Wright Christmas


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Scene Title Wright Christmas
Synopsis Wright and her family prepare for a combination Christmas celebration and Marthe's birthday.
Date December 25, 2020

Wright and Marthe’s apartment
Phoenix Heights

December 25, 2020
11:30 AM

Wright carefully lifts a lap desk from where Ames sleeps, moving it to the coffee table. Various other art supplies, Christmas gifts, litter the couch around her. These are placed in their packages, still new enough to form full sets of watercolor pens and colored pencils. The picture her daughter was working on, an abstract maze of color tests, remains clipped to the desk. Wright pulls a small throw blanket over her daughter's lap just as her head tips to the side, letting out a long snore.

There’s music playing quietly throughout the living space. The scents of the family’s breakfast permeate the room as well as the birthday cake cooling on the counter-top. Lunch is a ways off still, though the scents of the stuffed pork roast are beginning to peek out from the oven. With the exception of the cake, all of the food Wright is preparing today came from Elliot’s shared experience in the kitchen. Confectioneries were never his strength.

Marthe sits comfortably in a kitchen chair, slowly paging through a new novel. Two mugs of coffee sit between her and the seat Wright now lowers herself into. Marthe looks up to give a silent but warm smile. She’s dressed in pajamas, intending to stay comfortable for the rest of Christmas day or, more notably, her birthday.

Wright is dressed in a new buttoned shirt she’d received this morning, not being able to resist ironing it out and trying it on. The white and gray pinstripes clashed with her own pajama pants, so those were traded out for her comfortable blue jeans. She watches Ames snore from the kitchen as she savors her coffee. “Excitement coma,” she sighs. “Those were the days.”

Marthe closes her novel, marking her place with a gift tag. She slides her hand across the table to take Wrights, and the two sit in happy silence for a moment. It’s certainly not always this peaceful, or even this happy, but Wright thinks that things have been trending upward. The stresses of Eve’s festival and the ensuing fallout to their relationship don’t make themselves known anymore. They’re back to where they can pretend that everything is normal. As normal as having a wife telepathically connected to a man, her other partner, can be.

Marthe turns to study Wright’s eyes, perhaps seeing a glimpse of that memory in them. If so, it’s brushed aside with the same proficiency that’s let them hold on to each other for the last year. “Do you think,” she muses softly, “We should take advantage of this unexpected gift of quiet?”

Wright’s face loses any hint of retrospection as an eyebrow raises inquisitively. “Mrs. Burgess,” she says slyly, “Are you proposing something… indecent?”

Her wife nods playfully as though such a thing may have only just occurred to her, but Wright is still correct. “Indecent,” she replies, “But perhaps also discreet?”

Wright nods sagely. Discretion can be fun in its own way. “You had me at take advantage,” she admits.

A knock on the door causes a bit of emotional whiplash. If it isn’t Tiny Mrs. Hon, somebody’s going to have a lot of explaining to do. Marthe retrieves her hand from Wrights and stands, giving a huff and a raised eye. Stepping the short distance to the door, she checks to see that the noise didn’t startle Ames from her sleep, which is a small blessing in and of itself.

Wright stands from her chair begrudgingly as Marthe slides the chain latch to the side and pulls the door open.


It's not Mrs. Hon. It's not even a single person.

It's two people, the speaker of which is bearing a wide, happy smile, teeth bared and all. For just a moment, the blonde woman in the doorway holding up bottle of red wine in one gloved hand looks slightly uncertain. She's never met Marthe, so what if this isn't the right…? But then her eyes alight on Wright behind her and she looks back to the woman at the door with just as much enthusiasm as before. "You must be Marthe. It is so good to meet you. I'm sorry we forgot to call ahead, but hopefully this makes up for some of it." With grace, she turns out the wine by the neck, supporting the base of it with her other hand.

The man with her smiles too, but his is tight and small where the woman next to him— his wife— bears one that's warm and open. "We thought we'd stop by, surprise you for Christmas." There's a brightly-wrapped box in one of his hands. One brow arches a little higher than the other. "Have some family time."

