Chapter 24

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Unlike my father, a man of endless lists and plans and notes and labels, Leslie is a type 'B' with an intuitive sense of where everything is at all times. Give Sherlock an hour in Leslie's shop and he still wouldn't know where the 3/8 socket wrench is hiding, but if asked, Leslie could point to its exact location without looking up from the circuit board she's soldering. She could list every piece of junk it's buried under, too.

Father calls her a 'Hoarder Eidetic', but he still says it with a tone of fondness, not derision. He's still in love with her, I think. I know I am, in that weird mother-figure / kid sister kind of way. I think when she broke up with Father it was actually harder on me.

Fiona doesn't say much to Leslie, but treats the shop like a curio museum, picking up every doo-hickie and thingamabob she can to try and suss out, just by looking and fiddling, how they work. I have no idea how Leslie will remember where every gadget will end up after Fiona plays with it, but she's never failed me, yet.

Today she is working on a rusty old dune buggy that looks like it's seen some action in the desert. Leslie has her mask down and is welding some solar panels to the frame. Gas is harder and harder to come by, between Novamerica's obsessive collecting and the fact that nobody's produced the stuff since before I was born.

After finishing a panel, she lifts her welding mask and lights a cigarette, giving me her blue-eyed sideways stare.

"Heard you had a hell of a time up north."

I stare back. How do you tell the woman who helped raise you, the woman who taught you how to fix everything from a chair to an engine, the woman with the balls to drive the hellish trade route east every year to barter for tobacco and fish, the woman you wished was your mother, that you think she's been hiding something from you?

"The usual," I reply, inspecting the buggy. "Scavenging and backwater cults run by psychopaths."

"Brought back some stuff," Leslie remarks, gesturing at Fiona. My lost puppy-dog of a companion is pumping a mechanical jack, watching it rise from the floor.

"That's a jack," Leslie says to her. She doesn't baby talk to Fiona like the other townsfolk do.

"Jack," Fiona parrots. "Wassit do?"

"Lifts cars," I reply. Fiona raises her eyebrow at me like I'm crazy. I glance back at Leslie. "We brought back more than just wayward souls. Dad hasn't left his lab in two days. He smells better when we're out in the bush."

Leslie chuckles, nodding sagely.

We do this, she and I. Talk around our feelings, around the things we want to say. Fiona appears nonplussed, but she seems to sense the tension. She's still pumping the jack but she's watching us, this girl from the wilds, trying to suss out yet another strange and complex kinship going on around her.

"We found more," I repeat, my voice dropping to a whisper as I try to circle around to my point.

"Your dad told me." She takes a slow pull of her cigarette. "A boyfriend." There's a teasing edge to her voice. She doesn't want to talk about what's really going on, and she can tell that I don't, either. But I need to.

"More like a one-night...friend..." I mutter, realizing how ambiguous that sounds. I didn't come to talk about Connor, or about the cure. I stare at Leslie, biting my lip, trying to muster courage. She used to be the one person I could talk to.

"What's on your mind, Ray?" she asks. She's the only person who ever got to call me Ray and somehow that makes it harder, now. Like we're pretending I'm eight again and learning to fix a radio. "Did he...?"

"This isn't about Connor," I insist, though in saying it I realize I've been avoiding that, too. Dad does it all the time: women in every tribe, across the continent. Somehow I meet one and pine away despite my best intentions. I shake my head and try to get to the heart of the matter. Not Connor, not Fiona. They're distractions because you're afraid of focusing on yourself.

"Did something else happen up there?" she takes a step toward me, like she's going to offer a hug, but Leslie was never the most affectionate and we remain two feet apart. "You haven't even asked about Novamer..."

"...do you know who my mother is?" I finally blurt. Fiona looks up from the smudged blueprints at the workbench; she is interested in the conversation again. Leslie's spent cigarette seems like it's going to fall out from between her lips. She pinches the butt and puts it out in the overflowing ashtray.

"I..." she glances out the workshop window, like she's suddenly wishing to be elsewhere. I don't blame her. Either she's lied to me for years, or kept Father's lie for him, or doesn't know. "...no, Regan. I don't. There are some things your father has kept secret, even from you and me. You were young when I met you, but I'm sure you recall a time in your life before I was a part of it."

"It's kind of a blur."

"It was a shitty time to be alive, at any age." She sighs, and I can hear the regret in her voice, like a part of her wishes that she was my mother, too. But the gap between us doesn't close. "If you want answers, there's only one person to pry them out of, Regan. I'm sorry."

"Yeah well..." I fold my arms. "He isn't talking."

"Regan, have you ever considered..."

"I've considered every possibility," I say, pacing between piles of workshop junk. "She died when I was a baby and Dad was heartbroken and would never talk about it. Dad found me alone during the chaos of the Doom and raised me as his own. A stork dropped me out of the sky and he just happened to have his arms open and catch me as he was walking by. I just...want..." I choke back the emotion. A long time ago I had put all my resentment about Father and his secrets on a shelf, and Lessing had brought it all back up again.

For a second I think it's Leslie hugging me, but the encircling arms are fiercely loving, the wild and intense embrace of a girl who doesn't know her own strength.

"My mama gone too," Fiona says. Leslie hugs us both.

The free-flowing tears are interrupted by a shadow in the doorway.

"Go away, Dad," I say through a sniffle. "This is girl time."

"No time for girl time," he says. "I need a sample."

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