Lone Wanderer

This was all Charon's fault. He'd encouraged her. If he had just told her to get lost as soon as she had turned up, we wouldn't have had this problem. I could have brought him to some nuclear waste if he had just told me that was all I needed to do to help him. What a surprise he decided to play the wounded soldier routine. What was it about him and nihilism? And he said I needed to grow up. Now we were stuck with an unwanted guest, and I was starting to think that by the time I found Dad, I would have half the bloody Wasteland following me around. Surprise, Pop! Our touching reunion has an audience! Smile big and wide now! I stood up, and shook the sleep from my aching joints – and they were aching. I couldn't remember the last time I'd been so sore, apart from perhaps when Butch and his cronies had decided to hang me upside down by my belt loops on the coat hooks in the supply room when I was twelve, and I hadn't been discovered by a friendly face until twenty minutes afterwards. All I'd done was point out the errors in his math homework. But I withstood that, and I was going to withstand this, too; I was leading this – this – expedition, and I wasn't going to be told what to do by an interloping Wastelander.

"I'm awfully sorry, Cecelia, we just don't have room for you. Where we're going requires stealth and cunning, and, um..."

"And a good knowledge of the Wastes."

"Well, yes, of course."

"Which I just so happen to have."

"That's irrelevant, because if there are too many of us, we'll lose the advantage of surprise."

"Like you had at Paradise Falls?"

Ouch. That stung. The wound was still very much open, and she hadn't so much as rubbed salt into it as got a piece of sandpaper and repeatedly raked it over the bloody, raw cut. I lowered my face, momentarily silenced, as I considered the risk of what had happened back at the slaver camp happening again with Salvatore. This time, Charon might not be so lucky – and I couldn't bear that thought, just as much for myself as for Charon's welfare. I didn't think I'd be able to survive it; I simply wasn't strong enough. It wasn't easy being a habitual coward.

"Hey, C. Not necessary," Charon had eased himself up off the floor and was stood, perhaps a little shakily but with his familiar doggedness back in place again, by my side. It felt reassuring to have him there once more, like my very own avenging angel, and he was clearly registering his allegiance to me. Take that, Cecelia. I punted the ball back to her.

"I've learned from my mistakes, thank you very much, and it won't happen again." I said it with conviction, although I could see from Charon's expression, he didn't necessarily believe this – and if I was honest, neither did I.

"Look, I'm just trying to show you that you could do with my help, is all. It's tough out there, you know, and heaven forbid you end up like Charon or me because of it, Angelface."

Was I being unreasonable? It was starting to sound that way. I just couldn't stop feeling so out of the loop. Before Paradise Falls, I had at least been sure of myself, of my grand plan. Now I didn't know what I was doing – or if I was even the right person to be doing it. I should have been clutching at all the help I could get, not irrationally dismissing it without reason. I looked at Cecelia, who stood in front of me with an earnest expression on her face and her hands spread apart in a diplomatic gesture. Let's make peace, it said, and I had no choice but to accept her offer.

"Fine, fine, fine, let's just get going – alright? I'm sick of hanging about. We're wasting time. I'm a busy woman and the world waits for no one."

Charon looked surprised at my decision, but said nothing to contradict it. I was silently disappointed – I had been hoping he would refuse to allow Cecelia to accompany us, and thereby save me from having to agree to something I didn't want to do, for the sake of keeping up appearances. I was just sick and tired of looking so petty; if Paradise Falls had taught me anything, it was that things weren't always going to go my way.

I was gracious in defeat. Well, mostly. I only tried to trip Cecelia once on the journey out of the cave – tactfully blaming it on a jutting rock that came out of nowhere - and despite my best attempts to spook Buttercup, she didn't run away, so that didn't really count. The cool, crisp air of the evening was refreshing, at least. Cecelia had assured me nightfall was the safest time to travel, especially now we were wanted fugitives, but night in the Wastes was absolutely terrifying – although, as I seemed to be the only one who was scared, I decided not to say anything. I had only just got used to the landscape in the daylight, and now in the dark, shadows loomed everywhere. Everything looked different, threatening, and still feeling a somewhat shaky from my dice with death, I was washed over with a wave of remembrance of how it felt that first day out of the Vault. Overwhelming. To comfort myself, I flipped on Galaxy News Radio, and was swiftly silenced by Cecelia. She grabbed the wrist with my Pip-Boy, and yanked my arm towards her, fumbling with the thing to switch it off. She couldn't. Hah. Bested by technology I aced when I was ten. Not so smart now, are we?