Gregory Tracy looks past Marthe to Wright, the small smile shifting in tone as he takes her in. "Hey there, bumblebee."

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Wright is momentarily too stunned to speak, her eyes flicking back and forth between her parents. Her parents are here. They look older than she remembers. Older than she would have guessed. And were they always shorter than her? It’s hard to separate the way they loomed over her as a child.

The soft Christmas music in the background suddenly feels out of place in the moment of awkward silence. It takes a quick look backward from Marthe to snap her out of it. “Mom, Dad, you’re here,” she says, off to a bad start. “I mean, hi, come in.” She doesn’t know if she really wants them in the house, but what is she supposed to do? Tell Marthe to shut the door?

Marthe keeps her composure better, slightly embarrassed to be meeting her wife’s estranged parents in her pajamas. She backs up to give them space to enter. “Hi, yes,” she says, flustered, “I’m Marthe. So nice to finally meet you.” Perfectly polite in the way of a nurse who’s still on your good side.

Wright looks to Ames to see she’s been startled awake, nervous about the people she can’t see and her parent’s body language. Wright waves Ames toward her with one hand, and her daughter slinks from the couch, moving slowly toward the kitchen with her eyes on the doorway.

After sidling in, Wright's mother dips her head graciously. "I'm Barbara, but please, call me Barb." If she's at all aware of how she's putting them out, she glosses right past it. Better to just make the best of what's already happening, right? She smiles fondly, the heel of her boot clicking on the entryway floor. But then she turns and sees the other house resident come forward and her smile fades. It's replaced with a look of something like surprise.

So has Gregory's, but he drops to a crouch, eyes having softened some. "And you must be Ames. I'm your grandfather. I've heard so much about you."

He hasn't, but he's heard enough.

"We brought you a Christmas present. Here." The gift is offered out with all the purpose and delicateness of an olive branch to the young girl.

Barb looks up to Wright and offers her a faint smile. It becomes clear in its own way that the present really is meant to be a peace offering of a kind— one she assumes to already be accepted as she jumps right to asking, "Wright, dear, where should I put my coat?"

Ames looks from Gregory to Wright anxiously, but Wright reels in her own shock and nods to Ames. Ames reaches for the box cautiously, as though she’s not really certain why it’s being offered. She pulls it toward herself but doesn’t open it for the moment, pausing before a quiet, “Thank you.”

For her mother’s coat, Wright gestures to a peg rack mounted to the wall just inside the door. Perhaps an olive branch is enough for now. She certainly doesn’t need to be as combat-ready as she currently feels, and takes a moment to control her breathing. Marthe smiles warmly to Ames, better at hiding her own anxiety. “You can open it,” she tells Ames, who finally looks down and begins to paw at the edges of the gift wrap.

“When did you get to the Safe Zone?” Wright asks. It’s as ‘talking about the weather’ as she can manage right now. As she thinks about, she can’t say she knows where her parents have been in the time since they’ve spoken.

"A few days ago," Gregory answers as he comes back to his feet, knees popping for all that he rises with balance and strength. He looks for a moment to Wright out of the corner of his eye before he resumes watching Ames pull apart the paper. "Your mother and I are looking for a house out this way, actually." He says it with all the lightness of someone discussing what they might be having for lunch, rather than what could be a major life shift not just for himself, but those close to him.

Such as Wright, and her family.

Barb slips out of her jacket, hanging it up quickly before moving out of the doorway and to the kitchen, setting the bottle of wine she's brought with her on the counter. In here, she's not taking up the space in the doorway. She brushes the sweep of her bangs a little higher off her eyes as she sets her eyes on the birthday cake, scents the cooking lunch.

The paper pulled back over a plain cardboard box reveals little about the shifting contents inside until the box is pried open. The shining metallic top of a purple helmet with black foam is revealed then, padded on the forehead and back. Gregory is grinning again, small but meaningful, his expression eager in ways Wright saw so infrequently in her own youth. "There's a bike that goes with that," he tells Ames.

