering her ability to focus. Her mouth contorts as she yawns, squeezing her eyes shut, limbs stretching outward, body speaking its truths after hours of forced sitting. She leans back in her chair and shifts until comfortable; a few minutes of rest are fine, even necessary, before her evening round of meet and greets begins.
Breathing a deep, cleansing breath, she attempts to put the day in perspective: while an earlier spat with Helena left a gray cloud over everything, she’s genuinely pleased the deal was won, and her five-point plan will move forward. Sure, her modus operandi was false, and Helena said as much, but she'll make up for it later; right now she needs to examine her morning and formulate a way of smoothing things over when she meets Helena tonight.
“Do I look ok?” Myka asked while fussing with the hem of her dress.
"As lovely as ever,” Helena replied, smiling wolfishly at the sight.
“I have this meeting and I—"
“With the Italians. I told you yesterday."
“Is this dress not a tad risqué for work?” Helena asked, eyes scanning Myka up and down, brow furrowing as her focus landed on Myka’s lower than usual neckline.
“Vanessa said 'a little would go a long way.’ It has a jacket…did I overshoot?”
Myka glanced down at her outfit, then up at Helena, eyes genuinely questioning. Helena raised a brow and pressed her lips together as if holding her tongue.
“I’ll change into something more ‘me’ before the opening, I’m just playing the part, for now,“ Myka said, smoothing down her dress and pulling up on the straps.
“You should always be you. Playing the part never ends well. I should know.”
“This is different,” Myka countered, the judgment in Helena’s voice rubbing her the wrong way.
Myka’s posture stiffened at Helena’s sharp tone, her chin lowering and pulling back against her neck as she held Helena’s icy glare.
“Why are you all dressed up?” Christina asked, shuffling groggily into the room, latching automatically onto Helena’s leg.
“I have to go to work,” Myka answered, attempting to sound upbeat.
“But we just got here…"
Myka crouched down to address Christina directly, her unwavering smile hiding her discomfort as her dress tightened around her midriff. “You’ll meet me later, at the gallery. The dress we brought special; it’s for tonight.”
“I can wear it?” Christina asked, her face lighting up, shedding any remains of sleep.
“Yeah. And if you come early I’ll do your hair."
“I can manage,” Helena snapped, dryly.
Myka looked up and found a pair of perplexed, perturbed eyes glaring back.
“We had a braid we were working on,” Myka explained, then looked back Christina. “Show your mom the picture. I’m sure she can figure it out."
“Mom can do it! Mom can do anything!” Christina cheered, grinning wildly as she looked up at Helena. Helena placed a reassuring hand on the back of her head, but her eyes remained perplexed.
Myka wobbled as she began to rise, nearly toppling over, the dress constricting her movements. Helena grabbed her upper arms just in time and helped her up.
“Are you mad at me or something?” Myka asked as their eyes met.
“No,” Helena replied with a slow shake of the head. She held Myka’s gaze for a moment, as if cataloging the newly disclosed events, then released Myka’s arms and glanced down at Christina. “Haircuts and backpacks, dresses and braids,” she said, thoughtfully, her hand skimming over Christina’s curls, then resting on her back. "You’ve only just arrived, and now you’re leaving.”
“I know. I’m sorry,” Myka said, heart sinking at the sadness in Helena’s tone. “Once work's out of the way, we’ll have more time together.” She cupped Helena’s cheeks and pulled her into a kiss, but her grip was too firm and the kiss too hard; she withdrew the instant Helena flinched in pain.
A crisp ding filled the tense air and Myka scrambled to find her phone. “That’s my car; I have to go. I’ll see you both later,” she said, slipping on her jacket and gathering her bags. She strode toward the door, and Helena followed but froze when Helena laid a hand on her shoulder.
“Good luck with your meeting,” Helena said, the earlier warmth returning to her voice. She slid her hands across Myka’s jaw and guided their lips together, the kiss light but purposeful, imbued with truce, tasting of promises for more.
Mrs. Frederic's gallery is packed; the first show of the season proving a press favorite. Having weathered an onslaught of introductions, Myka’s withdrawn to the mezzanine, taking a well-earned break from meeting art world notables. As chance would have it, she's not alone for long; she’s soon joined by the artist on view.
They met earlier at the preview, along with a group of others, but now that they're alone he’s spewing a slew of questions about the New York art scene. She answers politely but without depth; her main concerns fending off exhaustion and scanning the main floor below. Her pulse quickens as she spies Helena gesticulating wildly, explaining some detail of a towering wooden sculpture to a captivated Christina. She wishes she were there, listening in; she’s missed Helena’s florid descriptions of the world, though she's certain Christina’s missed them more.
Leaning over the railing, she waves a long arm in broad strokes, hoping Helena might see her. When her efforts prove fruitless, she sends a quick text, watching closely as Helena receives it and searches the room. Helena smiles when she spots Myka above, and Christina jumps up and down, waving until Helena takes her hand and guides her through the crowd.
Moments later, Christina barrels across the mezzanine and into Myka’s outstretched arms. Helena arrives a few beats after, clearly out of breath from the chase.
“Let me look at you,” Myka says, upon releasing Christina from her embrace.
Christina takes a step back and gives a dainty twirl.
“You look amazing,” Myka gushes, “and your braid’s perfect.” She looks up at Helena, eyes bright, smile wide, overjoyed to have passed the task off to someone successfully. She’d forgotten what it’s like to have a competent accomplice; Claudia tries in her own way, but never seems to get things right, leaving Claudia frustrated and Christina missing her mother more than ever.
Myka rises, and Helena steps forward, placing a less than chaste kiss on her cheek.
A clipped cough cuts through the mirth and all eyes land on the man standing next to Myka.
“Oh, sorry. It’s been a really long day,” Myka says, then absently places a hand on the man's shoulder. “Everyone this is Pedram,” she announces, “And Pedram this is—"
“Helena Wells, Myka’s partner,” Helena interrupts, jutting out a hand in Pedram’s direction.
“Very nice to meet you,” Pedram says and accepts Helena’s hand.
Myka watches in a daze, the word “partner” leaving her speechless; Helena’s never used the term before, but she’s assuming there’s a reason.
“What happened to your…” Pedram asks, swirling a hand around his eye.
“Lover's quarrel. You know how it is,” Helena quips. She throws a sidelong glance at Myka, curling her lips into a mischievous grin.
“Hey!” Myka barks, eyes narrowing as she sees the problem. Pedram’s handsome enough, with his chiseled good looks and “bohemian casual” suit, but she only has eyes for Helena. “That’s not—"
“Myka look!” Christina blurts from her perch near the railing. Myka steps nearer and sees she's pointing at two children climbing on an oversized sculpture, built from painted boxes, adorned with vibrant lettering. “Can I play too?”
Myka looks at Pedram, her face filled with alarm; this is not a playground, and that’s technically not allowed. Much to Myka’s surprise, Pedram smiles reassuringly, then crouches down next to Christina.
“What’s your name?” he asks.
“Well, Christina,” he says with a sparkle in his eye, “Those are my children, Laylah and Navid. They’re about your age, and they helped build all of this. You should come meet them."
“Can I?” Christina twists around and beams, wide-eyed at Myka.
“If Pedram says it’s alright.”
“You might ruin your pretty dress,” Helena warns, a slight chill in her voice.
“Dresses shouldn't stop you from having fun,” Myka replies, defensively.
“Then it’s settled,” Pedram announces while standing. He looks to the left and right, then leans toward Myka. "Let’s go before Stuart finds us."
“Stuart?” Helena repeats.
“The director,” Myka replies. “He’s our host for the evening. We've been hiding from him."
“My wife had the right idea; she disappeared the instant introductions started at the VIP preview. You should meet her, though I'm not sure where she is. I imagine she’s somewhere near to the wine,” Pedram says, squinting as he searches the floor.
“She’s not with your kids?” Myka asks.
“Oh, no. We have a sitter,” he explains. "It’s not her thing, you know. She works so I can be in the studio; I watch the kids most of the time."
"A man after my own heart,” Helena says and claps Pedram on the back.
“Thanks, I think,” he says. “Are you coming to the dinner after?”
“There’s a dinner?” Helena questions, glancing at Myka, raising a brow.
“I found out about it today,” Myka explains. "I have to go, but you don’t if you’re not feeling up to it.” She turns swiftly to Pedram to avoid Helena’s disapproving gaze. “Do you think Mrs. Frederic will be there?"
“I’m not sure. Have you met her?"
“Me neither. She is rather elusive. Rumor has it she’s rarely in London."
“Can we go?” Christina blurts, eyeing the activities downstairs anxiously.
“Yes, love. Let’s,” Helena answers.
The second it's offered, Christina grabs Helena’s hand and drags her towards the stairs. Myka watches closely as they merge with the crowd, her stomach in knots; are she and Helena back where they were this morning? Did she say or do something wrong? She’s so tired she honestly can't to tell.
The minute she and Pedram hit the main floor, Stuart appears, sending them in disparate directions. Christina's deposited with Pedram’s sitter and Myka's ferried off for further introductions, Helena in tow.
The whirl of constant meet and greets makes Myka dizzy, but Helena’s mood improves; she's truly in her element, spinning witty tales about her injuries, charming everyone in her path.
In the cab on the way to dinner, Christina wilts on Helena’s lap, and Helena pulls her close, eyes fluttering closed as she combs her fingers through Christina’s newly loosened locks. Myka slips her arm behind Helena and Helena leans towards her, resting head on Myka's shoulder. Myka stares out into the night, wishing she could skip dinner and go back to their rental, but knows every minute of today is important; today is the hardest slog. As the car pulls up to the restaurant, she places a kiss on the crown of Helena’s head and sends them both home.
Far later than she’d imagined, she tiptoes into Christina’s room and stands at the foot of the bed, taking in the sweet sight of Helena and Christina sleeping peacefully. Christina sprawls limply across Helena's chest while Helena’s arm wraps around her tightly; Helena’s head tucked down, touching the top of Christina’s. Myka smiles, remembering the nights when she's served as Christina’s pillow, nights when Christina when she missed her mom too much to sleep. She gleans a deep satisfaction in seeing the two happily lying together, nearly to the point where she doesn’t dare disturb them.
She climbs into bed anyway, gingerly lifting the covers and cozying up next to Helena. Helena turns her head towards Myka slowly, but her eyes remain closed.
“Did everything go alright?"
“Christina had a wonderful time.”
"I’m sorry to drag you all over town.”
“Anything you need, love. Anything at all."
Helena smiles into the soft, gentle kiss Myka gives her, then shifts, sliding her free arm under Myka’s neck, tilting her head to allow Myka’s to rest on her shoulder. Myka turns and slips an arm across Helena’s abdomen, over Christina, then snuggles into Helena’s side. The warmth from Helena’s body makes her feel safe and secure in a way she’s desperately missed; she revels in the feeling until sleep overcomes her.
The duvet flies to the side; Helena filling its place before Myka knows what's happening. Lips are soon covering her own, and, mind drifting between dream and reality, she reacts rather then acts, pressing up, into the kiss, her abruptly roused tongue reaching clumsily for Helena’s. The earthy caramel taste she finds tells her Helena’s already caffeinated, her enthusiasm proving her lip's healed enough to kiss in earnest.
Myka’s hands glide up Helena's arms and slip effortlessly into her hair, guiding her head further down. She smiles wolfishly at the sound of a muffled whimper as fingers press into her scalp, her repressed desire awakening all at once. Helena matches her fervor by tugging on her lip, but as her mind wakes, the reality of her surroundings abruptly knock her into the present.
“Christina?” she murmurs against Helena’s lips.
“Bath,” Helena answers, between heated kisses. “Ten minutes tops."
Myka knows this to be fact: with no toys to play with; bath time becomes extraordinarily short. She tangles her fingers through Helena’s locks and yanks her closer, her way of indicating she understands.
Helena's knee slips between her legs and her hips lift automatically; as the pressure increases, a repressed yearning radiates from her center, sensitizing her every nerve. A low growl escapes her throat as Helena’s hand slides under her t-shirt, palm grazing slowly, reverently over muscles still sluggish from sleep. She inhales sharply as the hand slips over her breast, her body arching up, eyes squeezing shut, head jamming back into the pillow.
Myka's head lolls to the side as Helena dots her neck in open-mouthed kisses; one eye opening just a crack as Helena’s teeth graze a particularly sensitive spot.
“The door...” she mumbles through racing breaths, hand moving still Helena's fingers, wrapping lightly around their edges.
“...is open,” Helena finishes after a quick glance at the door. "She'll call out when she's done.”
This is also true; Christina always announces when she’s done in the bath, a habit left over from their bathtub-in-the-kitchen days.
Helena draws a line with her tongue along the tender skin under Myka’s jaw, it’s tip pressing and dragging as a precursor to something more intimate. Suddenly, the door doesn’t matter anymore; anticipation takes hold.
"I couldn’t wait a moment longer, after all your teasing,” Helena taunts, nipping Myka’s chin.
“Working,” Helena half-whispers into Myka’s ear, drawing out the word, as if in quotes. "I was relegated to the sidelines, admiring you from afar."
“You were next to me all night—"
“Not like this…"
Helena kisses her, hard, tongue probing deeply, her knee pressing insistently between Myka’s thighs. Myka drags her hands down the length of Helena’s back and tucks them under her waistband, tugging her closer, wishing she could slip her jeans off entirely. Ten minutes, she said, probably three minutes ago, no time to waste…she wants this; they’d better get to work.
Myka stares blankly at the drizzle trailing down the cab window, the gray day barely registering as her mind replays the pleasantries of the morning. In hindsight, she’s embarrassed how quickly she rolled over the edge, but she couldn’t help herself, weeks of repressed longing spilled out when the activities kicked into gear.
Christina called out just as Helena worked her magic and she threw her hand over her mouth to muffle her cry. Helena huffed out a growl as she dropped on top of her and, chests heaving, they shared a few motionless moments, begrudgingly willing the moment to calm. Christina called out again, and Helena kissed her hungrily, then peeled herself off and padded towards the bathroom. Helena glanced back before entering, eyes aglow, lips cemented into a self-satisfied grin. Myka grinned back, dumbly, still reeling from their tryst, pleased to still be the object of Helena’s fervent affections.
Myka smiles to herself at the memory, but in lieu of overanalyzing, lets her current mood rest at better; better than yesterday, better than the month she’s just endured, better than she’d imagined herself feeling today. And the future seems brighter than ever; she's confident over the next few days her quest to secure a job in London will become firm up.
Lost in thought, she barely catches the sound of her name, the front desk girl calling it twice as she glided by.
“Mrs. Frederic wants to see you,” the girl announces, hand covering the mouthpiece of her phone as she speaks.
“Take the elevator up to the top. She’s waiting."
If you're over on Tumblr I've been sort of obsessively making these manips titled "On the Run," check them out if you're so inclined. And check out mfangeleeta's accompanying "Some Sort of AU" ficlets.
Myka turns sharply, scowling at her phone, heels clicking tensely on the pavement as she paces yet another stroke. Helena’s late; not that late, but late enough to cause alarm, especially today, when she needs her to be on time.
A loud “Myka!” breaks her concentration; and before she turns around, Christina crashes into her legs. She smiles briefly at Christina and lays a hand on her back, then catches Helena's eye; Helena stops in her tracks upon sight of Myka’s glare, her chipper grin fading immediately.
“We went to the museum, and saw boats, and the river, and this cool laser at the…the...” Christina releases Myka's leg and looks questioningly at Helena.
“Prime Meridian,” Christina repeats to Myka, her words filled with wonder.
“Do you know what that is?”
“A line that goes all the way around the earth!” Christina drags her shoe in a line across the pavement and hops on one foot to one side. “East is this way, and west over here.” She overshoots as she hops to the other side, swinging her hands around in circles to keep her balance.
Helena rushes over, scooping Christina up before she falls. “We had quite the lengthy discussion, as you can imagine.“
Christina’s antics cause Myka’s scowl to upturn, but her glare hardens as her eyes meet Helena’s.
“You didn't pick up when I called."
”Twice. And texted."
Helena fumbles in her pocket for her phone. “There’s nothing here,” she says, shaking her head. "We lost track of time. Is everything alright? I thought you'd be busy in the office—”
"Mom, what degree are we on right now?"
"What's that, love?"
“Degree. Longitude. And latitude."
“We'll need to look it up."
Helena flinches as she looks to Myka for permission; the tightness in Myka's eyes registering on a physical level. Myka nods tersely, and Helena immediately gets to work, scrolling through her apps.
"Someone recognized you. Last night. At the opening,” Myka says.
"I don't recall seeing anyone I knew.” Helena taps a square and crouches down to show the screen to Christina.
"Not you. Emily."
Helena freezes in place, and Christina swipes the phone from her hand.
“How do I read the numbers again?” Christina asks, nose scrunching as she stares at the screen.
“Show me,“ Helena says, reaching for the phone. Christina slides next to her and angles the phone for her to see.
"Fifty-one point two nine degrees north, zero point four degrees west,” Helena says.
“But you said those were minutes and seconds before.” Christina points her finger at the hash marks next to the numbers.
“That’s one way to read it. This is the easier way."
Christina stares at the screen, perplexed, then toddles away, eyes fixed on the numbers as they readjust to her position.
“Emily,” Myka snaps, her patience waning.
“I haven’t a clue,” Helena answers, eyes following Christina while rising.
“Not too far, dear.”
“Ok,” Christina replies absently, without looking up from the phone.
Helena turns to face Myka and leans away from Myka’s icy glare.
"Surely, I pose no threat to anyone, in either form.”
“The stories you told last night, about your eye..."
“An obvious bit of fun."
"But the Italians..."
“Now know who's in charge, no matter the attire.”
Myka scowls deeply, puffing out an exasperated breath while crossing her arms over her chest.
“I don’t understand. Why does any of this matter? Did I offend someone?"
"Mrs. Frederic called me into her office today, first thing."
Helena's eyebrows rise. "The rarely-in-London, Mrs. Frederic?"
"The rarely-in-London, Mrs. Frederic. She almost fired me.”
"On what grounds?"
“She thought you were pulling one over one me. When I said I knew who you were, she accused me of playing both sides ."
"Mom, what's the difference between forty point four three and seventy-three point five nine?” Christina asks, tugging on Helena’s arm.
"Use the calculator,” Helena says, glancing down at Christina
"I can't find it,” Christina says, fruitlessly scrolling through apps.
Helena breathes in a deep breath and closes her eyes. “Thirty-three point one six,” she rattles off then looks back at Myka.
"She has no right."
“I said you could be an asset. You could be an asset, right? You’re not loyal to…” Myka trails off; not wanting to jinx things further by saying the name out loud. She knows little about Helena's day to day dealings with Macpherson; they never spoke about it in depth.
“Dear lord, no. I assure you, that bridge is burnt."
"Then you'll talk to her.”
“Of course,” Helena says, then looks down at Christina, who is yet again tugging at her arm.
"Mom, I looked up Palo Alto.”
“Did you, love?”
"We lived one hundred twenty-two point one zero degrees from the Prime Meridian."
“Fascinating. How far from New York do you think that is?"
“Can you find the calculator?”
Helena crouches down and fiddles with her phone.
“She wants to speak to you. Now,” Myka adds.
“Right now?” Helena asks, head swinging up, eyes filled with disbelief.
"This very minute?"
"She's rarely in London,” Myka says then looks at Christina, patiently waiting for Helena to find her app. She feels a pang of guilt over separating the two.
Helena grimaces, then turns back to her task, locating the calculator and handing the phone to Christina. Her attention lingers as Christina types, and she reaches over, correcting a mistake.
"I really want this job,” Myka adds.
“I know, love,” Helena says, a hint of defeat in her tone. She rises and steps forward, taking hold of Myka's hands, kissing her on the cheek. “Not to worry. Whatever Mrs. Frederic wants, Mrs. Frederic shall get. I’ll cooperate in any way necessary."
Christina blurts out another number, and Helena smiles, then tousles Christina's hair. “Tell Myka all about our journey while I’m away. We'll get supper when I return.”
She gives Myka a “keep her occupied” look, then walks off.
Myka stares at the bedroom mirror, tugging a comb through damp curls, unable to shake her irritation over Helena’s evasive maneuvers this evening. Helena's vague “it went fine, not to worry” was less than comforting; she wants details from her meeting when they're finally alone.
After showering, she peeked into Christina's room and found Helena still cozied up with her; both seemed to have nodded off. The look of contentment on Christina's face temporarily lightened her mood; at least someone was feeling good about this trip. But the situation has left her with a quandary; with so little time left, should she tear Helena away from Christina to confront her about her meeting? She’d like to spend at least one night together alone, but with this afternoon hanging over them, she’s not sure how that would play out. Maybe Helena’s avoiding her on purpose; perhaps it’s best to change into pajamas and then wake her.
“That took longer than expected,” Helena says as she slips in the door. "The term 'jet lag' seems not in her vocabulary.”
Myka swings around, startled by Helena's abrupt entrance. “She’s excited to see you. We both are.”
Myka's impatience flips to empathy as she watches Helena's apologetic smile fade; she didn't mean to sound so heavy-handed. She closes the distance between them and slips her hands around Helena's waist.
“I thought you fell asleep.”
“I’ll admit I dozed off briefly, but I…” Helena says, looking down, fingering the terrycloth tie to Myka’s robe. “I apologize for seeming standoffish earlier; I didn’t want to Christina to think anything was wrong.”
“Is something wrong?”
“No,” Helena says, shaking her head. “Assumptions were made, old wounds prodded, but I can assure you, your name is clean.” She pulls the tie forward, letting the fabric slip through her fingers until it drops.
Myka's glad her name is clean, but Helena sounds shaken; Helena shouldn't feel sullied in comparison to her. She brushes a thumb over Helena's bruised cheek and sweeps a lock of hair behind her ear; Helena tilts her head into Myka's touch.
"She asked where my loyalties lie,” Helena continues, without provocation, "I insisted they lie with you.” She skims her hand up the side of Myka’s arm, then slides it over her shoulder, fingers tangling into curls at the base of her neck. She tips Myka’s head forward and guides their lips together, pressing her body into Myka’s.
Myka reacts on cue, leaning into the kiss, hand rising to cup Helena’s jaw, nudging their mouths closer. As Helena’s fingers slip underneath Myka's robe and slide across her hip, a correspondent surge of arousal derails any thoughts of further discussion.
Their mouths struggle to stay locked as Myka makes quick work of Helena’s buttons, yanking her shirt out of her trousers with haste. Helena hums through her nose as Myka’s hands glide across her stomach then up the sides of her ribs, pressing harder the higher she goes. Intoxicated by the feel of Helena’s warm skin, she startles when Helena twitches, stilling her hands at the base of Helena's breasts.
“What’s wrong?” Myka asks.
“Nothing,” Helena says. She looks over her shoulder toward the bed. “Perhaps we should dim the lights and move to a more comfortable location.”
Myka presses the spot where her hands rest and Helena sucks in a sharp breath. Myka sweeps Helena’s shirt to the side and bends down, frowning at black and green bruise she finds blooming on her ribs.
“This looks bad.”
“It looks worse than it is.”
Helena shudders as Myka’s fingers brush over tender skin.
“You should see a doctor.”
“You needn’t worry."
“But I will,” Myka says, angling her eyes up, fixing Helena with a firm eye.
Helena closes her eyes and lets out a long exhale. “I’ll go once you’re gone,” she says, hanging her head.
Myka rises and takes a step back. “This trip has been…” She looks away and weaves a hand into her hair, pulling, then dropping it to her side. “Why isn’t this working?”
“Because I’ve mucked things up, as usual.”
Myka closes her eyes and pinches the bridge of her nose; that's not the answer. This isn't working because they can't skip a step, they really do need to talk.
“Who recognized you last night?”
“She didn't tell you?”
“She didn’t tell me much of anything."
“Mrs. Frederic, herself.”
Myka's mouth goes slack. “You said you'd never met her before?”
“I hadn’t. She’d kept an encyclopedic watch over the trial. Since MacPherson's appeal has moved forward, she’s a vested interest in all the players involved."
Myka scowls deeply, annoyed more than ever at how little she knows about Helena’s role in MacPherson’s organization.
“Please, don’t be cross.”
Helena's slumped shoulders, and low hung head give Myka pause; it occurs to her having this out in the open isn't necessarily a bad thing. With the cat out of the bag, everyone can move forward with a clear conscience.
“I’m not angry,” Myka says, crouching down and sweeping Helena’s shirt to the side, examining her bruise more thoroughly. “Does it hurt?”
“Not particularly, unless prodded. Then again, I do have a high threshold for pain.”
