Promised Page 19

“I ate at the tavern,” Gaia said. “We didn’t mean to wake you.”

“I sleep light, listening for patients.” She hung the poker on the hook by the fireplace, and Gaia did a double-take. It was the same gesture she’d seen her mother do a thousand times, but Myrna wasn’t her mother.

That was the first of many changes, obvious and subtle, juxtaposed with the unchanged. In the corner where Gaia’s father had kept his sewing machine and fabrics, a pair of bunks had been built into the wall to accommodate Myrna’s patients. Jack lay on the lower bed, asleep. Above, Angie was curled in a ball, snoring softly. across the room, a built-in ladder with smoothly worn treads still led up to the loft where Gaia had slept as a girl, and her parents’ double bed was still on the right, half hidden behind a damask curtain. Their quilt was gone. In the dim kitchen area to her left, an apron was hooked on the back door.

Gaia’s sense of normal began to tip. The table and two straight-backed chairs remained, but the rest of it, her father’s sewing things, his banjo, the rocker, the family’s games and books and knickknacks, were all gone. Instead, medical supplies were neatly arranged in a new system of shelves and drawers. Translucent tubing was coiled in lengths and hung on hooks beside the window. Gaia looked instinctively along the mantel to the place where her parents had always kept two candles for Jack and Arthur, but the spot was empty.

Yet the place smelled the same, of worn, polished wood and rich, slow cooking and fresh honey butter. It shouldn’t have been possible, this aching mix of familiar and alien. She glanced back at Leon, surprised to find her vision misting.

He laid little Maya in the middle of Gaia’s parents’ bed, and now he pulled Gaia into his arms for another embrace. He felt more familiar to her, more right than anything else. “Get some sleep,” he murmured. “You’re home.”

*   *   *

Gaia awoke at daybreak to the sound of water sloshing on the porch and a tinny, tapping noise that recalled her father shaving. In the middle of the bed, Maya was still sleeping, an arm thrown out in relaxed abandon. Gaia fingered the curtain aside a bit to see Myrna in the kitchen, neatly dressed in blue, her hair in its usual loose bun. Gaia glanced at the bunks to find them empty, and then shifted her gaze upward, toward the loft.

“They’re already gone,” Myrna said.

“Where to?”

“Jack’s out back with Angie. Leon was gone before I woke up.”

A soft breeze stirred the white curtain over the sink, and daylight brought a brighter feel to the cottage. Gaia looked toward the open back door, wondering if the water urns were located on the back porch as usual. She was still covered with grit from the trail and longed to wash up. She also needed to get down to the unlake and check on New Sylum.

“You don’t have a spare shirt I could borrow, do you?” Gaia asked.

“I suppose I do,” Myrna said. “Funny. Last night after you were asleep, Leon asked if he could wash out his shirt.”

Gaia smiled. “He doesn’t like being dirty. It was unavoidable during the exodus. How long did you stay up talking with him?”

“Not long,” Myrna said. “He seems different, though I can’t say I ever knew him well.”

“What do you mean?” Gaia reached for a hair brush and started on her tangles, being careful around her sore ear.

“He always struck me as an arrogant boy,” Myrna said. “And later there were the rumors after his sister’s death. I can see he’s got character, though, so either I was wrong about him or he’s changed.”

“You liked him enough to take care of him after he was tortured,” Gaia pointed out.

“Yes, well. That was for you, I suppose.”

Surprised, Gaia looked at Myrna more closely.

The older woman smiled ironically. “Who’d have guessed the old bat had it in her?” Her gaze shifted and she frowned. “What happened to your ear? Let me see.”

Gaia held the brush in her lap and stayed still while Myrna inspected her cut and then fetched a cloth to clean it carefully.

“That’s a nasty little gouge,” Myrna said, but she didn’t ask any more questions.

“Remember Cotty? From Q cell?” Gaia asked. “She once told me I could count on you.”

“Cotty’s a fool,” Myrna said mildly, her voice near to Gaia’s ear. “They let her out, finally.”

“She said you were married once. Is that true?”

Myrna leaned back. “You gossiped about me. When was this?”

“I just wondered,” Gaia said, starting to blush. “I’m sorry. It’s none of my business.”

“Keep that clean,” Myrna said, with a brief pat on Gaia’s shoulder. “What Cotty said is hardly a secret. I fell for a younger man. He liked to cook. He fed me well and made me laugh. We married just a few weeks after we met.”

Gaia found it hard to imagine Myrna being swept off her feet. “What happened?”

Myrna put away the cloth and sorted through her supplies as she spoke. “It took me only a few days to realize he’d married me for my money. It took me six months to divorce him and another six months to realize he’d had a girlfriend the entire time. He played me good, he did.” Myrna rubbed her palms together. “He owns a sauna parlor now on the west side of town and does quite well for himself. A charming story all around.”

“I’m sorry,” Gaia said.

Myrna’s eyebrows lifted ironically. “You can spare me the pity. I was stupid. I’ve paid for it. Never again.” She stepped to the closet where she pulled out a faded brown blouse with dainty stitching down the front. “Try this. And here’s some fresh soap. Dab a bit of this on your ear after you’re done with your hair.” She handed Gaia a small pot of salve, too.

