"Susannah. . . Suzy?"
"I asked how things were."
"Oh. Fine." Not that you'll believe it anymore the fifth time you asked. "Listen, I've got to get the door."
"No, really. Call you later. Bye."
It took a few more seconds convincing, but the phone clicked off and Susannah placed it back on the nightstand. It was a lie, of course. The doorbell hadn't rung and running the numbers, there was no reason to expect it to do so tonight. Susannah lived alone, her family either gone or miles away in the civilization that lurked outside of South Hadley. While she knew a few friends were attending a play in a few hours, she'd made it quite clear she had no interest in some uncultured gang of teenagers butchering Shakespeare for four hours, and they knew better than to cross her doorstep in hopes of convincing her otherwise. No, tonight's itinerary was decided: a glass of wine and a selection from her library. She only had to decide which one, and from her position on the bed her eyes raked through her favorites (placed carefully within reach on a shelf above her bed). An unfamiliar title jumped out at her and she frowned, reaching over the bed and yanking it off the shelf—
And that was when the doorbell rang.
She sat back, turning her head to the hallway to look at the front door. After a few moments, the chime came again. There really was someone at the door. Leave it to the universe to spite me for lying, she thought, and book still in hand, she rose. Though she would have thought them to know better, her friends must have felt cocky enough to try after all, though she supposed it could be a neighbor.
The doorbell rang again and she intentionally slowed her pace, stopping by the hall mirror to check her appearance. She wasn't one for vanity, but if the mysterious guest was one of her friends, she had to look suitable. A quick glance told her everything: her hair, grey but kempt, carefully pulled back into a bun; her clothes, simple and sensible, brown top over white pants; no make-up, but she was at home, she could argue, and they'd have to concede that they'd never seen a touch of powder on her face outside of an event (and even then, usually only the bare minimum). She looked the same as always; a few more wrinkles, perhaps, but hardly serious.
The doorbell rang again and grumbling, she checked the peephole. Hmm-not a friend, or a neighbor. Someone new.
Her suspicions only grew when she opened the door.
The boy had a pair of goggles strapped around his head; that wasn't what set her mouth into a frown, admittedly, but it was worth noting. They were unusual, granted, but so was most fashion these days. It wasn't even the shovel, gripped tightly in his right hand. It was his red jacket that earned him a second look-over. It wasn't a particularly hot day—she would even call it cool—but she had shoved her own son into jackets enough times to know that if the sun were out and the temperature above forty, the battle was already lost and the jacket would have to recover in the closet. Especially at this boy's age—he had to be fifteen, sixteen maybe, but she wouldn't go any farther. He was tall enough but in a freshly minted way, like the rest of him was still trying to catch up, and he had a cocky grin begging to charm you (and fully expecting to do it).
He was, simply, as grossly arrogant and self-confident a youth as any she had ever seen, and she felt every one of her sixty-five year old muscles tense up at the sight.
"Hi," he said, and his voice, scratchy and fresh off of puberty, confirmed her suspicions-definitely fifteen. "You call for a gardener?"
So that was his angle. Or, at least, what he wanted her to think it was.
"No." She tried to close the door but it hit something—what exactly, she didn't see, but it made a loud thunk so she assumed it was the shovel— which gave him the perfect opportunity to push the door open wide again as his head dove into view.
"Hey, you sure? Maybe your son called me up. Or, you know, someone else."
The last part came abruptly, strengthening the pinprick at the back of her mind into an all-out spike as she shifted the book still tight in her grip. Something was up. He was lying.
Well, so could she. "I don't have a son."
He blinked. The smile soon returned though and he laughed as he stood back upright from the dive.
"Okay," he said, "you got me. I've kind of have been light on the dinero recently, so I was wondering if you could help a guy out? You know, I do your yard, you throw me a five, it's a win for eveybody."
Is that really all you're lying about? Who knew? With kids it was hard to tell.
"I'm perfectly capable of looking after my own backyard, thank you."
He started to speak again but she was already shutting the door, though again it stopped short with a clunk. She couldn't actually say why she was being stubborn. She hated yardwork. Mowing grass, pulling weeds, trimming hedges-work, work, work, that was all it has ever sounded like to her ears. Her husband had been the one determined to create art from the bushes and after his death she just didn't have it in her to maintain what he had done, though her son had tried occasionally. But she did miss the view. And the boy wasn't asking for much. Five dollars was really too low for the work he'd end up doing.
Still though. Squinting at the boy again, she couldn't deny it-there was just something about him she didn't like, even if she didn't know what that was. Well, other than that he smiled like every teenage brat she'd ever had in her house, including her own.