Ames is already gawking at the helmet for its shininess alone before she knows what it is. When she hears bike she looks to her helmet, over to Wright’s motorcycle helmet, and up to Wright. As though this might mean she finally gets to ride the Mantis. While that is certainly not ever going to happen, Wright does appreciate the utility of a bicycle helmet, considering Ames’s track record with running into objects.

While Marthe talks to Ames about the responsibilities of bike ownership, Wright’s attention is on her parents. What can she make of this? Looking for a house. They’re looking to move into the Safe Zone. Sweet fuck, this is a nightmare. But is it? Her father looks more human interacting with Ames than she can ever remember. Her mother seems honestly happy to see her but Wright is well aware of Barb’s ability to put on a happy face for company.

This is a lot. “You really didn’t have to,” she tells Barb. As good a place to start as any.

Barb turns with a smile, waving away the concern. "Oh, it was nothing," she reassures. "But don't thank me for all this. It's your father who was determined we see you for the holiday." Direct mention of him brings Gregory's attention back to Wright rather than his observation of the family interaction happening. He says nothing of what he did or didn't do, at least not yet. "Because… it's well past time, isn't it? For us to start being a proper family again?"

It's there that he speaks up, voice rumbling a little— with more age than he had nearly a decade prior. "I want to be a part of my granddaughter's life," Gregory states, emphatic and clear. "I want to be part of your life." He's still not taken off his coat, perhaps still not entirely sure they're actually welcome for the attempts to ingratiate themselves immediately. "It's the way things should be. It's time we put everything that happened before behind us now."

This time, the strain in Barb's smile is a little more visible. She's trying hard to be supportive here, but it's clear to see she doesn't think that'll be as easy as a surprise visit. "We'd love the opportunity to get to know the family you've made for yourself," she inputs as gently as she can. "It's important to us both."

Put everything that happened before behind us now? Wright thinks. We fought on opposite sides of a fucking war. The urge to be petty churns within her, though she keeps a lid on it for now.

Instead she looks to Marthe, who looks like she’d love to not be wearing pajamas right now. Wright wishes she could distill all of the complex emotions and family-management strategies into signal words and memory-share prompts like the way she communicates with Elliot. But there’s enough trust with Marthe, and intimate knowledge between them, to feel out and make a decision wordlessly between them.

There’s only a moment before her wife volunteers to break the ice. “You two please make yourselves comfortable,” she says, “I’ll go change into something more company-friendly.” She smiles to them both, then waves to Ames to reassure her before leaving the room.

“Coffee?” Wright asks. I’m going to regret the absolute shit out of this. Her anxiety has roused Elliot’s attention, and she pulls his attention enough to let him glimpse her parents before he recedes back into himself. Her Aww, fuck is echoed back to her across the network.

Gregory pulls the black and brown scarf about his neck down with one hand. "Coffee would be great," he confirms with about as much warmth as he ever usually manages. The wider-eyed eager of him is apparently reserved for Wright's daughter rather than Wright herself. He slips his coat up on the rack on the same hook as Barb's, inviting himself into the living room space without inviting himself to touch much of anything yet.

Barb, for her part, stays glued with Wright, her interest in all of this more with how her daughter has grown. "Did you fix all of this up from scratch?" she wonders, eyes going from cake to oven meaningfully. "This goes beyond anything I ever taught you… it's fantastic."

It's hard for her to figure that any of it might have been a joint effort, one way or another. She's used to shouldering all of the meal-prep efforts, holiday and otherwise.

"I never would have expected you to be a birthday cake for Jesus person, either, though." Barb laughs lightly.

“We did,” Wright says as she heads to the kitchen counter, brushing past her mother to retrieve two coffee mugs and fill each. “With the market and greenhouse open it’s getting a lot easier to get ingredients. Spices and seasonings are a little rarer but you can still come across the good stuff on occasion.”

