Chapter 4

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Dall sat on the sofa in his living room. No longer his mom's. It was a stupid thought, but he couldn't stop it from rattling in his brain. Its material shaped around his body for comfort, but Dall felt anything but. The walls shone brightly to convey a sense of space that the small apartment lacked. Fai was there next to him with her hand on his lap. His friends Toby and Otho were there standing in the corner. Neither looked comfortable. Dall didn't blame them. He wasn't sure what he was supposed to do himself.

The place felt crowded with his mom's colleagues and friends. Several classmates and school staff were there too. That feeling magnified after being alone for the last couple of days. On the first day, he pleaded with Mr. Nereid to let him come back to school right away but wasn't allowed. The instructor told him this was protocol and non-negotiable. He said that only after a week they would evaluate his return. Luckily he could still access the training material from home, so he spent his time reading up. Barely sleeping or eating.

Someone approached, a man by the shape of his bright pants. Dall assumed it was another colleague of his mom coming to give his condolences. The voice, however, made him look up sharply. "Wendall, I wanted to express how deeply sorry I am for your loss." It was Dirk Galaxis, his mother's boss. He wore a sorrowful smile, and his hand was offered. He scrambled to stand up, doing so awkwardly due to his tiredness and the low height of the sofa. Fai stood up as well. Dall took Galaxis's hand, and the man pulled him close for a hug.

"Dall, if there's anything you need, just let me know," Galaxis told him after the hug ended. Their hands still locked, and Galaxis's other hand was on Dall's shoulder. "I mean it, here's my contact info." Dall received an alert telling him the info arrived. "Thank you Mr. Galaxis," Dall said, feeling a little uncomfortable and sensing everyone in the room looking at them. "Dirk, Wendall, you can call me Dirk." With that, Galaxis moved toward the door but didn't leave before shaking hands with some of his employees.

"That guy is intense," Fai said quietly so only Dall could hear. "Nice of him to show up." They sat back down. Dall didn't feel like talking to anyone. His mom's colleague, Wei, got up to say a few words. They spoke the day before, and they agreed she would take care of the funeral details. Not that there was much to do. The only thing that was missing was his mother. He ordered the Memory-Crystal to be made in the shape of a Protea flower that she loved so much. It hadn't arrived yet, though. The CSF office hadn't released her body from the morgue. Dall decided he didn't want to wait for it.

Wei's eulogy washed over him, mostly unheard. He did notice that Wei started crying toward the end of her short speech and couldn't stop, a friend hugged her, and they went to the kitchen. After that, a few friends said some more kind words that Dall didn't bother to listen to. He just wanted all of them to leave. Eventually, they did. Only his three childhood friends remained. Fai gave the two guys signals with her head, to find their way out. Otho was the first to understand, and he nudged Toby. "We better head out too. Dall, man, we're sorry. Let us know what we can do, ok?"
"Thanks, guys. I'll be ok. Hopefully, they'll let me get back to training soon." Dall said, trying to sound hopeful.

With the two friends gone, Fai gave Dall a long hug. He got the sense she was waiting for him to cry, but he didn't have it in him. Dall cried the first night but not since. All he felt now was emptiness, and unwillingness to accept his mother was truly gone. He knew she was dead, but couldn't bring himself to believe it.

"Dali, is there anything you want me to do? Are you hungry? I can order something."
"No, I'm ok. I think I'll just go to bed. Didn't sleep much in the last two days," he said, dropping back to the couch. "Oh, ok, do you want me to stay?" she asked with that worried look on her face. That made it even harder for him; her sadness was there because of him. "Nah, I think I prefer to be alone right now."
"I'm here for you, Dall, whatever you need," she said and held his face in both hands. Her beautiful eyes were wet. "Thanks, Fai. I know."

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