"Do you want to let the whole Wasteland know we're here? You'd think with a bounty on your head, you'd want to be a little more discreet."

I rolled my eyes petulantly and abruptly switched it off – right on the opening chords of one of my favourite songs, too. I had only been trying to make the best of a bad situation. Charon, who had been standing between us before Cecelia had pulled me over to her, now stood behind me, just out of view. Somehow, though, I had a feeling he was laughing at me – but when I turned my head and eyed him with an accusatory glare, he made a face at me as though butter wouldn't melt.

"So, where are we headed now, anyway?" Cecelia was looking back behind herself, too, and it struck me that it was incredibly stupid of her to volunteer to accompany us when she didn't even know where we were going. It almost sounded like something I might have done.

"We're going to find Dr. Salvatore," I answered, doing my best not to sound too pleased with myself for knowing something she didn't.


"An old friend of mine. All you need to know, C, is that I'm going to settle a score."

I would have felt honoured that Charon had chosen to share his past with me and not Cecelia, if it hadn't been for the fact that I'd had to force it out of him. I guess it was just because I cared more than she did. That's right. I did care about that stupid, belligerent, anti-social fuck-up. I'd only known him a week, but it felt so much longer. I'd been through more with him in the short time I had known him than I had with of most the kids I'd grown up with. How did people survive out in the Wastes? You never got so much as five minutes peace without someone or something trying to kill, eat, maim or rob you blind.

"Alright, I don't want to pry. We'll carry on walking through the night, and set up camp somewhere at day break."

Blahblahblahblahblahblah. Did she always have to sound so confident about everything? Didn't that woman doubt anything she did? I did up the fastenings on my jacket against the cold, and fixed my eyes on the darkening horizon. A trio, now, with a brahmin bringing up the rear – it was like a proper little family, just as dysfunctional as any other. I should have been happy – wasn't this what I had wanted since I'd left the safety of my home? And at least Cecelia seemed a little more predisposed to conversation than her male counterpart. I just had to learn to get over myself.


Women. Fucking women. I was beginning to wish that my contract had been bought by some uncomplicated, asshole trader who just made me shoot, shoot, kill, maim, shoot. I understood that, at least. The kid made no such sense. Every time I thought I had her figured out, she'd go gaga on me again. Just like she was doing now. I'd been certain she wouldn't agree to let Cecelia come with us – it was clear she didn't like the woman - but she'd done an about turn and made us into one happy little family.

Well, despite what she told herself about doing this for me - this was her idea, her adventure, her rules, so I kept my mouth shut. But I could see she wasn't happy with her decision – so why did she do it? If you're unhappy with something, change it. Maybe because I lacked the ability to do just that, I was frustrated by the incapability of others follow that little piece of advice. Life was fleeting for most – why make herself unhappy unnecessarily? Did she think misguidedly she was doing it for me? Truth be told, I wasn't exactly happy about it, either. For some reason, having Cecelia and the kid together made me unreasonably uncomfortable. I didn't want the kid near anyone who I'd been intimately close to. She asked too many questions, and there were certain things I just didn't want her to know. Still, by the way things were going, it didn't look as though the two would be having any girlish bonding sessions any time soon, so I guess I was safe.

We walked most of the night – stopping once or twice to eat and catch our breath. I was near-enough healed (one thing I could thank my ghoulification for) but my leg still ached. I daren't say anything, though, because the kid watched me like a hawk, and if I gave the slightest hint I was in pain, I knew she'd make a fuss. Her conversation was unusually stunted, and it was savagely entertaining to watch her struggle though this little social experiment. She tried her hardest, but was clearly finding it difficult to hide her dislike of Cecelia. She was suddenly a lot more guarded, and for the first time since we met, I felt almost like I could relate to her. This was her weakness, the chink in her armour; she couldn't handle competition. She liked being the star of her very own Wasteland Adventurer Show, and Cecelia was encroaching on her leading role. Perhaps that was why she had wanted Cecelia to stay with us – to man up to her failings. Begrudgingly, I awarded her a little respect. It took guts to face up to the bad points in your personality. Fuck, I didn't even know where I'd begin with myself. But that was what the kid was for – she was helping me better myself. Or at least that's what she wanted me to think.

