Secrets: Chapter 36 (part 2 finale)

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Chapter 36

Enduring Richard Kirkpatrick's self-satisfied prophecy of digitized Armageddon was beyond the limited tolerance James possessed at the end of his holiday.

In trying to contribute something to August's life, instead he'd complicated everything until it was a Gordian knot in a Japanese puzzle box inside nested Russian dolls.

Now he just wanted to forget. Maybe Shattered Land would help. Or not. He had just as many issues there.

Sleep was the safer choice.

***

James worked multiple shifts per day for five days, falling into bed exhausted each night, waking early each morning to rinse and repeat. Wednesday at noon, just before leaving for the single shift of a relatively easy day, a text from Casey buzzed his phone.

hey! hey! wassup theres like, a huuuuuge event for teh falgarde invasion intro. u know how the invasion is sunday, but tomorrow at 6 (ur time) is the warmup, so come play if u can k? k?

James went to the library, did his duty for a handful of forgettable hours, came home, and sat on the couch doing nothing for several more.

Avoiding Kanade was counterproductive, but the idea of confronting the situation directly made him feel sick to his stomach. Seeing her while pretending nothing was going on was even worse.

There were only two options. James could tell Kanade everything about August, Donald, his father, and anything else he could think of, then ask her about her own circumstances, and go from there; or, he could acknowledge that a person he knew only from a virtual universe, and about whom he understood almost nothing, was not an object of affection that he could seriously pursue.

From the way she talked and acted, Kanade would let things continue on indefinitely as they had been, simultaneously friends and strangers, intimately close and infinitely far. But that wasn't only for her to decide. Didn't he have the right to know something, anything about her life?

His phone jolted him upright just as he was drifting into frustrated sleep.

"Yeah."

"It's August."

"What is it?"

"I ... well, I've been analyzing these bloody documents. The ones we got from your ... from Richard. I came up with some things I can't quite make sense of, and I thought ... maybe you'd want to go over it with me...?"

"Okay," James said, even knowing that it would be better not to.

He was just barely maintaining a precarious balance where the best explanation for everything he knew was a combination of public paranoia, private bitterness and unjustifiable accusations. Learning anything more might push him over the line into true suspicion, and then what?

If it came down to taking sides, which one was he on?

***

James found the door unlocked and August sitting in the kitchen, elbows planted and hands at the sides of her head, staring at a ream of paper that covered every inch of table surface.

"Oh." She looked up, halfway from unfocused to dazed. "Hi."

James studied her for a few seconds, leaning against the frame of the kitchen doorway. "Are you sleeping properly?"

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