Myka's stomach turns at the thought of the source of the bruise, of Helena being punched in the gut, of her dragging her battered body home to an empty flat with no one to care for her. She lays her hand palm down on Helena’s stomach and looks up, meeting Helena’s gaze.
“You didn’t muck things up,” she says, placing a light kiss on the bruise before rising. "It’s not like you planned any of this.”
She brushes her fingers over Helena’s slightly swollen eye and glides them across the fading bruise on her cheek, then leans forward, pressing her lips against Helena’s. She hooks her fingers into the nook between Helena’s jawbone and ear and draws her closer, but when Helena doesn’t reciprocate, she pulls back.
“I’m sorry,” she says and drops her hand to her side.
Helena's expression is neither dismissive nor accepting; she's clearly skirting the edge of martyr territory. But withdrawing into herself is the last thing Myka wants to encourage right now.
“Why don’t you…” she says, fingering Helena’s collar, dragging her thumb and forefinger down the hem, letting her knuckle graze lightly over tender skin as it descends. “Take this off. All of it. Then meet me over there.” She balls her hand into Helena's shirt and tugs gently, then looks over her shoulder at the bed.
Helena glances behind her, then down at Myka’s thumb, now hooked in the waistband of her jeans. She gingerly lifts the thumb up and out then returns the hand to Myka’s side while leaning forward towards her ear.
“Make me,” she taunts, lips lifting up at the ends, slyly, as she pulls back.
Myka smirks, crookedly, relieved to see a hint of mischief in Helena's eye; the tension in her chest dissipating the longer their gazes stay locked. She lunges at Helena’s shoulder, but Helena shirks away; when she lunges again, Helena steps back, the motion repeating itself until Helena trips backward onto the bed. Myka sheds her robe and springs on top then de-clothes Helena immediately; their bodies tangling together, reduced to an inseparable blur until sleep becomes inevitable.
Chapter 4 should go up quicker than usual as I chopped chapter 3 into 2 parts for better readability.
A little more London, a little more plot building...
A arm stretches across the bed as a low murmur nudges Myka awake, but cold, wrinkly sheets greet her where Helena once lay. Her ears perk up further at a shuffling sound behind the door, and she smiles at the hint of bacon in the air; Helena and Christina must be preparing breakfast, just like old times.
Taking a rare moment for herself, she rolls onto her back and closes her eyes, calling forth pleasant memories from last night. Aggressions immediately fell away as the desire to touch and be touched grew; hands and mouths wandered eagerly, rousing tender spots left unattended for so long. It's heartening beyond measure their bodies knew what to do; if intimacy proved as difficult as everything else lately, she'd be at a loss for a remedy.
Her muscles groan in protest as she slides out of bed, last night's activities and her lack of sleep catching up with her all at once. She throws on a loose t-shirt and pajama bottoms then slowly opens the door, pausing at its threshold to assess the scene.
Helena stands in the kitchen, facing the stove, spatula in hand, humming softly, while Christina’s positioned to her right, popping bread into the toaster, teetering precariously on several books. After a few moments of lurking, Myka pads quietly across the room and snakes her arms around Helena's midriff, brushing her nose against Helena’s ear.
"Good morning," she says, almost as a whisper.
Helena leans into Myka's arms and turns until their lips touch, initiating a steamy good morning kiss. A crackly pop breaks their connection, and Helena turns back to her task; Myka rests her chin on Helena's shoulder and pulls her close.
"I thought it fitting we cook at least once while you're here," Helena says with a hint of excitement in her voice.
"We went to the offy!" Christina says, out of the blue.
"Off license. Corner shop. The bodegas of the Great Britain, “ Helena explains. “We decided an English breakfast was in order, but our options were limited at the shop. Luckily this flat provided many essentials already."
Myka looks towards Christina, eyes lingering on item next to her on the counter. “What are you up to over there?”
“I’m making toast for the toast rack,” Christina says cheerfully. She catches a slice as it pops, slathers butter on its surface then cuts it in half before placing it vertically in the rack.
“Standard fare for B&B’s across the U.K. As are tea cozies,” Helena says nodding toward the table.
Myka looks over her shoulder and snickers at the duck shaped lump of fabric surrounded by a sea of condiments.
“Christina wants one in the shape of a cat,” Helena says with a smirk.
“I’m sure they exist,” Myka says, eyes the searching the counter.
“Strong tea. The owners of this flat seem to ascribe to a certain sense of Englishness.”
Myka withdraws her arms and takes a step back, pouting as Helena looks over her shoulder.
“It's not proper.”
“I'll get coffee on the way to work.”
Helena grimaces, lips pressing together tightly as she turns back to the stove. “Exactly how long will you be today?”
“N-not long. A few hours. Then I’m free.”
“Free,” Helena repeats, the word sounding like a puff of air.
Helena’s shoulders droop, spatula stilling over the frying pan and Myka scrambles for an out before Helena’s lost contemplating a deeper meaning of the word.
“Is that Marmite?” she says, walking briskly towards the table, plucking the jar from the spread.
“A British staple. Have you tried it?”
“Yeah. At your old apartment. It’s awful.” Myka sticks out her tongue and scrunches up her nose.
“It’s an acquired taste. Christina's quite fond of it, aren't you, love?”
“Yum!” Christina says, licking her lips, bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet, nearly slipping off the pile of books.
“She is her mother’s daughter.”
“She’s quite fond of you as well,” Helena says, coming up beside Myka, setting a plate on the table, then giving her a warm, wet kiss on the cheek. “Sit. Eat. You must be ravenous after last night.”
Myka’s cheeks warm at Helena's suggestion; she sits as instructed and pours herself some tea.
“Christina, toast,” Helena says, then strides back to the stove.
Christina lifts the overly full toast rack off the counter and carefully carries it to the table, smiling winningly as she sets it down without a hitch. Helena slides a steaming plate in front of her and she hops on a chair, lunging across the table to grab the Marmite.
Helena remains stationed behind Christina, hands gripping the back of her seat, watching closely as she struggles to twist the jar open. Christina squeezes her eyes shut and clenches her teeth, small hands grappling with the lid, grunting adorably to signal her effort.
Myka watches the pair closely, thinking it's odd when Helena doesn’t move to assist. She's tempted to reach over and help, but Helena's body language gives her pause; eyes focused yet somehow distant, fingers digging into the back of the chair, Helena's clearly lost in something beyond the task at hand.
“Mom, can you open this?” Christina asks.
“Certainly,” Helena replies, springing automatically into action. She removes the lid with a minimum of effort then sets the jar in front of Christina; Christina eagerly dips her knife into the condiment.
"Where'd you go?" Myka asks, looking worriedly at Helena.
Helena looks at Myka, her murky eyes clearing as their gazes meet.
“Ghosts of English breakfast’s past, I suppose,” Helena says, quietly, her attentions returning to Christina spreading the dark brown substance over her toast.
“The Marmite,” Helena continues, "When I was a child we had a ritual of sorts. If anyone interfered with my quest to open it, I'd make a fuss. They learned to ignore my efforts until I asked for help. Even Charles..."
Helena’s eyes glass over as she watches Christina eat; Myka tries but fails to come up with a comforting response. Helena smooths down Christina’s hair and gives her shoulders a light pat, then steps off toward the stove.
Myka pushes her chair back slowly, eyes following Helena, rising after glancing at Christina is ensure she's immersed in her meal.
“Are you ok?” Myka asks as she comes up behind to Helena.
Helena lowers her head.
“Talk to me,” Myka says, noting a glimmer of moisture gathering at the corner of Helena’s eye.
“I'm afraid...” Helena begins, turning to face Christina, “afraid I won't survive her departure."
Myka’s chest aches at Helena’s admission; she knew this was coming, it was a just question of when. Moving quickly to quell Helena's fears, she sweeps a dark lock behind Helena's ear and kisses her softly on the cheek.
“We'll be back. Really soon. So soon, you won't even know we’re gone.”
“I wish that were true,” Helena says, lips tightening as they strain to form a small smile. She rests her head on Myka’s shoulder and slips her arms around her waist.
"If we've stolen off by morning, know we've gone to the Black Mountains until she's grown."
Myka snickers, once, then circles an arm around Helena’s shoulders and pulls her close. She kisses the top of her head and looks toward Christina.
“Why isn’t anybody eating?” Christina says, her gaze vacillating between Helena and Myka. "The toast is getting cold."
“Fair assessment,” Helena says, raising a brow at Myka.
“On it,” Myka says, kissing Helena briefly on the lips before joining Christina at the table.
As the train lumbers forward, Myka sits quietly, smiling at the appropriate times, half listening as Helena indulges Christina in an abridged history of the Tube. They’re taking "public transport" for “authenticity’s sake;” Helena planned a special trip today, though their exact destination has not been disclosed.
As Helena’s tale segues into the War, Myka tunes out; mind drifting through the ups and downs of the last twenty-four hours. She silently thanks Christina for charming the waitstaff last night, her levity more than welcome after another questionable afternoon.
She smiles remembering their high spirits post dinner; Christina was served a special dessert and repeated its name over and over in the cab, spurring an impromptu rhyming game between herself and Helena. "Aam Shrikhand" morphed onto “yam treacle” but “ham sandwich” won as the favorite of the bunch and will no doubt become shorthand for the evening. Back in the flat, after a giddy tickling match, Christina, for once, was easily coerced into bed.
After tucking Christina in, Myka followed Helena like a puppy to the bedroom; clothes were shed and kisses initiated without a word being spoken. All seemed to be forgiven, but yesterday afternoon still haunts her thoughts; she hopes to smooth things over before their flight home later today.
“You look pleased,” Helena said as Myka strolled out of the gallery.
“I am,” Myka gushed, grinning as wide and bright as could be.
“What’s the occasion?”
Helena raised a brow and tilted her head.
“I…" Myka began, her smile shrinking at the tightness in Helena’s eyes. “...can’t."
“Mom, can I run to that tree and back?” Christina asked, tugging on Helena’s hand.
Helena glanced at the tree, then down at Christina. “Go.”
Christina hopped once, then took off across the sidewalk.
“A covert sale,” Helena clarified, looking straight at Myka.
“Just…discreet. I’m doing research, nothing glamorous."
“You’ve been removed from the Italian account?” Helena's eyes followed Christina as she whizzed past.
“No. In addition to. But it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
“They always are,” Helena said, with a dismissive wave of her hand.
“Hey. This is a big deal for me,” Myka countered, crossing her arms over her chest.
“I understand, but these sorts of sales are questionable at best.”
A wayward giggle broke the tension, and all eyes followed Christina as she circled around, a hand grazing both Helena and Myka's legs as she passed.
“It’s Mrs. Frederic. She’s reputable,” Myka said as Christina ran back towards the tree.
“Do you recall Denver? Your motives were honorable but the situation not as such.”
“This is different.”
“Because it’s not a—” Myka stopped herself, her stomach knotting at consciously withholding information; she wished she could tell Helena, she really did. “Do you want me to not do it?”
“That’s not what I said.”
“What are you saying?”
“You’re already overtaxed.”
“This could easily be my ticket to a job here. And the commission…”
Myka trailed off as Christina crashed into her Helena's leg and, panting heavily, wrapped her arms around her thigh. Helena looked down at her and smiled, placing a hand on her head.
“I didn’t realize you could be bought,” Helena said, angling her eyes up at Myka.
“I…” Myka started, eyes flicking towards a wildly grinning Christina. "We’d fall on our feet.”
Myka held Helena's cool gaze, eager for approval, but was met with a wary lowering of a brow.
“I’m hungry,” Christina said.
“As am I,” Helena answered. “Fish and chips?”
“All change,” Helena announces, kicking Myka out of her introspective haze. She grabs her bag and rises, hurrying to follow Helena and Christina out of the train car.
Christina hops up the stairs, one at a time, counting as she goes; Myka and Helena trail behind.
“Are you alright?” Helena asks. “You’re rather quiet this morning."
"Just thinking," Myka says, putting thoughts of yesterday away. "I wish we weren’t leaving today.”
“Likewise,” Helena says, threading her fingers through Myka’s and squeezing tightly.
They emerge from the Tube onto a narrow but busy two-way street.
“A few blocks this way,” Helena says and chases after Christina, who has taken off down the street. She grabs hold of Christina's hand, and when Myka catches up, they all turn at an intersection.
Myka sizes up the neighborhood as they walk; it’s a commercial street with a smattering of touristy shops, but the overall tendency caters to a slightly upscale, eclectic crowd.
“Unfortunately, the market’s not on today, but the shops are open,” Helena says.
Myka spies a street sign and her face lights up. “This is where you grew up,” she says.
“Mum’s stall was right over there.” Helena points a finger and releases Christina, who has been straining to break free.
“Little outright, but there were photos. I was younger than Christina when we left.”
“Mom!” Christina blurts, pressing her face to the glass of a nearby shop. As Myka and Helena approach her, Christina steps away, revealing a fuzzy ball sleeping inside the window display.
“Can we go in? I miss Dewy.”
“On our way back,” Helena says and takes hold of Christina’s hand again.
They saunter down the street, searching for felines in random windows, then turn a corner into residential territory. Helena stops in front of a three-story Victorian row house.
“This is where we lived, in the bottom flat. Quite modest with a lovely back garden.” She surveys the block, her eyes lingering on a new building across the street, its modernist style incongruent to the rest. "The area was a mite scrappier back then, or so I’ve been told."
“Neighbors. And other vendors. When I returned from Europe to finish school, I rented in a flat nearby and sought out anyone who remembered my parents. I’m sure they’ve all gone by now.” Helena scans the street again, this time as if looking for familiar markers.
“You never know,” Myka says, linking her arm through Helena's, drawing her close. Helena lays her head on Myka's shoulder and closes her eyes.
“Jungle gym!” Christina shouts, running toward Helena and Myka while pointing at the end of the street.
Helena lifts her head and smiles, glancing sidewards at Myka. “Righty-ho, then,” she says, and tugs on Myka’s arm.
Christina runs off.
“You like it here, don’t you?” Myka says as they amble toward the park. "You seem…relaxed."
“That may be a result of last night,” Helena says, leaning into Myka.
Myka pushes back, gently, and smirks.
“I suppose I do,” Helena says, looking around.
“Maybe we can live here."
Helena scoffs. “Far too pricey for the likes of us these days.”
“But this sale will lead to bigger opportunities,” Myka says, with genuine optimism.
“I might be convinced if you'd tell me what it’s for,” Helena says, elbowing Myka in the ribs, blinking coquettishly.
“No matter,” Helena says, squeezing Myka’s arm with her elbow. “Let us not count on such tentative bounties.”
“But I want to set us up for the future.”
“That’s a tall order. It shouldn’t all be on you."
The conversation quiets as they stride into the park, and they stand watching Christina play in silence. When Helena starts to worry her locket, Myka stills her hand; Helena turns to look Myka in the eye.
“Claudia asked if you’d had any unpleasant dreams while you were here.”
“Stress dreams,” Myka says, drawing back her hand but keeping hold of Helena’s gaze. "I told her not to say anything.”
“Why ever not?”
“You have enough to worry about.”
Helena looks down, lips puffing out as she lets out a long exhale. “You haven’t visited the site of the fire yet, have you."
“I-I haven’t had time.”
“I will. But being here will help."
“Temporarily,” Helena says, swinging around to face Myka, taking hold of her hands. “With so much of your life up in the air, you need closure. Make a plan; ask Claudia or Abigail to accompany you."
Myka lowers her head and nods; Helena’s serious if she’s suggesting Abigail. She frees her hands from Helena's and laces their fingers together.
“Thank you for bringing me here. I love learning about your past.”
Helena rubs her thumb over Myka’s knuckles. “Yesterday’s breakfast left me feeling sentimental.”
“Mom! Push me on the swing,” Christina commands, barreling towards them from the jungle gym. She grabs hold of Helena’s forearm and tugs.
“Yes, ma'am,” Helena says, hands slipping from Myka’s as she's dragged towards to swings.
Myka smiles at the sight of Christina egging Helena on, swinging higher and higher, shrieking in delight as her tolerance tops out. As the spectacle subsides, her gaze wanders across the park, toward the three-story terraced houses lining the street. She imagines living there; soft light illuminating well-worn rooms through tall picture windows, Christina playing safely the garden, Dewy snuggled under the duvet in her and Helena’s room. How uplifting calling somewhere home will be, she thinks; this is her goal, this is where they need to be.
When her attention returns to the swings, she finds Helena staring back at her. Her stomach flutters at the bright smile growing on Helena’s lips. She grins back, crookedly, her cheeks warming the longer their eyes stay locked, dumbfounded by how fiercely the affection in Helena’s gaze tugs at her heart. All the messes made on this trip are wiped clean in this moment; she’s certain, no matter how complicated things get, she’ll do whatever it takes to make this work.
I'll admit, Ch.5 isn't super eventful, but it sets up some important future things, plus marks time passing between Myka's trips to London.
With her weight shifted back on one foot, a finger tapping her lip, Myka stares at her paintings, wrestling with which ones are done and which ones need work. Her progress thus far is passable, but time is of the essence; she has miles to go before her next trip to London.
A buzzy tone breaks her concentration, and she shoots its maker a wary glance; with Claudia and Christina at the movies, and Helena at work; she's not answering if it's anyone else. Around ring number four, the phone spills off the desk, and she lunges to catch it, making a split-second decision to answer when she sees who's calling.
“Myka! You picked up!"
“I know. I've emailed...”
“Sorry.” At a loss for a snappy comeback, Myka pulls a chair forward and sits at her desk.
“Where are you?"
“Brooklyn. Attempting to paint.”
“For that thing?”
“Yeah, the thing.”
An incredible opportunity dropped into her lap at a dinner Amanda dragged her to; a collector put her in touch with a gallery seeking an artist to fill an abruptly vacated spot. It's location, Warsaw, seemed off the beaten path at first, but Amanda had stars in her eyes over the deal; so she said yes without pushing for particulars. As it stands, she's committed to sending all the work she has on hand and, perhaps foolishly, promised even more.
“How’s that going?”
“Slow.” Myka slides an unopened piece of mail from an oversized pile and plucks a pen from a cup.
“Things better with Christina?”
“Getting there.” Myka presses the pen to the envelope and draws a straight line, then traces the pen over it, slowly thickening its form.
It has gotten better since the airport, but something changed that day; leaving Helena behind pushed their already tenuous sense of composure over the edge. As they approached the security line, Christina grabbed Helena’s shirt and buried her face in it, crying “I wanna stay with you” on repeat, like a mantra. Helena picked Christina up and held her tight, murmuring comforting phrases in her ear, her eyes watery and wild as they met Myka’s nearby. Myka teared up the longer she held Helena’s gaze, her insides quivering at the desperation in Christina's tone and for a brief moment, she was tempted to stay. Helena must have sensed the sentiment; when she whispered something in Christina's ear and kissed her forehead, Christina went slack, then slid limply down Helena's body as she lowered her to the floor.
Myka scribbles over her line but doesn’t answer, just stares at messy marks she made.
“We don’t have to talk about this right now, but eventually—“
The plane ride amplified Christina's discontent, and when they arrived back at the apartment, she dumped her bags in the living room, grabbed Dewy and stormed off to her room without as much of a hello to Claudia. She refused to talk to anyone but Helena, and later, when Myka dared peek in, she lay sprawled across the bed, the phone next to her head, hugging her stuffed horse. Myka entered gingerly and sat next to Christina on the bed, sharing a harrowed glance with Helena on the phone. Helena eventually convinced Christina to talk to Myka again, and Christina nodded off soon after. When Myka reached across to end the call, Helena looked down and shook her head.
“I’m having trouble keeping track of everything.”
“Color me surprised.”
Myka makes a slow, steady circle around her scribble. “Claudia’s annoyed with me.”
“I know. I’ve heard.”
“You've talked to her?”
“Friends talk in regular intervals. It’s thing people do.”
Myka draws circles within her circle around its edges. “No matter how much I plan, something always comes up.” She fills a circle in as densely as she can, black ink shining with a hint of red. “I am good at getting Christina to school on time."
“You have too much on your plate.”
“That’s what Helena said.” Myka stills her pen, her mind filling with their conversation from a few weeks ago. Overtaxed was Helena's exact word, but the sentiment is the same.
“Do you two talk much?”
“Yeah,” Myka answers, without thought, then taps the tip of the pen on her doodle, staring, but not focusing on the marks she made. “Ok, no. Not about the things we should. She talks with Christina daily, but our schedules are off. It’s hard to find times when we’re both on the same wavelength.”
“Hm,” Abigail responds.
“Hm, what?” Myka mumbles, absently flipping over the envelope, her chest tightening as she reads the return address, belonging to the attorneys handling the lawsuit against her previous landlord.
“I’m calculating the exact moment this all blows up in your face.”
“When what blows up in my face?” Myka slips the mail back into the pile instead of opening it; she's vaguely aware of the suit's progress but hasn’t followed up.
“Everything, Myka. Seriously, and I say this with love, you’re in over your head.”
Myka's jaw clenches as she fidgets with the pen. “I have a new intern at work. And Leena’s back next month. Plus Sally's helping with the Italians in London.”
“What about Christina and your show and—”
“I can handle it."
“What if you can't?”
Myka flicks her pen across the table. “Why are you riding my ass?”
“Sorry. I’m just...” Myka slumps aggressively back in her chair.
“You keep piling new things on top of old ones, and nothing gets resolved."
“You don’t know that.“
“Exactly. Keeping things from the people closest to you is a recipe for disaster.”
"I’m not keeping anything from anyone. It’s work.”
“Maybe you’re taking this 'on the QT' thing a little too seriously."
“The circumstances are…delicate. The stakes are high. I’m not doing anything illegal.”
“Not like Helena was?”
“No,” Myka grunts, a sudden coldness hitting her core at the comparison; her belly then knotting at the thought of viewing Helena in a negative light. She drops her head into a hand, elbow now leaning on the desk, and pushes her hair back, away from her face. “She turned a blind eye when she shouldn’t have, that’s all.”
“And why would she do that?”
Myka's face pinches; she knows the answer, but it doesn’t sit well. “The money?”
“This is more than that. This is my career.”
“Which career? You move through them like water lately. I heard you drop everything the minute your 'anonymous source’ emails. If Claudia can’t trace them—”
“She reads my emails?” Myka jerks upright, heart racing, fingers digging into the arm of her chair.
“She sees the back end, the data. You do share a network."
“I can’t believe she’d do that.”
“She’s worried. We all are.”
“She shouldn’t do that,” Myka grumbles, shaking her head.
“Does Vanessa know about this deal with Mrs. Frederic?”
“I…can’t tell her.”
“It’s Mrs. Frederic!”
“Who you know oh-so-well.”
“Why don’t you trust my judgment?”
“Because this isn’t like you, plowing ahead without any thought of consequences. Your decisions have always been measured, thoroughly thought through.”
“I am measured. I have a goal.” Abigail knows Myka would like to be settled in London by Christmas; more than once, she's ignored Abigail's plea that that’s not reasonable.
“Think about where you were last year at this time. Then think about now."
Last year, she was hemming and hawing over moving in with a stranger named Kelly, just to be close to her new job, which was also a point of contention; she wasn’t sure if it was it the right environment for her. She wouldn’t have made a singular move without weighing the pros and cons meticulously, the time for which seems like a luxury right now. That part of her life feels alien, like a different Myka altogether, as does her time spent with Sam.
“Point taken,” Myka says, but offers no further exposition.
“Remember, I’m here for you. Claudia’s here for you. Talk to us if you can’t talk to Helena.”
“Thanks,” Myka says, wishing she’d never picked up the phone. “Could we talk about something else now?”
There's a pause; Myka pictures Abigail grimacing over the change in topic.
“Fine. Tell me about these paintings.”
"Myka, I’m stuck.”
Christina sits slumped over her homework, surrounded by couch cushions and textbooks.
“One minute, honey."
Myka's stationed at the bar, typing on her keyboard; her anonymous source sent a motherlode of information, and she needs them to decipher a few details as soon as possible.
“You said that fifteen minutes ago."
Myka glances at the time; not only has it been fifteen minutes but it's now past Christina’s bedtime. She skims her email and, deciding it's in no shape to send, saves her work then folds her laptop closed.
“So, what do we have here,” Myka says, joining Christina on the couch.
“Are you mad at me?” Christina says, not looking up from her homework.
“Why would I be mad?” Myka scoots closer and circles a hand around Christina's back.
“We never spend time together since we visited Mom."
“I went your kempo thingy last week.”
“You came at the end."
“I had a late meeting."
“You’re always working. We never do anything fun anymore."
