misunderstanding

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"How do you know Liberty Zeist?" I asked Clair the second she arrived in Maine. That was the name by which I knew the other young woman, my sister's ward. I had never had a reason to connect her to Clair's "Libby". I hadn't paid enough attention to Clair's relationships with Zeppelin Barker to realize that her name for him, "Zep", was part of a wider practice of nicknames. It hadn't occurred to me that different names could apply to the same person.

"I'm not going to let you hurt her," said Clair to me, "whoever the hell you are and whatever the hell you're doing to her. We're still best friends, no matter what."

That clinched it. "Libby" and "Liberty" were the same. But names were labels, like locations. Why change them? Didn't that just invite confusion and misunderstanding?

"I have not hurt her," I said, and felt compelled to add in defence of my sister's ward, "She is beautiful."

"Yes, she is, and that's the way she's going to stay, buddy."

That was flat-out impossible. "All things change."

"Not if I can help it."

Clair dressed in fresh clothes as quickly as she had that morning. I watched her, puzzled by many things, not least why she went to the trouble of changing one outfit for another that was identical, apart from being slightly newer: a navy plaid skirt and matching singlet, with black boots and belt, black underwear and a navy headband for her black, curly hair. The old outfit went back into the fabber for recycling. She didn't shower, but she did brush her teeth.

"You say that Liberty Zeist . . . Libby is your friend," I said. "You are trying to help her. Is that correct?"

Clair stared at herself in her mirror. Perhaps she expected her nose to have changed. She should have known: impossible things take time, and changing a person's pattern was supposed to be impossible.

"I don't understand your motivation at all," I said.

"The feeling is mutual, pal. Now get lost."

Pal? She hung up on me, but I was intrigued by the words she'd used. Buddy?

Twenty-four hours earlier, I hadn't existed. And now it seemed I had a friend.

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