Into The Unknown


squeaks4_icon.gif lene2_icon.gif

Scene Title Into The Unknown
Synopsis Jac wants to leave everything behind, Jolene wants to go to a Halloween party. Both wind up somewhere else instead.
Date October 31, 2020

3:52 pm
when are you off work?

4:29 pm
can you meet me at eileen’s at 6?
no i’m not in trouble

4:41 pm
i just need to talk to you

Eileen's Cafe

6:03 pm

October 31, 2020

The inside of the cafe is decorated in all things festive for hauntings and harvests. Stringy, synthetic cotton stretches in corners, clings to the usual decor on the walls and from hanging lights like so many spiderwebs. Pumpkins and jackolanterns clutter floor space and make centerpieces on tables along with silk leaves in autumn colors. Silhouettes of bats and ghosts hang in the least obvious spaces to give good natured spooks to unsuspecting passers by. Strands of lights in purple and orange have taken over for most of the regular lights. Dry ice pools a foggy mist from the bar back. Even the staff is in on the challenge this year. They've collaborated and this year's theme is a creepy Shari Lewis and Lambchop.

It's Halloween, after all, and the goal of the night is to top last year’s efforts. Even if the establishment isn't particularly busy. A few people sit at the counter, dressed like extras from Rocky Horror, a table near the back wall has a frazzled looking father of two Ninja Turtles eager to return to the streets. He's not in a costume, that's how he always looks. And at a table set where a window would be sits a young woman with a mop of red curls framing blue eyes set with vaguely nervous determination.

Jac Childs isn't costumed. She's dressed in sturdy clothes, blue jeans and a dusty red hoodie, the collar of a plain black t-shirt just visible at her neckline, and sneakers that still have plenty of miles left in them. A warm and sensible jacket rests on the seat beside her, mostly covering a perfectly broken-in backpack. Her hands fuss with the small pumpkin that's been set to adorn her table. Fingers trace the painted face and brush over the feathers glued to make it look like some kind of bird. The hot chocolate that she ordered for herself has barely been touched, and one of the servers was kind enough to bring a to-go cup and lid, which is still empty.

Hey!” Jolene’s voice hits like a hammer, jostling Jac from her thoughts. Unlike the youngest Childs’ daughter, Jolene is dressed up for Halloween in a women’s Japanese school uniform in white and forest green, tall green boots and elbow length white gloves. She has a plastic tiara on that’s spray-painted gold, and sewn a large pink bow onto the uniform’s chest.

“What’re you dressed as, teenage angst?” Jolene jokes, sliding in on the opposite side of Jac from her backpack and jacket. Jolene sets a paper bag down on the table in front of them, already heavy with what is presumably candy. “Seriously, though, did you need me t’get you a costume? Wouldn’t be a problem at all!”

There was a time when Jac wouldn't have startled at the suddenness. She had been waiting for Jolene, expecting her sister to arrive. But maybe her thoughts and daydreams were too deep and littered with some of that teenage angst, that the jovial greeting rattles her more than it would have. The tiny pumpkin rolls halfway across the table when the younger woman jumps slightly. Blue eyes lift to focus on the costume first, then on the woman wearing it.

“Were you out trick-or-treating?” She looks vaguely incredulous. Maybe even a little impressed. The one and only time she herself had gone was two years ago.

Jac shrugs at the offer. “I think I could pull off teenage angst pretty well.” She looks down at her hoodie, pulls it from her shoulders. “Maybe even domestic terrorist.” That's said in jest, sarcasm used to deflect the sting of that label she'd unintentionally earned. It's followed with an eye roll and elbows on the table. “I don't need a costume though, I'm not going to any parties or anything.”

“I’m not trick or treating but I am going to a party, Joanne and Mira are throwing a get-together for old Ferry-adjacent folks, I could get you in as my plus-one!” Jolene says with a cavalier smile, moving to sit across from Jac, reaching out to just take the girl’s hands in her gloved ones, brows raised.

“I recognize that look,” Jolene insists, ducking her head down a little to meet Jac’s lowered stare. “C’mon, I know a great place we could get you a black cat onesie, you can come as Luna. We’ll just get a gold crescent moon sticker for your forehead!” She says with a flutter of effervescent laughter, squeezing Jac’s hands as if to keep her from shrinking away.