“I know,” Myka says, the guilt evident in her tone. "But the reason I’m working so hard is so we can see your Mom more."
“Really?” Christina looks up, her eyes filled with interest.
“Is she ever coming to visit us?"
“Not anytime soon."
Christina's head lowers and her shoulders slump.
“We've talked about this. She wants to but she can’t.” Myka brushes Christina's curls out of her eyes and combs her fingers through her hair, then rests her hand on Christina’s shoulders.
“I miss her."
“I miss her, too.” Myka slides her hand around Christina’s upper arm and pulls her close. “You'll see her in two weeks."
“I know,” Christina says, with little enthusiasm. She wraps her arms around Myka's torso and burrows into her side. “I want her to come here."
“I thought you liked London?"
“It's ok,” Christina says, snuggling even closer. “I want Mom to take me to get pancakes at the restaurant. Or come to my concert.” She sniffles a little, clearly tearing up. "You'll come, won't you?"
Myka tenses, unable to recall the exact date of Christina’s drum recital, but immediately slackens, smoothing down Christina’s hair to hide her unease. She looks towards the calendar on the fridge and squints to make out its contents; she sincerely hopes she's cleared her schedule for that evening.
“Your Mom will be there in spirit. She'll listen in on the phone.”
“What if she’s at work?”
Myka looks towards the fridge again; Helena’s schedule from last week is blocked out, but not this week coming up. She'd best not make promises she can't keep.
“Let’s call her and ask."
“This isn’t a night she tucks me in. She has school in the morning, like me."
One more glance at the calendar, one more point of failure; Christina has Helena’s schedule memorized, but she does not. "I think she’d take a call from us."
Myka clicks a button on the remote, turning the TV on, then grabs her phone and syncs it with the screen. She taps call and crosses her fingers; if she’s lucky, Helena's not covering for someone at the bar.
Relief washes over her when Helena’s face immediately pops up on the screen.
“Mom!” Christina blurts. She lets go of Myka and sits up.
“You’re up,” Myka adds, a slight question in her tone.
“Studying, I’m afraid. And to what do I owe this wondrous interruption."
"Someone was missing you.” Myka looks over at Christina
"It's past someone's bedtime," Helena says looking at Myka.
"I'll tell you what, why don't you get ready for bed and your Mom can tuck you in. We'll finish your homework in the morning."
“Yay!” Christina chirps then scurries off.
"She's not finished her homework?"
"She asked for help, but I flubbed it. I needed to finish this email before bed time."
"You work too hard."
"I'm trying to—"
Helena holds up a hand. “I’m aware. And I hate to sound like a worried mother but—"
"She needs me there to help."
"She already has one absentee parent."
Myka’s guilt gives her pause; she leaves the subject there.
"Why are you still up?"
“I couldn't sleep. I am studying. You may recall, I added an art history module to stay current with the interests of my love.” Helena grins, pleased with her admission, but her eyes seek Myka’s approval.
“That’s really sweet,” Myka says, smiling crookedly, her chest warming at how smitten she is with this woman in on the screen.
"I do fear I'm becoming a night owl from bar work."
“Do you make it to class ok?"
“Model student, I assure you."
"I didn't mean to sound that way.”
Helena’s sober tone signals she’s ruined the intimate moment; as their eyes lock, Myka's brows draw together, and her lips rise in apology. Much to Myka’s relief, Helena’s face shows more concern than offense.
“You're exhausted. You should rest."
“I just need to finish this—"
“Done!" Christina announces, bounding in front of the TV.
“Let's get you into bed,” Myka says.
“I'll transfer the call to my mobile, and you do the same.”
The TV blacks out and when Helena pops back up, she’s already crossed the room and is searching for a book. Her computer glows bright orange in the distance and Myka tilts her head, squinting at its screen, intrigued by the image, which looks oddly similar to one she was told to view earlier by her anonymous source.
“What were you studying?”
“Marvels of the eighteenth century."
“I think I recognize your—“
The screen abruptly blanks, and Myka looks for Christina, who she finds already walking towards her room, smiling, phone in hand.
Myka shakes off her suspicions; the thought is absurd; the image too blurry to make out, it could easily be anything. She rises and follows Christina into her room, then sits on the bed nad lovingly pulls the covers up and around her shoulders.
“Goodnight, honey,” she says and brushes Christina’s hair out of her eyes, placing a light kiss on her forehead.
“You rest, love,” Helena's voice suggests from Christina’s pillow. “I’ll handle things from here.”
Myka glances at the phone and smiles a tired, warm smile, then stands and turns to leave. As she crosses the room, her mind fills with her interrupted email, but before she exits, Dewy bolts past, nearly tripping her in the process. She watches him bound on top of the bed, turn around once, then hunker down, claiming his portion at the end.
Christina barely notices, already engrossed in Helena’s story. Myka stands and listens in.
“...one of the enormous burnished tentacles came down, gently and precisely, and it’s tip curled about Jack’s waist, and it lifted him up, up, to where a hole opened like a mouth in the hemisphere, and swallowed him."
Myka’s neck hairs bristle at the visual and Christina clutches at her stuffed horse, clearly affected by the scene. Myka doesn't recognize the story, but she's intrigued; Helena's mentioned seeking out new bedtime stories and even asked her for suggestions; she’s not yet managed to pitch in.
Her gaze drifts to Dewy, who is lifting up on his paws, back stretching into a graceful arc, turning circle upon circle before settling into a neat, cozy ball. Christina shimmies closer to the phone, captivated by the rise and fall of Helena's voice shifting effortlessly between characters and the narrator. Though she’s thousands of miles away, Helena’s presence thoroughly fills the room; the scene in front of her tugs at Myka’s heart.
And at that moment, she's hit with a revelation; out of all the hurdles she's jumping, parenting is one at which she genuinely wants to excel. While the work is unfamiliar and often unrelenting, the intense moments of happiness it brings, even in most mundane moments, are like nothing she's ever felt before.
Since story time comes but once a day, work emails can wait; she moves back to the bed and maneuvers herself into the big spoon position behind Christina. Christina sinks into her embrace, and she hugs her close, then closes her eyes, letting the rich, soothing tones of Helena’s voice lull her into a peaceful slumber.
Original tumblr tags: Sometimes you don't know you are ignoring issues, until you are told you are, because you are too busy getting through the day, I think Myka's 100% in that boat, the quote is from The White Mountains, which I am reading again for the first time since I was Christina's age, and enjoying quite thoroughly, I wonder how much of my worldview was shaped by these books?
More build up here...so sorry this update took so long to post, I had to write ahead to grasp what's going on here in relation to what's coming up. We’re approaching some action but I’m still setting the scene and since these chapters are short, I hope when they're read all together the story will flow forward. I posted this on Tumblr awhile ago, but have worked on it a bunch since (it was pretty flat, but in my defense, my spring was crazytown busy IRL,) so if you happen to be reading it again and it feels different, that's why. Will get the next chapter up sooner rather than later for sure.
As the bed shakes, Myka jerks awake, head lifting but shoulders refusing to move. Dark hair falls over her eyes as eager lips cover her own, coaxing her sleepy ones out of their slumber. As she grasps at slim hips, the hair flips back, dramatically revealing the person responsible.
“Hi,” Myka says, lips curling up into a moony smile.
“You're here,” Helena says, pressing their bodies together, dipping down for another kiss.
“Sorry about this morning,” Myka says as Helena pulls back.
“You’ve already apologized,” Helena says, rolling to the side, spreading her arms and legs across the king sized bed. “Quite the luxury, this. Christina will be ecstatic.”
Myka turns her whole body towards Helena and stares; after Helena’s distressed tone this morning, being let off the hook seems really wrong.
“My plane was late, and I had new notes for my meeting.”
“You’ve said,” Helena says, twisting at the neck face Myka.
"I should have texted, at least. You were worried.”
“I was,” Helena says, rolling on her side, cupping Myka’s cheek. “But it matters little, now that you're here."
Relieved Helena’s eyes show more love than resentment, Myka nuzzles her cheek into Helena’s hand and smiles at the warmth transferring between them.
“Have you eaten today?” Helena asks.
“They brought in sandwiches.”
“Did you have one?”
“Right.” Helena slides off the bed and steps towards the desk, then plucks a paper from a folder. “Room service,” she says, flashing a menu.
Myka smirks at the posh tone Helena adopts while reciting their options and snickers as a hand wafts in the air for emphasis. When the menu swings to the side, her attention catches on Helena's third button down, straining in its seat, poised to pop. A heat rises in her belly at the prospect of unintentionally revealed skin, her mind filling with risqué thoughts best left for later.
“You’ve not listened to a word I’ve said,” Helena says, staring expectantly at Myka as her monologue ends. She looks down at her shirt, then up at Myka and frowns.
“I have,” Myka replies, meeting Helena’s gaze but swiftly returning it to the button.
“Then tell me, what would you like?”
“I'd like what’s holding the menu.”
“Perhaps,” Helena says, then sets the menu on the desk. She works the errant button free, then pulls the fabric apart.
Myka props herself up on her elbows, eyes wide in anticipation.
“I’m not convinced you’ve chosen wisely,” Helena says, slipping the button back through its slot and securing it properly.
“Tease,” Myka huffs and flops back on the bed.
Helena hops on top and crawls across the duvet then sits, knees straddling Myka’s hips. “I’ll allow one chance to convince me."
Myka yanks Helena down by her collar and unbuttons that pesky button, then starts the kissing off in earnest all over again.
Myka lunges across the bed to stop a buzz from seeping between dream and reality. “Hello?” she says into the handset, more as a mumble than a greeting, then listens groggily to the reply. It’s a wake-up call from the front desk; unexpected, but welcome, especially once she asks the time. She thanks the caller and hangs up, then rolls back under the covers.
Did her alarm go off and she not hear it? Or did she turn it off then fall back asleep? The last thing she remembers is Helena kissing her on the forehead before she left.
Dewy usually wakes her at home, demanding breakfast like clockwork, so she's glad Helena requested the call on her way out. And thankfully, the emails she meant to tackle early weren't urgent; she’ll blame jet lag for her delayed replies.
She pulls Helena’s pillow close and breathes in her scent, eyes closing as thoughts drift back to the evening.
Things escalated quickly once Helena’s shirt was off; their bodies tangling together, desperate to remind each other what they’ve been missing. Once blissfully, and hastily, sated, she nearly nodded off, but Helena prodded her awake, insisting she shower. The moment she emerged, their dinner arrived, and she sat on the couch, swathed in an oversized robe, ravenous after her first bite.
Conversation flowed comfortably as they ate, the ease between them hard to replicate over the phone. Heated looks between then grew as the wine dwindled and Myka felt herself blushing at Helena’s flirty remarks.
Glasses emptied, Helena leaned forward and pressed a soft kiss to Myka's lips, then all at once, the urgency from earlier flooded back. When Helena withdrew, Myka cupped her jaw and gazed into her dark, sparkling eyes, struggling to remember the last time they’d been alone like this.
Myka initiated the next kiss, but Helena took the reins, exploring Myka's lips with an eagerness reminiscent of their early days. As the kiss lingered, anticipation filled her chest, as if their previous encounter was only a warm up for more.
“Let’s get you back to bed,” Helena said, leaning her forehead against Myka’s, slipping a finger under the lapel of her robe.
She rose and held out a hand, then guided Myka towards the bed, stopping just shy of its threshold. She then carefully pushed Myka's robe off her shoulders, letting her eyes follow as it cascaded to the floor, then trailed them up, caressing Myka’s newly naked form.
Myka smiled as Helena’s gaze met hers, and they stood, staring into each other's eyes until Myka shivered from the cool air. Helena immediately lifted the covers and waved her underneath, then fussed with the duvet, tucking her in.
Helena undressed slowly but surely, looking up now and then to meet Myka’s attentive eyes, then slid under the covers and cuddled up close. She wrapped an arm around Myka's middle and laid her head on her chest while Myka curled an arm around her back and laid her hand over her hip.
Helena's breathing evened out, and as her muscles slackened, Myka's lids drooped then closed. She kissed the crown of Helena’s head and laid her cheek there, feeling at peace for the first time in a long while.
Bent over her computer, clicking on keys, Myka mulls over syntax, deleting and retyping phrases repeatedly. She jumps when Helena bursts into the room, eyes following as she chucks her bag onto the bed then circles around and kisses her before disappearing into the bathroom.
At the metallic swish of the shower curtain, she turns back to her screen, panicking as she eyes the clock. Their reservations are in less than an hour, and she still needs to get ready, there’s no way she’d going to get this done in time.
She only has herself to blame, thinking it would be easy to pull together, ignoring her gut telling her to chip away at it over time. But her research for Mrs. Frederic's been most important, as she was told a meeting could happen at any time, then there were files from Sally to pour over, to prepare for tomorrow….
“Still working?” Helena says as she slips behind Myka’s chair.
“That was quick,” Myka replies, looking over her shoulder at Helena toweling off her hair. “It's not work work. It’s a thing for me.”
“I see,” Helena says, tilting her head as she blots the ends of her locks. She tosses the towel towards the bathroom and leans toward the screen, laying her hands on Myka’s shoulders.
Myka’s gaze hangs on the towel wrapped around Helena's midriff, watching it strain to stay fastened as she moves. The instant she realizes Helena’s reading her document, she turns back her laptop and folds it closed.
“I should get ready,” she says and moves to stand, but Helena holds her in place.
“Show me,” Helena says, nodding at the laptop.
Myka breathes in, deeply, then exhales slowly as she opens her laptop. “I was nominated for this thing,“ she starts, "this residency, in LA. I’m pretty sure through Amanda.” She clicks some keys and pulls up a website. “It's kind of a big deal, but you have to send support materials to be considered.”
“How far have you gotten?”
“Not very,” Myka laments. “I have a rough outline of my 'interest in the program’ and my grad school artist statement, but I need to update my resume, upload images and make an image list.”
“Busywork,” Helena huffs.
“And,” Myka adds, scrolling down the page, “it’s due tonight, at midnight, west coast time.”
Helena squeezes Myka’s shoulders and examines the criteria.
“I'm not sure why I’m bothering. If I got it, I couldn’t go. It’d be a month away from work and Christina—"
“We’d figure it out. Show me this statement.”
Myka brings up her document, then looks at Helena, her eyes lingering on the swell of her breasts as her towel sags.
A few moments later, Helena abruptly swipes the machine off the desk and walks across the room, eyes glued to the screen. Her towel flutters to the floor as she hops on the bed then slides the computer towards the pillows. She stretches out, propping her head up on an arm, brow wrinkling as she continues to read.
"This is no longer relevant to the work you’re making at present,” Helena says, with a seriousness incongruent to her state of dress.
“You're not understanding the context."
“I understand it intimately," Helena says, fixing Myka with a firm eye. “This 'towing the line between index and archive' still applies, but the rest is entirely too vague.”
“Vague?” Myka questions, scowling as Helena’s attention returns to the screen.
“For example: ‘the textural particularities representative of the everyday,' 'a permanence within the ephemeral.’ Dry. Shapeless. Indistinct,” Helena says, shaking her head.
Myka’s scowl deepens, and she folds her arms over her chest. “I spent months writing that.”
“Over a year ago. I’d wager your oeuvre has digressed.”
Myka glares at Helena's cocky eyebrow lift, though she knows Helena is right. “Fine. What would you write?”
“I'd mention your new found relationship to loss and nostalgia and the urgency to take stock of your history,” Helena says as if she’d been waiting all night for the question. She turns away from the computer and leans back on her elbows, counting on her fingers as she continues. “There’s the journey you were thrust into because of extreme circumstance, the hardships you’ve overcome in the months since the fire, the growth you've gained through the experience—"
“It’s what the work's about, is it not?”
Myka squares her shoulders and narrows her eyes; Helena's assessment hits too close to the bone.
“This is no different from Claudia and I’s project proposals at school. You must be direct to win the attention of the reviewers. Pussyfooting around will not impress."
“Pussyfooting?” Myka spits out, her arms dropping to her sides. “Pussyfooting,” she repeats, louder, eyes dropping to Helena's chest to avoid her increasingly smug grin. “I-I can't take you seriously when you’re…” She waves a hand at Helena’s reclining pose.
Helena glances down at herself, then up at Myka and smirks. "That's highly unfortunate, as I've lost the desire to dress.”
"What about dinner?"
“You said it was hard to get reservations."
“They’ll come round again,” Helena says, eyes flicking back to the screen. “Shower, while I work on this.” She turns toward the computer and waves a hand at the other side of the room.
Myka looks toward the bathroom then back at Helena and decides her curves are more seductive than any other task at hand.
“Since we’re not going out, we could...” Myka starts, mouth lifting into a sly smile as Helena looks up, "you know…now…"
“You’ll never finish if we start.”
"Maybe I don't care anymore," Myka says, stepping towards the bed then climbing on top.
“I’ll care for the both of us, then,” Helena says, scooting back against the headboard, crossing her arms over her chest.
“Your ‘determined’ face isn’t working,” Myka taunts. She crawls on top of Helena and plants her hands next to her hips, then lifts her chin up to look Helena in the eye.
"Go, or you get nothing,” Helena says, throwing her nose into the air.
Myka cranes up, pressing her lips to the underside of Helena’s chin. “You couldn't resist if you tried.”
"That's the problem.”
Myka suddenly topples over, blindsided by a pillow smacking her shoulder, and rolls onto her back. “Later,” she says, then slides off the bed. “That’s a promise.”
"I’ll be clothed when you emerge,” Helena warns, but Myka's grin widens, preoccupied with thoughts of "later," as she walks away.
I’ve been fussing over the mechanics of the next few chapters for a while now, figuring out when and where to drop clues, as some pushback will happen in the upcoming arc. I apologize for the lack of Helena in this chapter, but she’ll reappear, fully formed, in chapter 8. Also, I admit I know nothing about Italian, so I hope the little I’ve dotted into this isn’t horribly wrong.
“Nothing so far is even remotely what Mrs. Frederic’s looking for.”
Myka’s annoyed, both at the man sitting in front of her and her clusterfuck of a morning, which began the minute she stepped foot in Italy.
“Scusa?” the man says as his overly smiley face droops beyond that of a practiced salesman.
“This is what I’m here to see.” Myka sets down her expresso then taps her tablet awake and slides the device across the table.
Myka stretches her neck as the man flicks through inventory then rubs the bridge of her nose in hopes of minimizing the headache she’s had since landing. Clearly, her lack of sleep is catching up with her, yet she doesn’t regret that promises of “later” were fulfilled, rather pleasantly, once her application was complete. Hence she downs the rest of her coffee and considers ordering another; if she has to wait while this guy compares their notes, she might as well be over-caffeinated.
She curses herself for believing him when he'd insisted everything was in order as she sees him now for what he is: a kid. His baby face hides under his short, sharp beard and his spotted bow tie and pocket square try a little too hard to be professional. He’s probably an intern recently promoted to sales, the only one free to meet her at such short notice.
She feels genuinely bad for Floriana, the woman she was meant to meet, as this morning her son was hit by a motorcycle on his way to school. He’s ok, they’ve learned recently, no broken bones or anything, but the painful reality of a child being hurt must be overwhelming. If that had been Christina—her heart races at the thought—Helena would be inconsolable; she’d hop on a plane and sneak into the country just to be by her side.
As she sips her empty expresso, she considers the fact she’s never worried over a child like that and imagines Helena’s day to day worry must be tenfold. She kind of checked out when she got to London, allowing work and Helena to envelop her; she assumed Christina’d be fine since responsible adults were there to care for her. She should really check in unprompted and send some photos, tonight from the hotel...
“Signora Bering,” the man says, “this is not what Signora Stukowski has given me.” He points to her tablet and hands over his.
As Myka flips through inventory, her nostrils flare: wrong period, wrong category, wrong everything. “When did you get this?”
“Questa mattina. You were in the air.” He points his eyes upward.
Myka breathes in a deep, cleansing breath and closes her eyes, telling herself to stay calm. Of course, Sally sent the wrong files, because if Sally could, she would. It’s happened before, and it's happening again. In fact, she’s beginning to think she does it on purpose just to trip her up. But this time around it doesn't make any sense. Sally needs this client to stay on Mrs. Frederic’s good side; Myka has the advantage of the private sale.
But it is possible Mrs. Frederic changed the roster last minute, while she was in the air. And while she’s checked her messages a million times, Sally's not the most communicative; she could have easily sent the files assuming Myka was already in the loop.
“Let me call Sally,” Myka says, whipping out her phone and scrolling through to her number. When the line goes straight to voicemail, she tries the front desk and learns the entire staff's in an impromptu meeting with Mrs. Frederic. No one's sure when it will end.
“Fortuna?” the man asks as Myka sets her phone on the table.
“No,” Myka says, shaking her head. She looks down at his tablet and flicks through a few pages. “Could we continue with these and see my list later?”
As he flips through Myka's images, the man's cheeks puff out comically as he slowly blows out a breath.
“I'll try Sally again later.”
“Si,” he says, nodding his head slowly as he stares at the device. “We can do."
“Grazie,” Myka says, with genuine apology: it’s not his fault they’ll be working overtime. “Let me buy you another coffee. And some lunch,” she adds, eyes wandering behind him, towards the counter.
The man looks over his shoulder and smiles at the menu on the wall. “Si, si, manga,” he says, “Let us ‘regroup,' Signora Bering.”
“Myka,” she says. “Call me, Myka."
As she stretches to her full-length on the bed, her muscles groan in relief, their release from gravity long overdue. She and Maritzo managed to view everything on both lists but didn’t finish until well after dinner. In the end, she's glad he was her guide and knows she's lucky he was young was eager to please.
Sally, when reached, confirmed Myka’s list was correct, but there was little apology in her apology over the confusion. If she had the energy, she’d have been angry, but she knew it wasn't worth her time. If this private sale works out, she most likely won’t be working with Sally any longer. In fact, Mrs. Frederic emailed her today, asking, tentatively, if she’d represent the gallery in the pre-sale showing, details to be discussed upon her arrival back in London.
The thought occurs to her she needs to go over her newest “anonymous source” email but admits to herself she’s wiped; it will have to wait until morning. She peels herself off the bed and showers, then texts Helena good night and is out like a light before Helena has a chance to respond.
Though they’ve met once before and emailed frequently, Myka's nerves surge as she enters Theodora’s gallery, as she’s learned Theodora’s not your average widowed retiree. Her anonymous source clued her into some history: back in the day, Theodora and her husband rubbed elbows with both Mrs. Frederic and James Macpherson, chasing down impossible finds like the one she’s been researching.
Theodora's space is intimate and classically European, boasting elaborate white moldings and intricate parquet floors. The front room is filled with contemporary sculpture she recognizes from Vanessa’s roster, while the back holds unique curated treasures. As she passes through to the office, she walks up to a lectern where an illuminated manuscript sits. It’s in pristine condition, which is unusual for its age, and she wonders where a self-proclaimed “humble gallerist” might stumble upon such a rare find.
She’s put at ease by Theodora’s warm welcome, and when their business is tied up sooner the expected, Theodora insists she stay for lunch. Myka’s flight isn’t until three, so gladly accepts and truthfully, she’d like to get to know Theodora better.
After a short walk down a picturesque cobblestone street, she's soon sipping wine in a charming outdoor cafe, listening intently as Theodora waxes poetic about the old days when she was partnered with Mrs. Frederic.
“What was she like back then?” Myka asks.
“The same as she is now,” Theodora answers and motions to the waiter for more wine. “Always pushing the envelope."
“I’ve only met her once. In her office. It was pretty formal.”
“I’ll tell you this: her intentions are always above board, but not everything goes to plan.” Theodora swirls the wine in her glass, studying it as it spins, then tilts her head back, downing the last swig.
“She likes you,” she says, pointing her newly empty glass at Myka.
“She wouldn’t have sent you here otherwise. And I’m sure she already has you working on something special.”
The waiter returns with a fresh bottle of wine and fills both glasses. Myka watches the liquid pour with reservations, already feeling tipsy.
“I think I even know what she’s got you on if the rumors are true. Henry and I chased it years ago, but never found hard proof it existed."
Myka opens her mouth to answer but hesitates; as a confidante of Mrs. Frederic, she should be able to tell Theodora what she’s researching, but it could be a test, to see what it would take to loosen her tongue.
“Oh, it’s hush-hush, I know, no need to fret. It’s just…”
Theodora stares at Myka as if sizing her up. Myka wonders if she wants to hear what she has to say.
“I seem to recall you have a daughter.”