When dawn began to show its head, we were all pretty beat, and we decided to stop for some much needed rest. We stopped off at an old abandoned town, and figured to set up camp in one of the little houses that had withstood the nuclear apocalypse surprisingly well. Now that Eulogy Jones wanted to make us his bitches, things were going to be a bit trickier when it came to keeping a low profile, and I seemed to always be on tenterhooks. We hadn't passed anyone on the journey – but every outcropping that look like it could be a human silhouette, and every rustle in the bushes had made me react. With my gun. There's not much more that he could do to my old bones – but I'm sure he had cooked up plenty enough cruel, disgusting, obscene things to do to the kid, and I was going to make sure he never got the opportunity. The worst thing about it was that I don't even think she knew what sort of danger she was in, and she wouldn't listen when I tried to tell her, either. She would just dismiss me with a brusque, "Don't remind me of what happened there, please," and move on. It was fucking frustrating.

The house we decided to make home for the day was a quaint, tumbledown little thing – guess it must have looked pretty welcoming in its day. Now the boarded up windows and cracked paint just made it look like some sort Shack O'Horrors. Perfect for a couple of zombies to wait out the daylight hours – and the kid, our fair-skinned, waif of a captive princess. Shit, I could be pretty poetic when I put my mind to it – although I chose not to share the imagery with the kid, for fear of a reprimand for likening her to a fairytale, even if that was where she spent most of her time.

I cracked open the door and looked inside; dust spiralled in the air, caught in the rays of sunlight that poured through the cracks in the wall. Apart from a few radroaches that I made short work of, the place was safe enough, and after Cecelia had tied up Buttercup, both she and the kid followed me in to take a look around. I took a seat on a stained, dusty old sofa, grateful for the opportunity to rest my leg, while they took the opportunity to take stock of the building – Cecelia no doubt to scav some supplies, and the kid – well, just to be the kid about the whole place.

"Holy moly! Just look at all this pre-war stuff! It's absolutely fascinating. It's like a little museum or something!"

There it was. Just on cue. Her eyes lit up as the toyed with an old screen that was placed directly in front of the sofa. She was turning a little knob, as if she expected it to spring to life like her Pip-Boy, and start blasting out GNR. She looked back at me expectantly, her eyes bright, white orbs in a dust-smeared face. I didn't have the heart to tell her I'd seen more places like this than I cared to remember, and instead gestured with a flick of my hand to the room around me.

"Yeah, it's great, kid."

She smiled at me, as if she had been expecting me to make fun of her childish delight, and was relieved that I hadn't taken the opportunity. She undid her jacket and slung it down on the floor, and once again, her shoulders and the slightest hint of her midriff were exposed, just as they had been back in the cave. She had turned back to the cracked screen, and I felt almost guilty for looking at her the way that I did, but I couldn't help myself – despite what she seemed to think, under all my rotten flesh, I was still just a man, and it had been a long time since I'd spent this much time with a woman. But that was just the problem – this wasn't a woman. This was the kid, for fuck's sake, and to have any thoughts that were anything less than immaculate about her was about as wrong as fantasising about Buttercup the brahmin. But it had been waiting to happen for days now – ever since before Paradise Falls, when there had been the subtlest of shifts in our relationship - and now that I was no longer in gut-wrenching agony, my brain just wouldn't let it go. Every now and then, I'd see a tantalising glimpse of flesh and wham, it would hit me– although, unfortunately (or fortunately, as the case may have been) there wasn't much hope of the subsequent bam, thankyou ma'am. I wasn't an idiot; I knew how I looked, and it wasn't exactly the sum of hopeful, girlish dreams. I could see the slight hint of disgust whenever she looked at me. And that was a good thing. If it was just in my head, safely concealed, it couldn't get out and fuck about with everything. Life was difficult enough with the kid as it was. I watched as she took off the front of the screen and peered at its insides; I was trying to pretend that I wasn't shamefully curious to see how the rest of her body compared to the few glimpses I had so far seen, and my brain was offering all sorts of unhelpful suggestions.

"I'm going to check out the upstairs and see what I can find. I bet there's a bed upstairs, too, and it's been so long since I slept in proper a bed, Charon!"

I was on my own for about twenty minutes, then, and the peace was blessed. Closing my eyes, I had almost forgotten what it was like to have nothing but my own thoughts for company – but unsurprisingly, my thoughts kept returning to the kid. There's something irresistible about corrupting the incorruptible. Something that a dark, cruel part of me wanted to experiment with, that rightfully should have stayed locked away wherever it was currently hiding. I was such a complete prick sometimes. I shouldn't have been thinking like that - I was supposed to be growing as a person, right? But that was part of the problem - I was incredibly concerned about one particular place on my person growing because of the kid's interference.