“As much fun as that sounds,” and even though she has no idea who Luna is or why a cat onesie is required, “I'm going to pass. I don't think they'd appreciate you bringing a kid along.” Jac’s brows knit, and after a second she lifts just her eyes to meet Lene’s gaze. All joking aside, she's not changing her mind about going to a party, plus-one invite or not.

A shake of her head allows Jac to look away. “I have something I need to do anyway, so I can't go.” Tension briefly claims her arms, maybe as a half-hearted effort to take her hands back, or the result of her slouching back in her seat instead. “I do need your help though. You're the only one who'll understand why.”

First of all,” Jolene says firmly, leaning forward to snatch one of Jac’s hands in hers, “you’re not a kid. You're practically an adult now and you’re my sister. You can go where you want and have fun and if anyone says otherwise I’ll punch ‘em in the mouth.”

Lifting her brows, Lene fixes a silent look at Jac, as if to emphasize how serious she is. But slowly the expression melts away and she asks a more pertinent question. “What do you need?” No questions about why or voiced concern, just an emphatic resolve to help.

“If only,” Jac sighs at Lene’s insistence. The struggle is real. Ever since returning from Detroit it seems like nearly all of the adults have doubled down on keeping her in kid shoes. And there’s no way to combat it, either. What she wouldn't give for a regular seat at the adult table.

Blue eyes settle on her sister’s hand wrapping around hers. It seemed like asking for Lene’s help was going to be such a simple thing an hour ago, even just minutes before the elder of the Childs girls sat down. Now it's nearly as impossible as being viewed as the adult almost no one else sees her as.

The words she worked out ahead of time get caught somewhere between her brain and her mouth. A couple of false starts vocalize with small huffs and a squeezed off breath.

Jac leans forward, picking her eyes up to meet Lene’s. “I… I’ve been tracking down information… about my past.” Brows knitting, she searches her big sister’s eyes for understanding. “I'm going to take a trip to learn more and… and I need you to cover for me. With Mom.”

Cover for you?” Lene asks, sitting forward. “Jac, if you run off without telling mom and she finds out. I’m dead, you’re dead, and half the city is probably dead. The last time you did that…” Lene stops herself short of a lecture, curling her hands closed and breathing in slowly. “You can’t do that to her. Not after what you’ve both been through, I— ”

Jac’s cell phone begins to ring, loudly. The caller identification on the screen displays a name unfamiliar to her.

Incoming Call

The last time hits like a fist in the gut. Last time Jac had no idea that she was going to end up on the other side of the country. In retrospect she possibly could have guessed in the heat of the moment, perhaps even should have based on Zhao’s warnings. At the time she'd been willing to go along and convinced she'd prove him wrong. And now all of that has placed her in her current state: still desperate for answers and chasing clouds.

“It's not like that…” Still desperate, less willing to reach for the stars. Lene is given a reprieve from whatever excuses or reasons the younger woman could imagine when blue eyes drop to the side and the cell phone.

Jac’s mouth works without finding words. She looks from the phone to her sister, torn in wanting to plead her case, find understanding in Lene’s stance, and confused by the unfamiliar name. She reaches across the table this time, to grasp Lene’s hand, to hold tightly that link of support as she had done so many times since Detroit. The phone is picked up with the other. Her thumb hovers over the screen. “I don't know who this is.”

Lene looks down at the phone, but either can’t read the name or doesn’t know who it is. It also doesn’t garner much of her focus, that’s completely Jac at the moment. Lene squeezes Jac’s hand tightly. “Whatever you want to do, you don’t have to do it alone. I’m here, we can talk to mom together. Talk to me about it, we can figure it out together.”

Brows rising, Lene lays both of her white-gloved hands on Squeaks’. “Look, it’ll be alright. Mom’ll always think you’re a kid, because she thinks I’m still a kid sometimes. We’ll always be that way to her. But when she was my age she was doing way crazier shit, and she knows what our lives are like.”

“Talk t’me,” Lene implores. “Don’t just ask me to cover for you and run.”

The phone continues to ring.

Indecision grips at Jac the way she grips Lene’s hand. Her cell phone still ringing is an annoying distraction that she struggles to ignore. She wants to know who the caller is, but she needs to talk to her sister. “Okay.” Agreement comes in a smaller voice, not defeated but willing to listen. This won't be like last time.

Without looking, her eyes staying with Lene’s, Jac’s thumb finds the button to silence the call. Whoever it is can leave a voicemail or even text like a normal person. The phone is set aside, and when she brings her arm back, she rests her chin on it.