“I, uh...." Not where Myka thought this conversation was going, but it's interesting she remembers her mentioning Christina. "Christina’s Helena’s daughter, not mine. Helena's my…girlfriend." Partner is the correct word here, and she knows it, but if Theodora knows what the private sale is for, she may very well know of Helena’s connection to Macpherson. It might be best to stay a step back until she learns where Theodora is going with this.
“Ah, yes. Now I remember,” Theodora says, siping her wine. “She’s in London because of a visa ’situation.' She and her daughter are why you’re doing all of this. Correct?”
Myka slides her hands off the table and clasps them together on her lap. How much does Theodora know beyond what she’s told her? Maybe she needs to be careful with what she says.
“Remember that, as you make decisions moving forward.”
“I’m not sure I follow.”
That very moment, their food arrives. Theodora thanks the waiter then turns her attentions back to Myka.
“Do you love her?” she says, pointing her fork at Myka before tucking into her meal.
“More than anything.”
“And her daughter?”
“Then remember, the most important thing in life to nurture is family. Family's what’s left when everything else falls flat.”
“Why would everything fall flat?” If Theodora knows something about this sale or Helena that she doesn’t, she wants to know.
Theodora sets down her fork and straightens her posture, then dabs the corner of her mouth with a napkin. “Henry and I did what you’re doing for a lot of years. When we had our kids, it complicated things. We both wanted them, but neither of us was ready to settle down. So we compromised by taking turns, one of us staying with the kids while the other was in the field.”
Does she think Helena’s still working? She must know that’s impossible after the trial. “Do you regret not settling down?”
“I regret not spending more time with the kids and Henry together. Especially when they were little.”
Myka looks on, still confused.
“How old is Helena's Christina?"
“Eight. Eight and a half if you ask her in person.” Myka smiles at the memory of the day Christina told her about her birthday. They were filling out the calendar with Helena’s schedule, but the calendar only went through December, so she wrote out the months following on the last page.
“I know you’re just starting out, and you're excited about your projects, but let me give you a piece of advice. When you’re with Helena and Christina, try to live in the moment, take stock of what you have. It seems silly at your age; you always think they’ll be time later, then suddenly, there’s no time at all.”
Theodora’s gaze drifts off into the distance, and her eyes glass over. Myka reaches across the table and places her hand on top of Theodora’s.
“A-Are you ok?"
“I'm fine," Theodora says, with a small sniff. “When the melancholy kicks in, I tend to babble; another reason why I keep to myself these days.”
“You miss him.”
Henry must linger in Theodora's memories like Helena's family does in hers.
“Thank you, for the advice. I appreciate it.”
“Oh, I’m sure you’ll all be fine. I forget times have changed, with technology and all.”
Theodora slides her hand from underneath Myka’s and places it on top, then squeezes it slightly. Myka smiles at the gesture.
“I'll tell you, Irene only pushes those she deems worthy, but she’ll push until they break. Make sure you push back before that happens."
“I will,” Myka says, nodding as she slides her hand back across the table. She fingers the stem of her glass and takes a generous sip, wishing she felt more flattered than worried by Theodora’s words.
Her concentration’s a bust on the plane back to London; emails left unanswered as Theodora’s words swirl through her head.
Her warnings were overkill, weren’t they? As she said, she's just starting out, trying to fix what’s broken. If she looks at things logically, Helena rescued her in her time of need, and she’s returning the favor, though the stakes are higher now since they’re together. But four or five months of rocky coupledom does not add up to a family, per se, not in the sense Theodora was describing.
In fact, the word “family” leaves a sour taste in her mouth; she'd turned her nose up at the notion with Sam; having more important things to accomplish before settling down. She's aware the word is a trigger as babies and marriage were always Tracy’s domain; she’d roll her eyes when Tracy incessantly talked about both when they were teenagers. But as the oldest, she’d been expected to tie the knot first, expected to produce; luckily that bullet was dodged by Tracy taking the lead, lessening the pressure on her.
But “family” is the best word to describe Helena, Christina, and Claudia, and when applied to them it warms her heart. She’s proud to have joined them along their journey. She smiles at the memory of Christina’s drawing, scribbled in crayon, still hanging on the fridge, depicting her holding hands with Helena. Even at that early stage, she was welcomed with open arms into their fold.
And while she trails behind Claudia in the responsibility department, that dynamic will change when she, Helena and Christina live together. Once their situation stabilizes, everyone’s roles will shift towards the traditional. Is she really ready for that? She's not sure.
She’s been so focused on getting to London she hasn’t thought much about what happens after. Theodora must have seen glimmers of her own lack of vision in Myka, of starting a family but never fully embracing change. She should heed her advice and learn work with it, not fight against it. Easier said than done, but she vows to take Theodora’s words to heart.
After a quick stop to freshen up, Myka speeds off to her work mixer, coincidentally located at the same restaurant Helena had scrambled to get reservations earlier. This seemed odd to her, out of all the restaurants in London, but Helena assured her it was a popular choice with the “in" crowd.
The table is packed when she arrives, with a mass cheer rising as she approaches; it’s clear everyone’s been letting loose. When all eyes move behind her then forward to meet her own, she’s hit with a wave of awkwardness. Helena's expected to have tagged along tonight, but she's clearly not present.
She apologizes for Helena’s absence, explaining she didn’t know until she stepped off the plane Helena had to work last minute. Everyone’s been eager to meet her "black sheep” girlfriend since the day Helena met Mrs. Frederic and emerged unscathed. In fact, Helena’s reputation has even tinged Myka with an air of mystique around the office, which she thinks is quite amusing.
A coworker motions for her to sit next to them, saying they’ve saved her a seat and she does as instructed. Her heart sinks at the sight of Helena’s empty spot next to her; disappointed Helena chose to work over her. She knows sacrifices must be made to keep the weekend free for Christina and Claudia, but she was really looking forward to introducing Helena to the group, both to put an end to the rumors and to show Helena off.
Wine flows freely during every course of the meal, and as the table fills with stories and laughter, she leans back and takes stock, recognizing a lightness in her chest she hasn’t felt for ages. She’s having a really good time with these people, an even mix of folks older and younger than her, and is pleased the discussion stays on topics unrelated to kids and school. The evening feels like coworker gatherings in Chicago and Seattle, and it’s reaffirming to be reminded of who she was all those years ago on her own.
As the woman sitting next to her checks her phone, Myka stiffens as she asks the time. Helena begged her to meet for a nightcap at the bar to make up for missing dinner and Myka reluctantly agreed, but at this rate, it will close before she gets there.
“Sorry, I have to go,” she says, rising so abruptly her chair nearly topples backward. “I’ll see everyone tomorrow."
Sorry, this has taken so long to post, but know that I am busy working on this, muddling through future chapters for continuity. I’m taking a stab at a lot of things here, and a big one is writing a character outside of the Warehouse universe. Plot-wise, everything is falling into place more than I imagined it ever could, and I’m excited to push forward as things become more complicated.
Myka teeters across rough cobblestones, cursing the cab for not dropping her closer, willing her inappropriate shoe choice to be up to the task. Her destination lies halfway down an alley, under a rainbow lettered awning, through a swarm of people chatting while out for a smoke. Though the bar's billed as "upscale," their dapper attire surprises her; it's as incongruent with the dark, damp street as her own.
She checks her phone as she nears the entrance, having texted Helena from the cab, but Helena hasn't replied as of yet. She texts again but gets no response, and when her call goes unanswered, she looks toward the bar and decides she'll find her own way in.
“Ten-pound cover,” the bouncer says, his stern eyes judging her as she approaches.
“Do you take cards?” Myka asks and adds a polite smile. Helena didn’t say there was a cover and she has no cash, then again Helena didn't say much of anything, beyond "come to the bar."
“Inside,” the man says, ticking his head towards the door.
“Thank you,” Myka says, and again smiles politely, before stepping into a small foyer.
A wave of white noise hits her first, a mash of music and conversation, which separates as she enters the bar proper. The decor validates its "euro chic” claim, true to the pictures online, with glittering fixtures and deep purple walls. It's bigger than she imagined with tables both lining the sides and hiding behind curtains, plus a generous standing floor between her and the sprawling bar.
Currently, that floor is packed, with a line at the bar three deep.
“Can I help you?” a man asks, in a nasally tone, interrupting Myka's concentration as she scans for Helena.
“I, um...sorry,” Myka says and rummages through her bag for her card. As she turns toward the table, she tenses; two pairs of eyes stare back at her with interest.
“That’ll be ten pounds, dear,” the slender man says, his iridescent silver button down drawing Myka’s attention. “Unless you’re with the hen party at table four."
“Hen party?” Myka says, her focus jumping back to her purse. “No, I’m...I’m here to see Helena.” She locates the correct card and yanks it free, then hands it to the man.
“Wait," the man’s companion says, blocking her card with a ringed index finger. The woman squints as she looks Myka up and down, appearing more cat-like than her eye makeup intended.
“I am,” Myka says, clenching her card in her hand.
“The Myka?” the man marvels, his eyes going wide. He and the woman smile in tandem, then he abruptly stands and throws open the front door. “Damian, get in here!”
The bouncer pokes his head in, and the man waves him through.
“This is Myka,” the man says, pointing a finger in Myka’s direction.
“Myka, wow,” Damian says, his dark skin glowing against his gleaming white smile. “HG’s done told us all about you.”
“Really?” Myka says, feeling awkward that Helena hadn't told her more about them.
“Yeah. Really pleased to meet you,” Damian says, his smile growing as he vigorously shakes Myka’s hand.
“Us too,” the woman adds.
“How long you here for?” the silver-shirted man says, the rise in his voice clambering for Myka’s attention.
“A few more days. Her daughter's coming this weekend."
“Her daughter,” the man says with glee, clapping his hands together. “Maybe she’ll bring her by. She’s just as gorgeous as her mother, from the pictures.”
“So, your lady’s probably on the floor....if you can’t find her, ask that prickly pear of a Scot over there.” He throws his eyes dramatically towards the bar, and Myka can just make out the profile of a woman with bright orange hair.
“Shirley, right? Helena’s mentioned her.”
“The mother of us all,” he says, hands coming together in prayer as he bows in her direction.
“Cut it out,” The woman scolds, slapping him on the arm.
“Hasn’t sacked me yet," the man says as he rubs his arm.
“Thanks for the advice, Nice to meet you all," Myka says, taking that as her cue to leave.
Myka snakes through the crowd while searching for Helena but when she comes up empty, maneuvers into a spot at the bar. She waves at Shirley, but Shirley takes no notice, attending to customers without a glance in her direction.
She looks over her shoulder at the floor, then back at Shirley and decides she'll wait and try again. A few minutes later, when Shirley passes by to grab a lime, she takes a chance and leans across the bar.
“You're Shirley, the manager,” she says.
“Aye," Shirley says, without looking up from the lime she's slicing. "Hen party gone awry, doll?”
“No, I’m...” Myka looks down at her outfit; why does everyone keep asking that? "I’m looking for Helena."
“You should join her fan club,” Shirley says, her “you” sounding like “ye," and points with her eyes across the room.
Myka looks blankly at Shirley until her ears adjust to her thick accent, then turns in the indicated direction. It's hard to see through the crowd, but when she cranes her neck up, she spies a few women chatting at a table, occasionally looking around the room.
“Gather like moths to a flame when HG's on and cry when she's unavailable,” Shirley says. “It’s sad, really. They’ve not a chance in hell with her, anyway.”
Myka scowls as Shirley's words sink in.
“Aye, the lookers that girl's snubbed in the name of fidelity.”
“What’s wrong with fidelity?”
“Not a thing, with a lass like you.”
Myka looks at Shirley and narrows her eyes.
Shirley slips a lime onto the rim of a cocktail and slides it next to a frothy beer, then holds out a device for a customer to insert their card.
“You’re this Myka, aren’t you? The one she drones on about night and day?”
“Um, yeah,” Myka says and grins sheepishly.
“Spotted you across the room,” Shirley says, her cherry red lips showing a hint of a smile. “Follow me,” she instructs, then nods once to the side.
“Hey, I was next!” a man cries, waving a bill.
“She’s prettier,” Shirley says, with a wink.
Myka works her way through patrons to follow, but Shirley reaches the waiter station first. Helena appears as if on cue before Myka arrives.
“Table four is a nightmare!” she cries. “First they're 'offended' I’m not their desired 'boy toy' waiter, and then, after a bit of lip, beg for more insults.”
“I knew those muscle Marys were no match for you—"
“I thought table four was the hen party?” Myka says as she comes up behind Helena.
“No. They’ve gone down for the...” Helena trails off, then spins around, smiling wildly as her eyes meet Myka’s. She cups Myka’s cheeks and presses their lips together, then runs her palms down the sides of Myka’s arms.
“Lovely as ever,” Helena says, taking hold of Myka's hands and stepping back, raking her eyes over Myka's state of dress. She wraps Myka’s hands behind her back and throws her arms around Myka’s neck, then kisses her again.
“Hereby the ice queen melteth,” Shirley jests. “I'll give you two a wee minute.” She waves the order slip and slinks off.
“It’s late. I thought you mightn’t come,” Helena says.
“Of course I’d come. Why wouldn’t I come?" Myka says, squeezing Helena’s hands.
“Because I ruined our civilized evening for this.” Helena flicks her eyes towards the crowd. "How did it go?”
“Fine,” Myka answers, feeling a pang of guilt over having a nice time without her. “Everyone seems to love you here."
“Yes, well, fortunately, this ‘soiree’ is merely a stopgap."
Shirley slides a glass across the bar and points her eyes at Myka. Helena lifts the glass and places it in Myka’s hand.
Helena lifts the glass to her lips and takes a sip. “Gin and tonic.”
“Thanks, but I’ve had enough tonight,” Myka says, shaking her head.
“Make Shirley happy. Nurse it while I’m on the floor. I’ve been promised an early leave now that you’re here.” Helena throws Shirley a firm eye.
“You’ll work that double next week?”
“And you’ll work your magic with inventory?"
Helena glares at Shirley, but Shirley holds on to it, arching a brow as a glass squeaks while she's drying it.
“Fine,” Helena says, flicking her gaze up while minutely shaking her head.
“You know spreadsheets are the death of me,” Shirley says, then waggles her towel across the room. “You suss out table eight, and you're golden.”
“Table eight?” Helena says, lips forming a sneer as she looks over her shoulder. “Why are they here tonight?”
“Sixth sense? Telepathy?” Shirley muses. “I’m sure Her Highness sends scouts.”
“Someone’s royalty?” Myka asks.
“Only in her head,” Shirley replies.
“Alright. But send Desiree with their order.” Helena turns toward Myka and presses her palms against her shoulders then lifts up on her toes. Her fingers curl into the fabric of her dress as she kisses Myka again, and she holds Myka’s gaze long after the kiss ends.
“Back in a flash, love,” she says, skimming her hand across Myka’s cheek before turning to leave.
The crowd parts as Helena walks through and remains parted, allowing Myka a better view of table eight.
"Wow," Shirley says.
Myka glances back at her.
"I've never seen her so....affectionate. You two are..." Shirley's eyes widen as she blows out a breath and waves her hand as if shaking off a burn.
“You should see her with her daughter,” Myka says, distractedly, her attention swinging back to the table. An attractive blonde rises as Helena approaches, and Helena’s shoulders sag at her overly enthusiastic smile.
“So...what’s the wee Wells like?” Shirley asks.
The woman waves Helena closer and lays a hand on her shoulder while kissing her on both cheeks. When Helena turns to face the group, the woman's hand stays on her back, and Myka's fingers tense around her glass.
“Christina? She’s smart. Cute. Amazing. So Helena’s kid.”
Myka squints to read Helena’s lips, her jaw clenching as the blonde laughs and adds a coy hair flip as fake as her hair color.
“Aye, she looks it, in pictures. Same eyes, same grin, but with curls like yours."
As the woman's hand migrates to Helena's upper arm, Myka takes a swig of her drink and shifts on her stool to get a better view. She’s tall, this woman, taller than her in heels, and her dress, tailored to show off her assets, which she has many, including perfectly gym-toned arms. She's way too confident so close to Helena, downright smug, yet she’s sure she knows little about her, especially with Christina in tow.
Her breaths become coarser, faster, as the woman speaks into Helena's ear, and when her hand slides over Helena's shoulder and across her upper back, she downs the remainder of her drink in one gulp. Who is this…this...Valkyrie, and why is she so handsy?
“Stroppy bint,” Shirley grumbles, leaning over the bar. “Thinks flashing her cash around wins her friends, when in reality, she bullies the lot of them into submission. Drives me mad, all her fussing, but HG has the patience of a saint. Being a mum must teach you that.”
"Probably," Myka grunts. Helena wouldn’t put up with it without a reason and that reason better be good.
Helena waves and smiles in her direction and Myka answers with a wave and a grin, but her eyes remain critical. The blonde withdraws her hand, hesitantly, her smile in greeting clearly feigned, her cold, calculating eyes quick to size Myka up.
Helena says something to the woman then turns and scribbles down orders.
“I really do feel for her, marooned here without her dearest loves.”
“She told you what happened?”
“Her tongue loosens nicely after a few pints.”
Helena concentrates on her pad as she walks away from the table, and the blonde's eyes follow her as she goes. As Helena approaches the bar, the blonde's eyes lift to meet Myka’s, and Myka's nostrils flare at the challenge she sees in them.
"I can explain,” Helena says, laying a hand on Myka's shoulder as she passes the order slip to Shirley.
“Table four first, tiger,” Shirley says, winking as she pushes a tray towards Helena.
“Table four,” Helena repeats and gives Myka a peck on the cheek before swishing off through the crowd.
Myka snags a stool by the waiter station and sips her refilled drink as she waits for Helena’s shift to end. There's a buzz within the staff as "HG’s girlfriend” is in the house; barely a minute passes without someone introducing themselves to her.
When Helena returns from her rounds, she speaks briefly with Shirley, then downs Myka's drink and leads her away from the bar.
“Finally," she says while herding Myka into a corner at the top of the stairs. She presses their bodies together, then kisses her with zeal, as if long overdue.
“I’ve missed you,” she says between heated breaths, her hand traveling up to tangle in Myka’s loose curls.
Myka circles her arm around Helena's waist and as their lips reconnect, slips her hand under the hem of Helena's shirt. She presses her fingers into the small of Helena's back, reminding her she's hers to touch, and Helena arches forward, tugging at Myka’s hair.
As a heat builds in Myka's chest, her tongue reaches for Helena's, and upon contact, everything else around her drops away.
A cackling giggle breaks them apart, and Helena grabs Myka’s hand and leads her down the stairs.
“Bugger,” she says as they wade through a crowd pushing towards them. “Bugger, bugger—"
“Bugger what?” Myka asks before smacking into Helena as she stops. She grabs Helena’s elbow to keep her balance and Helena holds onto her arm to steady her.
“We've missed it entirely,” Helena says as she scans the room. “And I’d said you’d never been before.”
“Been to what?”
“A drag show."
“I have,” Myka says, yanking her arm away. “I’m not a total square.”
Helena studies Myka for a moment, then smirks. “Amanda.”
“Maybe,” Myka says, crossing her arms and looking away. The crowd funneling out makes her dizzy, so she looks down at the floor.
“Remind me to ask Abigail about that one.”
“What’s up with that woman at table eight?” Myka asks and pokes Helena in the arm. The poke pushes her off balance, and Helena grabs her elbow to steady her again.
“Shirley called her...a word I won’t repeat.”
“They’ve had issues.”
“Why do you put up with her? It’s not like she owns the place.”
“She does. Her, and a few others present.”
“Darling!” a voice booms from behind. “Did you see me?”
“No, we’ve missed it,” Helena says, spinning around. “Couldn’t get off soon enough.”
“That ginger minx. I’ll snatch you for downstairs next time I’m on.”
“It wasn’t entirely her fault,” Helena says, side-eying Myka.
Myka’s lips press into a white slash, and she narrows her eyes.
“So this is your 'main squeeze,'” the friend says, slipping from British into American. The friend steps forward and places their hands lightly on Myka's shoulders then air kiss both cheeks.
“And you are…” Myka says, eyebrows squishing together as she struggles to recognize this voluminously wigged person.
“Myka, this is Wooly,” Helena answers and smiles at Wooly with fondness.
Wooly grimaces and raises a penciled brow.
“Correction. Myka, this is Miss Dee Dee,” Helena says and adds a slight bow of the head.
“You’re the siren that’s stolen miss skirt chaser’s heart?” Miss Dee Dee says, her ultramarine grin growing wide.
“I recall being the chase-ee,” Helena snips.
"Broke a million hearts, she did, then, poof, disappeared.” Miss Dee Dee waves a dismissive hand and throws her nose in the air, then crosses her brawny arms over her sequined chest.
“I make no excuses," Helena says and rolls her eyes.
Myka's dizziness returns as she looks between Miss Dee Dee and Helena, so she rests her eyes on Helena and stares, confused.
“The naiveté of youth,” Helena says and breathes out a heavy sigh.
“Twirl for me, love,” Miss Dee Dee says and swirls a finger at Myka.
Myka looks over her shoulder, but no one else is there, then back at Miss Dee Dee, and Miss Dee Dee swirls her finger again. Myka turns, slowly, then stands, awkwardly, allowing Miss Dee Dee to scrutinize her dress.
“Forties,” Myka corrects. “Not an original, a copy of something I used to own.”
“Miranda would adore a piece like this,” Miss Dee Dee says, tilting her head toward Helena while fingering Myka’s sleeve.
“Miranda. Is she still around?” Helena's eyes grow distant as her lips curl up at the ends.
“Laughed her head off when I said I’d bumped into you waitressing, of all things."
Helena snickers once then looks down at the ground. “Fair enough."
Myka clears her throat, and Helena's eyes shoot up.
“I hadn’t a clue Wooly performed here, or I’d have warned you,” Helena says. “Cheeky bugger. When I heard his voice over the PA, I knew exactly who it was.” She grabs Wooly by the chin and gives it a shake.
“Makeup, darling, makeup,” Wooly says, swatting Helena away.
“I've hardly marred the pound you’re wearing.”
“Some of us haven't aged as gracefully as you."
Myka's vision blurs as her eyes flit between Wooly and Helena, her thoughts jumbling as she tries to make sense of it it all. It's as if she's watching estranged friends reunite in a comedy, the ease between them equal parts heartening and unsettling.
Everyone tenses as a high-pitched screech fills the room.
“Testing…testing….Miss Dee Dee to the DJ booth,” a voice announces and Miss Dee Dee waves to its owner.
“Such the popular girl tonight…ooh, I’ll play a song from our list,” Miss Dee Dee says, flicking her feather boa at Helena then turning toward Myka.
“Lovely to meet you. Only a true god-dess could pin this one down.” She lifts Myka’s hand and kisses it's back while side-eyeing Helena.
Helena rolls her eyes in return.
“List?” Myka says as Miss Dee Dee makes her way to the DJ booth.
“Songs scribbled on a napkin while crying over lost love.”
As Helena's gaze clouds over, Myka's at a loss for how to respond.
A spare drumbeat fills the room and as sparse guitar chords plink in accompaniment, Helena mumbles “nice one” under her breath. She smiles at Miss Dee Dee, and Miss Dee Dee smiles back, then makes a twirling motion with her hand.
“May I have this dance?” Helena asks Myka and holds out a hand.
Myka blinks at the gesture, still separated from the scene, then tentatively accepts, her heart fluttering as Helena pulls her close.
"Love me, love me, love me, say you do,” a man’s voice croons as they begin to sway. “Let me fly away with you.” She can almost place the voice, the song, sixties-ish, no seventies, and as a favorite of Helena’s, she'd like to know its name.
A second, fuller, guitar layers chords over the first and as the bass kicks in, Myka drapes her arms over Helena’s shoulders. Helena’s hands skim down Myka's back and rest on the rise of her hips, guiding them as they begin to move as one.
“Our first dance,” Myka says, almost shyly, into the crook of Helena’s neck.
“One of many, my love,” Helena says, pressing her lips to Myka’s ear.
Myka hums through her nose as Helena’s breath courses over her skin, a heat rising in her chest with every open-mouthed kiss Helena plants down the length of her neck. Myka’s knees buckle when Helena nips a sensitive spot, and her fingers dig into Helena’s back to stay upright. Helena’s hands slide under her hips to hold her up, and as the music swells at the bridge, Myka's desire to dance is no longer her strongest.
“Take me home."
This chapter is on the longer side, and throws Myka into some murky territory she's not equipped to deal with. It was difficult to get the tone right, and if I've succeeded, there's a push and pull going on that will amplify over the next few chapters.
First thing in the office, Myka learns Mrs. Frederic’s meeting one on one with every single employee, right down to the cleaners.