Cecelia interrupted my thoughts, thankfully, by coming back into the room. I had to nip this whole thing with the kid in the bud right now – because I knew sex with her wouldn't just be sex. She'd expect the whole kit and caboodle - marriage, kids, and a two-headed family dog in a quaint little shack somewhere, with a pleasant view of the ruined nuclear Wasteland. I wasn't interested in any of that. I wasn't really interested in the kid – or at least, I didn't want to be. She was just this thing that I couldn't touch, and so of course, I wanted to. It was just how things worked – life was already getting ready to kick you in the jewels just when you thought things were going your way. I opened my eyes and looked at Cecelia; she leaned against the doorframe leisurely, giving me a look that I knew all too well. I closed my eyes again, and we remained there in silence for another ten minutes or so. I wasn't going to say a word. Finally, she did.

"I figure this is a good enough place to stay for a few hours and get some rest. Best to stay out of the open in the daylight now, anyway – what with you being a wanted man."


There was silence again as she considered how to phrase what she was about to say next. I knew exactly what was about to come out of those cracked, once-pink lips of hers, but I watched her with my long-gone eyebrows slightly raised and with a coy smile on my lips. She looked back with something close to irritation.

"So, anyway, Charon. The kids are all tucked up in bed – what say you and I catch up. For old time's sake."

"By kids I assume you're referring to Buttercup and Little Miss Vault 101?"

"Of course. So, what do you say?"

I was torn. All of a sudden I had Cecelia offering herself on a plate. It was funny; I hadn't even thought about the old in and out for months – seeing Ahzrukhal's ugly fucking mug every day cured me of any unwanted carnal urges down in Underworld. But shit. Being around that dumb fucking kid who wouldn't understand sexual tension if you smacked her around the head with it had taken its toll. I'd got the itch again for sure, and lucky enough, Cecelia had turned up exactly at the right time to stop me from doing anything stupid with people I shouldn't be going anywhere near without a rosary. She really was a godsend.

I felt like I was betraying the kid somehow, though. It was fucking ridiculous, and I decided to ignore it – but there it was, niggling away at the back of my head. Just like she did. If I had a conscience, you can bet your ass it had that same smug little face that she always got when she knew she had the moral high ground. I pushed it back into the recesses of my mind – and anyway, I didn't have to tell the kid. I figured she'd be asleep – she had disappeared into the children's bedroom upstairs for the past half an hour and I'd not heard a peep out of her, and when the kid wasn't talking, she was either eating or sleeping. And what the kid didn't know, couldn't hurt her – or me, for that matter.

"Alright. Let me just check on the kid, first. Make sure she's not started a crusade to liberate Mr Handys from enslavement at the hands of their evil human oppressors or something."

Cecelia gave me a look then, and I didn't fucking like it one bit. It sort of said - you've gone soft, Charon. Tut tut tut. I looked back and considered saying something, but I didn't have to prove anything to her. I decided instead to make her pay for that look after I'd made sure the kid was sleeping soundly.

When I walked in and found her kneeling upright on the floor, I was understandably unpleasantly surprised. This was going to be a fucking brilliant conversation, this was. Teddy-bear wallpaper cracked away from the walls, and torn, tiny, browning clothes lay strewn across the floor. The kid was sat in front of a toy chest, laying out old toys gently in the floor next to her. She had that same sort of concentration on her face that she had had when unlocking the slave collars back at Paradise Falls.

"Oh, shit kid. I thought you'd be asleep."

"It's so sad." She was holding a doll in her hands, and her face was tilted downwards as she inspected it tenderly, as if it had been her own cherished childhood possession.

"What is?"

"I wonder what happened to this little kid."

"Kicked it from radiation poisoning, I'd imagine."

She looked at me as if I'd just slapped her in the face, her eyes both angry and hurt at the same time. Fuck me, I was only being honest. She knew it and I knew it – why did she need me to sugarcoat things still? I relented, like I always did with her.

"Of course, she could have been one of the lucky ones who made it into a vault."

Although, I wondered if they really were the lucky ones. Don't get me wrong, being this fucking rotting walking corpse wasn't exactly fun, but call me crazy – the kid didn't exactly sound like she'd had a party down in the vault, either. And now look at her – stuck on her own in the big wide world, without a clue how to handle herself or the people around her. Think I'd rather take my chances with the nuclear apocalypse.

