Unexpected Reunions


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Also Featuring

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Scene Title Unexpected Reunions
Synopsis Former Lighthouse guardians run across one of their wards in a market, and friendships are resumed.
Date August 17, 2020

Red Hook

Red Hook Market is always bustling. At this time of year, the summer vegetables are being harvested at full speed, and everyone who has a garden plot is happily selling any surplus they managed to grow to people who didn't manage to get enough of their own to put up for the winter. And last winter there were significant food shortages, so everyone is a little het up about getting enough stuff canned for the winter.

It's kind of a strange mix of modern day and older times — people in the city didn't so much do canning because gardens are tough to keep up in a city. But New York of 2020 is definitely not the New York of the twentieth century either.

Amid the people moving from stall to stall, the petite brunette is generally easy to overlook. She's only about 5'2, dressed in a pair of well-worn, scuffed jeans and hiking boots that have clearly been used for exactly that purpose. Despite the heat, she has an open long-sleeved shirt on over what is either a sleeveless cotton shirt or a tanktop. She carries a backpack over one shoulder and at her left side, right on her heel, is a Goldendoodle with a 'Working Dog' vest that someone managed to come up with for him.

Gray eyes are watchful as Brynn makes her way along the main concourse, one hand holding her backpack as insurance against it being snatched. People who man the stalls appear to know that they can't just call out greetings; a few of them wave to get her attention but she has only paused at two places — a bookseller and a place that has a jumbled variety of things clearly cadged from outside the walls of the Safe Zone.

Elliot’s attention is dedicated to a nearby table of bulk jarred spices and seasonings. “I’ll take the whole jar,” he says, handing folded bills across the table to the seller. The seller looks surprised, but counts the money and stows it before passing Elliot a hinge-lidded canning jar full of what looks like inch-long curved twigs. He removes his timeworn backpack and sets it on the table to deposit his purchase. He swings the bag onto his back and fastens a strap across his chest, taking a moment to realign the hood of his thin, dark gray track jacket. He wears black jeans, a black baseball cap, and sunglasses; the only spark of color is a pair of safety-cone orange high top sneakers in pristine condition.

He nods to the seller and turns into the flow of pedestrian traffic. He talks to himself as he passes a stall selling reclaimed odds and ends. “What? Where?” he says, stopping mid stride to look about him as though he is being directed to do so. As he finally rests his eyes on Brynn, recognition seems slow in coming. But then a smile beams across his face. He pushes up the brim of his hat and removes his sunglasses, stowing them above the visor before bringing himself into Brynn’s line of sight from a few steps away. He throws out a peace sign in a way that looks like he’s trying to play rock paper scissors, grimaces, and decides to try again with a less formal wave.

As she looks thoughtfully at a couple of hand towels that actually match, the young woman — she's barely out of her teens, really — catches the waving hand. It's automatic to check and see whether someone waving is waving at her or just waving in her direction. Her smile is perfunctory, at best, until her brain catches up with her eyes. Brynn pauses, her head canting slightly to one side as she stares at the guy waving, and then there is recognition. She sets the towels in her hands down, her shy grin more open and wider now that she knows who he is. Even as she covers the few steps between them, her hands are flying.

What are you doing in the Safe Zone? Have you been to the compound? How are the littler kids? Brynn herself came to the city a couple of years ago now and hasn't been back up to the compound more than a handful of times since. She looks around. Where's Wright? Are you traveling through or staying in town? It's totally primal to see you! Lance and Joe would be so disappointed if you didn't poke your head in. Aunt Gilly helped us buy a place here in the Zone.

She's not often so verbose with her fingers, but seeing him has given her a palpable sense of relief — she's not alone in the marketplace now. There is someone here she trusts. It's a behavior that he hasn't really seen from her since the early days of the evac from Bannerman. The Goldendoodle on her heels is just as polite as it can be, sitting down right there while they talk. Brynn tells him, This is Doodlebug. Hailey trained him as a hearing dog for me.