“Thank you,” Gaia said.

Gaia fetched a basin, filled it with cool, fresh water, and cleaned up behind the privacy of the curtain. She washed her hair last, relishing the sensation of scrubbing the weeks of grime from her scalp. She toweled the water out of her ears, combed out every last tangle, and dabbed on the salve. When she tried on the borrowed blouse, the fit was a little loose, but she liked the dainty buttons. She adjusted her locket and monocle over the neckline and slid the curtain aside.

“I feel like a new person,” she announced.

Myrna eyed her critically without comment, then turned to the tea kettle. “Is it true you’re planning to marry Leon?”

“Yes.” Gaia slung her damp hair over her shoulder and checked on Maya once more before moving forward to the table.

“He told me you carry the anti-hemophilia gene and your blood is Rh O negative,” Myrna continued.


“It made me think of your mother,” Myrna said. “Tea?”

“I should really wake Maya and bring her down to Josephine and check on things in the unlake before the DNA registration starts.”

“Oh, sit down for once. They can manage another ten minutes. You’re not that important.”

Gaia laughed and reached for a chair. Myrna passed her a mug and set out some fruit, yogurt, and rolls.

“Your mother miscarried quite a few times, didn’t she?” Myrna asked.

“Yes, after I was born.”

“She must have been Rh negative, too,” Myrna said. “I’m guessing your first brother was negative, too, so there was no problem. Then your second brother was positive, and that pregnancy started your mother’s antibodies to any other fetuses that were also positive. That’s why she miscarried so frequently after her first two babies, but you were okay because your blood and hers were compatible. Both negative.”

Gaia knew very little about blood types. “Does that mean my father had positive blood?”

“Most likely,” Myrna said. “Positive blood types are far more common. They’re about ninety percent of the population. Your father was probably positive, with a recessive gene for negative, which you inherited.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Because you’re O negative,” Myrna said. “I think you should be aware that if you marry Leon and he’s positive, then you’re likely to have trouble having children with him. He should know, too. We consider these sorts of things in the Enclave.”

We’re not in the Enclave, Gaia wanted to say. She was not ready for this news. She and Leon hadn’t even talked about having kids really. She couldn’t imagine what he’d think. “Did you tell him this?”



Maya made a stirring noise on the bed, and Gaia glanced back to see the little girl waking up, all frowzy-headed and pink-cheeked. She scooched toward the edge of the bed, and Gaia moved quickly to catch her.

“I have a favor to ask you,” Myrna asked.


“Since you’re O negative, I can use your blood for transfusions to anyone. You’re a universal donor. I’d like you to be part of my blood bank.”

Gaia looked around the room again, half expecting to see blood stored somewhere, though she couldn’t imagine how. “Where do you save it?”

“I’m asking you to be on standby if I need you,” Myrna clarified. “I don’t have any refrigeration, so it’s a living blood bank. I keep a roster of people I can call on by blood type, on short notice.” She gestured toward the bunks. “I hook them up for transfusions when a hemophiliac comes to me, person to person.”

“I’m surprised the Protectorat’s allowing this,” Gaia said. “Isn’t it illegal?”

“He doesn’t approve. He thinks I’m prolonging suffering and giving false hope. But as long as I keep it outside the wall, it doesn’t break any laws,” Myrna said. “People come at their own risk.”

“This is why you moved outside, isn’t it?” Gaia asked.

Myrna shrugged.

“You must have steady traffic,” Gaia said, regarding the shelves of tubing, syringes and bandages with new understanding.

“Every single parent of a hemophiliac child has come to see me, just to check things out in case they have an emergency,” Myrna said dryly. “Hundreds of them. It should have been done years ago.”

“The Protectorat told me he was trying to prevent future cases of hemophilia,” Gaia said. “He thinks he’s found a way.”

“With his Vessel Institute? I promise you, if there’s an answer there, it will be only for the elite. You tell me how many people are going to be able to afford hiring a surrogate mother.”

Footsteps sounded on the back porch, and Jack entered then with a basket of eggs in one hand. He was steady on his feet again, and with his beard gone, he looked much more like Gaia remembered him: strong, fair, and young.

“You look so much better,” Gaia said.

“My antibiotics kicked in, I guess,” he said. “Where’s Angie?”

“I thought she was with you,” Myrna said.

“She’s probably out front, then,” Jack said. He reached past Myrna to set the egg basket on the counter. “I like what you’ve done with your hair this morning, Masister Silk. Very flattering.”

“Don’t try that charm on me, boy,” Myrna said. She handed him another roll. “Go eat with your sister.”

“Which one?” Jack said.

“Both of them. Gaia’s hardly had a bite.”

Jack leaned back against the counter, tossing the roll in his hand. “Are you one of those girls who don’t take care of yourself?” he asked Gaia curiously. “You know, somebody who runs things for the masses but then forgets to eat? I’m just trying to get a clear picture.”

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