"Yeah. Maybe. I hope so. I'm thinking of burying some of her things, you know, out of respect?"

Fuck it. This was just getting worse by the second. What was I supposed to say to her now? Hey kid! It's great that you're grieving for some little shit you never knew – I'm just gonna step next door and do the mommy-daddy dance with Cecelia. Alright with you? Best just to get it out and off my chest. She was a big girl, now. Or at least, she had to start acting like one, anyway. So why the fuck did I feel so bad about telling her?

"Hey, kid, listen. Cecelia and me were just going to disappear next door for a while. If anything happens – just shout, alright?"

She looked up at me from the doll with that funny little suspicious look she always got when she thought someone was trying to mess with her head. Her hands remained tight around the doll's body, and the way she was crouched, holding it like some sort of much-valued scrap of food, made her seem almost like a feral ghoul or something.

"What are you going next door for?"

"Come on, kid. You're a smart girl."

"I know I am, but answer my question."

I could see in her face she knew exactly why we were heading next door, so why the fuck was the sneaky little bitch being so awkward with me? Sometimes, I wondered if I painted her in a far too innocent light. She knew exactly what she was doing right now, which was making my life unnecessarily difficult.

"Fuck, kid, don't be an ass. You know what I'm trying to say."

She stood from the floor, and let her hands drop to her sides. One of them still held the doll around the waist, and her bottom lip was ever-so-slightly protruding. It wasn't intentional, I don't think, but she couldn't have looked more like a ten year old about to have a tantrum if she had tried. I should have guessed she was about to throw her toys out of the pram.

"You can't."


"You heard me." Her face was stern and emotionless, and it honestly threw me for a loop. The kid was never emotionless, even when she tried to be.

"What do you mean I can't? Because of how disgusting it is?"

"No – it's just – no. I'm putting my foot down. We're supposed to be looking for Salvatore, not messing around in bed together. It's just wasting more time." She threw the doll onto the child's bed and made a show of gathering some things to get moving again. She shoved passed me on her way to the door, but I wasn't going to let it go. I'd worked my fucking ass off for her and she couldn't give me a little R&R time?

"We're not messing around in bed together - Cecelia and I are. Or at least, we were going to, until you decided to stick your nose in."

"Get fucked, zombie breath, you know what I meant. Now let's just get moving."

She had her hand on the door knob, but had turned to give me a look of utter contempt. Where did that come from? A tantrum I had expected, but such untamed hostility towards me was a new trick for her. I followed her to the door, and grabbed her firmly by the shoulder; she refused to move, and I felt her tense under my touch.

"You need to get some rest, kid, and while you're off with the sandman, I really don't see the problem with me having some fun. God knows I never get to have any when you're awake."

"Stop pushing it. You have to do what I say, Charon, because I have your contract. And I said no."

Well, needless to say, I was just a little bit pissed off. I could usually keep my temper with her, but every now and then, she'd push me too far and I'd just snap – and usually end up regretting it, too. Just look at what had happened last time – she'd ended up in tears and I'd had to put her back together again. But there was no stopping it – I could feel it boiling over. I shoved her away from me, back against the door. She was being completely unreasonable, and I was fed up with her childish tempers.

"Are you jealous, kid? Is that what it is? Suddenly Miss Shit Don't Stink has the same old hankering down in her pants as the rest of us lowly grunts, and it's making her grumpy because she can't get any?"

Oh, I'd done it now. Her face was near vermillion, and I could tell she was incandescent with rage. I was expecting the full force of her fury, but before she had the chance to let loose, I swept low to the ground, tucking a hand under my body in a mocking bow.

"Fine, kid. Whatever. You command and I shall obey. I won't go near Cecelia. For now."

When I looked back up, though, the colour had fled her cheeks, and she had a funny sort of expression on her face. It was a kind of a mixture of shock and annoyance and dawning understanding. Her eyes were wide and her mouth was slightly open, and before I could ask her what was wrong – because I shit you now when I say it looked as though she was about to puke all over me - she held up a palm in my direction.

"Excuse me. I need to get some air."

And then she opened the door and abruptly left, walking down the stairs, passed Cecelia without a word, and out into the pink dawn of the Wasteland. I watched her go, bewildered and ashamed, yet again, of my outburst, and considered following - but she looked as though she might need some time alone, and so I let her go. Besides, I fucking hated apologising. I dreaded to think what was going to happen next in the ongoing drama that was life with the kid, and left the room to give the bad news to Cecelia. It looked like I'd have to quell any stirrings in my nethers with a cold dip in a highly irradiated lake somewhere. So much for happy endings.