Elliot smiles, directing his full attention to Brynn’s sign, nodding with a suppressed giggle as he waits for the torrent of questions to finish. It’s so good to see you too! I live right here in Red Hook, he signs. His sign is crisp, well practiced. He’s lost the terrible accent he had picked up in his youth, a rigidity that mirrored his anxiety about speaking aloud. In fact, that constant anxious tightness he displayed after Bannerman’s seems to have faded away.

I bought a townhouse after the war with my Wolfhound money and lived there with Wright and Marthe. We retired so we could help raise the baby while Marthe brushed up on her medical degrees. Oh! he blinks with realization, Wright and Marthe have a baby! Had a baby. She’s an entire five-year-old now. Next month. Ames, he spells. She’d love Doodlebug. They all just moved into Phoenix Heights to be closer to Ames’ school. Wright’s here right now, she had to point you out to me. I walked right past you, and even when I saw where she was pointing I didn’t recognize you at first, he laughs. She’s just abandoned a fierce haggle over a melon and is heading this way. He nods vaguely in a direction across the market well beyond pointing distance.

I haven’t been to the compound but I certainly should. I’ve been a hermit. I’m so glad you have a place here! It’s wild on the outside, it’s a relief to know you’re OK.

He and Wright live in Red Hook? Or… well, he does and Wright is in Phoenix Heights?? That kinda blows her mind, and he can see the surprise. If only because Red Hook Market is *the* place where six degrees of separation is usually obliterated in a hurry. She glances briefly in the direction he points for Wright's approach, her smile bright. Yeah… when I first got here, I was in one of the skeevy places so Lance let me crash at his apartment — he had one from the Lottery. But it got a little crowded with him and me and Joe and everyone else stopping in. So Aunt Gillian helped us buy a firehouse. There is a roll of her gray eyes at him. Pole and all. You know how that went with Joe, right? The irrepressible Joe.

There's a lot of us here these days. Me, an' Joe, Lance, Hailey, Gene, Joaquin… She counts them mentally. And we've kinda adopted a few more. Safety in numbers? Or just their upbringing in communal living? Hard to say.

You live in a firehouse? he signs with alarmed excitement. Fuck that’s so cool. I’m going to sneak in and use the fire pole in the middle of the night, leaving no trace of my presence. Regularly. The living accommodations in the Zone are certainly improving. Though, honestly I was squatting in mill buildings around the city for years after the Bomb, anything is uphill from there.

Wright appears behind him, moving through the crowd in a manner one degree of social propriety away from a bullrush. She’s wearing a short-sleeved paisley dress shirt, cyan, cobalt, magenta and yellow matching her eyeshadow. She smiles and waves ecstatically as she comes into range, handing a shopping bag off to Elliot before signing, Oh my god it’s so good to see you you are an adult now I missed you how are you? Her sign is just as fluid as Elliot’s, if unpunctuated in her excitement. She holds her arms slightly forward, crooks her head to the side and gives a questioning smile as if to say, Hug? Yes? No? Elliot busies himself stowing Wright’s shopping bag in his backpack.

Brynn's silent giggle is evident in the way her eyes crinkle at him. I wouldn't, she warns. Joe and Lance will definitely shoot first and ask questions after. There's a momentary shift of her expression from amused to pensive and concerned, but she masks it behind another smile as Wright joins them.

As the blonde woman gets close enough, Brynn nods emphatically in greeting while Wright fires off her own barrage of sign, and she does allow herself to be hugged. If maybe just a little tentatively — open affection isn't exactly her norm but Wright's gregarious nature always draws her in, much as Joe's does.