Maybe that was it. The last thing she needed was a reminder of him.
But still he refused to give up. "What if I just mow your grass and trim the hedges? Free of charge."
"That doesn't help your money situation."
"Not today, but I'll do such a great job, you'll be calling me tomorrow."
Susannah sighed. But when she opened the door, it wasn't because she'd given up but because her back was killing her and she was sick of standing at the door arguing with some overgrown whelp who wore jackets in the summer.
"Don't count on a call back," she clarified as he stepped in, but he shrugged it off.
"You haven't seen what I can do with hedge-clippers."
"Hmmph." She really couldn't come up with anything better. All she wanted to do was sit down . . . keeping Whateverhisnamewas in her sight, of course.
This realization brought up a good point: "Do you have a name or do you expect me to call you 'boy' while you do this?"
"Uh, please don't. Like, ever. My name's Rex."
What a name. People had no sense these days; named their children any old thing they liked. She and her husband may have only had the one, but she remembered laboring over that decision as if it would determine the course of his entire life. That small part of her that still wanted to be as mystical as she had been when she was younger had to wonder-what would have happened if they'd gone with Paul instead?
She shut the thought out. Focus. "Your parents think they were getting a dog, Rex?"
He tightened the grip on his shove, his voice quiet as he said, "No. It's . . . kind of a long story" and Susannah stilled as she understood. She knew that tone; had heard it in her own voice more than once. He was too young for that tone.
But really, since when does age matter?
"'Rex'," she offered in lieu of an apology, "means 'king' in Latin."
It was apparently all he needed. His eyes were practically as big as his goggles as he sputtered out, "Cool. You know Latin? Isn't that like, really old?"
"So am I."
She saw it, even if he thought she didn't: the desire to laugh, and the big imaginary foot kicking him in the ass telling him not to.
She smirked as she walked past him, leading the way to the backyard.
"Um . . ."
He stood at the edge of her porch like the backyard was made of lava, and she stifled a laugh. "You were expecting Eden?" she asked, dropping the book on the lawn chair and shuffling past him to the shed by the grill. She wasn't sure how good most of the tools were but she imagined that they'd work. A little rust never hurt anything.
"I was kinda expecting a yard," he answered slowly.
"And what do you call this?" She opened the door and poked her head in, but quickly jumped back out. All tools accounted for, plus a nice cloud of dust and pollen. Damn it, she could already feel her sinuses conspiring against her and just looking at the lawnmower sent a fresh surge of pain through her.
"'Jungle' sounds pretty good."
He mumbled something else too but she couldn't catch it. Probably something she'd have smacked her son for in the past. But as she looked across the yard, she saw he had a point. There might not be lava underneath that overgrown grass, but there were probably ticks (if not worse) and without thinking she offered him some bug spray.
Unsurprisingly, he laughed it off. "Bugs don't like me," he said. "My skin's too tough." He patted his chest to emphasize
Fine, then. "Go ahead and believe that if you want. I'm not offering again."
He nodded, and with another disapproving look at the yard, took a deep breath and took the first step—or, at least started to. He got only about halfway down the stairs when he turned around, looking surprised to see her standing in the same spot. "You know you can go sit down, right? I don't need a watchdog."
She smirked. That was the last thing any kid should say around her. She walked over to the bench and, carefully but still playing it up as much as possible, threw herself down on the clapboards. "Consider yourself watched," she proclaimed, and his reaction didn't disappoint. He scratched at the back of his neck, clearly trying to think, and she couldn't help but try to read him. Just what was he afraid of? She definitely saw fear snaking across, but the rest was just a blur.
Teenagers—the superior race one second and peeking out from behind their mothers' skirts the next. In another life, she'd have found it adorable.
"Whatever makes you comfortable, I guess," he finally conceded.
"So, where's the lawnmower?"
She pointed toward the shed, and his eyes followerd. It may have been covered up under leaves and who knew what else, but it was definitely there. Teenagers-couldn't find their nose without a mirror to nudge them in the right direction. "Gas should be there too."
He surveyed the yard for a few more moments, but didn't move. After a few nervous glances at the mower and back at her, she understood.
"You don't know how to work it, do you?"
He smiled. "You caught me."
She sighed, but stood up. "You're just as useless as my son."
The minute she said it she felt like kicking herself. Like son, like mother—she never could keep a lie going.
For whatever reason though, he didn't catch her on it. "Your son not much for gardening, huh?" he asked, eyes turned back to the yard as he threw the shovel on the porch and dunked his hands in his pockets.
