Chapter 7.9: Made to Break


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Chapter 7.9 of The Absolutely Crazy Matriarchy

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Chapter 7.9: Made to Break

  1. 1. Previously, in The Absolutely Crazy Matriarchy:Theo stared at her, then began laughing himself. “You? Pregnant?”“I know! It sounds so stupid! But, it’s not like we’ve been actively avoiding it, havewe? So it’s a possibility.”
  2. 2. “So, what’s the problem?” he asked, as he turned his chair around to face her.“I’m gonna have to ask for a transfer back to Veronaville. To VIS.”
  3. 3. Barbara shot a dirty look at Rissa, punched Rhys and then went straight back tokissing him.
  4. 4. “Hi, Mom.”
  5. 5. Then…“She’s escalating.”
  6. 6. Yeah. Fire crouched next to the body of Rishell Hamilton where it was slumpedagainst the wall. She squinted at the bullet hole in the wallpaper just above Rishell’shead, not really paying attention to Rose at all.
  7. 7. “Who called it in?” Rose asked, hoping to break Fire out of whatever was making heract like a zombie. She’d barely spoken since the call had come in about an ‘incident’at the fraternity.Some incident, Rose thought.Boyfriend of one of the victims, said Fire absently.“Oh, so that’s who the kid in the kitchen is. Poor guy.”
  8. 8. Fire finally stood up. Mm. His name’s Brent McKinley. She gestured to one of thebodies. Opal over there was his girlfriend. She only joined the fraternity a fewweeks ago.“I did wonder who she was,” remarked Rose.
  9. 9. Fire faced the carnage with her hands on her hips. Definitely Fury’s work. She justshows up, totally unexpected, because that’s what she does. These guys wereprobably all on or around the couch, hanging out or studying.“No textbooks lying around,” Rise pointed out.No. Hanging out, then. Fire clicked her tongue. She’s got her gun out, doesn’t wantto waste time. Probably talks to them for a bit, since she’s noticed Rissa’s nothere. They can’t tell her where she is, so she kills them anyway.
  10. 10. Let’s see. Fire shifted, walked so she was standing before Lora’s body. She’d bestanding… here. They’d all be clumped together up there. Lora goes down first,and everyone else scatters. They’re scared, of course they are.
  11. 11. She swept her gaze to the side door. Matt nearly makes it to the door, but she takeshim down. Then Opal. Will and Rishell have gotten behind her. Maybe they ranforwards instead of back.
  12. 12. Will distracts her, because Rishell’s nearly out. Says something, does something.So she kills him, and turns around just in time to see Rishell at the door.“You’re freaking me out a bit,” said Rose mildly.
  13. 13. Fire wasn’t listening. She backs Rishell up against the wall. Rishell’s terrified, can’trun, can’t hide. She’s shot point-blank. Fire bit her lip. Then Fury just walks out asif nothing happened.“You’re freaking me out a lot, now,” said Rose. “It’s like you are her.”I just understand her. Wish I didn’t, sometimes. Fire sighed. See all this? It’ssloppy. She let her temper get the better of her.
  14. 14. “Why?”Simple. Her plan fell apart. She doesn’t like it when that happened. Rissa wasn’there, so her whole afternoon was a bust. Murdering a room full of college kidsmade her feel better but it was sloppy.
  15. 15. “Speaking of Rissa not being here,” said Rose, “why wasn’t she? We all thought shewas. I about had a heart attack when I heard the dispatcher tell you there were fivevictims.”There was a reason why you didn’t know, said Fire tiredly. I guess this right here isthe reason.
  16. 16. “So,” said Lark as she walked in from the kitchen, “you left these kids here knowingfull well that Fury might come after them to get to Rissa?”
  17. 17. Fire scowled. Lark, please don’t imply that I ever intended for this to happen. Iwould never want five innocents dead like this. She shook her head. I had morefaith in the security I had in place here than it deserved. I did not want this tohappen. Ever.Lark nodded. “Okay, okay. Just playing devil’s advocate.”Just making sure I haven’t gone completely crazy, you mean.
  18. 18. Speaking of security, is that guard talking any?“Yes. Idiot just let her waltz right in. He thought she was another student, but didn’teven bother to check her I.D.”“She probably had a fake on her, just in case,” said Rose.Probably. He give you a description, Lark?“Black hair, jeans, brown jacket. Sounds like she got herself a makeover.”“Or maybe the fashion police finally tracked her down,” Rose muttered.
  19. 19. Fire grinned reluctantly. Hah. Maybe. I think we’re pretty much done here, by theway. We’ll get a lot more information when Tempe gets here and does her thing.Lark grinned mischievously. “I can’t believe Fr4nk managed to bully her into takingthe ME job. Think we should start calling her ‘Bones’ now?”You’re probably the only one who could get away with that.“That’s because she’s afraid of me.”You do nothing to change that in any… hold the phone. Fire paused, and tilted herhead as if listening to something the others couldn’t hear.
  20. 20. “Huh?”Ah, damn it. Fire shook her head. Rissa’s on her way home. She’ll be here in themorning. I have to go make sure she doesn’t do anything stupid.“How the hell do you know that?” Rose demanded.Magic, said Fire distractedly. Come on, let’s go wait for Tempe.
  21. 21. Now…Suze gaped at Rissa for a split second, then hugged her daughter fiercely.“Oh, Rissa! You’re home, you’re safe,” she sobbed into Rissa’s shoulder.
  22. 22. Rissa shifted uncomfortably. “Well, this is nice. Unexpected, but nice.” She let hermother cry into her shoulder for a little longer before gently breaking the embrace.“You’re kind of crushing my ribs,” she said mildly.
