I Have Your Secrets
(Disclaimer: Inception and all related properties belong to Christopher Nolan.)
The first time she saw him, she was barely three years old. Her father had invited him to Thanksgiving dinner, and he arrived on time, on the dot, dressed impeccably. She didn't notice any of this at the time, considering how young she was, but she was fascinated by him immediately. After all, being two years before kindergarten, she had yet to really lay her eyes on other people. Maybe she occasionally saw someone when her father took her with him to the supermarket, but this was different. This was a new person, a non-family member, in her home.
Her daddy had told her that his name was Arthur. He awkwardly shook her hand like she was an adult and said, "Nice to meet you. You must be Phillipa. Your dad told me a lot about you."
Phillipa smiled because she loved it when her dad told people about her.
Arthur was quite a sight to see. He was a bundle of nerves, a mish-mash of nervous smiles, tense shoulders, and unnecessary politeness. He was constantly calling her mother "Ma'am" even though she insisted he called her "Mal" and apologizing for his rudeness, even though he never said or did one single rude thing. It was okay, because her mom found it "cute and charming." Her father was insistently telling him to relax, and he'd apologize for not doing so.
…and go back to being tense and uncomfortable. He was so determined to make a good impression.
After dinner, her father had gone to tend to James, who was crying, and her mother was washing the dishes since she couldn't stand to leave them in the sink. Grandmother was helping her mom, and Grandfather had fallen asleep on the couch, and so Phillipa was the only one who got to see.
Arthur had retreated out into the foggy late afternoon, staring out into the backyard from the back porch. Phillipa was underneath the kitchen table, peeking out the glass door at his back, and he kept looking back, as if afraid someone was going to catch him.
It wasn't surprising. After all, it didn't seem much like him.
He was… smoking.
She watched in wonder while he brought the cigarette to his lips, inhaled, brought it down to his side, and let smoke drift out from his nostrils and mouth… and his shoulders slumped, and he sighed, and all the tense, uncomfortable feelings that she'd defined him with were gone.
And he kept checking to make sure no one saw.
He never spotted her, and she never told anyone. Not Mom, not Dad, not even Grandpa (she'd never tell Grandma because she loved to ruin her fun and wouldn't even play along for a little while). She decided right then and there that she wouldn't tell anyone because it was… special.
It was her secret. Hers and his. She liked the idea of having that secret in her heart.
And she liked him.
Eames figured it was mean, but sometimes he really wished Cobb would shut the hell up about his kids.
When he'd heard that Cobb had gotten back into dream-work (no one could abandon it forever), he'd been thrilled because if anything, working with Cobb was amusing (understatements were fun). The moment he'd needed a forger for a job close to home, Eames jumped at the chance. He was looking forward to a fun job, and screwing with Arthur was always fun too. Even Ariadne was back as an architect (curious, considering Cobb had more or less gotten over his 'problem,' but to each his own).
How disappointing it was to find that it was a run-of-the-mill job! How devastating it was that Cobb was no longer fun! All Cobb did was talk about how Phillipa was doing in school, or the cute things James was doing, and blah blah blah. The worst part was that Arthur let him do it, and Ariadne egged him on with all of her 'awwws' and giggles. It was unbearable.
The only redeeming quality of the job was that Cobb had offered to let the three of them stay at his place, so he didn't have to spend his nights in hotel rooms.
The foursome had headed back to his home for lunch that afternoon, and Eames finally found something with which to entertain himself.
"Phillipa's grades have been slipping lately. I don't know what's wrong," Cobb was saying to Arthur as they entered the home.
"You know how kids are, Cobb. Christmas is coming up, so she's probably more focused on her gift list than her grades. She'll be fine."
Eames rolled his eyes, bombarded with photographs of said Phillipa and of James all over the walls. Parents were way too obsessed with their kids, and Cobb was no exception.
"I don't know, Arthur. She's always been bright for her age. She isn't the type to get distracted by things like that."
"She's still a kid," Ariadne offered, opening the fridge as they entered the kitchen. "Do you guys want me to make sandwiches?"
"You could always just talk to her," Arthur said. "She should be upstairs, right?"
"Miles took them out to pick out their Christmas gifts for this year."
Eames took a seat at the table, rolling his eyes again. It was then that he noticed Phillipa's girly backpack sprawled on the table, with a girly pink notebook sticking halfway out of the pocket. Curious, Eames grabbed the corner of it.
"I don't know what could get her so distracted. I worry that it might be something to do with me. You don't think she resents me for going back to work, do you?"
"As long as you come home every night, I'm sure she's fine," Ariadne replied.
"Oh my God!" Eames cried out, bursting out with laughter.
"Have you gone insane?" Arthur asked, deadpan as always while he spread mustard on his bread.
"I have not, my dear Arthur. I do believe that I've discovered Phillipa's problem, though."
"Is that so?" Arthur asked.