While Wright did learn some cooking fundamentals from Barb, her lack of opportunity to employ those skills throughout highschool and the ensuing war led her to forget most of it. She feels no need to add that she gets most of her culinary skill on loan through her non-marital partner’s telepathy. Let her assume it’s a joint effort of me and Marthe, she thinks. It’s not entirely untrue, they both did the prep work. She peers through the oven window to keep an eye on the roasting dish, and holds a hand above the cake to test its progress cooling down.

“And the birthday cake is Marthe’s,” she explains. “Christmas baby.” She sets one coffee on the countertop next to Barb just in case she can delay the opening of that wine bottle. The other she brings to the living room to hand to Gregory.

Fuck it. “There’s plenty of food if you’d like to join us for dinner,” she says.

Tension lines in Gregory's forehead shift as he looks to Wright, nearly her height thanks to the boots he wears and her current lack of shoes. Taking hold of the coffee, he turns it around, halfway to answering…

But Barb chimes in from the kitchen. "You weren't planning to add two more place settings onto this meal," she says graciously, but her eyes are on Gregory over Wright's shoulder with more sharpness than that. "And it's Marthe's birthday? We couldn't possibly take up your whole day."

Effectively silenced, Gregory glances off and swallows his words back even before he takes a sip of the coffee that's been brought to him.

"But soon," Barb promises. "It'd be great to get together soon."

And to that, Gregory nods. "Yes," he tags on succinctly. "Whether it's over here, or after we get set up at our place." And apparently at least a little chastened by the firmness he's been deterred with by his wife, he looks back to Wright. "We'll be out by the time food's ready. Wouldn't want to ruin birthday celebrations."

The high-pitch emergency whine in Wright’s head tapers down when her invitation is declined. Oh thank god, why did I say that? Hadn’t she sat, trapped, at the dinner table with these two while they exchanged polite insults enough times already?

She returns to the kitchen to pick up her coffee from the dinner table before topping it off for herself. She gestures toward the living room to invite her parents to sit before crossing the room again to take a seat for herself. She sits in a wide armchair across the coffee table from the couch. Ames has settled back into her spot and is digging back into her art supplies while wearing her new bicycle helmet. She looks from Wright to her grandparents, unsure yet how to talk to them.

Wright can’t shake the feeling that something is off here. Beyond the fact that her estranged parents showed up out of the blue on Christmas. She can’t put her finger on it yet. “Are you planning on buying a house or are you applying for the lottery?” she asks. “We got this place through the lottery and it’s been great.”

Barb bobbles her head, hands folded around her mug with an unnecessary amount of poise. A newly-appreciative once-over is given to the apartment space. "Well, we were thinking of buying… but perhaps the lottery wouldn't be the worst thing after all."

Gregory sits on the couch, elbow on the armrest, his focus back to Ames when she comes back to the table to return to her art. A huff of pleased amusement comes from him as she sports her helmet. "What're you working on?" he asks her.

He, too, might not know entirely how to approach his granddaughter, but he has no qualms about breaking the ice.

Ames turns her lap desk to show Gregory a riot of color. There are pinwheels of shaded colored strips, some bleeding over others, some waxy and others chalky. “I’m just testing,” she says as her only explanation. She points to the coffee table, where her Christmas haul of flat tins containing various colored drawing implements have been reopened. She slides her test paper off of her desk and clips down a fresh sheet of paper, then concentrates as she tries to think of something to draw.

Marthe returns to the living room, dressed in a simple, light blue shirt and gray pants. Not pajamas, but she’s resisted the urge to dress up for unexpected estranged in-laws. She shows no indication that she overheard Wright’s inability to not invite her parents to Christmas birthday dinner, for which Wright is relieved. She smiles at Gregory and Barb on her way to retrieve her coffee from the kitchen table, then crosses back into the living room to take a seat partially beside, partially on top of Wright’s lap.

Wright wriggles to provide the coziest accommodations on the wide chair. “More and more of the city is back on grid, utilities are reliable in a lot more areas than they were even a year ago,” Wright tells Barb. The thing that’s bugging her comes into focus. Her father seems honestly invested in interacting with Ames, while her mother’s only interaction so far was the look of surprise she gave when she first saw her granddaughter. Huh.

