Wednesday, August 8, 2007


It was dark by the time the three of them finished talking with Harley and began walking up the hill to their tents. Will and Coyote discussed the finer points of strategy, but Diana only half-listened. They had learned that Strecker was in Amargo, a large town at a rail junction. Just what this signified, since Strecker usually stayed on the move, was anyone's guess. But with an important parley coming up, it didn't look good.

Diana wondered if she should have agreed to be on the assassination team. She had only a few weeks in which to train, and her skills would need to be in top form. It might be a tall order. She would have to sneak out to the target range and do a little practice on her own, to see where she stood. If her skills were too rusty. . .

She pulled herself back from that line of thought. If she wasn't ready, she would just have to work harder. She couldn't let everything that had happened over the past three months keep her from avenging the deaths of her family members.

"So what do you think?" Will asked.

She hadn't been listening. "Sure, I guess."

"We'll see you later," he told Coyote. Then he took her by the arm and led her in a different direction.

Diana guessed where they were going. "You think Auntie is going to lecture us?"

"She already got me this afternoon. Hopefully she's worked it out of her system."

"Well, she hasn't had her chance at me, and I'm sure she's got plenty to say."

"You might be surprised. But don't worry. I'm not leaving you alone unless you tell me it's okay."

They found Amalia reading her Bible by the light of a solar lantern. The tent looked too big without their bedrolls and their shoes, clothes and weapons scattered about. The familiar sight of Amalia with a book on her lap overwhelmed Diana with memories of more innocent times. Why couldn’t it be as it had been before? She longed for Will to just be her brother so they could lie near each other and fall asleep to Amalia's voice reading something incomprehensible.

Diana was prepared for anything after the way Amalia had reacted that morning, but was relieved when she merely closed the book and set it aside. She remarked on how late it was and asked if they had come for their things.

Will nodded. "It's probably time we had some clean clothes." He eyed the duffel bags against the wall of the tent.

"Well, go on and take them," Amalia said. But when Diana reached for a bag, she stopped her. "Let Will do that. Come and talk to me for a few minutes." When Diana hesitated, she added, "It's all right. I'm not mad at you."

Diana nodded slightly at Will and sat down. She and Amalia waited until he had gone before either spoke.

"You weren't at dinner tonight," Diana said, reaching for the most immediate and banal topic she could think of.

"I wasn't up for it. Was it awful?"

"The food or the company?"

Amalia nodded. "I think that answers my question."

"I don't know why some of them have to be so mean about it. We've done nothing wrong."

"Technically, no. But when two people marry in secret, away from all their friends, and after expressing an interest in other people. . ."

"Will never showed an interest in anyone else."

"Sachi had quite a flirtation with him while you were away." Seeing the perplexed look on her face, Amalia added, "And then there was this past winter, when you let Robert think—

"I knew you'd have to bring that up."

"Okay. That's not really what I wanted to talk to you about, anyway." She stood up and went over to one of her bags. She rummaged around for a moment and returned with a bottle of whiskey and two tin cups. The look on Diana's face made her pause. "It can't be news to you that I have a bottle here. Or are you just surprised that I'm sharing?" She poured a measure of whiskey and handed it to her. "Being married makes you one of the grownups, and that means special privileges, if you don't abuse them." But before Diana could take a sip, she added, "Don't drink that, though, if you have plans for your baby."

Diana paused, staring at her over the rim of the cup. Then she took a hard swallow and waited until she felt the alcohol burning in her stomach before answering. "The only plan I have is to give it away or smother it when it's born." She watched Amalia carefully, daring her to argue.

Amalia sipped her whiskey. "I can't say I condone killing babies. Surely you can adopt it out."

Diana took another drink. "I'd rather be raped again than carry this dirty parasite inside me. Macy got rid of Boeing’s baby with a knitting needle. Do you think maybe if I was real careful—

"You're not serious, are you?" Amalia set down her cup. "That's a good way to bleed to death."

"I don't care." But at the look on Amalia's face, Diana's shoulders slumped and she shook her head. "No, I'm not serious. It's a tempting idea, but I don't have that kind of courage."

"You mean that kind of stupidity."

"Courage, stupidity. . . sometimes they look an awful lot alike."

"You're right about that." She picked up her cup again. "You know, I wish you hadn't rushed into this with Will so quickly. You hurt Robert."

Diana shot back the rest of her whiskey and reached for the bottle, ignoring the look of concern on Amalia's face. "Don’t be ridiculous. He doesn’t care about me.”

"He arranged the safe house for you.”

“That was his job. It’s not like he wrote to me or anything.”

“You didn’t write to him, either. And he’s been sick.”

"Looked healthy enough to me this morning."

"Maybe if you hadn't been so hateful to him—

"He had to have known I didn't mean it. He just doesn't want me after what the raiders did to me."

"I'm pretty sure that's not true, Diana." Amalia looked at her in concern. "I think he was afraid you would push him away again. He always did say he was a coward."

"Well, I’ve got no use for cowards."

"I suppose not." They sipped their whiskey in silence for a little while. "So tell me just one thing," Amalia finally said. "Did you ever really love him?"

Diana looked at her in wonderment, then started to cry. "I still do."

Amalia held out her arms. "You’re one confused kid, you know that?" She pulled Diana close and rocked her. "What am I going to do with you?"

"How about you just read to me like you used to?"

When Will came in a little while later to collect the rest of their things, he found Diana curled up with her head in Amalia's lap, while Amalia read to her from Shakespeare.


Alice Audrey said...

That went a lot more gently than it might have.

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

Amalia may be tough on these kids, but she still recognizes that Diana has been traumatized and still isn't thinking straight. She's more angry at Will, for taking advantage of the situation.

Alice Audrey said...

I can see that, but thought maybe she'd try to get Diana to see the error of her ways.