  23. 23. Suze drew back awkwardly. “I’m sorry, I just… Oh, I’m just so glad you’re home.” Sheturned back to the house. “Parker, come out here! Rissa’s home!”
  24. 24. Parker came down the corridor and hugged Rissa, a huge grin on his face. “What’d Itell you, Suzie?” He patted his daughter’s shoulder. “Good to see you again, kiddo.”“Yeah. Hi, Dad.”“You’d better come in,” said Parker, jerking his head towards the kitchen. “Lookslike we have a lot to talk about.”“About three years and six months’ worth of news, I think,” said Rissa quietly,touching her pregnant belly absently. “Y’know, I wasn’t expecting you-all to be sowelcoming. I was expecting… yelling. And accusations, and the like.”
  25. 25. “I guess we’re just glad you’re okay,” said Suze with a slight sniffle as they traipsedin.“Yeah, you said that. I’d figured Fire’d give you updates, since she’s kind of a sneakybitch that way.”“Well,” said Parker, “she did, but we were under the impression you’d still be atcollege. Hence the worry.”
  26. 26. “Yeah.” Rissa shuffled her feet. “I graduated early. Worked my ass off for two years,but it was worth it. Took off, spent a year working for a company overseas. Met aguy.” Rissa smiled ruefully. “Had too much fun with said guy. Had to come homesince having a kid overseas is all kinds of problematic.”
  27. 27. “So, you don’t know?” asked Suze.“Don’t know about what?” Rissa frowned slightly.
  28. 28. Parker’s face darkened. “I think you’d better sit down, Rissa.”“What the hell is up with you two?” Rissa gave her parents suspicious looks, but satdown anyway.
  29. 29. Parker handed Rissa the paper. “You need to see this. It’s this morning’s edition.”
  30. 30. Rissa glanced at the paper casually. “You guys still read the Herald? I hope yourealize it’s mostly…”She froze.
  31. 31. Rissa looked up slowly, and gazed across the table at her parents. “Son of a fuckingbitch. That’s the Greek House. My Greek House.”
  32. 32. “We thought you were there,” said Suze quietly. “Five victims. We thought you werethere… with your four friends.”“Rishell must have found a new pledge,” said Rissa distantly. “Or,” - the bottomdropped out of her stomach - “Robbie was around visiting Will. Who did this?”“The police don’t know,” said Parker gently. “But, if the Simselves were there… itwas probably the woman who killed your sister. Fury.”
  33. 33. “Right.” Rissa stood up. “I’m going to kill her.”“Oh, no, Rissa, it’s not safe!” Suze babbled as Rissa strode purposefully towards thedoor. “You’re pregnant, she’ll just kill you!”
  34. 34. Rissa didn’t even break stride at her mother’s words.Parker gently took hold of Suze’s arm. “Let her go, Suzie. Whoever’s on guard willstop her. She needs something to do, someone to blame. Let her go.”Suze bit her lip, but finally nodded. “I hope you’re right.”
  35. 35. Rissa didn’t have a clear plan in her head when she stomped out of the front door.She couldn’t even form a clear, coherent thought through the chaos of emotion in herbrain.
  36. 36. The fact that Fire was leaning casually against the gate didn’t help her violent moodat all.Going somewhere?“Yeah. As a matter of fact, I am.”
  37. 37. “I’m going to go eviscerate the murderous bitch who killed my friends. With nailscissors.” Rissa’s voice was much calmer than her face. “I don’t even own fucking nailscissors, but it’s going to happen.”Well, last I heard, she had a gun. Possibly several guns. So your plan is to go aftera known killer with no weapons, and no armour?“Pretty much,” said Rissa, teeth gritted.Clever plan, said Fire, not sparing Rissa any sarcasm.
  38. 38. “Hey, fuck you.”Rissa, you don’t even know where she is.“She can come to me. She wants to kill me so fucking bad she’ll shoot a room full ofmy friends, she can come to me. Then I’ll gut her.”
  39. 39. Doesn’t work that way, sweetheart. She’ll kill you, and she won’t even blink.Then she’ll kill your mother, and your father, and your brother, and your nieceand nephew… want me to go on?“Please don’t.”She’ll do it for fun, Rissa. She’ll do it because she can. Because if she gets you,she wins, and her idea of a victory party is mass homicide.“I don’t care,” Rissa snarled. “She killed everyone. She needs to suffer.”
  40. 40. You can’t win this on your own, Rissa, said Fire patiently. You’re smart. Fury’ssmarter, and she has the upper hand. If she gets the chance, she is not going tohesitate to kill you and everyone who you have left.Rissa glared furiously at Fire. Then, she broke.
  41. 41. “She killed them. All of them.”I know. I know, and I’m so sorry. I will find her, and she will pay.“Doesn’t bring them back,” said Rissa quietly. “Nothing can.”Then, she did something Fire had never seen her do before.
  42. 42. She cried.
  43. 43. Being home again was… awkward.It took Rissa three days to tell her parents what had happened since the night she ranaway. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience – she really didn’t want to have totalk about Rishell, Matt, Lora and Will with their funeral coming up.She was pleasantly surprised by her mother’s clear effort to give Rissa her own spaceand not blame her for running off. Suze even seemed excited at the idea of becominga grandmother.Her mother’s abrupt personality change, and her own shocking grief, threw Rissa off-balance for quite a while.
  44. 44. Temperance didn’t release the bodies of Rissa’s friends for a whole month – a monthduring which Rissa was stuck inside the house going slowly crazy. Security was tighterthan ever. What made things worse was the fact that Theo couldn’t make it toVeronaville until at least the day of the funeral.The Simselves spent a lot of time with Rissa when they were on guard duty. They saidit was to keep her company, but she suspected they were there to make sure shedidn’t do anything stupid. Since she wasn’t entirely sure that she wouldn’t, she let itgo.