“It’s not right, boozing us up then grilling like that,” a coworker groans.
“Has she done this before?” Myka asks.
“Not in my five years here.”
“Huh,” Myka says, her stomach twisting at the thought of facing Mrs. Frederic alone.
The parade of anxious faces lining the hall amplifies her unease until the thought occurs to her she was meeting Mrs. Frederic anyway. She blames a lingering headache paired with achy muscles for the oversight, both leftovers from her adventures with Helena last night. A sly grin creeps across her lips as she flashes back to the hotel; they were certainly athletic, more so than ever before.
When she reaches her office, she downs more water and aspirin, thinking it best to keep her headache at bay. As she checks her messages, she’s relieved her meeting with Sally's been pushed until after her mid-afternoon one with Mrs. Fredric. Plenty of time to review her notes and for the drugs to kick in.
She breathes a deep breath and releases it slowly, then opens her laptop and begins sorting through urgent emails. As she pulls up some files, she winces as she shifts in her chair, then crosses her legs to silence a particularly sensitive spot. She tries focusing on email, but the tweak sends her mind back to last night's cab ride, and her thighs clench together at the memory.
They tumbled sloppily into the vehicle, Myka sinking back, Helena pitching forward, reciting the address to the driver. As Helena spoke, Myka had an idea. Emboldened by drink, she pulled herself up by grabbing Helena’s shoulder and suggested a change of plans.
"Let’s go to your place," she said, curious what she might find there.
“And waste that island of a bed? I think not,” Helena said and repeated her instructions to the driver, then thumped back into the seat as the cab drove away.
“We'll revisit that school girl fantasy of yours later,” Helena said, her mouth so close Myka’s ear, her breath sent a shiver down Myka's spine.
Helena planted kisses along the line of Myka's jaw until their lips met, her tongue pushing through to reach Myka’s. Myka reciprocated, readily, until the car dipped from rough road, a blunt reminder of where they were. She pushed Helena away, albeit weakly, and Helena craned forward ensuring their mouths stayed connected.
Helena's hands skimmed down Myka's thighs, mouth wandering down her neck, and when her fingers breached the hem of her skirt, Myka swatted her away. Helena grabbed hold of Myka's wrist, yanking her closer and pressed her lips on a pulse point. Myka's adrenaline soared, and everything around her fell away.
When the car came to an abrupt halt, Helena slid forward, nearly falling off the seat. Sirens blared past, and the cab driver swore, then took off so fast Helena slung back into the opposite corner.
“A-are you attracted to that woman at the bar? She was pretty,” Myka blurted, suddenly aware of her surroundings again, sobered by the siren, embarrassed to feel so aroused in public.
“No,” Helena said flatly, but her lips rose, forming a sly grin. “You're jealous.”
“I’m not,” Myka said, sounding unconvincing even to herself. She reached out to coax Helena back, but Helena leaned away, Myka fell back into her seat, defeated.
“I said I already had a few.”
Helena slid closer and took hold of Myka’s hand, guiding her nearer and laying her head on her shoulder. Myka laced their fingers together and snuggled into Helena's side, feeling safe and sound in Helena's arms.
As they sat in comfortable silence, the evening played in fast forward in Myka’s mind, until the word “marooned," with Shirley’s rolling “r” and drawn out “oo” caught in her head.
“Are you lonely here, with out us,” she says, squeezing Helena’s hand. It’s an obvious question, but she’s never asked it out loud.
“If I ever am, I think of you, and Christina, and our future together.” Helena tilted her head and rested it on top of Myka’s.
The word “future” caused Myka to tense, the weight of it incongruent with the fleeting moment, but the tenderness in Helena's voice made her heart race.
"Are you ever lonely?” Helena asked, turning Myka’s hand over, leaning forward, kissing her palm, angling her eyes up to meet Myka’s.
“I’m too busy,” Myka nearly joked, but instead lost herself in Helena’s eyes, so infinitely dark yet glowing from the street light. She blinked as a flash flitted over Helena's face, and her eyes flicked down to Helena’s lips. “So beautiful,” she said, kissing Helena in answer, pulling her back into the seat corner, putting the word “lonely" to rest.
As the host points in her direction, Helena waves and smiles. Myka raises a hand in greeting, but her lips flatten rather than curl up with reciprocal enthusiasm. She knows that smile well, and while it is genuine, it's hard to take at face value after the things she’s learned today.
She thanks the host for guiding her then navigates through a few tables and eventually reaches Helena in the corner. Helena kisses her on the cheek, then pulls out a chair. Myka studies her for a moment and decides to sit before launching into questions. No need to make a scene here and now.
Helena pushes in her chair and circles around, resuming her spot.
"Were you waiting long?” Myka asks.
"An excruciating ten minutes,” Helena says, flashing a grin so infectious, Myka cracks a small smile back.
The smile must read oddly, as Helena’s eyes narrow, so Myka says the first thing that pops into her head. “Sorry, long day,” she says, unsure of why she's apologizing because it’s Helena who needs to explain herself, throughly.
Helena slides her hands across the table and motions for Myka to do the same but Myka hesitates before giving them over. Helena takes hold and pulls them towards her, wrapping her fingers around and squeezing reassuringly.
"Thank you for all that you do,” Helena says, gazing directly into Myka eyes.
Myka looks deep into those familiar, dark eyes, searching for a hint of recognition of misdeeds, but sees nothing beyond earnest gratitude.
When the waitress arrives and lists the specials, Myka withdraws her hands.
"Can I start anyone off with a drink?"
“Perhaps something less vinous this evening?" Helena says and smirks at Myka.
Myka chuckles once but doesn’t smile back.
“Water's fine for the moment," Helena says.
The waitress says she’ll give them time to peruse their options and takes her leave.
“I’m starving. I thought we might order a starter before the mains," Helena says, picking up her menu.
Myka looks down at her copy, but the words fall out of focus, and she realizes she needs to say what she’s waiting to say.
"Were you at the office today?”
"Was I where?" Helena says, eyes staying on the menu.
"Sally said she saw you. In the office. Today."
“Sally. The woman I'm working with on the Italian account." Myka’s lips downturn, disappointed, but not surprised, that Helena's playing dumb.
“Yes, of course,” Helena says, eyes flicking up as if just clueing into the conversation.
"She said she'd seen you there a couple of times since my last trip."
“She’s hardly the most reliable source."
“She isn’t, but there were other things,” Myka says, pausing while formulating her next phrase, “things she had proof were true."
The waitress returns to take their order and Helena points to an appetizer then politely asks for a few moments to decide. She sits up straighter in her chair and laces her fingers together on the table, then gives Myka her full attention.
“Do you remember a Terry Stukowski? "
“The name isn’t familiar."
“He's Sally’s brother. He used to work for Mrs. Frederic and was a buyer at a sale you were brokering."
“I've brokered many sales."
“Something you did got him fired."
"I doubt I alone was responsible. There are risks involved with every sale of a high caliber."
“High caliber,” Myka repeats, hands clenching as she leans forward. "Then you do remember."
Myka glares, but Helena remains stony-eyed. Myka throws up her hands and sits back in her seat.
"Alright,” Helena says. “I was in the office today. And on previous occasions."
"Why didn’t you say?”
"I’m not to mention it. To anyone. Nor am I meant to be seen."
“I’m not just anyone.”
“Neither am I, yet you’ve insisted your sale be kept private.”
“Yeah, well,” Myka says, averting her eyes. “You could have told me you met with her, anyway.”
“Why is this an issue? I thought you trusted Mrs. Frederic?”
“Sally thinks Mrs. Frederic's hiding something, and someone’s found out. That’s why she met with everyone today.”
“She didn’t say.”
Helena sits back, crossing her arms over her chest, and Myka feels the wall grow between them.
“Why exactly are you buying into Sally's worldview? She’s not been particularly kind to you.”
Helena's point is valid, but Sally’s theory ties into Theodora’s assertion that Mrs. Frederic’s intentions are always honorable, but often walk a thin line.
"She thought I knew what happened with you and her brother and that I was being a 'snotty bitch.' When I told her I didn’t know—"
“She tried to turn you against me,” Helena interrupts, leaning forward, laying her hands on the table.
“She didn’t frame you in a favorable light,” Myka says, lightening her tone.
“Last night, the light was favorable,” Helena says, inching her hand across the table towards Myka.
“Last night I was drunk.”
Helena pulls her hand back, and Myka reaches, but misses it.
"I didn’t mean it like that.”
“We wouldn’t be here were completely honorable,” Helena says and leans out of Myka’s reach.
Myka sinks into her chair but holds Helena’s gaze, now hardened to the point of impenetrability.
“This isn’t about my role in Sally’s brother’s dismissal nor my meetings with Mrs. Frederic. There's something else, something…personal.”
"Did Mrs. Frederic put you on the private sale?” Myka asks, without skipping a beat. This is what she really wants to know but had to work up to it. "Sally said—"
"I’m going to throttle this Sally,” Helena growls, teeth clenching, hands gripping the edge of the table as she lifts slightly from her chair.
Myka flinches but pushes forward. "Have you known the whole time what the sale was for?"
“I’m certain you’d be aware if I did. Why is this even a question?”
"Sally said Mrs. Frederic was dangling a carrot in front of you to harness ‘Emily’s’ talents.”
Helena collapses back in her chair, her expression going slack. “What on earth are you talking about?"
“The sale. She said she’d given you the sale.”
“It’s your sale."
“Not anymore. She took me off."
"I don’t know. Do you?"
Myka meant it earnestly, but the look on Helena’s face shows she’s taken it otherwise.
“Do you honestly believe I'd involve myself with any of that after all I’ve been through?”
“Do you trust me so little—”
“—that you're compelled to trust Sally more?"
“N-No,” Myka says, shaking her head. “B-but I think it’s something Mrs. Frederic might do."
When Helena's glare doesn’t soften, Myka changes course.
“I was angry Sally knew things about you I didn’t, that there are so many things I don’t know about you. Like that woman, at the bar last night, or your friend Wooly. Wooly and…"
“Yeah. Who are they exactly?"
“Ghosts,” Helena says and looks off to the side.
“Why do you always do that?”
“Shut me out. You’ll talk hours about a vase your mom sold at her stall or the delicate texture of your croissant from breakfast, but everything in between’s a mystery."
“That’s not true—"
“I’ve learned more from Claudia than from you. And sometimes I think she’s making stuff up.”
“She may very well be,” Helena mumbles and slumps back in her chair.
Myka stares at Helena, heart racing, annoyed Helena's deflecting yet again.
“Any thoughts on entrees, ladies?” their server asks while slipping their starter onto the table.
Myka looks over as if broken from a trance.
“I apologize,” Helena says. “We’re unsure as of yet. Could we have another few minutes?”
“Of course,” the server says, adding an understanding nod.
Helena waits until the waitress is at a safe distance then again reaches across the table in askance of Myka’s hand. Myka doesn’t take it, but Helena leaves it there.
"You must be devastated to have been taken off the sale. "
“You warned me. I didn't listen."
“The Italians are stable clients. Their business could set you up for life. These high-profile fly-by-night affairs never lead to such payoff.”
Helena may be right, but Myka doesn’t understand how all that work could lead to no pay off at all. "Do you know why she took me off the sale?"
“I would say, were I to have the slightest clue,” Helena says. "Mrs. Frederic summons me to discuss Macpherson and his appeal, nothing more. She’s genuinely rattled by whatever’s going on. I'm sworn to silence.”
Helena inches her hand forward, and Myka takes hold.
"I’m helping her to help us. It’s in all our best interests she succeeds."
Helena laces her fingers through Myka’s and places her other hand on top.
“You're not at fault. For any of this. It’s the business that twists you about and pits you against your allies."
Myka looks down at their hands because she can't look at Helena, ashamed to have accused her of foul play. It was her need to place blame that led her to believe Sally’s accusations, coupled with Theodora's words about Mrs. Frederic only pushing those with true talent. Helena’s only doing what's needed to keep them all afloat.
“Will you tell me, someday, about Wooly and Miranda?” she asks, trying to salvage what's left of the conversation.
“When time is less precious, I’ll tell you anything you’d like to know,” Helena says, the small smile taking shape on her lips shining like the sun after a storm. “I think we should order, lest we become more ‘hangry,’” She motions for the waitress. “I’d like to retire at a decent hour this evening, as we've an early morning at the airport.”
Myka looks at the menu but still can't focus and tells Helena to order first. Helena does as instructed, ordering for herself then glancing at Myka for approval as she orders for her, too.
“About that,” Myka says, as the waitress walks away. "I can’t go. I have to meet with Mrs. Frederic." She places her hands on her lap then clasps them together.
“But you already have."
“Only for ten minutes. She wants to go over my notes and talk about my trip."
“There’s little urgency now. She should be willing to meet later, or another day."
“She’s flying out tomorrow afternoon."
“That...woman,” Helena snarls, nostrils flaring, “acting as if we’re all at her beck and call.”
“We are,” Myka says. ”At least I am."
"Christina will be gutted if you’re not there."
“She sees me every day. It’s you she misses."
“But I’d rather we met her together."
“I know,” Myka says, looking down to avoid Helena’s stern gaze. "If I could get out of this I would. I’ll be back by lunch."
Helena raises a skeptical brow and motions again to the waitress.
“Perhaps we could do with some wine after all."
Myka waves her key card over the sensor and carefully turns the knob, unsure of the situation she’s walking into. When lunch came and went without her presence, Helena sent a terse message to meet at the hotel, and Myka intuited her mood had not improved since she left.
Helena had said it was Mrs. Frederic she was angry with, not her, but their spat before the airport left her heavy-hearted, and that guilt stuck with her all morning. Then, during her meeting, when she asked Mrs. Frederic why she was taken off the sale, her morale sank to a new low. “Complications arose,” Mrs. Frederic said, matter-of-factly, then, “concentrate on the Italians,” and “keep an eye on Sally,” before swiftly moving on.
As she enters their suite, she takes pains to pull the door closed quietly, not wanting to disturb the silence ringing throughout the room. As she walks farther in, she's blocked after a few paces by a suitcase spilling out onto the rug. Coats cover chairs and shoes lie scattered by the bed and second suitcase, Christina’s by the look of it, has spewed its contents all over the couch.
The owners of said bags, plus Helena, lie sprawled across the bed, napping, Claudia face down on the far end, Christina draped over Helena’s torso nearer the middle. The domesticity of the scene gives her pause as the acts she and Helena performed only a days ago were so very adult, it seems inappropriate for a little girl and her aunt to be innocently lying there. Things they’d never do if Christina were in the next room. Things that cause a twinge in her muscles even now.
That night, Helena said her truly letting loose was a huge turn on, but was she really letting loose? Or was the alcohol to blame? And did jealousy play a part? In hindsight, her actions seem more possessive than intimate gestures. Her fingers dug so deep they left bruises on Helena’s back, and her teeth left a sizable mark on her shoulder. And though Helena said she didn’t mind, she never, ever, wants pain to remind Helena of her, so maybe the constant buffer of a child is good thing—
“Is everything alright?”
Myka blinks herself present and then focuses on Helena, flinching slightly at the scrutiny in her eyes.
“I'm fine," she says, her throat tightening as she holds Helena’s gaze, recognizing just a hint of distance in her eyes. This week's been an anomaly, she knows, but being the singular object of Helena's affection has left her closer to Helena than ever before. Helena will never be entirely hers, but this hotel room felt like home; their home, together, without the stresses of a child. Closer to “normal,” than she’s felt in a long while, or rather “normal” before the fire.
"Are you certain?” Helena asks.
“Busy morning,” Myka says, scared to linger on what “normal” really means now, for fear it’s not what’s presented in front of her. "How is..." She nods at Christina and forcibly shakes off her negative thoughts.
“Knackered. Slept little on the plane. They made it through lunch then passed out."
Myka looks at Claudia then at Christina, and cracks a weak smile, picturing the commotion they'll make when they wake.
"Claudia's room wasn't ready as of yet, so she’s set up here for now,” Helena says, apology evident in her tone.
Myka understands why this is true, as it’s still early for check in, but can't help thinking it’s illustrative of a larger theme. Her world is eternally in flux; one piece is pinned down, then another loosens, consistently ruining the linearity of her expectations. Like this fantasy that her sale would go through seamlessly, that their happily ever after would be secured without a hitch. Now everything's reset to the beginning, and she hasn’t a clue how to get them there by Christmas.
“Come, join us,” Helena says, smiling and extending a hand.
Myka's stomach tightens as she holds Helena’s gaze, unsure she can make that leap just yet. Helena’s smile withers as her arm slowly lowers, and the way her eyebrows squish together asks questions Myka’s not willing to voice.
“I-I’ll just get changed first,” Myka replies. Shedding her work clothes might shed her expectations, and then she can fall back into old patterns.
“Mom?” Christina mumbles, blinking awake as she lifts her head.
“Myka’s here,” Helena says and combs her fingers through Christina's hair.
“Myka!” Christina says, her head swinging up, eyes searching then locking onto Myka’s.
The elation in Christina's eyes hits Myka like a bullet, and her heart swells with affection in response. Yet she stands frozen at a distance, unable to trust nor act upon her feelings confidently.
“If you settle down, Myka will join us,” Helena says, raising her brows at Myka.
Christina’s body stretches taut as she reaches toward Myka, fingers waggling as if grabbing for her shirt. Helena's arm pins Christina down, and Christina struggles then goes limp, giving in to her mother’s grip, eyes staying focused on Myka.
Myka blinks back a tear and gives in as the love from this child pulls her towards the bed. She feels Helena's eyes upon her as she removes her coat, draping it safely over the couch then walks, as steady as she can, over to the bed. She sits on the edge and bends her leg at the knee, hands shaking as she slips off a shoe. She removes the second, then closes her eyes and sits quietly, head bent, hands folded on her lap.
What if this limbo they're in is her fault, that Helena and Christina would be fine if she weren't part of the equation? Christina would have come over with Helena and Helena would have found a better job, and she’d be the one visiting. Helena could have made a clean start and become whomever she wanted if she wasn't being dragged through her past by Mrs. Frederic—
“Why are you crying?” Christina asks as she wriggles from Helena's grip, clambering across the bed and hugging Myka’s side.
“Because I'm…” Myka wipes a tear from her cheek and clears her nose. “I’m so happy to see you and your mom together.”
“We’re happy you're here with us,” Helena says, coming up on the other side, wrapping her arms around both her and Christina.
Myka's breath hitches as she tries to control her tears but they continue to stream silently down her cheeks. Helena whispers “shhh” into her ear and guides everyone down onto the bed.
Myka lifts her legs and lies back, the urge to resist having left her entirely. Christina maneuvers so she’s sprawled across both women’s laps but makes sure she’s still hugging Myka.
“You must think I’m crazy,” Myka says, as her tears begin to lessen.
“No. Driven,” Helena says, softly, and kisses Myka on the cheek.
“Is there a difference?”
“Chief, what’s up?” Claudia mumbles, head lifting and turning in Helena’s direction.
"Bitchin'," Claudia says, head dropping back down.
"Why do you call her ‘chief’ sometimes?" Myka asks, feeling desperate for a change of subject.
“Engineer,” Claudia says. "Funny story. We had this crazy project and HG—"
“A story best left for a rainy day,” Helena interrupts and wipes the remnants of a tear from Myka’s face.
“Killjoy,” Claudia mutters.
Christina crawls off of Myka, over Helena, and on top of Claudia. Claudia groans.
"I want ice cream,” Christina says.
"Oh yeah?” Claudia replies. “Then you gotta pay the toll."
Claudia maneuvers so she's sitting up, and Christina latches onto her back then giggles as Claudia tries to swat her off. The giggles intensify when Claudia slides off the bed with Christina hanging on.
Helena smiles with delight as she watches them lumber around the room, then turns to face Myka when they disappear into the bathroom.
"You rest while we search for ice cream. We'll bring you lunch as well. I'm assuming you haven't eaten."
Myka smiles a sheepishly and looks down.
"Let us care for you. You've had a brutal week."
Claudia and Christina fly by, then Claudia drops Christina onto the couch and initiates a hearty tickling match. Christina fights back and eventually struggles free then runs and jumps onto to the bed. Claudia creeps towards her, back hunched, hands extended like claws and Christina climbs over Myka to hide behind Helena.
“Mom, save me!”
“Claudia, you thug.”
“She started it,” Claudia says.
Helena turns towards Christina and narrows her eyes.
“Aunt Claudia started it!” Christina blurts.
“Did she, really?” Helena says, poking Christina gently in the ribs.
“Mom!” Christina cries and winces away.
“I also require further payment before ice cream may be consumed.” Helena lunges forward as Christina slips off the bed, catching then tickling her with abandon.
Myka smiles as Christina's giggle turns into to a full belly laugh, the sound rattling her insides so profoundly her dark thoughts fall away. She looks up at Claudia and Claudia grins back, and the familiar warmth of the exchange calms her nerves.
As the laughing subsides, Myka glances back at Christina and sees her curled up in a ball, grinning wildly, enveloped in Helena's arms. She rolls over and joins in the hug.
“I’ll come with you," she says. “I want ice cream, too.”
Myka's typing slows to a stop as Helena touches her shoulders and kneads, gently, into tense muscles. As Helena's fingers dig deeper, she leans back in her chair, and her eyes flutter closed.
“We're ready to go, are you?” Helena says.
Myka's eyes snap open, and she taps the down arrow. “I need another half an hour, tops.”
“You said that fifteen minutes ago.”
“I was wrong,” Myka says, standing, kissing Helena in apology. “Go eat. I’ll catch up.”
“But Myka, crepes!” Christina exclaims, her tone beyond anything reasonable for breakfast. But Myka's not surprised as weeks ago they watched a documentary titled “Crepes and Castles." Christina's been obsessed with both ever since.
“I know! I’m sorry. I’ll make it up to you, I promise. You go ahead. Mine will have to wait.”
“Must you finish this very minute?” Helena asks.
“I really, really should,” Myka answers, smiling at Helena's mopish tone as she's clearly allying with Christina for effect. Helena knows she has obligations to fulfill even though the sale’s off, they discussed it briefly last night. "If I’d gotten up earlier, I’d be done by now, but someone wouldn’t let me.”
Myka fusses with Helena’s collar and folds it under, then smooths it flat. Helena looks down as a flush creeps across her cheeks.
“I’ll tell you a secret,” Myka says, skimming her fingers over the sides of Helena’s arms, leaning forward until her lips nearly touch Helena's ear. “I'm happy I stayed."
“Ugh, you two. My teeth are rotting all the way over here,” Claudia groans and looks at Christina. "No one’s getting crepes if you don’t get outta here soon. Come give your Aunt Claudia a hug.”
Christina barrels across the room and latches onto Claudia, who's lounging full-length across the couch.
“Sorry to miss the eats, but I got places to be."
“I know. You came to see your friend’s supercomputer.”
“I came to check up on your mom.” Claudia winks at Christina then narrows her eyes at Helena.
“Any thrilling revelations?”
“Nah. You’re pretty boring.”
“Boring and saccharine.”
“Double whammy,” Claudia says and turns back to Christina. "I’ll meet you later, and we’ll climb that tower.”
“Bridge,” Christina corrects.
“You said tower.”
“It is a rather well-known landmark, or have you not heard of it?" Helena points out.
“Smartypants,” Claudia says and sticks out her tongue. “Maybe we’ll lock her in the keep, just for fun.”
“Tower Bridge doesn’t have a keep. A keep is the stronghold of a castle. We learned that on the show,” Myka says, flashing a self-satisfied smile.
“Can we go to a castle with a keep?” Christina pleads.
“I bet the Tower of London does,” Myka says. “If there’s time, maybe we can go there after.”
Myka's smile withers at the sight of Helena's scolding eyes.
Christina shuffles towards Myka with her head hung low. “I want you to come with us now,” she says, wrapping her arms around Myka’s leg.
“I wish I could, sweetie, but Leena needs these files. And you need to eat before your batteries run out. You want them fully charged for today.”
Christina’s absurdly round puppy-dog eyes nearly sway Myka's resolve, but she holds firm. “Go with your mom.”
Christina looks down and pouts.
“Am I not a suitable breakfast date?” Helena asks.
“Yeah. But you didn't see the show.”
“I do recall an in-depth description over the phone. Why don’t we send photos and include Myka in the commentary.”
“I’d like that,” Myka says, smiling in a way she hopes placates Christina.
Christina’s pout wavers then recedes, and Myka breathes a sigh of relief.
“Put your coat on, love,” Helena says and lifts her own from the arm of the couch.