“I just…” want to understand is how she would usually finish that statement. But Jac has never been able to elaborate on what she's searching for in a way that people understand. She struggles even now to find the words to express herself and the deep, gnawing desire to answer why. Eventually she gives up with a sigh. “I don't know anymore.”

“Maybe that’s even more reason to not run off?” Lene asks, adding another hand to Jac’s and reinforcing the squeeze. “I know how you’re feeling. Helpless, like… you just want to find and have something of your own, something you can make a difference with because you feel like you fucked up and that’s all you’re ever going to have.”

Lene sits forward, looking jac in the eye. “I felt that way for a long time after the war, when I couldn’t walk without crutches anymore. When I lost my ability. I… I wanted so badly to try and find something to fix, to do right, and when I couldn’t find it I just— I gave up. I just sank into this fucking pit and couldn’t claw myself out.”

1 New Voicemail

“But it’s because I was looking for the wrong solutions.” Lene says firmly, giving Jac’s hand another squeeze. “Maybe the first thing you need to do is like… figure yourself out?”

1 New Text Message
*Preview*: Good evening Miss Childs. My name is Aria Baumgartner, I just left you a voicemail. If you could call me back soon I would appreciate it. The Deveaux Society has information about your mo…

“Maybe we could just focus on that?” Lene says with a raise of her brows, unaware of the drama playing out on Jac’s phone screen.

“It's so hard when everyone is telling me to ‘slow down, be patient, you're just a kid’.” If there's anyone who might understand her frustration, Jac hopes it's Lene. The voicemail notification gets barely a glance. She can listen later. “No one gets it though. All they see is some kid, not someone who lost everything.” Including who they are.

Jac sits up slightly, really just transferring the weight of her head and shoulders to rest on her elbows. She leans forward, looking at the hands holding hers.

“No one understands what happened. I just… it… it broke… me…” It isn't a topic she generally touches with anyone, and even now it feels like she has to force the words out. So much that she lets her eyes go to her phone when it buzzes with a text notification just for an escape.

What she finds there isn't much of an escape though. Confusion pulls her expression into a frown, and rubs her forehead with her fingers. “Lene…” The younger Childs’ tone turns a question. Nothing has ever been simple or made sense since February. She looks up to meet her sister’s eyes.

“Why… why would… the Deveaux Society?”

Lene’s expression is just one of vivid uncertainty, the seriousness of the conversation undercut by her being dressed as one of the Sailor Scouts. She looks at the phone, then up to Squeaks and shakes her head. She’d heard enough about the Deveaux Society to know they were influential and little else.

“If you need to… take the call or something…” Lene’s voice tightens with worry. “I’m right here. Do what you need to do, m’not going anywhere.”

Any other time Jac would have not even hesitated to find out what the mysterious phone call was even about. She hesitates now, as she stares at the screen and it's cut-off message. Twice she'd reached out, called Claudia Zimmerman and both times been denied contact. Now, the former matriarch of the Deveaux Society is gone and someone sharing a name and claiming to be part of that organization is calling her.

“What should I do?” She asks, practically a whisper.

Viewing the message seems the most reasonable of acts, though she's reluctant to abandon her sister for another rabbit hole. She slides out of her seat and around the table, barely lifting her arms from the tabletop to do so, and sinks into the seat beside Lene.

“We look together.” Her thumb slides across the screen to open the message, with the phone angled so they both can see it.

Lene is wordless in her consent to the idea, scooting in close to Jac as the text message is opened. Then, her silence will be in shock.

Sent: 10/31/2020 06:17pm

Good evening Miss Childs. My name is Aria Baumgartner, I just left you a voicemail. If you could call me back soon I would appreciate it. The Deveaux Society has information about your mother, Cindy Morrison. Given the sensitive nature of this topic, we’d prefer to discuss it in person. If you could call me back I could arrange for a meeting at any day and time at your convenience. The Society is here for you. Thank you.

One hand over her mouth, Lene slowly turns to look at Jac with her eyes wide.

The phone is set down slowly, gingerly laid upon the table with all the care Jac might afford an ancient artifact. Or, more likely, a venomous snake. As she withdraws her hands, she folds them together at the edge of the table. From a glance she could seem as confused as before, bewildered by the message as anyone would be. In the seat beside Lene, she nearly shakes, but the lay of her hands and folds of her hoodie mask all that from prying eyes.