  45. 45. Shortly after she got the news about the bodies being released, Rissa received aphone call from Robbie. It had been terse, at best – they simply hadn’t known whatto say to each other.Whoever was organizing the funeral had asked Robbie to ask Rissa to write theeulogy. The very idea made her break out in a cold sweat – she was no writer, andshe hadn’t even known Opal. But she felt like she had to do it.
  46. 46. On the morning of the funeral, Fire paid Rissa a visit.Hey. Fire held out a plate full of rich chocolate torte. I brought cake. She slippedpast Rissa into the house.“Come on in, won’t you?” Rissa muttered. Louder, she called, “There’s coffee in thepot.”Bleah. Why ruin good cake by drinking coffee with it?“Heresy!” Rissa exclaimed.
  47. 47. Once they were seated with generous portions of the cake in front of them, Firedecided to try her hand at casual, tactful conversation.Big day today, she observed.
  48. 48. “Yeah. I get to speak for my four murdered friends at their funeral. Wonderful bigday.”Well, Theo’s flight’ll be in this evening, said Fire. That help any?“I don’t even wanna know how you know that.” Rissa sighed. “I’m fucking terrified.I’m not a writer. I don’t think I can do this, and no amount of tellin’ myself that whenit’s over I get my boyfriend back is ever gonna help with that.”
  49. 49. I’m sure you’ll do fine. Just say what you think. Speaking your mind’s how youmade friends with them in the first place, right? Fire smiled. Marina’s on duty asyour bodyguard today, by the way.“Great. At least I can count on Marina to be subtle,” Rissa muttered.Thanks, said Fire tartly. After I brought you cake, and everything.“Sorry, sorry.” Rissa stabbed moodily at her slice. “Polite Rissa’s not in today.Pregnant Irritable Rissa’s all you get.”
  50. 50. There was a brief awkward pause. Fire and Rissa didn’t get along nearly as well asRissa did with the other Simselves. Fire thought Rissa was too reckless; Rissa thoughtFire was too pushy. Their truce was an uncomfortable one.“I did want to talk to you about something,” Rissa finally said. “I would’ve mentionedit when you were here last time, but…”…you were too busy telling me to make Tempe move her ass on the case. Fire sether fork down. For the record, no amount of cajoling’s going to make Tempe budgeon anything. She’s a perfectionist.
  51. 51. “Mm,” said Rissa absently. “I’ve been thinking about Theo.”There’s a surprise.“Ha ha. No, not like that. Well, yeah, maybe, but… he’s a target now, isn’t he?” Rissagazed sharply at Fire. “He’s the father of my kid. Psycho Killer out there would loveto make sure we don’t have any more of them together.”Well, we could move him to a safehouse…“No house more fucking safe than this one,” Rissa said pointedly.
  52. 52. Oh, Rissa. You know that can’t happen. There are rules.
  53. 53. “Fuck your rules.”Rissa said it calmly, almost pleasantly, but there was no disguising the anger in hereyes.The rules are there for a reason.“A stupid reason. When they were written, we were safe. There was no crazy killerout to wipe us all out. I am not going to risk the safety of the man I… the man I love,because the rules say he can’t live here in Fort Fucking Chandler.”
  54. 54. I…“No. Shut up,” Rissa cut in. “D’you think it’s fair that my mother can’t marry my dadbecause of some hundred-year-old rule? D’you think it’s fair that we’re still dancingto the tune of some absent manipulative creator who’s had zero influence over thistrain wreck since my grandmother was my age?”Well, I wouldn’t say ‘zero’ exactly.“I said shut up,” said Rissa dangerously.
  55. 55. “The rules don’t work any more. My mother should be able to do what she wants. Ishould be able to do whatever the hell I want. The focus should be on keeping ussafe, not the fucking rules.”You’re right.“And another… what?” Rissa blinked.
  56. 56. You’re absolutely right. The rules need to change. Fire smiled sadly. I should havefigured this out years ago, when Suze asked if your father could move in. It’s asymptom of being immortal, I guess. Time works differently, so nothing seemsurgent. It’s not an excuse, she said quickly, as Rissa opened her mouth to saysomething snarky. But it does impair my judgement at times. Well, most of thetime.Rissa scowled. “I’ll say.”
  57. 57. Fire carefully ignored that comment. That’s it, then. You’re free to run this legacyhowever you want. By whatever power I have left in this verse, I declare the rulesto be null and void.“That’s it?” demanded Rissa. “No lightning, no ceremony, no raining blood or three-headed kittens?”What’s your problem? Isn’t this what you wanted?
  58. 58. “I was… okay, I was looking forward to a good argument. You’re being way tooreasonable.” Rissa folded her arms defensively. “Got a problem with that?”
  59. 59. Fire giggled. I’m sorry for being too accommodating. Would you prefer me to be ahard-ass and make the rules even more restrictive?“Shut up,” said Rissa, but the corner of her mouth was-half lifted into a wry smile.
  60. 60. I thought not. Fire stood up. Tell your parents about this. Tell Theo when he getshere that he’s free to move in, if he chooses.“He better choose to, or he’ll be in a freaking ton of trouble,” Rissa murmured.I expected nothing less from you.
  61. 61. As she turned to leave, she nearly tripped straight over Maia, who whined at her andgave her a reproachful canine glare.Fire frowned. That’s enough from you. You know this is right. It’s not your decisionto make, anyway.
  62. 62. “Now, either you’ve gone totally batshit, or there’s something unnatural about thatdog,” Rissa drawled.Probably both. Fire shot Rissa an enigmatic smile, and began to disappear. Takecare, and good luck with the speech.“You’re lucky I got things to do, otherwise I’d hold you down and make you give me astraight answer,” Rissa muttered darkly.