Eames nodded, biting his lower lip to avoid cackling again.
"Well, what is it?" Arthur asked, already growing bored of Eames's game.
Eames handed Cobb the notebook. "Take a look."
Cobb stared at it for a moment. Squinted his eyes. Widened his eyes.
He was not amused. Eames was. Arthur was just confused.
"What's the big deal?" Ariadne asked, snatching the notebook from Cobb. A smile broke out on her face almost immediately, and she looked at the boys meaningfully. "This is so cute."
"What's so cute?" Arthur asked, becoming more and more annoyed that he was the only one who didn't know the answer when he was the one who had asked the question.
"Apparently you are," Eames answered, and Ariadne showed him the notebook. "Look at that," Eames teased, voice mockingly sugar-sweet, "Arthur and Phillipa 4-ever. She even put a big glittery heart around it."
Arthur stared at it as long as Cobb did, but instead of growing agitated, reasonably flushed.
Eames and Ariadne both laughed.
"I can't believe this," Cobb grumbled, snatching the notebook from Ariadne and putting it back in Phillipa's backpack.
"Oh, relax, Cobb, it's just a crush. All little girls get them," Ariadne giggled, placing a hand on his shoulder.
"Why the hell would anybody have a crush on you?" Eames asked Arthur, wiping away tears from laughing so hard.
Arthur huffed, tugging on the bottom his sweater. "Says the man who calls me 'darling'."
Eames shrugged off his retort, completely unaffected.
"I think it's sweet," Ariadne said because of course she would. She was a girl, after all.
"Arthur's way too old for her to like him," Cobb said.
"It's a school-girl crush, Cobb!" Ariadne laughed, smacking him on the shoulder. "Lots of girls get crushes on older guys. It doesn't mean they're weird. They just admire them. When I was in the fifth grade, I had this art teacher, and he… was so handsome… I wonder whatever happened to him…" She drifted off for a moment before shaking herself out of her stupor.
"I had a handsome art teacher too," Eames said, winking at her.
"Can we focus here?" Cobb asked. "What am I going to do about this?"
"Let her have her crush," Ariadne said. "She's a kid. By next week, she'll be in love with… Marco…who sits in front of her in third period math…"
"Are we still talking about Phillipa?" Eames asked, and Ariadne blushed.
Arthur took his sandwich and sat down. "You never once assumed that the Arthur she's referring to isn't me? Maybe there's a kid in her class named Arthur that she likes."
"What kind of horrible parent would name their kid something terrible as Arthur?"
"Go to Hell, Eames!"
"I bet the Devil's name is Arthur."
Arthur elbowed him hard in the ribs.
Just then, Miles' car pulled up in the drive, and within moments the sound of children entered the home.
"Daddy!" James exclaimed as Cobb swept the boy up in his arms. "I got a robot! And a thing that does this thing, and it makes bugs. Not real bugs though. They're slimy though, Daddy."
"You didn't get too out of hand in buying them things, did you Miles?" Cobb asked.
"It's my job as a grandparent," Miles responded unashamedly.
Phillipa came in, beaming, in a pretty red dress that Miles had bought for her. Her blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail. She was carrying two new books, and she had a camera hanging from a cord around her wrist.
"-and, I got a rocking horse!" James finished listing off the things he'd gotten.
"What am I supposed to get them for Christmas now? Even Santa's not going to know," Cobb laughed, watching Phillipa from the corner of his eye as she set the books down on the table. "What did he get you, Phillipa?"
"This pretty new dress, and Charlotte's Web and Matilda, and a new digital camera since my old camera doesn't work anymore."
"Oh, yeah, you gave her that camera two Christmases ago, didn't you, Cobb?" Arthur asked.
She turned at the sound of his voice, even though she'd obviously already seen him there. Eames and Ariadne exchanged glances.
"Hello, Mr. Arthur. Do you like my dress?" She asked, and the look on her face was priceless. Ariadne had to hold back going 'awww' again.
"It's a lovely dress," Arthur replied.
"I picked it out because I really like the color red. You like the color red too, don't you?"
"What gave you that idea?"
"Well, you have a lot of red ties, and that dice that you always have with you is red."
"You noticed that?" Arthur asked.
"I've noticed lots of things about you, Mr. Arthur." And she batted her eyelashes. Oh, how she could bat her eyelashes.
There was no denying it. Phillipa was completely, utterly, undeniably in love with Arthur.
Cobb bristled over the idea. Arthur's face couldn't decide whether to blanch or to redden.
"Well, this should be fun," Eames whispered to Ariadne. "I'm looking forward to Christmas."
Arthur came back at Christmas time when she was four. He was perfectly groomed again, and Phillipa complimented him on his red tie. He brought James two Hot Wheels cars, and her a blank photo album. She didn't understand what it was for until her father gave her his gift.
"How does the camera work?" she asked Arthur while her dad had disappeared into the kitchen with her mother who had been acting strange lately.
