Susan returns to an irritated friend. Apparently, “brief errands” that last four hours really cut into a man’s social time. That and Andrew has had to coax Joan to stay asleep for all that time. The girl does not seem to enjoy rest at all.
“It’s like her body is unaccustomed to sleep,” Andrew whines. He is not usually one to complain, but the strain of keeping Joan under is beginning to wear on him. There are the overtures of a magnificent migraine developing behind his eyes. “You cannot expect me to maintain this much longer, Susan.”
They are both in Susan’s master suite on the second story of her apartment. It’s a very large, very plush room, taking up most of the western wall and richly furnished. Andrew is slouching in the dark brown velvet chair by the master bathroom door, his feet propped up on a matching foot rest. The lights are out in the windowless room, the only illumination coming from the hallway lights, which are partially blocked by Susan in the doorway. The four-poster queen-size bed, with its plum-colored down comforter and half-dozen decorative pillows, seems to swallow up the thin patient. As she watches, the girl’s brow furrows, her mouth turns down and, judging by Andrew’s low groan, she struggles again to regain consciousness.
“Let her wake up,” Susan says. ‘He should not have pushed himself so far. Better her awake than him injured.’ She keeps her remonstrance to herself, however, and seeks instead to help the girl ease back to the world. The only thing she can think to do is grab her spidery hand. And she regrets it almost instantly.
Joan’s eyes shoot open, glowing a lurid yellow for a moment in the dark room. Then her whole body tenses up, her back arching, eyelids squeezed shut and jaw clenched. Andrew, who had closed his eyes to rest for a few seconds, only realizes what is happening when Susan lets out an audible gasp. He’s out of the chair and across the room almost instantly and struggles to pull Susan out of Joan’s grasp. Susan seems frozen, unable to help him or fight whatever is happening. At last, just as he is considering finding something sharp to force a separation, Joan relaxes. Andrew falls back with Susan heavy on top of him and they all just lay still for a few seconds, breathing heavily.
Finally, “What the fuck just happened?” asks Andrew, still sounding winded but also quite angry. He and Susan manage to find their feet again and she just manages to stop him from flying angrily at the still prone girl. With an uncharacteristically shaky hand, the hero turns on the bedside lamp. The soft yellow glow through the rice paper shade reveals a girl quite different from the one she had brought here hours before. Joan’s face is smooth, free of scars and the lines from a life of constant stress. Even her left ear, which had been partially missing from a very old injury, is completely repaired. Her eyes are again their tranquil dark brown and she looks healthier than perhaps she ever has. The silence lasts only a few seconds before Joan sits up in the bed, revealing even more newly unblemished skin.
“I-” she tries to say, but her voice catches from being unused. She clears her throat and tries again. “I apologize for that. It was unintentional. The contact was unexpected and so my safe guards were not ready. And as I was under attack, my defenses were up. It will not happen again. You are uninjured, Susan?”
Andrew’s first thought is, ‘She talks like Susan.‘ Susan, however, simply shakes her head at the girl and decides not to ask the obvious question. ‘How does she know my name?’ She feels a little woozy and drained, as though she has been fighting for days without food. The unusual sensation passes quickly, though, her body easily recovering from the ordeal.
“Wait, under attack?” Andrew says at last.
“Yes,” Joan replies, hoisting herself off the bed. Both of the others are surprised to find her nearly as tall as Susan, though still several inches short of Andrew’s impressive height of 6’3. “Something was forcing me to remain unconscious. I never need more than an hour to rest and recover. Any longer than that and I am too vulnerable and will likely be exterminated.”
“Oh, well, I apologize,” Andrew almost sneers. “We thought the extra rest would do you good. You suffered such an injury and everything.” He does his best not to sound sarcastic, but he is still bothered by what had just happened, especially since she isn’t exactly explaining anything.
Joan looks at him for an awkward interval before saying, “I suppose you must have. But one should never make assumptions about species they have never encountered before. Do you have sustenance?” This question is directed at Susan. Almost on cue, her stomach rumbles.