  63. 63. Fire’s laugh echoed around the room long after she’d vanished.“I hate it when she does that.” Maia whined in agreement.
  64. 64. Rissa stood up and eyed Maia speculatively. “So, dog, are you a mystical demon-wolffrom another dimension, or what?”
  65. 65. Maia just rolled over and demanded a belly rub, tongue lolling comically.“Stupid mutt,” Rissa said affectionately, before complying. “I guess you’re probably abit crazy, like the rest of us.”
  66. 66. She straightened with a groan. “Ouch. Okay, time to go fix up my hair and shit likethat. If I screw up the speech, I might as well look pretty while I do it.”
  67. 67. Rissa’s first impression of the cemetery was that it was full of people she’d neverseen before in her life.She panicked, momentarily, worrying that she’d have to speak in front of a crowd oftotal strangers. Oh, Marina was here, but she’d assured Rissa that she’d be keeping adiscreet distance during the whole memorial.Desperate for a familiar face, Rissa hung back and surveyed the crowd, eyeing eachface carefully.
  68. 68. It took her some time to spot Robbie, who looked pale and drawn without his usualpink sweater.“Hey, Robbie,” she called, striding over to where he was standing.It was almost comical watching the blank look on his face switch to surprisedrecognition. He took in her blonde hair and distinct lack of boots without comment.
  69. 69. “Rissa,” he said. “My God, isn’t this just awful? My William, all of them, gone.”Rissa wished desperately that she could make a quip of some kind to ease the tensionbetween the two of them. Robbie was just as formal with her as he’d been whenthey’d first met, and while they had never been best friends, they’d had some degreeof familiarity with one another.
  70. 70. “Yeah. It sucks. I don’t even have the right words to say how much this freakin’sucks.” She sighed. “Help me out here, wouldja? I don’t know who any of thesepeople are, and you seem to be doin’ better at that than I am.”Robbie nodded. “Indeed, I know or know of everyone here.” He pointed over to acluster of three people.
  71. 71. “The petite blonde in the unflattering suit is Jocelyn Hart, and the tall man behindher is her husband Marcus. They are Matthew’s parents. Speaking to Jocelyn is dearWilliam’s mother Willow. Thankfully, she and I had met before William… well. I amjust glad I could spare her the “I am your son’s boyfriend” speech at his funeral.”“Get on with it, Robbie,” said Rissa mildly.
  72. 72. “Ahem. The two teenagers are Emily Hart and Merrick Collin, Matthew’s sister andLora’s brother respectively. Both are due to start college soon, but I highly doubtthat they will be joining the fraternity.”“I want their names, not their life stories, Robbie. Quit waffling.”
  73. 73. “Very well,” Robbie sighed, looking and sounding mildly bored. “The redheaded manwith the freckles is Andersen Collin, Lora’s father. The young man he is speaking tois Phillipe Hamilton, Rishell’s older brother. As far as I know, she has no otherfamily.”
  74. 74. “Over there is Jade Stevens, Opal’s mother. She is speaking to Brent McKinley,Opal’s beau. He was the one who found the… bodies.”“Poor bastard.”
  75. 75. “And finally, behind you,” said Robbie, his voice dropping to a whisper, “is PearlStevens, Opal’s twin sister.”Rissa smiled sadly. “I never got to know Opal. Wish I had.”“Indeed. She had a rather remarkable talent for ignoring William’s more barbedcomments. Have you got your speech ready?”Rissa patted her pocket. “Yeah. Hope I don’t have to stand for the whole thing,though. My ankles swell up like crazy nowadays if I stay on my feet too long.”
  76. 76. “Yes, I see that congratulations are in order,” said Robbie, bending slightly toexamine Rissa’s stomach. “Hello, Rissa’s child,” he said gravely, his voice almost acoo.“Careful, Robbie. You’re showing your feminine side. Never seen you do that before,”said Rissa, deadpan.“I happen to be very fond of children,” said Robbie, a tad stiffly.“Yeah, well, good for you.” Rissa poked her belly. “This isn’t something me and Theo– my boyfriend – planned, exactly. I’m not used to the idea of being a mom yet.”
  77. 77. “We seem to be starting,” Robbie observed as people began to take their seats. “Areyou ready?”“Not in a million years, but I’m doing it anyways.”“Do them proud, Clarissa,” said Robbie quietly as he took his seat.
  78. 78. “Uh, hi.“We all know why we’re here today. There are five young people who are dead, andthey shouldn’t be. Five people, who were just about to finish college and start therest of their lives – grow up, start careers, get married, have kids. But here we are,telling the world how fantastic they might have been, because we’re never gonnaknow.”
  79. 79. “Lora Collin. Rishell Hamilton. Matthew Hart. William Williamson. Opal Stevens.These names mean something to us. They were our sons, our daughters, sisters,brothers, friends. Something like this can’t ever change what those names mean tous. When someone asks me about Lora, I’ll be able to tell you that she hated olives,and that she always wore green to exams for luck. What happened to her, to them,doesn’t erase what they left in our hearts and minds.”
  80. 80. “Someone killed them. Someone took their lives without even thinking about it,thinking that they were taking away brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, friends. We’renever gonna get closure on this, not really. If they catch who did this, if whoever didthis is locked up for the rest of forever, there are still five young people who aredead. Nobody should die this young.”
  81. 81. “At funerals, usually you celebrate a life well-lived. We can’t do that today becausethe five people we are mourning were just starting theirs. All we have left are ourmemories of them. We can keep their thoughts, their quirks, their annoying habits,in our hearts and pull them out to look at them when we can’t handle the worldwithout them.”