She pulled the lawnmower out and sighed again. She might as well talk; she was the one who brought him up, and not talking would only make him speculate. Her life wasn't a topic for gossip. At least this way she had control of it.
"He wasn't, no," she said slowly. "Though he tried now and then."
He didn't say anything more and whatever his reasons, she was grateful, enough that when she finished setting up the mower she decided that he could be trusted to work unwatched. She'd still be in the yard, of course; he wasn't getting rid of her entirely. But as she went up the stairs and sat back down, her earlier problem came back to her and, with a scowl, she lifted the book into the light. She didn't know who put it on her shelf and they'd better hope she never did. If she wanted some pop-psych book to analyze herself with, she'd get it herself.
Still fuming, Susannah leaned back, kicking the book off the edge, and watched Rex work. It wasn't long though before the suggestion of sleep popped up in the back of her mind. She suppose she could. Rex wouldn't try anything. If he really were in it for the money he'd have come in, grabbed a clipper, and shut up, but he wasn't aiming to steal from her either. For whatever his reasons, he wanted to mow her lawn, and she could at least trust him that far.
And if not, she comforted herself as she drifted into the dark, I still have the old shotgun hanging up in the dining room.
The light dug into her eyes as she slowly crawled out of sleep, and Rex was cutting her hedges with sword arms.
When she was younger, she would have called it a dream. She might have even been frightened. But this was life now and she knew it.
Rex was an EVO.
And oddly enough, a familiar one.
She stood up and quietly snuck her way into the house." She had a laptop lying around somewhere, and it didn't take her long to find it and search the internet for "teenager + EVO + Providence". After the first few pages gave nothing but busts, she thought and added:
No doubt about it. It was him. Rex was the boy who cured that EVO a few months back. She couldn't find the news report itself of course, but here and there there were still the grainy screenshots. Not even Providence could kill internet buzz-Rex was an urban legend in the making.
And he was trimming her hedges.
She almost wanted to laugh, but her brain was already too distracted, following along to the next step. That theory had panned out, but it only led to a greater question: what on earth was he doing here? Whatever connection he could say to have with her was long gone. She was just one woman, as far as she knew. What—
Susannah jumped. She turned and a now fully normal Rex stood in the archway. He was covered in dirt and sweat, but he clearly felt accomplished, judging by his grin as he said, "Piece of cake."
Was he really done? She hadn't even noticed. Without a word she stood and walked to the back door. It was open, leaving only the screen door, and as her eyes widened as she looked out.
The hedges weren't even, and the grass was cut too short in parts. The lawn chairs had been placed carelessly and without the right pillows. The weeds were only mostly gone, and dirt was scattered everywhere. It was a mess; better than before, good enough for her, but a mess.
It was precisely the sort of mess her son would have made.
It was beautiful.
Rex spoke from behind her, coming beside her. "So, um. It was a little hard but I think I managed it."
She laughed, nearly choking on it. He was totally oblivious, just like her son had always been. It had never even occurred to him that he'd done it wrong, even as an adult. And as he stood there, smiling like he'd just saved the whole damn world, how could she ever tell him otherwise?
"Sorry, Mrs. Weaver," Rex said, ducking his head to hide his face.
She froze, and when she turned around to look he was gone, the door swinging shut behind him.
Six met Rex at the limits of South Hadley with one of Providence's helicopters in tow.
"I wasn't running this time, you know," said Rex. It was meant to sound offended, but it only sounded exhausted. He could try and pretend otherwise, but he didn't have it in him to make it all the way to base tonight. He had just enough energy to steel himself for a lecture, and standing up straight, he waited for the inevitable list of grievances.
"How'd you find her?"
Rex relaxed somewhat. "Paradise Base records. There was an emergency contact list. This was the only one Weaver had listed." He braced himself, just in case Six decided to freak out after all.
But Six only asked, quietly, "Do you think you did the right thing?"
Rex hesitated. "I don't know. It doesn't really change anything. He still went EVO; he's still dead. You know?"
Six nodded and Rex breathed a private sigh of relief as they entered the jet. In fact, Six didn't say another word until they were well on their way back to Providence.
"The expense report is going to say we killed an EVO tonight. Wolf-type. Remember that."
Rex nodded, looking out the window.
They never spoke of it again.
Generator Rex does not, and will never, belong to me. This fic is written for pleasure, not profit, with full respect to the correct copyright holders. Many thanks to Audley, my lovely friend and beta, for helping me to hit the hopefully perfect balance.
Many thanks to Audley, my lovely friend and beta, for helping me to hit the hopefully perfect balance.