Stepping back the petite brunette starts to laugh that nearly silent chuckle that she's always had. I always forget how tall you are! With her brothers only running 5'8 or so, Brynn's 5'2 stature isn't THAT tiny. But next to Wright and Elliot, she is positively tiny. She grew up, but she definitely grow up since they last saw her. I can't believe we didn't even know you were here. Now that there's happiness in the air, the Goldendoodle seems more relaxed than he was initially too. It's really primal to see you both. Elliot says you have a daughter!

I do! Wright says. Ames Abel. She’s amazing. She’s an artist, she’d love you. She can sign. Also she turns five in a couple weeks! Her posture changes as she switches topics, relaxed but curious. I can’t believe we haven’t collided earlier either! Elliot is a mushroom who lives in a shack so it makes sense for him, but look at me. I am very tall and clearly visible.

Elliot smirks as he stands and slings the bag back over his shoulder. Wright continues, Do you have plans? We are cooking dinner and hanging out at my place. He’s on a grilled fruit kick but we have some meat and veggies we could cook for Doodlebug. Ames is at home with Marthe, but you’re very welcome to join us for dinner if you’re feeling hungry. Are any of the other kids with you?

There's a brief hesitation, but then she nods. I'd love to. People have to eat, right? You sure you want all of us at once, though? I mean, Joe by himself tries to eat us out of house and home. Brynn ducks her head in a gesture of amusement.

And yeah — I was telling Elliot, we kinda have our own Lighthouse now. Me, Joe, Lance, and Hailey bought a place together with Aunt Gillian's help. She's here too. I can text them about dinner, if you want. When she looks up, her smile is soft. She sounds adorable, Wright. I still have my sketchbook all the time, I can show her some stuff, she volunteers. Most of it's black and white right now, but she might like it.

Everyone is welcome, though if you’re looking for a reason to ditch that’s fine too. We can give you our phone numbers and address to pass on to any concerned parties. Elliot signs. If everybody’s coming over though I may need to go grab a few more items to flesh out the menu. But I am in a mood to cook either way.

That melon! Wright interjects, grasping angrily at the air above her. Extortion! Elliot, go steal it.

With pleasure, he signs with a chuckle. I’ll leave you in Wright’s capable hands while I wrangle up an ingredient or two. He nods to Brynn and turns back toward the market, passing through streams of pedestrians.

Wright winks to Brynn as she signs, Also get something normal for these poor children to drink. Several steps away, Elliot gives her a thumbs up over his shoulder without looking back.

Brynn covers an impish smile with her hand, uncertain if Wright is seriously sending Elliot to steal the melon. It's not like she has moral objections to stealing food when they need to… but this isn't quite that situation, either. Still, she shrugs off the whole thought as unimportant — she has no room to cast stones, after all. And Elliot's really good at what he does, so….

I can text them while we walk, Brynn signs, shaking her head. Should tell him that Joe puts his pickpocket training to good use here and there. Especially when we go into the Underneath to scav. Doodlebug keeps himself exactly on her heel as Brynn starts to meander — that's the only word for what she's doing just now — aimlessly in whatever direction Wright wants to go. There's a lot of old Ferry around, you know. I'm surprised you haven't run across them. She pauses and looks up, her expression somber. Did you hear that Mister Ben died? Benjamin Ryans, head of Special Activities division out at Bannerman, is a figure of near-mythical proportions among some of the younger children — especially those who were sick out at Bannerman before the evacuation. I see Nurse Megan in the market sometimes, and Emily's boyfriend Devon works for Wolfhound with Aunt Stork. 'Aunt Stork' was always the kids' name for Huruma.

Wright is solemn at the mention of Ryans. I did, she signs. That one really knocked the wind out of me. I hadn’t seen him in ages. I do run into Ferryfolk occasionally, moreso those of us who went on to Wolfhound, but mostly I just interact with them on social media. Took a lot of downtime since the war. Aside from raising Ames, I just had a lot of work to do on myself. And a life of danger wasn’t really complimentary with the unpredictable schedule of a kid.

