Back - Part III

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THE SOUND of the water running to fill the bathroom sink drowned out the conversation downstairs. Evvie hated abandoning Mark to a room filled with strange words, but she couldn't, couldn't stay in that kitchen with that uncanny woman. Unnatural.

That stranger who was her child.

Gwennie blew contented snot bubbles until the water was ready, fingers grasping alternately at her mother's shirt or more of the ketchup, turning Evvie's clothing into a palette of red and green smears. An artist maybe? Evvie thought, smiling down at her.

With a jolt of startled horror, Evvie realized that no, no, of course Gwennie wasn't going to grow up to be an artist. She was going to be a soldier. A Specialist. She was going to wear black and bullet-proof vests and telephones in her ear. She was going to carry a boxy gun on her hip. She was going to use it.

Evvie began shaking hard all over, and if weren't for fear of hurting or startling Gwennie, she probably would have collapsed to the floor and had a good self-indulgent screaming fit. As it was, she sank down and sat on the toilet lid and cried quietly, miserably into Gwennie's little neck. It felt awfully wonderful in that wrenching cathartic way and it made the back of Evvie's eyes and throat burn.

Gwennie patted Evvie's cheek with sticky, saucy fingers; a small, soft comfort. It's okay, Mom. It'll be okay. And then she smiled at Evvie with her uncle's (dead) smile.

What will happen to Gareth? Evvie didn't dare try to answer herself.

"I love you," she whispered into Gwennie's reddened wisps of ketchup-matted hair. "I love you and even though I want you to do what makes you happiest, don't be like her." The words stopped up her throat, felt disingenuous and unfair and tasted horrible but only because they were true, true, true. She sobbed harder, hiccoughing against Gwennie's shoulder. "Please, please, please, don't be like her. Be better. Be good." And that was a stupid thing to say because nobody ever was, not as easy as that, but it was unfair, so unfair that Evvie had to see it, so totally, so perfectly, so soon.

Beside her, the water in the sink began to overflow, pattering a syncopated staccato against the floor as it fled over the corner of the counter, and Evvie stood up quickly, yanking on the taps before the bathroom rug got soaked. Gwennie looked torn between confusion and amusement. The back of her eyes still hot with the rest of the tears that she didn't let fall, Evvie drained a bit of water from the sink, then set Gwennie down on the damp countertop and stripped her quickly of her onesie with shivering hands. She dropped it into the trash. She never wanted to look at it again. She didn't want to remember. Even if Evvie did ever get the blood stains out of it, every time she saw the little elephants on the cotton candy clouds, all she would think of would be aliens and knives and how Gwennie had almost...almost...

Evvie removed Gwennie's diaper as well — soiled but not too dirty — and then the gauze bandage on her forehead. Gwennie squealed when the tape came away with some of her hair and Evvie gathered her close, whispering soothing nothings against her head. Gwennie sniffled miserably, not entirely sure if the pain was worth full-blown tears. Evvie talked her out of them and sat back to take stock of the cut.

The flash of white bandage caught her attention instead. She stared at the gauze in her hand. A piece of the future.

She was about to throw it into the trash before it was ever created. A strange urge to keep it, treasure it, to secret it away flooded up in her and she sighed.

Evvie shook her head at her own silliness and forced herself to discard the bandage. It wasn't special in any way, and it was soiled. It wasn't worth keeping. She refused to feel something as absurd as regret about it.

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