  82. 82. “Here’s to you – to Lora, to Rishell, to Matt, to Will, to Opal. You’re gone, and it’sthe worst thing in the world for those of us who got left behind. But, every time I gothrough an old album and see your pictures in there, you’ll be right back in the roomwith me.“Thank you. I would now like to call on Andersen Collin for his speech.”
  83. 83. Rissa was still shaking a little bit when she walked to her seat, but since everyoneseemed to be applauding, she was willing to accept her speech as a success.
  84. 84. “What’d you think, too corny?” she whispered to Robbie as she sat down.“Just enough,” said Robbie, sniffling the tiniest bit.
  85. 85. After the service, everyone stopped to talk to Rissa about her speech as they left.Rissa thanked them automatically, desperately wanting to just go home. She wantedto scream and throw things, not hug Will’s mother or be patted on the shoulder byLora’s father.
  86. 86. She was jarred forcibly back to the present when a man in a severely starched suitcrushed her hand in his and said coldly, “I hope you’re enjoying yourself, missy. Thisis all your fault.”
  87. 87. Rissa jerked her hand away. “The hell are you talking about?”“My son,” he snapped. “If he had never met you, he would still be alive.”
  88. 88. Rissa folded her arms across her chest. “You’d be Matt’s dad, then.”“I am Matthew’s father, yes. As you would know if you had cared enough about myson to meet his family.”“Matt never talked about you or the rest of your family,” Rissa said acidly. “I’mstartin’ to see why he didn’t.”
  89. 89. “You do not have the moral high ground here, girl,” Marcus Hart growled. “I don’tcare if your family is one of the most powerful in the district. You’re a band offreaks, and association with you got my boy killed.”Rissa gritted her teeth. “Mr. Hart, you are getting really freaking close to pissing meoff. Seeing as this is a funeral, I’d’ve thought you’d have more sense.”
  90. 90. She turned her back on him. “I’m gonna make allowances for your grief here. If yougot a personal grievance with me, pursue it someplace and sometime else.”“I am not done talking to you!” snapped Marcus.“Let it go, dear,” said a quiet female voice.
  91. 91. Rissa glanced back to see Marcus’ tiny blonde wife place a firm hand on her husband’sshoulder, their teenage daughter behind them looking distressed.“Jocelyn…” Marcus started.“Another time, Marcus,” Jocelyn said firmly. She glanced at Rissa as she steered herhusband away. “It was a lovely speech, dear.”
  92. 92. Shaking her head and resisting her urge to punch something, Rissa walked over towhere Robbie was idly examining the old stone crypt.“You never mentioned that Matt’s dad was a total asshole.”Robbie shrugged. “He is a politician. I believe it comes with the territory.”
  93. 93. “You’ve got a point.” Rissa blew out a sigh. “I’m gonna head home, Robster. I’mgetting a migraine from holding in all the shouty, stabby rage.”Robbie nodded. “Ah, do let me know when you have the little one, won’t you? I reallydo like children, and as it is unlikely that I will have any of my own…” He looked atRissa tentatively.
  94. 94. “Sure.” Rissa grinned. “You oughta stop by sometime. Y’know, for coffee and talkand stuff. Hell, the Simselves are over all the time, so we might as well make a partyout of it.”“You mean, we should be friends?” asked Robbie, mildly surprised.Rissa punched his arm. “We always were, Strawberry Shortcake. You just don’t getmy way of bein’ friendly.”
  95. 95. “How was the funeral, honey?”
  96. 96. Rissa slammed the door behind herself and glared at her mother, arms akimbo. :Itwas a fucking funeral. How d’you think it went?”Suze’s lips thinned. “I was trying to be friendly, and take an interest in your life.”“Oh, right. Better late than never, huh?” Rissa tapped her foot irritably. “I wouldn’tthink you’d need to ask me how it was, seeing as you’re so used to ‘em yourself.Leastaways, that’s the impression you give.”
  97. 97. “What are you trying to say, Rissa?” asked Suze, a slight hard edge making its wayinto her tone.“Sheezus, Mom. I’m trying to say that you should fucking know that nobody knowshow the hell to feel after a funeral, unless they’re you and can live off of nothin’ butgrief for twenty fucking years. I’m devastated. I’m lonely. I’m pissed because Matt’sasshole father tried picking a fight with me when his son was barely in the fuckingground. I can’t stick my feelings in a neat little box for you to quantify because,guess what? I am not a fucking robot.”
  98. 98. Suze clenched her fists until the knuckles turned white. “I think,” she said carefully,“that you seem a bit worn out. Maybe you need to lie down for a while.”“And the micromanaging starts again. You can’t send me to my room and pretend itfixes the problem, Mom. My room, which is full of pansy-ass lame purple crap sinceyou redecorated the fuck out of it while I was out of the picture.”
  99. 99. Rissa stomped past Suze and up the stairs. “When Theo gets here,” she yelled behindher, “tell him I’ll be upstairs. Wearing fucking boots, not this boring Stepford Wifeshit.”Suze watched her go. Rissa was such a different person now, she wasn’t sure sheknew her any more. A sudden bitter thought that she had never known her owndaughter occurred to her. She pushed the thought away angrily.
  100. 100. At first, Theo thought he’d wandered into the wrong room. There was too muchpurple, and patchwork, and too many feminine frills for this to be Rissa’s room.The blonde figure at the window made him pause for half a second, too, until herecognized the stompy black boots and thrift store kimono.He smiled, dropped his suitcase at the door, and walked over to her.
  101. 101. “Look at you,” he murmured, sliding his hands around her waist.Rissa grinned like an idiot. “Don’t expect the hair to stay like this,” she warned.“Soon as I decide which colour I’m going with next, it’s gonna be straight back tonormal.”“Relatively speaking,” said Theo with a faint smile. “I wish I could have been heresooner, Riss.”