“She's not my real mom,” she points out, latching onto what she's decided to be the most important part. The assertion is quiet and very matter of fact. Gillian and no one else is her real mom and no argument is going to change her mind about it. But then her brows knit with an aching fear that needles through her chest and into her throat. She both wants and doesn't want to know what the Deveaux Society has to tell her.

Leaning slightly, Jac presses her head briefly against Lene’s shoulder. It's a small thing, a seeking of something solid when everything is in upheaval. The teen had done it on occasion in the hours and days after Detroit too, and it's stayed a thing even since returning home. As she straightens, her hands move to the nearest edge of the phone. Fingers just touch the molded plastic and then carefully draw it toward her.

The phone is picked up like it may explode, and the younger Childs girl casts an uneasy look at the screen. With her thumbs, the missed call is selected for callback. Jac lifts her eyes to Lene’s as the phone is raised to her ear.

Lene is quiet, but steadfast. She slips an arm around Jac, affecting her best Sailor Jupiter look of confidence and gives her sister a firm nod.

After two rings the phone picks up and an unfamiliar woman’s voice greets Jac.

«Ms. Childs» Aria says without missing a beat. «I’m glad you were able to call me back. Would you be willing to come down to our offices? We’re uptown in Red Hook.» Not far from the market at all, as it so happens. Jac knows this part of the city well. «I could send a car for you if you need. Or I can arrange to meet with you at a time of your choosing. But this is a matter best handled in person rather than over the phone.»

Lene can only hear every other word, but still Jac has her complete and undivided attention.

“Um,” is a stall tactic. She needs a minute to think while this Aria lady speaks. Her eyes study the table, then turn to glance at Lene. “She wants to meet now,” Jac whispers after angling the phone away from her face to keep it from being picked up by the other end. Shoulders follow with a shrug before she returns to the phone.

“I… I know where that is.” Tackling the easiest parts first gives the young woman a chance to gather her thoughts. Or she hopes. “I had plans,” she goes on, “with my sister. But… but let me ask?”

Jac looks up at Lene again. She's not sure of what she's doing anymore. It's already been an outing and there was still that party Lene was going to. Maybe herself too, but it seems weird to even ask if the invitation still stands — even if it is partly being used to buy time. “Maybe we could be fashionably late?”

“This’s more important than a party,” Lene says with one brow raised. “Lance’ll understand if we’re late. Besides, maybe I’ll get a call back from my college friends.” The handful she has. “I’ll come with you on this. There’s no way you’re going off to whatever the fuck this is alone.” Lene motions with her chin to Jac, reassuring her to answer.

The look that lingers a beat longer is searching and nervous. It's a relief when Lene even says she'll go with, that they can be late. And a nod follows. Jac takes a breath to commit to the meeting. Not that Aria can hear the nod through the phone or see the brave face that the teen musters. Luckily Lene is there to remind her to speak up.

“Okay.” Jac returns to the phone, with a vaguely apologetic tone. “We actually aren't very far from there. So… we’ll go now?”

«Perfect,» Aria says rather quickly to Jac’s response.

«We’ll be waiting.»

Not Long Later

The Clocktower Building
Red Hook

Jolene Chevalier looks somewhat less like a sailor scout standing in the elevator from the Clocktower Building’s lobby. She;s pulled a black hoodie on over her outfit, leaving garish boots and a pleated skirt to seem slightly less suspect. Her tiara is waiting back in her car at the curb along with her gloves.

“Remember,” Lene says in a whisper, “don’t sign anything without an attorney.” She’d repeated that bit of advice from their mother on the ride over, in the lobby, and now right before the elevator doors open. Lene may have wanted to impart other less specific details, but when the elevator doors open and they are greeted by the equivalent of an anthropomorphic :D! Emoji, Lene’s train of thought is disarmed.


Hi there!” Crows an absolutely statuesque woman with a whipped coif of white hair. She is practically bursting out of the seams of her tailored suit as much as her smile is bursting off of the corners of her mouth. Jo Bevilacqua eagerly beckoning Jac and Lene out of the elevator with the enthusiasm of a dog who’d been waiting at the door all day for her owner to return.

“Hey! Hi! You must be Jac!” Jo says with boundless energy, “and oh— Oh! You’re Jolene!” She spreads her hands as if indicating a marquee. “War hero and little sister, my heart is just—” Jo places both hands over her chest. “Welcome to the Deveaux Society! I’m Jo, Ms. Baumgartner will be up soon.”