Wright pauses in a spot currently free of foot traffic. Were you shopping for something? I just realized that I distracted you from your errand in my excitement. And that I’ve just been kind of walking in no particular direction.

Brynn grimaces slightly, acknowledging the blow that the death of Ben Ryans would be to any of the former Ferrymen. I'm sorry, she offers in sympathy. But she waves off the question. No, I wasn't looking for anything in particular. Just… trying not to let myself get stuck in my own head, she admits, dragging a hand through her hair. Being out here in public is good for me, even though it feels like people are watching. A little paranoia isn't a bad thing, but it's definitely bad if you let it take over. She casts a swift glance up at Wright and grimaces. Some stuff happened over the summer to me… it makes me anxious. So she's working out her problems as much as she can.

She was the one who didn't like combat training, despite the fact that she did give it her all the same as her siblings. She's passable, nothing special on any particular front. But if Wright looks, that boot knife that Elliot gave her is still in her boot all this time later. As she shifts her weight from one foot to the other, she also brightens up a little. Bet you didn't know that Lance is working for SESA now, she offers. Deflect, deflect!

As Brynn signs about her anxiety, Wright’s demeanor shifts from conversational to serious. Her eyes seem to lose focus for a moment. Her posture relaxes, but not in a way anyone would mistake for sleepiness. Eyes turn alert and flicker over Brynn. Withdrawn, afraid, dismissive of her own instinct.

“Parallel,” Elliot says. Wright blinks twice.

When Brynn deflects to a lighter topic, Wright follows along. She rises back to her full height with a comforting smile. The support she can give here and now. I refuse to believe that, she signs, Lance can not possibly be old enough to have a job. Lance is a baby.

Brynn actually snickers, the sound soft and still voiceless. None of us are babies anymore, Wright. I'm actually legal to drink, she points out. Not that she does. He's been SESA training and stuff, and Joe's been doing stuff. The kind she doesn't try to explain. Some of it maybe not so legal. I had some art commissions and I've been working for a tattoo place! It was totally primal. Right now, I'm just working for Auncle Raquelle, though. Over at Cambria's. Cambria's Spa and Salon has a really good reputation.

The brunette pauses and looks from Wright back around the courtyard, maybe looking to see where Elliot is — usually if Wright does that, she's talking to him. But she definitely can't see the byplay between them or anything, so she keeps signing. We're kind of rebuilding the Lighthouse, in a way. Getting stuff ready, you know? They did, after all, grow up in the shadow of the last war. They knew how Brian raised the kids. Some of those Pure Earthers got kinda close to Hailey last year. Which means the 'kids' are definitely in lookout mode.

Wright chuckles knowingly at the mention of stuff. I’m glad you have work! she signs, Also I need to touch up my coiffure so having you as an inside man in a salon is excellent. She raises her hands beside her head and flicks her fingers open, gesturing to her whole look without a hint of modesty.

I’m happy you’re building that refuge back up, she signs with a touch more seriousness. Elliot and I will lend you support however we can. She pauses as if she’s just remembering something before continuing to sign, Though we’re both unemployed and looking for work so significant monetary investment would be limited. We did get a brick of money out of a war cache recently which would have once been enough for a weekend Vegas blowout but in today-dollars would buy but one sheet of wet newspaper. Also Elliot’s hideous shoes. I hate them. He wears them to mock me because I said the cache wouldn’t be water-tight.

She glances about conspiratorially, as though hoping Elliot didn’t happen to overhear.

Brynn starts laughing behind her hand in that silent way of hers. I know, right?? Where did he get those things?? They're the only thing I can see in th— She doesn't abort the movements, but she changes her phrasing mid-sentence. They're the brightest things in the entire market! is what she finishes with. Don't worry about investment — but it's good to have more people we know can be relied on if anything ever happens. Things aren't really the best around here lately. Not as if Wright doesn't know that — if she's been in the Zone for any length of time, she knows Pure Earth has been doing some visible things lately. The more things change, the more they stay the same it seems. Humanis First by any other name….