She reaches for Elliot’s behavior analysis knowledge reflexively, and begins tracking the way her parents act, and the way they present themselves. Perhaps she can learn some of the subtext here without having to make pointed inquiries.

Like most things with her parents, it's complicated.

"Quite the take," Gregory notes of Ames' testing. "Barb, look at just how much she's done."

Since coming into the living room, Barb has looked several times at Ames, always only glances, always quickly resuming a look back to Wright. There's something strained there she tries to drown out by being happy, or at least present in the moment. Ames is something she never had, after all— a biological child.

But she's happy for Wright. Glad. Glad to see her. Trying hard to keep her struggles to herself, for all that the perceptive perceive something as slightly off.

Gregory's an even easier read than that. There have been so many other grandparents like him— gladdened for a second chance of sorts. One to get more things right, be more present, be more… doting, apparently. He looks up as Marthe returns, nodding amiably to her.

Both her parents tense when she comes back from the kitchen and shares a seat with Wright.

It's an unconscious discomfort that slowly works its way conscious. Barb recovers more quickly than Gregory does, which isn't uncommon. She picks up the conversational thread again almost like it hadn't been dropped. "Yes, we keep hearing things are closer to being back to normal here. With the borders of the Safe Zone expanding again with new growth rather than just reclamation, it seemed like as good a time as any to… well, find our own footing in all this."

There's a difference when she's saying something to have said it versus when she believes it, though. She may not entirely be in favor of the move.

Gregory finally recovers in the form of looking to his wife, nodding, and by the time he looks back to Wright and Marthe both his discomfort with seeing two women together like this isn't as blatantly obvious. "I heard there's a hell of a waiting list," he remarks gravelly, about the lottery surely. "But if there's a chance at getting a place for free rather than paying… maybe it's worth a second look."

Barb sips from her coffee in the tepid way one does when they wish their drink were spiked rather than pass comment.

And there it is, Wright thinks. She does the same thing she always does when she’s lethally angry. She relaxes. Maybe they’d assumed the phase had passed somehow, she wonders. Jokes on you, asshole, you sent me to a co-ed military boarding school.

Calmer now, she rests her arm around Marthe’s side. As long as her parents aren’t openly expressing their homophobia, she’s not going to give them an easy opportunity. Her mother’s reaction to Ames does make a bit more sense. Wright wonders how her mother grapples with the fact that Ames is biologically the daughter of both Marthe and herself. And Elliot, of course, but anonymous sperm donor seemed like the safer lie.

Which reminds her not to mention that she spent her first few years living in the townhouse they’d bought with their income from hunting down and arresting her father's war-criminal buddies. The schadenfreude outweighs her disgust.

“It wasn’t too bad for us, thankfully,” Wright says, and stops herself before continuing with Because Ames is Expressive. She doesn’t even want to consider how her parents would react to that nugget of information. She catches herself, playing it off like she’d just been doing the math. “A couple months, all told.”

“We used to live in a townhouse,” Ames explains to her grandparents, looking up from her drawing.

God damnit, Booger, Wright thinks. Why are you so precious and oblivious? Maybe they’ll just leave it at that.

"Did you now?" Gregory intones earnestly, looking over to Ames. His brow pops as he asks in a deadpan, "In this economy?"

It's easier to do this than see Wright openly flaunt having her arm about her wife. Never mind that that's a perfectly normal thing to do with the person you're married to.

Barb smiles thinly, holding her mug in one hand now, other arm folding, hand lying at the crook of the opposite elbow. She's much more visibly present in the conversation even for how the action subconsciously closes off her posture. The broadening of her shoulders hides it well, but it's just another one of those small signs.

"Maybe we'd be better off seeing if there's anywhere to rent in the meantime. Those homes they have down in Settler's Park…"

Well they just didn't live up to certain standards. They were trailers.

Ames merely laughs at Gregory’s question as though she understands the joke. It’s not impossible, she’s a bright kid, though it’s certainly not in the lexicon of most of her playmates at school.