Jo welcomes Jac and Jolene into the spacious open-concept penthouse, then rakes fingers through her tuft of pale hair. “Can I get you anything while you wait? Soda? Wine? I have half a Snickers bar here in my— ”

I’m good.” Lene finally manages to exasperatedly get a word in edgewise as Jo starts fishing around in a pocket for a half-eaten candy bar.

As each time before, Jac nods to the advice. She'd try saying she knows and she will, but after the first time led to a lecture it's been easier to just nod acceptance. It doesn't help that her nerves are all twisted and stretched tight, making her more likely to grouch at the reminders. And a sensible part of her also realizes that Lene is probably nervous too. Not only are they at the Deveaux Building, but also meeting with someone about Cindy Morrison.

What's not to be nervous about?

When the elevator doors begin to open, Jac starts to look up at Lene for one last unspoken show of support. She ends up taking a half step back, into her sister instead, when they're greeted by a whirlwind of optimism and happiness. Unsure in earnest, she looks up at Lene then moves out of the elevator and into the penthouse.

With brows knit, she looks at their surroundings while Jo prattles on excitedly. The teen looks decidedly awkward at how to receive… any of it, even leaning to whisper, “Are we in the right place?” to her sister. But when she finds Jo again, it's with a small and anxious smile and a shake of her head. “No. We'd just like to wait.”

“Oh, sure-sure, yeah. Waiting. Absolutely. Here, uh…” Jo flashes a nervous smile, trying to find a way to be helpful. “The lounge is right over here, it’s the big open— area— with the couches.” Slinking over to the lounge, Jo leads Lene and Jac behind her.

“Plenty of spots to sit, I think we have some magazines, uh— ” Suddenly Jo bends down and snatches up a mug sitting next to a coaster but not on it.. “Whoops, that’s my tea.” She mumbles. “Ah, anyway yes. Please, sit! I’ll be in the kitchen right over there,” she says with a motion to a kitchen roughly 45-degrees from the lounge, “holler if you need anything!”

Lene smiles awkwardly, then looks back at Jac with a well she’s sure something else grimace spread across her lips.

“Thank you,” Jac, trying to sound pleasant and not at all nervous or put off by the meeting, calls after Jo.

Once Jo has flitted off to the kitchen, Jac meets Lene’s look and shrugs slightly. It's a bit like dealing with Sera — an eternally happy puppy hopped up on caffeine version of Sera, but still similar. The teen, after the initial shock of Jo’s overwhelming-eager-to-please has worn off, won't hold it against her.

Taking her sister by the sleeve, Jac guides them both to sit on one of the couches. Twice she tries to say something, and twice she stops before anything more than a breath can be taken. It's too late to back out, too late to ask if this is the right choice. Maybe even too late to ask for any last minute advice. Don’t sign anything without an attorney.

Jac opts, on a third attempt, to look up at Lene, brows knitting, and shrug again.

There’s a look of helpless uncertainty on Lene’s face as Jac looks at her. But the soft chime of the elevator coming up to this floor, so soon after they’ve seated themselves, immediately pulls Lene’s attention away. When the doors open, a blonde woman in her thirties dressed entirely in black steps out, threading a ringlet of hair behind one ear. She turns to find Lene and Jac in the lounge, and swiftly approaches.


“Jac, Jolene,” she says with a smooth voice possessed of a British accent, “my name is Aria Baumgartner. I’m a representative of Miss Monica Dawson, the chair of the Deveaux Society. Miss Dawson is otherwise disposed with business matters, but I’ve been entrusted to speak to you on her behalf regarding information pertaining to your biological mother.”

As Aria talks, Jo quietly excuses herself into the elevator, while Lene remains transfixed on the new arrival.

“Would you like to talk about this in private?” Aria asks, looking from Jac to Lene and back again. “If you’d prefer your sister to be here, I’ll understand.”

Jac follows Lene’s gaze to the elevator. For an instant, that old suspicion touches her expression and posture. Maybe this could have waited until tomorrow, until she'd had time to get an idea of who Aria Baumgartner is. But it's definitely too late to be having second thoughts, and by the time the woman steps off the elevator the teen's expression is smoothed over with a vaguely nervous, but vaguely confident air.

“About Cindy Morrison,” she confirms, half standing as Aria gets near. “Lene can stay,” she tacks on half a breath later, giving her sister a look. She can't ask Jolene to leave now, not after their talk at the coffee shop.