  102. 102. Rissa turned into his embrace and pressed her face to his shoulder. “You’re here now.God, Theo, it’s been such a shit of a day. Matt’s dad blamed me for his death. Threwme for such a fucking loop I took it out on Mom. Pretty much blew all my gooddaughter points.”“Didn’t think you had any of those left,” said Theo lightly. Rissa punched him, whichonly made him grin.
  103. 103. Rissa grinned back at him. “How much leave did you get from Rhys?”“Well, that’s kind of complicated.” Theo squeezed Rissa’s hand. “When I left, VIS wasin the middle of negotiations to buy out the lab. I’m pretty sure they’re going tosucceed, which means my job, and everyone else’s, is moving over here. ToVeronaville.”
  104. 104. “Huh. What a coincidence.” Rissa frowned slightly. “If I were a betting girl, I’d put ashitload of money on Fire having a controlling stake in VIS.”“Sorry?”“Ah, it’s just that I talked to her, and she said I was right, that the rules were stupid.You can move in here, if you wanted to. I knew your job was gonna be an issue withthat, but if it’s going to move here…”
  105. 105. “Of course I want to move here, Riss. If you’re offering.”“Well, what else d’you think I was doing? ‘Oh, Theo, you’re allowed to move in hereif y’all wanted to, but I really don’t want you to.’”“You have been known to be a bit less than open,” Theo said patiently.“Yeah, I’ll give you that one.” Rissa snickered.“I hope you realize this means Rhys is going to be your boss again.”
  106. 106. “Shit, he is too. He’s never gonna let me hear the end of the fact I need bodyguards.Mind, one of my bodyguards knows him, I think. Maybe she’ll give me some dirt onhim.” She smiled. “I think I can handle that.”“I like my chaos outside the lab,” Theo complained.“I won’t be too mean to him,” Rissa clarified. “Just enough to keep him on his toes.What good is a boring normal relationship anyways?”
  107. 107. “I wouldn’t know,” said Theo, lightly teasing.“Now you’re just trying to flirt with me,” chuckled Rissa. “By the way, how’d youfind your way up here? My house is like a freaking maze of huge-ass rooms.”“Your father met me at the door.” Theo shifted uncomfortably. “I got the distinctimpression he was trying to decide whether I would be worth the effort of crushinginto a pulp.”
  108. 108. “Psh, Dad’s a big old grey teddy bear. He’s just tryin’ to mess with your head.” Rissasmirked. “You’ll see at dinner. Mom’s the one you gotta watch out for, but I reckonshe’s gonna love you since you’re the one who’s responsible for makin’ me settledown.”“You’re never going to settle down, Riss.”“Damn skippy, I’m not. Now come help me re-dye my hair. I can’t manoeuvre aroundthe bathroom on my own as well as I used to be able to. Took me two hours longerthan usual to go blonde today.”
  109. 109. “Your wish is my command.” Theo leaned in to kiss her.“I wish for a million bucks,” Rissa whispered against his lips.“Way to break the mood, Rissa.”“Careful, you’re starting to sound like me.” She kissed him back. “Missed you too,Theo.”
  110. 110. Later…“Have I mentioned yet how much I love the fact your pajamas don’t fit you rightnow?”Rissa chuckled. “Like I wear my pajamas much anyhow.”“True. I like your parents, by the way. Even if your dad did make jokes aboutbreaking my face if I break your heart.”“Well, you’ll just have to avoid doing that, won’t you?”
  111. 111. He stood up. “Here, your back must be killing you.” He started rubbing her shoulders.“Hooooooooly shit, don’t ever stop doing that.” Rissa groaned as he worked out theknots in her muscles. “Every pregnant woman should have one of you.”“Lucky you, you’re the only one who does.”
  112. 112. “Mm, lucky me.” Rissa smiled sunnily at Theo. “You know I missed you, right? I missedyou so goddamn much. It was only a month, and I missed you so much it hurt.”“Careful, you’re starting to sound romantic.” Theo’s lips quirked into a grin. “Comeon, we both need some sleep. You had a crazy day, and I’m jetlagged.”Rissa reddened slightly. “Yeah. I’m tired. That’s why I’m spouting romantic crap likethat.”
  113. 113. “Of course it is,” said Theo quietly as they snuggled together under the covers. “Goto sleep, Rissa.”“Love you too,” Rissa muttered, half-asleep already.The grin stayed plastered across Theo’s face even as he, too, fell asleep.
  114. 114. “Godfuckingdamnit.” Rissa had been cautiously optimistic that the dreams had justbeen a product of college-related stress. Clearly, she had been wrong.“I’m really fucking tired of this,” she said to the room at large. “Here I was thinkingI’d be left alone to do my own thing.”
  115. 115. The room remained empty.“Oh, don’t try fucking with my head again. I am not in the mood for mind games.”“Temper, temper.”
  116. 116. Lindsay was lounging on one of the sofas. Rissa was mostly sure that she hadn’t beenthere a few seconds ago.“Great. You again. Look, this shit has got to end. Whatever you’re selling, I’m notbuying.”“You’re too stubborn for your own good. I’m sorry about this, really.”“About what? Dragging me out of my own dreams for this bullshit?”“Look behind you, Rissa.”
  117. 117. Rissa really didn’t want to turn around, but she did anyway.“Hey, Rissa.” Matt waved at her from the corner of the room. He looked slightlyembarrassed. Lora looked pissed off, Will was nonchalant, and Rishell was staring offinto space with a vacant smile on her face. Exactly the way Rissa remembered them,aside from the bullet holes in their clothes.
  118. 118. “Gods, no. Don’t do this to me.” Rissa screwed her eyes shut.“I am sorry,” said Lindsay’s voice from somewhere behind her.“The hell you are.” Rissa’s knees gave way and she sat down on the floor with anoddly solid thump.
