This Life is Something


bella_icon.gif odessa_icon.gif

Scene Title This Life is Something
Synopsis For better or worse.
Date May 13, 2019


In the visitor parking lot of PISEC, Isabella Sheridan takes the time to check her makeup in the rearview mirror, the beneficiary of which is, more than anyone, herself. The last time her friend saw her, she was composed for court, well-daubed and carefully painted. She doesn’t want to lose that vaneer, not for the first real meeting since wheels of justice began spinning, drawing Odessa Price back into its impersonal maw. Vanity, while perhaps the least of Bella’s vices, is still a prevailing one.

All right. Enough is enough. One last deep breath, and Bella disembarks from the bastion of her vehicle, a metal monstrosity that serves, in the urban post-apocalypse, as a kind of gated community of one. Across the asphalt, through the summer heat, and into the air conditioned confines of the detention facility. Signs and gatekeepers alternately direct and waylay her, but all her papers are in order. This is not a fly-by-night type visit; she’s too wise to get smart with the penal system. She’s been on its business end before. Never again, not if she can help it.

It is an institution, but the way in which it is institutional is at least not drab or draconian. It’s all clean, smooth surfaces. Easily wiped, washed and buffed- a place where it is hard to make a lasting mark. Fine for her, as a transitory soul, but what must all these polished planes do to the people who spend their days here? She’ll find out soon enough.

You have a visitor isn’t the most uncommon thing for Odessa to hear these days, to the surprise of no one more than herself. Having spent so much time alternatively as a secret, a pariah, and a fugitive, visitations are still something of a novelty.

Seated at a round table in a room that looks more like a cafeteria than a prison (though it is not the cafeteria - that has far more than vending machines), Odessa looks up from her folded hands when the door opens. She doesn’t even attempt to hide the shock from her face when she’s graced with the visage of her once-lover. Her mouth forms into a soft ‘o’ while her eyes widen appreciably. Her fingers curl around the edge of the table and grip lightly as though to anchor herself and keep from rising to meet her friend.

“Bella,” the blonde breathes out. “What a surprise.” A faint smile forms on her lips, one that Bella can recognize as tempered optimism. After all this time, Odessa is still afraid to trust in good fortune or the kindness of others.

You might write a lengthy treatise on what drew these two together, the tangle of loyalty, desire, circumstance and similarity that tied up their destinies. You might write another on how much it has frayed, on the potentialities unfulfilled, the paths untaken, the currents that took them to where they are now, a rare reunion. Still, it is with a familiarly beneficent smile that Bella greets her imprisoned friend, a manifest sign of what is now a matter of court record: a firm belief that Odessa needs love more than oversight, affection instead of correction.

“What, they don’t tell you who’s coming ahead of time?” The redhead says as she approaches the table. “I was wondering when this place’s intrinsic paranoia would reveal itself.” She’s dressed in a denim blouse that reveal her freckled shoulders, and a black skirt with enough looseness that she sweeps it up a bit before settling in the seat across from Odessa.

“I’m sorry to say I don’t have a cake with me, much less one with a file baked in.” She folds her hands on the table between them, a small extension of herself which must serve in place of an embrace. Bella is on her best behavior, wary of both their privilege and their reputation. “I hope you can give me an honest answer- are they treating you well?”

“Not always,” Odessa admits. “I don’t always ask.” Sometimes she likes the mystery. Spinning the roulette wheel of possible visitors. Her fingers relax slowly, uncurling from the table’s edge and smoothing out over its surface instead before folding together.

That smile of Bella’s makes Odessa’s heart swell and constrict all at once. For all their time apart, all the time kept at arm’s length, Odessa still has feelings for the woman across the table from her. Conflicted though they may be.

Bella’s question receives an answer without hesitation. Odessa’s head bobs up and down in a nod. “Yes, actually.” She smiles at her own self-deprecation as she proclaims, “This is the nicest gilded cage I’ve ever had the fortune to occupy.” Whether that’s good fortune or misfortune is up to interpretation, naturally.

The nod Bella gives is meant as reassurance to both of them. Reassurance that, yes, there is good in the fortune, insofar as it is not as bad as it could be. A weak-tea definition of good, but you have to take what you can get, right?

Bella’s words are a distillation of that spirit: “That’s clever. I’m guessing surprises are in limited supply.” And it’s not an ingenuine statement; Bella sees it as part and parcel with Odessa’s frustrating brilliance, a coping mechanism of admirable artistry.

“Sadly, so’s our time. Let’s use it well.” Bella’s folded hands steeple in an arrow directed at Odessa. “We should skip the normalcy theater. Tell me what’s going on. No matter how grim or trivial. Talk to me. I’m here. I’m listening.”

The entreating does its work. The walls Odessa’s erected between herself and her feelings, and the world around her, come crumbling down. “I’ve lost nearly everything, Bella,” she begins, her good cheer fading just as swiftly. “My mother, my powers…” It isn’t that she’s forgotten the things she still has — her life, and her brother, his wife and their children — but that the hole left behind by the things that she’s lost has been unaddressed for so long.