With a weak smile, something the hostess has been practicing for weeks, she replies, “Yes. The kitchen is just down the hall, if you’ll follow me. I shall be needing sustenance myself after, after that.” With that, the two girls walk out of the room, leaving Andrew gawking in a very uncouth manner. ‘Now she’s walking like Susan. Have I woken up in a horror movie?’ He has just enough presence of mind to snag Susan’s terry cloth bathrobe from the bathroom before following them down. Can’t very well have a naked girl at the breakfast nook.
Susan’s apartment actually has two kitchens. The one on the main floor is a professional-grade set up, with lots of counter space and top-of-the-line, maximum capacity appliances. It is only used by the professional chefs Susan hires for parties, or would hire if she had any parties. According to the public, she is still living happily with her parents in the mansion outside of the city limits. This place is still to be her fortress of solitude until she comes of age. Then, the first floor will be the location of all the exorbitant events that are expected of a newly legal heiress. The sunken living room with the massive couch and access to the extensive balcony will cater to the rich and famous of the city while Susan quietly dreams of curling up in her upstairs library, which takes up most of the south wing, with a good biography. While people she barely knows chug free drinks from the bar next to the kitchen, purge themselves in the first floor half-bath and sneak into the first floor guest bedrooms for an illicit tete-a-tete, she’ll be running over battle tactics in her head and trying to recall which noncommittal reply is most appropriate for the conversation she half-listening to. In short, the first floor is for the guests. The second floor, which is really only a half floor balcony with two wings over the first floor, is where Susan lives. Up there she has two smaller outside balconies on the eastern side, a full library, a small kitchen with stocked pantry and a home theater area in the northern wing, and her master suite with its adjourning bathroom and walk-in closet.
In many ways, Susan and Joan are very alike. Their dispositions are similar in that they are neither of them sociable and struggle with common social conventions. Susan’s excuse is private tutoring her whole life. Joan’s is a life of hunting. Neither of them are inclined to speak as Susan digs through her pantry for ready-to-eat foods. After chowing down on a dense protein bar and tossing one to Joan, Susan starts putting together sandwiches with hearty whole wheat bread, lots of turkey, ham and bacon, provolone cheese, tomatoes and a large helping of spinach. Andrew drapes the robe around Joan’s bare shoulders and retires to the leather couch to watch a little television on the 40″ wall-mounted screen. The girls easily put away a dozen sandwiches, by which time Andrew is sound asleep.
Feeling unusually full and compliant, Joan acquiesces to a shower. Susan finds her some work-out clothes, as they will be the most durable and comfortable and soon, they are ready to rendezvous with Peter. They ride in Susan’s “incognito car”, a black Honda Clarity, reaching the run-down apartment complex in about twenty minutes. Joan doesn’t wait, but leaps out of the car and rushes to see her friend. But she doesn’t linger. There is always the hunt and today she feels like a match for anything that might come her way.
Susan exits her vehicle, warily observing her surroundings as her training demands and debating on whether she should wait by her car or brave the crowd she can see in the lobby. Just as she is deciding on the latter course, Peter exits the building through the front door and follows the uneven sidewalk through the rusty fence to her car. He smiles warmly and without reservation, which unnerves her. She is unaccustomed to people being genuinely happy to see her, especially when she intends to interrogate them. Then again, he may just be underestimating her because she is out of uniform and thus, less threatening.
“Welcome back, Susie,” he says, without the hint of a lie in either his voice or composure. But he doesn’t stop with a mere joyful greeting but actually assaults her with an embrace. Her muscled arms remain limp at her side while the rest of her stiffens with the unfamiliar and unwelcome breach of her personal space. “Thank you so much for whatever you did for her,” he mumbles into her shoulder, which is as high as his head reaches on her. “I have never seen her so happy and whole. Thank God for you and whatever brought you to that school last night!”
With all the will power she can muster, Susan resists the urge to throw him to a safe distance and instead, uses one hand to awkwardly pat him on the back as she’d been instructed to. It was never a lesson she excelled at, hugging, and she is far more grateful than she would ever admit when he breaks it off and stands back. “So, what would you like to know?” he asks amiably enough, still too close for her comfort.
Could you take another few steps back? “I need to know everything.”