“I’ll finish sooner if I can,” Myka says, snatching Helena’s coat and holding it out for her to slip into. Helena spins around and lifts her arms up and Myka threads them through the sleeves. Myka buttons a few buttons then steps back, admiring the dashing figure Helena cuts in the garment.
“Full service this morning,” Helena says, sliding her hands into her pockets and posing for Myka’s benefit.
“Don’t forget your umbrella,” Myka says. She grabs the handle leaning up against the couch and hands it to Helena.
“Mom, come on!” Christina cries and grabs Helena by the wrist.
“Off we go,” Helena quips as she’s pulled away.
As the door closes, Myka steps towards the desk but slips on something underfoot. She bends down and picks up a white card then reads it's raised black text.
“Who's Bonnie Belski?” she asks.
“Bonnie who?" Claudia says.
"Beats me. Where’d you find that?”
“Here,” Myka points to a spot very recently occupied by Helena.
“Must be H.G.’s. What else does it say?"
“There's an email and a number and...” Myka flips the card over and scowls at a second number scribbled in pen. She resumes her spot at the desk and types the name into her browser.
“Oh no,” she says, shaking her head, slumping back in her chair. “No way."
“No what?” Claudia says, hopping off the couch and scurrying behind her.
“Her.” Myka clicks on an image to enlarge.
“Wowsa. Who’s the glamazon?”
“One of the owners of the bar Helena works at. One who hits on her.”
“Ooooh, someone's jealous," Claudia jabs.
"It's no biggie. People hit on H.G. all-the-time. She’s like ‘whatevs.'”
“There’s just something about her, something familiar.”
Myka's seen what Claudia's referring to, but for some reason, this woman strikes an unsettling chord. She scrolls through images, and one, in particular, jumps out. "There. That’s Mrs. Frederic’s gallery.”
“And that’s her at some other art thing,” Claudia says, pointing at an adjacent photo.
“That’s Mrs. Frederic’s, too. I recognize the artist.” Myka clicks on the image and reads the caption. “It’s from an art fair, the one I was at this summer, in Basel.”
Did she meet Bonnie there? Maybe even talk to her? The same artist had a few pieces at Vanessa’s booth. She continues scrolling through, searching for other shots, but unfortunately finds none. But there are scores of others featuring Bonnie front and center, smiling the same, practiced smile at the opening of the bar, at a reception after a show, at a party on a boat...
“Claud, what exactly did Helena tell you about working for Macpherson?”
Myka continues scrolling as she waits for an answer then looks up at Claudia.
“Bit of a non-sequitur.”
“I guess. Humor me."
Claudia crosses her arms over her chest and squares her stance. “She sold old stuff to rich people and didn’t ask questions cos the bucks were rolling in. Then her wrists got slapped and boom, she’s deported.”
“Does that sound like the Helena you know?”
“You’re just now figuring out the whole thing’s hinky?”
“No, but…you’ve known her longer me. I jumped in the end.”
“I missed a lot of stuff when things weren’t cool between us. I know times were tough and she'd do anything for the kid.” Claudia looks down and shuffles a foot.
“It’s not your fault she got into this mess.”
“If I was less of a dick about Giselle, about a lot of things, she wouldn’t have been so dumb.”
“You don’t know that for sure."
“Yeah,” Claudia says. Her eyes go distant as if caught in a memory, then she tips her chin at Myka’s screen. “So what’s MacPherson got to do with babezilla?”
“Nothing, probably. Hopefully. But after seeing her here,” Myka says, pointing to Bonnie at the gallery, "I feel there’s a connection.”
“This is going to sound crazy," Myka says, studying the photo before continuing. It’s odd she doesn’t recognize anyone but Bonnie but notes it was taken last year. There are repeat faces at the art fair, so maybe Bonnie knows the artist, or maybe, just maybe, she's being paranoid. “On second thought, it’s too crazy.”
“Aw, come on. Spill.” Claudia pulls up a chair and twirls it around then sits, legs straddling the back.
Myka thinks on this; Claudia’s involved, too, by proximity, but should she betray Helena's trust? Keeping secrets is what got Helena into this in the first place, so fewer secrets might be prudent in the long run. And the secret she’s keeping now—Helena meeting with Mrs. Frederic to keep her in Mrs. Frederic's good graces—is her fault. Helena would have steered clear if Myka wasn't involved.
“What if Bonnie's keeping tabs on Helena for Mrs. Frederic.”
“Blondie, a spy? Why? You said your boss was cool with H.G."
“I think she is."
“I…” Myka chews her bottom lip, holding on to Claudia’s questioning gaze. Maybe it’s better if Claudia knows so she’s not blindsided if something goes awry.
“Please don’t tell Helena I told you this.”
“Scouts honor," Claudia says, holding up two fingers.
Myka stares at Claudia’s fingers and takes a deep breath. “Helena told me she's been meeting secretly with Mrs. Frederic to help fight MacPherson’s appeal. I don't think she'd be of interest unless she was more involved with MacPherson than she said."
“I looked for dirt on ‘Emily Lake’ when H.G. went public.”
“Nada. And I dug deep, which is sketchy as hell. As far as the internet’s concerned, Emily Lake doesn't exist.”
“I tried, too. Same here,” Myka says, with obvious annoyance. "Maybe we weren’t looking in the right places. My anonymous source gave me some research tips that could help. Maybe we should try again.“
“Bummer about that, by the way. H.G. said your sale’s off.” Claudia lays a hand on Myka’s shoulder. "I know you were banking on that bank to get over here, but something will work out.”
“Yeah,” Myka says, and looks down at the floor to fend off thoughts of disappointment.
“So these tips?”
“Right. A mix of rumors and facts, stuff like movements of shipments, patterns of certain buyers, historical documents. Through those, they could predict a client’s actions.“
“Creepy. How’d they find all this stuff?”
“My guess? It’s what they do, professionally."
“Like a narc?”
“Maybe, maybe not,” Myka says, feeling a little uneasy about her participation after saying it out loud. She was so focused, she didn't question the information, but she’s beginning to understand where Sally’s paranoia stems from.
"What’d you do with the info?”
“I pieced it together with decades of notes from previous researchers. This thing had been lost and found, on and off the market a million times since the 50’s.”
And suddenly it hits her, why everything’s been kept under wraps, that she’s a pawn in a larger game being played with or without her participation. And maybe she shouldn't have been so forthright because now she’s dragged Claudia into it all. Helena did say the business "twists you about and pits you against your allies,” but the question is, are her allies who she thinks they are? She swings around to face Claudia.
“I don’t know why I told you that. I shouldn’t have told you that. I haven’t told Helena. Please don’t tell her, or anyone, I told you any of this.”
“Mums the word,” Claudia says, in a fake British accent.
“I mean it, Claud. This is serious.”
“I know,” Claudia says, dropping her antics. “That’s a lot of stuff to keep under wraps. H.G. shouldn’t have put those meetings on you.”
“She didn’t. I dragged them out of her.”
“I mean she shouldn't have kept them from you in the first place."
"It’s…complicated,” Myka says, looking down at her hands. Claudia doesn’t know about Helena’s connection with Sally’s brother, or that Sally ousted Helena to Myka, or that—
“H.G., complicated? Totally. But you?” Claudia says. “You’re a straight shooter. You don't play those games."
Myka’s stomach churns. Claudia’s right...what has she gotten herself into?
“Look, I’m as much a part of this as you two, with the kid and all. You gotta keep me in the loop."
“Helena won’t like it. She says the less I know, the better.”
“H.G. can suck it. Don’t tell her I know.”
Claudia looks at Myka’s screen, then reaches across and clicks the down arrow, scrolling through photos of Bonnie.
“Scoot over. Lemme look something up.”
Myka moves to the side, and Claudia types the name of a store into the browser.
Myka raises a brow. “Hey, I buy stuff from there.”
“What you two do in the bedroom is none of my beeswax.”
“Not, like, racy stuff. They have bras that fit me.”
“TMI,” Claudia mumbles, holding up a hand while scouring the index of garments. As her scrolling slows, she clicks on a thumbnail, and a lacy negligee opens on a larger page. “Bingo!"
Myka gasps. “How did you…”
“I work with a lot of dudes, ok? You do not want to know what's in their browser history.”
Myka turns the laptop toward her and studies the woman pictured. Her hair is a shade darker, but there’s no question, she’s Bonnie. She navigates back to the index page and sees her featured in multiple listings, posed seductively in pink, red, taupe.
“She’s a model, and she owns a bar?”
“And she likes art. Or someone she’s into does. Gotta do something with all that cash, right? Why not impress chicks?”
Myka clicks on a particularly complicated garment, littered with straps and garters and cutouts; my god this Bonnie's leggy, and thin, and, um, busty. She shuts her laptop to stop herself from spiraling further into a hole.
“More beach bunny bimbo than NSA, ” Claudia says, with a smirk. “I could keep digging, she what skeletons she has rattling around.”
“Thanks, but, no,” Myka says, looking down and feeling, what…defeated? Is that what it is? Did she really want there to be a connection? And if so, why? Claudia pretty much said it earlier; H.G. gets hit on all the time. Is she that insecure...
“Wait, why didn’t that come up when I searched for her?”
Claudia opens the laptop and clicks on some keys. “She models under a different name.” Claudia spins the laptop toward Myka.
“Viondra Moore?” Myka says, scowling as she skims Viondra’s Wikipedia page.
“Sexier than 'Bonnie Belski.'"
“Ugh,” Myka grunts.
Her phone dings several times and when she glances at it, multiple pictures appear, most filled with crepes, supplemented with lengthy commentary. She scrolls up, and her attention hangs on the first photo, a selfie of Helena and Christina smiling and waving in front of the restaurant. The text reads “wish you were here,” and the urgency to hurry returns.
“I better finish up and go,” she says. “Could you not mention this Bonnie thing, either, to Helena? I was hoping today could be conflict free.”
“Done and done,” Claudia says. “But you’ll do it, right? Keep me posted?"
“Yeah,” Myka says with certainty.
She obviously needs someone to keep her on the level, so maybe it’s good Claudia knows. Making mountains out of molehills seems her specialty lately.
“One more thing?” she asks. "Could you close my browser? I can't look at that woman again."
Chapter 10 and Chapter 11 were originally one chapter, but I split them into two for readability purposes. I apologize for not posting them at the same time as this part references Chapter 9, so it's a little confusing reading it so long after I posted that. This chapter moves forward, then references Myka's morning meltdown when Christina and Claudia arrived and takes us back to the evening after (then moves forward again.) Anyway, I'm fairly certain it makes sense if you are reading this on the whole, which is what matters in the long run.
After a long day of adventures, their “island of a bed” turns into a gym as Christina shows off her moves.
“Mom, block me!” Christina says, and Helena hops up, nearly toppling over, losing her balance as she strikes a defensive pose.
Myka watches safely from the couch, her body sprawled across full length as Claudia’s out for the evening. Christina’s energy knows no bounds, and after a few minutes, Myka closes her eyes, enjoying what feels like her first moment of downtime in weeks. She makes a game of guessing their moves from the corrections Helena makes; it’s fun to test her knowledge after all the practices she’s attended. Helena once told her she’d learned Kempo during her rehabilitation after her accident, to keep "idle hands occupied," though she wonders if there wasn’t a stronger motivation.
“Again,” Helena instructs, and Myka’s heart warms at Christina's endearing grunts and groans. Today was so uplifting, yesterday's dark thoughts seem a world away. Looking back, the confluence of negative situations and low blood sugar were to blame; ice cream and an eventual lunch worked like a charm to temper her fears. And though her revelations with Claudia this morning led to more questions than answers, the fact someone else is clued into the situation has relieved some of her burdens. Hopefully, Claudia will keep her mouth shut about it all to Helena until there's a real reason to bring it up.
She glances at Helena, and when Helena notices, she smiles in a way that says, “I’m sorry she’s keeping us up, but I’ve missed this so much.” Myka smiles back a “you're really cute, I don’t mind at all” smile, holding Helena’s gaze until Christina tackles her. She wishes Helena’s past wasn’t tarnishing the gloss of the scene, as some of the things she said last night were truly worrying. But she does trust Helena has everyone’s best interests in mind, even more so after Helena initiated heart to heart talk.
Last evening, post-shower, while Myka dug through a drawer to find pajamas, Helena slid her arms around Myka's midriff.
“I thought you’d fallen asleep,” Myka said.
“Christina has, but I thought we might talk," Helena said, in hushed tones.
Myka had been on edge all day after her display that morning and was hoping a good night’s sleep would set things straight. But Helena's comforting embrace soothed her rough nerves. She dropped the t-shirt she was holding and sunk back into Helena's arms.
As they shared a moment of calm, Myka recalled Helena’s elation wafting off in waves over Christina being near. As those waves lapped up against her, she had a revelation: there are many, many Helenas—she shifts her shape to fit situations—but this Helena, the one with her presently, was the one she fell in love with. Other versions may surface from time to time and many may remain a mystery, but at her core, the Helena she knows and loves is the one with Christina present.
When Helena released her, she took hold of her hand and guided her to the couch. As they sat, Myka met Helena's gaze and was surprised to find uncertain eyes staring back at her.
“I’d like to apologize for my behavior last night. And this morning,” Helena said, taking hold of Myka’s hands. “It was entirely uncalled for. I blame myself for your feeling poorly, and I’d like to make amends."
Myka squeezed Helena's hands; this was not what she expected, but the sentiment was overwhelmingly welcome. "I understand why you’ve kept things from me to a point, but what about Wooly? You introduce me to him then totally clam up."
"I hadn't thought that through. Introducing you that is."
“He seemed nice."
“He is. And was. We shared some memorable times while I was finishing school after my stint in Europe. But I put all that behind me when I left London. And now...” Helena scooted closer to Myka. "I want to be who I’m striving to be for you, not who I was."
“But you’re here for the foreseeable future. You'll have to face your past. Who you were is part of who you are now, and I want to know all of you."
"I wouldn't be so sure."
Myka laced their fingers together. "Nothing you say will make me love you any less. What are you afraid of?"
“As of late? Macpherson winning his appeal. If he does, my involvement with Mrs. Frederic will not be looked upon favorably. He could cause further harm with a flick of the wrist. And to you by proxy.”
Myka stiffened but kept hold of Helena’s hands.
"I hadn’t thought of this until now, but it’s likely Mrs. Frederic pulled you from the sale to protect you until this is settled."
“That…actually makes sense,” Myka says. The anger she’d been holding over her dismissal dropped down a notch, but it still pricked like a thorn. “Do know if it’s happening without me?”
“I haven’t a clue. But if it is, you’re better off without it. We’ve no way of predicting what tricks MacPherson might pull."
“Can Mrs. Frederic protect you?"
“Her reach is limited where I’m concerned, but you—"
“Why didn't you say something earlier?"
“The less you know the better."
“But if something happens to you it affects all of us."
“If I have my way, none of it will affect any of any of us, ever."
A fuzzy buzz kicks Myka into the present, and she glances at its source on the end table. She hikes up to see whose phone it is; it’s Helena’s. There’s no name on the display, but the number is familiar. Her mood immediately sours as she realizes who it is.
“Phone’s ringing,” Myka says, loud enough for Helena to hear.
“They’ll leave a message,” Helena says, mid-tussle with Christina.
Myka glances at the vibrating object again then settles back into the couch, closing her eyes, listening closely to Christina and Helena’s playful tones. But her hopes of traveling back to that happier place from earlier fall flat. Why is Bonnie calling so late, let alone calling at all?
Helena and Christina’s sparring tumbles across the room, and Myka falls victim of a surprise attack. She struggles free but ends up with Christina laying on top of her, pinning her down.
"Perhaps you can calm her," Helena says, inching away from the scene.
“Yeah, make that my job," Myka jabs.
"In this scenario, you’re the better choice," Helena explains. She swipes her phone off the end table and taps it awake then scowls at the screen. Her face pinches as she listens to her message, in a way that indicates something’s definitely not right. She taps the screen again and, phone to ear, walks across the room toward the window.
Christina wriggles on Myka's lap as if inducing her to play, but Myka wraps her arms around her tightly, holding her in place. Christina gives herself over easily, her body slackening, exhaustion winning over after their event-filled day. Myka smiles at that, thinking perhaps they'll all sleep well tonight, and as Christina settles, she tunes into Helena’s voice as she converses with the caller.
- Thursday's out of the question.
The mention of Thursday saddens Myka, as incidentally, that was the day of the pre-sale showing.
- I can’t reschedule. You should be aware of that.
Myka glances over at Helena. She's leaning against the wall but her body’s tense, and she's fingering the edge of the curtain.
- I don’t care of the consequences. You sort it out.
Myka winces at the bite in Helena’s tone.
"Is mom ok?" Christina asks.
"I think so," Myka says. "We'll ask when she's done.”
Christina snuggles closer to Myka and Myka adjusts to hold her weight. She places her hand on Christina’s back and lays her chin on the crown of her head; she can’t believe she ever questioned her loyalty to this child.
The call ends, and the room falls silent. Myka glances over the top of the couch and sees Helena, arms crossed, staring out the window.
“Everything ok?” she asks, bracing for what response she may get.
“Work,” Helena grunts, without looking at Myka.
She pushes off of the wall and crosses the room then drops her phone on the end table. Circling the couch, she lifts Myka and Christina’s legs and navigates underneath, then plops down into the corner. Myka lowers her legs, and allows Helena to sit stewing for a moment, then extends and arm across Christina’s body and takes hold Helena's hand.
“They farm staff out to events to ‘advertise our brand.’ Corporate parties, wedding receptions and the like,” Helena says, rubbing her thumb over Myka’s. “I have two exams on Thursday, and I’m meant to work that evening.”
“Was that Shirley?” Myka asks, coyly fishing for details, then suddenly realizing there’s no reason the number scribbled on that card belongs to Bonnie.
“No. Bonnie,” Helena says, with a sneer.
“The blonde?” Myka answers, as innocently as possible. Maybe now's not the best time to bring up the topic of the card nor Bonnie’s other career, but someday she will.
“She is rather hands on, as you may have noticed.”
“Can everyone be quieter? I’m tired.” Christina announces.
“You should bathe before bedtime,” Helena instructs.
“Can I do it tomorrow?"
“We’ve an early start if we’re to make it to the park before Myka’s departure."
“Why does Myka have to go? I just got here."
"She has work."
“She always has work. Can’t she stay?”
Helena looks at Myka and poses the same question with her eyes. Myka looks back and smiles.
“I could probably stay another day since the sale is off.”
“Yay!” Christina exclaims, grinning ear to ear. "Can we spar more?” she says, twisting towards Helena.
“Moments ago you proclaimed you were overly fatigued."
“I changed my mind."
Christina rolls off of Myka and drops to the floor with a thunk. She yanks on Helena’s hand.
“I’ll see if I can get the same flight out as them,” Myka says, lifting her legs so Helena can slide out from underneath.
Christina tugs Helena towards the bed then runs ahead and jumps on top. Helena turns at the bed’s threshold and looks back at Myka. As she holds Myka’s gaze her expression darkens, then brightens as if she’s caught herself showing something far too close to the bone.
“I’m pleased you’ve decided to stay,” she says, sounding as if it were a heavily debated issue. Christina throws her arms around Helena’s middle and Helena turns, reinitiating their grapple.
Myka’s triumphant change of ticket leads to a leisurely morning, though it was Claudia’s connections that saved the day. After an unsuccessful call to the airline and a few feigned tears from Christina, Helena suggested Myka contact Claudia and ask for help. Myka said she'd try again as Claudia was out with friends, but Helena vetoed the option and called Claudia herself. A flurry of texts later, Myka's ticket was miraculously changed. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief and promptly went to bed.
Their amended schedule begins with a return to the crepe restaurant as Christina’s desperate for Myka’s opinion. Next, several busses are then ridden, top deck only, right at the front, allowing hours worth of birds-eye views of the city. Then, after a journey up a never-ending hill, they disembark in a parking lot and wander towards a terra-cotta and yellow-ochre bricked building with a sizable rosette window.
“Where are we?” Myka asks, hardly able to take in the entirety of the place, her gaze hanging on its high arched glass roof.
“Alexandra Palace,” Helena says. "Ally Pally for short."
“Ally Pally. That’s funny,” Christina says, her head bobbing as she mimics her mother’s accent.
"Built by the Victorians as a center of recreation, it became home to the BBC Television Services in their early years. That massive antenna sent out the first reliable 'high definition' television signals in the world.”
Everyone stops in their tracks and tilts their head back to take in the structure.
“Can we climb up it?” Christina asks.
“No need. The far end of the park boasts sweeping views of the city.”
“It'd be cool if we could.”
“Agreed,” Helena says and smiles at Christina. "I thought we’d take in the exhibition of historical television equipment, and afterward, nip over to the duck pond and rent a boat.” She nods toward a clump of trees on the other side of the parking lot.
“There’s boats?” Christina says, her face lighting up.
“So that's what the bread’s for,” Myka says, pointing to a bag sticking out of Helena’s tote.
“Or, possibly a light snack if no ducks are available,” Helena says, pushing the bag of bread down in the bag.
“Bread is junk food for ducks,” Christina says.
“Is it? Bread's been fed to ducks for centuries, yet now it's an issue?” Helena says.
“We learned that in school. I brought lettuce for our field trip to the park."
“I remember that. I ran out to buy some the night before,” Myka adds.
Helena sighs. “Then we’ll feed the ducks sparingly. We wouldn’t want to perpetuate duck obesity problems." She takes hold of Christina’s hand and looks over at Myka. “Shall we?” she asks, and Myka nods. Christina motions for Myka's hand and Myka takes it, and they walk towards the entrance together.
They explore every accessible nook and cranny of the Palace and sneak a peek at the newly reconstructed Grand Willis Organ before wandering back outside towards the duck pond. Much to Christina’s delight, there's a choice between traditional row boats and fanciful paddle ones, and a heated debate ensues. Helena’s logic wins out in the end—when would they ever pilot a dragon?—and she and Christina man the helm. Christina paddles until her legs give out then Myka moves to the front to fill in.
"How do you know about this place?" Myka asks. "It's pretty far from the city center."
"I'd come here often when I was finishing school. It was calming to sit and study by the pond."
A half an hour later, they dock the boat and secure a bench facing the lake. Helena pulls the bread out and hands a few slices to Christina. Christina runs off toward a cluster of coots, moorhens, and mallards gathered by the water's edge.
“Junk food be damned,” Helena says as she watches Christina throw bread at the ducks with abandon. “Speaking of sustenance, we should think about lunch.”
“We have time,” Myka says, scooting closer to Helena, threading their arms together. “It’s so nice to not feel rushed. Can we stay like this forever?”
“I certainly hope so, one day.”
“I don’t want to go back,” Myka says, leaning into Helena.
“Nor do I want you to. I rue being left on my own, twiddling my thumbs until your next visit.”
“You could meet up with Wooly. That might be fun.”
“Fun,” Helena repeats and angles her head, so her lips nearly touch Myka’s ear. “The ‘fun’ I’d rather pursue resembles our night together after the bar.”
“That was fun,” Myka says, her pulse quickening at the thought. She skims her fingers over Helena’s shoulder where her teeth left a mark. “I wish I hadn’t had so much to drink.”
“I wish I hadn’t either.”
“You were drinking at work?”
“Shirley slipped a shot on that tray for table four, and I may have partaken previous to your arrival."
"I was genuinely worried you’d not show.”
The trepidation in Helena’s eyes hits Myka squarely in the gut; she cups Helena jaw and guides their lips together. “You shouldn’t have been,” she says, stroking Helena’s cheek, then kissing her again, relieved to hear Helena was out of sorts that evening, too.
"Perhaps Christina could sleep in Claudia’s room tonight so we may have a moment alone.”
“I’d like that,” Myka says and shifts to rest her head on Helena’s shoulder. Helena lifts her arm and circles it around Myka, and they watch Christina throw bread as far out as she can.
“She seems happy,” Myka says.
“As am I,” Helena says, hugging Myka closer.
“I wish we could stay. All of us."
“Are we still working towards Christmas?"
“I’m not sure I can swing it with just the Italians."
“I’ll speak with Mrs. Frederic. Perhaps she can offer you a place in the—" Helena’s phone rings. She slips it out of her pocket and glowers at the screen. “Speak of the devil,” she grumbles and taps to accept. “Yes," she says and untangles herself from Myka. She listens for a moment then rises and steps away.
“I’m aware of that, but I’ve…what about…” Helena looks at Myka and rolls her eyes. “I can’t not be there…no…yes…fine,” Helena huffs, her face scrunching up as she listens. “Crystal,” she says before hanging up. She looks down at her phone and sighs.
“What was that about?" Myka asks.
“Nothing I’m at liberty to say."