Jac sinks into her seat again, watching Aria carefully. “I didn't know the Deveaux Society knew anything about her. About Cindy.”

Aria glances at Lene, then nods and moves to sit in a white armchair near the sofa. She scoots forward and sits on the edge of the chair, her hands folded in her lap.

“The Society didn’t know anything about Cindy,” Aria agrees, “not until very recently. We’d been looking for her since suspicion was raised that she was alive, but our avenues turned up nothing. She can’t be located with traditional clairvoyance due to how her ability works. It’s not… safe.” Shrugging a little, Aria rubs her hands together and then rests them on her knees.

“Back in February the Deveaux Society came into contact with a woman running a special needs shelter who had been taking care of a Jane Doe suffering from Locked-in Syndrome, a condition where a person is paralyzed save for muscles that control movement of the eyes. It’s an extremely rare neurological condition.”

“We had reason to believe she may be Cindy Morrison. Over the last few months, I and other employees of the Deveaux Society have been working to confirm that suspicion and make an attempt to get through to Cindy utilizing medical and expressive practices.” Aria looks briefly at Lene, then back to Jac. “We’ve… not had much success, unfortunately. But we can confirm now that she is Cindy Morrison.”

Aria smiles, a little hesitantly. “She’s here, in the building. I… once we made the confirmation, I contacted you as soon as I could. I thought you would at least want to know, if not meet her for yourself.”

Something more guarded masks the uneasiness that had been in Jac’s expression as Aria begins explaining things. She's very still seated beside Lene, but listening, practically analyzing everything the Society woman says. As the story continues to unfold, her suspicion returns, layering just below the surface.

“I… don't know,” she responds slowly to the offer. A part of her still does want to meet Cindy, but there's a part of her that still wants her dad to actually be her dad, too. The hopes and dreams of an orphan girl are complicated and confusing. “This is a lot for one night. And I… I don't understand…”

Jac takes a carefully measured breath, using the few seconds to think back on how Cindy was found. “Why would the Deveaux Society have any interest in a Jane Doe,” she begins, choosing her words carefully. “And why is she here instead of the hospital if she's got Locked-in Syndrome? How did you determine she even is Cindy Morrison, and… why…” Why could have so many directions to travel, but the teen stops at that junction to hear the possibilities first.

Lene reaches over to take Jac’s hand, staying silent as her sister asks the important questions.

“We have a medical facility here in the building that is suited to Cindy’s needs. We confirmed her identity through a number of tests both scientific and Expressive.” Aria explains, crossing one leg over the other and folding her hands in her lap. “We’re certain of her identity.”

“As far as our interest… Ms. Dawson was fairly convinced of her identity when they first met. I’m not precisely at liberty to discuss the details of that encounter, but suffice to say Cindy Morrison possessed a powerful SLC-Expressive ability that is still active. We believe that it might be why she’s experiencing the locked-in state, but we don’t know quite enough about it to be certain that negation drugs would be helpful rather than harmful.” Aria continues, looking briefly down to the floor as a frown creases her lips. “I understand this is a lot to take in at once.”

The gentle pressure around her hand prompts Jac to take a quick look at Lene. She tips her head forward a small fraction, grateful to have her sister with her.

Blue eyes slant back to Aria, then squint slightly as the woman begins answering. The teen’s doubts continue to linger, kindled by an unnamed fear. The omission of some details only adds fuel to reluctance to accept the face value of what she's been told.

“How long… has she been here?” How long have they known is what she'd rather ask, but that feels less likely to get an answer. Jac frowns outright, casting another look between Lene and Aria while weighing her options. “Are you expecting…” She stops herself, words drawing long and slow in a reconsidering manner. “I mean… I don't think I have anything to offer, to help with her. If we go see her.”

“We’re not expecting anything,” Aria says gently. “This is entirely a personal matter for you. As for how long we’ve known… Cindy was admitted to us in February, but we didn’t confirm her identity for some time after. We wanted to make sure that she was in a good state physically and mentally and that it was safe to reveal her presence before we made contact. There was concerns… given her history… that some unsavory individuals might still be looking for her.”

“Like?” Lene asks, interjecting in a way that seems to even surprise her.

“Like Adam Monroe,” Aria says without mincing words any further. “Cindy’s history with the Company and her involvement in Monroe’s imprisonment left us concerned for her well-being. Obviously you can understand our caution.”

