Sarah prepared to go out for the evening, her thoughts uncharacteristically confused. My real father. How long has she known, and when was she going to tell me? I've suspected since I was a child, but…
"She's not ready to hear something like that from me. She wouldn't believe me. She'd think I was trying to hurt her."
She was sure Caitlin had believed Anna's answer to her question. She thought of Caitlin's changed attitude towards her, and felt a pang of loss. Has my stock really fallen so far with her, or was she telling the little robot what she wanted to hear? Maybe my stock has fallen that far with everyone; they're completely under her spell now. She'd never been so humiliated in her life as when she hadn't gone down to dinner, and the only one who'd tapped on her door had been Anna. "I love her. But I know what she thinks my love is worth." Caitlin must have been sniffing them back after that performance. I'm sure I couldn't have faced her across a dinner table.
But then, why not, if you're right?
The little machine stuck up for me, defended me to Caitlin. What's she playing at?
If anyone else had come to my door, I'd have come down. But I wouldn't do it for her. How can it be that no one else cared enough? Instead, they gave her another chance to put on a little act, impressing the others with her compassion. How did she learn to be so devious?
I'm going to confront her before I leave tonight. She can tell me what she thinks she knows about my real father then. Having somewhere else to go will keep it from dragging out, and give me a chance to digest what she tells me before I make a decision about it.
She surveyed her image in the armoire's mirror. The tight shorts and middy top seemed a bit risqué for a worker in a soup kitchen, but she had a date afterwards and didn't want to carry a change of clothes. She fastened the top button, almost hiding her cleavage but emphasizing the swell of her breasts, and left her room, making a mental note to undo it after her shift.
Bobby's door across the hall was open; she heard him strumming softly, the way he did when he was in deep thought. Despite the present strain between them, or perhaps because of it, she decided to check in on him before she went looking for their robot housekeeper.
He was reclined on his bed with his back propped on pillows and his head against the headboard. She stepped into his room. "Where's Anna?"
He kept his head down, stroking the strings. "Why do you want to know?"
She was taken back, unused to such a lack of accommodation from him. "I wanted to talk to her before I leave." When this failed to elicit a response, she added, "I think she has something she wants to tell me."
"Too late. She just left. She's taking that little car back to the rental place." He didn't even look up. Normally, in an outfit like this, she'd expect him to look at her as if he were planning to draw a picture.
"Oh." She shifted plans. "Fine then. It can wait, I suppose." She hoisted her bag on her shoulder. "I'll just leave then."
"Kay." He never stopped playing with the guitar strings. It was getting annoying.
"Aren't you going to ask where I'm going?" She hoped that didn't sound as plaintive as it did in her own ears. She often went out without telling anyone where she was going, and had made it clear her destination was no one else's business. But if you only ask, just this once, I'll tell you.
He turned a key to loosen a string, still not looking at her. "Clyde Street Mission. The soup kitchen."
She felt heat come into her cheeks. "How did you know that?"
"Last Sunday of the month. It's where you always go." He plucked the string, listening. "Rox followed you once. Then she told Eddie, after she made him promise to keep it a secret. Half an hour later, Kat and I both knew. I think Anna knew already, but she never told, not even my dad. Guess she respected your privacy." He played a short bridge. "That kitchen work is just the sort of thing I'd have expected from you anyway. Just stand there, hold your breath, and dump it in their trays as they pass by. You don't even have to look them in the eye. You can congratulate yourself on your compassion without ever treating them like real people." His eyes never left his instrument. "Ever hear the expression, 'charity begins at home'?"
Her vision darkened and her focus shrank to a tunnel whose other end was Bobby's face. How dare you. Just because I won't open my arms to that imitation of life and slobber over it the way the rest of you do. It was the first time Bobby had so deliberately insulted her, and the outrage almost overwhelmed her.
So it came as a surprise, to hear how even her voice sounded. "You could be right, Bobby. Maybe I should look at things a little differently. Maybe charity should begin at home."
She let her bag drop to the floor as she stepped to the bed. He finally looked at her then, his eyes widening, as she put her knee on the foot of the bed and crawled slowly up the mattress towards him. Some small interior voice was already calling stop, but it was weak and easily ignored. She pulled the guitar from his unresisting fingers and set it beside him. She brushed his crotch gently with her knee and leaned over him until her hair swept over his chest and lay on his shoulders. She felt his body heat, warming as a campfire. She heard, felt his breathing change as she brought her face low. "So tell me, Bobby. What sort of charity would you like from me?" She smiled as her words sank in and his expression changed. "I don't know why I never gave in all those times before. After all, you want it so badly, and it would cost me so little."
His arm moved, and for a second she thought she'd overplayed and he was reaching for her. But he pulled the guitar back between them, and the longing disappeared from his face. "Go ladle your soup, Sarah. You're gonna be late."
She slid off the bed. "You're right. I suppose there's not enough time. Not even for a boy." She picked up her bag. "Later, perhaps? Not tonight, I'll be home late. I've got a date."
"Just go away." But he was looking at her, and he wasn't playing with his guitar.
She was in the hallway before she started shaking. The voice that had been so insignificant before was now filling her ears. Idiot. What have you done? You've taken his heart and spit on it and kicked it into the dust. Was his little jab really enough to rate that kind of response? What has he ever done to anyone to deserve such cruelty?
And if he'd been a different man, a lesser man? What if he'd reached for you, Sarah?
She avoided the hall mirror as she walked to the back door. She stepped through into the garden and stopped, her impetus gone.
What do I do now?
The idea of coming back here tonight, acting like nothing had happened, was impossible. She thought about going back to apologize, but how could she even begin? And how could he possibly forgive her? Things can't ever be the same for me here. This was the proverbial last straw. When the others find out, even Mr. Lynch won't speak to me.
I'm not going to the kitchen tonight. I've got a little money. My thumb and a bus ticket are all I need to get me back to the rez; I'd be there by tomorrow night, no later. I've camped since I was a child. The reservation has mountains, woods, streams – I'll be harder to find there than here, and a lot more welcome. I won't even tell my family I'm back, to keep them safe. But at least I'll be home.
Again, the small voice disagreed. You can't hide in the wilderness. Trees won't shield you from spysats. If IO gets even a hint that you're not with the others anymore, they'll search the rez for you. And do you really believe you can be that close to your family and not make contact? Does IO?
Despair rose up to choke her. I've got nowhere to go.
One of the garage doors went up, rising silently as a hand. The little red sports car rolled out of the bay a few feet and stopped at the end of the walk. Anna gave her the tiniest of smiles. "Need a lift?"
She knows somehow. She's here to escort me to the city limits, her final triumph over me. The thought didn't bring the rush of anger it should have, just a feeling of resignation.
Anna looked up at her and said in a low voice, "Come on, Sarah. I already have an errand that way, I like to drive, and you're not going to get there on time if you don't. It's farther away than it used to be. To paraphrase Freud, sometimes a ride is just a ride. We don't even have to talk if you'd rather not."
She doesn't know. What does she want, then? She found herself opening the door and dropping into the low seat. Perhaps we're going to have a talk after all.