“Settlers Park has actually improved substantially,” Marthe says. “Security, park, community garden, and what-not. With the relocations only taking a couple of months now it’s supposed to be a substantial improvement.” She and Wright had never had a reason to visit, though a newly resettled neighbor spoke well of it.

“Where have you been staying?” Wright asks. Her parents don’t look like they’ve been living rough, but Wright doubts that they’d let her see them like that. They always needed to appear in control. “Is the house in Merrimac still standing?” She realizes she’s never bothered to ask.

"Oh, the house is still there," Barb clarifies a little too quickly and eagerly for it to come off with the gentle reassurance she was going for. Instead it's more the house is still there and yet we're moving anyway. Never mind if this betrays her inner thoughts. "Life is certainly different out there following the war, but Merrimac survived well when you compare it to what happened to… Boston."

She pauses then, looking to Ames, all too aware of her presence. Should they discuss any of this in front of a child? Barb opts not to. "I stayed the whole time your father was away. It was really…" Her eyes go distant as they narrow slightly in thought.

"Barb," Gregory quietly interjects with a lift of his head.

"It was just different," Barb completes her thought anyway, with a hint of apology as much as fascination to look back on those gap years apart. "An entirely different life to become accustomed to."

"So you can see why the thought of relocating sounds appealing," Gregory tacks on lest anything else be said, even by being said through silence. "Fresh ground and opportunity. A chance to get our lives back on track."

I wonder, Wright thinks, If she had any say in this relocation at all. Wright herself had certainly never wanted to go back to that house, and she succeeded. With the war calling her father up for service, Barb probably had more freedom than at any other point since her twenties.

She suddenly feels guilty for leaving her, though that guilt feels foreign at the same time. If she’d gone back home after graduating at Oak Ridge, she probably would have gone on to graduate officer school by the time the war started. She’d have been in the army with Gregory, and Elliot would probably have been dead.

Wright settles on a nod of understanding for their professed reason for moving. “Have you found work out here?” she asks. Either of them could be supporting the other by now. Her father’s tenure in the army ended with the war, and on the opposite side of it. He hadn’t been important enough to get a Wolfhound retrieval, but he’d been knowledgeable enough to turn on his fellow officers as fast as possible.

"That's part of why we were looking out here." Gregory takes a larger drink from his mug. "The Safe Zone Initiative has placements they do. Tend not to care what side of the war you were on, so long as you're looking to help rebuild."

It's a polite way of saying even civil war convicts have their second chance out here.

"It's…" Barb takes a moment to mull her words, eyes going distant before she looks back to Wright with a smile. Wright in particular, rather than Marthe, notably. "Well, it's not what anyone imagined we'd be doing at this age, but we'll make due, won't we?" It's a rhetorical.

The glaze leaves her eyes, and like blinders have been removed, Marthe suddenly exists for her. "Onto more important matters—" Barb segues with a softening tinge to her expression. "How did you two meet? And happy birthday, by the way, Martha."

Jesus Christ, Mom, Wright thinks.

Marthe saves her from having to correct her mother, who already got Marthe’s name correct once today. “Thank you,” Marthe says “And it’s Marthe.” She puts enough emphasis on the tay to sound polite while also brooking no bullshit. “Uncommon names for the both of us. We met in Canada at the end of 2011,” she explains. “This one was injured and she got stuck with me tending to her wound.”

“Thankfully it healed up nicely,” Wright offers, “And we found occasion to continue seeing each other through the war. We got married by an army chaplain in 2013.” When they were on the opposite side of the war from people now wanting bygones to be bygones.

Wright nods her head at a few framed photographs on the wall Barb currently rests against. There were only a few pictures taken, but thankfully they’d been high quality and escaped the war intact. Ames looks up, invested in the story and the relationship it has to those pictures, taken in a mythical time before she existed.

Barb's smile flickers in a way Wright knows so well. An internal shit plays itself out before she nods graciously. She's fallen back on how it's spelled rather than how it's said, for all her earlier grace. Sipping what's left of her coffee, she looks to the photos as well, like she's seeing them for the first time.

"A war nurse." Gregory sounds approving as he looks back to Marthe. Clearly, regardless of the actual case, this was far better than being just a civilian medical professional. "I respect that. You probably don't fear a damn thing on this earth. You'll need that to survive my daughter."

Like they'd not already been married for seven years.

Barb looks for just a moment at Gregory for that before finally turning back to Ames. "You moved to the Safe Zone so she'd have a stable school life?" she ventures.

“I’ll certainly need it to survive this little wrecking ball,” Marthe deflects the comment. She smiles at Ames, who beams a wider smile back. She knows what she’s like.

“Yeah,” Wright answers her mother’s question. “Not that there was much in the way of schools at the time, but with all the infrastructure restoration being done, we figured something would be available by the time she started kindergarten.”

“I go to school on an island,” Ames informs them. She puts away one colored pencil and closes the tin carefully. How long the reverence for new will last is anybody’s guess.

“On Roosevelt Island,” Marthe says. “It’s a hike but it’s made easier by my being a school nurse there now. Winslow Crawford is the best school available and we’re lucky to have gotten her in considering the application requirements.” These two are certainly not being added to the school’s list of approved family members, but there’s almost no way the topic can be avoided at this point. It doesn’t make Wright less anxious. It won’t take these two long to find out that the school specializes in Expressive child education. Though, thankfully, there is some wiggle room for non-Expressive students.

"Wow," Gregory opines exaggeratedly, directing this mostly to Ames. "That's pretty neat. Take care you don't tear down the bridge to school anytime, Godzilla." He huffs a laugh. "School not on an island is not nearly as fun."

If either of Wright's parents know the school is what it is, they don't show it in a way that might be expected. In fact, Barb looks pleasantly surprised. "That's wonderful, though! That she got in. That's… The K through 12 Academy out here, isn't it? So she's set until college. What a relief that must be." She seems thoughtful now. "I remember reading about how high-tech those classrooms are… really, that's fantastic."

She looks relieved, even. It's not just any school, it's the best one for this area.

Ames laughs loudly at her grandfather’s Godzilla joke. This wouldn’t be the first time somebody likened her anthropomorphic earthquake of a daughter to that monster. Wright has never heard of it happening before but she really hopes Ames’s Expression isn’t turning into a colossal plasma-breathing lizard.

“It’s been a load off for sure,” Wright answers. “Hopefully there will be equally impressive college options in twelve years.” She chuckles, though it doesn’t last long. It feels odd to be so familiar with these people. Because family they sure as shit have not been in a long time. She does smile again though, as Ames sets back into drawing with vigor.

Wright isn’t naive, but she really, truly hopes that Ames won’t have to spend her life fighting. No military school, no war. The options the kids of the previous decade should have been offered but weren’t. She could just grow, and draw, and be happy, and destroy exponentially larger pieces of furniture, unconstrained by the square–cube law.

Wouldn't that be something?

"We should get out of your hair," Gregory acknowledges as he reaches the bottom of his cup, before someone can do the mistake of politely offering him a refill. He takes a moment to come back to his feet, leaving his mug on the nearest table surface adjacent to the couch. He smiles thin, and only for a moment. "Can't get Ames her bike if we don't leave to get it."

He chuckles. Barb looks back to Marthe and Wright in a way so she's only really minding Wright again. "It's been so good to see you again. Really." The smile she wears isn't as paper-thin as her husband's, but repressed from further growth out of a fear a terrible outpouring of emotion might happen. Any moisture at the corner of her eye is blinked away to avoid making this moment awkward, and she sees herself to the kitchen to rinse her mug herself out of habit.

Gregory in the meanwhile looks back to both mothers of Ames, saying between them both, "Give me a ring when you're ready to meet up for that." It's polite, to the point. It makes it sound like the ball's in their court.

But they all know it's really in Ames', and subject to her excitement.