“Not to mention my freedom…” Eyes cast down to the shape of Bella’s hands and silence falls for a moment. They’re both accustomed to the silences that fall when she’s searching for the right words even after all these years. “Do you remember when you asked me to write a journal, and instead I wrote letters to an old friend?”

Odessa doesn’t wait for the confirmation. If Bella doesn’t remember — and she strongly suspects that she does — she’ll gain enough from context. “I found out he’s alive. He… He testified at my trial.” She shakes her head and tries to decide how to explain what this means to her. “I had so many visions over the past few years. I saw glimpses of my other selves. How things would go if I turned left instead of right, that sort of thing…” She expects her friend is familiar with the phenomenon that became more widespread once the aurora appeared in the sky.

“One thing was constant: I loved James Woods.” In its own way, it’s a hard thing to admit. Especially to someone else Odessa once professed to love. Someone she still does, just with the knowledge that it’s something she can never have. “To know he was alive… Bella, I could have flown.” Her gaze comes up finally, pain clearly visible in her eyes. “So I requested a meeting. I could see he knew. He remembered all the same lives I did. I thought he would…”

Her voice hitches and the first tears start to well up and glimmer in her eyes. They fall once she blinks. “He… He doesn’t want to be with me. I wanted him transferred here so that we could at least see each other, and he…” Odessa’s eyes squeeze shut and she hangs her head. “He’d rather rot on Liberty Island than be here with me.”

The indication is clear that she believes her love is unrequited. Whether she has confirmation of that beyond her inference is unclear.

Ah yes. Visions. Things that might have been, but are not. Goddamn parallel universe shinanigens. Silently, mordantly, Bella reflects on how Evo’s literalize everything, including the (usually) interior maze of regret. That’s not something she wants to vocalize here of all places. No humor could adequately excuse the observation. And she does understand, however much her own reaction to that kind of vision is markedly defensive.

“Oh Odessa,” She cannot deny, nor dispute, not without more to go on. And, inference or no, it is Odessa’s reality. So she consoles, not with platitudes or plans, but with simple shared sadness. Her face falls, her voice lilts into sympathy. “I’m so sorry.

“When did you find this out?”

“I don’t know,” Odessa sniffles, wiping at her face with one hand. “End of April? Beginning of May? The days… sort of blend together in this place sometimes.” That’s to say nothing of the practical fugue state the revelation that she was not wanted the way she was wanting had put her in.

“I know it sounds insane,” she continues, unable to look at Bella as she explains this feeling, “but it was all real. I lived those lives. I lost him over and over and over again. To know he’s alive…” What little wind was left in her sails has gone entirely out. “To know that he’s alive should be enough.” But it’s possible to feel Odessa’s heart break in those eight words.

Pale fingers tremble as they continue to brush away tears. At least she hasn’t completely broken down with sobs. “Sometimes I wonder if the reason he died… I— I wonder if it’s me. I seem to be the common denominator. Maybe he’s safer without me around.”

It’s a gross oversimplification of the situation(s). It isn’t as though she was ever directly responsible for his death. In fact, she was directly responsible for his being alive in at least one lifetime. But grief has a way of twisting truth to fit its fiction.

“But how could he ever love such a monster?” Odessa laments, dramatic in her pain.

Of course, time elision is one of the soft forms of torture that persist in even the gentlest incarceration. Bella had prepared herself, thought she had prepared herself, for the reality she’d have to acknowledge. She thought the analogous experience she had would help. It turns out it only helps her to realize how impossible it really is.

Regs be damned, Bella reaches across the table and catches Odessa’s hands in her own. Only the coldest of hearts would deny them such obviously innocuous contact. And even if someone intercedes to stop them, at least she made the effort. Was willing to cross the boundary to transmit the message: you are loved.

“If he were here,” she prompts, tone soft and even, “what would you want to say to him?”

That hand is clutched tightly like a lifeline. “I don’t know,” is the honest admittance that follows. “I want to tell him that he means everything to me. The moon, the stars… But it’s insane.” This version of her and this version of him never had that kind of relationship, even though she realized her friendship with him ran deeper than she could comprehend. Only after he died — or was believed to have done.

“I know I’ve fallen for this before,” she admits again, looking down at those hands clasped together. There’s no movement on the part of the guard at the desk by the door to separate them. Apparently it’s not as frowned upon as one might expect here. “Seeing a possible future and…” Odessa waves her free hand vaguely in the space between them.

She means, of course, the marriage that they shared in some other version of now and tomorrow. The one that ended in tragedy, the same as all Odessa’s loves seem to end. “I want to be able to just… stop. To fall out of love with him. But I can’t.” That free hand comes up to press against her forehead, fingers digging past her hair, nails scraping over her scalp. She flinches, as though in pain.

The nightmare of it. Unable to change where you are, and thus who you are; unable to find the space to become someone else, or even to put a little distance between you and it, the thing that’s gnawing on you. It’s hard enough when you have the open road available to you, but here Odessa is, hemmed in by walls.

