Author’s Note: I ended up taking an impromptu break from writing and posting over the last few days.
I do have, though, put together a piece on Mackenna’s costume to go along with this section, a start of whole series of things I’m calling “From a Character’s Closet.”
“I have the costumes for you to try on.”
“Give me a second, will you?” Carson said, grabbing his shirt and wincing. He hadn’t heard Mackenna coming, and he was only half-dressed. He’d been hoping to put this off for a bit longer by being dressed before she came to get him, but he’d taken too long getting up—what was it with her? Shouldn’t she be less of a morning person after staying up all the time and having a hangover? He didn’t want to deal with this right now.
“Okay, I bring you clothes, and you’re really going to finish dressing before you turn to face me? What is wrong with this picture?”
“Whatever was bothering you before you came in the room,” he told her, shaking his head. “I thought the costume thing was for the parade, and I never said I was doing it all day. You’re nuts. That’s not happening. Even if I have a hard time saying no to you, it’s just not happening.”
“How did you know something was bothering me?”
“The sound of your voice when you came in.” He pulled the shirt over his head and turned to face her. The rest of his explanation went right out of his head. He couldn’t think. He could only stare. He’d always known that Mackenna was a woman—other than that first moment when she was under the car—and it wasn’t like she was hideous or deformed or anything like that—but her dress seemed to take all the things that made her a woman and emphasize them, hugging her waist and pushing up her chest. That was the corset part of it, he supposed, but hell. He didn’t—he couldn’t—all those lines that he wasn’t supposed to cross and all those thoughts that he wasn’t supposed to have about her, they all hit him at once.
He wanted her. He’d never wanted any woman as much as he did her, not even his first crush or his first girlfriend, not when he’d had all those stupid teenage hormones. He couldn’t do this, though.
He had to find a way back to being unaware of how good she looked and the way he’d like to touch her. He had to. Her friendship and support through this whole crisis with his memories resurfacing meant too much to him to let her go. He couldn’t afford to ruin this.
“Carson? You okay? You zoning out on me again?”
“I… Yeah, I guess I did. Sorry.”
She forced a smile. “It’s all right. I’m not expecting you to control it or anything like that. Those memories come when they want to, not when we want them to. Mostly, I think, because we don’t want them to come.”
“Exactly,” he said, feeling a bit sick to his stomach for a different reason this time.
“Are you sure you’re okay? You look… off.”
“I feel a little… strange,” he admitted, sitting down on the bed and trying to sort out his emotions. He had to find a way to go back to when he wasn’t as aware of every part of her as he was right now. “Um… Just leave the clothes. I’ll deal with them in a bit.”
“I don’t think I should go,” she told him, sitting down next to him. He tried not to look at her. That would only start him thinking again, and he didn’t think it was good to have her next to him. Not here. Not now. “What’s wrong?”
“What’s bothering you?”
“Oh, just… the past. Got started thinking about my aunt and that old apartment and…” She let her head rest against her shoulder. “You want to know why I really get you? Why it’s so easy to understand the not knowing?”
“Honestly? Probably not,” he said, feeling like a heel. He didn’t want to say no, but he’d be lying if he said he wanted all the details. “I don’t want to think about you being hurt and there being nothing I can do about it because it happened years ago.”
She smiled, wrapping her arm around his waist. “That is why I like having you around. No false pity, no lies, just understanding.”
“Yeah, same here.” He had to get her off of him, though, and he hated himself for it. He’d put on the costume if that was what it took. If he did that, said he wanted to change, she’d go, and that was what he needed. “I like your outfit.”
What the hell was that? That wasn’t what he meant to say.
She laughed. “Oh, I cheat a bit—this is more steampunk than authentic run attire, but I have to balance what I wear with the whole fixing cars aspect of it. No Gibson girl look for me. I couldn’t do it. I’ve got another that’s got a detachable skirt that I use on the run itself just in case something happens. This one is nice, though. I like the long coat.”
“Coat is nice,” he said, but he’d been staring at the corset part, and he didn’t think he’d even noticed the coat. So much for honesty. “Um… If I’m going to try on the clothes, you’re going to need to move.”
“Okay. Meet us upstairs when you’re done.”