Marthe stands, allowing Wright to stand up beside her. Ames has already rocked forward on the couch, reminded of the promised bicycle, looking from adult to adult. Wright looks to Barb and reads her easily enough. “It’s good to see you too,” she says, and at least partially means it. This didn’t turn into the nightmare she was expecting, though there’s always tomorrow.

She crosses the room and gives her mother a light hug, not letting it linger in order to avoid that brimming possibility of emotion. She’s certainly not prepared to handle that. She turns to Gregory and nods. There was never a moment of physical affection between them even during the best of the old days.

Marthe looks to Ames, who’s currently trapped between whether or not she wants to stand up. “Do you want to give your grandparents a hug goodbye?” Ames looks to her for a moment, but blushes and shakes her head. “That’s okay,” Marthe says. “Maybe next time.” Ames thinks about it but doesn’t comment on the possibility. Wright keeps an eye out for any insistence from her parents just in case they need their hopes crushed more firmly.

Ames does unclip her drawing, a landscape of wispy evergreen trees, snow left as negative space. It’s not advanced, though it’s conceptually impressive. She picks up her discarded test sheet, feathery whirls of gradient, and places it under her landscape as Gregory had seemed to like that one for some reason. She stands and crosses close enough to hand them to Gregory, looking between the old man and his wife. “Merry Christmas,” she says, nervously holding them at arm’s length.

Barb rubs her hand along Wright's bicep wordlessly as she pulls back from the hug, hoping to impart in that affection she couldn't possibly otherwise manage at the moment. For his part, Gregory notes the gift he's been granted with a lift of his brows.

He doesn't infringe on her wishes, but he does pat a hand atop the helmet resting on her head. "Merry Christmas, kiddo," he says.

Barb's the first to grab her coat, and she slips from it a small piece of paper to palm it into Wright's hand. "My new number. You can call me anytime if you want to talk. Or if you need anything. All right?" She has a meaningful dip of her head, one whenever she means to impart she's deadly serious— but also one used just for show when she's trying to stress sincerity on something. There's a lot that points to it being the former, even though it has the hand-clapping hallmark of the latter.

Gregory glances over at them over the top of his coat's collar as he shrugs it on. Looking away entirely, he rumbles something out that can only vaguely be heard. Regardless, Barb hears the thorns in it, the insinuation that she was the one that wanted to give the ladies their space and now she was the one holding up their departure. She looks back with a small smile regardless and steps into her shoes.

"Ames, Marthe," said correctly this time. "It was such a pleasure." Barb lifts a hand to wave a small farewell to them both as Gregory pulls the door open, having put on boots and hat. He nods his goodbyes. He's already said them once.

Wright nods to Barb in understanding as she accepts the note. She doesn’t give her own phone number back, mostly because the easiest way to do that has Wolfhound printed on it and she’d rather not give her father more opportunities to be an asshole about something. She can send a text later. Maybe on a burner.

“It was good to meet you too,” Marthe says warmly, “Take care.” Ames gives a thumbs up as they leave, closing the door behind them.

Wright stands in silence, waiting for the sound of their exit to retreat down the stairwell across from her door. Finally she turns, placing her back against the door and somewhat jokingly clawing at her own face. “What the fuuuuuck,” she hisses.

Marthe doesn’t respond, though she steps forward and wraps Wright in a constricting hug. She smiles down at Ames to assuage her daughter’s worried look. She rubs her hands up and down Wright’s back a few times as her wife begins to relax. “You should go give the wine to Mrs. Hon with her gift,” she says.

Wright nods, mostly in the realization she wants to drink that wine very badly right now. They disengage from the embrace and Wright sighs in frustration and worry. She leans down and picks up Ames, holding her daughter close while she focuses on her breathing. “Sorry Boog,” she says quietly. “I love you.”

Marthe wraps them both lightly in another hug, nuzzling past Ames’s new bicycle helmet to give her a kiss on the cheek. She looks up to Wright with a sigh of her own. “I bet you wish you took my last name now, don't you?”

Wright gives a sharp laugh, equal parts humor and distress.

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