  119. 119. “We got the impression you were used to talking to dead people,” said Lora.“Apparently, you did this sort of thing all through college without telling your bestfriends. Thanks, pal.”“You’re dead,” Rissa whispered. “You’re dead, and in the ground. You can’t be here,too.”
  120. 120. Everyone crowded around Rissa. “Like it or not, we’re here now,” said Will.“So you’ve all banded together to give me insomnia for the rest of my life?”Rishell shook her head. “We’re just here for the show.”
  121. 121. “Wonderful.” Rissa frowned at her knees. “Gather around, everyone, it’s the RissaShow. I do a wonderful impersonation of the kid from The Sixth Sense. I see deadpeople, wooo. For an encore, I can do an Exorcist headtwist.”“You need to listen, and not be so silly,” said Rishell patiently. “You didn’t listenlast time, but that doesn’t mean the message is any less big.”
  122. 122. “Unless it’s a way of getting you lot back, I don’t care.” Rissa scowled, then froze.“Oh, shit. If I’d listened, would I have known? Could I have stopped this?”“Psh, no,” said Lora. “If you’d known, you’d’ve stayed, and you’d be as dead as weare. Bullet in the brainpan, squish.”“It’s just something you need to pass on,” said Lindsay. “We thought that if yourfriends were here, you’d listen to them.”“Why me? Why do I have to be the messenger girl?”
  123. 123. “You’re the only one,” said Matt.“Yeah, but why is it me specifically who gets the freaky dreams? I’d rather not getthem.”Lindsay shrugged. “I used to see the future.”
  124. 124. Rissa looked up at her friends again, and back down. “Fuck it. If you’re gonna beobtuse, whatever. Just give me the damn message.”“I hope you’ve got a good head for riddles,” said Will.“If I’m the messenger, then it’s not my freaking problem.”
  125. 125. “Fine then.” Linsday took a deep breath.“The empty heartThe loaded gunOne becomes twoTwo become oneShatter the glassCold double-crossThe loser’s gainThe winner’s loss.”
  126. 126. Rissa stood up. The others followed suit.“Why the fuck are prophecies always bad poetry?”Rishell shrugged. “It’s probably a law of physics.”“Fine. I don’t even care. Who do I take this message to?
  127. 127. “To whoever needs to hear it,” said Lora.“Fine. Thanks for nothing.” Rissa sighed. “Damn it, it sucks that you guys are dead.”“Another time, Rissa,” said Lora. “We don’t have time for group hugs right now.”“The hell we don’t. We have as much freaking time as I want. My dream,remember?”
  128. 128. “Not tonight, Rissa,” said Lindsay. “You have to wake up. She’s coming.”
  129. 129. “And what the hell is that supposed to…” Rissa was sitting up in bed, talking toherself. “Oh, for fuck’s sake.”“Uh?” Theo mumbled.“Weird dream. Go back to sleep.”“Kay.” Theo buried his face back in the pillow.
  130. 130. Rissa got up, threw on an old t-shirt, and wandered over to the table lamp to find theswitch. “I’m gonna have that damn thing stuck in my head,” she muttered to herself.“Winner’s loss and all that. Ow.”
  131. 131. “She looked down at her stomach. “Oh, kidlet, your timing could not possibly be anyworse.”
  132. 132. Rissa tapped Theo on the shoulder. “Hey. Wake up.”“S’not morning yet,” Theo slurred. He rolled away from Rissa.“Theo, wake up, now,” Rissa snapped.
  133. 133. “Huh?” Theo flailed and sat up. “What?”
  134. 134. “Pretty sure I’m in labour,” said Rissa grimly.“Oh.” Theo looked momentarily stunned. “Shit.”“My sentiments exactly.”
  135. 135. It was a short labour, but that didn’t mean that Rissa enjoyed any part of it. Shespent most of it swearing at Theo whenever he tried to be supportive.
  136. 136. When it was over, she held a tiny, squeaking infant in her arms.“Huh. Look at you, kid.” Rissa held her daughter awkwardly. “She got your eyes,Theo.”
  137. 137. “She sure did.” Theo peered at his daughter. “No blue hair, though.”“Ha ha,” said Rissa, dripping sarcasm. “No, she got the blonde.”“What are we going to call her?”“I did think about that, a bit,” said Rissa. “How about Lisbeth?”Lisbeth is named after Lisbeth Salander, the protagonist of The Millenium Trilogy byStieg Larsson.
  138. 138. “I like Lisbeth.” Theo waved at the baby. “Hello there, Lisbeth.” Lisbeth gurgled andwaved vaguely at her father’s face.“You’ve gotta see the nursery we’ve got for you, kiddo,” said Rissa. “Yourgrandmother decorated it.”Theo eyed the purple room around him. “She decorated this room, right?”“Yeah. Don’t worry, the nursery’s slightly better.”
  139. 139. “But,” Rissa admitted as they went into the nursery, “it could do with improvement.”“Rissa, your idea of improvement is black leather everything,” Theo pointed out.“I guess you think you’re funny.” Rissa lowered Lisbeth into the crib. “Holy shit,Theo. We’re parents.”
  140. 140. “Yeah. We are.” Theo paused for a moment. “Kinda scary.”“I’m just glad I get to drag you along for the ride.” Rissa grinned. “You’re stucknow.”“Wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Theo firmly.
  141. 141. The door opened behind them.“We heard noises,” said a slightly ruffled Parker as he walked in, Suze in tow. “Sowe… oh.”“Shirt!” whispered Theo, so Rissa’s parents couldn’t hear. “I’m not wearing a shirt!”“I’m sure they’ll get over it,” she mouthed back. To her father, she said, “Congrats,Grandpa. Come on over and meet Lisbeth.”