Auncle Raquelle does the best hair in the Zone, bar none. Tipping her head, Brynn asks, What kind of work do you want to do, Wright? Because all she's ever known them as is soldiers.

Wright considers the question carefully, as though she really hasn’t finished answering it for herself yet. She reaches out and touches Brynn lightly on the shoulder with the back of her hand, nodding up toward an unobservant pedestrian who would collide with her. She leads them back into the flow of traffic, making for the exit of the market while she ponders.

I want to never see another—, Wracking pain but he’s back he’s back I’m here I’ve got you the kids are safe you did it we did it we’re going to be ok. She drops her eyes self-consciously, clears her throat, pulls herself away from a memory. Sorry, Ames hasn’t changed me in the ways I thought she would. I’ve done serious damage to people who absolutely deserved it in order to take back some ground for Expressives. Since she’s developed into a whole person I’ve only become more certain. I’m good at what I do and I will do it for as long as I can to make sure kids can go to school, play with friends, live without fear.

Brynn reacts to the guiding hand automatically; her brothers so the same sometimes. As they merge back into the door traffic, she has Doodle close by and her eyes are following Wright's hands as much as they can while she still keeps a wary eye on the crowd.

The younger woman is thoughtful as the words draw to an end and it's not until they attain a place close to the exit but out in the open where they can wait for Elliot that she responds.

I think that for some of us it will never be over, she admits, gray eyes continually moving. When people show you who they really are, you should believe them. And what they showed us is that some people will always hate. So… we will always need to be ready.

Maybe that's a sad commentary on the life that Brynn and her siblings have lived, but it really is that simple for them — they don't expect any different. For them, this has always been 'normal.'

Wright appraises Brynn for a moment before nodding in agreement. None of us are the people we were. She takes a minute to look around. OK, she signs with a short sigh to release the seriousness of the conversation. Melon acquired. Who’s coming to dinner? Did you drive or take the bus?

Wright and Marthe's Home

Doodlebug was an instant hit — small children everywhere generally love affectionate, gentle animals. Brynn took his working vest off so Doodle knew it was okay to just play and loll about with Ames. The dog is impeccably trained, which comes as no surprise given Hailey's ability.

As she sits at their dining room table, Brynn's watching the older adults move around one another in the kitchen with a small smile. It reminds her of the ease of living with her siblings, and Marthe's hugs and fussing were certainly appreciated.

Ames should have a really good time up at the school — there's lots of people with kids there. Miss Lynette's little ones and Aunt Abby's daughter and Miss Delilah's little boy Walter, Aunt Kaylee's Carl. There are a lot of Ferry legacy kids at the school, for certain.

Elliot removes another waffle from the iron and adds it to the stack being kept warm in the oven. Long slices of cantaloupe, lightly dusted with smoked paprika, sizzle on a ribbed griddle that takes up half of the stove. The smokey caramel scent mixes in the kitchen with the sweet cake smell of the waffles. He removes the melon one crescent at a time, placing them on a cutting board and removing the rind with a single, surgical swipe of a knife. A small saute pan cools on the stove as well, containing a blend of shredded chicken, peas, and carrots for Doodlebug.

Marthe, a redheaded woman who stands at half the difference between Brynn’s height and Wrights, sits at the table while the others cook. “I’m sure we’ll be running into them all soon, and a lot,” Marthe signs as well as she speaks, warmly but with less grace and practice than Elliot or Wright. She’s picked up some as the two taught the language to Ames after she became fascinated by it. “Now that I’m a school nurse.”

In the background, Wright and Elliot begin working seamlessly beside one another as they arrange the waffles and fruit on five plates, drizzling each with a mixture of honey and the sugary drippings from the griddle, finally topping each with a large dollop of freshly whipped cream. Wright delivers the plates around the table, smiling as she sets the first in front of Brynn, along with the small bowl of warm food for Doodlebug. “Dinner’s ready, Boog,” Wright calls and signs.