It’s something she usually views at a safe distance of sympathy. But the linking of their hands and the stirring of the air between them brings her feelings back into play. She has her own alternate memories, and she knows they are inescapable no matter how much you have - and she did - try to refuse them. It’s a circumstances beyond solution, if not consolation, and Bella does her best, through steady pressure of fingers and palm and unwavering gaze, to provide that little solace. She’s not him, but she’s here.

“Is there anyone else you have to talk to?” Knowing there are no tricks with memory she, a non-Expressive can perform to help, she jumps immediately to the question of her friend’s support network. That, at least, she calls up, being part of it herself. “I’d be happy to visit you regularly. Whenever we can, whenever you need me. I’ll speak with whomever I have to speak to.”

“I have a shrink,” Odessa confirms, fully cognizant of the fact that using that term is akin to needling her dear friend. Anything to feel like she has some control of something. “I honestly don’t say much, though…” There’s a small shrug of her shoulders, a bit dismissive. The truth is, of course, that she hasn’t found someone she feels safe confiding in properly. Not since the person sitting across from her.

Her expression goes a little flat, gaze distant. “It’s not fair. I… I tried everything. I tried over and over again… But in the end, I’m always alone. I’m never—” Odessa sniffles and lets her hand fall away from her head after a brief wince.

Bella gave up her therapeutic position in Odessa’s life long ago. The whole goddamn TV watching world knows that now, if they cared to tune in. And that decision itself was founded on a certain skepticism of how much good such a relationship can do Odessa, especially in the institutions which have harbored and held them.

She doesn’t let Odessa slip free so easily. Her arm extends, hand chasing hand, not risking being forceful - nothing that would compromise the wedge of freedom they have beneath the watchful eyes - but making her persistence clear, the meaning being as important as the contact itself.

“It’s not,” Bella agrees, “but I’m here. And this is not over.”

“I’m here,” Odessa counters even as she allows her hand to be reclaimed. A subtle movement of her shoulders is meant to encompass the whole of the facility to which she hesitates to ascribe a word so important as home. “It’s about as over as things are going to be.”

They’ve already touched on how things could be truly over.

A grimace shows on the blonde’s face in a flash of teeth and a pained wince. “Maybe that’s the lesson I’m supposed to learn here.” She rolls her eyes, drolly supposing, “If one wants to be so bold as to presume that anything actually happens for a reason.”

At least she hasn’t lost her dramatic streak.

“Maybe it’s just supposed to be enough to know that he’s alive. Even if it means we’ll never be together.” Blue eyes briefly catch Bella’s gaze before flitting away again, ashamed of herself for so many different reasons. Chiefly, for the moment, having strong feelings for any other human being at all. Let alone someone other than the woman presently across from her.

If Bella has arrived to assert her own emotional prerogative, she does so subtly, not by asserting it but by opening the way back. And this only if she is so possessive, so calculating as that. One might be forgiven for fearing she is; she herself might have reason to fear, since self-understanding does not necessarily lead to self-mastery. She may not know what she does. But there’s nothing in her expression designed to seize upon that glimpse of weakness, that flash of shame. Her regard remains unconditional and positive.

“If you have any choice in what to believe,” Bella says, “you should believe that- that life is something, this life. For better or worse we don’t live every possible life. I’m on record on thinking it’s cruel to subject people to that kind of experience. That’s where regret lurks, down all those inaccessible corridors. And regret is just us trying to avoid things that have already happened. It’s high, high up there on the list of useless, painful emotions.”

Of course, by that logic, the list might also include the desire to escape when no escape seems possible. But Bella is not about to come out in favor of placid acceptance on that count.

“I’m sorry if that seems like a bullshit platitude. It probably is. But dammit, Odessa- my happiness is tied up in yours. So-” a level look, a joke played seriously or a seriousness tinged with joke, “for me. Please. Try. Meditate on the best possible perspective.”

All at once, Odessa remembers why it was so easy to fall in love with Bella Sheridan. Even if she absolutely never should have, and never should again. Still, she reaches out and tucks a strand of red hair behind her ear affectionately. What was between them has cooled, certainly, but was never truly lost.

“I’m a bad person to tether your happiness to,” she teases. “But I’ll do my best.” She at least makes an attempt at a smile for her, even if it doesn’t quite reach her eyes. They both know well how to fake it until the lie becomes the truth. “I like the idea of you happy.”

At the heart of Bella’s deepest relationships is a contract of mutual acceptance that can be read, uncharitably, as mutual deception: let’s both of us pretend we’re good people. It only takes two, after all, to make a facsimile of the world, the minimum consent required for a functioning reality. The intimacy of the chair and the couch, expanded into the vast and unethical edifice we call love. Her eyes dip closed at the affectionate touch, and on her face flickers a tinge of girlish ease that is about as honest - in its sweetness and self-satisfaction - as Bella ever gets.

“Too late,” she says, eyes opening once more, “so you’d better.”

“For what it’s worth,” Odessa begins, “I’m sorry things turned out the way they did.” She doesn’t elaborate as to whether she means their relationship, their roles in the war, or simply the fact that she got caught.

A kiss is pressed to the corner of Bella’s mouth, feather gentle. “Je t’aime, mon cœur.”

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