  142. 142. Parker engulfed Rissa in a bear hug. “She’s perfect, Rissa.”“Yeah, she kinda is.” Rissa smiled. “Thanks, Dad.”“Of course, I’m hoping she’ll be as bad as you were,” said Parker with a twinkle in hiseye.
  143. 143. Suze tentatively approached Rissa. “Can I… can I hold her?”Rissa’s smile was guarded, but still a smile. “Sure. You’re her grandmother, right?”“I just thought…”“Forget about it,” said Rissa. “Let’s just forget about it.”Suze blinked. “All right.” She reached into the crib.
  144. 144. “Hello, Lisbeth.” Suze peered into her newest granddaughter’s eyes. “You’rebeautiful.”Lisbeth stared at the blue sparkles surrounding Suze, and reached out to one.Suze smiled. “Oh, I’ve missed having children in the house,” she murmured.
  145. 145. “Here, Rissa,” said Suze, handing Lisbeth back to her mother. “She’s all yours.”“Well, here I’m thinking I might need help with that,” said Rissa slowly. “I’ve got noexperience with this. You’ve had three of these.”Suze chuckled. “Parenthood is always a guessing game, Rissa.”
  146. 146. “But I think I can help when you and Theo get stuck.”“Thanks, Mom.”Maybe it was wishful thinking, on both their parts, but maybe Lisbeth’s birth wouldbe a start for more than one mother-daughter relationship.
  147. 147. Parenthood was a big adjustment for Rissa and Theo. There were a great manysleepless nights, as Lisbeth had a very powerful set of lungs and a short temper.But, they coped. Rissa had never seen herself as being maternal, but she got the hangof feeding and changing after a while.Theo loved every second, even the early wake-up calls.
  148. 148. About three weeks after Lisbeth was born, Rissa invited her brother, his family, andRobbie around to come and see her. Naturally, Robbie was running fashionably late.“She’s gorgeous, Rissa,” said Adam, who’d gotten rather teary-eyed when he’d beenholding his new niece.
  149. 149. “She kind of is, isn’t she?” Rissa glanced down at Lisbeth, who was batting at a greenplastic diamond on her play frame. “Most of the time, anyway. Not so much whenshe’s screaming her tiny lungs out at three in the morning.”
  150. 150. “Imagine that, only doubled,” Adam chuckled, nodding his head over to his twins.“Once one starts yelling, the other one does too.”Rissa shuddered. “Gods, I am never going to have twins. Mind, I might end up withanother kid, at least. Theo’s gone all maternal on me, says he wants more of them.”“It’s a sickness,” Adam said cheerfully.“I told him, I ain’t having any more until I figure out how to be a parent to the onewe’ve already got.”
  151. 151. Adam laughed. “Rissa, parenting isn’t something you learn. You make it up on the flyand hope it works.”“Well, thank the gods for that. I thought I was doing it wrong.”
  152. 152. Robbie chose that moment to finally make his entrance.
  153. 153. “Hey, Strawberry Shortcake!” Rissa grinned. “This is my big brother Adam Carter. Therabble behind me are his wife and the Hell Twins.”“My kids are not Hell Twins,” said Adam, almost offended.“Sure they are. They look like you, don’t they?”
  154. 154. “Mr. Carter,” said Robbie, somewhat formally.“Have we met somewhere before? You seem familiar,” said Adam, squinting atRobbie.“Ye… ah, no, I don’t believe so,” Robbie coughed. “No,” he added, voice a littlefirmer.Rissa cleared her throat. “If y’all are finished making out, the kid’s over here.”Robbie flushed faintly.
  155. 155. Robbie crouched down and peered into Lisbeth’s green eyes. “Hello, little one.”Rissa grinned. “Liss, this is your Auntie Robbie.”Lisbeth made an odd chortling noise. Rissa cackled. “Yep, you’re definitely my kid.”Robbie choked back a noise of indignation. “Your mother is a dreadful lady,” he saidto Lisbeth.“Stop trying to corrupt my daughter. You’ll do it all wrong.” Rissa sauntered off tospeak to Adam again while Robbie made more cooing noises at Lisbeth.
  156. 156. When Robbie stood up, there were two small redheaded children peering at him.“You’re wearing pink,” observed the girl.“Yes, I am,” said Robbie warily.“You talk funny,” said the boy.“Like you’re from a book.”“I’m Simlish,” said Robbie wryly. “It’s a hazard.”
  157. 157. The twins giggled, oddly in sync. “You’re funny,” said the girl.“We like it,” said the boy. “I’m Zee…”“…and I’m Mari. Do you want to…”“…come and play a game?”
  158. 158. Robbie was unnerved by the twins, but his love of children won out over hisgoosebumps.“What sort of game?”The twins grinned identical grins. “A fun one! You have to count to twenty, and tryand find us!”“Nobody ever finds us.”“We’ll see about that.” Robbie closed his eyes and started counting.
  159. 159. Though it was a chilly afternoon, Rissa managed to persuade everyone to go into thebackyard and swim a bit. Everyone except Robbie, who was still looking for the twins.
  160. 160. “It’s nice to see all the kids getting along, in spite of the age gap,” remarked Suze.“And aren’t the twins just gorgeous? I was worried for a while I wouldn’t get anygrandchildren from Adam. He and Naomi had so much trouble for a while.”“Suze.”“I’m glad that Rissa does have a friend, even after that disaster. Though I’m not sureabout that boy. He speaks as if he were from a Jane Austen novel.”“Suze.”
  161. 161. “Do you think maybe we should have a dinner party? Friends and family. Maybe Jamescould bring his wife and daughter.”“SUZE.”“What is it, Parker?”“I want to marry you.”