Ames, attentive to and followed closely by Doodlebug, quickly walks to the table, holding fists above her strawberry blonde curls as she shouts, “Waffles!” As an afterthought, she signs, I said waffles. I love them.

You're gonna be the school nurse at the academy? That's primal, Marthe! Brynn is the most relaxed she's been since they met up, her shoulders no longer holding that subtle tension — she doesn't feel the need here, of all places, to keep watch. Joe'll be jealous that he missed waffles, she replies with a grin at Ames. And then she also signs — really slowly for the girl — Your signing is really good. I understood it exactly. But I can also read your lips when you're looking at me and talking. Sometimes I still miss things, though. So thank you for signing it! Among the children at the compound, signing as you spoke among the kids became automatic — someone was always keeping Brynn and the few others who needed it in the loop.

As the plate is set on the table, she slants a genuinely grateful smile up at Elliot. It smells awesome. If there's one thing the Lighthouse Kids maybe aren't great at, it's cooking with style — they're perfectly fine cooks for simple foods, but definitely not gourmet anything. And the bite of melon that she steals even as it's set down has Brynn closing her gray eyes in bliss at the flavor. Without opening them, she signs, Oh my God.

“OK!” Ames says and signs, beaming a wide smile. Marthe sits beside her, helping her cut the large waffle into manageable pieces as she bounces in her seat.

When Brynn opens her eyes, Wright says and signs with mock sincerity, “Don’t encourage him. He’ll only make the next meal weirder.”

“That’s true I will do that,” he replies honestly, nodding.

Everyone attends their meal with focused satisfaction, occasionally reaching across the table to add another spoonful of whipped cream or ribbons of honey. Enjoying the calm company, giving Brynn space to enjoy the meal without having to put down her utensils to sign unless she wants to.

The not-quite-teen definitely still eats like a teen raised in a scarcity — That is to say, she eats anything that's put in front of her without complaint and the things she particularly likes, she has as much as is reasonably available without making a pig of herself. When her belly is comfortably full, she leans back in her seat with a replete sigh and a grin.
Melon with paprika isn't the weirdest thing we've eaten, she points out. Remember moose sausage? She did not appreciate moose sausage at. all.

It maybe didn't help that Hailey found out after the fact that she knew that moose and cried about it.

Their lives are so not what most people would consider 'usual'.

Now that she's more comfortable, Brynn's expression has eased into softer lines and gentle smiles, more familiar on her features than the slightly pensive looks of before. You gonna go back to working for Wolfhound? she asks both Wright and Elliot.

Elliot stands, collecting plates and delivering them to the sink. He busies himself around a coffee maker, and retrieves a rough paper package from a cabinet discreetly. Wright, smiling with satisfaction, lolls back, holding Marthe’s hand in the space between their seats. She raises her hands to say, “That moose was definitely weird. Though one time in Pennsylvania somebody shot a wild boar, and I swear the sausage they made from it tasted how I imagine perfume tastes. Delicious smell but actually just a bottle of chemicals.” Ames wrinkles her nose at the thought of it.

Wright looks to Marthe as she says, “As for Wolfhound, they’re not in good shape right now. Their last mission out in California appears to have been a disaster. They sold the Bunker in Rochester.” The smell of coffee begins to float across the room. “How do you like your job at Cambria’s?”

Wolfhound's last run is something about which Brynn may know more than she's saying. Something flickers in her gray eyes, and she merely nods to the information. Looking down, she purses her lips a moment.

I like it a lot. Auncle Raquelle pays fair wages and even after everything, I can still do nails and tats the usual way. It's just a lot slower. I really miss doing the touch-ups on people's ink, but… She shrugs a little. Raquelle's girls are the sweetest things. One of them wants to be a cop and Auncle Raquelle is all kinda of wishing that wouldn't happen even though his fiancé was a cop. Or maybe because he was a cop, she admits.