Jac looks at Lene when she speaks up, glad her sister asked the question. Her face turns to Aria, but she doesn't look at the woman again. She masks her reluctance to understand and accept their reasons by staring at the floor. There's still the matter of seeing Cindy for herself, a concept that makes her more apprehensive than accepting the meeting with Aria. It's something she should think long and hard about before agreeing to.

“Five minutes,” she intones after a beat. It's part in question for Lene. Can they spare five more minutes? She presses on without waiting, and without looking at Aria. “Five minutes to meet her, or… see her anyway. Then I'll decide if… what I'll do.”

“Of course.” Aria says gently. “You control the cadence of this.”

Lene squeezes Jac’s hand firmly, drawing her attention. “If you wanna do this part alone, I won’t blame you. But I’ll be right nearby. Or right beside you. Whichever you want.” Lene’s steadfastness draws Aria’s attention for a moment, her expression momentarily softening before she looks back to Jac and slowly stands.

“Do you want to see her now, or… we could arrange for another time. Whatever your pace is.” Aria explains, folding her hands in front of herself.

Jac leans an arm and shoulder into Lene’s, silently accepting her sister’s offer. Her head nods too, the motion hesitant and unsure.

Her head lifts when Aria stands, eyes a little wider than normal, like a deer caught in headlights. The shock sinks in a little further as the offer to postpone the meeting is made. She folds her lips inward and over her teeth, holds a breath just long enough to feel a slight burn beginning in her chest. It doesn't help very much with making tough choices.

Exhaling through her nose, the teen stands. Her hand remains clasped firmly with Lene’s, but her eyes stay on Aria. Her first reaction, completely impulsive, is to agree to now — already set a limit to any engagement at five minutes. But the offer to postpone raises a much quieter voice, one that whispers to slow down, to regroup, and prepare. Jac draws another breath and exhales it slowly.

“I would like to set up a time.” Her words are spoken with a polite directness, recognizing the Society’s efforts that have been made through Aria. “This is a lot… for one day. I want to meet her, but I think I need some time.”

Jolene relaxes when Jac makes that call, squeezing her hand again. As the decision is made, Aria nods and reaches into her blazer pocket and produces a sleek black card stamped with a gold symbol that looks something like a fishhook.

“This is my private number,” Aria says to Jac as she hands the business card off. “You can call me any time, day or night, whenever you’re ready to set up the meeting. She’ll be staying here, with us, under protective care for the foreseeable future. If there’s any changes in her condition, as her next of kin, you’ll be the first to know.”

Once Aria has let the term next of kin sink in, she follows it up with a patient smile. “You are her only surviving kin. As such, you have the legal authority over how her life care is handled. If at any point you would like her moved from the Society, that’s your call to make and we can have a discussion around that. I’d recommend you possibly look into getting an attorney as well to help manage her estate. Cindy didn’t have much, but we’ve tracked down some funds that she had set aside that—given her condition—you will eventually control.”

Aria then takes another card out of her pocket and sets it on the table. “A recommendation.” The card is for a local Safe Zone attorney:

Natasha Renard-Lazzaro.

The first card is accepted with hesitant fingers, and blue eyes settle on the fancy embossing while she listens. Next of kin is such a foreign, inconceivable concept, Jac doesn't know what to do with it. Is it possible, especially after everything else that had been discovered, being assured that surrogacy didn't give Cindy any legal claim to her, that things have changed? Worried, she shares a small look with Lene.

“I don't know anything about estates,” she admits out loud, even as her eyes follow the second card. “I'm not even sure I can manage one. And Cindy…” It's complicated. So very complicated.

Taking a breath, Jac picks up the next business card that's produced and looks at it. She recognizes the name on it and breathes a surprised, “Tasha.” Tasha was the attorney who'd processed her adoption paperwork. Hope flutters like a butterfly in a tornado, battling the anxious panic that keeps trying to drive stakes in through her stomach and out through her eyeballs.

“Thank you, Aria. This… you're really helpful.”

“I try to be,” Aria says with a hesitant smile.

Jolene takes Jac’s hand and slowly stands, helping guide her younger sister to her feet. “We appreciate this Ms. Baumgartner. But we should probably be going.” Jolene can tell Jac is anxious and she wants to help get her some space on the situation so she can think, so she can blend into the background of anonymity and not have as much of a spotlight on her.

“How about we go see if we can still make Joanne and Mira's party?” Jolene says quietly, still holding Jac’s hand. “You need some time to think…”

“…and I think we both need a drink.”

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License