"Oh, see," Arthur took it from her and held it up. "You just point it at what you want to take a picture of, you can see it when you look through this viewfinder here… and you hit the button…" FLASH. "And the picture comes out right here."
A blank white picture ejected from the camera, and Arthur shook it and handed it to her. "See?"
"That's me!" She exclaimed excitedly.
"Here, you can try it now," Arthur handed her the camera, and she looked down at his ankles while she did, noticing he was wearing red socks.
"Can I take a picture of you, Mr. Arthur?" she asked.
"I'm not really photogenic…"
"What's that mean?"
"I… I don't look good in pictures. I don't photograph well…" He paused, staring at that look on her face. "Fine."
"Smile!" she chimed, and he put on a half-hearted grin, nervous, as if he was afraid to smile.
She took the picture anyway. "I think you look nice," she told him when the picture developed.
"Well, thank you."
That night she dreamed that he gave her daisies on bended knee, like her father had done for her mom for their anniversary last year.
When dinnertime rolled around, and everyone was seated, Eames began to wonder how no one had noticed Phillipa's fancy for Arthur until now. It was just so bloody obvious, he thought.
She'd made a great effort to make sure she sat next to him, and all throughout the meal she kept stealing little glances at him, smiling a little wider every time she got away with it. Even Eames was tempted to go 'awww' though mostly because it would be really funny to watch Arthur get flustered again. He imagined Cobb would slam his fist down on the table and leave in a huff.
All Cobb did was glare when Eames chuckled, as if daring him to do something.
"So, Phillipa, how was school today?" Cobb asked.
"Fine," She replied.
"What grade are you in now?" Ariadne asked, throwing Cobb a bone, doing anything to get Phillipa's gaze off of Arthur for a second.
"Do you think it's fun?"
"Not as much as being at home. How was work?" she asked all of them. It wasn't as if Phillipa really knew what they did, but since her mother died, she certainly must have felt obligated to ask in her place.
It didn't help that she was incessantly curious on how Arthur's day went, regardless.
"Good," Cobb said.
"Fine," Ariadne said simultaneously.
"Dandy," Eames said, right in tune with the other two.
Arthur didn't say anything, preferring to push his peas around on his plate.
"Are you okay?" Phillipa asked Arthur.
"Huh? What? Oh… Yes, fine."
She stared up at him with her big, olive eyes and then smiled. She leaned up to his ear and whispered, "It's okay. I don't like peas either."
She giggled. He regretted that there was nowhere to look that didn't have a co-worker occupying it.
"Well, I'm finished," Arthur said quickly, stood, cleaned off his plate into the garbage disposal, and disappeared into the house.
"What's got him so flustered?" Eames asked the air, as if Arthur could hear him teasing him from wherever he was.
Phillipa looked at Eames, eyes glimmering. She was so full of hope over that statement, the idea that he was flustered over her.
"He doesn't act like that at work," Eames continued, looking right into her eyes. "I wonder what it could be?"
"I'm finished too!" she declared excitedly and left her plate where it was. Cobb retreated after her, ordering her to be a good girl and clean her plate.
"What have you started?" Ariadne asked.
"Nothing that hadn't already started. We need something to do other than listen to Cobb droll on."
James laughed as he crawled down from his booster seat. "Does anyone want to see my new rocking horse?"
The night she decided that she loved him was the worst night of her life. Her mother was dead, and her father might as well have been from the way he fell apart. He tried so hard to be strong for her and for James, but the moment he laid his eyes on them was the moment that crumbled that resolve. Miles had taken her father upstairs, and he had yet to come down in two days. There were loud noises, like things being thrown or broken, and moans and wails like that of a ghost, and she sat on the couch and listened from downstairs, wishing she was deaf.
Arthur arrived within a few hours, and, shockingly, he was not dressed immaculately like he had been the other two times she'd seen him. His slicked back hair was beginning to fall, and his suit was rumpled, tie loose around his neck, from riding on a plane for several hours. His eyes were tired and puffy, but she wouldn't understand that he'd been crying, not when he'd slathered on his business face.
"Where is…" he started and decided not to finish the sentence when he saw the look on her face. "How are…" That wasn't a good question either.
He didn't know what to say, and so instead he took a seat on the couch, dropping his suitcase by his ankles and running his hands through his hair. A few strands fell in his eyes.
She took a seat next to him and sat there for a few minutes.
"Where's James?" He asked awkwardly.
She whimpered, and her composure surrendered, and she sobbed into his shoulder.
She decided she loved him.
He didn't try to coo and tell her things would be okay. He didn't put his arms around her and cry with her and pet her back. He didn't say anything… and that was what she needed. She needed a strong, stiff shoulder for her to cry on that wouldn't give way to her tears. He let her cry on him for a full half-hour, and she felt so much better.
He held her hand at the funeral.