An impatient Ames writhes dramatically out of her chair and runs from the room. Marthe watches her go with a smile. Wright calls out, “Be careful you don’t trip over Doodlebug, Boog!” Both mothers suddenly lurch forward in their chairs, but then stop. Brynn turns to see Ames pushing herself up from dangling between the table and couch, cackling madly.

Marthe suppresses a laugh, covering her mouth, and Wright just throws up her hands. “That coffee table has always been there, Boog,” Wright says, exasperated. Marthe rises from the table, walks to the living room. Elliot, with his back to the room, laughs. He returns to the table with a carafe of coffee and the paper package he took from the cabinet, open to reveal broken squares of dark chocolate. Wright pours them each a mug of coffee before offering one to Brynn with a square of chocolate on a saucer beside it.

Do you want to talk about what happened this summer? Elliot signs.

Chocolate is the panacea for all trauma. It is Truth. Brynn shrugs slowly and signs, I don't honestly know. I went to bed one night and somewhere in the middle of that night I woke up in the middle of a field stuck in a tube with fire all around because the plane I was on apparently crashed. There were a lot of us. None of us know what happened or how. Even SESA can't figure it out. Her hands hesitate and then she looks up at Elliot more so than Wright. We were all Slice when we went to sleep and when we woke up we weren't.

Shaking her head a little, Brynn glances toward Ames and Marthe while the two are playing. There's nothing much else to say about it, really. Whatever happened… they got past everyone without alerting anyone, even Doodle. None of them heard or saw anything, I was just gone the next morning. They didn't even know it wasn't voluntary until we got home.

The rather succinct summary is classic report format, as if it's the way she's keeping the stress from being overwhelming — her whole life changed. Her ability is gone, its absence bringing with it emotional turmoil and likely some significant stress in addition to whatever physical side effects come with its lack.

"You know, you really should stay out of those coffins"

A ripple of anxiety passes visibly from Elliot to Wright. Clenched jaw, white knuckles. Wright turns to him, her mouth opens but she doesn’t speak. He shakes his head, swallows. Lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding.

I’m sorry, that’s– he stops, shakes his head again. This isn’t about me. I understand that this is a difficult time for you. If there is anything I can do to help, just ask. Wright turns to Brynn and smiles without quite hiding all of the sorrow she feels on her behalf.

Anything you need, she signs.

Brynn's vague shrug isn't a dismissal of the offers as much as it's an admission that she has no idea what she needs. She notes the way Elliot's face tightens and the look that passes between them, and her shoulders pull in a little bit. I'll ask if there's anything, she promises, her trust in them still as strong as when she was a child. Mostly, I'm just trying to … figure out what to do, I guess? I have my jobs, but the tattooing one requires maybe more than I can do right now. Colors don't look right. So I'm working on adapting that. And once a week or sometimes twice, I go over to Raytech to let the scientists take blood to look at it. Maybe they'll figure out what happened to us and be able to reverse it.

She doesn't seem, at least right now, to be having a pity party; instead she's doing what she's always done — seeking out a positive and trying to hold tight to it. You guys really don't need to worry or anything. I'm okay, aside from not being Slice anymore. Which is to say 'as okay as she can be with missing a part of herself.' SESA's apparently all over this too, but they're not having a lot of luck either. So… She hesitates and admits, I think we're all just hoping those jerks don't come back.

They don’t press the issue, and Wright feels confident, or at least makes it look like the answer satisfies her. Elliot nods and drinks his coffee, following it with a fragment of chocolate.

Ames appears at the corner of the table where she had been sitting next to Brynn at dinner, holding a sheet of heavy paper. She seems ready to say something before noticing the chocolate on the table and looking aghast. She slaps the page down on the table and signs while she talks to Elliot, betrayed. “You didn’t tell me there was chocolate!?

Elliot laughs and slides her a saucer with a chocolate square on it. “It’s dark chocolate,” he replies, “You said you don’t like it.”

“It’s chocolate, Elliot,” the disappointment is palpable. “I’m still gonna eat it.” Wright cracks, laughing into her hand and looking past Brynn to Marthe. Ames appears ready to pick up the candy she intends to eat on principle alone and stops to reevaluate, looking from the chocolate to her fingers to the paper.

With an air of mild embarrassment she slides the paper toward Brynn and then tells her, I drew this for you.

The paper is rough, pure white watercolor stock and looks torn from a book, or maybe just made irregular and loose. On the opposite side there is a bonfire of colorful wisps of marker wrapping around themselves, bleeding into each other. Suggesting, without outline, a lighthouse. She stands nervously.

Brynn is doing her level best not to laugh at the outrage that has been perpetrated on Ames. It's chocolate, Elliot, OF COURSE she's going to eat it even if it's the grossest chocolate ever!

Brynn was that kid once.

She's hiding her grin behind her hand when Ames brings the picture to her, and the older girl immediately gets serious. Art is serious stuff! She takes the picture and studies it with a deliberately thoughtful expression. The little girl won't be able to see the subtle cues that show heartbreak and anger in Brynn. Only the slow nod and smile as she sets it down.

This is primal. It looks like home. Your use of the merging colors to imply what you want the watcher to see is excellent, the shadowing here is just right. She points to the places she means. Just because she can't see the colors the way they look doesn't mean she can't see the effort and the differences in tones and shades. Getting that smoothness to your color shifts is hard with markers. I'm really impressed. Maybe next time I visit I'll be able to bring you some watercolor markers, if I can get them. Then we can practice the same effects with those and see what you think?

It's one of the few times in her life that Brynn is grateful she doesn't have to speak aloud — the lump in her throat is too big.

Ames is radiant under Brynn’s praise, not seeing the hurt but looking to her mothers who smile back at her. Yeah! she says.

Elliot notices subtle sadness as Brynn looks over the picture and gives an apologetic smile before pivoting Ames’s attention away. He signs dramatically, returning Ames’s indignation. “Excuse me, what is this about a free drawing? After you robbed me blind when I asked for one? I demand a refund.”

“You paid me with jellybeans,” Ames sasses.

“Jellybeans is money to a four year old,” his reply.

Ames winds up her retort, “I’m going to be five in like a week.”

“That’s fair,” Elliot surrenders, “I forgot to adjust for inflation.” Ames merely looks at him in a way that communicates a devastating Yeah before picking up the saucer with chocolate and taking it into the living room.

Thank you, Wright signs. We’d love to have you over any time.

Brynn's grin is easy enough — she finds the interplay hilarious. She has a good eye for light and shadow, she signs to them. She wishes she could discern the full effect of the colors themselves, but she pushes the wish to the side. If wishes were horses, everyone would ride. And I'd love to spend some time with her drawing. Art is her passion, always has been.

It's really primal that you're all here. Just be careful when Joe comes by, she quips. He eats everything in sight. Boys do stop doing that someday, don't they?? The gray eyes roll dramatically about her brother's bottomless pit of a stomach as she laughs.

I feel like I’ve been issued a challenge, Elliot signs. Though that sounds like a party for my house. I’ll spare Marthe the chaos.

And pretty much every guy thinks his metabolism is immutable until his mid twenties, Wright signs, Present company excluded, she adds as Elliot raises his arms. Then how do you explain //this?//

Wright smirks but doesn’t reply, looking behind Brynn and nodding to Marthe. Well, Wright says. It has been absolutely wonderful to see you, I’m so glad I spotted you in the market. It’s getting late. I’ll give you a ride home in the car.

And then, looking again to Marthe, chagrined, After Elliot and I do all of these dishes.

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