Christina comes running up from the side. “Can we go see the kite?" She points to the horizon beyond the palace.
“Kite? I see nothing but cumulus clouds.”
“It was there, a minute ago. We have to find it!” Christina grabs Helena’s hand and pulls her towards the parking lot.
“Ducks are clearly passé,” Helena quips, looking back at Myka with a smile. “Onwards,” she says, and nods.
Myka gathers their bags and dutifully trails behind. As she catches up, an enormous box kite appears in the sky and dotted below, several smaller kites. She leans into the fence at the top of the hill and watches Helena’s lips lift into a small smile.
“Lovely, aren’t they?” Helena says without taking her eyes from the kites.
“Beautiful,” Myka says.
“There’s a cat!” Christina yelps and points to cat head with a glittering, fluttering tail.
“So free,” Myka says.
They stand in silence, watching the kites dance and dip across the bright blue sky. Everyone gasps when one takes a nosedive.
“The wind gives the appearance the kite is free, but its string controls its movements. One tug and it's grounded in an instant.” Helena glances at the person flying the kite, then over at Myka. “You are my wind,” she says, placing her hand on Myka’s shoulder. “Both of you.” She looks down at Christina and lays her other hand on her back.
“Who’s your string?” Myka asks but wishes she didn’t as Helena's smile withers.
“Can we go down to there?” Christina asks, her gaze fixated on the bottom of the hill.
“Certainly,” Helena says. “And perhaps we’ll find lunch nearby.” She picks up the bags Myka carried over from the bench and turns toward Myka. “Would you mind terribly if we discuss Christmas at a later date? I’d very much like to ignore the fact you’re all leaving tomorrow for as long as possible.”
The cheerfulness from earlier seems to have left Helena’s tone, though it’s obvious she’s trying to keep things light. Myka imagines the call was the culprit, that Mrs. Frederic is Helena's string, and whatever it was they discussed kicked her out of her happy place.
“We’ll talk later,” Myka says, and kisses Helena to drive the point home.
They walk towards the stairs then Christina takes off, barreling down the grassy hill.
“Slow down!" Helena scolds.
Christina slows for a moment, then carries on exactly as before.
Helena hands the bags to Myka. “That’s my girl,” she says, “no string." She runs after Christina and tackles her, both tumbling onto the grass, laughing.
Myka tears up a little, thinking whatever Helena's gotten herself into, it has to work out, because this is their future.
Sorry, this took so long to post, but when I dove in again to do a second full edit there were a lot of edits to be done. My first draft was a total mess! (In my defense, I think I posted it on Tumblr when I had the stomach flu last year. A shoddy excuse, but...) This reads better, but is still a little floaty + I'm sure there are some typos, sorry! (There always is, I know, but I do try. My slight dyslexia makes me a bad proofreader.) Anyway, details are beginning to unfold and will continue from now on, the plot thickening as we go.
Upon Myka's return from abroad, the lack of the push of the sale makes it difficult to ease back into her life again. Without a clear path to London, having time on her hands feel wrong, so much so Helena’s action plan, while controversial, seems more and more viable.
The last night of their trip, their "alone time" was thwarted by Claudia already having plans with friends. They instead cuddled with Christina until she fell asleep in bed then moved to the couch and cuddled together. A steamy make-out session soon commenced and continued for quite some time until it was mutually acknowledged they could go no further clothed. Myka laid her head on Helena's chest while Helena stroked her fingers through her curls and as they lounged, an all-consuming bliss flowed between them.
“I’ve been looking into schools for Christina, and flats near said schools,” Helena said, quietly, as if she knew she was impinging on Myka’s buzz.
“You have?” Myka said, tilting her head back and angling her eyes up to meet Helena's.
“Imagine waking up next to each other in our very own bed.”
“Heavenly,” Myka hummed and snuggled close.
“I spoke briefly with Claudia, and we've devised a plan. I'll use the money I saved to bring you and Christina over. It’s of little use stagnating in a box and Claudia believes she can render it transferrable."
“But that's Christina's college fund."
“There's plenty of time to replenish it before she's off.”
There were a number of things Myka wanted to say then, ranging from, “why didn’t we do that in the first place,” to “yet another thing to go wrong," but Helena continued before she had a chance.
"No more running yourself ragged, remedying my follies. I could support you while you’re finding your feet. And with London as your hub, you’ll source new contacts easily. Your art will thrive, and we'll follow you wherever your travels take you."
“In your dreams," Myka said, smirking coyly, reaching up and patting Helena’s cheek.
“Mind you, not to the extent of Pedram and his wife, but as much as I could manage. And who knows the bounties my future may hold.”
“Where’s all this positivity coming from?”
“From having you near,” Helena answered. She slid Myka’s hand over her lips and kissed the palm. “I’m sick to death of others controlling my circumstances. It’s high time I steered my own ship. For you, for us, for all our futures.”
“But the appeal. You're not worried?” Helena's ideas were plausible, but her sense of excitement was tinted with unease. There must be a snag somewhere.
“Terrified. But I refuse to wave it around as an excuse any longer. You’re what matters to me. Both of you. And for this to work, we must work together. I’ve been sorely lacking in that respect, and it’s completely unacceptable.”
“You're being too hard on yourself." Myka curled closer to Helena, glad she was opening up but sorry they'd lost the intimacy from a few moments ago.
“I'm afraid not. I've been delusional, convinced my associations with Mrs. Frederic would shorten my sentence. There's nothing to be done except move forward. And I do want to move forward.”
Myka wants to move forward too. While Helena's positivity, in the moment, was comforting, she hopes the feeling lasts until they see each other again.
Myka’s first day back in the office, there’s a buzz in the air.
“Hey, Leena," she says as she pops her head in Leena’s office.
“Myka, you’re back!”
“So are you! Everyone’s excited.”
“That's the baby they're excited about. She was here for a minute this morning and charmed the pants off of them.” Leena taps her phone then hands it to Myka. On screen is a photo of Leena, her smile positively glowing, watching Vanessa play with her child. The kid herself the cutest thing Myka’s ever seen, so she can see how charmed everyone must have been.
“Sorry I missed her.”
“She’ll be back, sooner rather than later."
Myka's mouth opens to respond, but a smooth segue eludes her. Christina-aged kid banter she can manage, but small talk about babies not so much.
"Come in. I haven’t seen you in forever."
Myka steps into the room and sits across from Leena.
"How are you?”
“Things are…ok. 'Eventful’ for short.” It's been months since she's seen Leena, how much detail should she go into?
“Something's changed. Definitely." Leena squints while studying a point beyond Myka's head. Myka turns but sees nothing of interest.
“Not behind, above you. I'm studying your aura."
"My what?" Myka swings back to face Leena.
"Your aura. It used to be pinkish-red, but now it's yellow, with a big brown streak down the middle."
“Is that bad?" Myka angles her eyes up but sees no change in color. She respects Leena, a lot, even looks up to her as a mentor, but she'd never struck her as someone with new-age leanings.
“Not the best. A little brown is ok, even expected, but this..." Leena waves a finger as if scribbling over something. "...is coloring everything.”
“Should I aim for pinkish-red again?”
“No. There should be more of a spectrum.”
“Spectrum. Right,” Myka says, rolling her eyes around, wishing she could see what Leena sees.
“I sense you’re overwhelmed, but change, for you, is good. Use this as is an opportunity to find balance. Work on coaxing the colors apart."
“How?” Myka looks back at Leena, who is now grinning like a doctor about to say something she doesn't want to hear.
“Do more things for yourself. Things that aren’t work-related. Something out of the ordinary, with Christina, or go out with friends.”
Myka snorts. “If I still have any."
“Everyone’s busy in New York. Give them a ring."
"I promised Christina we’d take cooking classes, so there’s that.”
"That's good. Very good. Take a few days off now that I'm back."
"That would be...amazing. Are you sure?"
"Positive." Leena looks above Myka's head again and smiles. "The brown's clearing."
Myka looks up but sees nothing, but she’ll take Leena’s word.
“Take this reprieve in stride and care for yourself,” Helena suggested one evening when Myka sounded particularly lost over the phone. Helena's words mirrored Leena's, and combined with Leena’s pep talk, gave her the push she needed to follow through.
She got in touch with Amanda, who happened to be in town for the week, and they met up several times. Amanda was more entertaining than overbearing, though she talked mostly about herself, but the familiarity in their exchanges reminded Myka she had a life before her situational bubble.
Abigail came to stay for a weekend, and her visit was particularly welcome, prompting Myka's first day of leisure since Helena's departure. Christina tagged along, and they toured galleries and walked the High Line, then meandered through the West and East Village until reaching home. Claudia then took over parenting duties so Myka and Abigail could catch up, and Myka an Abigail hopped on the subway to Brooklyn.
They dined near Myka's apartment, and as they waited for their main course, Abigail pressed for details about Myka's trip. Myka was careful, at first, not to disclose sensitive information, but lost sight halfway through their second bottle of wine.
“You keep coming back to the fact Helena’s secretive about her past,” Abigail said.
“Do I? I thought I was better about that.”
“Compared to when?”
“Before this trip.”
“It didn’t bother you this much before your trip. This trip revealed a lot.”
“About you both and the way you deal with relationships.”
“Not very well,” Myka mumbled. She twirled the stem of her glass and took a generous sip of wine.
“You’ve both been through major, life-changing events in a very short time. To me, it sounds like you’re starting to come together as a couple.”
“I guess we are. But what about all the stuff I told you that I shouldn't have?”
“Don’t let it overwhelm you. Sure, Helena’s deflecting, but it’s a defense mechanism to cope with change. Keep prodding her; she’ll eventually open up. In the meantime, be proactive. Look for clues she left behind.”
“You mean talk to other people?”
“For a start. Or anything else you can think of.”
“There’s this box of photos and journals at Claudia’s she said I could look through, but I hated to do it when she wasn’t here.”
“She gave you permission, so you have access to her past without her being present.”
“Think about it, then let me know how I can help."
Myka, the ever the diligent researcher, accepts Abigail’s challenge and soon begins her own investigation into Helena's past.
Liam and Steve are her first subjects as they're the easiest to access. She asks questions after school, sipping tea at their kitchen table while Christina and Erica play in the background.
"None of us really know what she went through as a kid. Maybe that’s the key,” Steve says.
“It always felt like she was proving herself to someone, but I’m not sure who. Herself, her family, society...it never quite added up,” Liam says.
They discuss Helena until dinnertime, but they’ve only known her a few years, so nothing particularly enlightening is revealed. But they all agree the path Helena's taken, work-wise, is an odd one, especially with Claudia around, and they think there's more behind Helena's decisions than she's telling.
She next enlists Claudia's help to sort through Helena’s journals and photos, diving in deeper than their earlier peruse.
Myka thumbs through Helena’s journals while Claudia spreads the photos across the bed, arranging them chronologically. As images fall into place, and much to Myka’s dismay, none are from London.
Claudia searches for more images on her computer while Myka scours Helena’s entries. Most are unreadable, scribbly messes until Claudia acts as translator. As Helena mentioned, there are few personal notes, and she finds only the occasional reference to a social life. One entry piques her interest, dated near when she and Claudia went to the festival, but try as she might she can’t decipher what it says.
“Who the heck is X?” Myka says, handing the notebook to Claudia.
Claudia squints at the tiny letters, then reads the entry out loud.
“X left to...uh, I think it says, 'follow her destiny’...yeah, that sounds like H.G....without a word of parting. Henceforth, I’ll not...muolve, no, involve myself with another in such a way again."
Claudia flips through the next few pages, looking for more entries. “That’s it?”
“As far as I can tell.”
Claudia studies the page. “This code we wrote together, so this Ms. X bit was written later. I have no idea who she is."
“Weren’t you with her twenty-four seven?”
“Sure felt like it," Claudia mumbles while examining the text again. "But I was just a kid. I wasn't clued into stuff like that. You gotta ask her who it was."
Myka shakes her head. “She’ll say something wistful about youth and lost love then change the subject.”
“Then I’ll do it.” Claudia reaches for her phone, but Myka grabs her wrist.
“Let's not open old wounds just yet. It sounds like Ms. X was on her way out no matter what. I bet Helena didn’t deal with that very well.”
“H.G. was a total downer by the end of that semester. Lady love must have harshed her buzz.”
“She broke her heart. Which is interesting, in the scheme of things,” Myka says.
“Why? Chicks followed her around with puppy dog eyes all the time. But ‘part of her charm’ was she'd never 'give them the time of day.'"
“She was real snotty back then, on her high horse about everything. It was hil-arious at the time. You wouldn’t have liked her then.”
"I don’t doubt it."
"She's mellowed a lot, that’s for sure. But this chick breaking up with her must've pushed some buttons."
“It's just…there was the festival, right? And then, um…Christina happened.”
Claudia gasps. “You think she got pregnant to piss off Ms. X?”
“Not directly. She was hurting and careless, that's all," Myka says. She takes the journal back from Claudia and looks over the entry again. "What I don't understand is why she's never said anything. Whoever she is, she's long gone by now. It happened years ago.”
“'Feelings’ aren’t her thing.”
“Then like you said, her writing this down was a big deal.”
“Ok, sure. But why does matter now?”
Myka stares the page and tries to connect Ms. X to something tangible, but her mind comes up blank. “It doesn’t. I’m just…surprised.”
“Because she tells you everything?”
“Because she tells you everything.”
“Oh come on. I beat things out of her even now. You think things were different back then?”
"I don't know. Maybe," Myka answers, knowing full well Claudia's right.
Claudia scowls, and Myka looks away, then scans at the spread of photos on the bed.
"Let's clean up. I think we've done for today."
Myka picks up where she left off a few days later and revisits earlier tomes, searching meticulously for any further mention of Ms. X. When she finds none, nor any evidence of additional lovers, she concludes that down the line, Helena dating Giselle was a bigger deal than she'd implied. And then it hits her; she needs to talk to Giselle, as Giselle’s a reliable source of information.
There's precedent for small talk as Giselle occasionally asks about Helena the mornings she drops Christina off at school. But questions she wants to ask are not school-appropriate, so she musters up the courage to invite her out for coffee.
When the date arrives, Myka’s nervous beyond belief; why she ever thought this was a good idea is now a mystery to her. Giselle arrives on time and on the phone, speaking in Spanish faster than Myka can keep up with.
“Boys,” Giselle grunts, rolling her eyes as she hangs up. She sets her bag on the chair and rifles through, plucking out her wallet. “You want anything?”
“No, I’m good,” Myka answers and adds a small smile for lack of a better greeting.
Giselle nods and walks toward the counter.
Myka watches her flag down the barista and studies the swirl of tattoos poking out from her wide-necked top. They mimic the curls falling casually out of her updo, a departure from her usual tight bun at work, the coif dignified yet rebellious at the same time. Her wide belt, resting just above her hips, is studded, as are her boots, adding fuel to her punky aesthetic. But even in a loose t-shirt and tight jeans, she commands an air of authority, as the boy at the counter snaps to attention like her students.
“So...what’s up?” Giselle asks upon return, blowing on her drink as she sits. “Pretty ballsy of you, asking me out."
“Yeah, that’s me. Ballsy,” Myka says, flashing a shaky smile. More like crazy, she thinks, as she sips timidly on her latte.
“Something up with you and Helena?”
“No, we’re good, considering the circumstances.”
“She’s ok. We've visited twice, but it’s hard tearing them apart."
“It’s always hard on kids when their parents have visa problems. They think it’s their fault their parents left when they’ve done nothing wrong. I see it all the time, and it drives me nuts. She's lucky she's able to visit, as most kids can't.”
Giselle’s phone buzzes and she scowls at the screen. “Sorry, I…” She trails off while furiously tapping on letters.
Myka relaxes back into her chair; this is less awkward than she thought. But before complacency sets in, she better cut to the chase. She'd hate to blurt out something Giselle’s not privy to.
“So I wanted to ask, but you don’t have to answer,” Myka says as Giselle finishes up. “Why did you and Helena break up?”
“Having second thoughts?”
“No, it’s just...it sounded like she invested a lot in your relationship. Meeting your family must have been a big deal for her.”
"Ah, I get it. You want to introduce her to your folks, and you're worried it'll spook her."
"No, I...well, maybe." That day may never come, if she has any say in it, but it’s actually a good topic to talk through.
"She didn't have a choice with me. They’re nosy as hell and to be honest, I paraded her around like a prize. Not my finest moment,” Giselle says, then takes a generous sip of her beverage. “Have you talked to her about it?”
“I’ve tried, but…you know how she explains things, and you don’t realize until later that she didn’t really explain anything at all?”
“She was like that with you?”
“I figured it was a self-preservation thing because I was such a hot...mess.” Giselle looks at her phone as it buzzes again. “Damn it,” she mutters and grabs the device.
“What went wrong?” Myka prods.
Giselle glances up, then sends a quick text, and takes a second to compose herself before answering.
“I pushed too hard, too fast. Helena nursed me through some tough times, but...you know how she has a thing for damsels in distress?"
"I, um, guess?"
"So when you came along, I was like, ’there she goes again.’ But it’s different with you. With you, she fell hard."
“She loved you, too. She was going to move in with you."
“That was never going to happen. It was a rumor we started to piss off Fernando. There’s no way she’d leave that shitty apartment for me.”
"So you weren't going to marry her so she wouldn't be deported?"
Giselle stiffens in her chair. “Where’d you hear that?”
“S-Steve and Liam."
Giselle scowls in a way that makes Myka genuinely scared about proceeding.
“I-I'm sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“Water under the bride," Giselle says and waves a dismissive hand. She looks off into the distance, and Myka wishes she hadn't brought it up.
"Hang in there, mija," Giselle says, the words sounding as if they're more for herself than Myka. "If anyone can get through to her, it's you. And Christina thinks the world of you, which is half of the battle.”
“I think the world of her, too."
“You've got something special, you two. I’m rooting for you."
Another text pops up, and Giselle grunts disapprovingly at her screen. “Gotta jet,” she says. "But some advice. If you decide to have kids, don’t have boys. Unless you want an ulcer."
Giselle downs the rest of her coffee and gathers her bag, then taps call on her phone. She leaves as she entered, shouting at someone on the other end, but waving goodbye to Myka as she goes.
Kids with Helena? Would Helena want more? It’s not something she'll bring up voluntarily, probably ever.
As days stretch into weeks, a well-worn pattern emerges, one that rebuilds Myka's sense of self. She shares Christina duties with Claudia as before, but keeps on top of after-school activities and enrolls she and Christina in a one-day cooking workshop. She’s even carved out time to paint, sometimes at Claudia’s, but mostly in Brooklyn and occasionally brings Christina along to stay the night. Either way, she’s pleased her art’s become a priority again as her show in Warsaw is quickly approaching.
It's been hard to connect with Helena, but not for lack of trying; Helena's schedule's packed beyond belief. She's working overtime at the bar to earn time off for Thanksgiving, and between that and school, she's scrambling from dawn until midnight.
When they have connected, it’s been upbeat and open, and things feel like they're finally moving in the right direction. Helena approached Mrs. Frederic about finding a place for Myka on her team and has even disclosed what she can about the appeal. She always manages a goodnight call to Christina, no matter the circumstances, even while music's pumping in the background at the bar.
Everything was chugging along fine until one night, after Christina was asleep, Claudia arrived home guns blazing.
“Dude, you were right! You’re never going to believe this,” Claudia barges into the room and drops down on the couch next to Myka. She yanks out her laptop and clicks away on keys, then flashes a self-satisfied grin while handing it to Myka.
“What am I looking at exactly?” Myka says, shaking her head.
“Waay in the back,” Claudia says and clicks a combination of keys to enlarge the photo.
Myka leans closer to the screen. The photo looks like it's at an auction house, but she’s unsure which one. “That looks like Mrs. Frederic. And Theodora, the woman I met with in Italy."
“Look who’s standing next to her.”
Myka studies the pixellated woman, her face in three-quarter view with her back turned. A black baseball cap covers her brownish-blonde hair, but her jawline seems familiar. She reads the caption for confirmation of identity but finds only a date.
“That can’t be her. This is from seven years ago."
Claudia minimizes that photo clicks on another. Myka's insides cringe at the same dark blonde staring back at her.
“Who’s Janis Eisner?"
“Right?” Claudia bounces in her seat. "So I kept digging, using facial recognition software, and maaaybe hacking a firewall or twelve."
“I’m a big girl. I covered my tracks." Claudia taps on keys, and as a new page loads, Myka’s stomach knots.
"Morgana Kurlansky? No way. That’s got to be fake.” Myka leans towards the screen and reads the text closely.
“It’s legit. From Interpol’s database."
"Do you think Helena knows?"
“How’d she get that job again?"
“She’d overheard someone at school talking about being understaffed."
“Sketchy, but not totally whack. Maybe Babezilla’s keeping an eye on her."
“Why? Helena's already cooperating with Mrs. Frederic."
"Maybe she’s keeping an eye on both of them."
“Oh..." Myka's eyes widen as she looks at Claudia. Could Helena's meetings with Mrs. Frederic be considered shady by the authorities? Or is Mrs. Frederic in under surveillance because she's using Helena for information? “Sally said she thought Mrs. Frederic was up to something. She said she was close to figuring it out."
“Figuring out what?"
“Something big if Interpol’s involved.” Myka stares at the woman pictured, internalizing in her sober, confrontational gaze. Whatever's going on, Helena better not be in more trouble with the law.
“One more thing. And this one's kinda wild,” Claudia says, clicking on another image. “Morgana Kurlansky was at Stanford around the time we were. Her transcript says she was on a cross-enrollment ROTC scholarship, so she took a bunch of classes at Berkley. She joined the Navy; then, I guess skipped over to Interpol.”
There, on the screen, is a young Bonnie Belski, smiling brightly on her Stanford ID.
“D-Did Helena know her? Could they have been…could she be...” Myka can’t even say it out loud. Her hand slowly rises to cover her mouth, her heart sinking further than before.
Claudia tilts her head, mulling it over. “It’s possible, I guess, but I don’t think we would have crossed paths. She graduated before we did and it’s a pretty big school. Plus we lived in our lab.”
“Right,” Myka says, still staring at the photo.
“Should we warn H.G.?”
“Warn her about what? That we think Bonnie’s spying on her?”
“If I told her I told you about her meetings with Mrs. Frederic, she’d never trust me again.”
“Good point,” Claudia says, fishing a thumb drive out of her bag and sticking it in a port. “I’ll give you this stuff to look over.”
Myka's phone rings and she jumps. She doesn’t recognize the number but picks up anyway, still stunned by all this information.
“H-Hello?” she says and slides her computer towards Claudia, stiffening as the caller speaks. “Mrs. Frederic?”
Mrs. Frederic gets right to the point, giving only the necessary details, telling Myka more is forthcoming in an email.
“I understand,” Myka says, nodding as if Mrs. Frederic could see her. The call ends as abruptly as it began.
“What’s up?” Claudia asks, yanking her memory stick from Myka’s computer.
“I’m on a red-eye to Berlin tomorrow. I’m back on the sale."
This is slightly more nuanced than when I posted it on Tumblr last year. The gist is the same but hopefully, it reads better overall.
In an inverse act of physics, the rain beats harder as Myka's car stops, the fog covering its windows so dense she can barely see through. She wipes a circle clean with her hand and sees two figures approaching at a rapid clip, both carrying oversized umbrellas but still struggling to stay dry. One joins the driver as he hops out and circles around back, and the other opens Myka's door and accompanies her towards the Schloss.
Her destination was an hour outside Berlin, but she barely noticed the trip as her nose was firmly planted in her files the entire time. So much had changed since she was dropped, it was unbelievable, and she needed to read up on her competition throughly. Even more troubling was the person officiating hadn’t yet been disclosed, but Mrs. Frederic said they'd deal with that once she arrived.
During their brief conversation, Mrs. Frederic said that no one, including Helena, must know she's replacing her at the sale. Arriving unannounced would give them a tactical edge she felt they needed. But she had to tell Claudia because of her obligations to Christina. They concocted an airtight excuse, in the meantime, for when Helena calls to check in.
Her bags are taken elsewhere as she’s whisked down a hall and deposited in a room off of a larger chamber. She’s offered tea, which she politely declines, too nervous to drink. The porter hands her a towel and apologizes for the damp weather, then says to take a seat, someone would be with her shortly.
She blots her wet skin as she circles the room, touching surfaces as she goes: a marble table top, a porcelain vase, a walnut credenza. As she passes a garden-facing window, an enormous, sagging tent catches her eye. She stops and studies it, noting it strains in the rain to stay upright. The antiquity must inside, and the humidity wreaking havoc. Something that large must be difficult to climate control.