Lone Wanderer

Oh. My. God.

It hit me like a ton of bricks. A ton of unwanted, badly timed, incredibly unlikely bricks. Clearly my feelings for Charon ran a little deeper than that suitable for a simple companion. Clearly I was outstandingly jealous of his relationship with Cecelia. Clearly, I was off my pissing rocker. I fled to the safety of the outside world, feeling all of a sudden light-headed and out of breath with fear and frustration. Teenage hormones, it had to be. I was in a strange new place, all on my own, and he was the only one who had shown me any sort of kindness – even if it had been bought and paid for. I was obviously mistaking my need for any sort of companionship for something else. Obviously.

It was absolutely ludicrous. I couldn't have a crush – and that was all it was – on a ghoul. It was wrong on so many levels. His torn flesh was bad enough, but it wasn't nearly as unsightly as his demeanour. He wasn't even nice to me, half the time. He was cruel and abrupt and condescending. But he was always there for me, and he had never let me down - and he was always honest, something far too rare these days. Christ, what a mess. I could just imagine bringing him home to meet my father. Hey Dad, I'd like you to meet the flavour of the month – but don't shake his hand too hard, in case it falls off!

And exactly what else ran the risk of "falling off"? I didn't even want to think about it. I knew little enough as it was about the ins and outs – if you'll excuse the pun – of sexual gratification. Sure, I knew what biologically was supposed to happen, but that really was pretty much it. The thought of being intimate with Charon was almost as terrifying, and unappealing, as going one-to-one with a deathclaw for five rounds. So why did it get under my skin so badly every time Cecelia brushed Charon's arm to get his attention, or when they laughed at an inside joke? Why did I find the idea of him and her together utterly unbearable? Because I was a masochist, that was why.

And one couldn't exactly call Charon the most loving of individuals. I was fairly certain that if I confessed – confessed whatever it was I was feeling - he would laugh in my face. What a complete mess. This was just like me. Just like me to go and do something so impractically stupid to myself, at the worst of all possible times. I leaned back against the wall, stained a rosey pink colour from the rising sun, and slid down it until I sat on the arid ground. I hit my head several times on the wall behind me, hoping it would knock some sense into me. You stupid, stupid, stupid, little idiot.

I'd always done my level best to stay well clear of boys; they made no sense whatsoever to me. Back in the Vault, it had been easy enough; Amata was far too pretty for anyone to notice gawky, awkward me next to her - and I was glad of it. So was Dad, actually – although I think he was beginning to wonder if there might have been something wrong with me towards the end of his stint in 101. As far as I saw things, it was one less complication I had to deal with, and I have always hated complications. If there had been any doubt in my mind – any temptation to give in to my unruly, unpredictable teenage longings – my experience with Freddie had dealt the finishing blow to any desire to find myself a mate. And now look at me. Deny yourself normal companionship, it seemed, and apparently your body rebels and decides to go for anything with a pulse – even a walking corpse. This was practically necrophilia! I was so ashamed.

I had to shake myself out of it. This was a momentary madness, brought about by my loneliness and the terrible things I had been through at Paradise Falls. Whatever was happening, I was certainly not attracted to Charon. I just had to look at him to confirm that.


It was no use. There was a problem; I had to resolve it. That's what I was – I was a problem solver. From what I could see, I had three options: ignore the problem, ask Charon to leave my employ, or tell Charon how I felt. Ignoring how I felt had obviously proven ineffectual, and asking him to leave didn't make any sense either – I'd paid out of my ass for him, and I couldn't find Dad without his help, or more accurately, his shotgun. So I was down to my last alternative. Even if he didn't return my affection, at least it would be out of my system, and I could get over it, right? Just like when I had a cold as a kid – once the worst was over, you'd feel a bit sniffly for a few days, but then you'd be back on fighting form. And if he did feel the same? We'd realise soon enough we were hopelessly incompatible, and amicably decide to remain just friends, employer and employee. It was going to be simple. It was going to be easy.

So that was it. My mind was made up. I was a mature, intelligent woman, in control of her life. First I had to get rid of Cecelia – I wouldn't be able to do anything while she was around, for fear of untamed, merciless ridicule. I would simply ask her to leave, and then I would make my move on Charon.

... Ohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgodohgod.