Author’s Note: So this one is still a bit… odd, still a bit in development, but I think I have a better sense of what’s behind the scenes, of all that good backstory that creates a “universe,” and so while this part is not necessarily as charged as her exchange with Cress, there’s plenty between the lines of what she’s saying…
“You seem distracted.”
Distraction was never good, but she couldn’t help it. Her mind was focused on what she’d heard the night before, and if she wasn’t careful, she’d slip and ruin everything. “Bad night. Sorry. What did you need? More paperwork to file?”
“You sure you’re feeling okay? Maybe we should send you home, get you some rest and sleep…”
She didn’t want to sleep. Sleep meant memories and a loss of control that she couldn’t afford right now. She’d joked about it, but she knew her problem was much more than the mirrors. That was just the easiest way, the fastest reminder of the monster that she held back, trying to keep it imprisoned so that no one else had to suffer.
Turning around in her seat, she forced a bright smile for her boss. The other woman didn’t deserve any of this, and she wouldn’t understand it. Helen knew the simple things of an office, a mundane nine-to-five job that kept them fed and housed but never did anything to stimulate their brains. She had pushed papers for most of her fifty years, and she’d be pushing them when she died. Helen’s hair had lost its color, turning gray and then white, matching the papers that never seemed to end.
Long live the bureaucracy. At least it made for a steady paycheck.
Of course, she’d taken the job so that she was never tempted by the other side of the mirror, never in danger, never at risk. Boring was safe, for her and for everyone else.
“I… ran into an old friend last night. He told me another friend of ours died. I’d lost touch with all of them, had no idea… It’s just a bit disconcerting.”
“It’s not like we were close. Just… from the same neighborhood, that’s all. We all had the same story growing up, one crappy little street and all the disadvantages that came from living in the side of town that should have been condemned.”
Helen nodded, pushing back her curls. “Yeah. Though no one’s ever gotten this much of a hard-knock life story from you before.”
She shrugged. “It’s not like we starved. The whole area flooded out a few times, but we never went without heat or shelter. It was just the stigma that the other kids put on us in school, that’s all. The weirdos from Eden drive that were plain no-good.”
Helen clucked her tongue, shaking her head with disapproval. She never liked prejudice, and she could be all too vocal about it sometimes. “That’s stupid. Are you sure you’re okay?”
“I am. It was—I find myself contemplating my own mortality. You know how it is. The guy was only a bit older than me, and he’s dead now. That makes you stop and think about how fast it can all end, how it’s just an instant, one piece of broken glass…”
“From a windshield. In the accident,” she lied, not wanting to think about the truth. One moment could cost so much, one slip, one fracture… The walls were too thin, and if they ever started to crumble, then the whole thing would come apart. It would all be over before anyone knew what happened.
“Oh. That is tragic.”
“Yeah. You know, I think you’re right, Helen. I’m not getting anything done, so if you don’t mind, I’ll take the rest of the day off and come back in the morning.”
“Not at all, sweetheart. You go get some rest. You wouldn’t want to see yourself at the moment, you’re a wreck.”
“That’s okay. I never look in the mirror.”