“Are you accompanying Mrs. Frederic?” a woman asks, her accent somewhat British, but more continental.
“No, I’m replacing her,” Myka answers and turns around. She gasps at who she sees and stumbles back until her hip hitting the window sill stops her.
“I see,” the woman says, a stern look of disapproval boring through Myka's soul. “If you’ll kindly wait here, I must speak my colleague.”
Myka manages a small nod and grips the windowsill to stay standing. Bonnie never once turned up in her research, so why is she here?
Bonnie turns to leave and pushes open a door. As she does, there’s a thwack and an “Ow!” Another person shoulders past, head bent down, hand covering their nose.
“You’ve certainly made a grand entrance, Irene,” they say, their words slightly muffled. "As if everyone wasn’t riled up enough you’d be attending in person.”
The woman lifts her eyes, and as her gaze meets Myka's, her hand falls to her side, and a drop of blood drips onto her shirt. Myka's heart freezes, then pounds out of her chest, and she shuffles back, until her her calves press into the cool surface of the wall.
The woman’s dark hair is pinned up in a bun, and she’s wearing black-rimmed glasses, but rest of her presentation is intimately familiar to Myka.
“Did you know about this?” Helena barks at Bonnie.
“Obviously not.” Bonnie scowls coldly.
Helena glowers and pinches the bridge of her nose.
Myka looks between Helena and Bonnie, heart racing, hands beginning to shake. Her legs tremble as she shuffles awkwardly towards a chair. Helena rushes toward her to help, but Myka shoots her a frosty glare. Helena stops a pace away as Myka sits.
“I can explain after I make some calls,” Helena says.
Myka doesn't respond, just glares, in shock.
“You must be exhausted from your trip,” Helena says, in a tone meant to be comforting. She looks at Bonnie. "Take her through to the luncheon before the showing.”
Bonnie stiffens, clearly affronted by Helena's request and Helena narrows her eyes.
“As you wish,” Bonnie says, and hands Helena a towel.
“Make sure she’s taken care of,” Helena snips, and presses the towel to her nose. She looks back at Myka, and her eyes soften. “It seems we've all been thrown to the lions ill-prepared. I’ll be giving Irene an earful."
Myka's eyes flick down to Helena's shirt, she can't look her in the eye. She fixates on the drop of blood soaking into the silk. “Y-You have some…” Her finger shakes as she points.
Helena lifts the towel and looks down. “Brilliant. Highlight of an already cocked up day." She scowls at Bonnie. "Help her settle in while I change.”
Bonnie cocks a brow and Helena takes her leave. Myka watches the door swing closed, still dumbfounded by the situation.
“Would you care to freshen up before lunch?” Bonnie asks. She's polite, but there's an edge there, one that says Myka's not welcome.
“I, um...” If she goes to her room now, she might never come out again. “No.”
“Then follow me,” Bonnie says, and turns to leave.
“Wait. Who are you?” Myka asks, standing up as if pulled by Bonnie’s inertia.
Bonnie looks over her shoulder and sweeps eyes her over Myka's form. She turns around and extends a hand, smiling an unnervingly businesslike smile. “Bonnie Belski, liaison to the seller.”
Myka looks at the hand but doesn’t shake it. “I thought you owned a bar in London?”
“And 'Viondra Moore'?”
Bonnie's lips lift at the ends, and the corners of her eyes crinkle in amusement. “Hobby.”
Myka huffs a short laugh and shakes her head. "How long have you been involved in this?"
The mirth drains from Bonnie’s expression. “We must keep moving to stay on schedule. Are you in or out?”
“In,” Myka says, more determined than ever to show this woman she can play ball.
“Then follow me."
Myka’s ushered to a table at the back of a stately hall and seated in front of a plate full of food.
“Bon appetit,” Bonnie says, with little enthusiasm, then makes her way across the room. People swarm towards her as she walks, abandoning their laptops and papers, asking a slew of questions all at once.
Myka calls Mrs. Frederic, but the line goes straight to voicemail, so she leaves a message explaining Helena’s brokering the sale. She does her best to sound level-headed, but suggests it's logistically a problem, then assures her she can work through it, no matter the circumstances.
Did Mrs. Frederic insist she tell no one because she knew Helena would be here? It's hard to believe Helena could pull this over on her since they've been talking. Plus Mrs. Frederic always knows everything, so maybe she found out last-minute and freaked. But sending her in blind is a weird a strategic move. Hopefully, Mrs. Frederic will tell her what's really going on, now that she's here. She has so many questions to ask when they talk.
And then there's Bonnie, "babezilla," the marble statue running the show. Why has she never turned up in her research even once? Mrs. Frederic must know her since they’ve been present at events together and she's been to Mrs. Frederic's gallery several times. Or maybe not, as they weren't talking, just in proximity to each other. Maybe the notoriously private seller is the connection, but she’d not sure how. There must be an angle, and she needs to puzzle it out, and fast.
Bonnie as she announces something to the group, then suddenly, and all eyes are upon her. She makes a quick survey of faces, then tucks into her food, hoping to avoid further scrutiny.
Someone walks by, and she feels their eyes upon her. She looks up, it's Helena, but she doesn't meet her gaze. Helena continues walking and takes Bonnie to the side. Bonnie's face turns even stonier as they talk.
Helena's heels are higher than usual, but Bonnie still towers over her, looking the embodiment of class in a white Chanel suit. Helena’s changed into an identical shirt and has donned a fitted jacket, one that matches her dark trousers. Myka recognizes the cut but can't recall the label; it's definitely beyond what Helena can afford. Did she buy it for the sale or did Bonnie buy it for her? The thought makes her stomach turn, and she sets down her fork.
“Ladies and Gentleman,” Helena says, turning to face the room. “We sincerely apologize for the delay. Due to an unexpected change of personage, a conflict of interest has arisen. Therefore, I'll be presenting all offers to Ms. Belski anonymously."
A collective gasp fills the room and calls are made immediately. Helena and Bonnie make a beeline to Myka’s table.
“Quite a wrench you’ve thrown into the works,” Helena says, taking a seat across from her. “They were hoping their employer's reputations would hold some clout. But now..." Helena drags a finger over her throat as if slitting it. "Was this your plan all along?”
“Yours and Mrs. Frederic’s.”
“You know as much as me. Probably more.” Myka narrows her eyes, then looks down at Helena's hand, tucked under her collar, rubbing the spot where her locket usually hangs. Her locket isn't present, but she is wearing a ring, one she hasn’t seen her wear since they very first met.
"Why are you here?” Myka asks.
Helena stills her hand. “Apparently, my reputation precedes me.” She looks up at Bonnie.
“The seller was owed a favor, and they’re collecting,” Bonnie states.
“How long have you known? Since that phone call, at the hotel?” Myka asks Helena.
“The particulars are of no consequence—” Bonnie answers.
“Yesterday. As you claim you were," Helena interrupts.
“Perhaps you were never taken off the sale.”
“Why would I lie? I would never lie."
“Oh, how quaint. A lover’s spat. So looking forward to more,” Bonnie grumbles. “We’ve no time for this, Emily. Do your job."
"Emily?" Myka says, eyes wide with confusion.
Helena takes a deep breath to compose herself then stands and smooths down her jacket. She squares her stance and looks Myka in the eye.
“Emily Lake, broker of this grand extravaganza. If you’ll kindly follow me, Ms. Bering, I’ll escort you and the group to the tent.”
Myka's funneled through a protected gangway with the other attendees, silently fuming as she stares at the back of Helena’s head. She's kicked out of her brooding when a buyer introduces themselves, sizing her up as she should be of them. But it’s difficult to concentrate when the love of your life is three heads away and working for the wrong side of the deal.
Helena pauses at a zippered doorway, and the group gathers around.
“Before we enter, some words of caution. Details of the item housed here should not be shared with anyone, save your employers. Photos are strictly prohibited, as are any public postings. Severe consequences will be imposed upon anyone who disregards these rules. I'd do everything in your power to abide by them,” Helena says, raising her voice to be heard over the din of rain.
“Ripped from its home in St. Petersburg and reconstructed in East Prussia, Allied bombs were said to have destroyed it entirely during the war. Rumors of its removal for safekeeping inspired generations searches with little return. Hidden bunkers and buried train cars came up empty. It was recently found hidden where no one imaged to look, in crates built into walls of a structure being restored. The item's condition is remarkable considering the circumstances. Please take your time and evaluate it thoroughly."
She unzips a white vinyl door and pulls it aside, holding out a hand to usher the group in. "Without further ado, may I present to you, the eighth wonder of the world, the Yantarnaya Komnata, also known as The Amber Room.”
Bonnie enters first, and her staff after, each pairing with a buyer as they step through the door. As Myka passes Helena, she scowls, and Helena looks away. But her negative feelings subside the minute she's inside the tent.
A massive scaffolding supports multiple panels tiled together in both length and height, recreating the grand volume of the room. Its gold is dulled, and it’s amber muted, but its opulent Russian Baroque grandeur is intact. Cherubs peering down at her are too numerous to count and the variations in amber filigree exhaustive beyond measure. Were the sconces lit, the room's orange and brown hues would dry the humid air, their radiant warmth already evident, affecting her on a physical level.
“This is, of course, is the original artwork from the early 18th century, designed by Andreas Schlüter and crafted by amber masters from Danzig,” Helena explains.
“Does it contain all the panels, including the ones left out of its installation in Koenigsberg?” a woman asks.
“And the damage?” a man asks, inspecting a section with a magnifying glass.
“We’ve done nothing but a light cleaning. Damage and subsequent repairs are prior to the crates being opened.”
“Where’s the floor?” Myka asks.
“To your right,” Helena says. Everyone turns toward a platform hovering off the ground, displaying wooden panels with intricate parquet patterns. “Ladders have been provided for your convenience, so please, inspect the goods closely. Bonnie and I have matters to discuss, but in the interim, ask anyone in a green jacket for assistance.”
Buyers immediately pull out laptops and dial their bosses to consult, but Myka watches Helena and Bonnie converse. Helena talks more than Bonnie, gesticulating while explaining something of importance, then throws her hands into the air as the discussion comes to a halt. The display seems almost intimate, and she wonders how well they know each other, really. Then her ruminations are cut short by the buzzing of her phone.
“Mrs. Frederic,” Myka answers and promptly digs through her bag. She pulls out her computer and sees she’s five minutes behind schedule. Mrs. Frederic launches into work mode, asking a million specific questions, sending Myka scrambling across the room. She scrutinizes every detailed surface as others do the same, the vibe much like a mad dash in a scavenger hunt.
She's still typing when Mrs. Frederic ends their session, without the topic of Helena being discussed. It seems odd as she must have gotten her message, but maybe it's a non-issue. Mrs. Frederic will stop at nothing to win this deal.
“Times up,” an assistant announces, far too soon for anyone’s liking. “Please pack up and follow me. Except for Bertram Kelly. Emily will meet with you shortly.”
The group is swept back into the dining hall and told they’re welcome to work there or retire to their rooms. They'll be notified of their meeting times as soon as they are determined.
“Is there a schedule?” a woman asks.
“Not at the moment,” the assistant says. “But be ready when we get in touch.”
More games, Myka thinks. So many games. Time to regroup and figure out how to play to win.
Myka mentions both Helena and Bonnie in her notes and is disappointed when neither woman seems to be a problem for Mrs. Frederic. She's familiar with Bonnie, but has no particular opinion of her, except she's glad she's been kicked out of the negotiations. As for Helena, she said to be cautious, stating Helena's a skilled manipulator. Myka’s learning this in leaps and bounds, though she wishes it wasn’t in real time.
She sifts through Mrs. Frederic’s additions until her eyes begin to droop, then lies in bed, willing herself to relax. But the moment the sale fades, Helena’s presence rises, and she’s left puzzling out her involvement in the proceedings. Helena must have been strong-armed into this by Bonnie, but the question is why? What does Helena owe and to whom? And how soon will she have repaid them, or rather, how involved does she have to be?
If Bonnie is a cop, then what part is she playing and where do her loyalties lie? Maybe she's a dirty cop, working for Macpherson. Or no longer a cop at all, as Claudia’s documents weren't very recent. But no matter the option, she’s holding something over Helena’s head, something serious.
Who can she trust? She’s not sure anymore, but the truth is she’s not sure if she cares. Her gut says win the sale, take the commission then get back to her life, whatever that is after all of this is settled.
Her phone dings; dinner in ten minutes. She closes her eyes and sinks into her pillow. Last, one in the door, last to make a deal. She wishes she could get it over with sooner.
It’s nine-thirty when her number comes up, and by then Mrs. Frederic’s amended her notes three times. But she is ready, with a list of questions and tiers of offers guide her bid. She hopes staying businesslike will help her remain calm and keep the emotional damage at bay.
The rain has stopped, but the air is humid, and there’s light fog inside the tent. The moisture wreaked havoc with their generators, so the assistant accompanying her explained, but the humidity is finally waning. She spies Helena at the far end of the room, stationed alone at a table and Helena waves, beckoning her closer. As Myka approaches, she downs a tumbler of amber liquid.
“Welcome,” she says, rising from her chair. “I apologize for the late hour.”
Myka holds Helena's gaze, her eyes asking, "What's really going on? Why are you here?" Helena's look softens, registering Myka’s concerns, but she offers no answers. Helena's physical proximity calls to her, though she is both angry and confused. She takes a step closer and reaches out to tidy Helena's disheveled bun.
“Questions?” Helena says, stepping back, just out of Myka's reach.
Myka's jaw clenches as she drops her hand. “I have many,” she says as she slips her laptop out of her bag and pulls up her notes.
They talk business for quite some time, walking around the room, asking and answering questions, then settle into chairs where Helena was stationed previously. They formalize Mrs. Frederic’s offer, and as the proceedings wrap up, Helena grabs a bottle from the table and unscrews its cap.
Myka stares at the bottle, it’s quite expensive booze, and it has been a really long day. But the answers she yearned for seem no longer urgent, and this room is the wrong place to voice them. Now that she’s sitting down, she’s tired, plus there’s another day of this to go.
But the look Helena gives her convinces her to stay; it's the same one Christina uses to delay bedtime. “Ok,” she says, even if it's against her better judgment. Maybe a nightcap will numb her mind so she can sleep.
Helena pours a generous portion then hands it to Myka. She does so for herself and holds her glass out for a toast. “To the sale,” she says and clinks Myka's glass. She downs half its contents and rests it on the table.
“Name your price to fix this,” Helena says.
“Our personal issues."
“You want me to bid?”
Helena makes a noise between a snort and a laugh.
"Ok. Winning the sale," Myka answers then takes a small sip of her drink.
“I’ve no control over that. Or anything else, it seems, at the moment.”
“I can’t trust you.”
“You can. You always—“
“Emily, Bonnie would like a word,” A green-coated man announces from the door.
“Just a moment,” Helena says.
“She said now.”
Helena glares. “I’ve spent the last however many hours peddling her wares. I deserve a reprieve.”
“S-She said the boss wants a report.”
"At this hour?"
The assistant nods. His soldier-like posture adds gravity to his request, as does the fear of failure in his eyes.
Helena twirls her glass back and forth and studies the swirling liquid, then downs the contents all in one go. “Forgive me, fair lady, for it seems my time is not my own. Perhaps we can continue this discussion at a later date.” She wobbles as she rises and grabs the back of her chair. “If I may ask a favor? Might you refrain from enlightening Claudia of our predicament, as I’m currently not equipped to withstand her wrath.”
Myka nods, as she's of a similar mind.
"Thank you," Helena says and adds a small bow. She staggers slightly as she follows the assistant out of the room.
Myka looks at the bottle and sees it's nearly empty. What exactly has Helena gotten herself into that she’d drink that much bourbon?
Myka finishes editing her notes around midnight, then showers and readies herself for bed. She then lies, wide awake, questions swirling in her head. She’s angry at being deceived, but there’s no fighting how much she’s missed Helena. Being near her without touching her drives her crazy, and she aches for logical answers.
She’d sneak out to find her but the building is sprawling, and there’s no guarantee she’s even staying in this wing. She debates texting, then does anyway, and assumes Helena's passed out when she gets no response. She breathes deep, calming breaths but her brain keeps on churning on anyway. Maybe a walk to clear her mind. She rises and gets dressed.
As she roams, she descends a staircase, then walks through a foyer and into the dining hall. It's empty except for Helena and Bonnie, sitting far too close to each other, at the opposite end of the room. They converse over laptops and papers then Helena rises and reaches for a document. She looks up in the process and notices Myka staring from the doorway. She says something to Bonnie, then zig-zags through the tables to meet her.
“You should be resting,” Helena says.
“How can I?” Myka answers, crossing her arms over her chest.
“May we talk.”
“Do you have Czar Belski’s permission?”
Helena huffs a short laugh. “Sit with me.” She pulls out a chair and sits. Myka does the same.
“I apologize for earlier, of accusing you of foul play. I was playing my part, but it was uncalled for.”
"Isn't it obvious?"
“No," Myka says, narrowing her eyes.
Helena breathes a heavy sigh and looks down at the table.
“What have you gotten yourself into?”
“Once I fulfill what is owed, I’ll be free.”
“Free from what?”
Helena glances over her shoulder at Bonnie, and Bonnie taps her wrist as if she were wearing a watch.
“Obligations,” she says and looks back at Myka.
“So you weren’t meeting Mrs. Frederic about the appeal.”
“I was. And still am.”
“Then why are you here? I don’t understand. I don’t know anything about you, do I?”
“You do. You know me better than anyone else.” Helena reaches across the table to touch Myka hands, but Myka pulls them away. Bonnie approaches, coming up behind Helena.
“I’m sorry Ms. Bering, but we really must push on.”
Myka looks at Bonnie and her eyes flick down to where her hands rest on Helena’s shoulders. Still handsy, ice queen. Way too handsy.
“Give us a moment, Czar Belski,” Helena says, grinning smugly as she glances up at Bonnie.
“Hurry,” Bonnie says, digging her fingers into Helena’s shoulders before walking away.
Myka watches Bonnie until she's out of earshot. “Claudia calls her ‘babezillia.' I guess she's right.”
Helena snickers. “She does tower and growl, and perhaps, even breathe fire. Though I dearly hope I manage to escape that phase of her evolution.” She looks over at Bonnie and Bonnie shoots her a firm eye.
“I know I’ve made a mess of things, but when I can speak freely, I'll explain everything,” Helena says, rising. “A word of advice in the meantime, concentrate on the sale. Treat me as you would any other broker. You'll need all your strength for tomorrow’s negotiations.”
Helena's impersonal tone stings more than Myka would like it to, but in the end, she knows Helena's right.
“Please consider my words and please, get some rest,” Helena says, then walks towards Bonnie.
The next morning, during breakfast, Helena announces the bids have topped out at five hundred million.
“But it’s been appraised at five!” someone blurts.
“Blame your colleagues in the room,” Helena states.
Everyone looks circumspectly at everyone else, then back at their hosts.
“At this point, seller asks that you all sweeten the pot. Anything under the radar is acceptable.”
“What does that mean?” Myka asks.
“Think about it. It’s not rocket science,” Bonnie taunts.
The room bursts into a low chuckle, and Myka glances at Helena. She grimaces at how embarrassed Helena looks for her.
Myka returns to her room and phones Mrs. Frederic. Mrs. Frederic ups her bid to six million, but no more, and adds an “under the radar” item that shocks her.
Clients are let loose to inspect the room again until lunch is served. This time their meetings are scheduled and timed, as everyone has to fit in before dinner. When Myka’s appointment arrives, Helena’s obviously stressed. There’s little room for idle conversation.
Myka offers what Mrs. Frederic's willing to give, but Helena seems unhappy with the deal.
“That Faberge egg is priceless. I didn’t know it still existed.”
“Maybe so, but…” Helena looks to the side and drags a hand through her hair. “We’ll do one last offer after dinner.”
“What are you saying?”
“Talk with Mrs. Frederic. Make the offer count. For the win.”
“I thought I was.”
“I can’t confirm or deny that. Only Bonnie holds that power.”
“But you think it’s not good enough?”
“I’ve already said too much.”
An assistant appears and whisks Myka away before she can press for details.
At dinner there’s another announcement, six-hundred million plus “considerable bounty,” and the buyers are warned they have one last chance to negotiate.
“This is absurd,” one buyer says.
“Robbery,” Bertram Kelly blurts.
“The seller is mad,” a man adds.
“Not my call,” Helena states, “but I suggest you confer with your employers.”
As per usual, Myka’s the last to be interviewed, but this time, she’s finding it hard to focus. At dinner, she overheard a conversation between two buyers that left her angrier with Helena than ever before.
“What do you want me to say?’ Myka says, getting right to the point as she enters Helena's office.
“Anything beyond your last offer,” Helena says, shrinking back in her seat.
“Mrs. Frederic was firm. She says the egg should be enough.” Myka pulls out a chair and sits.
“Are you certain? My overlords have indicated there’s something else.”
“I don’t know what that is. Do you?” Myka does, but Mrs. Frederic told her to play dumb.
“You know as well as I; I’m merely the middlewoman.”
“You’ve said that before. About things. Things you did know. Why should trust you now?”
“Because you’ll lose, and I’d rather you not.”
“You’d rather me not?” Myka says, chair screeching back as she stands. “You’d rather me not?” This time, louder.
“I do have your best interests at heart.”
“My best interests? Since when.”
“Since we very first met.”
Myka scoffs. “Don’t even.” How dare she bring their relationship into this?
“My apologies,” Helena says, angling her eyes down. When she looks up, she seems repentant, but Myka’s only half-convinced her look is genuine.
“I’ll still need an additional offer.”
There goes the half. “Fine. I may have a replacement. An either/or scenario,” Myka says.
“I have a code, that’s all.” Myka points to a stack of post-its and Helena peels one off and hands her a pen.
Myka scribbles a combination of letters and numbers and hands it back.
“What is this?”
“I don’t know. Mrs. Frederic said you would.”
“The seller, I guess. Probably Bonnie.”
“Are you not uncomfortable handing over unknown wares?”
“I’m uncomfortable about this whole thing, but no one seems to care.”
“Save it.” Myka raises a hand.
Helena looks at the note again. “I’ll review this with Bonnie.”
“Yeah, you do that.”
“Anything else I should pass on?”
“Fifty-thousand over the top bid plus that. Or the egg. Whatever works.”
“Can I go?”
“May we talk?”
“The quicker this is over, the better.”
“Of course, but we—”
“How long,” Myka says, slapping her palms on the desk.
Helena flinches. “Pardon?”
“How long have you known about the room?”
“I was summoned the very day you were sent here.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
Helena holds Myka’s glare but offers no answer.
“I heard you were at the pre-sale. Why did you lie?”
“I didn’t lie.”
“You didn’t tell the truth.”
“I didn't say anything. Do you really think I had agency to speak? Bonnie’s lorded over me since the minute I arrived in London.”
“How would I know?”
“You’re not meant to know. This was meant to occur without your involvement. But Mrs. Frederic cocked that up early on. I do not understand why she sent you, of all people, as a replacement.”
"Becuase I'm not good enough?"
"That's not what I meant—"
“I'm such an idiot, playing along with this the whole time. You knew everything already, didn't you.”
“It’s been eating me alive.”
“Yeah, right.” Myka crosses her arms over her chest and looks away. “You lied me, lied to my face, over and over and over. I thought you loved me.”
“I do. More than anything.” Helena rises.
“Then why? Why wouldn't you tell me?”
“This is not your fight. You were meant to be kept out of it entirely."
“Yet here I am.”
"As I've previously said, I've no control over the situation."
"That's always your excuse," Myka says, glaring at Helena. "Does this have something to do with MacPherson, or is it some new crazy thing?”
“I’m not at liberty to say.”
Helena’s phone buzzes but she doesn’t look at it.
Helena shakes her head. “It means our time is up.”
"Yeah, it is," Myka huffs and walks towards the door.
"Myka, wait." Helena scrambles to intercept, grabbing hold of Myka's upper arm. “What we have is more than this. I beg of you, please don’t throw us away.”
“How can you say that, after all of this?"
“Because once this is through I can fix this. Fix all of this, and we can have the life together we sorely deserve.”
“Isn’t it over today?”
“For you, yes.”
“Why are you always so cryptic?”
“I’m as forthcoming as possible.”
“Not forthcoming enough.” Myka yanks her arm free.
Helena's phone buzzes again, and there’s a knock on the back door.
“Czar Belski better know what that number means. I deserve to win.” Myka stomps out of the room.
NOTE: The original Amber Room has never been found, but a reconstruction was created that took 24 years to complete.